Martial Musings: State of the Samurai Mind

Martial Musings: State of the Samurai Mind

State of the Samurai Mind, by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

Shugyos are a form of austere training that introduce one to oneself. This method of training emerged during the Tokugawa period starting in mid 1600s. Shugyos have a a way of evoking some profound issues and learnings along their path including facing ourselves and our fears. It is a sacred pilgrimage that allows us to face our crap on our terms, rather than wait for the "Great Spirit" to bring it to us.

During our drive to the Shasta shugyo, I introduced students to some of the Yamabushi/Samurai history and religion. Understanding culture/context is critical to both grok and to ultimately transcend that philosophy. We talked about the Tokugawa period and how it changed the face of Japanese Martial Arts: 

The Tokugawa period experienced peace for 150 years. The samurai went from being battle tested to testing their concepts in a dojo. This was a period of conceptualization, leading to some interesting amagamations. For eg. Shintoism, Shugendo, Zen, Confucianism, Daois, Buddhism and Bushido started merging to form an uniquely Japanese worldview. 

The Tokugawa period saw three luminaries who have defined Japanese martial arts to this day:

1. Yagyu Munenori (author of The Life Giving Sword): Munenori taught kenjutsu to two Tokugawa shoguns and founded the Shinkage ryu system. Munenori was deeply influenced by the Zen priest Takuan.  The major themes of Takuan's teachings, that of non attachment and non-violence shine through Munenori's book. To me this was beginning of the Do (way) creeping into the traditional Japanese jutsu (skill) arts. Watch the movie "Shoguns Samurai (1978)" if you want to track Munenori in popular culture.
2. Yamamoto Tsunetomo (author of The Hagakure): This book is a collection of around 1300 anecdotes on the Bushido (Way of the Warrior). It is the bible on how a samurai chooses to live and die. In popular culture, the movies Ghost Dog and Le Samourai give a glimpse of the Hagakure.
3. Miyamoto Musashi (author of The Book of Five Rings): I doubt there is a serious martial artist who has not read his no nonsense but hard to understand book. Numerous movies share the exploits of the man who was never defeated in his sixty plus duels. 

As expected, the Shasta shugyo saw a lot of fears and issues come to the forefront especially during testing. The environment added some serious pressure too: 100+ degrees weather, exposed backcountry and icy cold glacial waters made it tough. We hiked through the wilderness past two lakes to find a spot by the cliff's edge to begin our journey. 

The test started with gusto. The students had finished a their first hundred punches in Kibadachi (horse stance) at the edge of a cliff. But I saw some eyes glaze and felt minds getting ready to give up on the Kibadachi. So, it was time to bring their spirits up while teaching them something new - a good time to bring in some of the history and concepts. This also gave them the time to "raise their spirits" and perhaps find themselves in the process:

"Antero Alli, a renegade theatre facilitator taught me the mind can be a liar and a whore. It always drew a laugh but there is such profound truth in it. So pay attention. The mind will run like a recorder and play false stories, and these stories then run your life. The mind does not go on the hard path, but on what serves it quickly. Hence bringing awareness to this process is important not only to gain a certain mastery of yourself, but to also accelerate your martial performance.

What I find most fascinating about the Tokugawa period is the marriage of Jutsu (Skill) with Zen, giving rise to the DO, the WAY. The fear invoking Katana went from the Life Taking Sword to the Life Giving Sword. The period of peace afforded the Samurai the luxury to conceptualize, to experiment. This molting, discarding of the old world to enter into an expanded new world, was a profound step forward.

We begin to see the movement from violence to personal development. This does not mean the loss of skill, but rather skill with awareness, absolute responsibility.

This period started the process of brining the mind/awareness into the study of martial arts. The many distinctions made by the monks on the states of mind were now bought into the study of the arts especially five key states of mind. These are:-

Shoshin: (初心) Beginners Mind
Zanshin: (残心) Steady/Lingering Mind
Mushin: (無心) Empty/No Mind
Fudoshin: (不動心) Immovable Mind
Senshin: (先心) Pure/wakeful Mind."

The sun was beating down overhead and the edge of the cliff sent it's dire warning while Mt. Shasta dominated the entire landscape. Time to return to Kibadachi (horse riding stance) and deliver more punches. I saw the beads of sweat, and fear on their faces. With courage, the students took their spots on the cliff's edge. They finished their 100 and then it was time for a short physical break.

"I know you have done these punches thousands of times. But you've got to arrive at it with Shoshin: (初心) Beginners Mind. In so many ways you are doing these punches for the very first time given the edge of this cliff.  A beginners mind is where you arrive at the experience without preconceived notions or the need to perform. I love the book Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Suzuki Sensei. There is this one quote in it that captures the heart of this state of awareness.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few. ” ― Shunryu Suzuki

There is this story of Master Nan-in, a renowned Zen teacher in the Meiji period. It is said he once had a professor visit him to learn about Zen. Master Nan-in welcomed him with a traditional cup of tea, and started to pour. Soon it was overflowing, the professor unable to take anymore screamed out that the cup was full, and it could hold no more. Nanin responded that just like this cup, so was the professor, full with his ideas and opinions. No more would go in. How would he be able to experience Zen, if his own preconceptions blocked the way? Empty Your Cup if you want to receive. This is the beginners mind."

The students looked at me wondering how this was relevant, especially now they were at the cliffs edge. I continued, "Leave your learnings behind, you are in the lap of beauty and peril. Open yourself to this experience. Don't worry about your performance or about the environment being beautifully harsh. Just Do It, and see what unfolds thanks to this new environment. Be childlike and come into deep play."

It was time for atemi combinations in tenshin (attack formations). 12 strikes within the system, each with 10 specific uses/henka. I called the attacks out, the students demonstrated in this new hostile environment. The temperature climbed into the low 100s, and their faces gleamed with sweat and doubts of this was all worth it. They requested a quick water break. I nodded with a stern "3 minutes." They ran to fetch their precious water.

"I have noticed that some of you are in a great hurry to move from one technique to the next. You are maintaining your awareness during and after the technique is completed. This is Zanshin: (残心): the Lingering Mind, the state of awareness from a position of advantage and readiness to move to whatver is needed next. "Zanshin is described as lingering mind, remaining mind or vigilant mind. Your attention is on eveything around you and your opponent. With zanshin you are totally connected with the enviornment, finding a way to marvel even at this perilious beauty of Shasta. I fondly remember Sastri Sensei making us do blindfolded randori. Sometimes my dojo mates would even use weapons to attack. This developed both sensitivity and awareness of the whole enviornment - without sight. This helped build zanshin in all we did at that small dojo."

"Right presence of mind means that the mind or spirit is present everywhere, because it is nowhere attached to any particular place......
......The instructor’s business is not to show the way itself, but to enable the pupil to get the feel of this way to the goal by adapting it to his individual peculiarities."
Zen in the Art of Archery. 
(Read this book. Buy two copies, yes it is that good.)

All right 3 minutes up." I said, "Back to the test. Show me Geri/kicks."
They started with furor. The job of the test is to get them to their breaking point, and to then push them a little more to help them reform a new nucleus. These new levels of freedom, the things they thought were impossible, are now their possibilities. This happens after the mind gives up resisting all old stories and the heart continues to drive on.

"Get on one of those rocks and give me one hundred kicks. Careful that you maintain your balance, its a nice big drop down there." They hurried, trying to find a safe rock and I redirected the two senior students to a more worthy challenge. Their moods and faces changed. 

Good, now perhaps they could experience their edge.

"You have done this kick thousands of time. It is in you. Execute. Suspend your doubts, including the technique or the lovely 1000 foot plus drop. Hajime (begin)."

They started somewhat in fear and soon were now executing their kicks with few hiccups. 100 round kicks atop a 1000 foot cliffedge in 100 plus weather is challenging. Dont take my word on it, try it. 

"When you stopped worrying about the kick or that fall , you started to experience Mushin: (無心) No Mind. You have entered the realm of unconscious competence. I remember reading somewhere how Tohei Sensei once described this state. He compared it to driving a car. He stated you dont think about all the things you need to do like accelerate, change the gears or turn the wheel. You operate that car without conscious thought. The goal is to be able to fiercely express yourself physically without conscious thought during conflict. That was his description of Zanshin.
You have heard me talk a lot about Stopping the World, well this is stopping the world as you perform action. The Bhagwad Gita, set in the battlefield of Kurukshetra talks of this beautifully. Sri Krishna tells the warrior Prince Arjuna to be based in pure awareness (no thoughts) while performing his actions. So while this is called no mind, a better term for it would be no thoughts while performing your action. Just perform it from that space of complete awareness."

"If you gaze at a single leaf on a single tree, you do not see the other leaves. If you face the tree with no intention and do not fix your eyes on a single leaf, then you will see all the many leaves. If your mind is preoccupied with one leaf, you do not see the others, if you do not set your attention on one; you will see hundreds and thousands of leaves."
 The Heredity Book of War by Yagyū Munenori

The heat had become unbearable, the granite rocks were now steaming hot. It was time for a short break. We climbed up to Heart Lake in our Gis. The lake was brisk from being freshly fed from snow and glacier. Not very deep, but perfect to mix things up. The students entered the water. One newer student, however, seemed perplexed. 

Now we began with locks and randori, in the cold water, in some places neck deep. This newer student started freezing up, tears rolling down those expressive eyes. The student later confided that it was at that moment the almost gave up. 

One particular body grab while submerging into the cold water froze that student completely. I screamed out "don't fight on so many fronts. You can't win against the environment, the opponent and yourself at the same time. Accept things as they are, and move, do what you know."

With hesitation, the student followed the instructions.  Sinking deep into the water, slipping out of the lock the student applied Kansentsuwaza (arm bar) on the opponent. 


Suddenly the spirit came back, and tears flowed again. The test flowed with much more ease and finesse after that. The student had accepted the challenges with a new found calmness.

"When you keep at your goal with calmness and fortitude, that is Fudoshin: (不動心) Immovable Mind. You are aware of everything around you, your environment, your fears and your opponents. Despite looming death or failure, you maintain a state of calmness and perform your actions, your sacred duty.

This was a prized state for the Samurai. It showed up as courage against unsurmountable odds. Fudoshin is the stuff of the truly Great.  Tsukahara Bokuden, captured this spirit well when he said: "Mental calmness, not skill, is the sign of a matured samurai."

This maturity comes from accepting things as they are, and making peace with our greatest fears, and our own death. This can't be avoided, and yet once you make peace with them, it opens the doorways to freedom. If you want to learn more about this, to understand the Bushido, read the Hagakure:"

The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords. Being carried away by surging waves. Being thrown into the midst of a great fire. Being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake. Falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease, or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. 
Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure

As I seek the threads that connect, the commanality between the Samurai and the Kshatriyas (warriors of India) continues to amaze me. The Bhagwad Gita for example provides a great understanding of this concept. Pay attention to this verse, from Sri Krishna to his protege Prince Arjuna.

"yoga-sthah kuru karmani sangam tyaktva dhananjaya siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhutva samatvam yoga ucyate"
"Be steadfast in yoga, O Arjuna. Perform your duty and abandon all attachment to success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga" The Bhagwad Gita

"This evenness of mind, that calm spirit, that fortitude, that graceful acceptance of it all - this is the stuff of champions. Fudoshin."

It was time to end today's part of test for the day and to hike back to our campsite. The worn-out students nearly passed out, thinking of the rest of the test to be held at the foot of an icy cold waterfall.
"Why should we worry about these old distinctions? Do they even apply to us today?" asked one of my more skeptical student's.
I looked at this particular student with gentleness, thinking back of the time when I was him. Throwing a thousand questions was the norm with Sastri Sensei. I smiled. I love it when my students challenge me, it helps me grow. It is in this process my students transform into my teachers.

Better distinctions make for better decisions, esp when it comes to what we want, and how we show up. It is in distintions that true genius is born."

"In todays hyper short attention spans, these qualities are even more important. So yes we need to be grateful to those ancestors on the path, the Samurai. Their genius was merging seemingly opposite worldviews of war and self perfection . The Chinese influence here cannot be understated. "

"The Zen masters were deeply influenced by the Chan masters in China. And of course the Chinese got it from Boddhidharma, an Indian monk. The thread of mind trainining is something that runs thousands of years. These warrior monks did not buy into mere ideology. They experimented fiercely and proved it to themselves. You could call haps the longest running scientific experiment. 

"You are free to check it our for yourself" I winked. He laughed realizing he walked into a trap he sought to set or perhaps the freedom he could discover. Only he can decide. We parted ways for the night.

A week or so passed, the same student asked me "what is the purpose of all these distinctions/"

"Oh one more distinction for you tonight. The purpose is to get to what the Japenese would call Senshin: (先心) Purified Mind; an enlightened attitude. This is a state where the mind is free from everything that is not in Ai or harmony. One would say this is a state without self image. When without self image, or ego, you can enter into harmony (Ai) with everything. This is the true pursuit of mastery. Without Senshin there would be no compassion, no empathy. You would only have a Life Taking Sword, no Life Giving Sword. This state of mind serves humanity, and perhaps everything." I paused for a minute then concluded "the very word Samurai means to serve, does it not?" 

He nodded.

He asked "How will I know I am embracing all these states of mind Sensei? How do I know am not just caught in perpetual back and forth in my own mind or as you call mental masturbation?" 

I laughed out loud: the student listens, even if selectively. Got to find humor and shock value if certain concepts are to stick in their minds. Got to throw a lot of shit at them, and hope at least some of it sticks.

"You are going to love this. You have all those states and more when you have experienced Satori and Shibumi. Sudden enlightenment and unobstuctive elegant truth. That is a lifetime study, and yet happens in an instant.  Highly recommend you read Trevanian's novel Shibumi, it might be the easiest way into these truths."

Shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. It is a statement so correct that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. Shibumi is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanor, it is modesty without pudency. In art, where the spirit of shibumi takes the form of sabi, it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is . . . how does one say it? Authority without domination? Something like that.”
Nicholai’s imagination was galvanized by the concept of shibumi. No other ideal had ever touched him so. “How does one achieve this shibumi, sir?”
“One does not achieve it, one . . . discovers it. And only a few men of infinite refinement ever do that. ”
“Meaning that one must learn a great deal to arrive at shibumi?”
“Meaning, rather, that one must pass through knowledge and arrive at simplicity.” ― Trevanian, Shibumi

I hear you that is can be confounding. But this Enlightened Simplicity has always been the purpose of all true art. The great Irish poet James Joyce coined the term Aesthetic Arrest. To me this also points towards that same state of mind, state of being. He states that proper art is one which does not create desire nor repulsion in the observer. The art rather holds them in stillness, in the Aesthetic Arrest of the moment. Beautiful is it not, Ireland and Japan. They could not be further apart, yet arrive at the same conclusion. Threads that connect. Something to pay close attention to."

It was getting late, the call of good home cooked food was irresistable. Tonight it was going to be a simple daal-chawal (lentil soup and basmati rice), cooked to perfection. The sweet aroma of the basmati rice and spicy daal made me salivate. Now cap that with a cup of fine chai with ginger, saffron and cardamom, it was time to go.

"I will close with this. There is an old adage in India, and you have seen it on my Coat of Arms. Satyam Shivam Sundaram. It roughly translates into that which is True, is Good, is Beautiful/Sublime. I try to track the sublime/beautiful, in it I find what is Good, that which is True."

"You got to find your path in. For me BEAUTY works. Now got to go to that beautiful meal that awaits me" I laughed as we walked to the carpark.

These States of Samurai Mind are key signposts along the way, the way to yourself. I hope you arrive at it in the most exquisite manner. May your path be filled with beauty that stills your mind, in the moment. For in it you would have discovered the truth, Your TRUTH. The path with a heart, Your HEART. That is the true secret.

Mahipal Lunia

Martial Musings: Secrets of the Blade

Martial Musings: Secrets of the Blade

Martial Musings: Secrets of the Blade by Mahipal Lunia

Having students who have fifteen plus years of training enables an exploration of patterns that would not be possible with beginners.

We were training with the Tanto (Japanese blade) in our Saturday class (both the AJJ and SEMA groups). After working through the basics, it was time to start thinking beyond the fixed forms, and unlock their conceptualization.

"Blades have a language of their own. Understanding the blade and properly using it can be the difference between whether you travel into the Earth or on it." I chuckled to myself waiting for my joke to land. It didn't.Message to self: stick to the day job.

"The tanto, like most blades of its kind, have four distinct movement patterns. Learning the blade's language will unravel very distinct ways of moving and interacting with the opponent. Lets explore them briefly, especially in relationship to the Tanto, while touching on some of the other blade types as well."

The HA (Edge): This is the cutting edge. It allows for the slashing motions that cuts open the body. Depending on how deep/long you you want to go, you start from one end of the edge moving to the other. The common method is starting from the Tsuba/gaurd and moving towards the tip. This opens the side to side movements, and a lot of side stepping. In our system we we notice this in our diagonal cuts , and in the seppuku (ritual suicide)/disemboweling. In the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) there are specific drills like Banda Banda, that open this language up. With the American Bowie/European sabre we see this in the attack flow strikes 2 and 3. The Ha teaches the grammar of diagonal movement, slipping in and out, while cutting the target open.

The KISSAKI (Point): is what penetrates deep into the body, meaning to puncture the organs. The movement consists of lunges: both quick-short lunges and well-timed deep, penetrating lunges. This lunge is is done by moving the blade first followed by kicking forward the front foot and propelling the body forward with the back foot. If you want to see mastery of this motion, look at expert foil, epee or sabre fencers. Within the (FMA) we see this with the reverse grip/drawpoint/Earth drills. The Kissaki teaches you the grammar of the straight line, lunging forward and backwards at great speed.

The MUNE (the back/spine): this does three things:

  1. It deflects a blade that cuts through your maai/safe distance before jumping/bouncing off for a reverse strike. Within the FMA this kind of movement is called the Abanico or fanning

  2. The Backcut; the signature of the Sabre and Bowie knife fighting system. A way to disappear one's weapon and hand and use the back edge to cut

  3. Finally much like the ridgehand using the mune to pull the opponent in for either a trap or using the second blade to finish them


The KASSHIRA (a butt cap or pommel on the end of the tsuka.) The butt makes for a great Tetsui (hammer fist strike) and concentrates the stopping power. Much like the tetsui, this is a good way to close the gap and to stop a jumpy person in their tracks. The FMA call this kind of striking the punyo. When held right, the Kasshira can be used to do traps and locks as well. One of the key footwork patterns on this is kokutsusdachi (cat stance) and jumping in especially when a strike has been launched. The grammar here is punching and tearing motions. This is such a powerful method that some Indonesian systems have developed a special blade for this motion: the Karambit.

"This is fascinating! So why is this not more widely known?" inquired one of the students.

"I think the older generation did teach it or at least gave enough hints on it. Most students get caught up in either the flash or the romance of the blade, forgetting the grammar of motion."

"Grammar?" they asked.

"Yes. Grammar is syntax and morphology of semantics. Well, in this case, it is the syntax and morphology of the blade art itself. The syntax of blade motion. We have discussed what I call the Vocabulary of Motion before, so this builds on it. Think about it but more importantly, play with the idea." I let that sink in a bit and then continued:

"Grammar comes from an old French word grammaire, which was a book for casting spells by following a very specific syntax (structure/sequence) of words/action. In the old Scottish it is the word for sorcery. You could see this as the magick of the blade. It's footwork patterns."

They were excited by this. Words too have deep power. As a teaching tool, words need to captivating, enthralling and serving as a means of transcending the limitations of the mind.

"The grammar one can learn from this tanto comes in four movement patterns, four universal motions of the blade. The magic of sidestepping while slashing, the power of lunging forward in the unstoppable thrust, the deception of withdrawing into a cat-step or back-stance only to tear into the flesh, and finally the cat stepping, dropping in to freeze the fast mover. Cat-stepping is one leg weighted while other being super light, so it has two variations. Remember that."

"With ryuha/battle or system strategy one learns the grammar of when to use what. The magick disappears when over specialization kicks in and your entire repertoire is in just one kind of motion. That is kinda sad, that diversity of motion makes us humans rather than..." and before I could complete my thought one of my students jumped in:

"...insects," he laughed, quoted Robert Heinlein. "Specialization is for Insects."

We roared like the sci-fi nerds we can be. The reference was from Robert Heinlien's cult classic Stranger From A Strange Land. "Not what I was going for but it works."

"Sensei, you spoke about the Tanto, but what about the Wakizashi and Katana?"

"Three weapon sizes. To me they teach one how to move in three different ranges. The Japanese arts use the word Maai (the FMA use the concept of suka) which means interval or engagement distance. We have the three weapons which exemplify and teach the grammar of the blade at those ranges. And once you learn that, you can move between them and weapons."

  • To-ma is the long distance. Within the FMA it is Largo. The Katana, Espada and Rapier are for this range.

  • Itto-ma is the middle distance, and in the FMA it is Medio. The Wakizashi, the Bowie and the machette/bolo excel here.

  • Chikama is the short/close distance, or Corto in th FMA. Here we have the tanto, daga and karambit.

"Different weapons move differently, and they specialize in one range/distance. Its very much like photography. Kind of like a good prime lens, the weapon is fashioned for one specific focal range. You COULD buy an-all-in-one zoom, but you sacrifice in quality of image. Much like that, you COULD use any one weapon as an all purpose, but you sacrifice something. For the professional, use the right tool for the right job. If the weapon in your hand and your opponents hand dictate the range, the obe with superior grammar/footwork with timing will prevail.

A lot of other factors affect both blade choice and how the blade moves through space. Some of them include:

  • Straight vs curve: determines thrusting or slicing bias

  • Weight: even, front or back weighted. Weight distribution will determine whether blade pulls, glides or drops.

  • Length: determines maai, kamae (stance) and radius of movement

  • Single vs double-edged

  • Fixed vs folder: affect carrying and draw

  • Environment you find yourself in: Urban, jungle, water, battle field. For example, I would would pick a short dagger over a Katana while underwater, and Katana over a dagger on a battlefield.

Another way to think about it is how the blade wants to be expressed. To me we can learn something from music here. Articulation in music is how one moves between multiple notes or sounds. Similarly, we need to think about how we transition between moves. These smooth/no so smooth transitions define the rhythm of how the blade/man moves.

Music and movement have always been intricately tied. In the martial arts you see it drumming in Japan, SE Asia, Brazil and Africa. You move with the beats. So think of this with relationship to the blade as well. understand the music, understand how that culture moves the blade"

The Staccato man moves in short detached moves, much like hip hop or think of the pumping actions

The Legato man moves in smooth flowing motions, you will likely see more circular patterns.

The Tenuto man exaggerates the strike, making larger lines/circles for effect.

With that, I was looking to end the class and started to walk out. As usual, another question.

"Wait a minute," a student asked, "the rapier and katana, one is straight and the other is curved. Why, if they both are in the same range?'

"Rapier is meant to thrust, the focus is on the point, similar to your Taiji straight sword. The Katana, on the other hand, is curved so it slides easily, especially when one was mounted on the horse. You did not to clothesline an opponent. Your blade was to sever the head and slide with ease even as you galloped forward. The same curved design is on the Indian Samshir, the Mongol and Persian swords: horseback cultures. Think PURPOSE, and understand how it is meant to move, and then move that way. Now you have aligned yourself with the magick, or if you prefer, good physics."

"Now why did you have to mention Magick?" The student, being a science nerd, always gets bothered with words like magick, sorcery or energy work. It always cracks me up especially since he is into chigung and the like.

I roared with laughter at his expected response and then continued.Sci-fi nerds- got to approach this another way: "Remember Arthur C Clarke's three laws.

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

"Blades have played a big part in all magick rituals. An Atheme is the ceremonial dagger used in many Western Traditions. If you look at the SE Asian arts, the Keris is held in awe. I have seen expert practioners do such things with the Keris, that if I told you about them you would call me a liar. Or watch a expert Tenaga Dalam master with their blade, it will change how you think of fine steel."

The blade accentuates the holders intent. It works to directionalise the spirit. As the spirit moves, so does the body. Music again is a great tool to lift those spirits and blade is a way to give it direction. And if there is direction and movement, well then you have footwork, don't you now? That is all I want to say about this at the moment."

He was not about to let me off. He challenged me."Well what about your own Japanese arts, where is this sorcery there with the blade?"

"Are you kidding me? Go study history a bit more! Most mythical beginnings of the arts are in the mountains, learning from gods and demi gods. And somehow the Katana was always there."

Mountains are very sacred in Japan. Each mountain has its own spirit guardian if you will. With the yamabushi and hermits, they would routinely go into the mountains and practice their arts and magick. This was called Shugen-do. Now the old stories go that when some of these powerful hermits died, especially the ones who were not so good, they became the tengu. Many of the yamabushi and monks wanted to embody the power of these Tengu.

"The great samurai warrior Yoshitsune was bought up in a Tengu temple. He would go into the mountains with his sword at night. When he was asked why, he would say to learn from the Tengu. Thats just one example. Blades and magick lore are tied together my friend. I believe this is why the Katana was even called the Soul of the Samurai. Surely you don't believe his soul moved into the blade, do you now?"

I winked.

He was not pleased, in fact, he looked visibly upset. He said, "it's hard for me to fathom an educated man like you talk like this." I laughed out loud again.

I was getting really hungry and wanted to go home to some good basmati rice, palak paneer and my chai. I had to find a meeting ground with him to say good night.

"The sword of enlightenment. Manjushree. Think about that. Or if you prefer your Zen parables, here is one for you. And then I must go."

Once a youthful samurai who was big and arrogant walked up to a monk. He bellowed to him.

"Teach me about Heaven and Hell."

The frail old monk replied “Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn’t teach you about anything. You’re dumb, dirty, a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can’t stand you.”

The samurai was enraged and speechless. He pulled his sword out to take the monks head. The monk calmly looked at the samurai and said

"That is hell."

The samurai was awestruck, and froze. He now had respect for this frail old man who risked his life to teach him a valuable lesson. He put his sword back in with deep gratitude. The monk said

"And that is heaven."

"The blade accentuates the spirit, amplifies it. Make sure you use the steel well, make sure you learn its grammar to unravel its secrets. And as it unravels, perhaps some of this magick will open you up too."

We exchanged bows, for now, it was time for food.

Mahipal Lunia

DAHAM and Mountain View Aiki Kai

 Martial Musings: Extending Your Line

Martial Musings: Extending Your Line

Extending Your Line by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei.

"All of that is crap, if you cannot kick ass EVERY time you are just full of shit and wasting time!" He screamed as I continued to walk my circle on that cold winter evening.

After completing my single & double palm changes on thecircle, I walked up to introduce myself to this young man. He was somewhat surprised and quickly turned apologetic for his outburst.
"No offense, I am just saying, you know..." he mumbled.

"It's weird. Every time someone says something offensive they seem to add 'no offense meant'. They never quite understand when people say 'just saying', they are in fact stating." I smirked and asked him to sit with me at the park table.

After a moments hesitation, he sat down. He introduced himself and revealed he had trained in a hard style of Asian kickboxing for a few years but his injuries forced him to take a break.

After a little chit chat I asked him how long as he been on a break. "About five years."He continued:"What is the purpose of you walking around in a circle? It just looks gay."

"I am glad you got the gay part right, it is indeed all about joy. Not many get that term you know. But why do I walk? Let me ask you this: why did you study the martial arts?"

"To learn how to fight, how to win," he answered with a mixture ofpride and confusi, this man in his early thirties.

"And what were you fighting for?"

"Championships. It gave me a high."

I nodded, "Is that all?"

"What else is there?"

"A lot more, a lot more. The purpose of Martial Arts as was taught to me is to have a high functioning life. This means firstly we need to have a good, healthy and long life. This means paying attention to our nutrition, our longevity practices, and exercises that maintain a high degree of functional mobility. That means having the ability to discern what is important and worth fighting for. This is about being aware, about being clear on what truly matters and who matters. And finally to have the ability to defend what matters. thatrealm of learning to fight."

So yes, Martial Arts to me is having a high functioning life, knowing what is truly important and the means to protect it

He looked at me like I was insane.

I laughed out loud, thinking back of times when I looked at others that way too. I gently asked him, "So what would you do if I was to pull out my blade and go for you right now?"

He smirked "You wouldn't, but if it was 5 years ago, I would have had you for breakfast."

"But it is not five years ago, and here is my blade" I said drawing out my steel tanto, always on me during trainings.

He gasped and his shoulders dropped.His face turned blood red with anger. But there was nothing to be done.

Putting the blade back I said, "I could argue that if you had followed the old way of longevity, discernment and sharpening your blade, perhaps you would not havefrozen just now. You might have taken better care of your quality of life as a martial artist, perhaps you would have discerned better on how to engage with another martial artist, and finally you would have had a back up plan as a martial artist."

He was embarassed. That was not my goal, nor the prize I was looking for. He seemed like a young guy who probably still has a lot more to live for. I told him "May I share a small story with you? It wont take too long."

He nodded.


"Everyone, especially here in America owes a great debt of gratitude to GM Ed Parker. Thousands upon thousands of students have been touched by Mr. Parker's genius. One of them was the author Joe Hyams.  One day, after another a particularly hard sparring session with Mr. Parker, and Joe failing to connect even once, Joe had the regulardebriefing. Mr. Parker drew a line on the floor and asked 'how do you make this line which representsyour opponents skill shorter Joe?' After a moment of thinking, Joe responded, "I would cut it into half and third.' Without saying a word Mr. Parker drew a longer line next to it."

My "student" of the moment looked at me, puzzled. "What are you saying dude?"

"The lesson of the parable for Joe was to make HIS line LONGER than his opponents. Instead of worrying about making an opponent fail, it is about making yourself better."

He looked up at me, his stare now a gaze as I continued, "that parable from Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hymns left a huge impact on my life. Think about it, it is sage advice for life. When we are caught up in in competition, we usually are thinking about cutting the OTHER guy's line AT ALL COSTS. That cost is usually us. If we don't handle ourselves right though, we end up with broken bodies, broken relationships and most importantly, broken lives. That to me is the exact opposite of what Martial Arts is meant to be."

He seemed to ponder a bit, then he looked up at me and quipped, "that's all good and fine in hindsight, but how does it help me now?"

"It's never too late to begin the journey to wholeness. You still have decades ahead of you, why not live that in the most exquisite manner possible?"

"You are one of those painfully optimistic guys, aren't you? Let me be straight with you I cant stand the Tony Robbins or Wayne Dyers of the world," he warned.

"Is thinking about your death, and having that drive your decision optimistic in your book?"

"HELL NO! Thats morbid!"

"Good. Listen. There is a way to start living exquisitely starting right now. But that requires you to understand something about the warriors of the old. This pattern has been found among the Samurai, the Rajputs, the Chivalrous Knights, Native Warrior-Sorcerers. Yes among them all, so there is some truth in there. If you want to listen for a few minutes, I will share it with you."

He nodded politely.

"Death is a great equalizer, and starts to put a lot of things in perspective. When you meditate on it, Death suddenly clarifies everything. The Hagakure: Book of the Samurai is one of those great classics. The author Tsunetomo Yamamoto places a lot of emphasis on death as the ultimate teacher. "

    “Bushido is realized in the presence of death. This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death. There is no other reasoning.”
“Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.”

"Many say the Samurai waydoes not apply in their life today. I would say it does. Even in the modern times it has served as a great advisor. In the modern classic by Carlos Castaneda, The Journey to Ixtlan, he shares his learnings from Don Juan Matus. During his conversation he wakes up to this wise reality of death when he is in deep self pity. In short Don Juan explains this same fact, but coming from the world of a sorcerer."

    “Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, 'I haven't touched you yet.”

"What I am saying is make your death your mirror, and begin to see things as they are. When we look at things from that perspective you have moments of rare clarity, without any spin. So the problems at hand can be seen exactly as they are. Again Don Juan's words say it so much better than I can. Read those books by Castaneda, they could change your life."

    “In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”

"And these moments of decision, forge our destiny. Much like the blade is shaped with the hammer (decisions), the forge acts as the death of the old form. get that clarity, and make a decision, most importantly ACT.  

Actions for a warrior stem in going to war, war against the apathy of inaction or out present state. Now you put everything you have at stake for that one turn on destiny's wheel, as though this is your very last act on Earth. Usually Magick begins at this point. The trick is to keep on keeping on until death has finally touched you.
Lastly capture the learnings on a regular basis. Put down what you have learned through your battles. This recapitulation captures your insights. When you have captured the essence of it, it speaks as though poetry and rings true to all levels of your being. And then you wake up the next day and repeat the cycle" I laughed.

    I call this the Mirror, the Sword & the Pen. Death is the mirror which shows you things as they are, the Sword allows you to go to war against your enemy/apathy, and the pen captures your learning. This is a great way to begin the process of Extending Your Line.

"If you were to apply this to your life, what do you think you would have? Don't answer right now, think about it. And if you ever want to explore it more you know where I train."

With that I stood up and extended my hand. He stood up and shook my hand and muttered a thank you. It was getting dark and I was hungry. Time to go home to some fantastic home made palak paneer, basmati rice and a cup of ginger-saffron-cardamom infused chai.

Weeks passed with life in cruise control. Then, one evening as I pulled into the dojo parking lot I saw a familiar figure waving at me. I waved back, though I never expected to see him again. After the usual pleasantries, he said, "our last conversation made me think a lot. Esp. the notiong of extending ones line. Thinking about my death was not easy, but it gave me a clarity. I don't want to live in my past glory and I want to fix the anger I have and find a way to to begin training in something else. Can you help me?"

I offered him to come attend the current class as my students were waiting, and we could chat after class. He hesitated for a minute and then said yes. After a quick warm up, he was working on Atemi (striking arts) within our system.

"Our strikes have a language, and knowing it is the difference between right use or chance. Different strikes serve to either bring the opponent in, move them out, clear the way or shock them still. The trick of our ryuha (system/battle strategy) is knowing when to apply what." With that, I walked the students through the 12 strikes, and 10 angles/henka within each strike.

"This is quite different from what I am used to doing. We just worked on the speed and power of the strikes in my other school. There seems to be more depth here and it is not as hard on my injured joint," my new student commented.

    "Martial arts are meant to be soft on you and hard on the poor guy who attacks you," I said as my students all laughed. "Aiki is not just harmony with the other, but most importantly harmony with yourself."

"How does one go about becoming good at this way of moving and doing Martial Arts?" the newbee asked

"By becoming an Apprentice to Power, and forever embarking on a journey to Extend Your Line" I said, letting those words linger for a few moments.

I knelt down, and the students sat on the green grass. They knew a talk was coming and this would probably take a bit of time. They all relaxed into a quiet attention. As I looked at my students, I was reminded of the hours spent talking with my own teachers through the last twenty odd years of apprenticing under them with a singular goal - to extend my line. Now the roles had shifted, and I was the one talking while others listened. Much like my Sensei had prophesized to me one Friday night when he said, " Mayur (as he calls me), you come and work out on Friday nights while your mates party. One day when you play, others will pay to see you perform." I found myself chuckling and began.

"Like any worthwhile skill, and working on extending your line is a long process. In the days old, they called it apprenticeship. Some called it becoming an journeyman. Some simply called it being an uchi daeshi (live in student). Different words, same idea. In the modern times Robert Greene has done a masterful job at communicating this process. I highly recommend you read his book Mastery if you want to understand. The gist of it as follows.

1. "First find a worthwhile MENTOR. This is someone whose skill/mastery you want to emulate. Remember, when you get into this kind of a deep relationship, make sure he/she is also the kind of wo/man you wont mind becoming. Many a times the gifts of our trade also have curses on other aspects of our life. They hand in hand, so choose wisely. These days with our seminar culture, these methods are dying. You have coaches instead of mentors and the results are apparent. I, for one, choose one solid mentor over a dozen coaches."

2. "Once you have the mentor, shut your mouth and open your senses. Soak in everything you can without judgement. You are seeking to learn the new reality, new rules and most importantly new modes of being. So pay close attention, ask clarifying questions, the objective is to soak it all up like a sponge. This is the DEEP OBSERVATION.

3. "Then begins the practice mode. You have observed and soaked in all the rules and nuances. Now you begin the work of countless repetition in your own time. The goal is to encode the new skills deep into your Central Nervous System (CNS), such that when the environment sends a signal, the CNS just responds. No short cuts now, this is the drudgery of repetition. There is no getting around it. This is the path to real SKILL ACQUISITION. for example when I started training in Eskrima, it was like being fish out of water. To train in this entirely new way of moving, I worked long and hard. I created my own reward and punishment system. And most importantly I diligently enforced it when no one was even watching.  No short cuts chaps, there are no shortcuts, there are only short lived lives in combat."

Everyone roared with laughter.

"Then comes the scariest part I think. A chasm that needs to be crossed. This is the ACTIVE EXPERIMENTATION phase. Once you have the skills, you begin to put yourself and your work out there, inviting both criticism and accolades. You begin the process of resting on your own laurels, sleeping on your bed so to speak. There is no one else to blame. This is personal responsibility for ones art, and the beginning of your path to Freedom. You move from being an apprentice to being a tradesman. A wo/man in your own right, and allowed to sign your own work of art - be it a painting, sculpture or martial arts school."

"This is scary because you will draw flak from others, and compare your own work to the masters. It's natural. Remain open though, remain humble and keep moving. As an example, when this dojo started, I revived the idea of shugyos: going into the wilderness on a sacred pilgrimage four times a year, and making our techniques work in all environments. This was my own personal active experimentation phase, a way to put my own stamp on what I consider MY emergent truths, not THE Truths."

4. "While Robert Greene's stops there, I believe there is one more phase. It is called CRYSTALIZATION.  This is what I think of as your unique signature that has emerged from being JUST your truth to becoming something more universal. In someways you're brining an erstwhile dormant archetype into being in the here and now. And the signature is very distinct. It might seem like something that was from the old school but has a very distinct texture and flavor to it. Over time you embody this with your whole being. This is not not a marketing spin or smart targeting, this is WHO YOU ARE. There is no boundary between the art and you."

One student was taking notes, while another recording the session. I wondered if they ever get back to their notes and videos or if they just locked away and forgotten. I adjusted my gi to wrap up the class and of course the one student had to ask another question. It is the same one who always asks when we wrap up.

"Sensei do we have this process within our system? Can you please say how our belts relate to this?"

" The old arts and systems DID follow this before the ranking system came in. Budo was about the lifestle of Extending Your Line. The way I see it is as follows."

  • Until OKU IRI (Black Belt), it is called "entrance to secrets." You have not entered yet, This is the period of DEEP OBSERVATION and learning the rules of the game.
  • The Journey to MOKU ROKU ( 4th Degree or so Black Belt) is when you have the "catalogue of techniques." This is the time of endless permutations and combinations, embedding the system deep into your CNS. This is SKILL ACQUISITION .
  • Stay with the catalogue long enough and you have started becoming a true representative of the art. Perhaps even with your own ACTIVE EXPERIMENTATIONS with the rules. This to me is the MENKYO rank, where in the days old you got the degree and off you went.
  • Finally, over time you develop your own CRYSTALIZATION of the universal principles and embody them with Mastery. This to me is the MENKYO KAIDEN.

"This is not unique to us. The Chinese have a similar system. You came in as an outer courtyard student, then progress to become an inner courtyard student. With time you became a kitchen student - meaning part of the family and where/how they eat/live. And finally you went on to become your own master. Universal pattern of unfolding, different names. But don't get caught up on that.

"Remember to extend the line, unfold fearlessly. The only one you seek to defeat is the the YOU of yesterday. In doing so you you will also move from a horizontal orientation of the world (where you are busy relating to everyone else and playing those games) into verticality (where you integrate to individuate). Enough for today. I got to speak to our guest prior to leaving."

We bowed out, and walked with the visitor to my car. He said, "my question on how to move forward has been answered. May I start attending your lessons, and work on Extending My Line?"

"You are already learning, are you not? See you Saturday."

Mahipal Lunia

Martial Musings: Moving Beyond Lineage?

Martial Musings: Moving Beyond Lineage?

Moving Beyond Lineage? by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

Stay with an art long enough, and soon you will find yourself walking in rarified company, if not completely alone.

This is the price we pay in order to pursue our own profound truth. This truth is as unique to an individual as is his/her DNA.

Why then do we spend time pursuing sameness or get caught up in the "legitimacy" of lineage?

I was talking to a student about this not too long ago. He asked, "Does lineage not count for anything? Do you not respect your teachers? Do you not honor your history?"

"Lineage is a cult you like. A cult is a lineage you don't like,"  Ming Liu

"But joking aside most fights about lineage are really about authenticity in a line of teaching, usually stemming from a near mythical founder. The 'authenticity' of this line does not guarantee you have made the skills of the system functional for YOU. What good is an ineffective 'pure to the lineage' fighter? He is good for being dead in most cases. Now, yes, there are purists who are indeed amazing fighters."

Being an avid philosopher the student was not convinced. He started quoting Musashi Miyamoto and his two sword style. How his style is "undefeated". "Does that lineage not count for anything?"

"Firstly it was Musashi who was undefeated, and I am not sure one can say that for everyone in the 13 or so generations of Niten Ichi Ryu fighters. Don't get me wrong, I have admired Musashi a lot, and have watched most of the films that have depicted him or his story."

The student was still stuck in lineage romance though. I understood it, however , for it is just one perspective, one attention, thus limited. The shifting of attentions and perspectives is an old trick, to loosen the grip of a fixed reality, which ultimately binds one down.

For this student, it was perhaps time to nudge and loosen his limited romantic attention.

I was fondly reminded of my own teachers who played many games with my sense of reality.  In some cases, they jolting me into other realms of perception and awareness with a masterful stroke. I have had teachers "disappear" sticks and blades and make them reappear in other positions. I can hear some of you say BS, but once you experience high skill like that you cannot go back to be the same old world.

Your perception has shifted.

Let us return to the student.

"So where do you think Mushashi learned from?" I asked.
With a big smile on his face, he pulled the Go Rin No Sho (Book of Five Rings) and read out.

    I have trained in the way of strategy since my youth, and at the age of thirteen I fought a duel for the first time. My opponent was called Arima Kihei, a sword adept of the Shinto ryū, and I defeated him. At the age of sixteen I defeated a powerful adept by the name of Akiyama, who came from Tajima Province. At the age of twenty-one I went up to Kyōtō and fought duels with several adepts of the sword from famous schools, but I never lost.
    — Miyamoto Musashi

"The story goes that he studied with his father and then his uncle, " I added.

"But he invented the two sword style, " he quipped, trying to get back to the myth rather than the goal of the man.

"Did he now?" I asked, raising my eyebrow, until the silence got uncomfortable for the student.

"Yes, he did," he retorted and then a second later, "Didn't he?"

"Lets explore three other points of view. First think of Katori Shinto ryu, Shinto Muso-ryu, Shingyoto ryu, Yagyu Shingage ryu: all legitamate koryu (old samurai arts founded prior to 1868, pre-Meiji period), have an extensive collection of ryoto waza (weapons in two hands). Now think about this- some of these schools predate Musashi's founding of the Niten Ichi ryu. So it is safe to assume two-handed sword technique existed prior to Musashi."

"Secondly, there is the curious case of Tori Ryu, an art founded in the 15th century by a Hirata Shokan. There is a lot of debate that Musashi most likely learned Tori-ryu first, and the system included nito (dual swords) in addition to jitte (a trident, means 10 hands), kyudo (archery) and the naginata (halberd). Musashi's own father had studied/taught the Jitte, again a two hand method. So two more strong possible places the two sword/hand method could have come from."

He looked at me shocked. He closed his Book of Five Rings. All he muttered was "but, but," followed by "it makes no sense, what is really true then?"

Something was shifting, a possibility of a personal discovery. But there was more. I kept quiet, letting him simmer in the questions. We arrived at the coffee shop, and after getting my coffee we settled in on a table. After a spell he asked, "Sensei that's two points of view, what is the third?"

"For this one, you better put your seat belt on. So the story or view point goes one day while Musashi was walking on the docks, he witnessed the Portugese practicing with the rapier and parrying dagger.  Having witnessed the rapier and dagger, Musashi went on to develop the system with the Katana and Wakizashi."

"WHAT? NO WAY, that is preposterous!" he blurted as other patrons of the coffee shop looked our way.

"Why? Musashi was born around 1584. This was a fascinating time in Japan, the time of the Nanban Trade (European traders coming to Japan). First the Portuguese landed, and then due to the strong influence of Will Adams (the real Anjin-san from the Shogun series), the Dutch and English traders gradually replaced the Portuguese. The Portugese have long-honored tradition of sword and dagger, so thestory is entirely possible that one could have seen Portugese sailors practicing their two-swords methods."

He was now very unsettled. We finished our coffee in silence. We went our separate ways after he said he would look more into the matter. I said "YOU MUST, don't take my word for it."

A few days later, he bought the conversation up again, telling me he was disturbed by it. He went on to blame me for spoiling his love of THE book and casting doubt in wanting to study Niten Ichi-ryu.

I nodded with empathy. Have been in that space before, its never fun to have one's romantic ideal, similar to a pure teenaged love, somewhat crushed. What seems like the end of the world, is usually the beginning of new life in a whole new world with a whole new perspective.

"What matters more to you," I asked, "belonging to a lineage/storyline or owning a skill? If belonging to a storyline/lineage matters the most then forget about studying with me and lets find the Niten Ichi ryu dojo for you. Now if it is skill you are pursuing, then look for the truth in YOUR expression. Lets look at YOUR genetics, YOUR attributes, how YOUR Central Nervous System responds and build of that. To me this is the realm of writing your own personal story that others will potentially belong to."

"When we choose to study A SYSTEM or A LINEAGE, we are agreeing to be locked into a very specific perception. There is nothing wrong with that. Many find comfort in the stability it provides. However, that is not the only perception that exists, there exist other truths too. Study any art hard/long enough you will run into this, and look for principles that span systems, and viewpoints that counter your own."

"Seek what the masters sought, not blindly following the excat path they walked on. Musashi was a Ronin. Thus he had to be a deplorable or become his own master. He chose the latter. I don't think Musashi sought lineage, he sought EFFECTIVENESS in the battles as they showed up. His decisions show that. As his perspectivewas not bound to any clan, or lineage, he became free to explore other perceptives and truths.  That gave him the mental fluidity, which when coupled with his skill & killer instinct made him the legend he is."

"What about a lineage, does not have any room?"

"It is a great point to start. Why reinvent the wheel?" I answered

"You are confusing me, I thought you said lineage was useless," he said in an exasperated voice

"No I did not say that. I merely pointed to another way of seeing, and questioning what you were seeking. I prefer to STALK what they sought, not how they specifically STALKED."

"STALKING? What does that have to do with anything?"

"Everything. Stalking means to approach stealthily, like a big cat approaching a deer in the grasslands. Or a hunter tracking their prey. One prepares, one studies the prey, and then uses the prey's predictive (fixed) behavior to get it."

"When we just pursue someone elses methods to the T, we are trapped in a very fixed perception. We are now stalking the "how they" to the T, not necessary the "what they sought". This is a very fixed attention. If you go into another world- that of the the Toltecs, Mexicos famed warrior-sorcerers,  they would call it the first attention, the tonal."

"The 1st attention serves great purpose of solving problems and an automatic labeling of everything: agreed upon reality is where it thrives. This is the seeker in a lineage, everything catalogued and ready for injestion. It is a great way to problem solve. It rewards physical skill and intellect in a very specific way. This is the knowing mind in a well defined world.

The second attention is perception WITHOUT labels. When labels go, so does certainty.  We come face to face with our mortality and in some ways, the insignificance of it all, so we try to make every action here matter. If you ask me this is what the Way of Death means to the Samurai, the idea of impermanence, and an attempt to operate from that attention. Here, the energetics move the physical body, rather than the other way around."

"Think about this, when you get into a real war/fight, you face uncertainty. And this serves to destabilize us, and the more you have direct perception of uncertainity, the more ones known world collapses. One has to usually free oneself from the routines or the fixed waza, and fixes the unbending intent towards the WHAT (survive the war/fight). There the possibility of freedom in the moment begins. Now your consciousness is free to dream up NEW methods or perhaps even open up for a postcard from the unconscious/superconscious. The Toltecs called this the second attention, a shift towards the left side of your energy where one can begin to access the unknown with clarity. This clarity comes when you know WHAT you are stalking. You are STALKING ELEGANT SURVIVAL (of self or ones highest ideal), I hope."

I then laughed out loud, adding, "and yet not being attached to it. Go figure. Go study the Hagakure."

"Sensei, I dont get it what does the weird stuff of the Toltecs have to do with Musashi and the Samurai? Am sorry, I dont see any connection."

"Musashi wrote a second short book, for his favorite student Terao Magonojō, just like he had dedicated The Book of Five Rings. He called this book The Dokkōdō” (独行道), “The Path of Aloneness” or "The Path of Independence."

I went ahead and opened the summary to share the 21 Precepts of “The Path of Aloneness”:

The Dokkōdō

  1. Accept everything just the way it is.                             
  2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake
  3. Do not, under any circumstances depend on a partial feeling
  4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
  5. Be detached from desire your whole life.
  6. Do not regret what you have done.
  7. Never be jealous.
  8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
  9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.
  10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
  11. In all things have no preferences.
  12. Be indifferent to where you live.
  13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
  14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
  15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
  16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
  17. Do not fear death.
  18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
  19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help. 20. You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honor.
  20. Never stray from the Way.

"When I read the works of the Japanese Masters, it reeks of a form of warrior hermit. The goal is enlightenment though the study of war. No matter what happens out there, the warrior keeps their eye on the prize. The WAY of the WAY is the only thing that matters.
If you were Indian, you would say oh, this sounds like Karma Yoga. Where Krishna instructs Arjuna in the battlefield to do his duty and not worry about the results. Again the metaphor of this is approaching ones task with total being."

"You had asked what does the Samurai have to do with the 'weird' Toltec stuff, well there you have it. If you look at the Dokkodo it reads like the manual of the second attention, and how to escape the clutches of the first attention."

He listened to with rapt attention. So I continued.

"Don Juan is etched in our collective consciousness. Regardless of your feelings about Castaneda, pay attention to the goal of the Toltec Warrior. One of my favorite Don Juan quotes could be right out of the Dokkodo, The Hagakure or the Bhagwad Gita."

    The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or as a curse.

    A warrior must focus his attention on the link between himself and his death. Without remorse or sadness or worrying, he must focus his attention on the fact that he does not have time and let his acts flow accordingly. He must let each of his acts be his last battle on earth. Only under those conditions will his acts have their rightful power. Otherwise they will be, for as long as he lives, the acts of a fool.

    Don Juan Matus

"This is what the master warriors for centuries have pointed to as the only thing worth fighting for. This is where the Samurai, the Toltec warriors and India's Kshatrias all unite. STALK what they sought. FREEDOM."

"Sensei, but what does this have to do with lineage? That is how we started?"

"Show me a single group that has achieved enlightenment/freedom together. Never in our history. It has always been individuals.  And once these individuals won their freedom, their OWN lineages came into being, claiming the achievement of the individual. THEY then control the message."

"Freedom from 'lineage' message owners, their methods and labels becomes paramount on the path. You do this my accessing the second attention, and seeing right through the first. You have to become an iconoclast."

The student looked a little terrified, and then said, "it sounds like a dark lonely path Sensei."

By memory I recited the words of poet David Whyte, who has left a huge impression on my soul.

    When your eyes are tired the world is tired also.
    When your vision has gone, no part of the world can find you.
    Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own. There you can be sure you are not beyond love.
    The dark will be your home tonight. The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.
    You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in. Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.
    Daring Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.
David Whyte

We bowed and walked away towards our cars. On my drive home, I hoped that the conversation nudged him onto the path of exploring his own truth profoundly without apology, much like my teachers had started with me years ago.

Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

Martial Musings: Love At First Strike aka How A Kick Across The Face Changed My Life

Martial Musings: Love At First Strike aka How A Kick Across The Face Changed My Life

Love At First Strike aka How A Kick Across The Face Changed My Life, by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

As a newly minted 7th kyu in Shotokan Karate , I was an excited teenager partaking in my first kumite (free sparring). I did not see R's (a multiple National Champion) kick coming - I heard a loud smack and dropped like a sack of potatoes. My face started to swell and hurt like crazy as I tried to move my jaw. The pain and bruised ego did not stand in the way of my walking up to R to ask him, "What was that? And how do I learn to do it?"

"That was a Mawashi Geri, or roundhouse kick" and he then proceeded to spend the rest of the evening teaching me the mechanics of his kick one-on-one. In the meantime, my Karate coach walked in and offered his own insights into the kick. He then yielded the floor to R again, who of course was in his element with this kick that won him the national titles.
R was super precise in teaching me the Mawashi Geri. He broke it down by saying (parphrazing)

  1. Lift your knee high to the side
  2. Pivot 180 degrees
  3. Use the ball of the foot to whip the motion towards the target
  4. Lean the body into the kick
  5. Land in Zenkutsudachi (front stance) in Kamae (ready postion) 

At around this time, I found some VHS tapes of Kanazawa Sensei, Enoeda Sensei and Terri O'Neill Sensei. I studied those videos at length and tried to imitate the motion. I would walk around throwing the traditional roundhouse kick over furniture and while on walks with my mother (much to her chagrin.) The European & Japanese Karatekas' played a huge part in this stage of my development. A good example of this old style kicking is found here.

I practiced this to no end against a makiwara and heavy bag. Both tools are unforgiving, and a few broken toes later one learns how to "kick correctly," as my JKA Shotokan Karate Sensei would like to scream. This was the beginning of my love of the roundkick, which soon became my signature technique during my competitive years. A few years down the line, I beat R with the SAME kick he taught me, and then went on to defeat S (another national title winner in South Asia).  I was elated.

R gave me the his highest compliment "you got me fair and square with my technique."  I bowed deeply and said, "You showed me the path. If not for you I probably would not have gotten here." He gave me a big hug in return.

Soon my version of the technique became well known among my fellow competitors, who now were keeping their distance. Now in need of an edge, I started the search for tricks and other ways to do the roundkick. Little did I know this questwould take years, and take me into unchartered territory.  

Much to my shock none of my beloved Shotokan katas, nor the eagle claw forms had any roundhouse kicks. As I looked further into the Japanese, Okinawan and Chinese arts, the kick did not seem to exist in any of the forms (the living notebooks of the system).  The first mention of this kick in the Japanese psyche was perhaps due to Gigo Funokoshi, the son of Karate Do's founder Gichin Funokoshi, in the mid 1950's! Yes 1950s'.  This perplexed me. I needed to know where my favorite technique came from.  

French Savate? Muay Thai? Burmese Bando? After all their forms not only had the roundhouse, they EMPHASIZED this kick. In conclusion, my personal research and theory leads me to believe the round kick likely originated with the French. It is an educated guess - perhaps we will never know. That does not matter though, it is here, among us for all to use. Further research led me to at least 7 distinct flavors of this kick:  

  1. The Hammer
  2. The Tight Slap
  3. The Baseball Swing
  4. The Chisel
  5. The Alligators Tail
  6. The Saw
  7. The Whip

They all follow the same "generalized motion" with very specific adaptations.  Being a little slow to learn, I had only started to appreciate the various adaptations AFTER being knocked out a few times too many. After, in the back of my mind, it was always "I've got to know this works." And they do especially when executed by an expert practitioner. It would be impossible to lay out all the methods and development techniques for all of them in one article or even a series of articles. Perhaps this is a topic worthy of an instructional video.  However, for now let us examine these 7 adaptations of that generalized motion, the weapon, the target, how power is generated and some exemplars:

Without further ado:  

1. The Hammer

The Weapon: Ball of the foot
The Targets: Organs and floating bones (ribs, jaw)
The Powerbase: Comes from concentrated speed hammering through the targets
The Motion: whipping from the knee and the hips follow
The exemplar system: The Japanese Karate Do's Mawashigeri
Expert Practitioners: Kanazawa Sensei, Terry O'Neill Sensei, Nakayama Sensei, Kagawa Sensei

2. The Tight Slap

The Weapon: The instep
The Targets: Floating ribs, face
The Powerbase: Speed ( f=ma)The Motion: Lift leg like a front kick, turn on support leg and snap the foot out
Exemplar System: Tae Kwon Do, Sport Karate,
Expert Practitioners: Grandmaster Hee Il Chow, GM Jhoon Ree,

3. Baseball Swing

The Weapon: Lower Shin
The Targets: Thighs, ribs,stomach, neck and head
The Powerbase: Throwing the whole body behind the kick and swinging past/through the target
The Motion: Arms raised, the leg swings into the target while the hands swing in the opposite direction to maintain stability
Exemplar System: Muay Thai & Bando
Expert Practitioners: Tong Po (watch the movie Kickboxer), watch any Muay Thai/Bandomatch

4: The Chisel

The Weapon: The boot tip
The Targets: Inner thigh, solar plexus, stomach, neck, temples
The Powerbase: concentrating the power of the body into the tip
The Motion: Rapid pivot and snapping of the foot/boot, while leaning the body away. The boot chips into the body like a chisel through a cinder block
Exemplar System: Savate
Expert Practitioners: Salem Assli, Nicholas Saignac

5. Brazilian Kick/Dragon Swings its Tail/ Alligators Tail

The Weapon: Base of the ankle
The Targets: Neck and head mainly
The Powerbase: Power kick aided by gravity
The Motion: A downward roundhouse kick. Lift to do a round kick and drop it like an axe kick on the softest targets around the neck
Exemplar System: Brazilian arts like Vale Tudo, Capoeria
Expert Practitioners: watch the Brazilian full contact fighters

6. The Saw

The Weapon: The edge of the foot
The Targets: Knee joint and in some cases the kwa/hip joint
The Powerbase: comes from dislodging and then stomping of your body weight into the opponent
The Motion: Best described as a combination of a roundhouse kick and side stomp. The motion comes like a round kick and the blade of the foot connects with a ball/socket joint to turn the opponents body and stamp it down
Exemplar System: Silat and some Moro based Sikaran
Expert Practitioners: look for old Moro fighters, and in some clips you can also see Maestro Sonny Umpad do this  
7. The Whip

The Weapon:the whole shin and footThe Targets: all extensions (legs, hands and neck
The Powerbase: whiplash motion of striking and wrapping to pull
The Motion: the round kick follows the WAVE motion (google it or watch an expert Systema practioneer ), after the hit connects the foot slips behind the body and pulls the opponent in the opposite direction of the hit. This one esp has to be felt to appreciate.
Exemplar System: Systema and some schools of silat
Expert Practitioners: Look at Vasilev and Starov  

It has been an amazing journey with this kick. Interestingly, my search into that roundhouse kick that took my breath away took ME away from traditional arts into finding functional motion, regardless of style and system.  One of my teachers, Master At Arms James Keating, has always emphasized that "motion is motion, focus on the generalized concept and make it yours." This is akin to what Sastri Sensei has told me through the years: "don't be my vomit. Don't be monkey see monkey do. Become human, experiment and know for yourself. In the end it is all PURE PHYSICS. And no human can defy that."  

In other words "bet on the principle. Variations/Henka are a result of specific environmental factors or preferences. Getting stuck in one variation only is like eating only one kind of bread/meal for the rest of your life. Dont limit yourself, there is so much to explore, relish and uncover."

A few weeks ago, on a cold Saturday morning, I spent a few hours drilling my own Aiki students and then my Southeast Asian Tribal Art students on these methods. The latter are a seasoned bunch coming from backgrounds as varied as decade-plus study in Aikijujutsu, Jujutsu, Karate, Taiji, Muay Thai and Wing Chun. This makes it fun, and a way to gently pressure test this stuff.  After we worked through the variations, the questions began on "how to best train for the specific variations." Again this can be a volume of tapes but I will give some pointers how to get you started on your own discovery process:

Step One:

First I recommend working the attributes of endurance, rapid contraction of your fast twitch muscle fibers, stretching with special empasis on hamstrings, hips and lowerback. I also recommend isometrics and high reps of the muscle building exercises.  One overlooked aspect of this training is doing loads of quick negative repetitions, meaning focus on rapid contraction of the hamstrings for your pull back. Do the hook kick - ura mawashigeri as a training tool to work both the kicks, but focus on the strong pull back. This will do wonders to your technique and snapping power.

Some students started video recording the whole session, while another feverishly wrote in his notebook, all giving total attention. How do I know they were paying attention? Their heads did not turn when a bunch of beautiful gals jogged past the outdoor dojo where we train. I smiled to myself and said SCORE.  

MMA James Keating also always tells me as a teacher one needs to remember the three Es' - Entertain, Educate and Enlighten.  Entertain them to own their attention, Educate them to they grow from within, Enlighten them so they unfold as themselves.  

Step Two:

Step two is learning the generalized technique. My personal favorite is to learn the hardest movement first. Start with the Japanese Mawashigeri and Muay Thai Round kick first. Next work the others based on your flexibility and genetic composition. Two of my favorite exercises to get the whole form and alignment right are 1. Standing in kamae/fighting position by a chair in front of you and kicking over the chair. Make sure your knee lifts sideways and clears the backrest before you extend the foot.2. Stand against a wall and execute the kick. Much easier to watch this video than write it up. The second drill is my favorite and makes all the difference. My karate coach would make us do hundreds of reps of this specific motion.  

Step Three

Start conceptualizing this technique for yourself to make it more effective for YOU. Concepts such as snapping in, striking through, drawing the opponent into a black hole, frame shifting etc become your way to functionalizing which round kick to use. At this stage, create your own map (like my map of 7 uses/types of round kick) so that you now can bring the right tool to fix the problem. The students wanted to know what my own concepts were. I told them, "I have been telling you all along, pay closer attention and let it unravel for you. Don't blindly repeat what I say, instead test them out."  

THEN find your own language for it. Find your own metaphors. This is a very important step to truly make this yours. Remember the worlds of the Martin Heidegger 'Language is the house of being.' One your create your language for this, your concepts and your techniques live in it. This in my opinion is the big secret on the Way.

One smartass student smirked, "Do I REALLY need all these variations? I remember Bruce Lee's words that I fear the man who has done one kick 10k times, rather than a man who has done 10k kicks once."   Oh there is always that one student. Always.  "Well it is one kick, and to make all variations truly yours you will have to do countless reps.  You cannot use just one instrument in your garage to do all the jobs. In fact you have multiple sizes of wrenches and some with weird angles too - even though they all solve kinda the same problem yea? And as far as Bruce - well you are not him are you?   

Instead of collecting and wondering what each one has said, why not try the methods that work for you. What the masters have said in the past point a certain way. They are great pointers, but don't make them your prison. Seek instead to become educated in yourself about it, for only then do we stand a chance to embark on the journey martial enlightenment. True Liberation."  The same student who went from being a smartass to being a little embarrassed became curious. He was back in the game. He said "can you say more about this please?" This student learns best from stories he can hang on a person he trusts. I had to use that very mechanism to transcend the block. I thought for a moment and was reminded of the story of Buddha:   "Its getting late," I said, "and I need to get to my duties at home. So here's a quick short story. It is the Buddha raft parable."  

A man came upon a great river. He stood there and saw no bridge or boat. The river had great currents and knew it would not be easy to swim at all. He looked around and got pieces of wood and built a make shift raft. He now got on it and with great difficulty he crossed the river to the other shore. So what does he now do with the raft? Should he now take this with him everywhere or let it go?

Buddha had explained that dharma is like the raft, and it useful for crossing but not to hold on to. The teachings and books of the great masters of the past are also just that: don't let them bind you down. Use the methods of the style and system to open you up, but you do not need to carry them all your life. They, like the dharma, are let go when the river is crossed For the real journey begins after the river. You have to stake everything to arrive at your liberation, so enjoy it. Don't drag the damn raft with you."

"So dont be stuck with which version of Roundkick, use which ever works and don't argue about it. Yea?" he asked ernestly.

I smiled and continued walking away towards the car. Best to let them discover the answers to themselves. Enough for today. If you have questions you know how to reach me.

Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

Martial Musings: The Theatre of Magickal Imagination

Martial Musings: The Theatre of Magickal Imagination

The Theatre of Magickal Imagination, by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

I have been in a writer's block for a while, and at 0630 hours this morning, disappeared. In a second it was gone. That inhibitory state that held me prisoner was gone, and a magickal excitatory state kicked in. So as I drove to the dojo for the Saturday 0700 lesson I knew it was going to be a lesson on

The Magick of State Control.

I sipped my coffee as the lesson was organizing itself in my mind. Frank Herbert came to mind, yet again:

"This is the awe-inspiring universe of magick: There are no atoms, only waves, and motion all around. Here, you discard all belief as barrier to understanding. You put aside understanding itself. This universe cannot be seen, cannot be heard, cannot be detected in any way by fixed perceptions. It is the ultimate void where no preordained screens occur upon which forms may be projected. You have only one awareness here in the screen of the magi: Imagination! Here you learn what it is to be human. You are a creator of order, of beautiful shapes and systems: an organizer of chaos."

I parked my car and after a quick bow in we began. I knew I had to find a way to bring this esoteric concept to life. We worked for a while with focus mitts, pushing ever so gently into a state of deeper flow, leaving the mind behind and allowing one to just happen. And thus we began Randori: many against one as is the norm at the school.

As they finished one round of Randori it was time to insert the lesson in, I began, 

"Most self-defense situations are over before you know it. It is a matter of less than a minute. Training for anything more than that, and you are in the realm of sports fighting. That is a different metaphor and thus a different training method. You need to be able to get into states of controlled insanity - at will. Remember we want to unleash everything over a short period of time: 10-30 seconds."

I saw some eyes glaze with that "what the hell is Sensei talking about now?" look. Best to give them an experience of it rather than talk a lot about it. I turned to one of them and "shifted" into that other state. Two students instantly stepped away and my "target student" gulped.

"There I got you. you felt that " I said. She nodded as it started to sink in.

One of my students objected, "but Sensei, I am not a violent person. I don't want to harm anyone."

"I rather never have to fight - ever. Yet there might be others who come in and engage in a battle with us. We need to be able to shift out of this peace-loving state into something else. Something else that will guarantee the survival of ourself and our loved ones. And for this, you need to create an alternate persona to come on out. Think of Bruce Wayne and Batman. We all have an access to those states of being, those which we consciously choose to invoke/evoke. We work with them. Remember these are here to serve you, not the other way around."

"Your will is the force that inscribes on the dark obsidian of your soul. And with that same will you bring forth and work with that alternate persona to ensure your survival in those precious 10-30 seconds of controlled insanity."

Some students were not tracking.

"Think of improv theater. You put on a new hat and act that out. Once the act is over, you put the hat away. BUT, while you have that hat, the YOU is put aside something else engages with the truth of the moment."

Some of the more scientific minded students nodded. (I reach them where they are, be it science, alchemy, philosophy or psychology, otherwise what one considers teaching can in fact become a violent act.)

"Theatre was once considered the realm of the Gods. It allowed the Gods/Archetypes to pass through the actors to pass down lessons. And in the process, theater transforms the actor, the stage, and the audience. Think about what an important part theater has played in the development of martial arts in the East. More on that at another time, but for now let's return to the Magick of State Control.

It is a simple process once you are initiated into the method. Approach it with a sense of deep play, an ecstatic form of play. Exemplars of any sport or craft are those who approach their art with deep play, with what Diane Ackerman calls a sensuous rigor bordering on the maniac. In other words, there is a deeply held somatic pattern that has to be accessed. Read her highly recommended book "Deep Play":

"This book invites people to look closely at the human saga, and consider how much of it revolves around play. Simple play, elaborate play, crude play, sophisticated play, violent play, casual play. Most animals play. Evolution itself plays with lifeforms. Whole cultures play with customs, ideas, belief systems, and fashions. But it’s a special caliber of play, deep play, that makes thrill-seeking understandable, creativity possible, and religion inevitable. Deep play awakens the most creative, sentient, and joyful aspects of our inner selves. More than anything else, our passion for deep play has made us the puzzling and resplendent beings we are." Diane Ackerman

So with this sense of deep play, sense of theater, sense of evocation, let us begin the process of entering into that excitatory state where we leave old limitations behind.

  1. Think of what/who that protective/fighting persona would be
  2. Now create a space in front of you where you see this persona bring its energy and perform for you
  3. Seek to know it and become it. With a sense of deep play, step into it (you have done this a million times as a kid, remember when you played Cowboys and Indians?)
  4. Become it and let it move through you, move you
  5. Let this superhero/anti-hero/animal/force now unleash and do its thing (in this case protect you with its controlled insanity
  6. As you reach the peak state of feeling this energy, anchor it with a very specific stack of triggers. I tend to use a specific physical movement/tension, word and breath pattern, and bang, I am there. (Read Robert Dilts article on Anchoring for a detailed understanding of the process of anchoring. However, remember you don't need to know how the car works in order to drive it.)
  7. Do this process a few times until the state is yours to command
  8. Begin shadow boxing (or more specifically within the Chinese Arts it is called Ghost Boxing). Let this energy inform you and unleash your weapons for you. Remember DEEP PLAY, leave aside your judgments.
  9. When done return to yourself with a trigger for your normal self. In other words put away your improv hat and step off the stage.
  10. The "trick" now is ready. I had the students fire the trigger and do their randori. All but one moved better as through my MAGICK.

It is hard for them to argue with their own experience. And if it works for you, use it. Don't let a label or prejudice stop you from accessing these exquisite states (and I would categorically say these states are in themselves deep initiations).

I reminded the students that these are powerful states, and to hold lightly. If one tries to grasp them strongly it will take over and make you its victim (paraphrasing Frank Herbert today, yet again)

It was time to finish the class with their stretches, yoga, and meditation. There would be more on this some other time.

We wrapped up and walked back to our cars. As I started driving home, my phone rang and the student on the other end said "Sensei did the samurai ever do this?"

"Yes they did. Do you remember when HRV sensei taught us the specific shugendo version of Kokyu ho (breathing excercises for now). Those breathing exercises were done in the dark and such states were accessed to not fight "alone". My research into some of the old tengu methods and other esoteric traditions shows that this THEATRE OF MARTIAL IMAGINATION was an important preparation of going to into war."

Silence on the other end of the line.

"Whether the Samurai used it or not is not the issue, " I continued. "The issue should be whether it works for you. Go read the Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts or Tengu: The Shamanic And Esoteric Origins Of The Japanese Martial Arts By Roald Knutsen. Really read the old stories of how many a Master learnt. Lineage while interesting does not guarantee usefulness. Remember the Ming Liu lecture on lineage: lineage is a cult you like, a cult is a lineage you dont like." We both laughed out loud and I continued, " I will always choose functionality over so-called authenticity. If it works use it, enhance what you have, layer new learnings in. Again DEEP PLAY. Process not specific technique."

He confessed he was a bit skeptical but promised to give it a shot.

"You know I seriously studied theater with a rather elusive underground theater. He pointed me to the work of Jerzy Grotowski. A particular quote by him is etched in my consciousness. He makes a profound statement."

“Why do we sacrifice so much energy to our art?
Not in order to teach others but to learn with them what our existence, our organism, our personal and repeatable experience have to give us; to learn to break down the barriers which surround us and to free ourselves from the breaks which hold us back, from the lies about ourselves which we manufacture daily for ourselves and for others; to destroy the limitations caused by our ignorance or lack of courage; in short, to fill the emptiness in us: to fulfill is a ripening, an evolution, an uplifting which enables us to emerge from darkness into a blaze of light.” 
― Jerzy Grotowski

He listened intently and then after a moment said he would try this with that sense of Deep Play. And to do this religiously every day for 5 minutes for the next month. It made me happy. Personal repeatable experience is where the proof is at.

So what does this have to do with fighting?

Everything. Invoking/Evoking states that allow you to do what is necessary to survive that you may not otherwise be able to do. This Theatre of Martial Imagination can be the key to liberation.

Don't take my word for it. Go try it for yourself.


Go find a teacher of the old ways, non-commercialized ways. Gain entrance into their inner courtyard and experience it from them before trying it. Which arts did you ask? I say all old ways be it Aikijujutsu, Opera company based gung fu, Silat or Eskrima.

Go get into that state of Deep Play with the Theatre of Martial Imagination.

And welcome LIBERATION!

Mahipal Lunia


Recommended Readings

The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts, Issai Chozanshi

Tengu: The Shamanic And Esoteric Origins Of The Japanese Martial Arts, Roald Knutsen

Internal Arts explained…/internal-martial-art…

Explore the "World of Jianghu" if you dare:

Super-LearningSheila Ostrander, Lynn Schroeder, Nancy Ostrander 

The Einstein FactorWin Wenger, Ph.D

Tesla's Mind Labs

Deep PlayDiane Ackerman

Martial Musings: From the Exoteric to the Esoteric

Martial Musings: From the Exoteric to the Esoteric

From the Exoteric to the Esoteric, by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

It has been an interesting few months. Among a number of events, I lost the entire crop of my senior students at my little dojo. This forced my hand to teach relative newcomers into the arts of Aiki-in-yo-ho.

It has been a blessing and a curse.

A blessing in that I get to see the basics again but a curse for I too, have to begin again. The new students are blessed with a matured teacher and cursed with his sea of advanced information.

This has forced me to reexamine how the art is presented to ensure it lands. For this nomenclature and morphology (the study of forms) has to be well understood. To quote the German philosopher Martin Heidegger 

"Language is the house of being." 

How we frame and understand what we do pretty much forms the context we find ourselves living in. Thus the language, nomenclature, has to be agreed upon and understood well.

Terms like 'attributes, techniques, concepts and principles' can cause a lot of confusion. 

Let's clear it up. 


Attribute:-  is "a quality or feature regarded as a characteristic or inherent part of someone or something." Examples of attributes include 

  • Speed
  • Power
  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Endurance
  • Mobility
  • Co-ordination
  • Rhythm
  • Timing
  • Visual Acuity

Most schools spend time developing specific attributes, cementing the system's biases. Certain schools will emphasize flexibility, agility and speed as in TKD and Eskrima. Others may emphasize power, endurance and co-ordination like Old school Kempo, boxing. Still others may emphasize timing, mobility and balance (Aiki, Bagua etc.). 

Attributes are the fuel system of a fight. Inferior fuel leadto inferior performance (fight). Super charge your fuel, supercharge your performance potential. Want quick noticeable results in your art? Want to hack your performance? Tweak the attributes you work on. 

Mastering attributes means: Functional Fitness. Aesthetics. Others envy.

Technique:- or as the Japanese arts call them, Waza. These are set methods of executing the Yi/Ki/Will. Examples of it 

  • Kihon-waza (basic techniques such as boubisuri and taisabaki) 
  • Te-Waza (hand techniques) 
  • Geri-waza (kicks)

When bound together in a prearranged shape, techniques become Kata. The heart of most systems comprises of practice sets, kata, 2-man forms. This is the birthplace of codifying stylistic differences. Within our art these kata show up as

  • Atemi (striking techniques), counters (sensen no sen, senzen no sen and gonosen), and Keiraku (use of meridians for 'neutralization of body strength')
  • Seigyo (controls/Locks) and Gaeshi (reversals)
  • Nage (throwing methods) and Otoshi (methods of dropping)
  • Kenjutsu (sword), Jojutsu (staff), Obi waza (tying methods) and Tessenjutsu (fan) forms

Mastering technique means:Tradition. Solid replication. Correct presentation. 

Upon transcending prearranged form, arriving at a spontaneous unravelling of techniques, we get 

  • Shadow Boxing as an example of empty hand freeflow as we see in boxing, kickboxing and sport fighting
  • Carenza as an example of freeform with weapons with the SE Asian arts
  • Free style Kata as an example of stylistic expression of ones attributes

Mastering this spontaneity means: Liberation. Personal Expression. Signature.

Attributes and Techniques train the brain. But as we start to go into Concepts and Principles, it is about training the mind. Such a different beast.The Nobel Laureate, and an early inspiration of mine, Dr. Buckminister Fuller, beautifully explained the difference: 

"The difference between mind and brain is that brain deals only with memorized, subjective, special-case experiences and objective experiments, while mind extracts and employs the generalized principles and integrates and interrelates their effective employment. Brain deals exclusively with the physical, and mind exclusively with the metaphysical."

The brain/body are the realm of physical, the exoteric.

So let's journey from the exoteric, into the esoteric.

Concepts:- or as the Japanese say Gainen (概念) which means the outline/wish/idea. Concept is a compressed experience packaged as a generic idea. We follow this idea to to deal with violence. A concept can birth a thousand techniques that stay true to the "generic idea" or "shape". The techniques may adhere to a particular style or be a personal expression, never the less they emerge as spontaneous henka/variations of the waza/technique. 

As an example, Aiki is a key concept for our school. The term Aiki means Harmony, and in the old days, actually meant timing. The concept of Aiki (harmonizing or timing) with an opponent has 5 methods. These are 

  • Tenshin (means Divine Will. Here the attack simply unleashes)
  • Bubisuru (Parrying, while moving into a superior position) 
  • Go-No-Sen (Parry & Counter while taking choices away from the opponent) 
  • Sen-Sen-No-Sen (Stop hitting/Intercepting)
  • Sen-Zen-No-Sen (Attack by Drawing, feigning retreat and coming back in) 

This one concept of timing, gives birth to at least 5 methods. These methods unfold thousands of possibilities/henka, while staying true to the concept.

Real magick begins to unfold when we cross pollinate concepts. For example when one marries a FMA concepts (of say "defanging the snake") with the JMA concepts (of say "Go-No-Sen" or "Sen-Sen-No Sen"),  it gives birth a to whole new level of techniques/henka, that at once includes and transcends both systems. 

Mastering concepts means:Freedom. Expansion. Alchemy.

Principles:- In the Japanese arts there are at least two kanji and ways to look at the notion of principle. One term is "ri" commonly used to express ideas such as "Ju-No-Ri" meaning principle of softness. Ri/principle is an encapsulation of of "how softness shows up everywhere, especially in the Budo.The second kanji refers to "Tessoku," or the iron law or immutable law. These are immovable laws and I understand them as the Laws of Nature or higher intelligence. Laws we can leverage, but not command. These are laws of nature such as

  • Negentropy and entropy 
  • Spiraling (no straight lines) 
  • Gravity 
  • Opposing forces (law of opposites)
  • Sacred geometry (as language of nature)

Mastering principles means: Crystallization. Artful Emergence.

A student asked "Sensei, the 9 Principles of Japanese Aesthetic, are these natural principles like Ri or Tessoku?"

This was a great question. I had long struggled with it, unable to classify it as a concept or principle. One could argue it both ways. But then, an epiphany hit, "We do need to make one more distinction here, that of tenet. A tenet is a pillar within a worldview."

"For example, one hears of the Wabi-Sabi a lot when we discuss Japanese Aesthetic. Wabi-Sabi is the acceptance of imperfection, impermanence and incompleteness as beauty. To achieve this etheric state of Wabi Sabi, 7 conditions or tenets have to present." (for a more detailed breakdown look up Wikipedia)

  • Fukinsei: asymmetry, irregularity
  • Kanso: simplicity
  • Koko: basic, weathered
  • Shizen: natural, absence of pretense
  • Yugen: subtle grace, not obvious
  • Datsuzoku: unbounded by convention, free
  • Seijaku: tranquility

"Within the worldview of Wabi-Sabi, these 7 conditions are seen as principles. But in my opinion they neither follow the notion of Ri or Tessoku. They are tenets that hold together a worldview, a belief system and a certain way of being. "

How do you know you are in the realm of true principle? Again, Dr. Bucky Fuller comes to the rescue

"Principles never contradict principles. . . . The synergetic integral of the totality of principles is God, whose sum-total behavior in pure principle is beyond our comprehension and is utterly mysterious to us, because as humans — in pure principle — we do not and never will know all the principles."
"Principles are not dependent on a worldview, they would apply to all arts.  How they choose to leverage the principles gives birth to specific concepts, and they can transcend arts. The unpacking of the concepts in a specific worldview gives birth to systemic/stylistic techniques. And what packs/fuels the techniques are your attributes."
"Plato referred to the hierarchical links that went from the most foundational elements through the highest perfection as the Great Chain of Being. I think of this journey from attributes to pure principle as the Great Chain to Martial Being."
"The fastest way to accelerate performance for a beginner is to go from the gross to the subtle. From the exoteric to the esoteric. This is the journey from attributes to techniques to concepts and finally principle itself. An advanced practitioner with a good base of techniques, can jump start right of the bat into other concepts and principles."

It was a heavy lesson. So I wanted to ground it a little more, make the esoteric more exoteric. "The principle of gravity and opposing forces (yin yang) apply to all arts.  We specifically use the concepts of Tai Sabaki (Body Positioning), Toate no Jutsu (unbalancing the body and mind of the opponent, some arts call it kiai jutsu), Tai Ichi (moving the body as one whole) and RyuHa ( strategic methods of the school). These concepts can be used across many other arts by a skilled practioneer.  However the specific mix of TaiSabaki, Toate no Jutsu, Tai Sabaki, Tai Ichi and RyuHa give rise to a very specific worldview - our art. Within this worldview, we follow certain tenets and this gives birth to very specific techniques/waza/kata.  The mastery of these techniques require honing of certain attributes like timing, balance, flow. 

The easiest way to approach when learning new arts/skills is the exoteric to the esoteric. Climb the ladder of Martial Being if you will.  Pay your dues with attribute development, make the techniques functional, conceptualize and generalize them in a way to move the learning around, and finally hope to get to the the essence/principle of it all.

This is a radical simplification. The forever removing of the superfluous until a deep crystallization of principle emerges. This is elegance and effortless perfection - a state of shibumi. This is as esoteric as it gets. But you have to start with the attributes and build up. 

The Great Chain of Martial Being.

The same student asked again "The Principle is the goal then?"

"Beyond principle is the primodial soup. The field of all possibilities. The Atman, the Godhead. The real YOU. Enough for today!" I concluded as we bowed out.

Train Hard, Train Smart.

Mahipal Lunia

Martial Musings: The Great Moment (Lesson) in Defeats

Martial Musings: The Great Moment (Lesson) in Defeats

The Great Moment (Lesson) in Defeats by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

A long-time student of mine recently asked, "Sensei, I don't get it. Why is it that you still seek out teachers of your own?"

I could understand his confusion, after all I have been teaching him for years.

He knows there is still a lot for him to learn and then, he sees his OWN teacher doing the same.

Gently, I responded, "one needs to progressively find bigger and better opponents to lose to and do so elegantly."

"WHAT?" he exclaimed, "Find people to lose to? Sensei you mean win against, don't you?"

"Let me tell you a story."

We settled in for a cup of my home brewed chai (fresh ginger, strands of saffron and smashed cardamom blended with black Darjeeling tea).

"First, I studied Shotokan karate and got my Black Belt. I thought I was a hot shot until I ran into a kenpoka who left so many marks on my body I will NEVER forget it. THAT beatdown meant a few years dedicated to studying with him, earning a rank, and then, as you well know, I went to check out a jujutsu man. He mopped the floor with me. I signed up and for many years it was intense Aikijujutsu time."

"I studied with him and his teacher for many years. Time and life happened, we moved to different places and I started to teach, although I still traveled regularly to the hombu dojo in Phoenix to continue my education and work on some Chinese Internal Arts. During this time I've met many a martial arts teachers, some really good... some not so good."

"A few years ago, I met an Eskrima man in Stockton who moves so damn fast that slow motion videos of him are blurry. He is a strange old school teacher. He started teaching me to do things with sticks that I never thought were possible. During this time, a few other teachers have crossed my path too, including master teachers in Wala Wala, who have taught me how to 'connect' systems. True masters all."

"I have routinely driven 100 miles each way to Stockton to study with one of the best Eskrimador's on the the planet, and 800 miles each way to Wala Wala to learn how to learn."

"To many this makes no sense. Especially given that I have multiple 'ranks' in various systems. But rank is not the goal. My goal is "radical simplification." This simplification comes beyond the systems and teachers. You have to transcend them one and all. This does not mean one loves or respects them any less, rather it means they have loved you & guided you enough to see you grow beyond them. That is success."

My student still had this look of confusion on his face.

"As your skill gets better, and you seek those far greater than you, a strange thing happens. You start finding universal principles and it comes down to the purest expression of self. A radical undoing of systems, methods, and teachers into just YOU. It is an expression that transcends it all, preserving the purity of that self-expression. And therein is simplicity. Doing just enough while growing vastly. One begins the process of mirroring the greater patterns of nature itself, instead of mirroring man-made constructs ...(ego, systems, styles)."

"The goal," I concluded, "then becomes to start becoming ever so ordinary, while pursing extraordinary knowledge. "

He looked baffled.

Time to change tracks.

"We have both had multiple injuries, yes?"

He nodded, remembering his own injuries through the years.

"What did they do to you?"

"They took away my training, and made all things harder I guess?" he chuckled.

"But you did not stop. You started looking for new ways of pursuing your purest expression, your art."

He nodded, but complained, "yes, but I am not doing the technique correctly, am I?"

"As long as you follow the principles, and are getting the desired effect, then the Art is doing you. SUCCESS!"

A few days later, this theme continued with two different students. One had recently hurt his back badly while the other is a very seasoned Taiji practitioner/teacher looking for the what next.

The student with the injury was disheartened, contemplating whether he would ever be able to do the arts. I told him, "Yes shit happens, the only thing that matters is how you respond. True, your back is injured and it will take away rotation from your movements. It is a big loss. And could be a great opportunity. There are at least two other planes you can move on. Further, I would use this to take the work inside (yes internal aspects of the work) and see how that flowers. Learn to accomplish a lot with very little. That in itself can become your Magnum Opus, your great work. That is true art, true alchemy."

I know he was not convinced, however each person must arrive at their own decisions/destiny. I promised to show him how to move along the two other planes and still pretty much accomplish it all. He may not realize it right now, and instead he stands defeated by the "big thing" of the moment. How one responds to this - take a back seat or look for another way to move- makes all the difference.

Later that evening, the seasoned Taiji proponent wanted to explore more control and accuracy with edged weapons. I shared some of my methods with him including:

1. Swinging coconuts and bananas tied to a pendulum, and working on the strikes for distance, control and power. There are many drills here for spreed, power, control, timing. (Will write more on these later and about teachers who taught me some of this)

2. Handicap training: where limbs were tied up, made unuseable before trying to accomplish the same tasks. Training with non-dominant hand, on your knees, while lying down etc. you get the idea. Pretty much the akin to when samurais' with lost limbs would still have to fight. If you don't train for this scenario, you won't react correctly when needed.

3. Tuishou (Push hands) & Hubad (tying/untying) with feet tied together, taking away the ability to firmly root. This gives birth to interesting new variations and new ways of moving and unbalancing the opponent in order to "stay safe"

4. Blindfold training with ear plugs: When sight and sound are taken away, and you try to even do the forms you know well, something strange begins to happen. Try it. You will discover new senses or perhaps new ways of using senses you never had.

5. Environmental training: Using proper form in varied environments and seeing how differently only moves.

I concluded, "these are methods of defeating yourself, and seeing what emerges. What emerges here is truly you, and perhaps the purest part of your art. This will be beyond any known system or teacher, for these adaptation/henka will force you to follow the path of least resistance. There is no other way. It will force a rare simplicity and elegance regardless of the art. Here we move in the now and one cannot call it Aikijujutsu, GungFu or Eskrima. Yet the movement has encompassed them all."

"These defeats with greater and greater opponents (obstacles - whether externally or internally imposed) can become what Bucky Fuller used to call Great Moments. This is that moment when you are about to discover what you are made of and develop new ingenuity to overcome the obstacle. When this has been overcome, you are all set to go discover your next big opponent to fail against. May you keep losing to greater and greater opponents and emerging for the next big fight."

I winked and he smiled.

"I get it." he said as he swung the stick fast in strike#2.

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. Elegant simplicity is that ideal for me, and the best way to it is failing elegantly to greater and greater opponents. Here is to learning that simplicity and becoming ever so ordinary.


Until next time,

Train Smart,


Mahipal Lunia

Martial Musings: The Role of Spine in Escapes

Martial Musings: The Role of Spine in Escapes

The Role of Spine in Escapes by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

The turnout was small on this wet, cold, and dark December night. 

But two students demonstrated resilience, showing up to our open air dojo, the grass serving as our mat, the sky our roof. This kind of professionalism and attitude should always be honored.

I do so by giving them something MORE and on this night it would be special: 

Yawara Jutsu and its counters. 

First some history. Formally, the term jujutsu came into being in the late 16th-early 17th century and it encompassed all of the grappling arts of Japan. Prior to this period, we saw many different schools/specializations such as taijutsu (body art), Kogusoku Koshi No Mawari (sword grappling), and wajutsu/yawarajutsu (arts of harmony or soft arts). 

"Yawara" is the same kanji as the "ju" in "judo" and it means "soft" or "flexible". In essence, Yawara Jutsu was the generic name for any Japanese unarmed combative art. 

So within the system as we practice it, Yawara Jutsu are the "generic" holds that originated in or before the Azuchi–Momoyama period (1568–1600)

We began with the holds, most if not all of them leading to the "freezing of the structure." 

They are perfect arrest methods.  

A student asked, "Why are we studying these old arrest methods and what are we getting out of them?"

"One," I replied, "you may not want to hurt everyone you fight with and a way to capture 'high value targets' or 'vagabonds'. (Vagabonds a term for paid assassins.) Now remember there is a whole tradition of those who specialized in this, and all I will say is that these Shinobi were a real threat . Two, it is an integral part of the tradition we practice."

I explained weapons were not allowed into the compounds of lords, therefore, being a highly trained martial artist was critical to complete a "mission" whether that be saving or killing a target. 

While on a mission, being captured was a real threat. And no self respecting Shinobi nor Samurai would want that. The pain and humiliation they would experience as prisoners far overweighed their fear of death. So they would give it their all to escape or die trying.

This meant that the "soft" yawara holds or the Oishikiuchi methods better be real good if you are on the side doing the capturing. You want this guy alive to extract the relevant information. Then, you make a lesson out of the infiltrator to send a clear message. Thus born the methods to "freeze the opponent" and take him alive. If there ensued a major struggle joints would be dislocated/broken but the man kept alive. 

The idea is to make escape impossible by "taking away mobility." No matter what part of the body is caught, the goal is to "climb up to the spine" and make it immobile. Once this is accomplished, the infiltrator/opponent imore or less in one piece and YOURS until help arrived. 

Now the shinobi/vagabonds/mercenaries and in some cases, samurai of opposing camps, would not want to be taken in such ways, obviously. This was a disgrace and a painful way to go. So they, in turn, spent a lot of time learning how to escape these holds. Your life and your master's honor depended on it.

I proceeded to show the students a handful of lockdowns and escapes.  "Do you see a pattern here in the escapes?" I asked.

I got a handful of guesses and then silence.

"To escape, you have to take yourself to the place where the problem is not. I repeat, move to where the problem is not.  Every good lock and takedown works on progressively freezing the skeletal structure until the whole of the spine is under control. Once the spine is frozen, you are done."

"Two concepts come into play here are 1) don't wait for any lock to complete and 2) sacrifice the small to save the big."

"Any lock once completed or near completion becomes nearly impossible to escape. Don't get into that position. Develop your sensitivity to flow through this into a new position where the lock cannot be applied. Done right, this is magical. This is Aiki, invisible and powerful (as opposed to Kiai which is powerfully visible)."

"Sometimes the small has to be sacrificed to save the big. That's perhaps sacrificing an arm or a leg to gain that momentary control needed to either escape from the capture or kill oneself or your target. Painful yes, but far less than if you were captured."

"I will leave you with what I consider a big secret." I continued.

There was silence as their attention fixated on what was coming next. 

"If you work on maintaining the integrity of the spine and making sure it has full range of motion at all times, you will notice that the locks on your body parts will unlock themselves."

One student asked, "How do we do that sensei?"

"By being where the problem is not" I replied cheekily.  

But that is a great secret in life itself. We find ourselves wrestling with all things to maintain what I consider an illusion of control. The trick is to give that up and learn to flow with the forces acting upon us. And to do this, don't make it about your ego and learn to become sensitive, very sensitive.  

By becoming aware and receptive to the pressures acting upon us, we gain the ability to merge, flow and transform them. That to the very essence of Aiki, and is nothing short of pure alchemy.

My hope for all of you in the coming year is the same. May you learn to find yourself where the problems are not present. This is not an escapist method, but rather, a self-aware way of being on the right side of forces acting upon us.  

And it is the spine that holds the secret of most escapes. Learning to always have it in a place of full mobility is a high art. Keep that micro-cosmic orbit functioning well and with ease, as well as the three dandiens/haras' in structural integrity. When this is achieved you will literally be in a state of FLOW, a state of AIKI, and you can claim that the "force is with you."

Until Next time, Train smart and pay attention to "The Spine"

Mahipal Lunia

Martial Musings: Form, Function and Environment

Martial Musings: Form, Function and Environment

Form, Function and Environoment by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

"I will join the school if you move indoors, especially during the cold and wet season," the woman explained as she folded her arms and sank into the chair.

I sensed fear and distancing in her behavior so I responded with "let me know if I can help you find a different school, more to your liking."

"I really like what you guys do, but I don't feel safe training outdoors" she persisted.

And I knew what she meant. This is not everyone's goal. And that is ok.

"Ma'am, I am looking for people who want to be functional artists - those looking to thrive, not just survive. There are many other schools that offer training in 'safer' indoor places. This does not seem like good match for the both of us"

But she would not let go of the conversation. Coffee had just been served, so we continued for another hour trying to help our newbie understand why we train the way we do.

Her big question: "What could you possibly achieve by training in the rain or in below-freezing temperatures?"

"Do you think you will only be attacked in the dojo/studio, under ideal weather conditions? If yes, then perhaps you need a sport school."

She pondered a bit before admitting it was "unlikely."

Nature is a harsh mistress.


But if one pays really attention, she teaches us not just how to survive...but how to thrive.

"You must train for the environments you will find yourself in. Nature does NOT tolerate unpreparedness at all. Look at what happens to amateurs who head out into the deep wilderness, or people who live in hurricane/natural disaster zones without proper preparation."

Different environments put different pressures on you, the organism.

Go from sea level to 15000 feet and notice your breathing.

Move from the very arid deserts to the marshlands.

Or perhaps from the warm humid tropical islands to the cold dry wastelands of the Artic.

Varied environments mean varied pressures.

And they change a little bit of everything:

-> How you dress -> What you eat and your ability to replenish yourself -> How you breathe and your endurance level -> Your sense of balance -> Your speed -> Mobility of your joints and muscles -> Little bits of everything have a HUGE impact.

I remember having a heated discussion about this with another practitioner in the system. He had apparently examined a short video clip and was concerned about my form. He made the typical mistake of thin slicing: looking at a simple clip, and making sweeping generalizations. All of this without understanding the impact of environment and other invisible factors.

We argued a bit. ThenI offered to pay for his way to come on one of our Shugyos to see for himself what happens at 12 thousand feet elevation.

Silence. No, like many a keyboard warriors, he would not back his words with action.

But in a very passive aggressive way he started talking about the 'old' ways and the importance of keeping traditions alive. Of course, names like Musashi came into the conversation. So I quoted his idol Musashi himself from the Book of Five Rings.

"The way of warrior skill is the way of nature. When you are in line with the power of nature, knowing the rhythm of all situations, you will be able to cut and strike the enemy naturally."

Study the people you quote before you use them to justify your opinions. Please.

Musashi also stated, "there are four Ways in which men pass through life: as warriors, farmers, artisans and merchants." This means we must not only going beyond our ryu (style), but beyond our warrior ways as well.

Another quote from an "authority": Sun Tzu. "The second and third constant factors that govern victory are Heaven and Earth. Heaven and earth are what Sun Tzu refers to as the environmental conditions and the physical terrain of battle, and one must be aware ahead of time of the threats and opportunities that they present."

In other words Wake. Up.

Don't just follow a form blindly without understanding the context. The environment IS the context we live in. You must attempt to understand and be in harmony with it or you wont survive for long.

Think about this.


When a technique is embodied by the self you have SKILL.
When the traditional technique is custom-fitted to the environments' you have VARIATIONS
When the self evolves with the environment you have ADAPTATIONS.

The hardest thing for many traditionalists to get around are these variations and adaptations. So EXPLORE YOUR ART in varied ecosystems:

  1. Go into different micro environments and execute your techniques. Note the efficiency. Ask yourself what needs to change. Let the variations emerge.

    1. For example traditional atemi/striking arts and pistols are mostly rendered useless in water. How does one change the striking or gun methods methods in water

    2. Traditional Aikijujutsu and HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) were optimized for armor. What happens when when you use those skills without the armor? What new things become possible or impossible?

  2. Let the environments you find yourself in most often dictate how to adapt your skills.
    1. If you live in densely populated areas with narrow streets - the Katana and Bo won't work as well as say a Tanto/Dagger/Karambit and 18-24 inch sticks.

    2. If you find yourself on the plains or deserts riding horses, the shape of your blade will need to curve around the horses head, which means how the blade moves changes. Think of the Rajputs, the Persians and the Mongols.
    3. If you find yourself mostly by oceans and large rivers, the oar becomes a weapon of choice and deep stances are mandatory. Stability and multi-use implements win the day. Think the of Maori, Polynesian and Okinawan systems

This is not meant to be a 'dissing' of traditional systems. On the contrary, the traditional systems survived due to their hyper focus on particular adaptations, variations and skill development catered to their locale. In today's global environment, however, the same arts are carried over in original form into places where they do not ideally suit. To survive and thrive there... they need to adapt and change.

When Form, Function and Environment mostly die.

With this, I finished our coffee, and guided her to some other schools. As we were walking out, she asked "don't you think this kind of training could damage your body, your brain?"

And let us not forget the Brain. Yes the Brain

I have heard even many well-meaning practitioners talk about working on reactionary skills to survive. This is but a small part of the puzzle. Very small.

The brain is built as a prediction system, not a reaction system. It looks at all the sensory input coming from outside (read environment). Then based on previous experiences and possible outcomes - predicts the most likely outcome. This is the realm of prediction, preparation, anticipation, prospection or expectations.

Another view is the OODA loop, postulated by John Boyd. He noted that successful fighter pilots "Observe, Orient, Decide and then Act." Think about this - you need to be able to really see/hear/feel fully, then orient yourself based on the environment in order to generate options. The best possible option is then selected and executed upon. (A series of future posts on OODA in the works).

If you are not predicting the future, and adapting to it, you are not going to be surviving. If your OODA loop is being disrupted by the opponent or the environment , you are not going to be surviving.

When Form, Function and Environment Match - YOU THRIVE due to FUNCTIONAL SKILL.

So get out there, work those techniques in different ecosystems, allow the variations and adaptations to emerge. They might just save your life.

This is a big reason my students and I train in varied environments regularly. Everything from mountains, rivers, beaches, marshlands to deserts. The idea is that they find themselves "in harmony" or Aiki or "right timing" with nature, and THRIVE.

I waved my final goodbye. Time to go teach another class in my little outdoor dojo.

Remember my friends to Thrive - Form, Function and Environment must be in Aiki/Harmony/Timing.Said another way "Heaven and Earth be in harmony."

If this makes sense share it, drop me a line. I always welcome connecting with other travellers on the path.

Mahipal Lunia, Sensei