Blue Pill or Red Pill?

Each time I return from Japan I keep thinking on the many things and ideas that sensei has given us during his classes. This is some kind of ritual that has developed into a necessary step for me to go further.

During one of his recent class Hatsumi sensei was saying: “I do not teach you death, I teach you Life”. But what is Life? Thinkers and philosophers have been dwelling on the subject for centuries and even though their conclusions are all interesting, what good is it for us poor budôka lost on this bujinkan path? To understand where we stand and discover how to handle this question we have to define “Life” according to our budô practice. Life is not death. Death is the easy way as once you are dead the physical life is no more the problem. Actually from a limited perspective death is the simplest solution but to develop our potential and become a bujin, a true human being we have to stay and build a life that is worth it.

The theme of this year, rokkon shôjô, gives us a hint. To be alive is to be happy but how to reach this happiness? Happiness is a positive state of mind that overwhelms us whatever hardship we endure. A climber on a new mountain path is often facing new challenges that push his abilities to their limits. Even if the climbing is tough and difficult, the happiness he encounters when reaching the summit is total. Actually the harder the path, the more happiness it generates. When things are easy we are pleased, when they are hard to get success makes us happy. When you learn a new movement in a class it takes time to reach this ETL (cf. previous articles on this blog). At first we are so wrong that it looks that we will never make it correctly. But after hard work and many mistakes we find the solution. We are finally happy like the climber on the summit (and if we can duplicate the movement we get even happier). Commitment to success is the key to happiness and as Saint Exupery wrote it, the most important part on the path is not the final destination but the many obstacles we had to overcome to get to the end.

Success is not given (and sometimes not achievable) but it triggers all our strength to reach it. Humans can do everything they want as long as they really try hard enough. Limiting our dreams to a dream state is wrong and the bujinkan leads us to understand that. You are what you want to be and not what the others want you to be. I see this like the blue pill and the red pill in the movie “the Matrix”. The bujinkan is the pill that breaks our illusions and gives us another choice for our lives.

So Life is about being yourself, leaving the omote and unfolding the ura. The tools we have to develop this ura are called: responsibility, courage, commitment, honesty.

Responsibility: You are responsible for your actions, always. You’d better accept it now because Life is about being “face value” and responsible. Responsibility is not taught at school or to put it better is not exactly what we are taught at school. Our educational system is mainly based on not doing things (don’t touch, don’t do this, don’t smoke, don’t drink). The power of the “don’ts” have shaped our behaviors year after year until we feel “happy” living within the norms of Society. This is not being responsible on the contrary it is blending with the common accepted life defined by others that keeps us in a “child state” during our whole life. This “sheep life” is a “cheap life”. The day you pushed the door of the dôjô is the day you have decided to be in charge of yourself and live your own life. Being responsible is the first step towards adulthood. But this requires a lot of courage.

Courage: We have to develop courage in all our actions. Courage is not something you can learn in a book it is something you build with time within yourself. It implies that you stop limiting yourself. One interesting thing about our self limitations (I cannot, I do not know, it is impossible, it’s too hard) is that you will always reach them. We are afraid of what we do not know so we create limitations to stay in the realm of the things we know. Courage is the opposite, it is going where we never went before and discovering new sensations (kankaku) and learning from new experiences. Fears are made by Society and the bujinkan helps us in many ways to push our limits and face our deepest fears and become better humans. Fear is a security attitude towards the unknown where courage is to adapt to the things that are unknown to us and for which we do not have ready-made answers. Courage is important but it requires a lot of commitment.

Commitment: Without commitment nothing can be achieved. Attending the classes in your dôjô twice a week is not commitment it is a routine! Commitment is the willingness to be the best amongst your peers. One of my favorite motto is primus inter pares or “first amongst your peers”. Being the first is ego if it is a personal decision but when the group recognizes you as the best and choses you as their leader, no one is unhappy. In the old days the chief of the tribe was the one chosen within the group to lead them to a better life. Leaders were chosen not imposed. The quality of your commitment to yourself and to your training is the foundation of your success. Whatever you want to achieve in your life requires true commitment, after all it is only between you and you and no one is going to walk the path for you. Your sensei is not going back from where he stands far away on the path to carry you on his back, you will have to walk on your own; he is a guide not a driver. Life is based on being committed and from the quality of your commitment depends your success. Being the first amongst your peers requires a strong commitment and strong values. From those many values, honesty is the one that matters the most.

Honesty: Cheating your way through life is a short vision, short term process. Be true to yourself and to others in life as in the dôjô you cannot cheat the others very long on your real value. Many high rank teachers in the bujinkan cheat their students on their technical abilities and often turns to some “spiritual esoteric path” to avoid facing the truth of their emptiness. If you have to be honest with others the main point is to be honest to yourself because you will be living with you for the rest of your life. Cheating others is not nice but cheating yourself  is wrong and stupid. Honesty is to be aware of who you are and where you stand; this is the starting point of your life as a true human being. Knowing what you are and who you are you can define the path to excellence in order to live a happy life.

Life is being able to read between the lines as sensei often says and about understanding that whatever you want you have the power within you to obtain it. Honesty gives you the starting point; commitment allows you to go further; courage pushes your limits; and the sense of responsibility makes you shine and recognized by your peers as the primus inter pares.

You can be who you want to be; do what you want to do; achieve all your dreams; and become a bujin, a true human being!

One day you have decided willingly to choose this difficult path, so now it is up to you to bloom or not. Hatsumi sensei doesn’t teach death, he teaches Life.

So, ura (red pill) or omote (blue pill)?

Be happy!

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

9 thoughts on “Blue Pill or Red Pill?”

  1. It’s hard when life tells you that you are doing things wrong….many signals, like the words of this blog……its like a fudo ken to the chest…so, I’ll start all again….like a reset button and try to be honest to myself.

    Thanks for the blog, helps me a lot….came to me just at the right moment….


  2. Some very great insights, that make me ponder. This morning as I face my day, I thought how the body, the physical, the world of matter, is action in motion. Often, the idea is that the physical means solid matter, stable, stationary, but even matter is filled with motion within its core of atoms in order to create the form we perceive. So, from this I thought that all my goals and plans, born from my willful spirit, modified by the thoughts and emotions of my mind, are brought into being in my commitment to the physical, which requires action to be realized. Creation of the matter of my life in the physical is something I need to activate daily. This post has furthered my thoughts and once again I am glad that my earth life was touched by the gift of Bujinkan Budo.


  3. This was a truly enlightening and humbling post. Thank you very much for it. I have been giving this post a lot of thought recently. It occurs to me that perhaps the first step towards developing courage is to cultivate a keen awareness of good vs. bad fear. Some would argue that all fear is bad but it seems to me that good fear keeps us alive while bad fear keeps us from truly living, as you mentioned. The trouble is, when we feel a fear of stepping outside our artificial limitations, the central nervous system doesn’t differentiate between that fear and the fear of standing at the top of a cliff with only rocks below. In both cases, the impulse is to retreat back to safety. If we train ourselves to be keenly conscious of this distinction, I think the courage to overcome bad fear would come more easily once we see that the thing we are afraid of is empty.

    Thank you once again for this. It has helped me a lot and will continue to do so.


  4. Dear Sir

    I’m new to Bujinkan arts but just wanted to say that this is a fantastic article and to me it applies to life in general more than anything else.



  5. Dear Arnaud.
    I read this post a couple of times now, and I learn many new things, and reawaken things forgotten.
    I value your transmission on this site very much, and I have only one request;
    Keep writing 😀

    Best Budo Wishes
    your Buyu Jasper


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