Never Stop Learning!


What makes humans different from monkeys?
The brain.
At least if you use it.

I do not think that people are using their neurons anymore, letting social media feel for them. This is sad, but it does not surprise me. We use our brains less than before. Is this “evolution” or “involution”? (1)

So why is the evolution of our society forcing us to use it less and less? When I listen to people aged 20 to 40, I often find myself lost. What happened to reasoning, knowing, analysising, or having culture? In less than ten years, the rise of social media has changed our behaviours and our vision of the world. People do not think any more; they take everything at face value. People have become superficial, their life ruled by news anchors, deep fakes, and conspiracy theories.

People do not use their brains anymore. They take every piece of information as “truth” and do not dig further to check the validity of what they see or read. We can blame the internet for that. Do not get me wrong. If I love the many possibilities offered by the internet. It is faster than an encyclopedia but still requires a large dose of critical sense and judgement. And often the problem does not stems from the answer but from the quality of the question. Today asking the “good question” does not seem to have more value. It was not like that in the past. In Plato’s books, I love how Socrates develops his argumentation with his listeners. It is always pure logic. (2)

Today the beauty of reasoning does not attract anymore. By focusing too much on practicality, our education system failed us.

Education does not train us to think, so we cannot learn. Everything today has to be black or white. Enforced Manicheism kills our capacity for judgment. In the past, our elders were the ones knowing, and the youngsters would listen to them. Today, companies fire employees when they get old. They get older, so we send them to nursing homes. That is how we interrupt inter-generational transmission. When the young do not respect parents, elders, or teachers, this is the beginning of anarchy (Plato again). (3)

To replace wisdom, experience, and knowledge, we now have a new type of elders. These “Elders 2.0” are social media, and they are not as wise as version 1.0.

Besides, as everything is fast, it is easier to let your phone give the answer than for you to think by yourself. The fast-food society has generated the fast-thought society. People are getting dumber. Today, a sad consequence is that as we cannot ask the “good question.” It is therefore quasi impossible to solve a given problem. One night I was on the road to see my parents for the weekend. I left my Business School in the middle of the night. When you drive alone at night, your brain often switches on automatic mode. It was à three-hour drive. Then, without any reason, I began to wonder why the last four months of the year had a wrong number? We know that September is the ninth month of the year.  But “sept” means the seventh month. “Octo”, means is eight, “Nove” is nine and “Dec” is ten. Why was that? 

When I got home at 3 am, I couldn’t sleep and I jumped on the Encyclopaedia to find the answer (the internet did not exist at that time). And I did. (4)

I was aware the explanation would not change my life, but I had to know out of sheer curiosity. Today, curiosity seems to have disappear. Without curiosity, answers are useless and lead humanity to its downfall. When you are not curious anymore, you accept things the way they are presented to you. You no longer think for yourself. You live like sheep.

When you do not study history, you cannot learn from the past or from your elders. Many criticize the loss of freedom being the consequence of the pandemic. But few try to understand why it is happening. Losing our free will momentarily is no big deal if it is for the greater good. I follow the news in many countries. No one has any clue on how to solve it. Governments probably make mistakes, but they are doing their best, whether you like it or not. The problem is that pandemics last for a long time, and that we have à very short memory. 

The Spanish flu that killed around 50 million stayed a few years. And their society reacted in the same way as we are today. There is an interesting article in the footnotes. It shows the similarities in people’s reaction to the flu in 1918. One century later, we forgot the lessons learnt by our ancestors. (5)(6)

Our evolution in budō comes training a lot, learning a lot and above all, remembering. Like in budō, life has an Omote and an Ura side. Information is a two-sided reality, with visible aspects and hidden ones. When you only concentrate on the visible parts, you miss the real size of the iceberg.

That is why fake news spread over social media like a wick on fire on a keg of gunpowder. The “sharers” don’t read what they see. They share the Omote. They focus more on spreading the info the fastest possible. They don’t think or analyze what they send to their “friends.” 

Authentic or Fake, they want to be the first to share the information. That gives them a feeling of superiority. This is so ridiculous. Some people on the internet rush to share any information that has a catchy title. And they do not read the article, only the title. Sometimes what they send to their thread is in contradiction with their beliefs. Titles are click baits supposedly to force readers to dive into the article. The writers of these texts are not even interested in the truth; their goal is to collect as many clicks as possible. Today society values your importance by the number of clicks you make. Or to how many virtual friends you have on social media. This is not how you learn and improve.

It doesn’t work like that on the mats. It doesn’t work like that in life.

You cannot remember something you never learned. Learning is the key to critical thinking. Without the capacity to learn, we are dumb clickbait hunters. With a good quality of learning, we digest the techniques and make them ours. Learning teaches how to adapt our actions and our thoughts to a chaotic situation.

This is how it works on the mats, as well as out of the hall. Sensei says that the Dōjō is 10 hours per week when life is 24 hours a day. Every day is a day to learn something. What you discover doesn’t matter as long as you keep the process alive. The word student in Japanese is “gakusei,” which means “life of learning.”(7)

Every night before going to bed, ask yourself, “What did I learn today?”

___________________________________

1 Involution: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Involution_(philosophy)#:~:text=In%20philosophy%2C%20involution%20occurs%20when,%22turned%20in%22%20upon%20itself.
2 Plato on education: https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/education/platos-theory-of-education/40135
3 In “The Republic,” book 7
4 Names of the months: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September
5 https://theconversation.com/people-gave-up-on-flu-pandemic-measures-a-century-ago-when-they-tired-of-them-and-paid-a-price-156551
6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu
7 学生, gakusei: Student; 学: earning; scholarship; study; erudition; knowledge; education +  生: life; living

Asobi, Enjoy!


Stone with Shintō kami in the garden in honor to Hatsumi Sensei, by Pedro Fleitas, Dai Shihan, Canary Island

On Change

Changes can be positive or negative, but that doesn’t matter. I generally enjoy changes when they happen in my life. I believe that each accepted change improves who we are. This is a chance to evolve. During those times of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have the opportunity to develop our way of life and to earn new lessons for happiness. I acknowledge that, right now, things are not easy for everyone. Still, this planetary trial will eventually turn us into better human beings through the steps we are forced to take in changing our society as a whole.

On Mr 19

Before “Mr 19’s” arrival, I had two lives. In my first life, I worked and taught Budō in France; in the second one, I travelled the world, giving seminars and meeting friends. (1) For the past twenty-three years, I sincerely enjoyed spreading Sensei’s art over Europe, Asia, North America, Meso America, and South America. I loved to go twice a month to a new place, discover our planet, and meet new people. I appreciated having the chance to understand the cultural differences making humans so rich. For more than twenty years, it gave me a privileged position. It made me more tolerant than I was and more open to others. But that was before the pandemic. 

Today, this life is gone. And I know it will never be back to the way it was. My Dōjō closed in March last year, my students are gone. Borders are closed, and we can’t go anywhere. This understanding of the situation is the reason to write this post today. If you hope that things will reverse soon, I think you are lying to yourself. We have to create a new environment for our practice. My wish is that this small text will help you to do the same. If I’m rethinking my life, you can do the same. But be assured that this new life will still be around Sensei’s Budō.

On The Black Swan

Some will tell you the Covid pandemic is a curse, and it is terrible for some. But I find this vast reshuffling quite interesting. Who could have thought that one day, it would be impossible to travel? That fact alone is a typical black swan in its own right. The black swan theory was expressed by Nicholas Taleb in his eponymous book. Here what it is:”The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist. The saying became reinterpreted after Europeans encountered black swans in Australia.” (2)

Who would have bet that one day, a “black swan” would ground the world population? It was unpredictable, but it happened. And we have only one choice to adapt. But luckily, this is what Budō is about: persevere, adapt, and be resilient. Take this opportunity and change your life with a new set of rules. “Change” differs from “chance” by only one letter. Give it a chance, learn the lesson, and change your life.

On changing, Takamatsu sensei wrote: “By opening his eyes and his mind, the Ninja can follow the subtle seasons and reasons for heaven. Changing just as change is necessary. Adapting always so that in the end, there is no such thing as a surprise for the Ninja.” (3)

On Adapting

The only possible survival path to follow is to adapt. There is no other left. Avoid surprises, be wise, and make a good choice. I notice a general tendency in the news and social media to be critical of governments, politicians, society, etc. But I don’t get it. By the way, it was the same reactions during the Spanish flu in 1918. The truth is that this is a black swan, so no one knows how to deal with the situation. It shouldn’t exist. But as it is happening, we have to accept it and keep a positive mind. Takamatsu sensei wrote that we have to be “changing just as change is necessary,” not too much, but enough to adapt our lives to the new reality.

By adjusting our expectations and our goals, we can embrace what cannot be avoided. Like in Budō, it is crucial to assume the correct Kamae. I wrote many times about Kamae, explaining that one meaning of this kanji is attitude. A positive attitude will welcome these changes with an open mind. This is the concept of the Asobi mind. People are often too serious or dramatic. Asobi means to put some playfulness in your life. (4)

On Playfulness

During Honbu classes, Hatsumi Sensei has been teaching this concept a lot. When you put Asobi in your actions, you live better and happier than before. I observe that people tend to be too serious. They are tensed and forget to look for happiness. So they become miserable. Unhappiness happens when people resist changes. Even when they are inevitable.

The pandemic created a paradigm shift on the whole planet. Adjusting to the new paradigm (5) might prove hard or maybe impossible. But it will happen. Develop the Asobi attitude if you want to survive, stop crying, stop complaining, live the moment. This is common in Asian philosophies. This is the “Here and now” of Zen Buddhism, or the “Nakaima” from Shintō. If I prefer Nakaima, which represents the center of the moment, both have the same value. Stop living the past; live the present. And be happy to have this possibility. (6) When you criticize and refuse changes, you are not walking a successful path, on the contrary. Success comes with adaptability. Takamatsu sensei wrote that by “always adapting (…) there is no such thing as a surprise for the Ninja.”

So don’t be surprised. Increase your Asobi in life and embrace those changes that cannot be avoided. Adapt your actions to the permanent chaos of life and enjoy the moment. Do that now, and there will be no surprise and no black swans.

Asobi. Enjoy!

Side Note to black swans: In Eastern France this year, 16 swans developed the Aviary flu (H5N8), another coronavirus. Surprise! To my black swans’ friends, be careful; you should adapt too.

________________________

1 People often tell me that I am lucky to travel the world and visit Sensei 3 times a year. That is not true. Back in 1997, leaving a well-paid managerial position in an IT company, I took a decision and made changes in my life to get the life I wanted. This is different today. The difference is forced on us and concerns everyone on the planet. But the outcome will be positive in many aspects. The change is already in place. We just have to let it mature enough to benefit from it. 

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

3 Those lines are from Takamatsu’s text on the “Essence of Ninjutsu.” The whole text is available online: https://archive.org/details/TakamatsuNinjutsuHiketsuBunEssenceOfNinjutsu

4 遊ぶ, asobi: to play (games, sports); to enjoy oneself; to have a good time​

5 Paradigm: a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model. A paradigm shift is when a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions is happening. Here this shift will change profoundly how we live our lives on Earth for many generations.

6 中今, Nakaima: the present (esp. as a privileged moment in eternity). It is made of two kanji, “middle” + “now.”

Is Your Life So Difficult?


Do you find your life so difficult during the pandemic? Not if you get the proper attitude. The other day I read, “When life gives you lemons, add tequila,” and I loved it. (1) I loved it for two reasons. First, it is funny, and second, this exemplifies the attitude you develop through the study of Budō. Let me explain.

Whoever you are, life is never easy. Whether you are young or old, male or female, rich or poor, life will give you many “lemons.” You will have to swallow them all. But the experience can be enriching if you know how to deal with your problem (the lemon). Everything in life is about having the correct attitude. Remember that attitude in Japanese is “Kamae.” So, depending on your kamae in fight or in life, you will meet success or not. Often it will not be a matter of losing or winning, but rather how not to lose? In life, things are never black and white. Life is a “camaieu” with many shades of grey. (2) 

If you develop a good kamae, lemons will teach you a lot. Failure and success; bitterness and sweetness; sadness and happiness. With each obstacle, each lemon you pass, you learn a lot and develop into a better human being. That is, if you do not let those negative events ruin your life and destroy your resilience! This is the real meaning of “Shikin Haramitsu Daikōmyō.” We repeat it at the beginning and at the end of each training session. It can mean that whatever the action you take, whether it is good or bad, there is always something to learn for you.

The Bujinkan teaches resilience, which is why I wrote many articles about not giving up. To be resilient, we should accept things the way they are and use these “lemons” to make us walk better on the path of Budō. Remember, you are here because you have chosen to be here.

Since last March and the Covid, some aspects of our freedom is gone. Some think this is a world conspiracy, others that are for the greater good. (3) Whatever you think, my point here is to observe if and how those changes impact our daily lives. I like changes, and I always welcome them. They always bring opportunities and renewal into our lives. These changes might actually be a fantastic chance for us. They will help us to become better beings. We all agree that Covid is not fun but changes our society in many ways. As Bujinkan members, we have to adapt to these variations instead of complaining.

Saint Exupery wrote, “Man discovers himself when he measures himself against the obstacle.” (4) The pandemic is an obstacle we have to go over. It gives everyone a chance to “discover” himself. In the process, failure is possible. But as I wrote many times, this is the best way to grow up in a good direction. It’s like when you learn a new waza on the mats. At first, your “creativity” is limited by the “1, 2, 3” steps when you learn to do it right. These “obstacles” are actually channelling your progress. They do not tame your freedom but teach new possibilities. Once you have ingested the steps, your freedom is not limited anymore and increases.

A few months ago, I wrote that 危機, kiki (crisis) is made of two kanji. The second “Ki,” 機, means “opportunity.” (5) In the West, a crisis is always negative; it is an opportunity for the Japanese!

Stop complaining and see this world crisis as positive. It is a fantastic opportunity for humans to grow up. So, deploring what you lost is counter-productive. Accept the things you cannot change and walk the path to improvement.

Stay positive and learn. Being negative does not help, be always constructive, my friends! Right after the Fukushima disaster, I called Sensei to know how he was. I asked how he was doing, and his answer was “Banpen Fugyō,” the Gyokko Ryū motto meaning “10000 changes, no surprise.”

Remember to always adapt and to welcome changes. That is how Hatsumi Sensei has been teaching the world of “henka.” (6) (7)

That is why “When life gives you lemons”, “add tequila, “… and salt. Embrace the path of henka; your life is not so difficult after all. 

__________________________

1 You can add vodka if you prefer
2 No kinky pun intended. I wrote “grey”, not “Gray.”
3 You can believe what you want about Covid. I am not judging if those limits of our freedom are positive or negative. I have no political agenda, and I’m not a doctor. So, keep your comments for you.
4 https://unquote.li/en/quotes/antoine-de-saint-exupery/man-discovers-himself-when-he-measures-himself-against-the-obstacle-v7qwnav348 In his book “Terre des Hommes”, sorry I don’t know the English title.
5 危機, kiki: crisis (made of dangerous + opportunity)
6 変化, Henka: hen = the beginning of change; ka = the end of change
7 You want more on henka, also read https://kumablog.org/2013/03/16/henka-a-poetic-strangeness/.

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Trust me, I’m a Ninja!


In “Advanced Stick Fighting, Hatsumi Sensei speaks of Shinnyō, “thusness.” (1) (2) Known as Tathātā in Sanskrit, it defines “merely the way things are, the truth of all things.” (3)

This is also the real definition of “Shizen.” Due to limited time, teachers do not explain the depth of Shizen to their students. Shizen is not only “natural,” it is what “is in its natural state when there is no conscience involved.” You can read the explanation of “thusness” in “The Demon’s Sermon on the martial arts” by Issai Chozanshi. (4)

When you develop a shizen attitude, you tune your actions with your environment. Your moves express trust and confidence. This is Shinrai. (5) (6)

We know that a pure Budōka is someone with a deep sense of responsibility, a man or a woman that people will always trust. Once you are one with the world of natural movement, people will follow you.

That is what the warrior’s creed by Robert L. Humphrey explains beautifully. Jack met Mr Humphrey, Iwo Jima veteran and MIT teacher, while being a graduate student in San Diego in 1981. Since then, Mr Humphrey has been a mentor and a guide to my friend. Read Jack’s account of their encounter. (7)

Here is the warrior’s creed: (8)

Wherever I go,
everyone is a little bit safer
because I am there.
Wherever I am,
anyone in need has a friend.
Whenever I return home,
everyone is happy I am there.

Jack Hoban introduced me to the warrior’s creed back in the 90s, and I often think about these words. (9) I see the creed as the essence of the Ninja warrior path. That is what we study with Hatsumi Sensei. He teaches the way to make our actions natural, to become true warrior.

If you reach this level, you are more than a Bushi, (10) you are a Yūshi, a courageous warrior, a hero.

Welcome to the Super Hero path.

Trust me, I’m a Ninja!

______________

1 真如, しんにょ Shinnyō, thusness, Tathātā (the ultimate nature of all things)
2 信用, Shinnyō: confidence; trust; faith; reputation
3 Tathātā: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tath%C4%81t%C4%81
4 https://www.amazon.com/Demons-Sermon-Martial-Arts-Warrior/dp/4770030185
5 信頼, Shinrai: reliance; trust; faith; confidence
6 I’m not speaking here of the monk Shimotsuma Shinrai,下間真頼, from the mid 16th century. More: https://www.japanese-wiki-corpus.org/Buddhism/Shinrai%20SHIMOTSUMA.html
7 http://www.lifevalues.com/
8 https://www.livingvalues.com/warrior_creed.html
9 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_L._Humphrey
10 武士, bushi: warrior; samurai
11 勇士, Yūshi: brave warrior; hero; a brave man

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Ninja Clan 2.0


Climate change is now accepted. As a consequence, polar bears are having increasing difficulties in feeding themselves. 

“Because of melting sea ice, it is likely that more polar bears will soon starve, warns a new study that discovered the large carnivores need to eat 60 per cent more than anyone had realized. Turns out they are high-energy beasts, burning through 12,325 calories a day—despite sitting around most of the time, according to a unique metabolic analysis of wild bears published Thursday in Science.” (…) “Climate change is heating up the Arctic faster than anywhere else, and sea ice is shrinking 14 per cent per decade.” (1) 

That means that by the end of the century, the Arctic will be nearly free of ice!

I am concerned because I am a polar bear. In 1987, Sensei saw my picture taken in the snow and nicknamed me “Shiro Kuma”, the polar bear. (2) 

I can easily view a lonely polar bear drifting on a shrinking iceberg. With the pandemic, Our Bujinkan lives turned into the ones of a polar bear. Since March 2020, we are in a world pandemic. For many students and teachers, it has been difficult, if not impossible, to train in a dōjō. And I’m not even considering training at the Honbu. It is forbidden to travel to Japan. 

The world of martial arts was huge, comprising millions of practitioners worldwide. It collapsed in a few months with the spreading of the virus. In this metaphor, martial art is the arctic ice bank melting down. And martial artists are the polar bears isolated on the melting icebergs. 

The recession in the martial arts world has and will continue to strike us. I see the majority of martial arts halls disappearing by lack of practitioners. This is sad but doesn’t mean the end of Budō. You can find the seeds of success in the midst of defeat. Hatsumi Sensei repeated in class that “it is ok to lose a battle, as long as you don’t lose the war in the end.” We lost this battle, but the war is not over yet!

To win the war, we have to change our understanding of what and how we train. Since our dōjō closed last March, I have been thinking a lot about our next Budō moves. With my students, we conducted some experiments with that and came up with a few rules:

  • Budō practitioners are still there, but training places are closed 
  • A lot of self-training can be implemented, but there are limits 
  • We can train alone, but we often need an external “eye” to improve
  • Budō training should be more adapted and teaching chiseled 

To get to that, we must accept that big dōjō or organizations might not survive the virus. As a result, “family size units” or small structures will be key elements to our rebirth. I am preparing a book on that. (3) 

These small training units will become the “ninja clans” of the 21st century. The virus forced us to recreate the ancient ninja clans of feudal times. This is why our future structures have to be limited in size. I call this new period of Bujinkan training “clanification 2.0.” (4)

Obviously, there are benefits and disadvantages to this “clanification.”

ProsCons
Better quality in teachingSkills limited by the size of the group 
Real student / sensei relationTechnical diversity limited to the abilities of the teacher
No hiding in class: better controlNo hiding in class: lesser skills
Bad teachers will self-disappearLess exchanges with other “clans”
The arts will surviveSome teachers will turn into half-gods
Hyper specialization of the groupHyper specialization of the group

When we reopen our Bujinkan training groups, we will have move from “Taijutsu” (5) to “Taijutsu.” (6) We will train like our Budō ancestors. Right now, we may be like drifting polar bears on a chunk of ice. But I am confident we will find land soon. And our ancient traditions will survive the harshness of history once more. 

After all, our only job is to survive.

———————

1 From National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/polar-bears-starve-melting-sea-ice-global-warming-study-beaufort-sea-environment
2 白熊: Shiro Kuma, white bear aka polar bear
3 publish it soon
4 clanification: I made-up this word by adding clan and the suffix “-ification.” The Oxford dictionary definition for the clan is “a group of people with a strong common interest.”
5 体術, Taijutsu: fighting technique done with the body
6 隊術, Taijutsu: fighting technique done by a military unit; or army squad

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Watching Is Not Training!


shoto no waza

The world health situation locked down many Dōjō. Since last April, people have asked me a lot about my thoughts on video training. As you know, my streaming website offers 160 Gb of Bujinkan videos. The platform covers all the aspects of our martial arts. (1) 

So, people expect me to be in favour of video learning. I’m sorry to disappoint them, I am not in favour of video learning. I am confident you will agree with me after reading this text.

As the title says it quite clearly, “watching is not training.” The learning process is not passive, it demands action. If you want to learn, you have to train. There is no magic shortcut. When I was younger, I loved to watch formula 1 races on tv. It didn’t improve my driving abilities in any way!

Watching is not training. A video only shows things in a 2-dimension system. In comparison, live techniques are always in 3-dimension. A screen shows only parts of the movement from one direction captured by the camera. It cannot “show” you what Uke “feels” when he receives the Waza. I organized a few Taikai in Paris for Sensei. It was always surprising to see the camera guys unable to capture the depth of Sensei’s moves. And they were still recording in the wrong direction.

Hatsumi Sensei advises us to watch his DVDs and read his books every day. But he doesn’t say that you will learn the techniques by doing so. He wants us to watch and listen to the things he does and says while moving. By watching the global movement, you begin to dive into the action. Watching and listening is not enough, though. Videos and speech give only an idea. But must be experienced at the physical level, in your body. A Waza is much more than a series of movements. The real knowledge about a Waza, a level, or a Ryū lies beyond the mechanical aspects. À video is only Omote, actual training with a teacher is the Ura.

There is one aspect of videos that I like. Videos are better than texts. Everything happens in one moment, unlike when you read a book because you have to read line by line. That is why many practitioners stay at the “1, 2, 3” level. Many never leave kindergarten, and that sadly includes many teachers.

You need a teacher to improve. Videos are reminders of things you know already, not stuff you want to learn. A good teacher helps you grow in the technique. He adapts his teaching to each individual. That allows you to understand the Waza for you, with your own body. Videos and texts cannot teach that. 

A teacher is much more than a video because he is a “sensei” (2)(3), i.e. “someone born into this path before you”. He made all the mistakes you do. That is why he can guide you through the proper motion and the right understanding. A good teacher will teach on a personal basis, one to one. Actually, this is what Sōke has been repeating for decades. The link between you, the student, and your Sensei is exceptional. Once you accept him, or her, as your teacher, you build indefectible trust. No arguing between master and disciple can take place. 

This precious binding between you and your teacher is why martial arts are nor sports. It happens the moment you decide to do whatever it takes to make it possible. 

Remember, you will never be the disciple of your video or DVD player. You are Human!

___________________

www.koimartialart.com
2 先生, teacher; instructor; master
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensei 
Sensei: “he who was born before another”

https://teespring.com/watching-is-not-training?pid=389&cid=102281

Be Happy With What You Have


Hatsumi Sensei teaches us to be happy, and many practitioners don’t listen to him. The people in the Bujinkan are more into learning many Waza than developing a happy life. When you try to smile and be happy, your life improves. Happiness makes you satisfied with what you have. I recently read a quote saying, “Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have.” Where are you?

Why is it that we always want to have more? Why is it that we are never satisfied with what we already have? In these days of Covid, people behave strangely. One day the demand masks, and when they are available, they do not want to wear them. They demand a vaccine, and when it is available, they don’t want to get it. The vaccination process is too long, they criticize; too fast, they blame governments.

With the pandemics, everyone on the planet is a doctor. They know better what to do and how the virus spreads and develops. They all have an opinion. They cry a lot over the supposed loss of their freedom. What loss? We are trying to get rid of the pandemic. This is amazing to see people being so self-centred and narrow-minded.

I don’t know if what the governments do is good or bad. And I don’t care. My concern here is that freedom is more than that. Freedom is not behaving like a 5-year old kid! The world is not a giant kindergarten. Being an adult is to know when to speak, and when to shut up. True freedom is when you find satisfaction with what you have, not with what you want. In Japanese, the word “freedom” can be Tokuritsu (1), and it has many meanings. The Japanese language uses abstract concepts to explain the world. They do not define it. Instead, they wrap the idea in a box. Tokuritsu is also: independence, separation, isolation, or self-reliance. What people call “freedom” is actually the opposite of this.

What they call freedom is, in fact, dependence. Humans have an atavic need not to be separated or isolated.

Society has taught us not to try to depend on ourselves. We live through social media, reality shows; and phone apps. I have the feeling that this fake sense of freedom is enslaving us. We are the prisoners of our wishes and what we have doesn’t please us. This freedom is the opposite of the Japanese definition, it gives no liberty.

Hegel said, “When liberty is mentioned, we must always be careful to observe whether it is not really the assertion of private interests which is thereby designated.” (2)

This is why I try to be happy with what I have. I do my best never to cry over the things I don’t have.

The health situation is complicated, our governments do what they can. These lockdowns will not last forever, be patient, endure, and develop your resilience. Because this is what Hatsumi Sensei is teaching. So, behave like the ninja you always wanted to be.

Be Happy!

  1. 独立, Tokuritsu: independence; self-reliance; supporting oneself; being on one’s own​; freedom​; separation; isolation
  2. Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/georg-wilhelm-friedrich-h-quotes


A Crisis Is A Mysterious Opportunity


This post will come as a reminder for many readers. I’m not the first one to write about the word “crisis” in Japanese. I already wrote about it a few years ago in this blog.

When it comes to making puns on words, the Japanese language is like the French language. Similar sounds written differently have different meanings. (1)

The word “kiki” means “crisis” in Japanese. Kiki is composed of two kanji: “dangerous” + “opportunity”. So, a Japanese sees “crisis” as a “dangerous opportunity.” (2) It can be risky, but it doesn’t mean it is always wrong. I love this!

Opportunities are always moments where things can go wrong. The ability to take risks is what makes humans different from animals. Some humans will take significant risks; others won’t dare to move. But learning Budō is an opportunity to accept to take risks, and thus improve your survival skills. That is why you should never give up on your training. I know that this period of a pandemic can be challenging to many practitioners. A majority of Dōjō have closed with the lockdown, or are bankrupt after ten months of Covid. That is not a reason to quit! So, focus on “ki” (3), and turn this “kiki,” crisis, into “kikai,” a chance, an opportunity.

The moments we live these days might be difficult for many. But I’m confident they prepare us for a better life and embrace new opportunities. Human history is full of moments where a new paradigm replaces an old one.

Our Society will be different soon, and I want to believe it will be a wonderful (5) change. Kikai (4) will lead to kikai (4), a “chance” to experience a “mysterious” opportunity. Too many people die from the pandemic. And one death is one too many. But Covid is not the “Black Death” of the 14th century that killed 25 million people! (6) It is not the Spanish Flu that killed 20 to 50 million people worldwide. (7)

Hatsumi Sensei often speaks of the mysterious aspects of Budō. Now that we understand those terms better, it might help us get the essence of what he is teaching us. What we do on the mats is both wonderful, strange, and mysterious. The natural movement exists in the ether, and our body and mind render it visible. Each encounter, each fight is potentially dangerous. So, let the mysterious aspect of life deal with it, and there is a chance always to find success.

Success is an attitude. It is an action without intent. Once again it goes back to the Tao when Lao Tzu writes “don’t do anything, and nothing will be left undone.” The path of action is kikai, a course of opportunity and chance; and happening in mysterious ways.

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  1. In French jump is “saut”, a bucket is “seau”, a seal is “sceau”, dumb is “sot, and they all sound like “so” in English!
  2. 危機, kiki: crisis; critical situation; emergency; pinch
  3. 機, ki: chance; opportunity
  4. 機会, kikai: chance; opportunity
  5. 奇怪, kikai: strange; wonderful; weird; outrageous; mysterious
  6. “Arguably, the most infamous plague outbreak was the so-called Black Death, a multi-century pandemic that swept through Asia and Europe. It was believed to start in China in 1334, spreading along trade routes and reaching Europe via Sicilian ports in the late 1340s. The plague killed an estimated 25 million people, almost a third of the continent’s population. The Black Death lingered on for centuries, particularly in cities. Outbreaks included the Great Plague of London (1665-66), in which 70,000 residents died.” from National Geographic.
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu

“Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people – about a third of the world’s population at the time – in four successive waves. The death toll is typically estimated to have been somewhere between 20 million and 50 million, although estimates range from a conservative 17 million to a possible high of 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.”

Adapt Or Die


adapt or die mockupI’m happy I have studied Ninpō Taijutsu for the last 36 years. Bujinkan trained me to be ready for the unexpected. Like the Black Swan (1), unexpected events occur. The pandemic blew out the world economy. Our way of life is badly hit, and many training halls had to close. Some of them will never reopen.

At the end of June in France, the government allowed us to go back to the Dōjō. With a mask and with little contact. Thanks to the Bujinkan wide range of possibilities, we’ve been teaching Bō jutsu (outdoor) for a few weeks. If it feels good to be back on the mats, but I’m concerned about the other martial arts.

If the Bujinkan is lucky, to have plenty of weapons to train. Gendai Budō (2) such as Jūdō, Karatedō, Aikidō, BJJ need physical contact. When they lifted the ban partly at the end of July, we went to train long weapons, outdoor. My Gendai friends couldn’t resume training, as physical contacts were not authorized.

You know how hard it is to have regular students in the Dōjō and to keep them. The pandemic might spell out the end of martial arts the way we know them. A large part of existing training halls will not reopen after the ban. And those reopening might also die by lack of adaptation.

If you read the “Spirit of Movement” (3), you know that, before entering the Bujinkan, I trained Jūdō for a long time. I let down Jūdō, and chose Bujinkan. I couldn’t learn two martial arts in parallel and manage my daily job. But some do that correctly like my Spanish brother, Juan Manuel Serrano. Not only is he a reputed Bujinkan Dai Shihan, but he also earns a 6th dan in Jūdō! And to achieve this rank in Jūdō is not easy. Even today, he continues to teach both arts at the same time. That’s impressive. During the pandemic, he was able to continue by teaching long weapons. But his fellow Jūdō teachers had to stay at home!

The Bujinkan teaches several qualities such as resilience, perseverance, and excellence. Three aspects impersonated by my friend Juanma. Budō training teaches to adapt and to accept change when it comes. Without accepting change, we cannot adjust our behaviours. Charles Darwin wrote that “It is not the strongest of the species that survives. It is not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” This could be a sentence said by Hatsumi Sensei during class.

In Japanese, “to adapt” is “atehameru”.

The essence of Bujinkan, Budō, and Life is adaptation.

Weapons, tactics, and mentalities evolved through centuries. Martial arts have always adapted to change. It would never have survived to the 21st century if the warriors didn’t welcome change. That is what Bujinkan is and what Bujinkan is teaching.

Today’s change is the “mask”. You don’t need to like it. Wear the mask, and get a new chance to adapt your behaviour to this unexpected situation. Just Do It!

Atehameru to atehameru (apply and adapt).

We are Togakure ninja. Therefore we have been wearing masks since 1161. Stop complaining and go back to training. The freedom you seek resides in your training.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Swan:_The_Impact_of_the_Highly_Improbable

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gendai_bud%C5%8D

3 “The Spirit of movement” exists in e-book or paperback depending on the language, if you are interested check it: ENGLISH, ESPANOL, FRANCAIS

4 当てはめる, atehameru: to apply, to adapt

adapt or die mockup

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Back to Panem et Circenses?


dan mockup (1)Are we Back to “Panem et Circenses,” the times of “Bread and Circuses” as exposed by Juvenal around two centuries before our time? It looks like it! (1)

This metonymy by Juvenal, a Roman satirical poet, was to show a population’s erosion, or ignorance, of civic duty as a priority. If people have enough food and enough entertainment, they don’t see their (civic) duty as a priority. That is what is happening today with the pandemic.

This world pandemic is impacting our daily lives in a way that no one could have predicted. Whether you believe in it or not, is irrelevant here. What is not, is how we react when facing a situation like this.

I see the pandemic as an opportunity for humans to change, adapt, and develop new behaviours. And what I see is different. We are moving backwards, not forward. While the world is changing fast, our actions are still pre-COVID ones.

Let me give you some examples. A majority of humans have now to wear masks. In a few weeks, it became a regular piece of clothing. Every day, millions of people on the planet are saying “Oh no, I forgot my mask again!”

When we did not have them, people were demanding more masks. Now masks are mandatory, and we have enough. And the same people are complaining again. They protest against the government because they feel their freedom is in danger. There is no logic.

What the Bujinkan teaches is to learn how to survive. It is not about judging others, and I am not trying to. But the pandemic forces our Society, as a whole, to evolve. That is why people’s expectations of “bread and circuses” are not helping. Being reluctant to change is not new.

A long time ago in Mesopotamia, the Sumerian put up the bricks of our civilization. (2) They were the first to invent writing. But when they decided to change the way of writing, things didn’t go without protests. (3) (4)
When the Portuguese landed in Japan in 1543, they were the first Europeans to set foot on the islands. (5) They brought the first set of muskets with them. That was a significant change for the traditional Samurai who rejected this new weapon. Fast forward, in October 1600, Tokugawa unifies the country with brilliant strategy and firearms. Traditionalists lost because they refused to change. Change is happening, and to survive, we must adapt to it, not reject it.
When Emperor Meiji got his power back at the end of the 19th century, he was breaking a rule dating back to 1185. That was not easy, but he did it. The famous Yamaoka Tesshu was also a man of change. (5)

The examples above show that change has to be accepted. Change is permanent and natural. When you refuse it, you stay locked in the past. If we have to wear masks today, it is not to lose our freedom, but to stay alive.

And if you think the pandemic is not real and reject the mask, you make other people nervous. If you don’t do it for yourself, you can do it for your fellow humans.

Personal freedom is vital for humans. It is not in danger because of a mask, some handwash, and social distancing. That is our civic duty to follow and respect the rules so that the majority can be or feel happier. As a Bujinkan member, my goal is to go with the flow, not to fight it. I suppose you are not interested in the immediate rewards of “Panem et circenses.” Because if you are, you might be betraying the Bujinkan teachings of Hatsumi Sensei. Is it what you want?

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1. Bread and circuses
2. Sumerians were counting in base 12, which is the reason why we measure time in multiples of 60. That is why there are 12 houses in the Zodiac.
3. The Sumerian people invented writing. They wrote from right to left and from up to down. Then a few thousands of years later the Akkadians, changed it to write on paper the same way we do.
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuneiform
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan%E2%80%93Portugal_relations
6 We covered the life of Yamaoka Tesshu and his achievements earlier on this blog.
7 More on Yamaoka Tesshu https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamaoka_Tessh%C5%AB

 

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