by Michael Schjerling
It is soon the New Year of the horse 2014. It is time to reflect on the past, purify the present and prepare your kamae for a ride on the wild horse in the year 2014. Good luck my friend. I wish you a very happy New Year. (Michael)
People with strong kamae have an advantage in fights as well as real life in general. That is why kamae is one of the first thing we practice. Good kamae reflect that inner authentic presence, which comes from many years of purifying, emptying out and letting go. I have met very few people who has this kind of kamae and I myself still am a student on the way. The person with strong kamae seems to always control the space no matter if you practice with him in the dojo or you sit and eat a dinner together. He might be a garbage collector or rent out DVD’s at the local video store. That does not matter. Still he or she has an uplifted quality, which magnetizes you and commands your attention. He controls the space with his body, spirit and balls. When you meet such a person with such a strong inner authentic presence, you find he has an overwhelming genuineness, which might be somewhat frightening. I would often feel this when being close to soke. It feels very true, honest and real. This is not just charisma. The person with strong kamae and therefore inner authentic presence has worked on himself and made a thorough and proper journey. He has earned authentic presence by letting go, and by giving up personal comfort and fixed mind. He controls him self and there fore he controls the space.
The year of the horse 2014
Very soon it will become New Year. We reached the year of the horse 2014. The horse can help the human being to travel further and more quickly than he could do on his own. This shows a genuine relationship between human and animal. Horses are also extremely sensitive and should be taken good care of by humans. I believe that 2014 will be an interesting year in Bujinkan as it seems that we have come full circle with the themes. Am not sure what theme Soke will decide on for 2014, but I myself feel it is time once again to go further back to the roots and study Ten-Chi-Jin Ryaku no Maki and kamae which is the subject of this text. The horse has its kamae with its back horizontal whereas the back of the human kamae is vertical. When you take your seat in the saddle you and the horse becomes one, and form the Japanese kanji for ju (number 10) with your backs, which is the strongest number. When riding the horse you should let go of your ego and be sensitive enough to follow the rhythm as you would follow the rhythm of the fight.
Tai kamae – 体構え
One of the first concepts we are introduced to as warriors is the kamae. In the beginning we see kamae as physical fighting positions as they are indeed. Kamae are, from a biomechanical point of view, the most efficient positions to be in during different parts of the fight applied with the right distance and timing. As such this tai kamae gives you physical protection and balance your structure so you have a solid and well protected base to receive, move and deliver from. This is the starting point, the physical part which in my opinion most students have not practiced enough. If you master tai kamae you have strong positions and good advantage in the battle.
Kokoro kamae – 心構え
Moreover the kamae should be a reflection of your heart or your mental state. You have to become your kamae so to say. This is called kokoro kamae. This is where life is blown in to you. Your kamae needs to be more than biomechanical and physical beneficent positions. It needs to become alive and a reflection of whom you are being. A reflection of who you are truthfully from moment to moment. This is where this art of Bujinkan becomes an interesting life journey, because your kamae will only be as strong, clean and pure as your heart. If your mind is filled with ego (yourself), your personal projects and schemes, instead of concern for others, then you become preoccupied with your own egofulness. The expression that someone is “full of himself” refers to this kind of arrogance and false pride. This is very dangerous for yourself, your loved ones and your country. Through the teachings from our soke we learn that the correct way is to keep our heart true and protect. One way is to always make sure to let go of the ego. Do things for others and for the greater picture. I believe that it is impossible to become a warrior unless you have experienced egolessness. The ego acts as a kind of shield. But not in a good way, more in an illusionary way so you FEEL safe but actually ARE less safe because you are slower and not able to adapt because your mind is full of yourself. When you work with yourself and purify your heart then you naturally remove the illusionary shield and open yourself up to an invisible force we could call Divine. This cleares up your eyes and speeds up movements. It is here our taijutsu becomes alive, unique and here the so called miracles happen. It is just a matter of letting go, relax and dare to open up yourself.
The ideal state of fudoshin and tranquility comes from experiencing your body and mind being synchronized. If your body and mind are unsynchronized, then your body will be slump or weak and you will feel awkward. The method of synchronizing your mental state and your body is training you to be very simple and to feel that you are not special, but ordinary, extra-ordinary. You sit in your kamae simply, as a warrior, and out of that, a sense of individual dignity arises. You realize that the earth deserves you and you deserve the earth and that you are ready to protect her with your whole spirit when time is ready.
Looking at a picture of a person in a specific kamae at two similar situations could be the same biomechanical outlook but the strength of the kamae could be very different depending of the spirit of the two kamae. At situation one the person could be full of himself and therefore not be in a mental calm and grounded state. At the other picture which looks the same the person has no ego and the kamae is filled with heart and spirit which makes it strong and flexible as bamboo. The secret to let that spirit in is to allow yourself to let down your ego-shield and let yourself open up as that beautiful flower you are so you can perceive and shine. This is easier said than done. But I truly believe that it is the way. Having good perception is the only way to master any art as well as Bujinkan. Having good senses and strong nerves are more important that to be physical strong.
Minamoto Musashi wrote in his book Go Rin no Sho about kamae something like: Your kamae when fighting should be a natural every day kamae, and your everyday kamae should be your fighting posture. I think this is very important because then you have reached shizen kamae, meaning that your kamae is a natural part of you. From this point only I think it is possible to make kage no kamae (影の構え) effective (The shadow kamae where you conceal your mental attitude).
When you open up to or reach this level of kamae you are also more open to be conscious and aware and are therefore not so easily sucked in to dark world. The warrior’s awareness is not based on the training of ultimate paranoia. It is as shown based on the training of ultimate solidity (Fudoshin) – trusting in basic goodness. You now belong to the world of warriors. When little things happen – good or bad, right or wrong – you don’t exaggerate them. You constantly come back to your saddle (your posture). You have good neck and shoulders, you sit in your saddle and are never amazed. If somebody comes up to you and says: “I am going to kill you”, you are not amazed or “I will give you a present of one million USD right now” you are not amazed. You simply assume your seat in the saddle.
Practicing your kamae
During practice of the kamae there are some important points. First of all I will say that you should make your daily posture your kamae. Meaning that you should always be conscious of your posture and make sure that it is a reflection of your heart, meaning that your body and mind is synchronized. In that sense you are always practicing not only in the dojo but also outside and as such your world becomes your dojo.
Second, it is extremely important to have an upright posture. From Hatsumi soke we know that Takamatsu O-sensei also emphasized a straight back. Having an upright back is not an artificial posture. It is natural to the human body. When you slouch, that is unnatural. You can’t breathe properly when you slouch, and slouching also is a sign of giving in to neurosis. So when you have an erect kamae, you are proclaiming to yourself and the rest of the world that you are a warrior, a complete human being.
To have a straight back you do not have to strain yourself by pulling back your shoulders. The uprightness comes naturally from a calm mental state, a sense of natural pride and a sense of dignity. You feel that the earth deserves you and that you deserve her. You let down your shield of egofulness and open up your chest and heart. Imagine that you take a seat in a saddle, naturally and straight. Strong and flexible as bamboo and beautiful, open and sense-able as a flower. Then because your back is upright, you feel no trace of embarrassment, so you do not hold your head down. You are not bending to anything. You develop a good sense of head and shoulders. The above described pride is acceptable and good. It is the natural pride of being an extra-ordinary human being.
Thirdly, it is important to move from your hara. Always maintain a sense for that. Whenever you sit on a chair, move in or out of your car, you are walking with shopping bags or you are giving or receiving punches, you should always have a sense of a good sound hara. Move from the center.
The kamae is a direct mirror of how well you practice and who you really are. Don’t lie to yourself. Practice well and sit back down in your saddle and be ready for the ride of that wild horse. Happy New Year.
Written on a cleaning day 28’Th of December 2013