October 30, 2011

"Embrace" Taijutsu

Shihan Morganelli,

I came upon your website/blog and wanted to thank you for allowing access to your amazing articles. Your insight has given me another perspective and is quite helpful. I have been given food for thought by one of my shidoshi-ho. He has told me that I need to "fully embrace taijutsu." I am currently training for my blackbelt test. Being highly analytical I understand the words yet strive in searching for the whole meaning and the path I need to achieve this. I agreed with his thoughts wholeheartedly. If you have time I would appreciate any thoughts or insight you may have.

Thanks so much for the email - I appreciate your kind and touching words.

I heartily agree with your Shidoshi-ho, you should fully "embrace" Taijutsu. However, it may be difficult to know exactly what this means. And what is clear, in the Bujinkan, which has wide and varied perspectives, it can mean different things to different people. For me, it means to embrace the unembraceable, make logic of the illogical; to accept the paradox.

The word paradox comes from the Greek word “para” meaning ‘contrary to,’ and “dox,” ‘accepted opinion’ or ‘expectation.’ Any paradox is two statements, both true, that contradict one another. Courage is a prime paradox - a strong desire to live that takes the form of a readiness to die. Paradoxes are not meant to be figured out and logically concluded, they are meant to be accepted, for truth is inherent in the contradiction. Such can be the nature of truth – it’s always stranger than fiction because fiction is made to suit ourselves.

Even nature is a paradox – it is balanced by being naturally unbalanced. Nature exists in many respects by the Golden Ratio (1:1.618), found all throughout nature’s form, from the way a flower grows to the proportions of the human body. From the animals of the African steppe, to the orbit of the Earth, nature is never in equilibrium, but a continued state of balanced imbalance. Yin and Yang, In to Yo, Kyo to Jitsu - all of these concepts represent nature’s "balance," but not its equilibrium. These concepts are never equal to each other, their proportions keep the other in reasonable balance as they fluctuate, expand, and contract.

And who’s to say our own human nature is any different? The human condition seems to be a continual re-balancing of the decisions we make each day between self and others. And as it turns out, ‘others’ take up most of our decision making - perhaps that ratio is ideally the Golden Ratio as well?

Similarly, many aspects of training are paradoxical: Hide in plain sight; change is the only thing that does not change; Mark Hodel used to say our best friends prepare us to deal with our worst enemies, and let’s not forget the eternal Song of the Gokui, "In the world of martial arts, one should not stick to strength or weakness, softness or hardness; rather one should transcend physicality and understand the void, 'ku,' regarding the body also as empty."

Hatsumi sensei in a recent interview with CNN said knowledge is all very well, "It gives us law, and culture and science. But knowledge is not enough. It must be balanced out with Budo, which can never be explained. It can only be understood by doing."

In 1998, I was just about to leave Japan after living there for close to three years. My final class with Nagato sensei was way the hell out in Higashi-Matsuyama, Saitama, an hour on the express train from Ikebukuro. In August, the dojo was an oven (and in winter, a freezer!). The class was a tough one; I was sensei’s Uke the entire time and my partner was particularly hard on me as well. In short order, I was dripping wet, like emerging from a pool, and frustrated with my seeming lack of ability.

After class, I thanked sensei for his teachings and he wished me good luck back home. I asked him, when I get home, what should I concentrate on? He answered in a blink, “Everything.” I must have crinkled my brow - everything? But I don’t know everything. He nodded, “Sure you do. Train everything;” bo, gun, shuriken, fukiya – everything. My hour-long train ride went pretty quick after that with me lost in thought. Of course, he was right. When Taijutsu is trained correctly, to learn one thing is to learn 10,000 things. It took me longer than a flight home to accept that paradox.

Taijutsu offers us at least three important paradoxes that I believe represent the ‘shingitai’ (heart, technique, body) nature of training. It is interesting to me that each of these paradoxes re-enforce one another:

1. Tai, the body or the physical, activates the Kukan (void, empty space) to become a shield.

2. Gi, technique or the mental, knows we must be willing to kill only to protect life.

3. Shin, heart, or the spiritual, is well stated by the words of Uesugi Kenshin who said, "Those who cling to life die, and those who defy death live."

What do all three of these paradoxes have in common? Simple, there is a single answer to decipher them. Hatsumi sensei has said we cannot know Taijutsu unless we live as if already dead. What does he mean? The questions we might ask are: Why ought the Kukan become a shield? Why ought we be willing to kill only to protect life? Why ought we embrace death to embrace life?

I have my own thoughts on these questions. I do believe the answer can clarify our morals, activate respect, and sustain our ethic. But the answer is found only when we embrace the unembraceable, make logic of the illogical, and accept paradox.



October 22, 2011


Thanks to all who supported our annual retreat. Already looking forward to next year!


Shidoshi Joe Bunales
Shidoshi Jeff Patchin
Shidoshi Jim Delorto
Lake Beulah

Knife sparring with Kris McKinney
Defending others
Makko ho with Tomoko Morganelli
Morning Makko ho session