Sengoku Jidai

In his book the « way of the ninja », sôke introduces the shintô concept of nakaima (the middle of now) that allows us to live a permanent present linked together with the immediate past and the coming future. Even if it looks similar to the “here and now” of Zen Buddhism, I consider it to be a concept much more powerful as it gives a clear image of the ever changing world in which we live.

Nevertheless it is also important, in my opinion, to learn the lessons of history; and Japanese warfare could not be understood without knowing the tipping point that is sengoku jidai (age of civil wars) in Japanese history. Sengoku jidai lasted from the mid 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century until the forced peace established by Ieyasu Nobunaga (1603).

This crucial period of Japanese history is when the tachi kumiuchi techniques were developed and used. What we are studying is the true essence of Japanese bugei. This is why it is so important. History is a cycle and the past can teach us lessons on what might happen next. By studying history, we learn how to avoid making the same mistakes again. When you look at how the Bujinkan is evolving these days I am surprised to see some similarities with the sengoku period. I am not known in the Bujinkan to be politically correct. Avoiding seeing what is happening is not changing the fact that it is happening, as using an umbrella under the rain is not changing the fact that it is raining!

Sengoku jidai is the general term used by historians for a period of history covering the mid Muromachi period (1333-1573)to the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603); it was followed by the Edo period initiated by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The name sengoku jidai comes from the warring states period in China that led to the unification of the country. Before these troubled times Japan was struggling with a myriad of warlords more or less controlled by the Ashikaga Shogunate and the influence of the Hôjo clan. The Muromachi Bakufu of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1368 – 1408) lost gradually his influence over the outer regions to rising samurai families (ji-zamurai) who got enough power to control large provinces. At this point the Ashikaga Bakufu had no more control over the country. This is at this period that the head of these families began to be called daimyo. The daimyo were not loyal to the shogun anymore and the major ones were more interested in developing their own power than respecting the rules and values of the past.

I hope the Bujinkan will not have to go through such a period of chaos because unlike Japan it would not end in unification but to its destruction. The Bujinkan is rich of its “unified diversity”. As sensei put it out in February “everyone is giving back the movement or the technique shown, according to his/her personality. This is also rokkon shôjô”.

If you apply pressure to tomatoes you end up with ketchup but lose the taste of each individual fruit. This is what has happened in the 20th century with gendai budô (modern martial arts), they lost their flavor to become a tasteless sport. I do not want the Bujinkan to become like that. Tensions create war and war is not wa (harmony), wa (peace after war) can be avoided if there is no war. We must do our best to avoid that.

They did not understand that in the 15th century and there was war because of heavy tensions. Sengoku jidai began with the Ônin wars (1467-1477) from tensions fueled by deep economic problems and a dispute over shogunal succession. Nobunaga Oda, daimyo of the Owari province (Nagoya) decided to force the unification of the country spreading his control from his Azuchi castle base. A century and a half of upheaval ending with the creation of unified Japan began.

We can wonder if this would happen again and if some lessons can be learnt from the past. It is said that tigers are able to see the future. 2010 is the year of the tiger and when I look at the Bujinkan I have the feeling that big changes are coming.  Since I began training Bujinkan in the 1980s I have seen many changes and it is up to us to keep them positive in the future.

Nobunaga continued the conquest of the country and seized Kyoto in 1568 with his generals, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Tokugawa Ieyasu to name a few. He changed the rules of war and adapted the traditional ways to modern warfare. At the battle of Nagashino (1575) he won by using the firearms imported by the Portuguese (who had landed in Kyushu in 1542).

The tachi kumiuchi that was used until the mid muromachi period disappeared gradually with the introduction of firearms by Nobunaga. As sensei said, it is important to know the evolution of warfare and to be aware of the transitions between those types of fighting. Samurai warfare began with the ken (the Chinese double edge sword); then tachi, then firearms; and then at the end katana (when peace was established). Speaking of today’s warfare, he added that by pushing a simple button we now have a bigger power of destruction. Warfare techniques evolve and take into account the technologies available. The permanent improvement of blades vs yoroi is an example of this permanent adaptative process.

Hatsumi sensei is not teaching us a set of techniques but a way to live a better life. By studying the fighting ways of the muromachi period we come to understand our life and learn how to live a happy future. This is rokkon shôjô.

 Nobunaga could not achieve unification. He was betrayed by Akechi Mitsuhide, one of his generals who killed him and seized the Azuchi castle. Akechi was immediately defeated by Hideyoshi Toyotomi who took control of the country and finalized the unification.

The “Azuchi Momoyama” period is named after the two castles of Nobunaga (Azuchi in Owari) and Hideyoshi (Momoyama in Fushimi).

The Bujinkan has become a big group over the last twenty years and I was lucky to witness its evolution. Sensei keeps telling us to work together and to be united but the more I travel the world, the more I see groups getting insular. I am aware that nothing can change that, but I cannot prevent myself from feeling bad to see such a beautiful jewel losing rapidly its glow. Adapting George Orwell’s sentence in “Animal farm” we can say that: “All shidôshi are equal, but some shidôshi are more equal than others”.

Sensei has established his Bujinkan on a “man-to-man” basis without creating any structured organization in order to give us a chance to be unified through friendship and not bureaucracy. The evolving Bujinkan outside of Japan sometimes forgets that. Unification can only happen within an open system based upon kokoro no budô and not by force or self interests.

The same happened to the dream of Nobunaga. Even though I do not think that Nobunaga’s idea was dictated by pure goodness!

Shortly after Hideyoshi achieved the unification by defeating the Hôjo clan in Odawara (1590), he died leaving the power to his young son. Before his death and in order to support his son while he was young, he created a council of 5 regents:  Maeda, Môri, Ukita, Uesugi and Tokugawa. This council ruling the country did not work well for long and more fights happened.

Accused of disloyalty, Tokugawa defeated the others at the battle of sekigahara, and took power. This battle is considered to be the last major battle of the sengoku period. He was then appointed seii taishogun three years later (1603). Two and a half century of Tokugawa shogunate followed, and it ended up with the Meiji restoration in 1868.

I sincerely hope that we will learn the lessons from the past and be more intelligent than our elders and keep the Bujinkan unified for a long period of time as sensei wishes us to do. The Bujinkan is the best thing that ever happened to me in this life and my encounter with sôke has transformed me into the man I am today. I wish that the future generations have the possibility to experience the same chance of personal growth through the study of the ways of the past.

History shows that power is mundane and that it lasts only for a short period of time. “All that glitters is not gold” says the adage, ranks and supposed power are only an illusion. The Bujinkan should stay “one in its multiplicity” and continue his growth as a “Life teaching system” the way it has been designed by Takamatsu sensei and Hatsumi sensei. What really matters is to live a happy life connected with our peers to become a true knight with high values, a Bujin.

Sengoku jidai has been a “tipping point” in Japanese history, we have to hope that the Bujinkan does not reach its “tripping point” in the future. Losing the Bujinkan would be a loss for mankind.

Rokkon shôjô!

Author: kumablog

I share here on a regular basis my thoughts about the Bujinkan martial arts, training in Japan and all over the world, and

3 thoughts on “Sengoku Jidai”

  1. Mankind will not lose the Bujinkan. It’s effect on the world is too positive. It saved my life, and I’ve witnessed the same in others. There are too many wonderful practitioners in order for such a jewel to be destroyed. I have faith in us, and will always be doing my best to forward this art with highest level of intergrity. My confidence is in part due to guys like you, Arnaud. You as well as many other Shihan have been shining beacons, leading by example, with honest hearts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this blog. It is very powerful.


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