I had a great moment in a short conversation with Hatsumi- sōke during one of the training sessions at the Ayase Budokan. Over a short conversation in the corner of the training hall, he told me that the true meaning of Ri in Shu-Ha-Ri is when a person reaches a stage where he can watch himself in action as if he is high above himself, and from there can laugh at himself. I remember this sentence whenever I find I am taking myself too seriously.
My Ri was created with Sōke’s support after he heard that I also deal with a method developed by a genius Israeli, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. This method enables us to improve our abilities through awareness of our body in action. My teacher Doron Navon led me to use this method to overcome the many injuries I caused my body during practice. Later, he directed me to formal education of teaching this method and, in 1994, I was certified a Feldenkrais teacher.
My interest in the Feldenkrais Method increased once I realized that the founder of the method started as a member of the Haganah organization and was involved in war activities defending the city of Tel Aviv before the Independence of the state of Israel. Responding to the hostile environment he used his wits and knowledge of Jujutsu to publish in 1930 a self-defense method for his friends at the Haganah. Later in Paris, Moshe Feldenkrais met the founder of judo, Jigoro Kano, and developed his skill as a judoka. At that time, he was considered the pioneer of judo in France and a judo expert, he also published several books about judo.
I researched the development of the Feldenkrais Method, and in 2008 I started teaching the synergy of martial arts and ‘Awareness Through Movement’ according to Feldenkrais.
And then came another great moment with Hatsumi-sōke. It happened in December 2008, during the Daikomyosai in Shimizu Koen, when I asked Sōke to approve my choice of a name for my dojo. I wanted the name Niji, a rainbow. Sōke astonished me with his wisdom and sensitivity. He said that the rainbow does not have enough colors and led me to the broad meaning of colors (色) shiki and added that another way of
writing shiki (識) is consciousness. He told me I could choose any shiki as a name. My choice was obvious.
At the next training session in the Honbu Dojo Hatsumi-sōke wrote out for me Mu-I-Shiki, “warrior’s awareness,” and playing with the Japanese letters he gave this term a unique form. I named my dojo Bujinkan Shiki (Awareness) Dojo, and the calligraphy he drew became my Dojo logo. But this is more than just the name of our dojo. This is my way (my Ri).
On this same trip to Daikomyosai, things continued to develop. During the next lesson, I was amazed again by the depth of Sōke’s thinking when he wrote for me (才能魂器) “saino konki” – ability/talent, spirit, capacity. These three components are key to the development of the human being. Growing personal capacity is a challenge for everyone. Such growth can be achieved through improving awareness to our body in action.
Miyamoto Musashi wrote about five elements in The Book of Five Rings.
Hatsumi-sōke has regarded awareness as the sixth and important element a warrior must aim for. He has stated that consciousness, the sixth, is the highest element a warrior should enable in his action to survive. Sōke wrote: “Budo is the direction to live and the readiness to know Awareness (Shiki). Shiki also takes the form of the four seasons, commands, palpitations of death, morale of the troops, the rhythm of poetry, and the Capacity of Man.”
At the end of 2008, Sōke named “Saino Konki” as the annual theme for 2009. I was surprised when I found out that the key principles Dr. Feldenkrais laid down as a foundation of his method are similar to the concepts of Hatsumi-sōke. In my dojo, I emphasize these foundations in training the awareness of a warrior.
Another key element that Sōke has shared on various occasions is that “I cannot teach you these techniques. You have to discover for yourselves how to do them. It is not a matter of understanding them in your head, it is a matter of getting your body to do them.”
One evening I was with Sōke walking his dogs in Noda near his home when suddenly he said: “Moti, do not teach!” I did not know how to accept this direction, and I even felt some resentment, but with the passing years, I have come to understand the logic of his directive.
Dr. Feldenkrais was persistent with the same logic and his famous saying is, “I do not teach you but you are learning.”
I know that theories and principles are important for our understanding and our inspiration, but where do we start practicing these principles? We start by listening... by paying attention to the body’s functioning.
We concentrate on the way we function, the how, and not what we do. In the beginning, it is not clear where we should direct our focus. But with guidance and concentration, we can identify how we put our feet on the ground, how we can use our shoulders and spine, we can identify how we can control our breathing, and how we coordinate breathing and movement so that breathing enables movement, and movement does not block breathing. This is yet another function of the body that we do automatically, as a habit.
Our habits are essential to everyday functioning but paradoxically they bind us and make it difficult to learn new and irregular activities. Hatsumi-sōke uses the principle of henka sabaki to direct us to meet the unusual and the non-habitual activity. This is not a simple task. The Feldenkrais Method uses the same principle. When we are engaged with the learning process of Awareness through Movement we can identify our habits, which are not simple to understand, and try movements that are new to us, and also known movements that our brain and our body have forgotten due to non-use.
I teach martial artists, Feldenkrais teachers, the elderly, and people rehabilitating after trauma from injuries or surgery. As martial artists, we aspire to implement effective movement abilities. We lead ourselves to the ability of responding quickly to any threat. Many of us reach a fantastic level of performance. But the paradox is that we lean on abilities we acquired years ago that stop us from developing because we tend to go back to our prior habits. We find that we are not free to learn new ways of action. This is in spite of the fact that as we grow older and need new ways of performing movements that will be adequate to the changes our bodies are going through.
I would like to share three principles I use to guide my students to keep evolving. I observed these principles both while learning the Feldenkrais Method and from Hatsumi-sōke.
The first principle is making mistakes. This is the most difficult principle for all of us. It contradicts the desire to do everything correctly. At the London Taikai in 1999, Hatsumi-sōke asked me to demonstrate a technique. I did it very accurately, and the positive responses from the crowd made me very proud. Sōke, in his tricky way of teaching me, told me to do it again as if I did not know how to perform it. For me this was a mental and physical shock – I could not produce a technique with mistakes. At the moment, I felt angry, but years later I understood how to use this principle.
“We concentrate on the way we function,
the how, and not what we do.”
While teaching we correct mistakes that our students make. This means that we point out their mistakes and use them to draw the attention and understanding of the student. It is therefore wise to deliberately make mistakes. In time I understood the meaning and significance of deliberate mistakes to the learning process. I learned how to use the mistakes to advance learning. In his article “Better Judo” (1948), Dr. Feldenkrais instructed the judoka to practice the technique with mistakes. I assume his instruction was not accepted.
The second principle is to attain reversibility in action. Reversibility is basically a physical principle and also, one of the principles of controlled action. The reversibility of a movement is one that can be performed, instantly stopped to return to the initial position, or change direction or speed of the movement without holding one’s breath. Watching Sōke performing we sense reversibility. Understanding Sōke’s henka is practically working with reversibility. Changing directions, speed, supporting, and letting go... all with freedom of body movement.
Shodo of “shiki” by Hatsumi-sōke
In my dojo, I direct henka in two levels, (1) performing a variation of a technique and (2) changing the technique through reversibility according to uke’s response.
The third important principle is to reduce effort to enhance the sensitivity of the body movement and to the connection with the environment. This principle is based on the Weber- Fechner law, a psycho-physics law that proves that reducing the power of touch enhances the ability to notice a gentle touch. For example, when I hold a 1kg object in my hand I will not feel an addition of 10 grams. But when I hold 100 grams I will be able to sense the addition of 10 grams. The main thing is to understand that, when we make a big effort, we cannot “feel” any small reduction or increase; there must be a large difference before we become aware of it. When the body is well organized at the vertical position, we can sense very slight extra efforts. Therefore, when we assume a new position in which the muscular effort is smaller than before we thereby become capable of being aware of even a slight change through our connection to another body. That’s what I feel when Sōke is touching me. Sometimes it is scary to know that he senses any little change I will make. This ability is what we want to have and with it, we can only continue to improve.
The last two principles are connected, and both depend on our awareness to our body in action. This connection brings me to tell my students, “let us learn what we know.” Then I add, “First we learn the kata, now let us learn from the kata.”
We should all remember that our densho are hundreds of years old and that knowledge has passed through many generations, body to body, so there is definitely more than just performing the movement.
This means we do not exercise what we know, we try to learn through paying attention, so we can discover the secrets hidden in the densho by improving our awareness to our body.
In closing, I would like to share that we are lucky to follow Hatsumi-sōke. Looking with perspective on the way I became his student I could describe this as a miracle. Sōke may not have learned the scientific formula of Reversibility and the Weber-Fechner law but he is the best example that they work.
I’m delighted to have this way to share Hatsumi-sōke’s approach to the Bujinkan densho with my students.
Best wishes to Sōke on his Birthday! Happiness and Health!