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Zen Tai 全体

When you come to Japan, you may often hear the expression `zen tai`.  Simply translated, it means 全 whole/complete and 体 body/essence.  In the dojo, Hatsumi Sensei uses this to describe the movement to which we should aspire in our taijutsu, moving with our whole body, integrated and one.  In the beginning it is natural that we move our hands and feet in a disconnected and often awkward manner.  Think of it as puberty!  We are always a bit embarrassed when your family pulls out a picture of us from our awkward years.  So it is natural to go thru an awkward puberty again in taijutsu! Maybe this is what keeps us young on the path.  It seems I am constantly going thru puberty in my taijutsu trying to keep up with my teacher! But once we pass thru puberty, we begin integration.  Learning to move as an adult, as a human, from the essence of humanity.

In my dojo in Japan, Kasumian Study Center, I often use a trick my teacher taught me.  I strap the arms of my students to their sides to force them at first to move physically from their center and whole.  Look at the word holy, when you are moving from the whole as one, from your very essence, you become holy.   Your movement can take on a sacredness.  But don`t get caught in religion here.  Think of it more naturally, when standing near a waterfall, small droplets of water hitting your cheeks can feel refreshing.  They are individual drops separate from the stream, they have broken away and become separate.    Now stand under the waterfall and feel the crushing force of all the drops that are moving as one.  Even a small waterfall can effect enormous  power because it is moving wholly.

onamiThis reminds me of a zen parable about a great wrestler named OoNami (Big Wave)  He was of great build unstoppable in practice, throwing all opponents with ease. Even his teachers could not keep up with him during training, such was his ability and stunning techniques. But before every match, without fail, he would get so nervous and cowardly that he could barely stand and he would lose every competition. He would even lose to his students. He was fractured, not moving as one, he was disconnected. Just a bunch of moving parts, not crystallized as one.  He was so frustrated that he went to a Zen master for help.  The Zen master told him, “if your name is big wave, don’t think of yourself as a cowardly wrestler. But imagine yourself to be a great huge wave! A tsunami that engulfs and washes away all in your path! If you can see that, you will become instantly the number one wrestler in the country. You will beatable!”. In the temple that evening, he tried hard to envision himself a wave but his thoughts were disturbing him. Then slowly he started to feel the wave growing in him. As it grew later in the evening, the wave grew too, washing away the flower vases around him. The wave grew stronger still and washed away the statues of the deities in temple. And yet it grew bigger, washing away the temple and finally it engulfed the whole grounds of the temple washing everything away.  At that moment, the master spoke, “You have done it! You will be unstoppable like this wave now.”. From that day on he moved as the ocean, with the force and power of great waves, like a tsunami.  He became the number one wrestler in the land, sweeping away his opponents with ease.  He became the tsunami.  He became integrated and whole, each cell and fiber moving as one.  Hatsumi Sensei would often tell us to become like a tsunami. A series of unconnected attacks or techniques will not defeat an opponent. But a connect whole, a flow, a wave like a tsunami will fell the toughest opponent.  Zen Tai, whole essence, whole body, imagine you are the tsunami, and flow with natural power and rhythm!

Shin Shin Shin Gan 神心神眼

Shin Shin Shin Gan is an expression you may hear during your training in Japan.  It can be translated as the heart and the eyes of the divine.  Shin 神 (kami, sacred, divine) Shin 心 (heart) Shin 神 Gan 眼 (eyes). Shin Shin Shin Gan.  shinshinshingan

Your eyes can be easily deceived.  In fact, all of our limited senses can be easily deceived.  Just think of the magician that makes a tiger appear in an empty box.  The tiger is not appearing out of the air, it is skillfully hidden in the unseen compartments of the box or stage.  But we are very surprised.  We pay a lot of money to see magicians fool our eyes and senses.  Sometimes it is pleasant to be fooled and sometimes not so pleasant.  The ladyboys in Thailand love fooling the love hungry soldiers coming in off the ships! Maybe it is best they never know the truth!

It reminds me of a story.  In the honbu dojo in Noda, Hatsumi Sensei has a picture in the dojo of a woman putting on makeup.  He once told me it represents Yamato Takeru No Mikoto, a Japanese legendary prince of the Yamato Dynasty. To kill a very powerful enemy, he once dressed as a woman maid attendant at a drinking party and successfully assassinated his opponent.  Yamato_Takeru_at_16-crop

Even a picture in the dojo fooled me. You may even be looking at something directly for many many years and not know what it truly is!

A true ninja cultivates the heart and eyes of the divine.  Not seeing with just the eyes, not listening with just the ears, not tasting with just the tongue, not smelling with just the nose, not feeling with just the hands.  If you don`t cultivate yourself, you will be fooled over and over.  You will continue to chose poorly and find yourself at the point of your opponent`s blade.  This is true for choosing teachers as well, if you choose wisely, you will have a wonderful experience. Choose poorly, and you will find yourself on a dark and perilous road.  But don`t worry, in the end, both will die!

Those that have cultivated the heart and eyes of the divine are like sunflowers.  They don`t choose any more.  They just move.  When the sun rises in the easy, they turn their faces to the light, when the light moves to the west, they turn their faces westward.  Moving with the light, they don`t choose, they just move in the direction of light naturally, without thought.  A true ninja is like a sunflower, it is hard to judge him because we are always fooled choosing this or that, but he is always moving naturally with the light.Sunflower-Sunset-HD-Images-Wallpaper1

Chikara wo Nuku 力を抜く

In the dojo, you often here the expression, Chikara wo Nuku.  Chikara 力 means power or force.  Nuku 抜く means to pull out or withdraw.  You may hear for example `katana wo nuku`, to pull out (unsheathe) your sword.  This concept is not only important in martial arts but the married life arts as well.  Married couples can appreciate the importance of knowing the timing of pulling out the sword!! There is also an expression when a fighting couple makes up, moto no saya ni osomatta 元の鞘に納まった.- the sword is re sheathed in it`s old (original) scabbard. But enough of my sukebe (lewd) talk!

Chikara wo nuku is the ability to drop or release power in a proper manner and timing when you feel resistance in an exchange with the opponent. In taijutsu, you can either create a tension and release it or you receive tension from your opponent and skillfully misdirect and release it. Properly executed, you can create moments of great surprise for your opponent.  like accidentaly stepping off a curb, or when an airplane hits an air pocket and the plane suddenly drops. Those moments when you catch your breath in unexpected shock.   As we progress in our taijustu, we must start to create these air pockets for our opponent to fall into.  When the opponent is surprised, his power is often disrupted and creates moments of receptivity in him where he can receive more easily.  When you are surprised, you gasp or breath in.  This is when the opponent is receptive or soft and can be more easily controlled. Try pushing a heavy object when you are breathing in.  It is almost impossible! So when the opponent is tense with power, think of letting air out of a tire, it gets softer and softer. We create moments of letting the air out.  satottaskull_1024

Maybe this original composition I painted yesterday can help you let some air out.  It says`Finally I am enlightened.`!

Good comedians are like ninja as well. They lead us down a path and at the last moment take us somewhere unexpected which makes us laugh.  Hatsumi Sensei does this all the time in conversation.  A good ninja will have this ability in not only his taijutsu but his daily interactions as well.  So when you are up the creek without a paddle, having a struggle, Chikara wo Nuku and let the river carry you home!


無の力学、 Mu no Riki Gaku

Previously, we discussed, Datsu Ryoku or the the release of tension.  Recently, Hatsumi Sensei has been using the phrase Mu no Riki Gaku, or the Science (study of) the Power (dynamics) of Nothingness. 無の力学。Zen Monks often draw an enso (round circle in ink) to represent nothingness.  This is an enso with some bamboo inside with the inscription, `pure wind`. I drew it based on an old painting by a well know zen monk.


It reminds me of a story about a useless tree.

Lao Tzu was traveling with his disciples and they came to a forest where hundreds of woodcutters were cutting the trees. The whole forest had been cut except for one big tree with thousands of branches. It was so big that 10,000 persons could sit in its shade.

Lao Tzu asked his disciples to go and inquire why this tree had not been cut. They went and asked the woodcutters and they said, “This tree is absolutely useless. You cannot make anything out of it because every branch has so many knots in it – nothing is straight. You cannot use it as fuel because the smoke is dangerous to the eyes. This tree is absolutely useless, that’s why we haven’t cut it.”

The disciples came back and told Lao Tzu. He laughed said, “Be like this tree. If you are useful you will be cut and you will become furniture in somebody’s house. If you are beautiful you will be sold in the market, you will become a commodity. Be like this tree, absolutely useless, and then you will grow big and vast and thousands of people will find shade under you.”

When you are strong or beautiful, or technically proficient, you can be used. You can be a commodity. The opponent can use you too.  If you embody nothingness, nobody can use you. You are free.

We often forget that in nothingness or no use, there is great power. Often when I am uke for Hatsumi Sensei, his complete lack of interest in the opponent is very surprising.  It disarms you. Often he does not even look at you.  I find that whatever I try to do to him,  there is no resistance. He does not resist the opponent.  It is like when you think a door is locked and  you push on it with great strength but it was actually open and you fly thru to the other side. Or we have all had the experience of walking along the street and accidentally step off the curb into nothingness.  It is an amazing shock as you try to regain your balance.  Only a drop of a few centimeters and it feels as if you almost dropped of the earth!

In  taijutsu as well, harnessing the concepts of Mu-Nothingness and Datsu Ryoku will allow you greater control over yourself, your opponent, and any situation you encounter.


Datsu Ryoku

In the dojo you may hear terms like `chikara wo nuku` or datsu ryoku suru.  They refer to the idea of relaxing, or releasing tension at a certain moment in the flow of movement with an opponent.  Some teachers, in Japan, try to teach this by making their students release all tension from their bodies and wiggle around and shake like dancing puppets.dancing puppets Sensei joking remarked, `this type of datsu ryoku is only good when wrestling in bed with a blow up doll.`.  Of course we all burst out laughing.  But Sensei`s datsu ryoky is just like this, whether in conversation or physical movement.  A moment of release when you can forget yourself.  Done in coordination with the use of tension.

Using just power, your technique can be reversed. Likewise, complete relaxation and you find yourself at the mercy of the opponent.  A subtle manipulation of the two can create the datsu ryoku of which  Sensei speaks.  When you feel or purposely create tension between you and the opponent, releasing the tension for a brief moment can often create gaps in not only the physical kamae of the opponent but mental gaps as well.  Often we try to create a flow of movement where the opponent is physically supported by us. Then a skillful release of tension will allow the opponent to fall on his own accord.    If you are physically trying to throw the opponent,  you often create the very power which the opponent will use to reverse the technique. A skillful creation and release of tension – this is the difference between a dancing puppet and a martial artist.  You must be able to, as a martial artist, create tension and power and then be strong enough and willing enough to release it.

A skillful application of datsu ryoku will conserve energy and can often change conflict into congeniality. I hope you will find this useful in not only your physical training but your everyday life as well.

Out with the demon! In with Prosperity!

The Japanese festival of Setsu Bun.  According to the Japan tradition, this the day before the start of spring and it is celebrated by family members throwing roasted soy beans at a person dressed as a demon and shouting `out with the demon! In with the prosperity!`. Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! The roasted soy bean pelted demon must run for his life.  oni

What is this Demon who has cow horns on his head and tiger skin fundoshi (Japanese loincloth)? Well, Demon is pronounced Oni in Japanese.  It is said the this oni come from the character 陰, pronounced `on`。It could be associated with the the dark or inability to see. Metaphorically, some one who can not see or is in the dark, bad energy.  Interestingly this is also the character used in the expression In/Yo or Ying/Yang. Further, we can look at the characters 隠人=on nin, a hidden being, some thing or some form that can not be seen by the eye, an essence transcending our human imaginations bringing disasters and sickness. This is the demon we are sweeping out. As for the Demon`s horns and tiger skin underpants, he is said to arrive from the direction of the Ki Mon or the demon`s gate. Perhaps you have heard of ki mon in the martial arts as well?  According to the Asian zodiac, kimon is in the direction of the cow and tiger.  Now you know. Poor Cow and tiger!

But you may ask, `why the beans?`.  Beans is pronounced mame in Japanese.  There are several play on words here. One reading of a character for demon 魔 is ma and the character for eye is 目 me. Throwing mame at the demon to crush his eyes and drive him out.  Also the character Metsu 滅 means to a abolish, destroy, or die.  Ma 魔 Metsu 滅. Abolishing the demon. Mame, mametsu, close enough, right? There are more hidden meanings in all actions of this festival. One charming and funny example is to place a roasted sardine head on skewer with holly thorns in front of your house because the Oni hates all bad smelling things and holly thorns! So your house is protected now!  Better than that expensive alarm system you installed! And Cheaper! But seriously, I wish everyone a joyous, healthy, safe, and happy new year. Happy Setsu Bun!

Art for your Happy New Year!

This year`s training started at the honbu with Sensei unveiling his latest art acquisitions. As Sensei often remarks the greatest martial artists are inevitable great painters and proficient in many fields of art. In a recent conversation over lunch, Sensei generously invited my visiting sister and I to lunch, he spoke of how, when he was a young man, he studied with a famous film director in Tokyo and had dreams of becoming a director himself. As well, after the end of World War II, he played the steel guitar in a music band. They were so poor that they had to make their own instruments and play together.
I remember a time, Sensei was not satisfied with the pictures being taken by the photographers for one of his books and decided to take matters into his own hands. He brought in a ladder and a collection of his cameras. Someya San was up on the ladder with the camera and Sensei was giving him a hard time yelling things like, `next increase aperture and decrease shutter speed!` `rotate the camera as you shoot` `time your arms to my movement and move the camera as you shot`. And poor Someya San was having all sorts of trouble trying to keep up. Those photos eventually made it into one of his books. He says he uses all the arts as reference to deepen his study and practice of the martial arts.
Of course we all know that Sensei is a very prolific painter. I watch him on a weekly basis whip out up to 100 pieces of calligraphy in less then thirty minutes as presents for his visiting students. His teacher Takamatsu Sensei was also a brilliant painter. But did you know that Miyamoto Musashi, the swordsman famous for his use of the two swords, was also a great painter? My first introduction to Musashi`s work was thru my 90 year old ink painting teacher who is from the same town as Musashi. Musashi was famous for his Daruma, Hotei and bird paintings among other compositions. He seems to like to create tension with the birds by having them intent on a nearby insect. Either staring at the insect or perched with a patient air as the insect unknowing crawls closer. musashi
Sensei unveiled a copy of one such painting. Here you can see the bird patiently waiting on the branch above. At first glance, you may not notice the tiny caterpillar (which could be mistaken as a leaf or unrelated scribble) crawling his way up the branch. As explained, it is important to look at a scene and see or sense the subtleties or you may miss the whole essence of the situation. In life as well, if you can not sense these small things at a glance, you may end up putting yourself unknowingly in great danger or life threatening situations.
Further Sensei also unveiled at the first few trainings of the new year a great collection of `room dividers` with the beautiful calligraphy of Yamaoka Tesshu. Yamaoka Tesshu was a famous swordsman of Japan know as a Master of the Sword, Zen, and the Brush. He also founded the sword linage the School of No Sword. I truly enjoy spending time in appreciation of their art and often try to copy their works. It is my sincere hope that you too can use these great artists a reference for the deepening or your practice as well. 1937216_10207120131775658_6125079003358590059_n

Thank you Doug Wilson for this picture! You may also want to check out this book dedicated to the art of Miyamoto Musashi.musashibook

The Skipping Stone


The Skipping Stone

Ishi Tobashi  石飛ばし (Mizu Kiri 水切り)

By now, you may have heard that Hatsumi Sensei is using the analogy this year (2015) of a skipping stone to convey aspects of his martial art movement to us, his students. It is a wonderfully poetic expression to help us understand a very natural occurrence. When you skip a stone across water, it naturally skips across the surface in an easy natural way. According to the contact with the surface of the water, any waves, wind, etc., it moves naturally and freely to the next point of contact until it`s momentum is exhausted. The stone is free and moving without attachment to a particular point on the water. Imagine if the stone got attached to a certain point and said, `I like this spot. I think I will stop here.`. It would sink itself. It would find itself drowning all to soon. But all too often as martial artists, we find ourselves attached to a certain technique or idea, even ideas of what martial arts are or are not! By getting caught up in fixed ideas or techniques, we often find ourselves struggling, trying desperately to tread water with the weight of our ideas and techniques pulling us down into the dark depths. There is a Gokui (inner secret) that Sensei shared with us. When you are bogged down with no chance, only by throwing ourselves away (sutemi 捨て身)will a new tide rise and carry us along. This is a teaching worth reading over several times. Like they say in Japan about dried squid, the more you chew it the more flavorful it becomes!

In terms of Taijutsu (body movement art), the skipping stone gives us a nice image of moving naturally from one position to the next without getting stuck physically or mentally on a certain point or technique. As well, it asks us to move in a fluid connected way based on the movement of the opponent or uke. Based on the movement of the uke is very important. The movement of the uke helps determine and even dictates our next shift. Like the condition of the water and the wind help determine the next point of contact of the stone. Trying to do a certain movement without regard to the opponent`s movement, can be disastrous! The stone skips naturally from point to point. So should we, as martial artists, move without greed or intent of a determined outcome, naturally from point to point as lead by the movement of uke. We must learn how and when to let go, release, and move to the next natural space. Learning to let go is of utmost importance to the martial artist.

Hatsumi Sensei wrote a beautiful kakejiku (hanging scroll) for a student and friend of mine. (Alan-the Malteze falcon) It reads 飛石神道。Flying Stone Divine Path. The character Kami (神) can be interpreted many ways. Divine, Nature, Godly etc. If you recall the saying from Shinden Fudo Ryu `Ultimate Nature`(自然至極)Shizen Shigoku, you may find a feeling that fits with you. Can we touch this natural path? Can we connect with it in our arts and life? Of course. In fact we already are. we just need not block it, we must practice letting go, sutemi. Physically by releasing grips and techniques that are not working and mentally by not trapping ourselves in set ideas, thinking, and predetermined movement. And perhaps in a more humanistic way by parring away the unnecessary and rediscovering a more natural stance. Only when we can develop the sensitivity to let go, can we begin to move with the essence of the skipping stone. Feeling and sensing the grand power of nature flowing in, through, and around all.

Bufu Ikkan


Yoga Asobi presents Indian BBQ party on June 27th!

My Invitation

Yoga Asobi presents Indian BBQ party posted by Tomoe Gozen

Summer is here…Time for Indian BBQ!
Some of my yoga friends will come to Kasumi An Study Center for a yoga retreat on June 27th. We will have a Indian BBQ party which is prepared by professional chef Mr. Tsutsumi of the Ayurveda restrant “Ayurda” in Tokyo. Not only yoga practitioners but also everybody is welcome to join our BBQ Party!

Date/Time:June 27th(Sat) 5PM~8PM
Participation Fee(BBQ):2,500yen
Location:Kasumi An Study Center (
Food provided, BYOB
RSVP by June 25th(Thu)
Dress for Sun and Fun!

*Indian lunch is available on 27th. The fee is 1,000yen. Please let me know if you need a lunch too.

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Kajou Chikusei


Kajou Chikusei.

I often write Kajou Chikusei in my calligraphy, paintings and pottery. It seems like it was one of the first gokui (inner teachings) of Ninjutsu that Hatsumi Sensei taught me. So it feels natural to share it with you here as I start this new journey at the kasumian. At the kasumian, you will find many paintings and references to this teaching though out the center. Here is a translation of Sensei talking about Kajou Chikusei from way back in 1964. Before I was even born! I hope you enjoy.

Kajou Chikusei,
This means that if you want to reach to the highest inner teachings of Ninjutsu, you must have the kindness of the flower in your heart and the pliability/flexibility (sunao) and straightness and up righteous heart (masugu) of the bamboo.

This is the heart of the martial path, the warriors heart. And the warrior`s heart is, as it almost goes without saying, the pure heart (magokoro).

If the ninja does not have this heart, it simply becomes only a skillful manipulation of the forms of ninjutsu. Something quite ordinary. low, vulgar, and worldly. (俗物- zoku butsu).

*Sunao has the idea of being honest and pliable in an accepting way, kind of opposite to hard headed or stubborn. For example, a sunao person can accept well founded criticism and new ideas.

Here is the original Japanese for those who wish to read the original.


これが、やはり日本の武道の心、武心なのですね。 そして、武心とは、とりもなおさず真心ということなのです。