Class with Senô sensei

Japan trip 41 update:

I am just coming back from a class with Senô sensei, it is always a fantastic moment of taijutsu. We did a lot of hanbô techniques as the hanbô is very similar in its use as the tachi. We finished with tachi techniques, mainly  mutô dori against tsuki.
A very rich class indeed, I wish we could have more classes with him.

Connecting through the sageo

When using a sword, we are often bothered by the sageo, hanging down from the kurigata. But the sageo is an important of tachi kumiuchi connecting the blade to the body and us to nature…

When using a sword, we are often bothered by the sageo, this is the long flat rope made of silk, leather or cotton, hanging down from the kurigata (the little piece of wood on the scabbard through which the sageo is inserted).

Peace time samurai would use it as an adornment with a fancy way of knotting it onto the scabbard. Obviously they were not fighting anymore and had the time to spend making beautiful but useless knots. In traditional sword schools (from mid Tokugawa, Meiji and until today) there is a whole set of etiquette on how to fold, put it on or in wearing it; however this has nothing to do with its original use. On the contrary it looks to me that the modern Japanese had to find a way to put it into use because they had no clue about what to do with it.

The Bujinkan deals with the Muromachi period of warfare, and making knots was not a priority for these warriors. Sensei commented that the “real sword masters were the tachi masters and that those using a katana used it because they did not know how to use the tachi”. Even though it seems a little harsh, this is right, when you become aware of the power of the tachi you understand the devastating possibilities created and how it can benefit your fighting abilities. To get a clear image of tachi waza think about the military world of today. Military men carry the equipment they have to be more efficient, they don’t wear equipment to look good. In order to stay alive they “adapt” their gear to their body, and to the situation. This brings us to the conclusion that the sageo had to be useful in some way.

First the sageo is a rope and a rope is used to tie. Tachi kumiuchi implies the use of yoroi (Japanese armour) and the upper part of the yoroi is supported above the hip bone by a big large obi (belt). Remember that the yoroi is moving quite freely around the torso because when you ride a horse the cylinder of the has to be able to move up along the body. Actually there is a lot of free space between your flesh and the plates of the yoroi. This kûkan gives dynamics to the yoroi and permits to receive heavy blows while dissipating the power of the hit.

 This belt was thick and round to support the and had three major uses: 1) It positioned the above the joint of the hip to free the movements of the leg. Without it the would cover the hip bone and prevent the legs from moving. Try the yoroi without it and you will be stuck in your footwork. 2) The is made of a heavy metal plates that would crush down the sides of your hip bone and create a lot of pain. The belt cushions the weight of the onto the hips. 3) The belt would carry many weapons by sticking them to the body/yoroi for easy use.

Using the belt for carrying weapons however does not concern the tachi which was hanging down low on the thigh and not on the hip. A tachi is not a katana and the holster bears two strings separated by about the width of the hand to hold the scabbard of the tachi. In comparison the katana is held at the koiguchi (tip of the scabbard). The holster is continued by a long sageo tied around the body and/or the waist to keep the sword in place and allow easy drawing in any situation. The sageo is tied up in the same way you tie your hakama. You do not make knots but fold it half crossed until the final knot.

Actually the sageo is connecting the sword to the body making it a “natural” extension of it. In 1991, I remember that sensei taught me many ways of tying the sageo around the body and the waist in a nearby temple in Noda for the sake of taking pictures (all pictures came out blurred). I forgot all about it until recently when we began to study the tachi kumiuchi.

Tied up properly, the sageo is an important device when using the tachi as it keeps the blade from swaying away from your hands and body and keeps it always ready for drawing. In tachi waza, the tsuka goes to the hand by the momentum created by your footwork. You do not grab it because you don’t see it as your vision is impeded by the kabuto (helmet) and the mask. With the sageo your movements and your sheathed blade are connected at all times.

Last year, when we studied the nawa we learnt the concept of connection, that all our movements were connected like a rope and that our weapons should move like a rope.  During daikomyôsai, sensei insisted that we should not severe the connection with a) our environment, b) our opponent(s) and c) ourselves. That was “en no kirinai”.

Because the tachi is used katate (one hand) and because the movements are very similar to those of hanbô jutsu, we can manifest this connection with the tachi as we are able to change hand (right to left and left to right) many times during the fight to get uke’s balance. Uke is blinded by the multiple angles created and cannot interpret our moves and therefore cannot counter them. The quality of our connection to nature, is “dis-connecting” him from himself, uke is only able to react to our multiple moves until it is too late for him.

But the quality of this connection isn’t limited to the manifested level of things by is also deeply related to Life. Playing with Japanese language, as usual, we have to see the connection between “sageo” (sword knot) and “sagasu” (to seek, to look for). So we can “look for” a deeper understanding of it. At a more spiritual level we see that further to our connection to the weapon (physical world), all our actions are linked to nature, and to the kami (spiritual world).

We are able to use the kanjin kaname, the eyes and the heart of the gods in our actions and stay fully connected to the ten chi jin of nature. In a Bujinkan dôjô each class begins with the following uta (Japanese transmission of wisdom):






In his book “Chi-haya-Buru, a Japanese cultural treasure”, Craig Olson explains the deep meaning of it. “The Japanese Uta”, he writes, are “originally a form of oral transmission, (…) [the] venerable ancestor to the Haiku, (…) a link back to the origins of Japan (…). (page 3). A few pages later, when explaining the second sentence meaning “the teachings of kami” he writes: “the implication is that there was a personal connection between the composer of this uta and the kami that was passing along valuable lessons”. (page 51).

What we see, what we perceive is not the full reality. The quality of our connection makes it possible to integrate unseen information in order to survive and to live fully. “Developing the ability to understand the nature of our interaction with things that we cannot see is vital to our survival” (page 61). Tachi kumiuchi is bringing us to this level of understanding sensei’s budô.

Tachi kumiuchi is the key to encompass nature in our movements and the proper use of the sageo is what is connecting us to this new dimension. Positioned at the hip level, the sageo links the upper part of the body to the lower part; the ten to the chi and allows us to be moving like a jin (kami?).

So why do we wear a sageo? to be connected, to become one, and finally to become zero.


Since Solkan Europe has released  many new products in the last six months I feel that I should elaborate on our products and answer the many queries that I have received  at

Our partner has edited and released all our new DVD products.

Solkan Europe released the DVD “jin ryaku no maki volume 1″ long time ago and many wanted to know when part 2 would be available. Last July with our partner we did it. This is a DVD dedicated to the intermediate and advanced student.

Then in October 2010  we had a 5 days seminar covering all the Ten Chi Jin ryaku no maki. As you know the ten chi jin is the basic program of the bujinkan that each student must know in order to get to the black belt. From this we did for christmas a set of 3 DVDs entitled: Ten ryaku no maki 2010, Chi ryaku no maki 2010, and Jin ryaku no maki 2010. These DVDs are intented to the young black belt (or soon to be) as a means to review the basics and fundamentals of the Bujinkan. They show all the techniques of the three levels but do not dwell too much into the explanations. The jin part of the ten chi jin set  is a totally new version (more basic) different from the other 2 DVDs jin ryaku volume 1 & 2.

In March we released, from the same footage, the Ten ryaku Extended version (4 DVDs) and the Chi ryaku  Extended version (3 DVDs) as we figured out that we had more than 30 hours of explanations! These two sets are intented to the non black belt and complete the teachings received in the dôjô.

A few weeks later, we released the Bujinkan Kyû Program (BKP) which is using still the same footage. Each DVD box contains a mix of the ten chi jin techniques required for each kyû and presented each in a 2 DVD box. So far, the 9th kyû, 8th kyû, 7th kyû, and the 6th kyû are available on

 Next month we will release the remaining kyû grades (5th kyû to 1st kyû) that will complete the whole series with the rest of the taijutsu techniques and the weapon basics. Last February we recorded a 4 day seminar covering the basics of all the major weapons: tantô, kunai, shotô, hanbô, jo, biken, bô, yari, and naginata.

The complete syllabus detailed in the three books of the memento (beginner – vol. 1, intermediate – vol. 2, advanced – vol. 3) includes all the taijutsu techniques from the ten chi jin plus the basics of the small, medium size ang long weapons.

The buki waza sets (small, medium and long) will also be available  soon (May or June) and sold separately for the teachers. Unlike the techniques demonstrated in the BKP (5th kyû to 1st kyû) many weapons include also the kaeshi waza (counter techniques) that give a deeper understanding to the study of weapons. This is the first time these techniques are demonstrated on a DVD! The buki waza sets are dedicated to the confirmed black belts (to this date, the editing being in process we do not know yet if each set will include 2, 3 or 4 DVDs).

In order to make this whole explanation easy to understand:

Kyû: BKP from 9th kyû to 1st kyû in 2 DVDs, covering the whole ten chi jin and the buki waza.

Young black belt and shidôshi: the Ten Ryaku no Maki  Extended (4 DVDs), the Chi Ryaku no Maki Extended (3 DVDs), the Jin Ryaku no Maki (vol. 1 & 2 – 2 dvds).

Confirmed shidôshi: the ten chi jin 2010 set (3 DVDs), and the 3 buki waza sets (small, medium, long).

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!

Are you a true shidôshi?

Sunday – Honbu dôjô – April 4th

Each Japan trip, the first class with sensei is always some kind of event and this Sunday was not different. He began by a long speech about chivalry playing with the meanings of kan – kanroku (dignity, presence) and kanpeki (perfection) which I found interesting after what we said about perfection in the last post.

Even if the “path of perfection is as important as the path of failure” (HS – March) our attitude has to be the one of a knight (kishi) focusing on his goals even at the risk of his own life.

Yesterday, sensei reminded us that Japanese words always have several interpretations, so we might see here a link with the “ku-kishi(n)” and become a knight without intention. As he said, “tori has to become transcendent, clear because this is the way of rokkon shôjô. (…) We should be able to have the creativity of a music composer and do techniques sometimes with a touch of humor, with a smile” (HS – March). But the technical aspect of our actions is not important, what matters is the result in becoming a true knight, a true human being.

To develop this chivalry (kishidô) attitude is a long process and many practitioners are not close to achieve it, but it goes here as well as with everything, perfection takes time and a lot of work. You can move the needles of your watch forward (technique) but this will not change the time passing (feeling). Kanpeki (perfection) is a long process requiring patience and commitment.

In India it is said that an elephant knows the time of his death. Death is the inevitable end of life and we must be aware that it is coming at one point. As sensei said yesterday we have to understand that what we learn in the dôjô is the link between life and death. A real knight should not be afraid of death as it is the logical end of the path. In March he said that: “”If you can smile in the face of your enemy you are a real master – if your enemy dies with a smile in his face – thats rokkon shôjô“.

Even though it sounds a little serious, we have to keep this ability to laugh in any situation and face the consequences of our actions without having any second thought. I often tell my students to be “face value” and responsible of their actions. Whatever we do in life is interfering with others and we should act properly. What we are learning through budô is a way of Life not a set of techniques. The techniques are the excuse to help find the solution to the questions we have. By training death techniques we learn how to become more human and to be alive. Every action bears some kind of knowledge and even if our experiences are not nice to live we have to learn from them this is the true meaning of “shikin haramitsu daikomyô”. Through permanent training in the form we discover that whatever we experience is positive at some point.

This is always a win win situation.

By understanding the values of chivalry, by becoming a knight we accept death and laugh at it like a real master. This is what the Bujinkan is all about.

By the way, did you notice that kishidô includes shidô, “samurai code” or “chivalry”? One of the meanings of shi being death therefore a shidôshi can be seen as a human who died to himself to become a perfect knight, i.e. a bujin, a military spirit connected to his environment.

So are you a true shidôshi?

Efficiency, beauty and elegance

Narita 4:15pm April 3rd

This is Saturday in the middle of the day. The custom process was so long that I miss the bus to Kashiwa therefore I have to wait two hours. This 41st flight to Japan went fast, I slept.

While queuing I was watching the efficiency of the Japanese officials at the immigration compared to the ones in Paris. After more than twenty years visiting Japan to train with sensei, I am always amazed at their working attitude. Back in 1980, I remember watching a man sweeping the street and staring at him for a long time. He was acting as if the whole economy of the country depended upon the quality of his work.

Efficiency here in Japan is not only a word it is a philosophy. This is the same when it comes to training in these ancient waza regrouped in the nine schools of the Bujinkan.

What is efficiency all about? It is about surviving, about staying alive. In a highly competitive society or in a fight the rules are the same. One has to do what is necessary not to be destroyed. Too often, the westerners are looking for something looking good, or exotic. Fighting or living is not about beauty it is about keeping your life.  And if you can reach the beauty in your actions this is on top.

It is like the sword. We have heard many teachers for years saying that you should not damage your sword when fighting and always block with the mune. Even if it is always better to do that in order to keep your weapon in good shape, the real question is: “do you prefer to save your blade or your life?” In the classical 47 ronin depicting the values of samurai, the author explains at the end during the final battle in Kira’s household that the hero whose name I don’t remember right now was fighting so much during that day that his sword resembled a saw at the end as the ha was totally damaged! I guess that he decided to protect his life rather than protecting his blade.

In my opinion this worshipping of the sword is quite modern and must have taken place when Japan was already pacified and under the strict tokugawa dictature (1603-1862). But in the old days, the ones of the Tachi, only efficiency on the battle field mattered. The image of the invincible samurai spread by the Japanese government during world war II to gather the national feeling and relayed extensively by westerners having no understanding of the Japanese culture is the reason for this mistake.

The Bujinkan is about training in the ways of the muromachi era where those modern values didn’t replace yet the true value based on the individual. So do not be so concerned about looking good. As sensei said it recently, “the path of success is important and the path of failure is as important too”.

In 2004, we entered the world of Yûgen no sekai or the world/dimension of elegance. The whole idea was to counter the attack before uke actually launched it. In short, we are blocking the decision before the attack comes. Funnily the Japanese language considers this ability as being elegant. The least we can say here is that this yûgen/elegance is pure efficiency and pure beauty.

Now if we look at it from a different perspective, we understand that beauty and elegance exist already when they are not manifested, not visible yet (we move before the attack). From that we can draw the conclusion that beauty is not physical, but that it is a truth transcending our vision of the reality perceived by our senses. Maybe this is why sensei introduced shiki, the sixth sense the year after during the kasumi no hô year.

Shiki is total awareness and this is what brings efficiency in everything we accomplish. When shiki is within your actions, then mushin can be attained.

The importance of Basics

I was speaking the other day with a young teacher, student of mine and I was happy to hear that “kamae and ukemi” were the key to understand the whole Bujinkan taijutsu“.

For this teacher, this was like a revelation! Sometimes in our lives we find a book that opens up a total new perspective of life. This comment to me is of the same quality. After training for many years and thinking that you know your basics,  you become suddenlyaware of a different quality in your basics. As Durckheim wrote one day: “the quality of the depth depends upon the depth of the quality”.

By repeating and teaching those basics (here kamae and ukemi), one day you cross an invisible border deepening your understanding of the whole picture.

The foundations of taijutsu lie in the permanent polishing of your basics this is why they are so important. Whatever your rank, training and teaching those basics is the key to generate new freedom in your own movements and reach this natural movement that sensei refers to.

Each class, whether you are a beginner or not (this includes also the high ranks) should “generate” this new depth in your understanding.

I always push my students to open their own dôjô to give them a chance to get to this “enlightenment” more rapidly.

One day I remember sensei telling me: “arnaud you have to teach what you have to teach, and you have to train what you have to train”. It took me along time to understand this Bujinkan koan. Today my feeling is that through the teaching of your students, you are actually teaching yourself more intensely that if you were attending a class. The teaching process forces you to find solutions to problems you never suspected before because each one follows different mental patterns. 

To use a metaphore, I would say that you understand the plate in which you are serving the food. The student is mainly interested in learning as many techniques as possible, and as a teacher you supply them endlessly. At one point though, you begin to consider the plate itself (the support) without which the food could not be served. This plate, this support in the Bujinkan are your basics;

Remember that a teacher is only an old student, even if too often high ranks tend to forget it. When in Japan, my mindset is the one of a true student and I make the same mistakes as everyone during sensei‘s and the shihan classes. But this is how we get a chance to evolve, and we have to create this chance as often as possible. Now what gives us access to this are the strong basics we keep training and teaching in the dôjô.

Natural movement cannot be attained without a permanent study of the basics. And these basics well understood will, one day, unveil a new reality. In a way this is exactly the process detailed in the shu ha ri (see previous posts).

So, next time you come to teach or to train in your dôjô and once the class is over, please ask yourself:

“what did I generate today?”

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