by, Michael Schjerling
When learning budo you start with your body posture – kamae. Too many students also high level students are too concerned with how to organize their training partner’s bodies in the techniques taught that they forget how to organize their own posture first. If you are not organized yourself how can you dream of having any effect on your partner. To have any effect in your punches, kicks, throws, locks etc. or to be able to receive these you first need good posture. I can’t emphasize this enough. Try to push a car with your spine in a free vertical position or try to lift weights with a hollow chest and the nose in the sky. Even try to lift something heavy with your diaphragm lifted or as you are exhaling. These situations would not be so efficient because your posture and composure is out of order.
Budo starts with your kamae. Meaning the physical reflection of your mind. Are you (meaning your mind, technique and body) ready to engage in a very violent combat situation?
I believe the purpose of the kamae can be said in one line: “To be and feel safe and powerful”.
I have often spoke about kamae and my teacher Sveneric Bogsäter is always very picky about practicing correct kamae, not only for the sake of your knees and health of your physical body but for the sake of learning true budo. Also when attending classes of my Japanese teachers and soke the importance of correct kamae is often emphasized. If you are lucky you may even be taught and have corrected important points in the kamae by your Japanese teacher or your teacher in your own country. Almost three years ago I wrote the article: “You have to become your kamae” and many students have since asked more questions which are not answered in that article. Therefore I felt a need to write a new article that are based on the old one.
First you need to understand this. Written transmission is not good for detailed learning about mind, technique and body so this article cannot be used to learn correct kamae and posture. To do that you need a qualified teacher’s suggestions and guidance. The meaning here is to give some suggestions to key points not so often taught in Bujinkan classes around the world. But after watching good teachers you should start to be able to absorb the teachings not taught verbally. The text here is not THE way but is just my humble understanding right now in my 28’Th year of studying soke’s Bujinkan.
In Bujinkan there are some suggestions about how to compose our physical posture when sitting and standing. The purpose of these rules are not to make everyone the same but to allow each and every one to express their own self most freely. For example, everybody has different proportions. Therefore, ones kamae or posture is based on these proportions. For example, shizen no kamae (natural posture) is taught in some schools with the feet shoulder width apart and in some schools with a foot width apart. Some schools suggest that you have three feet length distance between the heels in ichimonji no kamae. And some schools suggest that you have the distance equivalent to the distance from your knee to the tip of your big toe between the heels. Also some teachers would talk about the feeling and suggest that you should feel the spring of the legs in ichimonji no kamae. All is based on your own individual proportions. The most important in your physical posture is to keep your spine straight. You should have good head and shoulders meaning that your ears and shoulders should be in one line. Relax your shoulders and push up towards the heaven with the back of your head. Have a good connection and strong distance between your chin and your heart. When your chin is tilted up you have not any strength in your posture. It rather slumps or puts your head too far back to be strong on your ventral side. Your mind is probably wandering about or should I say dreaming. Also to gain strength in your posture, press your diaphragm down towards your hara. This will help you maintain your physical and mental balance. This is a technique taught in zen schools to strengthen the hara and kamae. When you try to do this kamae in the beginning you may find it is difficult to breathe naturally, but when you get used to it you will be able to breathe naturally and deeply. Hold your arms freely and easily and slightly away from your body as if you held an egg under each arm without braking it. Have some composure and feeling of fudoshin.
Make sure you are not slump or tilted to the side, backwards or forwards. You should be standing or sitting straight up as if you were supporting the sky with your head and have connection to your earth with your hara compressed down. You are in the middle. This is not only form for the sake of the form. It is an expression of the essence of martial arts. The connection between your Shin, gi and tai (mind, technique and body). If you want true understanding of budo you should practice this way. This form is not a means of attaining the right state of mind. To take this posture itself is the purpose of our practice. When you have this posture you have the right state of mind. So there is no need to try to attain some special state. When you try to attain something your mind starts to wandering about somewhere else.
One secret of attaining the right heart or right state of mind is not to try to attain it. A zen sensei would say: “Kill the Buddha”. This is important if the Buddha exists somewhere else. You should find your own Buddha nature. The most important point is to own you own physical body. If you slump you will lose yourself and it is impossible to grasp the wisdom of soke’s sanmitsu. Your mind will be wandering about somewhere else. You will not be in your body. This is not the way. You must exist right here, right now in the “present” moment. This is a key point. You must control and so to say have your own body and mind. Everything should exist in the right place in the right way. Then all problems disappear. If the keyboard, I touch now to write this text would exist somewhere else it would not serve its purpose. Same with the body posture. If it is out of order it is not ready to punch or throw another person. When we have own body and mind in order, everything will exist in the right place in the right way. But usually without being aware of it we try to change something other than ourselves. We try to order things outside us. But it is impossible to organize things if your yourself are not in order. When you do things in the right way in the right time, everything else will be organized. You are the boss. When the boss is sleeping. Everyone is sleeping. When the boss is doing things right, usually everyone will naturally follow and do things right and at the right time. This is the gokui of kamae. When you have a good sound kamae your limbs will naturally do the right thing at the right time. So do your best to always keep the right posture. Not only when practicing budo in the dojo but in all your activities. Take the right posture when shopping groceries, when driving your car, when playing with your children, when you are together with people or relaxing at home reading a book. If you read in a slumped position you cannot stay awake long. Try and you will discover how important it is to keep the right posture. This is an important teaching which you should take to mind, body and technique. The teaching which is written on paper like this is not the true teaching. Written teaching is food for your brain. Ofcause it is necessary to take some food for your brain but it is more important to be yourself by practicing the right way of life. The state of mind that is present when you do the right kamae is itself enlightenment. You should feel good and satisfied in this kamae. If you are not yet satisfied with yourself in your kamae it means that your mind is still wandering around. A body and mind should not be wandering about. In the right kamae there is no need to talk about the right state of mind. You already have it. This is gokui.
Written under the Sun 24’Th of May 2016