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