This year, 2012, Hatsumi Sensei, the grand master of the Bujinkan, has chosen as his theme the idea of Kaname (要). In English, this translates to the ‘crux‘, ‘essence’, ‘pivot’, or the “vital point”. A simple example of a kaname might be a door hinge, which has a bolt running through it, this bolt (steel rod) is the kaname. Pull this bolt out and your doors fall down. It is the vital point that holds it all together.
Over the years Hatsumi Sensei has taught and shown many principles and ideas, but this emphasis on the essential pieces seems to tie all the previous material together, allowing us to focus on what’s truly important in our taijutsu. In fact it seemed to me that this way of looking at our budo is in itself the critical point!
Everything has a kaname, and when it comes to the practice of martial arts, this idea of finding and using the “kaname” or ‘vital point’ is essential.
There are 3 major kaname that Hatsumi Sensei has been emphasizing:
間合いの要 “Maai no Kaname”
空間の要 “Kukan no Kaname”
動きの要“Ugoki no Kaname”
These 3 areas of focus will give us several crucial concepts to work with that will facilitate a deeper understanding, as well as a functional capability, in our martial art training. I will only be able to give a general sense of these ideas, a more thorough understanding can only come from direct hands on training.
*Of course all three of these areas are integrated so that you cannot isolate or understand one of these kaname without understanding and using the others.
- 間合いの要 Maai no Kaname – The Vital Point of Distance
It is obvious that, in a fight, distance is constantly fluctuating, and of course, we must learn how to be effective at all ranges. But the first (or primary) distance we must become intimately familiar with is when our “safety zone” has been compromised. We need to learn to read the true range of our opponents and their weapons, and then discover how to be just outside of that range, this is the vital point.
In Japanese budo there is a saying:
“Let your opponent cut your flesh
so that you can cut him to the bone!”
To be at this distance -where you can cut your opponent to the bone, while he merely cuts your flesh- you must be right on the edge, which is to say close enough to be cut!
Hatsumi Sensei has talked about writing life on one side of a piece of paper, death on the other side, and the distance between those two words, life/death, is called kami hitoe, 紙一重
(the thickness of a single sheet of paper, or as we say in English, “by a single hair’s breadth”).
This is the cutting edge where you win or lose. This *primary distance is “Ma-ai no Kaname – 間合いの要
As Nagato sensei, one of my instructors likes to say, “Be at the distance where your opponent believes he can reach you, but really you are just out of his reach”. Although the range changes depending on weapon and opponent size, the end product is the same.
*Some of the particular mechanics of doing this I have written about in a previous article on “Shinnenjutsu” (mind control, which is about our perceptions and how to control another person’s perceptions). It will be worth your time to review that paper and refresh yourself with the details.
2. 空間の要 Kukan no Kaname – The Crux of the Kukan
There are many possible translations of the Japanese word kukan, but for our purposes we will use the idea of “the shape of the space – through time”. This definition allows us to look at a movement or technique, moment by moment, as it unfolds over time. A simple example would be the track a sword will take when swung by a swordsmen.
Imagine an opponent standing before you with the sword held over his head. If you look at all the possible paths the sword could take (he has a 360° range of choices) as it travels on its way to your body, you can get an idea of the shape of the space through time.
Obviously, until you can determine which of those paths the sword is actually taking, you don’t want to put your body into any of the potential pathways. You want to move to the “safe” place. This can be practiced with a punch, kick, or any type of weapon. Just remember that each weapon has its own unique characteristics, so you will want to study how the weapon could be used and how the person’s body changes shape during that use, then you can begin to anticipate what will most likely come next, thus allowing you to position your body appropriately in the “shape of the space” or kukan.
Another aspect of this kaname is studying the structure of the human body and how it can generate force so that you can adjust your opponents body just enough to take away his ability to deliver force without doing so much to his structure that he feels compelled to violently react.
As an exercise have someone take a stance where he can hit a pad with full force, then without allowing him to move his feet, slightly shift his shoulders and hips out of alignment with each other. See how little movement it actually takes to greatly diminish his ability to strike in any meaningful way. Understanding what shapes you need in order to deliver force as well as take away the ability to deliver force is also “Kukan no Kaname”.
- 動きの要 Ugoki no kaname – The Essence of Movement
- Hiding your movements
So, you’ve started to dial in your distance, you have begun to see the possible patterns emerge in the kukan, now we must learn how to move in that kukan to properly control the distance. Although this sounds easy, you will find that a lifetime’s worth of habitual movement will make this the most challenging area yet!
Let me ask you an obvious question, if you were to telegraph your movements to your opponent, do you think he would let you perform those movements on him? Of course not! And yet we all have many unconscious, habitual “preparatory” movements that telegraph our intentions to our opponents.
Do this exercise and you’ll see what I mean:
Stand in front of a mirror with your feet in a neutral position, next to each other, watching your head in the mirror. Then, step forward with your right foot. Notice how your upper body first shifts left? In the opposite direction of where you want to go?! This is our habitual way of walking. Every time you go to move/step, you have this preparatory shift, which telegraphs your intention to your opponent!
It should be clear that we need to learn to move in such a way as to NOT telegraph our intentions. Although learning how to use our body so that we don’t telegraph can really only be taught in person, play with this simple walking exercise: Stand with feet together, then load all your weight onto one leg, hold that position where your leg is loaded, then suddenly (with no movement of your body in the opposite direction!) pick up the foot that is loaded and fall. It need only be a small, falling step. You can quickly see how much preparatory motion you unconsciously use just to take a step. Obviously, as this is connected with our footwork, we need to be able to hide where we intend to step, so that, in combat, by the time our opponent perceives our movement, it is too late.
The easiest direction to begin this practice is sideways, then forward, and finally backwards. As you do this you will begin to see that you can move without first shifting and alerting your opponent. You will begin to be able to move in the direction you want to move in, not the OPPOSITE one first!
- Shiho Dori
Connected to the ability to hide your intention is the ability to move along the correct angle when you are attempting to apply a technique to your opponent. Some of you may be familiar with the technique 四方取りshiho dori, the “4 ways of taking or capturing”, from Kukishin Ryu. But the concept of shiho dori as it was taught to me is more broadly applicable.
Most of us are familiar with the idea of the weak line, or the “triangle point” as depicted on the left. If you draw a line between Uke’s feet, then draw a line perpendicular to it, you will have the weak line. Another method is to make a triangle with Uke’s feet being two points and a point along the weak line as the third point. However you learned this is not important, the information it gives you about someone’s structure and how to take them down is. For a very simple mechanical reason this concept works; Uke has nothing with which to brace his structure along the weak line. Of course, this is only true when there is no connection between you and him.
However, if there IS a connection between you and your Uke (let us say you have him in a double lapel grab), then the “weak line” changes into something else, the shiho dori, as depicted in the graphic below.
Now when I talk about a connection between you and your Uke, I don’t mean merely touching him, but having a strong enough connection that he is relying upon you for support. This could be in the form of laying your weight on him so that he must brace under your added weight, or, from the opposite perspective, you could be partially supporting him. Either way the connection has to be such that he cannot continue attacking you without first readjusting his structure. You, as the tori, must be able to instantly disengage and move in any direction. Once you understand how to manipulate the human bodies’ structure (remember Kukan non Kaname), you will find it easier to have more and more control over the Uke’s body at this point. When you are able to have a connection wherein you can manipulate your Uke’s shoulder, spine, and hips while he is unable to deliver force in your direction but you are free to disengage and move in any direction, then you have a zero point.
When you arrive at this point, then, and only then, the lines of the shiho dori appear. These lines are mathematically precise. They are difficult to find in training because they are constantly shifting with the movement and placement of the Uke and Tori. If you can imagine being positioned as the graphic above shows you can begin to get the idea of where you would need to move. It doesn’t matter which way either the Uke or Tori is facing, once you have the zeropoint connection, these lines are there. To effortlessly take you Uke down, you need to step/fall along one of these lines, either forward or backwards. Both you and your Uke must move along the lines – precisely. The fulcrum of your connection is usually moving above these lines.
Again, without direct guidance in how to apply the principle of shiho dori, this will seem confusing. But the dramatic improvement in your taijutsu, once you do learn how to implement shiho dori, will make you feel as giddy as a school girl!
Quite possibly the most fun of the ugoki no kaname, this concept of “Press-Pulse-Press” or “PPP”, will be immediately recognized to anyone who has spent some time training with Hatsumi Sensei.
The basic idea is this; as you apply a technique to your opponent (for the sake of simplicity let us say omote gyaku), you put just enough tension into it to get a response from your Uke (‘Press’), either in the form of him bracing to resist you, or him trying to drop his body under his wrist to escape the lock. As soon as you feel this you suddenly drop the power out of your hold while simultaneously dropping into a crouch (‘Pulse’).
This rapid loss of pressure (which your Uke was using to maintain his structure) will cause your Uke to wobble off-balance. Without waiting for them to regain their position, put the tension back into the gyaku (‘Press’) as you move in one of the 4 directions – no telegraphing!
If done correctly, they will drop to the ground. Usually laughing because they can’t understand why they fell, since you didn’t force them down. (This is why I say this is the most fun of the kaname as you will be doing a lot of laughing as you begin to use this idea throughout your training).
This is what Hatsumi Sensei means when he talks about “chikara no nuki kata”, the method of dropping your power out.
* I purposely left out a few details in the above description since it must truly be felt to be understood and a thorough description would take many pages to cover! Suffice it to say that each one of these pieces takes several hours of explanation just to see the ideas somewhat clearly in your mind, physically doing them at will, much longer…
Of course there are many more ways of looking at the idea of Kaname, some more straightforward and some even more esoteric. Trying to quantify everything is useless, but these particular ideas have been incredibly useful in helping people see and understand the taijutsu Hatsumi Sensei (and his top instructors in Japan) is doing.
Finally, don’t get too serious about these things, in the words of Hatsumi Sensei “play!”