While training the The Hanbōjutsu of Kukishin Ryū in Japan during the Spring of 2008, Unsui Sensei explained to me the use of otonashi no kamae.
His lesson was premised on the principle of “be an easy target for your opponent.” But the intention of this kamae can be easily misconstrued with others, or not even understood at all.
Standing with your weapon behind your back as a proficient swordsman is closing distance fast with a strong will to strike you down is suicide. This kamae is not that and to train it based on the posture alone is meaningless.
As I prepared for my yondan testing, I found a considerable amount of difficulty in understanding the true nature and meaning behind this kamae. Like most everything else, it’s purpose is discovered by consistent attention to training correctly for long periods of time. The hand is not seen by the opponent in some cases, the muscles in the legs are loaded in ways not visible and the intention is not ‘heard’ throughout all kata using this kamae. It takes time within the okuden to get this.
As I chugged through repetition of technique I found my attention drifting and not staying true to my keiko. This is pretty natural I think for us all. The dangerous part is when we start mixing concepts and strategy up. Sometimes you get caught up in the “you can do this and you can do that” nonsense, trying to discover alternative combinations of movement as you can’t seem to get the orthodox one correct. Frustration doesn’t bring about creativity and discovery, just bad excuses disguised often times as henka.
Other times, I found my physiology of the kamae not being adhered to. Don’t let your body’s language become muddled with different intention. For example, it should not be mistaken for the mindset and alignment one assumes in munen muso no kamae, where one has a complete immersion (of sensations) into their surrounding. They are motionless within their body and mind, yet their awareness is highly acute. Otonashi no kamae is very different.
It is neither baiting the opponent to attack, nor attempting to confuse their intent. Rather it is making yourself an easy target while remaining silent to those surrounding you. You are an impossible read. As I said, the body language is not heard thus causing the opponent to misjudge everything in their ambition to strike you down. They abandon all tactic and take on a cavalier, over confident mindset while abandoning caution, timing and sense of critical distance. They will be left having no clue what just happened.