sabaki

SABAKI: WORKING WITH OUR GREATEST OPPONENT

BY MIKE NINOMIYA

Sabaki is a Japanese term that means working with energy efficiently  It is used to describe taming a wild horse, damming a river or even issuing judgement in legal court. Sometimes it’s speedy and direct sometimes it’s absorbing and redirecting, sometimes it’s patient and waiting. The proper use of sabaki requires extreme sensitivity and deconstruction of our ego so as to work with an oncoming force rather than go against it…

The process for most adults requires investing in loss, the deconstruction. Often it is our strength that actually causes stagnation and no real growth. Our sense of power to enforce our way on another blinds our ability to see clearly. In a heated debate, it’s not how loud we yell but how precise our words hit the heart of the matter. In martial arts, our sense of self rightly wants to preserve itself but the more an opponent wishes to force a move that is not justified the easier it is to catch them. In an argument, our ego wants to justify a tightly held belief even if we discover it doesn’t make sense. However, it is in letting go in the confines of practice that we begin to work with the “opponent”. With diligent training, the movements become effortless and the oncoming kick that first issued fear of getting knocked out reveals a person standing on one leg. In daily life, the onslaught of a stressful situation we can find possibilities that exist deep within.  

In my 31 years of training, I have discovered quite harshly that the practice is a mirror to our soul. Growing up in and around New York City, I actually had many threats to my life; including having been shot and stabbed/cut. Martial arts has served me more times than I can remember in self defense, but every altercation could have been avoided had I been more mindful with where I was and who was around me. Practically in modern society, believing that martial arts can prepare you for every altercation is an illusion that many fall prey to. Both legally and self preservation wise, society has evolved to create environments with powerful repercussions and more powerful methods of mass destruction. As long as we are in bodily form, sabaki offers us windex to use when our mirror gets dirty and life seems unsettling. At the end of the day, we are not training to be all powerful or the most efficient human weapon by reinforcing our sense of self; creating more baggage to carry around but be fully present in the moment. In letting go, we can receive life instead of creating a life for ourselves in the future.

Introspectively, I notice how I talk to myself; do I have to go to teach or do I get to teach? The two monologues sound the same but one is forceful and sees it as a single outcome the other is a choice abundant with possibility. The stresses in modern life that can be an attack to our tightly held way might become doors of possibility. In our style in particular at the highest level, it is a long path to be very relaxed in a full contact engagement. However, with practice and compassion we can override our natural tendency to resist or insist change which happens in the void; complete possibility and unity of all things good and bad. Through training we can realize the real opponent is within. All dis-ease according to traditional medicine occurs from energetic imbalance stemming from deficiency/excess or damage. While we all lose the battle of longevity in time, most likely it will not be in direct combat with another, but from some lack of mindfulness in working with ourselves. The process of moving towards possibility is filled with sensitivity, patience and compassion as my dad often writes “a drop of water repeated over time can make a hole in stone.”

Buck is a beautiful movie that illustrates Sabaki! Check it out.