|“Spectrum” by Tokujin Yoshioka, photo by Michael Glenn|
During one Friday night class at the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo, Hatsumi Sensei asked a senior student to demonstrate a technique. The student avoided a punch and redirected the energy of it to knock his opponent down. This was a normal start for Soke’s class, but what happened next surprised me.
Soke called me out and punched at me! Now I was supposed to do the technique that had been demonstrated. But how was I supposed to knock Hatsumi Sensei down? Of course, that wasn’t going to happen.
But, I gave it my best shot. Hatsumi Sensei punched at me and I foolishly attempted to capture his punch. As soon as I did this, it was like the kukan shifted. This left me hanging or floating in space. I still don’t remember how he threw me, but I ended up in a pile on the mat.
Hatsumi Sensei then told us we must exist within 虚実皮膜 kyojitsu himaku. I had never heard that term, nor had the translator. But lucky for me, Hatsumi Sensei had left clues for us by referencing art.
Coincidentally, I had gone to Ginza earlier that morning to see an art exhibition at the Shiseido Gallery. The art installation was called “Spectrum” by the designer Tokujin Yoshioka. The gallery was filled with light and fog. Beams of light radiated off of prisms to brush the walls, floor, and the viewers with a spectrum of color. Like any great installation art, you become a part of the art as you experience it.
The term kyojitsu himaku comes from the Bunraku theatre, when the writer 近松門左衛門 Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote about a theory of art,
“Art is something that lies between the skin and the flesh, the make-believe and the real. … Art is something which lies in the slender margin between the real and the unreal. [….] It is unreal, and yet it is not unreal; it is real, and yet it is not real. Entertainment lies between the two.”
—”Chikamatsu on the Art of the Puppet Stage,” Anthology of Japanese Literature, from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century, ed. and trans. Donald Keene
For us in the Bujinkan, we are familiar with the term kyojitsu. But himaku is a thin membrane or “skin” between truth and falsehood. In fact, it is so thin it is permeable and inseparable from one or the other. Chikamatsu (who was the son of a Ronin) even pronounced it as hiniku, which is the skin over the flesh.
This philosophy is a kind of solipsism. It rests on the idea that we process the entire world through our senses. This means reality is filtered by this processing in our minds. Kyojitsu himaku takes advantage of this by existing in between the mind and reality.
In art, this means the art is created in such a way that the end result only comes to life in the mind of the viewer. If you’ve ever “looked behind the curtain” at a piece of art, maybe looked too closely… you will know that this examination breaks the illusion.
In fighting, we also create these illusions in the mind of our opponent. But we should not care if he “looks behind the curtain” or is able to pierce through our kyojitsu. We strategically place ourselves at the “himaku,” or the place in between. Then if he breaks through, what has he accomplished? Now we are behind him!
Anyone who has attacked Hatsumi Sensei knows that feeling when he seems to disappear and reappear elsewhere. He is not really doing anything. We do it to ourselves in our efforts to understand what cannot be understood.