The Spiritual Framework

Preserve, break, leave

On the highest level, the martial-art which lies at the basis of this booklet emphasizes an outstanding feature: letting go or abandoning previously learned fight scenarios. This feature might seem odd since the source school of our method is traditional—preserving an ancient tradition. I will try to put this dichotomy in perspective.

In traditional martial-arts, combat wisdom is preserved through practice and the repetition of fight scenarios. These are contained in what is called Kata in Japanese, meaning: form, pattern, a rigid model. We try to perform Katas as precisely as possible, like a pianist reading a musical score and responding as accurately as possible to the composer's written instructions. We are required to commit the Katas to memory as well as internalize their rationale. But on the other hand, the fighting itself possesses a dimension of unplanned immediacy. This dimension is not fully solved by the Kata. As we all know, it is very difficult to perform precise Katas while sparring, since even a superfluous move by the partner makes the planned Kata inadequate.

Why can there be no ready answer for every confrontation?

Although our martial-art consists of about 400 recorded Katas and thousands of techniques collected in Japan and in Israel, this tremendous wealth is finite. However, partners/adversaries create an infinite number of combinations and offense and defense modalities. A finite tool, expansive as it may be, cannot always provide answers in real events, made up of endless attack and response situations.

Solving the Kata-battle dichotomy by doing

Apparently we are not the only ones to have deliberated this issue. One of the older students of the chief instructor at Bujinkan, a senior instructor by the name of Manaka summarized this essence in three words: 'preserve, break, leave'. It is done as follows: after a long training period devoted to precise practice of the form (preserve), we deliberately introduce changes in the Kata (break) in order to adapt it to offensive moves that were not foreseen in the original form. After an additional training period, we are required to take a highly unusual step: abandon the external mode of action (leave), give up the effort to perform the Kata, and let an immediate response present itself without inner mental intervention.

Preserve, break, leave

This is the essence that describes combat on the highest level. After years of practicing single moves, their combinations and the best responses to confrontational situations, the warrior leaves, giving up his tight grip.

The intention here is not to cease practicing, but to focus his perception on his immediate environment rather than his own mode of operation. The environment might be a dangerous adversary, and then the proper response presents itself. It might also be a smiling baby and then, too, the proper response, a smile maybe, will present itself. The veteran master, after many years of practice, abandons the desire to always be right, and 'crosses the river to the opposite bank', where his actions are proper, adequate and timely.

It is impossible to leave properly without first having held on tightly

The things we have to teach about martial art stop where there is nothing to say, at the point of letting go.

"To leave" without many years of previous practice is the worst of illusions. The warrior had better stay indefinitely in the first two phases rather than delude himself prematurely. A Japanese story illustrates the illusion of letting go in other realms: A scholarly Zen student arrives at an old woman's inn. Before she serves him his meal, she asks:

  • "What do you think? Do things exist or not?" The scholar answers her:
  • according to what I have learned, things do not exist. The old woman romptly beats him with an iron rod. When the scholar rises to hit her back, his face flushed with anger, the old woman says:
  • "If nothing exists, whence this anger?"

This scholar 'left' prematurely, and was therefore surprised by life into an inadequate response. A warrior's responses must always be adequate. There must not be a 'premature letting go'. This problem, too, is addressed by the progress model of the methodical pyramid.