Ippon-mai and the boat across the river…

 – – – by Takeharu Yoshi Renshi

In this method we’re using, it is hard initially in training to know who you’re supposed to be while training. And so we put different positions in there:  “I’m a timid student”,  “I’m a winner,”  “I’m a loser..”  whatever it may be.  In this case, you’re learning how to do a movement together that allows the movement’s knowledge and truth to become available to both people. Which means you have to be sincere, precise, follow instruction and have no aggression. We become aggressive because we don’t know who to be. It’s really pretty simple in life. When you’re aggressive, you usually don’t know who to be in that situation.  You feel fear or you feel something … “Who am I supposed to be?…”

Now,  if you train, you’ll become yourself:  your whole self. And then this will not be a problem.

Training is meant to transport you, like a boat across the river.

So often the metaphor is like the picture on my sword-guard: we have the sage and the student and they’re looking across this river. And on the other side there’s the good space – the other  land – generally they’re Confucian images you see, so you see the sacred mountain, the pagoda…  It represents knowledge.  The practice is the boat. The method is the ability to get the boat across.

The teacher’s already been over there.  So they’re saying: “Don’t worry. If we use the method, most likely we’ll get across.”

When you’ve  gotten across truly, then you don’t require a boat. And yet you maintain a perfect boat to bring it back to the next person who wants to get across.

Now, in this kata – we say – ippon mai,  the first thing,  the first art is this thing I’m showing you: you’re both working and timing together, and you’re staying on the center line. Obviously this would be  dangerous in battle: you’d like to not be in not  such a strong, vulnerable position.

Someone who really, truly understands can split the center-line.

I can split the center-line and produce the same effects as stepping to the side.

I will teach you how to do that.

But first:  center-line and then I will show you how to step aside.

In most kata, sword et cetera this is how you start doing the paired practice: one person stands on the center-line, the other person steps into shikaku, neutralizes and then whatever it may be, and then returns to the center-line and then you do it again.  And then you become confident, when something’s striking you, to be able to move, striking and moving out of the way at the same time.

And then there’s no need to block.

So they say:  in good swordwork, there is no block: defense and attack are simultaneously in the same thing.

That’s why I’m showing you this thing with the hand.

This is kind of rare. I’m showing you things that if you were a martial artist and you’d been around the world you’d say, “wow – I never saw that…”  and then you’d realize:  once you know it, you can watch people who are really good and go: “O-o-o-oh that’s what they’re doing… That is the difference between  t h e m … and   t h e m  …”

Because sometimes this ryu-ha stuff is the inner teaching that affects every bit of your life: some little thing that just … and then.. all of a sudden…you realize, “I did that the other day with the steering wheel… and… it’s totally different!”

The other nice thing about it is: it’s not, in this case, connected to fear or anxiousness. This other grip is: this clench-y one is.

Because… contractile muscles often become associated with fear. When you think about people who are totally, absolutely terrified, what do they do? One of two things: total contraction or just… go limp. The ones who intend to survive contract.  The ones who want to die: go limp. The furthest extreme of that yin condition of total collape is:  the eyes roll back. They’re fainting.

Well, playing possum is great if you have strong teeth… You corner a possum and  they’ll do one of two things: either it’s all teeth  or  they just  pass out and you think they’re dead.  And they smell so bad no-one would want to bug ’em after they’re dead.

We don’t do that. We’re not playing dead. And we’re not doing teeth and claws.

We remain fluid.

So this way of closing the hand, this sword-gripping manner, is very, very important.

So, as you’re doing this initial kata, this thing is very advanced that you’re doing:  IF you’re doing it with that grip.  If you’re making that switch to using that grip. Even when you pivot there’s this feeling of moving into it. If you move into it, essentially you quit creating a separation between yourself and that which you’re using – would it be a sword, a fork, a paintbrush… it doesn’t matter. It becomes your own self: how you touch your own self.

When we think about a kinesthetically literate society…who used this… it has all kinds of ramifications… It looks very ritualized in one way, because it’s very precise. But it’s not cold. Precision does not have to be cold. Deep precision… is called intimacy.

We mistake the “I don’t know how to be intimate unless I’m drunk out of my mind or some kind of weirdness…” – some kind of release, some sort of cathartic release – with intimacy. Whereas if you’ve been educated in these ways, your idea of intimacy can be very beautiful and precise.

And that’s when you see tea served – or some kind of activity – and the person does it from thisspace: and there’s a feeling of warmth.

It’s beautiful There’s warmth. it’s very precise.

But the precision doesn’t exclude.

So this is precision: inclusive precision [demonstrates gripping with hand].

This is excluding [demonstrates gripping with hand].

So this first kata… it seems like I’m making you do the whole thing a million times.

Yes I am.

But I want you to start realizing how much fluid interaction,  how much control you have, doing the thing we’ve been training to do.

And then the next thing I’ll have you do is the second step: nippon.  You’ll step to the side, one of you, and you’ll recognize every kata was ever done – Japanese ones – and then I’ll show you the next level. Where both people are constantly moving into these empty spaces, but without any change in the precision.

And then you get into this takemusu level where it’s fluid, it comes from itself because it’s built into your body.

Finally you know how to be precise and real and true.

These are ethics: kinetic ethics. And when you feel them with your body, it’s completely different than having had them forced on you by a culture, or than if you practised from guilt or fear… or also practised to be better than someone else, instead of letting it emerge from the body.  I was thinking of how the gods arose from the heads of things… …you emerge from this great knowledge.

And then you begin to realize:  at first it’s all about becoming competent without the parents, but then there’s this point where you want to be able to enter into this deep understanding. And I suspect that in cultures who taught you this right off, the things you did to become independent from your parents were completely different than in our culture.

They were not about fighting off anything or rebelling against anything.

They were about entering deeply into a state.

And your parents would appreciate what they’re seeing: “Yeah, they need to go into that place. They need to. Let them dive deep… I’ve taught them everything… and when they come up they’ll be full humans…”

Different culture.


Let’s do it again.

I’d like you to go very smoothly.  Make accommodation for that distance.

It’s very important that you learn to do this accommodation so that we can practise at high speed without danger, and also so that you don’t get anxious when it speeds up. Once you can do this, it’s like tennis: you can stay in the volley… and you don’t get freaked out.

Hai… douzou…

Let’s do some more…

This is the essential teaching. I cannot give you all the stages until you do this one.

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