Japan Update: Denki & Tenki

Today was a nice day, the weather was nice, not too hot and not too cold, and I learnt many new things. The reason why we come to train in Japan is to better our knowledge about proper movements and today was full of insights at all levels.

Erick "Mr Denki"

I spoke with two Swedish friends, Petter Swedin who is living and studying in Sapporo (Hokkaido) and his friend Erick who is studying electricity engineering here in Japan, and they explained the reasons why the Japanese have had some issues with their power grid after the tsunami. When in the 19th century electricity was first introduced to Japan it was through the Europeans. The Europeans are using a 220v/50 herz technology. When the Tokyo power grid has been rebuilt after the war by the Americans, they used a 110v/60 herz technology. So until this day Japan has been using two different power grids that are not easily compatible together.

Petter getting everyday more Japanese

After the Tsunami transferring power from one part of Japan to another proved to be difficult and with so many electricity production unit down it took them some time to be able to supply electricity to the whole country. This is a lesson from History.

Petter and Erick please feel free to add your comments if you need to add or precise anything.

I found it really interesting and my guess that in a near future when the Japanese will have recovered from this major disaster, they will find ways to unify their power grids so that it never happens again. Our actions are dictated by our evolution and past actions create the conditions of the present, and of our future survival. This is a true budô lesson.

Playing with the Japanese sounds, denki (電気), “electricity” can also be written as denki (伝記 ), “life story” but could also be denki (伝気), “transmission of energy” or tenki (天気), “energy of heaven” (weather). Therefore through the story of our training life we evolve from electrical power into the transmission of the energy of heaven. In other words we grow from chi no sekai (地 の世界), in the material world, to the ten no sekai (天の世界) in the spiritual world, through the connection of the jin no sekai (神 の世界) in the divine world! The link between heaven, earth and man is the step stone of the bujinkan tenchijin and forgetting it can prove to be painful and a big mistake.

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During our fist class of the day with Noguchi sensei we covered a big part of the jin ryaku no maki from the tenchijin. We studied many things but this class was for me like a real sanshin. First and in relation with what I just wrote, I finally understood gokuraku otoshi (極楽落し, falling from heaven). In this particular technique, the movement is applied onto the arm (ten) and finished by sliding uke’s leg to make him fall to the ground with jigoku otoshi. Actually you trap the jin by playing the ten (arm) and the chi (leg). That was an eye opener for me. I have been training bujinkan for over 27 years and I trained this technique many times but only now I became aware of its signification. As Hatsumi sensei wrote in “Unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai” on the introduction of the first level of the Gyokko ryû: “it is important to know the meaning of the names of the techniques”.

My second discovery was something Noguchi said during another technique. He said: “here you can do three things: oshi, otoshi, nage”. We are all aware of the differences between otoshi (落す otosu to make someone swoon) and nage ( 投げる nageru) but it was the first time I heard of oshi (押す osu to push). As this is often the case with what we learn here in Japan, it sounds so logical that “pushing” uke could be part of the technique that you always feel stupid not to have known about it in the first place. And again, this is why you have to come and train in Japan with Sôke and the shihan because each class will bring new insights on what you are supposed to know.

The last part of my sanshin for today happened when doing yume makura (夢枕) and for the first time in my many years of training I understood the difference between yume makura and te makura (even though I thought I knew it). Makura is the modern Japanese name for pillow (also to lead in), but as it is often the case with the evolution of languages the original meaning meant “support” so the “hand pillow” used to be a “supporting hand” pushing up onto the elbow joint. In yume (dream) makura, you are now supporting your dreams like the buddha lying down onto the ground and supporting his head.

In fact the whole secret is to use yori modoshi (寄り, to give up, and 戻し, returning or giving back) to transform the seoi nage into a te makura to bring uke down to the ground. The body action looks like a “8” loop moving forward with the seoi nage, pushing uke backwards in the direction of his tension, extending his arm and going down with him to the ground. The idea is to push/pull uke and togo up/down to bring him with you to the ground.

Noguchi sensei was brilliant as usual and I learned many details that will improve my whole taijutsu. Unfortunately, the class ended well before we covered the whole jin ryaku no maki. But those being in Atago next Friday afternoon will have the chance to study the remaining movements with Noguchi sensei.

The class with Sôke was also an eye opener (physically and mentally). Many students were there and many newcomers too. My friend Gillian freshly arriving from Australia was there too and I am always happy to see her. Whenever she is in Europe to visit her relatives, she hops by to my dôjô in Paris and train with us, and it is always a pleasure.

Thomas Franzen

Thomas Franzen from Sweden was asked to demonstrate a few techniques in his dynamic and efficient taijutsu and Sôke used them as a start for his painful techniques. He insisted again on the permanent use of the fingers to inflict pain on uke’s fingers or his face and that it was in the theme of this year. At one point he showed how to use the fingers on the face and how to inflict excruciating pain on a few kyûsho at hiryuran and jinchû at the same time. My partner for the class asked sensei to demonstrate the technique to him and he came back bleeding I am sure he will remember it for sure. The best way to learn is to ask Sôke to do it on you then pain becomes your teacher. Speaking of pain, Nakadai sensei, Shiraishi sensei and Yabunaka sensei were used many times and you could “hear” the pain. I now know that not only gaijin can scream, pain is universal! He also said something about kyûsho (急所) that Steve did a nice job translating sôke’s words for the whole but here he had a hard time getting it. Steve even said to his partner: “sensei knows I cannot translate that, so I guess this is part of my training”. The idea was that you don’t go for the kyûsho straight but only for the area around it, uke’s reactions will create the conditions of pain. Sensei often teaches at multiple levels and getting you off balance by forcing you to do things you are unable to do is part of his way of teaching.

Another thing that sensei said during the class is that you can outmaneuver your opponent by making him think that you do not know what you are doing. If uke thinks that you are a bad fighter, he will get a false sense of superiority speed up his downfall. After all deception is ninjutsu and inyo is everywhere!

Erick and Michael after training

Sensei was in a very good state of mind and we also did many sannin dori techniques, he said that movements do not need to look good, on the contrary and that sannin dori is the best way to develop actual fighting skills. And that you cannot find that kind of training in gendai budô, only in bujinkan.

After a very short break (there was no calligraphy session) sensei asked me to demonstrate a technique. It was some kind of tenchi inyo movement with seoi nage/harai goshi type of throw at the end. Sensei asked to demonstrate it a few times slower and slower and we played with this until the end of the class. Sensei added many painful finger grabs and multiple soft hits to disorient uke. When you receive multiple speedy slaps on the face and the body, your brain becomes unable to deal with all these information. There is no real pain only a flow of little pains as if you were fighting a bee hive or a poisonous jellyfish.

We also did some daisho sabaki movements with nearly each technique, learning how to use our sword or uke’s sword still in the belt and crushing uke’s fingers at the same time. Sensei said that this was real fighting skills and that it was quite far from the modern ways of sword fighting taught in the “traditional schools” in Japan. Finally we ended with a simple mutô dori technique where you go forward on the jodan kiri. Moving forward he said is the best way to avoid the cut as uke will avoid you. In real fight you create opportunities by not playing the game according to uke’s perceptions. If you try to dodge the cut you get cut but if you walk calmly towards uke then you can control his space and get a hold on his forward hand (and crush his fingers on the tsuka). A nice class full of pain and discoveries.

The sakki test session was strange as none of the four applicants could get it. They had only one chance. After the last one failed sensei decided to stop the sakki test, they will all have two more chances on Sunday. This was also a lesson as Sensei could feel that the conditions were not good last night so he adapted to the flow and canceled the second chance. The “givers” and the “takers” are not to be criticized, the moment was not correct and Sensei took the right decision. Knowing when it is time and when it is not time to do something is also part of our training. Ninjutsu is about awareness and developing the ability to seize a situation should be an important part of our training.

Sesnei leaving the dôjô with Someya sensei

At the beginning of the class, Anthony Netztler from New Zealand received the gold medal of the Bujinkan for his long training and achievement. We had a nice talk in the train going back to Kashiwa. Anthony has been living many years here in Japan and is one of the pillars of the bujinkan and he deserved this reward. In the past Sensei would give the gold medal mainly to the visitors and not to the residents I guess this is why Anthony didn’t get it a long time ago. Thank you Anthony for your presence.

How to get there?

While writing this article I met a Japanese woman Kazue san who spoke very good English and whose kids are training bujinkan with Duncan Stewart.

We had a very nice discussion about Japan, the tsunami, Fukushima and the way things are understood from the other end of the world.

Tsukasa Yakitori restaurant address

Her father has a yakitori restaurant called tsukasa (つかさ) in the same street as the Kashiwa Plaza Annex Hotel with a “ninja menu” in English (see map). I invite you all to eat there during your next stay in Kashiwa.

(modified end – a few hours later) After this post was sent, I got two messages from Duncan and Kazue san telling me that I got it wrong.

So somebody else from America wrote the English menu not Duncan. My mistake. But you can still complain to him if you are unsatisfied … if you dare to do it. 🙂

Be happy!

ps: thank you Ilona for your note 😉

Japan Update: Karada & Asobi

The protector of the dôjô

Since the big earthquake in March there is a new mask under the Shinden at the hombu dôjô. Sensei painted it in a bright orange color as this is the color for protection in Shintoism. The Torii (鳥居) at the entrance of the Shintô temples is often painted with this bright orange to indicate that the area is protected. Sensei explained Sunday during his class that he put it there to protect the dôjô. I like this mix of tradition and modernity always present in Japan.

On the budô side, today was a tough day for all of us as we had three classes. I gave a class at 11am, Nagato sensei at 2:30pm and Noguchi sensei at 7pm.

For those coming soon to train in Japan, please note that Hatsumi sensei and Noguchi sensei are teaching now their night classes at 7pm instead of 8pm. Please also note that the Budôkan being reserved for the refugees of the tsunami, all classes by sensei are held at the hombu dôjô until further notice.

I had the feeling today that a little less people than the other days were training so we had more space to train correctly.

Tsuki komi no henkaThe jûgodan are allowed to teach at the hombu and I have been doing it for many years now but somehow I always feel honored to be allowed to teach at the hombu dôjô and it is always a very nice experience. I taught today’s class in Spanish as only three participants were not coming from south or central America. All the other students were from Christian Petrocello’s group and coming from Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador and Chili. If you had a chance to visit their dôjô in their country don’t miss this opportunity they are really good people to train with, with a good heart, and committed to the bujinkan. I guess that the charisma and technical level of Christian created this feeling amongst his students. Thank you Christian.

The first part of my class was dedicated to taijutsu and we reviewed the differences between kosshi (骨子), koppô (骨法) and ninpô (忍法) as well as the kamae of each level of the gyokko ryû: ten ryaku uchu gassho no kamae, fûten goshin gassho no kamae, hanno bonitsu no kamae, ending all in tenchi inyo no kamae. As these kamae are linked individually to each one of the three levels of the school, they give a better understanding of the school syllabus and progression. After a short break we reviewed the sword techniques demonstrated by Hatsumi sensei in his previous classes last week. They were mainly based on the variations of tsuki komi from the kukishin ryû and use the whole body (karada – 身体).

Nagato sensei after the class

Then at Nagato sensei’s class we did many variations on oni kudaki with a hanpa approach in which uke is trapped by his own reactions. The control on uke’s body is given by the distance created by the footwork and the use of the body (karada – 身体). Once again Nagato sensei insisted in not putting any strength and letting uke do the job for us. Piling up uke on his lower back and using his body natural reactions to trap him is always difficult but the many angles and distances demonstrated by him were so clear that many could actually do them at the of the class. Lesson: keep your body balanced and uke in a weak posture. Use no strength so that uke is not able to build up his reactions on it. Let him fall by his own body tensions. It reminded me of a sentence of Hatsumi sensei in a recent trip: “don’t use strength, uke is already using it!”. Nice class as alaways.

After a two hour break and some food, we began training with Noguchi sensei. When you come and train in Japan, you feel very tired after a few days but when you attend Noguchi sensei’s class his energy is so communicative that you feel more relaxed after it. Having said that, you still don’t get the “hows” and the “whys” but you feel richer after the class.

A serious attitude

Today Noguchi sensei did some koto ryû koppô jutsu variations around the first techniques of the school in his inimitable manner. His body flow is always amazing and even you think that you have it, it is nearly impossible to reproduce correctly. His energy fills the dôjô so totally his 90 minute class is over before you know it. We used the koto ryû particular footwork known as jûji aruki with every henka (変化), this was the main lesson of tonight’s class. Hatsumi sensei said in December that yoko aruki (gyokko ryû) is crossing the feet, toes heading in the same directions; where jûji aruki (koto ryû) is with your feet at a perpendicular direction. Again Noguchi sensei showed us that the use of strength was not necessary as the balance of uke is taken by our sole footwork and by the precise use of the body. As usual he did many henka using the spine and the neck and a few ones where he didn’t even use the hands. A rejuvenating class indeed.

After this long training day, and while I was writing this blog entry a new earthquake (richter level 4) hit the Chiba and Tokyo regions, and the hotel danced for a minute before calming down. If you are coming soon to Japan, please read carefully the note by Mark on his facebook page. Mark has been living here for more than twenty years and he knows what he is speaking about. https://www.facebook.com/notes/mark-lithgow/earthquakes-precautions-dont-trivialize-them/10150163604659044

Maria from Mexico, Noguchi sensei and me

Tomorrow Friday we have two more classes: one with Noguchi sensei at 2pm where we will be reviewing the jin ryaku no maki (from the tenchijin) and another one with Hatsumi sensei at 7pm. During Nagato sensei’s class he reminded us of the importance of asobi (遊び), the have the playfulness of a kid while training. In August Hatsumi sensei precised that playfulness should not lower our level of awareness, though. Being « seriously playful » is what is expected from us during training.

This also applies to what is happening here in Japan outside of the dôjô.

Be happy!

Japan Update: History & Training

Sensei at home Apr19th

Tuesday has been another fantastic day in Tokyo as sensei asked me on Sunday to meet him with Pedro and Kogure san (Quest videos) at his place at 5pm before training. The light rain and the cold weather that accompanied me from Kashiwa to Noda didn’t lower my pleasure of meeting sensei and my buyu brother Pedro.

When Pedro and I met in a Spanish Taikai more than 20 years ago we never suspected the particular tie that would bind us together during all these years. Even though I met Sôke at the London Taikai in 1987 (the first European Taikai in Europe organized by my other brother Peter King) and again in 1988 (Sweden Taikai organized by my other brother Sven), I want to thank Pedro again here to have introduced me to Sôke on my first trip to Japan. I think that without this special connection he has with our Sôke I wouldn’t have gone so far in the Bujinkan. Muchissimas gracias hermano!

And thank you also to the true friendship of my older Yûro Shi Tennô brothers Sven and Peter.

Sensei, Pedro and Arnaud

Anyway, at 5 pm Pedro, Miguel, Kogure san and myself met in Sôke’s house where he showed us some very rare documents including the original letter of surrender written and signed by Hiro Hito tennô and the 12 members of his government, the day before they officially surrendered. This document is so important that no financial value can be given to it. We also were honored to flip the pages of an history of the rulers of Japan realized for the tennô only with original ukiyoe print on a very special type of paper that resists all natural disasters so common to Japan: tsunami and earthquakes. A paper so special that a single blank page is worth 800 Euros… and they were more than 50 pages all printed with original ukiyoe… As a joke sensei said that this paper might be able to resist an atomic disaster… but was it a joke? He then showed us a 600 year old tachi (with a tsuka of 3 fists and a half).

Our budô is definitely not a sport and these few items he displayed especially for us is the proof that without this kind of knowledge your martial arts abilities are only a “puff of smoke” as they say in the Shinden fudô ryû. Sensei added that no Japanese were able to grasp that anymore, that this knowledge has disappeared today here in Japan and this is the reason why he is always referring to him as a “ufo” (since his first visit to the USA in the 80s). Japan has lost his history the forgotten the lessons it carried. To illustrate his point he told us that the technique to make the special paper that I spoke earlier of has been lost and that no one today in Japan knows how to do it anymore.

This introduction of our meeting was an excuse for him to tell us that if someone with the proper knowledge, connections, and structured organization was existing, he would give away everything he had to save this knowledge from disappearing. As you know sensei’s house is like a real museum and those documents he showed are far from being the most important things he has. Sensei said he also had in writings the fours parts of the Amatsu Tatara being like the four parts of the hearts or the stomach and that even that was not the best piece of his collection of historical data. But the most amazing to me was that he insisted that he would never sell it but was ready to give it for free if someone worth it was presented to him. Even Kogure san was surprised by all this. This was indeed a very special moment and thanks to Kogure san translations into English and Miguel’s ability to speak and understand Japanese, the connection between all of us was very good.


Then it was time for the class and we went to the Hombu where nearly 70 people were waiting for the class to begin. Senseis introduced the class by showing a special yari that he bought earlier on Tuesday on which a tube with hooks facing the tip is sliding on the pole allowing it to move faster when stabbing the opponent. It was another piece of historical teaching as sensei explained that when facing a weapon you have to understand the various (and sometimes illogical) ways of using it. In this particular case, he said that fisherman hooks known as hari (針) in Japanese could be attached to the sliding device in order to trap the skin or the yoroi of the attacker.

The main point in his class was the following: “be aware of what you cannot see, what you can see is easy to deal with, what you don’t see is what is really dangerous”. He uses the term “mienai” (見えない)which something that one cannot possibly see (in opposition to the “kakushi” term – 隠し). His point was to make us aware of the risk of invisible radiations these days.

We did many taijutsu and weapon techniques started by Pedro and Thomas and sensei insisted a lot on the importance for this year’s theme of the use of the fingers (Takagi Yôshin Ryû) to inflict pain in many different places. At one point we did a kind of ryô happa ken to the head changing rapidly the pain location by switching the intention from one finger to the other (below the jaw, above the ear, under the nose, inside the eyes etc). Another point is not to use strength so that uke is not able to use this strength of the hold to free himself from it.

On a choke attempt he showed how to move our shoulders in different ways (up/up, up/down) in order to change the size of the neck a technique we did 20 years ago during a daikomyô sai in Japan and where we all looked like little neck less dwarfs rocking sideways. This neck hiding technique is very useful when applying a kikaku ken (headbutt strike) as the shoulders protect the vertebra.

We also did a technique against a fist and kick (same side) attack in a kokû manner. The interesting point here was to apply the shutô to the attacking arm from inside at a 45° angle, then to receive the kick softly in the inside of the right elbow and sliding the body to the right to operate a kind of natural reversal of uke’s body by his trapped leg. Uke’s leg is captured inside your arm with your back to you and your hand can naturally grab uke’s belt. Sôke insisted on the importance of locking uke by the belt grab. Then sensei explained that we had to grab uke in the manner of an ice pick. The ice pick is hooking the ice but doesn’t go through it. From there uke is put down straight to the ground and locked there in pain by crushing his fingers with your fingers. This was the feeling we had to understand yesterday night.

On the sword henka of the techniques initiated by Pedro and Thomas, he showed us again how to draw the blade (nuku, 剣を抜く) from the scabbard without pulling it the hand but by using the tsuba to hook the attacking hand (grabbing or not) of uke. Sensei said that this was a very old way of drawing that has been lost like many other things in Japan warfare knowledge. At one point speaking of the yoroi, he said that a samurai would have at least 3 sets of yoroi depending on the seasons and that the winter yoroi would be covered with bear fur in the inside of it. And that also is not known by many gendai budô experts. Actually he was so critical on the sword abilities of modern practitioners in Japan that the camera had to be turned off!

We also did a very nice footwork technique where under a jodan kiri attack you do some kind of jûji aruki (not yoko aruki) turning your body nearly back to uke right side and rotating the blade (wrists are crossed) hitting uke directly in his attack. A very nice flow body flow quite hard to get in a crowded environment but saving a lot of space.

After going back to Kashiwa I had a meeting with Kogure san and while we were having dinner a very long (more than a minute) and soft earthquake shook the whole building. It was like having the metro passing under the floor… but we were on the 6th floor. Strange feeling.

As I said, another fantastic day in Japan indeed!

Budô is Mudô (2)

Oguri sensei with Tomiyama san

On Monday I had the chance to train with Nagato sensei and Oguri sensei and once again the complex simplicity (or the simple complexity) of their movements was amazing. I come to Japan three times a year and I still see the distance in levels between the Japanese Shi Tennô understanding and mine. The margin for progression seems huge (and I do not speak about Hatsumi sensei’s level)…

Last Friday Hatsumi sensei made one of his usual puns speaking of “budô” and “mudô” and even if it was the title for my last post on this blog I forgot to explain its meaning.

The kanji for “bu” (武) used for “budô” can also be pronounced “mu”. But “mu” (無) means “without, nothing, empty, emptiness”; like in Zen “mushin”, the no spirit no thinking attitude.

So when sensei said “budô is mudô” he said that “the path of budô was the path of no path”. This new pun playing with the sound emphasized once again the importance of listening to what he is actually saying in his teaching and understanding our budô from a much deeper perspective.

Budô being the path of no-path the bujinkan budô is the path itself and it cannot be expressed in words. The bujinkan arts beyond the mechanical aspect of the waza is simply a kankaku (感覚), a feeling. Training here at the hombu with Sôke is the only way to become able to “read between the lines” as he is pushing us to do regularly. The shidôshi not travelling to Japan to get their knowledge directly at the source, miss an extraordinary opportunity to develop themselves completely. Budô is more than a series of techniques, it is really a way of realization, a true art.

At lunch time on Sunday, sensei repeated his intention to build a jinja (神社), a shrine for the bujinkan and he was not speaking of religion here but of creating a place where the practitioners would find a training place building their taijutsu as well as their “shinjutsu” written 心術 (and not 針術 – acupuncture). If we see budô as the science of growing flowers, we can see the difference existing between learning to plant a seed, caring it, feeding the germ and making the flower blooming; and the art of Ikebana (生花) where the art is to express life through a special flower arrangement based on the tenchijin.

Moving from the physical world to the spiritual world is not the only possible through religions but also through budô.

“Budô is mudô” then makes sense. Our budô is nature and nature is without intention. Being is the solution and attending the classes with sensei transforms us into true human beings.

Nature is simplicity but a complex simplicity. This is exactly the same when you train here with sensei and the Japanese shihan. You watch their movements, you find them easy to reproduce and then you find yourself unable to reproduce them. This is the state of mind in which I was yesterday when training with Nagato sensei and Oguri sensei. One word to summarize that: “WYSINWG” (What You See Is Never What You Get.

Their movements yesterday were based on very simple basic techniques such as: omote gyaku, ura gyaku, katamune dori, ô gyaku but the way the expressed them were beyond the mechanical realm. They were “holistic”!

As I previously wrote it in my other entries on this blog, my words cannot express them correctly so this time I will not try to do so. Only if you were attending the classes can you have a slight chance of getting it. The classes in Japan are like the wind, you don’t see it but you see the movements of the leaves on the trees. Maybe this is why we say: “bufû ikkan”.

Nagato sensei during the tea break

This trip I am becoming aware, more than usual, of the unicity of their movement. A way to express that could be: “bujinkan budô is unity in multiplicity”. Natural movement deals with everything at the same time: uke, tori, the terrain, the feelings, the angles, the bones, the intentions. In fact you must get the general image in order to move simply and efficiently.

Let me state a few rules to make you understand what natural movement is (or should be):

  • the technique is always adapted to the body type of uke,
  • the body moves in one as the tenchijin is united,
  • the angles of the bones of both uke and tori are in harmony,
  • tori is never “doing it” uke is creating the conditions of his fall,
  • strength is useless as softness triggers uke to react more,
  • there is no technique only opportunities,
  • a book will never fight.

So let’s study ikebana and plant the seeds of our taijutsu to get into the world of shinjutsu. An remember that the meaning of this year’s kihon happô speaks about a new germination, sprouting (happô – 八方).

Be happy!

JUST7: Budô is Mudô

Bufû Ikkan Menkyô

Those last 2 days have been very busy budo wise. On the “nature and nuclear” side nothing to report, life here is as safe and normal as usual except maybe that the air conditioning is not “on” in the trains in order to save energy. And yesterday with over 23° some aircon would have been very nice on the back from Kashiwa.

Saturday we has two classes with Senô sensei and Oguri sensei, and Sunday two classes with Nagato and Sensei.

Saturday Senô sensei taught in his inimitable manner some apaprently simple moves that I had a hard time to reproduce (as usual). Event though words cannot express it properly I will try my best to set up the technical aspect of it. As you know only personal experience can describe it. uke is grabbing your right wrist and punches. Dodging the attacking fist with your left shoulder you step in to the right and apply shutô while doing a te hodoki on the grabbed wrist. Controlling the right arm of the opponent you continue to walk in and to the rear left of uke transforming the te hodoki in a grab, and lifting and extending the left arm of ule in order to control his balance. Uke is arched backwards and pressure is applied on his lower back by the pressure on his extended left arm. Very technical and soft at the same time. Footwork is capital here (I know this is knew) and the correct angling on uke’s arm to the shoulder allows the control with no strength at all. The whole class was based on this feeling. Lesson: move in a natural manner and get into uke’s space using a kind of koku feeling.

Oguri sensei’s class was good for two reasons. first it was the first class I had with him since his heavy surgery and I was pleased to see him again in such a good shape. As usual his fantastic knowledge about the human body; his power on the controls given with a “one body movement” were amazing. I played the uke a few times and even though he is much lighter than me, I was crushed by his body at all time. Once again it is hard to express with words. Technically we did katamune dori and ryômune dori but having said that there is no way to explain his “zero point” control of the body. The hands are controlling your body at all time but you feel it only when you try to move out of the control. Soft power is what comes to mind when experiencing it. It looked simple when watching it but was impossible to do when you tried. Classes like that give you the feeling that the path to perfection is far from reach. Lesson: go down on your hips by stepping backwards and moving your fingers around the grab(s) and rotate your whole body around uke to reach the zero point of balance. Oguri sensei explained to Tanaka san, Akira san and me that at jûgodan level, you do not have to step too much to the rear. It reminded me of the chûtô hanpa. You half apply the technique and uke’s reactions is finishing it for you.

Sunday at Nagato sensei’s class we did again some kind of katamune dori with a fist attack. And Nagato sensei used his elbows in an amazing way, going inside or outside depending on uke’s reactions. We did many henka ending with Omote gyaku, hon gyaku, musô dori, O gyaku; pushing on the elbows or in the upper  thigh to take uke’s balance. The way Nagato sensei is able to grab the attacking punch from behind his head at the neck level is impressive. This class passed like in a dream. Lesson: develop the flexibility of your wrists and do not finish the movements Uke’s reactions are the solution. The elbows are used freely and they should rotate in all directions together with the footwork to trap uke.

Sensei’s class was interesting as we did a lot of playing around a technique by Pedro using the hands, the sword in  uke’s obi, tori’s obi, or two swords techniques. Pedro’s technique was some kind of musô dori from a fist attack and applying a kind of take ori/O soto gake. Sensei used that in line going backwards and ending each one of his variations with excruciating pain at the fingers; He said again that his was the way of theTakagi Yôshin ryû.
At one point his uke screaming in pain he reminded us of a saying by Takamatsu sensei when he was his uke: “if you still feel the pain it means that you are still alive”.
When we began to do sword techniques, sensei also commented on the difference between the sport budo and the shinken budô where surviving is at stake in each encounter. What we do is not what they do and shouldn’t be compared in any way.

But for me the main event on Sunday was that I was rewarded a new diploma by sensei that gave me a strange feeling and let me dizzy for the rest of the class.

After the bowing, sensei called me in and I kneeled in front of him, and Nagato read the diploma to everyone. So far, I do not know the exact content of the text but it is a reward for my many years in the Bujinkan named “bufû Ikkan shin gi tai”. Basically it says that this honorary menkyo is given to me in the name of Hatsumi Sensei and the whole Bujinkan community to thank me for the consistency (bufû ikkan) of my training all over these years in learning the form and the spirit (shin gi tai) of the Bujinkan budô. the diploma is topped with a real golden bujin patch. And this is what is surprising me the most as this is the patch that only sôke is wearing on his gi. I know that we keep repeating “banpen fûgyô” (10000 changes no surprises) but I must admit that yesterday I was really surprised by the really formal way this diploma has been given to me by Sôke but also by the patch attached to it.

The Japanese Shi Tenno: Oguri sensei, Senô sensei, Nagato sensei and Noguchi sensei received it at the beginning of the year and last February, other old bujinkan members got the same certificate: Pedro, Paco, Natascha, Sheila (and maybe others too). For me this a major honor to receive this new diploma as it represents more than a nice text but also a new responsability. As you know each time we get a new rank we get a heavier weigh on our shoulders, this one is very very heavy.

Sunday lunch

After training, as it is often the case on Sundays, Sensei invited a group of high ranks for lunch and it was a very delightful moment, even more special for me yesterday after this reward. Lots of laughter and happiness were filling the atmosphere and the shoshu was not the only reason for it.

Be happy!

JUST2: Arnaud in Japan

Sensei and his two monkeys

Tonight was the first class of this trip. Selfishly I was hoping for a very small group and we were already around 30, it seems that fear is going away.

It was nice to meet my buyu and the Japanese Shihan again, but most important it was nice to see sensei and to train with him. He was in a great mood and I often question if he is really 81 years old as he moves like a young man.

What did we do tonight?

After I demonstrated a kind of musha + omote, sensei used it to apply many different omote, ura, musha and musô to his poor uke ending always by pressuring one or more fingers at the nail level. “this is the way yo control in the Takagi Yôshin ryû”.
The general idea is not to do a technique but mainly to react freely to the flow of the opponent until he gives you one or more fingers that you use to pin him down with a lot of pain.

Then Pedro did a very interesting mix of half-cooked movements trapping uke in his mind in such a way that exploding to the floor seemed to be the only logical solution. Uke attacks with a right Tsuki, you deflect it softly with your right hand by walking to the right (inside – ura); uke reacts to that and you begin an omote gyaku that transforms itself into an ura gyaku when goes to the ground in pain (quite similar to the omote-ura gayku of the gyokko ryû).  Very nice piece of Taijutsu by Pedro that many in the dôjô had a hard time too understand and to do.

From there sensei used the start of this half-cooked technique to develop once again on the “chutô hanpa”. He did like a dozen variations on this on one tsuki double tsuki, with two uke, etc.

Finally he did it with the sword in Uke’s belt (daisho sabaki technique) explaining a few times that the Tsuka, or the saya is going itself into the hand. “Don’t try yo grab it, it comes naturally into your hand”. Sensei stressed the importance in all the techniques to use the “karada” body instead of using the hand and the head. We can summarize that with the sentence: “don’t think or grab, don’t use power, walk”.

Calligraphy session: you can see the number of attendees tonight

At the end of the class we did a biken technique similar to the kukishinden ryû Tsuki komi np sayu gyaku. Uke attacks daijodan and tori move lightly and slowly to position the kissaki on the left wrist of uke. If uke tries to cut dô kiri, then tori’s sword rotates around the point of contact and deflect the blade naturally, tori lift his sword and hit (not cut) the right wrist with the power of the legs bending. Sensei insisted a lot on not cutting uke: “it is simple to cut, it is much more difficult to control uke without cutting him”. The secret is to move slowly with the body; Sensei added that what is common sense to sport budô (gendai budô and MMA styles) is uncommon sense to us. Fighting is not about power and speed it is about softness and slowliness.

We did many variations around this theme absorbing backwards while moving forward, giving uke a wrong sense of distance as explained by Nakadai sensei.
The class went fast like in a dream and it was already time for the sakki test. The bujinkan is richer by 2 shidôshi: Pedro did the sakki test on an Australian guy and I did it on a Swedish one. Speaking of which, Christian Appelt who tested heavy pain tonight under sensei was promoted to Jugodan, congratulations!

After the class sensei spoke to a group of jugodan and insisted once again upon the importance of jugodan working together and keeping the connection between us all. It reminded me of the “en no kirinai” studied last year.

He also spoke about the new book he is working on, called “ninja daizen” (I’m not sure about the title) that will expose many new things about ninjutsu (sensei spoke of ninja in Kyushu during the Edo period). He added that ninjutsu was not limited to the sole Iga and Koga clans… I guess we will have to wait for the book to be published to know more about that.


  • If you should have been here tonight and didn’t come: too bad for you!
  • The bujinkan is still alive and the many people coming from all over the world were there to prove it.
  • Sensei and all the shihan are in good health and life is back to normal (too bad you didn’t come).
  • Today: no earthquake, no tsunami, no radioactive cloud, but a very good class (too bad you were not there).
  • Tomorrow two classes: Senô sensei and Oguri sensei (yes he is back on Saturdays). I keep you updated.

PS: Many airlines have empty seats on their flights to Japan these days. The Kashiwa Plaza is quite empty too… it is still time to join us and train.. 🙂

Bô jutsu: Weapon of Consciousness

When in 1993 Hatsumi sensei began to teach the now famous “themes of the year” he decided to begin with the study of bô jutsu. It opened a five year cycle dedicated to the weaons of the bujinkan.Amongst all the weapons of the bujinkan the bô jutsu is the most complete of all with an extensive set of techniques and levels that influences greatly our taijutsu both at the technical and spiritual level.Sensei speaks of “roku shaku bô jutsu” (六尺棒術) and this is the title of his first bô dvd. But many see only the size of the weapon. It is right to say that in the past the roku shaku was the size of the weapon. As you know even if the Japanese government began to follow the metric system at the beginning of the 19th century he kept alive the kanejaku (矩尺), the old measurement system. Even today people refer to the size of a room in number of tatami (疊).One tatami represents the surface of a measurement unit called the “ken” (間) and which has a length of 6 shaku. Until the 19th century all temples, castles, and houses were built with this unit. For more on this please look for “kanejaku” on the net.

But when it comes to the training we have to keep in mind that Japanese people before the 20th century were not tall (often around 150 cm). So, for us westerners, in order to keep the same ratio size/length in the buki waza (武器), our long staff should have a length of at least 2m. Note that buki (技) means also technique or art…

Now, when sensei speaks of the roku shaku (六尺) he is speaking of shiki (識), consciousness (vijnana in buddhism). Sensei implies that bô jutsu is the key to reach shiki (識) the 6th element of the gogyô, consciousness. By training the many waza of bô jutsu you are in fact developing your consciousness and become able to use it in every aspect of your life. By introducing this concept of shiki back in 2005, sensei forced us to do a major leap in our understanding of the bujinkan arts.

And remember that training the weapon -omote (表)- develop our consciousness of life – ura (裏). This is why bô jutsu is so important in the bujinkan.

Bô jutsu is the first step to free our taijutsu from the form. But to free yourself from something you must first be “trapped” by it. But how is it possible to achieve formlessness from something you don’t know?

We have to learn and study a lot to get the forms correctly until we can strip the forms off.

The bujinkan is a paradoxical system in which we are looking for something “natural” by studying things that are “not natural”. In fact the bô is the entry gate for the weapons and the necessary step to take in order to improve our whole taijutsu.

Until now no tools were available to review all those techniques this is why we have decided to record them all. We have also added for each technique, the kaeshi waza (返し技) to show you how to win against the bô. It took us four days of recording to do so and many bruises too.

With www.koimartialart.com (online streaming) or with www.budomart.com (dvds) you can now discover or rediscover the richness of the bô jutsu from the kukishin ryû. We recorded all the techniques (11 dvds) to help you unleash the power of your taijutsu with this fantastic weapon.

The bô (棒) is the link to the ten (天) and the chi (地) to become a real jin (人), a shiki no jin, a conscious human being (識の人間).

By the way did you notice that the kanji for “ken” (間) is identical to the second kanji of human being (間) …

Tokyo VIP travel

JL408 to Tokyo

On Wednesday night at the airport it seems that the world has changed.

When I entered the boarding gate the room was empty or nearly. This is what one month of media howling have done! The news have been exaggerating so much the radioactive situation here in Tokyo that the whole world has the feeling that Japan is forbidden to go to. Once again I do not try to minimize the gravity of what happened but as Takamatsu sensei said:  “By opening his eyes and his mind, the ninja can responsively follow the subtle seasons and reasons of heaven, changing just as change is necessary, adapting always, so that in the end there is no such thing as surprise for the ninja”. So following Takamatsu sensei’s words please adapt to the misinformation and learn to read where the real dangers are. Fukushima Daiichi is a real problem but the radioactivity in Tokyo is far under the limits. Actually it is well under many other areas in Europe.

But let’s be honest, as a standard Frenchman  I love it when I have the feeling that I belong to some privilege group of people. And yesterday it seemed to me that I was belonging to the privileged group of “those allowed to fly to Japan!”

The plane, a Boeing 377-300 – no doubt the best flying machine in the sky these days – also was empty. I could have guessed it, though! and it reminded me of my early business years where I flew back from the Middle East one night with only 13 others persons. I love empty planes.

A B-777/300 can host 272 passengers and needs 13 crew members and 3 pilots to operate. We were 108 passengers traveling which, apart from the Buddhist symbol of 108, represents more than 1 stewardess per person!

The flight with JAL was awesome because:

  1. I had three seats for myself,
  2. I slept like a baby the most part of the flight,
  3. The food was good and served rapidly,
  4. I had an aisle AND a window,
  5. I got a lot of attention from the charming JAL stewardesses,
  6. the flight was quiet: no baby crying, old men coughing, or young playing,
  7. and JAL doesn’t stop in Seoul for obeying some pilot union (add 2h to your flight) and arrived on time 11 hours and a few minutes later!

It was like being a VIP or living in some kind of a dream.

A very quiet flight to Tokyo

Why was that?

Only because of the “nuclear terror auction” spread by the media since the catastrophe. For weeks they were not speaking about the 260000 people that lost everything but about something that sells more: “the terrible nuclear accident”. They got so much our attention that in the plane there were only Japanese people and nearly no one from Europe going to Japan and I guess that it will not change soon.

So if you want to train with a small group of buyu; if you want to enjoy calmness; and if you want to save money on your flight then do not hesitate, come now to Noda as this is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Training bujinkan is about learning to make good choices in life. Did you make a good choice recently?

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