HOME >  Feature Articles >  【Series of Budo Essay vol.3】“Awareness” [First Half]

“Awareness”  Most important and remarkable result attained through BUJUTSU training

What“Awareness” means ?

You can often watch such scene in Samurai movies or TV dramas that a hero can detect attacker’s presence in his behind and does counter attack right before he is attacked. It might be so hard to understand this concept for Western people that a well-established Samurai could detect the presence of attacker who hides behind him even he does not see nor hear the attacker at all. It is too hard to realize that one could detect the other’s mind which is still not realized as an act. Westerners simply believe that it should be a fairy tale and could happen only in stories.
For Japanese, we take it as normal. For highly skilled Samurai, they can detect attacker’s mind quit naturally so most or even all of Japanese simply believe it is real. BBut how it happens ? Do all Japanese know it from own experience? Or is it a nation wide illusion which has been build up for hundreds years?
I would like to mention one Japanese Budo master, named Master Akira HINO, a Japanese Bujutsu-ka whose name is well known not only in Japan but in world wide. Once I saw a video where he shows a performance to avoid rifle’s bullet by quickly waving/turning him aside before the trigger is on. Of course the real bullet was not loaded in that rifle, but by observing Master HINO’s movement and the timing of triggering sound, we could judge if he could have escaped or not.
It was really amazing that every time Master HINO could move his body fully aside from the bullet path at the moment trigger was made. Of course the speed of a finger which makes trigger is much quicker than Master HINO’s body movement. He surely should have detected or felt the attacker’s triggering intention. This is only one logical explanation how and why it was possible. Master HINO should have mastered this Awareness through his long and deep Bujutsu training. He must be able to detect the attacker’s intention by gazing attacker’s eyes, or delicate change which appears all through attacker’s entire body.

Japanese BUDO master,Akira Hino

Even for Western people, this performance might be understood somehow, although it is still very much mysterious. But they surely still cannot accept the concept that well established Samurai could detect an attacker’s intention who hides behind and not visible from that Samurai at all. This could be possible if the Samurai can pay a sharp attention not only forwards but all around him like a sonar of submarine. And this is nothing else but one of Awareness in Bujutsu.
The other Awareness is “noticing” It means a well-established Samurai could notice a serious matter from a tiny evidence on which people could normally never pay attention. The target of this Awareness does not be restricted to the other’s attacking intention but every important intentions or happenings.
Well, let’s explain those two Awareness by referring to examples described in popular Samurai stories.

Awareness described in famous Samurai story “MIYAMOTO Musashi”

If I could point out the best story described Samurai’s way of living, it should be “MIYAMOTO Musashi” written by the most famous history story writer, Mr. Eiji YOSHIKAWA.
This story has been read and loved by a lot of Japanese for over half century. A hero of this book, a Samurai named MIYAMOTO Musashi, really existed during 16-17th centuries, when Japan was divided into many small countries which continued wars against each other till beginning of Tokugawa Shogun époque when Japan was united by the final winner of the wars, i.e. Mr. TOKUGWA Ieyasu. Thanks to this book, name of MIYAMOTO Musashi has become so popular that it is well known all over Japan now.

Musashi MIYAMOTO in his old days drawn by Musashi. He left several famous pictures and carvings
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7c/P03jigazou.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/Kobokumeigekizu.jpg


Like Master OYAMA Masutatsu, the founder of KYOKUSHIN Karate school, thousands of Japanese had kept the way of Musashi’s life with full of challenging spirits through battle field and death matches as their spiritual support during their own hard time. If any Western people intend to know and understand the Samurai spirits, it is strongly recommended to read this book as the first thing to do. It is not my purpose to explain how interesting this book is, but to explain Awareness itself by quoting several episodes from this book as good examples. These episode can exactly tell what Awareness is.

also his work (all three from Wikipedia)

1) At Yagyu village

Musashi, in his younger days, has just started his long path to establish his Kenjutsu style and tried to meet famous established Samurai to receive any hints/suggestion to improve his skills. One day he visited Yagyu village in Nara prefecture, where a well-known Kenjutsu master YAGYU Sekishusai lived. Musashi intended to meet that old Sekishusai and receive a hint from him.
With staying at a small inn in the village, Musashi thought over how he could meet that well-known Kenjutsu master, YAGYU Sekishusai. Because this already retired old Samurai did not want to be disturbed his quiet time by meeting hundreds of visitors from all over Japan. At the same time, there are another visitors from Kyoto. They are the party from YOSHIOKA school in Kyoto, which was established by an famous Kenjutsu master named YOSHIOKA Kenpo. Since this founder, the name of YOSHIOKA family has become well-known all over Japan. And one of the family member, YOSHIOKA Denhichiro stayed in the village together with his students. He was waiting for a reply from Sekishusai for the meeting. Denhichiro was so confident that he could even defeat that Sekishusai and wrote him an impolite letter that he wants to make a match as a same skilled Samurai. Denhichiro was so sure that Sekishusai should meet him because such famous YOSHIOKA family member came to meet him from Kyoto.
A reply from Sekishusai was delivered to Denhichiro. It was just a twig of bloom and nothing more. So, Denhichiro convinced that Sekishusai avoided to meet him because he might worry to lose the match. Denhichiro declared his thought with full conviction then he and his followers left the village to go back to Kyoto. After they had left the inn, Musashi entered into their room so that he could watch the twig. He believed that the twig should carry certain message from Sekishusai. He gazed that twig and frightened when he found its small cut area. It was so sharp and should be cut by highest skilled person. Immediately he realized the astonishing high skill of Sekishusai.
Then he tried to cut twigs by himself if he could make such sharp cut area, either. He tried a hundred times but not once came out successfully. Then again he realized that he could be never compared with Sekishusai at that moment and could find his excellent future target. At least Musashi has become quite happy to get it.

2) At HOZOIN Yari DOJO in Nara

After defeating YOSHIOKA family completely in Kyoto through over three times fights, Musashi has become somehow famous in Kenjutsu. He was strolling around Japan to seek for a new strong opponent and has arrived HOZOIN Yari(spear) Dojo in Nara.
When he was walking through a narrow path in a huge territory of the HOZOIN temple to the Dojo which was located in the backyard of the temple, he saw an old monk plowing ground by a hoe in his way forward. At the moment he reached close to the monk Musashi felt strong attacking intention from the monk and immediately jumped away from him to avoid his potential attack. But nothing had happened. The monk just continued plowing the ground. Musashi walked on with strange feeling and tried to calm down his turbulent mind
At the DOJO, Mr. HOIN Kakushun, a head of the DOJO was absent and accordingly one of his superior student Agon was providing matches to the visitors. There are 10-15 visitors who wanted to make match but after seeing several visitors had become invalid or even killed by Agon’s strong and brutal spear attack, they all hesitated to make match and just kept sitting with faces down to avoid Agon’s eye. Then Musashi raised his hand to receive Agon’s proposal to fight with. At that time, through a small window of the Dojo, that monk was watching inside, and whispered
“ Agon’s has no chance with that young Samurai.”
The match ended very shortly. Musashi avoided Agon’s speedy stroke and the same moment his BO-KKEN (wooden Katana for training) hit Agon’s head and killed him in once.
After this match Musashi was invited to a visitor’s room of the temple by that monk. His name was Nikkan, a head of the neighbor temple of HOZOIN. Musashi talked what he experienced at the path with Nikkan. Nikkan told Musashi that he. as an amateur of Bujutsu, can never radiate attacking intention and that it should have been a reflection of Musashi’s attacking intention if Musashi felt it. By hearing Nikkan’s explanation, Musashi has got confused and tried to realized what he meant by his words.
This episode suggests several important points as followings.
a. Musashi had been paying sharp attention around him all the time even he was just walking.
b. Nikkan noticed or detected sharp intention radiated from Musashi and reflected it back against Musashi
c. Musashi was frightened by strong attacking intention, which, he though, was radiated by Nikkan
d. Both Musashi and Nikkan had keen awareness which indicates Awareness could be attained not only by Bujutsu training but also by the other training like Buddhism.

Hozoin Ryu Yarijutsu

Why Awareness is so important in Bujutsu?

After reading this article till here, most of the readers might basically understand what Awareness is. Then I would like to explain why it is regarded so important to attain Awareness in Bujutsu training.
It is most important in Bujutsu to win every match because one loss shall result in death most of the cases. Only few could reach the top who continued winning all the matches. It may sound same as today’s professional boxing. But the difference is the fact that just one loss results in death and there is no more return match in Bujutsu. That is why in Bujutsu one must win every time with full of attention and care. They must concentrate and utilize every possible means to win, i.e. to survive their lives. And Awareness should be an ultimate effort to survive. We could say that the strength of Awareness shall decide win or loss, i.e. life or death.
Now, let’s pick up interesting episodes from the Samurai books written by Mr, SHIBA Ryotaro, who is regarded as a top ranked historical story writer same as Mr. YOSHIKAWA Eiji.

1) YAGYU Munenori’s foul attack

In the époque of 3rd TOKUGAWA family’s Shogun Iemitsu, middle of 17th century, when YAGYU family has established its stable position as Shogun’s Kenjutsu teacher, a well-known high skilled Samurai wanted to make a match with YAGYU Munenori, a head of the family. Normally nobody can make a match with such top ranked Kenjutsu-ka as Munenori, but the Shogun Iemitsu himself wanted to see which could win, so he ordered Munenori to fight.
After receiving Shogun’s order Munenori studied very carefully about his opponent and found that the opponent was so skilled that even he might lose. Then Munenori specially requested Shogun Iemitsu if they could fight with real swards (SHIN-KEN) instead of BO-KKEN and the opponent accepted his offer. As a matter of fact physically the difference between SHIN-KEN and BO-KKEN was not such big. Even by BO-KKEN fight, most of the case BO-KKEN hits so hardly that almost all the cases looser becomes invalid or dead.
On the day when the fight was taken place, both competitors walked into the fighting ground from left and right sides to the front of Shogun Iemitsu. They stopped at the 2.5 meters distance from each others and turn to Shogun to bow. At the moment both bowed and turn up their back, Munenori so suddenly assaulted the opponent unawares by cutting his body from up right to down left. The opponent has died in once. Normally match should start after they bow to Shogun and face to each other then they hear the start shout by a selected attendance. So, the opponent did not expect this sudden attack by Munenori. When he was attacked he was not yet ready to start fighting.
Shogun Iemitsu was so shocked to see Munenori’s act and strongly blamed him why he behaved so unfairly. The Shogun even thought that he should punish Munenori by ordering HARA-KIRI (die by cutting own abdomen). Munenori answered to SHOGUN’s blaming as followings.
“The fight should have started since we both agreed to fight with SHIN-KEN. Because I am Kenjutsu teacher of Shogun, which means I should be superior to all other Kenjutsu-ka in Japan, I should not and could not lose. That is my strict duty so I tried all the possible means to win. It was quite natural behavior not to be blamed as BUJUTSU-ka. The opponent was to be blamed his unawareness not to be ready against my sudden attack. His mind was too dull as a Samurai. He lost the match because of his lack of Awareness.”
SHOGUN Iemitsu had to accept Munenori’s explanation because it was a logic, although he did not feel very happy with own retainer, Munenori’s win. But at least he did not make any punishment against Munenori.
In Bujutsu, Munenori’s behavior should not be blamed as an unfair act. As he explained, the serious fight had already started since both agreed to use SHIN-KEN. It meant a death fight, so they should and could utilize every possible means and materials to win. Not realizing such serious important fact, the opponent was so easy and though he could start fighting after hearing start shout. Such being the case, although Shogun Iemitsu felt unpleasant with Munenori’s behavior, he did not punish Munenori by ordering HARA-KIRI.

Now most of the reader surely got an doubt that Munenori’s behavior should violate fundamental Budo spirits as Reisetsu(politeness) and fairness. How and why it could be tolerated even it was a matter of Awareness. It is quite natural that such doubt arises. Before TOKUGAWA Shogun époque had started, war and fights were taken place everywhere in all over Japan. Samurai trained Bujtsu so hard to defeat the enemy and to survive. They could and should take every means to win. There were no Reisetsu nor fairness in their discipline. It was only one purpose to win. In Kenjutsu it actually happened a lot that a student with strong ambition attacked his teacher to take over the teacher’s famous name by defeating him.
When TOKUGAWA Shogun period had started, all the Samurai had to work as administrative officers with carrying their Katana which has become no practical usage at all. They had to keep wearing Katana as a symbol of Samurai, otherwise they will lose their identity as Samurai and accordingly lose their job. So far as they keep wearing Katana, they had to train it. Or because of the pride as being Samurai, they kept training of Kenjutsu.
We as a human beings need purpose when we had to do something, especially it take a lot of time and effort. We can never put our big energy for nothing. So Samurai tried to find a good reason/purpose to train Bujutsu and they had found that it is to cultivate their mind to become a respectable person, just like as religion training. In this way Bujutsu, as fighting system, has become Budo. In the beginning of TOKUGAWA Shogun period, this change was not yet completely done. Both Bujutus and Budo existed together. So, Shogun Iemitsu already had a mind of Budo, but he had to accept Munenori’s Bujutsu concept.

Yagyu Shinkage Ryu
To be continued to [Second Half]

th_DSC_0246Text by Kurabe Makoto Shiseido

Born in 1950. When he was in his 30s, he began learning Gyakute-do Jujutsu, which was derived from Hakkoryu Jujutsu in the 1970s. Just before reaching the age of 40, he moved from Japan to The Netherlands and continued to master and develop Gyakute-do. In October of 2013, after adding the system of Aiki-Jutsu that he developed himself, he transformed Gyakute-do into Aiki-Jujutsu Gyakute-do, and became 2nd Soushi, grand master, of Gyakute-do. After retirement, he left The Netherlands and began promoting Aiki-Jujutsu Gyakute-do both in Japan and in Poland  as his main pursuit. He is also teaching his Gyakute-do to Budo fan in the world via corresponding course.