Koppō & Kaname: The How and the What of Bujinkan Martial Arts
Time has flown by since my last blog entry, and I’d like to thank the readers who took the time to share their comments here on the blog and share links to it on Facebook. Your feedback indicated that there’s still an interest in the personal histories of people who’ve devoted significant chunks of their lives to train at the fountainhead of Bujinkan martial arts in Japan, and at the same time several readers mentioned resonances with their own martial quests, creating new links and points of comparison. In the time since, life has continued to be challenging and exciting. Taxes, Training and Translation work have occupied much of my time, and I also made the decision to close down my guest apartment in Noda as of the end of April. (There were a number of reasons for the closure, but rest assured, the original guest apartment in Abiko is still available.)
Right after making the apartment move, I left Japan for six weeks to visit family and instruct at a number of Bujinkan seminars in Canada (“Sakura No Kaze” in Vancouver, and then at Bujinkan Manitoba in Winnipeg) and the U.S. (Bujinkan Sanami Dojo, Austin, June 9/10, and in Denver the following weekend). During the Q&A session at the end of the seminar in Winnipeg this past weekend, there was a question about the differences between the concepts of Koppō (骨法) and Kaname (要, also pronounced Yō). Afterwards, the seminar host, Adam McColl, asked if I’d write a blog post about it, and so here we are. 🙂
The Bujinkan training theme of the year in 2000 was Kotō Ryū Koppōjutsu (虎倒流骨法術). The regular way of writing Koppō uses the kanji meaning “bone (kotsu) method (hō),” due to the characteristic use of the body’s skeletal structure in Kotō Ryū. Kotsu and Hō combine phonetically to make koppō. In his own characteristic style, Sensei often used a double meaning of kotsu that year to convey an important aspect of the year’s theme. It happens that, in Japanese, the kanji for kotsu meaning bone (骨) can also be used to mean “knack, skill, trick, secret, or know-how.” Sensei used this double-meaning to emphasize the importance of gaining an intuitive understanding of how a technique works – the knack or trick to applying a given technique well.
It’s interesting that now, twelve years later (one cycle of the Chinese zodiacal calendar – both 2000 and 2012 are years of the Dragon), Sensei has chosen Kaname as the theme. I went into some detail about the meaning of Kaname in a previous blog post, and I won’t repeat all of that here, but the relationship between the two terms Koppō and Kaname is an interesting one. Whereas Koppō relates to how a technique works, Kaname relates not only to how a technique works, but to its essential, defining characteristics. Koppō relates to method, Kaname adds the element of essential identity – it includes not only the way of applying a technique, but the essence of the technique itself.
Another important point to note is that the name of the training theme for 2012 includes the word Mamoru (護), which means to protect. Another reading for this same kanji is Go, as in Goshinjutsu (護身術), “self-defense“. In the name for this year’s theme, the kanji are written together as Yōgo (要護), meaning “to protect the essence.” In the previous post on Kaname, I discussed various things that essence can mean in this context, but in comparison to Koppō, the method to a technique’s application, Yōgo tells us that not only is it important to be able to make a technique work, but that there are essential points that are necessary for it to work properly, and that although variation, or henka is an indispensable concept, there are certain defining characteristics that are to be preserved. Although we can make (or even “force”) a technique to work, its essence is lost if the essential points are not preserved. To learn budō properly, we must not simply fall back on henka as soon as we run into difficulty – to do so would be laziness. We should take the time and make the effort to learn the techniques of our art correctly and thoroughly, discovering, understanding, and integrating the essence of each waza so that we can not only practice Bujinkan budō properly, but also, as teachers, responsibly preserve its essence as we transmit it to the next generation.