TENOUCHI …. in isolation and integration.

Most of us have seen a cut performed by Japanese Sword practitioner whether in a movie or by your Sensei or someone at your dojo. It is a thing which happens in a split second and can look quite easy. Us, who are students, know that in that split second many things have to happen in harmonic precision. The subtle changes in the grip of the sword, “tenouchi” is one of the parts of performing a cut that is very important and can be looked at in isolation and practised by itself, but is never by itself in the act of cutting as a whole.

The beauty of being a human being is that we can look at an act of doing and pull it apart with our intellect or thinking and learn from this and even approach the ideal. We understand and usually a feeling arises when we connect to the thought, usually hai or yes. We then do. We also have the opposite where we do and are informed that it is wrong and our feelings sink, we listen and gain some insight, then do again. This is learning as we know it. Thinking, Feeling and Willing (doing) or Willing, Feeling and Thinking. This is a three fold process which relates to esoteric principles found in both the East (the three burning spaces of Chinese philosophy) and the systems found in Western esoteric philosophies (. The point is that we pull things apart with our minds so that we understand. We must always realise that the thing we are pulling apart is a part of an integrated whole. A cut is a cut. How to do it is filled with a myriad of things.
Hence tenouchi, at first, in isolation.

Tenouchi in the Japanese sword arts is the grip we attempt when we cut, either in kata or in tameshigiri.

Tenouchi usually refers to the full grip with shibori (shibori is the 'wringing of the hands') but in my understanding it is a grip which is not a static one but sits more on a sliding scale. When we hold a sword in a kamae we need a relaxed grip because otherwise we would tire ourselves out just by holding the thing. Yet that relaxed grip should be always ready to react to any threat.

We all know in the Martial Arts that a grip with the thumbs together is a really weak grip and so it is with the sword. We don't want the thing to fall from our hands when we meet resistance during our cut. Tenouchi is the way.

To describe this grip from beginning to end is very hard as it varies every centimetre during a cut, yet is essential to perform a good cut. A great help to us in getting the grip right from the start is to push the sword out of the saya rather than pull it out.

Then we must get the spacing of the hands upon the tsuka right. It has been taught to me that the right hand is about a fingers breadth from the tsuba and the left hand should be about two fingers from the right and that the little finger should be wrapped around the area of the kashira at the end of the tsuka. These measurements can vary in that there are many variables in regards to tsuka length.

The next thing to take into consideration is the optimisation of being able to change from relaxation to maximum force with the least amount of effort. This can be accomplished by the utilisation of conscious and precise movement of the fingers, hands and wrists.

The idea is to hold the sword with the little and ring fingers of each hand. This can be quite relaxed but by a simple inward wringing action (Shibori) the grip becomes like a vice. This is often described as if one were to wring out a wet towel by twisting both hands inward. It can feel quite awkward but as my Sensei says “the Katana is not ergonomic so we need to make ourselves fit to it”.

If we perform this wringing action we find that our thumbs are on opposite sides of the tsuka and the tops of our hands are on top of the tsuka. This is a very strong grip and not easily broken.

This idea needs to be practiced endlessly and there are many exercises. The repetition and constant practice is essential to imprint the actual physical movement into our cellular structure of movement memory. This is so that eventually our thinking can free itself and can become mobile, relying upon and trusting its “doing” counterpart.

This is not the end of the story as there are other things to consider. It all needs to be done at the right time and in the right place.

If we practice this grip over and over things seem to fall into place with the rest of our swordsmanship endeavours. For instance how many times are we all told to generate tip speed? Tip speed will come when we move from the relaxed grip and engage our little fingers, especially the left hand which generates the power of our cut. Of course that needs to be in harmony with the cut we are performing and the right hand is that which guides the direction, but it is the little fingers that set the tip forward on its trajectory. The ring finger comes next as the cut is about to bite and a full tenouchi puts to play the deadly intention of our act. Solid, sure and strong.

Feet, legs, hips, buttocks, hara, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, centre, chin, neck, eyes and tenouchi, (actually any bit of your anatomy). Not to mention all those other things like kirisen, hasuji, tome etc. All this in a split second. By pulling things apart with our mind we can practice each stage bit by bit.
Then we must integrate!

Again this is practice and the things previously mentioned but swordsmanship is more than purely practical technique though many people go far with this and nobody can do without it.

Integration can be looked at from expanding perspectives. So far I have talked about the physical techniques that painstakingly over many years need to be assembled until they become that split second cut that seems effortless.

Yet it is as any art, a thing where we strive towards the ideal with perseverance, knowing that we will never reach that ideal.

That beautiful cut sometimes appeals to our egotism and at this moment we tend to forget our teaching and bask in our glory, feeling quite good and satisfied. If we bask too long we lose our focus and things begin to dis-integrate and we make more mistakes. Attitude has a lot of input into our practice and ongoing improvement.

Integration slowly expands our boundaries of consciousness as we realise that tenouchi is something that has grown within us and after much physical practice has become a part of our swordsmanship endeavour. Yet where does freedom of spirit arise? To concentrate ones mind on a particular aspect stops and confines the mind to that one area (according to Zen principles, which are basically phenomenological insights). This could be a point where tenouchi which I see as an ever changing state of the grip in movement, an art in itself, could reach out to the more sublime aspects of the mind state in performing a cut. Actually any little part of that split second process could do the same.

Integration comes first to the body, especially if we are young and often this is enough, pure killing ability.
Integration is to inculcate everything within all levels of our being.
We have looked at the intense physicality involved, but as usual there is always more.

A cut is, or should I say was, a moment of life or death (a horrible one with cold steel bequeathing, quickly or slowly a grisly end. This outcome is not really what we wish to happen to ourselves so rather letting the survival mechanism run rampart on adrenalin (this can happen even when facing a harmless target) an attitude of alert calmness needs to be fostered. Equanimity of spirit.

Zanshin is a state of total awareness and relaxed alertness it is a state always striven for from the moment one enters the Dojo, it can be seen in the gaze, the posture and gait. It is alertness to ones surroundings where all senses are awake and ready to respond. The grip is a part of this alert state.

Mushin is a state where the mind is not fixed or occupied by any thought. There is no fear, anger or egotism. In this state of no mind the person is totally free to act or react to any situation without hesitation or thought and the actions arise intuitively.

The legendary Zen master Takuan Soho said:
“The mind must always be in the state of 'flowing,' for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it means death. When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy's sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man's subconscious that strikes.”
If we were to think of our grip and applying tenouchi we would lose our Zanshin and Mushin and perform our kata and cutting haltingly.
Fudoshin is a state where we are courageous and unflappable. We cannot be shaken or unnerved. Our passions and emotions are always in check, we are sure and balanced. The grip on our sword is a reflection of this.
The grip is alive, a dynamic sensing organ which when in accord with the totality of our being can move from repose to action with no conscious thought.
Its life comes from the never ending practice of tenouchi and all other aspects of swordsmanship in isolation to its gradual unfolding and integration as an always becoming part of our selves
Ki-Ken-Tai-ichi (spirit, sword, and body as one)
This is perhaps the most important aspect of swordsmanship. The ideal is that one's entire being flows into the sword and then from the sword united as one.

Paul Marlow.

March 2008.

In no way have I achieved any of the above. I am just a student studying Nakamura Ryu Battodo. It all comes from my own pondering and thoughts in attempt to understand tenouchi. There is no one source from which I have taken any of the above words but mostly it is my own thoughts which could mean that I am quite off course. The one source that has lead me to these ponderings is my Sensei, Hans Fricke, Kyoshi.

Copyright © 2008 Paul Marlow

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