Controlling the spirit

When Muso Gonnosuke retreated to the mountain shrine to meditate on his defeat to Miyamoto Musashi, his subsequent revelation led to the development of a new art based on a short staff called a jo.  The heart of that inspiration has become the motto of Shinto Muso Ryu:

maruki o motte suigetsu o shire
Using a round stick, know the solar plexus 

And if you practice the art today—whether the full, traditional Shindo Muso Ryu jodo or Seitei Jodo—you will no doubt notice that many of jodo's techniques and movements within the kata are based on that very idea: control the solar plexus.

For me, fully grasping this one single precept was one the first important step in learning the art. As a new white belt, it all looked to like a bunch of individual techniques, where you swing the stick about in all kinds of ways, you do this if the sword guy does that, and so on.

Jodo took on a whole new clarity when I realized that so many of those movements were not to random or arbitrary, but were all expressions of that one vision:

To to control uke's body and his movements, control the solar plexus.

But sometime later, I took an another step.  I realized that there were a great deal of techniques and movements that were aimed not at the swordsman's torso, but rather his eyes.

Whether this took place after I had thwarted uke's attacks, or before he had even begun when the mere thought of attacking had just crossed his mind, there was the jo. Not striking, not even touching, but making a definitive statement nonetheless. And that's when it occurred to me:

To to control uke's spirit or his intentions, control the eyes.

Indeed, I noticed this progression existed in any of the arts I had ever studied (such as Shotokan karate) or study currently (aikido and judo). As a new student, you are taught and you must focus on the body, the physical or tangible. The physical is easier and quicker to grasp, and if tested in reality on the proverbial "street" it will go a long way to saving your skin.

Then, when those techniques begin to become ingrained after some time, we move on to something more intangible, the mind or the spirit.

A friend of mine tells the story of a manager he encountered once who routinely used psychological intimidation in order to get others to do what he wanted. However, when this man turned his sights on my friend (a rather advanced aikido and judo practitioner), something different happened. All my friend said he did while this obdurate manager spoke was smile and imagine throwing the guy with osoto gari over and over.

Without a singular movement, the manager could sense very quickly that he was no longer the predator but had himself become the prey. Needless to say, he let my friend be and moved on to pick on somebody else.

Just this morning I worked with one student hoping to earn his nikyu rank. We reviewed the first two movements from Seitei no Kata, Tsukizue and Suigetsu. His ability was certainly sufficient for his level, but I noticed immediately that as each one ended, he proceeded through osame (the process of putting away the jo) quickly and without much thought.

I think we forget, myself included, that while we are only using wooden weapons rather than steel in the relative safety of the dojo, we are still very much engaged in that Great Game of Life and Death. Just because uke (or uchidachi) has seemingly surrendered, it does not mean we can relax, not for one moment.

Because if we're not controlling the body, and we're not controlling the spirit, we will get cut.

That being said, to control the spirit or intentions of uke, it's not enough to point a stick in his face. It's so much more than that. Just as I use my body to control uke's body, I must use my spirit to control uke's spirit.


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