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“In the beginning, as one knows nothing, one does not doubt anything. After having entered the study of combat, various things occupy the spirit; one is obstructed by it and all becomes difficult. Then, as soon as one does not wonder anymore about what one learns, the idea of rules does not have any more impact. Thus, one does not stick to them anymore to exert the techniques in the various ways. They emanate from oneself and are then naturally in true harmony with the rules. It is necessary to follow the way of combat, but one must understand this well. To involve oneself by learning the beginning weapon techniques, and all the rules, postures of the body, manners of perceiving, is to deploy the intellect. When one has gained control, these many rules disappear from the intellectual consciousness. Without conscious reflection, one finally reaches the heart of things. After having assimulated many rules, the merits of this approach accumulate. They reside within the legs, the arms, and the body. They no longer linger in the spirit. One moves away from the rules, but one conforms to them. In all circumstances, the techniques become spontaneous. Alone, thought does not stick to anything at this point and, thus, not even demons can disturb one’s being. It is to reach this stage that one practices. When the rules have been assimilated, they disappear.”

Yagyū Munenori
柳生 宗矩
1571 – 1646


“‘Seigan no kamae’ is a guard found in all sword traditions and is also utilized with virtually every type of weapon. It is thought that its origin is in the use of the long weapons, such as the spear and the halberd, where to attack by maintaining a strategic distance and not to be touched was very important. The first ideogram, ‘sei’ (正), which has the reading of ‘tadashii’, means ‘correct’, ‘just’, ‘right’. The second ideogram, ‘gan’ (眼), which is also read ‘nemui’ and ‘nemuru’, means ‘to sleep’, ‘to be sleepy’, ‘the eye’. Often translated as ‘the correct eye’, which expresses that it is a question of penetrating the glance of the enemy to perceive his weaknesses. In practice, ‘seigan’ means to direct the point of the weapon and the hands towards the eyes of the enemy. The body must be ‘hidden’ behind the weapon or the empty hands. It is thus about a guard of combat which makes it possible to carry out any type of attack while, first of all, seeking to take the stability of the enemy and to scramble his sight. By hiding behind the weapon, the arms tend to direct the point of the weapon, or the hands in unarmed combat, towards the eyes of the enemy. The distance is thus lengthened and the body becomes one with the weapon which makes it possible to defend and to attack at the same time.”

Kacem LA 2015_web_05

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As with everything in ninjutsu and classical martial arts that have survived chaos and tides of the centuries. there is a perpetual depth to what is transmitted from master to student. Few often just scratch the surface in exploring what is being taught or shown to them. This is very evident in the case of ‘Ichimonji’. More than just a ‘posture’ in combat or a ‘line of one’. It is a mindset. A spirit attitude. It is direction of the heart. When all is in chaos around you, bring your heart, your spirit, into a singular force of ‘one’. Bring your will into a focus so strong and singular that nothing can sway you from rising through the chaos and into the vision you see for yourself, into the vision of surviving and beating the odds, no matter how bad circumstances may seem. As an infamous ninja and master swordsman once said, “The secret to victory lies in the ‘ichi’,’hachi’, and ‘jû’ (一, ハ, 十)”. In the Buddhist lexicon, this means channeling the hachi, which (when the kanji is turned on its side) can be translated as the ‘infinite’ spectrum of things (emotions, actions, experiences, thoughts) and the jû’, which can be represented by the ‘Ten Worlds’ in Buddhist lore (Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity, Heaven or Rapture, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva and Buddhahood), into one piercing dynamic; the ichi (一). When one achieves ‘ichimonji’ (一文字) or ‘Ichinen’ (一念) of the spirit in this manner, the body follows, as does victory over all that would seek to crush one.


“When life and death are in the balance, remain calm. Do not precipitate or reveal one’s intention. To perceive the manifestations of the intention in the body of the enemy, it is necessary to develop a highly acute perception such as one can “hear the sound of the wind and water”.”



The top image is an advertisement from the March 18th, 1877, issue of the Yomiuri Shinbun (newspaper) announcing the introduction of the newly invented ‘Yamatotsue’. The 14th headmaster of ‘Jikishinkage-ryū’, Kenkichi Sakakibara (榊原鍵吉, 1830–1894), also known as Kagikichi, was one of the most well-known and deadly swordsmen of his time. An instructor at the Tokugawa Shogunate’s ‘Kobusho’ school, Kenkichi was also the personal bodyguard of the shogun Iemochi. Yet, upon Iemochi’s death in July of 1866, he resigned his post. In 1877, following the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the subsequent Sword Abolishment Edict, the Haitōrei, Kenkichi created the ‘Yamatotsue’. The ‘Yamatotsue’ was an unassuming wooden weapon of about four feet in length that brandished an iron ‘kagi’ (hook), like the smaller policing weapon, the ‘jutte’. Upon receiving permission from the Meiji government, the ‘Yamatotsue’ was put into mass production by Kenkichi as a new tool that could be carried by, not just the remaining samurai population of Japanese society, but also the masses. Kenkichi taught samurai how to wield the unimposing ‘Yamatotsue’ based on the ‘gekken’ sword-fighting methods he was renowned for. For the average citizen of Meiji-era Japan, the ‘Yamatotsue’ was touted as a very practical tool for walking, carrying heavy loads, locking Japanese screen doors, aiding in duties as a bouncer, and defending oneself from not just ruffians, but also small house fires as well.


“It is essential to make it one’s personal aim to have “no compromise” and live a just and honest life, no matter how surrounded one may be with dire circumstances, temptation, or evil. Even if by compromising one’s values momentarily, one seems to be successful for a time, such a life is bound to end in failure. There is no need for one to reason about the nature of evil. I have handled violent men very often. There are two kinds of them. Upon their eminent defeat, there are some who become good in the very last moment, even if they have been abusive, egotistical, or criminally manipulative until then. On the other hand there are some who are bad and depraved to the very moment of their death. One must develop the eyes to see through such men, so that you will know the proper course of action necessary in a situation.”


Hatsumi sensei calligraphy 2 copy

One day in 17th century Japan, Jirozaemon Ono, a master of the Itto-ryu style of swordsmanship, who had won the fame of the public as being unrivaled in the art of war, was not feeling at ease after hearing rumors that Munenori Yagyu was without equal in his abilities with the sword. So, he decided to pay Munenori a visit. He was shown into a drawing room, where he was kept waiting for some time. Jirozaemon elaborated on how he would see through Munenori’s ability, yet Munenori did not appear. He almost got tired of waiting when suddenly Munenori opened the sliding door, just behind Jirozaemon’s seat, and attacked him with a wooden sword. Jirozaemon blocked strike with the hilt of his sword and said, “It is rash of you to attack me suddenly. Fight fair!” Munenori replied instantly, tossing aside his wooden sword, “Your art is quite admirable. Splendid. You are a skilled swordsman, but it is a pity that you are short of master-hand in the spirit. You need more practice.” Jirozaemon, with his ego and pride hurt, became angry and asked him curtly why he thought so. Munenori answered, “You have come to beat me as you think of yourself as the best swordsman in the country. That’s the reason why I said you were poor at heart. If you had won in the fight, could you have been able to get out of this mansion alive? I am a feudal lord holding a fief yielding more than ten-thousand koku (one koku=5.119 bushels of rice). If I had been killed by you, my retainers would have killed you. Your fame would have been destroyed. That’s why I said you were short of master-hand in the spirit.” Jirozaemon left Munenori’s residence embarrassed. Munenori won the duel without fighting. The mystery of swordsmanship lies in his attitude.