Henso Jutsu Is Not What You Think It Is


Invisibility is hensô jutsu

Yesterday Hatsumi sensei referred to hensô jutsu indirectly when he spoke about the seven ways (of disguise) or shichi hô de.

Those seven disguises allowed the spies to blend in the daily lives of ordinary people and to gather information or pass undetected.

Here is one of the list of these 7 disguises:

  1. 出家 shukke – buddhist monk
  2. 虚無僧 komuso – itinerant priest
  3. 浪士  ronin (or tsunegata) – wandering samurai
  4. 商人 akindo – merchant, tradesman
  5. 楽士 gakushi – musician
  6. 山伏 yamabushi – mountain warrior
  7. 旅芸人 sarugaku (or tabigeinin) – performer, entertainer

Those disguises might have been very helpful in feudal Japan, but I honestly doubt they would be of any use today in modern Japan. What is interesting is that sensei referred to that in a “gyaku way” during the class. We are used to see those lists of “ninja fields of expertise”. But to me this is the omote of our art.

The ura side is more interesting. What sensei wanted us to understand yesterday was not to disguise ourselves for some james bond kind of mission but to be aware of the type of clothes the attacker is wearing and to adapt our techniques accordingly.

Today this list would be more like: businessman, delivery guy, mailman, police officer, young gothic or rasta, electricity company employee, thug, etc. And this list is not limited to seven. Each one of these persons is wearing different clothes and accessories making the fighting more difficult (or easier) depending on those “uniforms”. One of my student who is now jûgodan once fought a rasta guy with dreadlocks, the rasta guy was nearly bald at he end of the fight.

The same would happen if you had to fight someone wearing a heavy leather jacket, a backpack, or a bathing suit. How do you find a kyûsho 急所 on a leather jacket? how would you deal with close distance against someone with a backpack or even a bike? how would you grab naked skin? Obviously the written technique of yore would not be sufficient.

Sensei’s budô is about adaptation and a tie, a pen, a phone, a backpack or a coffee mug can become tools to deflect or launch an attack. When we train in the dôjô the possibilities are limited as we are all dressed in the same way. This is why the introduction of the yoroi kumiuchi in 2003 was such an important evolution in the bujinkan system because once you understand the multiple possibilities of fighting the yoroi (with or against it) you develop new skills not relying on a specific technique but based upon your level of consciousness.

Techniques are useless if you are not able to adapt your movements to the opponent’s actions. And this is why sensei keeps reminding us to use  hanpa (半端) or unfinished techniques to be in tune with the flow of things.

You begin a movement and let uke’s reactions and intention dictate the emergence of your next move.

Ayase Tonight


Ayase Budokan

I am just coming back from the Ayase class (exceptionally on Friday). The first class with sensei after four months of  diet is always a good experience. Before the class I gave him his “official” Yûro Shi Tennô t-shirt made specially for him and he wore it right away. This is our little “post Paris Taikai ritual” that has been going on for a few years now.

As usual he asked me to open the class and we did a nice “flowing” movement receiving an attack in a very soft uke nagashi, moving uke off balance with the footwork, changing hand an ending in a sort of omote gyaku. No grab, no violence, only a nice nagare keeping uke in motion preventing him from attacking twice and taking his balance. On top of that sensei did it better with less movements and a better efficiency. I guess this is why he is the teacher and me the student. Every time I have the chance to demonstrate a technique I am always amazed at his ability to simplify my movements and to make it so good that I cannot reproduce it, even though it was my movement in the first place.  I did three other techniques during the class and  each time sensei was developing more flow by moving less. when you watch him moving you easily forget that he is over 80 years old. He looks like a young man!

His natural movement is really like “magic” as he is able to grab a form and to add life into it. When you are his uke you feel no danger at all and when he controls you on the ground he is hardly touching you, but you still cannot move. In fact this is not that you cannot move, you could but you do not want to move as if his presence manifested by a very slight physical contact was draining any intention of retaliation from your brain. All those who have had the chance to be his uke can tell you that. Power is expressed in such a subtle way that your decision process is blocked. In a way you feel so safe that you are not willing to move anymore.

Today during the class sensei covered many aspects of budô. He  insisted on the importance of understanding the juppô sesshô to be able to fight without fighting and to be in control of the utsuwa (– ki) with our tamashii ( – kon). He didn’t use these terms from last year but this is the easiest way to express it. In one technique that  I did that was ending with yoko nagare, he insisted that we move in a direction opposed to the other possible opponents. That is what I prefer in the bujinkan training. It is not only two fighters but always more than two fighting and our actions should unfold in a natural manner in order to stay protected in any directions potentially dangerous. The movement is limited and by using uke as a shield we are able to protect ourselves using our first opponent against his partner(s). This is to me the real difference between sport martial arts and true budô. In the bujinkan strength is not the point and violence is useless, the whole thing is to develop the correct attitude to help us flowing without thinking in  the action.

The true movement is not a technique it is a response to a situation where no preconceived answer can be applied. Sensei insisted once again in not grabbing the opponent. When you grab uke you are actually showing your intention, grabbing yourself, and freezing your flow. This is why he insisted again in the juppô sesshô concept in the sense of “negotiating” (折衝 – sesshô) in all directions (juppô = 10 directions). On controlling uke he said that we have to control uke not with our strength but with our legs activating the kûkan (空間). The known concept of yubi ippon jubun (one finger is enough) to control uke was used extensively to create the sanken (a series of three hits) followed rapidly in different part of the body and to prevent uke from thinking properly or understanding what is happening. We did also techniques against kicks and used the kake taoshi hitting uke to sai with sokki ken. Once again sensei insisted that we hit with the body not the knee. He used the same explanation when controlling uke on the ground “choke him with kûkan” by using your legs.

Finally he referred to henso jutsu explaining that historically there were 7 ways to disguise yourself (cf. sarugaku, kumuso, yamabushi, hokashi, sukke, tsunegata, akindo). But this was for us to understand that we must adapt the techniques to the type of clothes worn by the opponent. Part of our study of budô should be dedicated to learn how to adapt a given technique to the type of cloth the opponent is wearing.

In conclusion quite a nice class full of tips and tricks to work on in the future weeks.

Tomorrow at lunch I am invited with a few other jûgodan in his second house. I will take a few pictures of Takamatsu sensei’s memorial and of the lunch and share them with you on this blog (hopefully tomorrow). Stay tuned!

Be happy!