龍虎 Dragon & Tiger
Ryūko – dragon and tiger – great rivals
The dragon and tiger images are strongly linked with the martial arts and martial artists. Both are metaphors for martial endeavour and achievement.
Though as a note of caution – in the martial arts context both must be seen in their mystical or supernatural forms. Tigers are familiar to us through photographs, film, zoos and so on, but we should shed this familiar image when looking at the tiger in the context of Japanese cultural usage. The ‘image’ of the tiger from ancient times in Japan can be seen as originating from mainland Asia, from Chinese sources, stories, tales and travellers accounts, such as those from ambassadors, priests or monks who may have seen a tiger in the flesh. For the most part the Japanese and martial artists would be exposed to the cultural tiger image, few in the Bushi would have been exposed to a tiger until the invasions of Korea in the 16th Century, and then only a few. The tiger in artwork, though striped and feline, usually has a rounder face and more anthropomorphic features. Thus both the tiger and dragon should be viewed in their archetypal forms – the ideals, characteristics and behaviours they represent.
Ryūko 龍虎 dragon and tiger.
This phrase is used in the context of talking about great rivals, two powerful fighters or matched combatants. They are not diametric opposites (such as black-white, good-bad) but powerful figures that employ a different approach to achieve the same end – victory. The dragon and tiger may also be seen as different aspects or attitudes within a single person – and the changing flow between the attitudes of attack and defence. A heroic figure may be described as ryūkoseishin 龍虎精神 possessors of the dragon-tiger spirit.
The dragon and tiger are characterised by different approaches to achieving the same purpose – victory or dominance (although you can say that the ultimate goal is balance). The tiger is direct, aggressive and spontaneous or reactive, whereas the dragon is indirect, defensive and considered or circumspect. This attitude may be familiar through the phrase kotekiryōda 虎擲龍拏 the tiger strikes and the dragon catches and the principles of juppōsesshō 十方折衝 handling all directions. Note here that dragon kanji is pronounced as ryō rather than ryū.
Other instances of the tiger vs dragon attitude include ideas such as; straight – circular, linear – turning, attack – receive, impatient – patient, crouch – hide, uke – tori. In training practice a pair often take on the role of the tiger and dragon – uke attacks while tori receives to then apply a ‘technique’. It must be remembered here that both are practicing, uke is not the passive receiver, uke must attack sincerely to challenge tori in their defence. Throughout practice tori and uke(s) shift naturally between both attitudes.
Though crouch and hide may be seen in the well known film context, the difference may be seen in the tiger crouching (retreating or cornered) ready to surge forwards in an explosion of action whilst the dragon uses subterfuge and obfuscation to conceal (body or intention) before acting, attacking or evading.
Hatsumi-sensei has said that to know Togakure ryū you must first learn Kotō ryū and Gyokko ryū. Seeing Kotō ryū as the tiger and Gyokko ryū as the dragon you can then see their expression as not the techniques but the changing attitude and approach in Togakure ryū ninpō taijutsu (taijutsu here is 體術). The tiger of Kotō ryū is seen in the direct and powerful nature of the techniques, pouncing in to attack and break bones or resolve. The dragon of the Gyokko ryū is seen in the circular movements and capturing techniques, coiling around the attack to control or manipulate, and attacking the kyushō as with claws of lightning to disable.