There are also techniques that involve throwing shuriken while holding a sword. Because the throwing position of the right hand, and the throwing action of the right hand is the same as the position and action of the right hand as it holds and cuts with a sword, the two weapons can be blended in such a way that they do not adversely affect the movement of each other. There are 5 forms in a kata called Tojustsu Kumikomi no Kata, (see fig. 37) where the sword is held as normal by the left hand, and the right hand is held in Koso no I. The throw is made, then the right hand returns to the sword, gripping the handle.
Figure 42. Satoshi Saito Sensei demonstrating shuriken throwing with the sword.
The idea is that one develops the ability to throw shuriken quickly while one is drawing and cutting with the sword. Most swordsmen trained only in the sword know only the rhythm of the sword, which has a certain timing, due to the weight and size of the weapon. The shuriken, being smaller and lighter, can be drawn and thrown much quicker than a sword, so it can be said that you can attack inside the rhythm of a swordsman's attack. Thus one could be able to launch 1 or 2 shuriken at the opponent before they are in sword distance, giving you an advantage already.
An advanced level of training involves not throwing a blade, but having a blade thrown at you. This stems from the days of the Samurai where a swordsman would defend himself against attackers throwing or propelling objects at him, such as a shuriken, or an arrow. There are stories of famous encounters where swordsmen could deflect the flight of arrows and shuriken in battle, though this is generally thought of as being the stuff of legends. However, within the arts there are training techniques designed to develop this ability, so we should not discount the possibility that an individual can perform this sort of feat. Mr Shirakami tells of his experiences where he asked his student to shoot arrows at him, while wearing fencers protective face gear. He was able to develop the ability to deflect the flight of an arrow.
The key seems to be in the mental attitude one takes when faced with such an attack. Rather than wait to see the path the arrow is taking, then react to it by trying to block it, the idea is to move at the same instant, with the same feeling as the attacker, and cut the arrow down. I believe this feeling is the same as awase training with sword, in Aikido. Here the idea is to match your feeling and movement to that of the attacker's without the thought of reacting to their movement.
The shooting of an arrow, or the throwing of the blade is seen as being like the cutting of a sword. There is the moment in the attackers mind where they commit to action, then the body follows, acting out the mind's intentions. So by using awase, the idea is to unify yourself to this moment, to cut as the attacker cuts, and providing the sense of timing in awase is correct, it does not matter whether the weapon attacking your centre is a fist, a sword, an arrow or a shuriken, correct performance of the technique will protect your centre, thus deflecting the attack.
Wrapping the blades with paper, varnish and string
There is mention of shuriken being wrapped in paper, string and lacquer (Interview with Saito Sensei in Skoss, 1999), and Fig. 18 above shows this, but I have no idea what it is for. There is the practice of gluing pigskin to the end of the blades, with the hairs pointing backwards, to assist in the smooth departure from the hand, and create drag in flight for a straight trajectory, however this seems to serve a different function to that of wrapping the blades. In the interview Saito Sensei makes mention of this in conjunction with the balancing of the centre of gravity of blades to accentuate close or distant hits. Perhaps this wrapping is a method of adjusting the centre of gravity. The illustration in Fig. 18 shows a number of blades each with a varying amount of wrapping.
The notes on this page in relation to the shuriken throwing art are more theoretical and intellectual, and are not necessarily so important for learning the technique of throwing a blade, however if one wishes to study the art more deeply there could be something of interest here to think about.
Some martial arts teach weapons after one has mastered empty-handed forms, others teach empty-handed forms after one has mastered weapons forms. In Iwama Aikido, the development of hand techniques is seen as a progression from sword techniques. Morihiro Saito Sensei, the current head of Iwama dojo, teaches sword, staff and empty-hand techniques as being 3 essential components of Aikido training. Less well known is that he is also a master of Negishi Ryu, and was once quite famous among the local gangs as being a person not to cross. It is also reported that Sokaku Takeda, the teacher of Aikido's founder, O-Sensei, was also a master of the Shuriken, although it is not known which style. I found it interesting that shuriken is part of the technical repertoire of these masters of empty-handed and sword techniques.
Various weapons have various effective ranges, and when one looks at how the ancient warrior was required to master a range of weapons to deal with a range of situations on the battlefield, one can see there is a well organized and logical plan behind the choice of weapons that a warrior learns. With mastery of techniques comes the control of distance. If one has mastered hand techniques, then one is able to control an opponent who is in close enough range to hit you with their bare hands. If one has mastered the bow and arrow, one can control attackers at a great distance. But outside, or within the ranges of those weapons, if one has not had the proper training, one will not be able to control the distance beyond or within the range one has trained in. Therefore, by learning various weapons, one also learns to control various distances. In real terms, the closer the opponent the more of a threat, the further the opponent the less a threat.
In Aikido we have techniques trained in 2 forms, kihon, and ki-no-nagare. Kihon involves training in a strong, static form where one is already gripped. Ki-no-nagare training is a flexible, moving form which involves the opponent taking one step towards you to attack. These forms of training gives one the control over the closest combat distances, the ones with the most immediate danger. Training in empty-handed techniques usually begins with the left foot forward, as the weaker left hand is used for defensive maneuvers leaving the stronger right arm free for counter-attacking and controlling maneuvers. Training in sword is usually done one step back with the right foot forward, and adds another step's distance to the effective range of control, as the blade can hit an opponent who is further than 1 step away. Training in jo, or staff, is usually done with the left foot forward, and this is an extra step in distance away from the opponent, making the effective range of the staff a step greater than the sword.
Perhaps it is by no coincidence that the next step beyond the staff's effective range is covered by the minimum effective range of the shuriken, with the throw of Jikishin. The maximum practical effective range of a shuriken is 15-18 paces, which is half the minimum range of a bow. Weapons such as the bow, the spear and the halberd were battlefield weapons, thus were not used indoors. This leaves the shuriken to control the distance indoors.
Finding a "Live Blade"
Just as a batsmen may feel more comfortable, even perform better using certain bats, or billiard players preferring certain cue sticks, so one will find that some blades feel, fly and stick better than other blades. Shinto mythology of Japan holds that all things are imbued with elements of the spiritual, and tools and weapons do not escape this idea. There are swords in museums and collections in Japan that are so historically valuable they have become designated as national treasures, and aficionados report that such blades emit a presence and power that can be felt when handled. Whether or not events in the past have given these blades any particular power perhaps can never be determined, but such ideas have a great influence on the mind of an individual, and these psychological influences can seriously enhance or decrease a persons physical performance.
So when making, or finding and throwing blades, be mindful of which blades tend to feel more comfortable, or tend to fly and stick better in the target. While there may be no physical markings or signs to differentiate between the blades, there may be differences in their performance, so one must judge and choose by feel. If a blade feels more comfortable to handle, and seems to strike properly more often, and with greater and unusual ease, then this blade is said to be a "live blade", and should be kept as one's own special blade that no-one else handles. One builds up a collection of live blades by discarding the "dead blades".
It is natural for us to want to have good accuracy, as that is the impressive thing about throwing a blade. Yet to throw with the desire of achieving an accurate hit is detrimental to actually achieving an accurate hit. What we should be striving for is to achieve accuracy without trying to be accurate. Accuracy comes as a result of employing the principles of the throw correctly, rather than of trying throw an accurate blade. To achieve this, there are 2 things to consider. First, is experience, which is on the physical level, and second is our attitude when throwing, which is on the mental level..
When you have just completed an excellent throw, where not only did the blade strike the target beautifully, but your throwing action was effortless and natural, the feeling one experiences is indescribable. To develop accuracy, all one need do is count averages. As a beginner, you may experience 1 perfect throw out of 100 unsuccessful throws, however over time, this ratio gradually increases.. Rather than judge your accuracy by your best throw, one must judge accuracy by the average of all your throws. The idea is to raise your average of perfect throws per throw, so that you reach 100%. This of course is theoretically possible, but practically impossible, due to all sorts of factors Nevertheless, our aim should be to increase that average.
We must remember that perfection in the dojo does not equal perfection in the real world. The dojo is a controlled training environment, and therefore our performance is somewhat contained by this environment. The real world does not have this controlled atmosphere, thus rendering all situations unique, variable and potentially dangerous. Our performance in the real world is only going to be a fraction of our performance in the dojo. For this reason, we cannot judge the level of our ability by how well we may have once performed a technique. Because of the pressure of situations in real life, we may not be able to recall that singular moment when we performed the technique perfectly in the dojo, and thus when the time comes, it is likely that we will perform poorly.
If we measure our ability by a percentage of perfect techniques per techniques performed, then we have a much more reasonable estimate of our ability in the real world. And by concentrating more on raising the percentage of accurate and perfect throws in the dojo rather than improving the accuracy of an individual throw, then we can effectively increase the potential effective performance of technique in the real world. This obviously requires a long time of repetitive training. So in effect, training to develop accuracy, on the physical level, should be geared towards repetitive practice, and our focus should simply be to increase the percentages..
One of the intriguing aspects of shuriken is that the reason for throwing a blade is to make it stick, yet the best way to make the blade stick is to have no desire to achieve a good hit, so in effect, the reason for throwing a blade is in fact not to make it stick, however the best indication that you are employing the principles correctly is that you can actually make it strike well, and often. This paradox reflects the Zen outlook on life, to act without desires, do something without doing it.
It is when we develop and refine a physical activity so highly and precisely that we begin to experience the effect the mind has on our body and physical function. When performing simple activities that require little motor skill, our body tends to act somewhat predictably and reliably. But when we impose strenuous conditions on the body, such as developing fine and complex motor skills to a high degree of accuracy and reliability under situations of stress, the body often tends to act less reliably and capably. One of the reasons for this is that our body has not had sufficient physical training in the required activity, and this can be covered by technical development in training on a physical level.
Another factor that influences this hindrance to our physical ability is our "mental state". It is all very well to theorise about the connection of the mind and body, but there appears to be little in the way of instruction on this in everyday life. And when the teachings of a martial art begin to discuss this area, too often it gets passed off as religious dogma, and therefore largely ignored. If we can make the leap of faith in agreeing that the body and mind are indeed connected, and can and do influence each other, then we can begin to learn what these teachings may have to offer, and perhaps gain some of the benefits they purport to bestow upon the student.
When we require of our body the performance of actions that utilise fine and complex motor skills, as well as a resistance to stress, distractions and external conditions, our ability to perform is greatly affected by our mental state. Just as our body chemistry is regulated by hormones produced by various mental states, so too are our actions regulated by our mental state. There appear to be a number of mental triggers that enable our body to perform to great levels of ability, and although the methods by which these operate may not be fully understood, they nevertheless seem to work in the individuals who apply these principles in their training.
Almost of all these philosophical teachings I believe are designed to improve the utilization of the hip in the body's movement. As most martial artists will already know, the center of our power and movement is in the hip, as the hip both controls the stability of the legs, which in turn provide support for the hip itself, and the upper body. as well as controls movement in the upper body. The hip is also the center of the body's weight and mass, thus is called the center of gravity. The closer the center of gravity is to the ground, the more stable and solid a person, and with stability comes speed and power. From a physical point of view, having a lower center of gravity is a great advantage. The philosophical teachings of martial arts appear to be methods of drawing the attention away from the upper body and bringing it down to the hip. Meditation and abdominal breathing bring the minds focus on the body's center of gravity. By focusing on the "hara", or "tanden" the breath becomes abdominal, thus lower, rather than in the chest, or higher. Many teachings also require the stilling of thoughts and desires, which tend to raise the heart rate, thus bringing the feeling of focus up into the chest. Once the hip is physically identified as the major factor in improving body movement, one has to learn how to control this new-found ability, and the secret appears to be the ability of the body to relax. Stiffness and rigidity are looked upon as being detrimental to natural physical movement, as stiffness usually means a contraction of the muscles, which severely limits flexibility and ability to move quickly. By being relaxed, the body is able to quickly change direction and to fluidly react to changes in its environment, but it is also the physical state in which one can better perceive the condition of one's own body. If you are relaxed, it is easier to listen to what's happening with the body, hence you are in a better position to make the necessary changes, which are now easier to do since the body is relaxed.
So by instituting rules which govern the activity of the mind, we are able to subtly control the activity of the body. Over the long term, as we utilize these mental tactics to trick our body into what we believe is better performance, the body begins to react to this new method of control, and physical performance can increase. Once we see this increase in physical performance, we begin to realize the benefits of such mental states as being relaxed, stilling the mind of thoughts and desires, of breathing abdominally and focusing the mind on the center, and accept them as a valuable mental state to cultivate. Long term exposure to this type of mental state begins to influence us on a deeper and more psychological level. Since the body and the mind are very adaptable organisms, this influence can effect an adjustment in the psychological makeup of a person, and cause great changes in the personality. In the long term, training in traditional martial arts can have a great beneficial effect on the student.
Shuriken training is the perfect vehicle for such mental processes to be experimented with. Because the basic movement of the throw is such a simple and gross utilization of the body, and the ability to achieve a high level of accuracy depends upon a great deal of refinement of this physical process, the influence of the mental state over the body is easily observed in this movement. If your mind is unsettled, distracted or unfocussed, the effects of this can immediately be seen in the results of your physical movement, in this case, the shuriken's strike of the target. To be able to consistently throw accurate and controlled blades, not only must one have mastered the technical aspects of the physical movement, one must also be able to relax, settle the breathing from the chest down to the abdomen, empty their mind of thoughts and desires, focus their attention on the center, and develop a feeling of oneness and unity between their mind and the surroundings.
In this way, proper shuriken training can offer great benefits in not only physical, but also mental and spiritual development.
In their summary of Negishi Ryu in "Sword and Spirit", Meik and Diane Skoss mention an abstract teaching called shichi, or "Four Knowledges", those being the exponents ability to correctly understand a situation, other people's intentions, principles of the art, and the "Way" itself. Unfortunately I haven't had exposure to those teachings, but I have had instruction in something which sounds very similar, so I will write about it here. It wasn't explained to me as being 4 types of knowledge as such, rather it was on how to make the transition from basic and varied principles from within the dojo to a realistic application and understanding in the real world, something like moving from "practice" to "doing".
When training is still at the stage of learning technique, it is said to be "shuriken-jutsu", or the method of shuriken. When training is at the stage of doing technique it becomes "shuriken-do", or the way of shuriken. "Jutsu" is practiced in the dojo, "do" is done in the real world. This means that in the dojo, we are learning and practicing techniques and principles etc, that we intend to apply later, at some given stage, rather like having a skill developed and fine tuned. Our consciousness is molded, governed and protected by the rules and atmosphere of the dojo itself, as it is a center of learning. When we leave the dojo and go about our regular business, we are faced with the real world, or have come back to reality, and are faced with the rules of that reality. In the real world we need all our skills for survival, and thus all that we have learnt, in the context of education, now comes to use. When we apply our skill and knowledge to the outside world, then methods have become ways. Likewise for shuriken, when we use shuriken in our daily life, it becomes "shuriken-do".
From the perspective of Budo, or the Martial Way, reality contains two parts, Wartime, and Peacetime. This is all the person of Budo is concerned about. Wartime is not necessarily an official declaration, but rather the point at which the peaceful fabric of our personal world becomes threatened so much so that it requires the use of Martial Skill in order to protect it.
During Peacetime, one continues practice of their Martial Art, and one reaps the benefits of such physical, mental, and spiritual training. For example, after one has studied in the dojo one also continues practicing at home, on a daily basis. The practice becomes a part of the daily routine, and the benefits such practice has to offer begin to shape our experience of the world outside the dojo. In effect, one is "doing" shuriken, or one is living the "Way" of Shuriken. During Wartime, one uses the shuriken for self defense, and again, one is "doing" shuriken, or living the "Way".
To live the way during Peacetime, daily practice of shuriken is a method of controlling both the consciousness as well as the physique. The mental focus and concentration, as well as the physical and mental relaxation required for proper flight of the blade (as mentioned above in "Philosophical Considerations") affects the consciousness that in turn affects one's experience of reality in the real world. Thus training in shuriken is having an effect on one's life in this way. For it to have such an influence, the practice must be regular, and held with equal importance as other daily activities.
During Wartime, the shuriken is used as a form of protection of Peacetime, the techniques one has learned are used in order to achieve a return to the state of peace.
In order to achieve this return to peace, the rules of War come into effect and take over the decision making processes, until the state of peace has been achieved, then the rules of Peace take over. Chapter 57 of the "Dao De Jing" says: "Use the orthodox to govern the state, use the unorthodox to wage war". Peacetime has its own rules, as does Wartime. In the dojo we learn the rules of War, and that is how to engage the opponent. Understanding these differences between Wartime and Peacetime, and how to apply our Shuriken Art to them, is the Way of Shuriken.
In the dojo, one has learnt specific techniques and principles that govern the use of the shuriken. At some stage, one must learn how to apply this knowledge in Wartime. While an individual's ability to defend themselves when faced with an opponent is greatly enhanced by the study of a Martial Art, the final outcome of the engagement rests solely on the actions of the individual. Practicing technique can only take one to a certain stage. Elsewhere in an individual's consciousness, decisions have to be made, and realizations achieved in order to prepare the individual for engaging an opponent.
Shuriken has largely been taught as part of a "koryu" or a traditional system that involves a number of arts, such as sword, staff, empty-hand and other weapons. Satoshi Saito Sensei also will only take students who have been studying another martial art. It appears that the reason for this is that shuriken is a supplemental art that "piggybacks" on the basic principles and techniques of a major Martial Art system, typically kenjutsu, and that one can take the principles regarding engaging the opponent from that Art, and apply them to a certain extent, at some level in the shuriken Art. Therefore, the instruction on this topic I received was very general, and did not touch upon the specific use of techniques. It was suggested that I take the principles of engagement from the Art I was studying and by following a set of guidelines, apply them to the use of the shuriken in developing my own method of dealing with an opponent. In my case, the main Art is Aikido, which involves empty-hand, sword and staff techniques, and I have developed my understanding of the application of shuriken based upon my understanding of the martial principles of Aikido.
The basic guidelines are simply
1. Assess the level of threat
2. Decide upon what outcome and its consequences
3. Decide which actions to take to best facilitate that outcome.
1. Assessing the level of threat.
In assessing the level of threat, 5 things about the opponent must be observed immediately.
4. Nature of attack
These 5 things are determined through an understanding of the main art.
"Distance" is determined by number of steps away the opponent is. As the opponent takes steps closer, they are closing the distance, but also shortening the reaction time, and increasingly limiting defensive options, thus increasing the level of threat.
"Angle" is determined by the relationship between the opponents centre and that of of one's own, by drawing an imaginary line between the two. Certain angles, such as rear attacks are harder to defend than, say a side attack. Various techniques of the various main arts will have varying levels of threat assigned to the various angles of attack.
"Momentum" is the speed of the opponent's oncoming attack, but it is also the weight or power behind the physical movement that is counted as well. If an opponent is attacking quickly, but their structure is not well grounded, the level of threat is less than a similar attack from a stronger structure, which would have greater application of power than an attack from a weaker structure.
"Nature of the attack" is the weapon, and the target. The weapon is the type of weapon being used to attack, and thus has a variety of threat associated with each weapon. One's own body has areas which are more and less defensible than others, and are more or less vulnerable to certain types of attack than others. An understanding of the vital areas of one's own body is just as important as an understanding of the potential damage various weapons can cause.
"Intention of the opponent when attacking". Even though the opponent may be at a close distance, at a dangerous angle, with considerable momentum towards a particularly vital area, the level of threat may not necessarily be so great if the opponent does not intend to attack. Likewise, if a relatively distant opponent is showing nonaggressive signs by turning the body, focusing away from your center and not moving, the level of threat can be dangerously high if the opponent intends to harm you. One must be able to look into the opponents soul and determine if they intend to attack or not, if so, with how much intensity, and with how much capability. This is a very intangible ability that is entirely up to the individual and their application of their training, it is not something which can be taught systematically.
2. Deciding Upon the Outcome. Understanding of how things work - worldly knowledge
All actions have consequences, both short term and far-reaching. Much of human suffering is derived from the consequences of negative actions, so to allay suffering, one must choose actions that do not lead to such negative consequences. One must observe the world and develop an understanding of how consequences derive from actions, then one will be in a better position to know the consequences of their own actions. At this point, the individual must take a stance, or make decisions based upon a form of morality or philosophy, where they choose what they are prepared to do, and are not prepared to do. Is one prepared to kill or to injure in order to protect oneself, or is one resolved to preserve life at all costs, no matter what the situation is? It is here that the individual's integrity, honor and responsibility are tested, yet it is here that the individual is judged as a human being.
However, the individual is also part of a society, or culture, and there are both written and unwritten rules that prompt and inhibit action, behavior and recourse to the law. Within this culture, there are certain expectations one is expected to abide by, and these can be limiting factors in making decisions. Very often the social situation or the cultural setting will call for particular types of action, and here there may be conflicts with one's own morality, but there also may be opportunities for action. One may be able to act while protected by the requirements of the situation, or one may be forced to act against their principles. How one follows, breaks or stretches the interpretation of the rules of society will determine the social standing of the individual within society
So in determining how one wishes the threatening situation to turn out, one must consider these two factors.
3. Deciding Which Actions Best Facilitate that Outcome
This is a logical decision based upon the assessment of the level of threat, what kind of outcome you desire, and the technical understanding of one's art. All one is required to do, once the choice of actions have been made, is to commit to them fully, to act to the best of one's ability, and to be prepared to accept the consequences.
The final goal of shuriken-do, indeed with any art, is to attain mastery. Not having much experience with being a master, I can only speculate on what mastery really is.
Appendix A. Laws.
There seems to be a somewhat grey area when it comes to the law on shuriken in Australia. The yellow posters shown hanging in gun shops with an array of prohibited weapons depict both shaken and bo shuriken, along with blowpipes, folding butterfly knives and nunchaku etc. They state that possession of these is illegal and penalisable by $5000 fine and/or 2 years imprisonment, a pretty hefty penalty by any standard.
According to a security-industry based colleague of mine, the wording of the law is deliberately left ambiguous to enable room for discretionary action by the state and federal police forces in interpreting the law on a case by case basis. This means there is room for various interpretations regarding possession and use of shuriken, and that it is up the officers of the law in their line of questioning to establish the intent of the individual.
Shaken, or throwing stars are classified as Category R weapons, under section 8 (m) of the Weapons Categories Regulation 1997 and therefore need to be licensed. Possession is prohibited unless the person:
a) is licensed or holds a permit, or b) has other lawful authority, justification or excuse.
And is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Maximum penalty is 100 penalty units (1 unit = $75) or 2 years imprisonment.
Bo shuriken do not appear to have a specific classification under the regulation, though according to the Weapons Licensing Branch of Queensland Police Headquarters, they are classified under Section 51 Subsection 5 of the Weapons Act 1990 as being a knife, although even that may be open to dispute, because the relevant clause states that it must cause injury when held in one or both hands, whereas the shuriken's purpose is to be thrown. "A grey area"
A person must not physically possess a knife in a public place, unless the person has a reasonable excuse, which may be to perform a lawful activity, duty or employment, form of entertainment, recreation, sport or exhibiting, and is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Carrying for self defense is not a lawful excuse.
Police and law enforcement officers interpret the regulations according to their perception of the situation. Their questioning is to establish the intent of the person found possessing a weapon. If you are caught carrying a shaken you must be licensed and/or have lawful authority or justification, otherwise you will be subject to the penalty mentioned above. If you are caught carrying a bo shuriken, it will be interpreted in much the same way as carrying a knife. If it cannot be shown that the weapon is in your possession due to some connection with a lawful or reasonable activity, then you will be subject to a penalty of 20 units (I unit = $75) or 6 months imprisonment. It is also important to note, whether you are carrying weapons lawfully or not, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while in possession of Category A - H and R weapons, and knives, is an offence.
These are the laws regarding carrying. The laws regarding use are different altogether. While you cannot lawfully carry any weapon for self defense, it must only, if at all, be for protection of property. When the situation arises that you or someone else is in immediate, life-threatening danger, that you are, or that someone else is "fearful for their life", then you are allowed to use any means at your disposal to protect that life. If one is carrying weapons of any kind, serious questions will be asked about your intent, but if it can be shown that you were within the law in carrying and use of the weapons, there will generally be no penalty. However, as in all cases, the final decision rests with the satisfaction of the law enforcement officers, and/or the presiding judge if it goes to trial.
There is talk at the moment of prohibiting the carrying of a screwdriver without due cause, no doubt because of this tool's use in a number of attacks recently.
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