Japan Trip April 2012 – Diary

I came back yesterday from a fantastic trip and I hope you have been able to share with me the things I trained in Noda.

I have been asked in Japan why I was writing so much*. It is to share with the community some of the knowledge we get in Japan with Sôke and the shihan. I hope it will help you to wait for your next trip.

These texts* and these pictures are my attempt to give a fair image of what is happening in Japan. This is why I have added many pictures to these texts.


I took many pictures and not all are good but please see them as a training documentary. Pictures being forbidden during training, you will mainly have pictures taken before and after the class. As today someone asked me to put a link here to access the pictures uploaded on facebook during my trip you will find them below:

The first album contains the first 10 days (over 500 pict):


and the second one only the last day (around 100 pict):


Enjoy and comment them if you feel like it.

*All the texts in this blog were uploaded in April. If you want to read them again, click on “April 2012” in the home page and they will appear.


Ultimate Teaching

Today was my last class with sensei during this japan trip and it was a very nice class where we could train also with long weapons. As sensei was coming a little late I was asked to begin the class and when sensei arrived, we started by a three tsuki attack demonstrated by an American friend. 

From there I got lost as sensei used no strength at all and was playing with uke as if uke was unable to see that he was going to die. Shawn Gray, after being sensei’s uke, commented that each one of the uke nagashi was piling up on top of the previous one, and that he became aware of his loss of balance only when it was too late. 

Sensei’s movements reminded me of some form of “kotonoma”, 空と海は (verb, sound) and “kokyû”, 呼吸 (breathing) demonstrated by Ueshiba sensei in his Aikido videos. Friday night he insisted to pay attention to the breathing of the opponent and to our own breathing too. If you hit uke while he is breathing in you increase the power of your hits. This is why you must take your time and wait for uke to breath in. If you rush to do the technique you will be less efficient. Timing is essential (kaname?).

When Hatsumi sensei is moving his body turns into the “chûshin”, 中心 (pivot, center) of everything. Even though he didn’t speak about “shinrabanshô”, 森羅万象 (all things in Nature) today, he was expressing it in each one of his movements. He was the “shinrabanshô no kaname”, 森羅万象 の要, the center of the whole creation.

Whatever his uke was doing he was speeding up the destruction process. Like in the theme of 2007 “kuki taisho”, 九鬼大笑 (the laughter of the ninth demon), tori has no fear. If uke attacks, he dies; if he doesn’t, he lives. That is his call. What was really amazing was to see how easily sensei, with very little movements of the whole body can deal with the opponent. It took me quite a long time (gracias Hector) to figure it out, and even when I got close to get it, I was miles away from sensei’s movements. Sometimes I find it frustrating to attend his classes. You see the technique, you understand it, and you are incapable. This can be quite depressing.

His movements are so subtle that if you don’t pay atttention to everything at the same time, you don’t see them. As Shawn said later, the motion of sensei’s hands is catching his attention and the body movements were getting his balance totally unnoticed. When facing sôke, you are drawn into a sort of “uzumaki”, 渦巻 (whirlpool) feeling, from which there is no escape. It is interesting to watch but it is scary to feel it. There is no strength at all and uke falls because he cannot be standing up anymore. From the observer’s perspective it is as if nothing is applied to him. It is magic!

Each point of contact between tori and uke (today mainly the elbows) turns into a kaname as sensei keeps pivoting softly using his legs to do that. He spoke again about kaname, explaining it to be the highest expression of taijutsu. Once you can find the kaname everywhere there is nothing impossible. But what is impossible is to understand it solely at the intellectual level. 

He said that this cannot be understood or acquired by “researchers”, it is coming from real experience, this is not mental. Over the years how many times did we hear him saying out loud: “don’t think!”. He also said: “there are too many researchers in the bujinkan and the kaname concept is out of their grasp as long as they keep their knowledge at the intellectual level. It was like what he told us about kuden on Friday night: “kuden cannot be written, this is why it is an oral transmission”.

Sensei repeated again that understanding his words or the movements were not important: “if you get out of the class with the feeling you remember nothing it is ok because I teach the jûgodan”. I hope I was not the only one totally lost. 

Feeling this kaname action through the body is teaching the mind. I went to ask him to demonstrate it on me and when he did, it was like fighting a “puff of smoke”. There was no information sent to me, nothing. I felt like falling into the kûkan.

As not so many people attended the class today, we applied these techniques with sword, bô and naginata and it was nice to learn how to use the space available. With a weapon or not, when facing sensei you are not afraid, you are simply frozen. You stop moving because it is comfortable and safe. We don’t use the weapons, we use our taijutsu with the help (hojo?) of the weapons. 

The sakki test ended the class and I went to his house where I joined Sayaka Oguri, Lubos and some of his students. Sensei showed us many new swords he got recently including one that belonged to a Togakure general (yoshitaka?) with the togakure crest on the scabbard. Another tachi was wearing the shingon crest, and the blade was engraved with the Fudô myô sword on one side and three bija letters representing Fudô myô, Marishi ten, and Dainichi nyorai. He also showed us a very nice tantô in an orange scabbard that looked like a big caterpilar. He also showed us a beautiful kyoketsu shôge, 距跋渉毛 with the sword and dragon of fudô myô on one side, and the double edged sword with a vajra tsuka on the other side (you can see the pictures of those weapons on facebook). 

We were departing when sensei asked us to the new storage room next to his house. It was like entering an antique shop! Various types of weapons and pieces of art are there, waiting for an hypothetic museum. What caught my eyes were the few long yari that he showed. Each blade was around 80 cm! No wonder why the yari was considered to be the most dangerous weapon of all. I read somewhere from an archeological study that between Muromachi (1333) and Meiji (1868), death by swords only accounted for about 20% of the casualties, and the majority happened after the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603). The yari was the weapon of choice of the samurai, and the Japanese yoroi was initially designed to fight it.

Before leaving sensei, and after thanking him for the time he spent with us, he gave Lubos and me two omamori from the Kashima Katori shrine from the Miyagi prefecture that he signed with his martial name.

It was indeed a very nice day today, thank you sensei. I am sure we will speak about it with Lubos tomorrow as we are sharing the same flight back to Europe.



In each class with sensei I wait for “the word” that will give a new turn to my taijutsu. Last friday night at the honbu the word was “shinrabanshô”, 森羅万象 (all thing in nature, the whole creation).
I had the privilege to open the class. On a fist attack, you slide to uke’s left and take his hand, rotate the body leftward while pushing up on his elbow, therefore extending his arm. The left hand controls uke’s left shoulder. This turns naturally into a kind of Ô gyaku and uke falls at your feet still in control.
After a few tries by everyone, sensei did it “his way” on me and I got the feeling that he vanished in front of me. In fact when I was asked to explain what I felt, the only word that came to mind was “nuku” (see https://kumafr.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/1012/).
Sensei is moving slightly before you have the time to get him. His moves are not fast they are just in tune with everything, this is when he began to speak about “shinrabanshô”. The “whole creation” is one with him and his actions are so natural that the time you see them it is already too late. I insist here on the fact that a movement being natural is not “human”, it is a manifested yûgen (幽玄) action of “elegant simplicity”.  As everyone was lost, he reminded us that “I’m teaching at fifteenth dan level”.
Then he went on explaining this idea of “”shinrabanshô”. I must say that most of it went passed my level of understanding and I began to feel bad. But then he said that understanding was not important (good for us, gaijin and Japanese altogether), the kaname is to “hear it”.
He added that the vibration of  the words (like in a sutra or a prayer) is the thing that only matters, the meaning is secondary. Prior to the class I was speaking with Maria Somera (Mexico) and Craig Olson (Canadian resident) about the translation of his book “Chihayaburu kami no oshie wa tokoshie ni tadashiki kokoro mio mamoruran”* to Spanish. At one point Craig said that the last sound of the last word “mamoruran”, the “an” was similar to the buddhist “a un”, the end and the beginning of things. And this is exactly what sensei was told us that night: “sound is life and this is why the sound is more important  than the meaning”.
Sensei added that we should not try to remember the things he says or do during his classes as long as we attend the class. “if you put it in writing, it loses its power of creation”. I understand what he said but I wanted to share it with you in writing anyway.
To me this was the first time I truly understood what a kuden is. As you know the meaning of kuden (口伝) is oral transmission. For years I have been wondering why a kuden would be written. It must be, so that the sôke would be able not to forget it. Yesterday I understood that the kuden is a natural expression of life and that, if you have the level, your connection to the divine will find a way to express it through your words.
In the kûkan created by nuki waza, the sakki is revealed, this is the kaname of Hatsumi sensei’s teachings these days.**

* The “Chihayaburu” is said by the bujinkan teacher prior to the “shikin haramitsu daikomyô” at the beginning and at the end of the class. Here is the text in Japanese:

千早振る神の教えはとこしえに正しき心身を守るらん – chihayaburu kami no oshie wa tokoshie nitadashiki kokoro mio mamoruran. There are a few websites giving some explanations on the meaning of it but I advise you to get the book by Craig which covers this prayer/Mantra in more than 100 pages as he spoke a lot with sensei when writing the first edition of the book. A short and maybe inappropriate translation would be: “With a pure heart the kami will guide you through a happy life”, but there is much more in the book.
**note: we did also many techniques during this class, but I will explain that in a future post.

Hojo & Kotsu

Today’s class was about hojo 補助 (assistance, support) of the basics in every movement. This foundation is the key to get the natural flow in your taijutsu. I am always amazed by Senô sensei’s saino,  才能 (ability), nagare, 流れ (flow) and  kôseido, 高精度 (precision). 

I remember asking him one day how he became so good at locks, footwork and at off balancing uke effortlessly. “When I began, I trained by myself a long time testing the efficiency of each degree of twisting applied to each joint of the body”. Once again, the best “ninja book” you can buy is an anatomy book. If you learn the bio mechanics of  the body then you don’t need to use any strength.

Remeber that self training is an important path of excellence and bujinkan students should do their homework more often. The fact that we get promoted fast in the bujinkan has created a negative side effect as westerners often think that “rank = proficiency”. But this is wrong. Our ranks rarely reward our technical skills. In fact we are given ranks to be worth them one day. Let me tell you a personal story.

I was at sensei’s home one day and he complimented me on the evolution of my taijutsu (what can you say?) adding: “I will give you 14th dan”. I replied that I was not yet worth the 13th and that he could give it to me four month later when I be back.* “No”, he said “I will give it to you now. But you are right to think that you do not deserve it now but you are improving and soon you will be worth your 13th. This is why I give you the next one today”. uncomfortable, I insisted that he could get it at my next trip, to which he said -and this is the key of the ranking system in the bujinkan- “no, I want to give it to you now because if I die before you come back, you will have the rest of your life to be worth it!”.

Ranks in the bujinkan are only a hojo 補助 (support) to help you in your training. They are an excuse to “keep going” and so that you develop the necessary skills. They are given “a priori” and not “a posteriori”. It is sad that so many people think they deserve the rank they have without actually training to develop the skills they are supposed to develop. Senô sensei and the other shihan have worked hard to get to the level they have today. Copying their movements (sensei’s and the shihan’s) is only good if you have the proper foundation in your taijutsu. But if you are lacking this foundation then you are just behaving like a monkey, mimicking without knowing.

Hojo, 補助 (assistance, support) was the keyword of this class, and Senô sensei’s insisted a lot on it. Your taijutsu is “supported” by the skills you have developed when learning your basics and by reviewing them often. In France, in October, every year, I give a 5 day seminar covering the whole taijutsu of the tenchijin. Beginners and high ranks join in to review or learn the basics. It you are a piano player or a ballet dancer, you repeat your basics every day, so why should it be different in budô when bad basics mean death?

Seitairikigaku, 生体力学 (biomechanics) is: the science (学) of giving life (生) and power (力) to the body (体). You need good basics so that you do not need strength. Senô sensei said that seitairikigaku is supported (hojo) by saino, 才能 (ability) to use “ashi sabaki”, 足捌き (footwork);  “karada”, 体 (body), and kyori, 距離 (distance). This is why “chikara”, 力 (strength) is not needed. Hatsumi sensei keeps saying it in each class in Japan. We use strength because we  are unable to read the balance of uke.

I wrote about the importance of training with the various shihan here in Japan. If we compare this Senô’s sensei class with the classes of Nagato sensei, we can see the differences. Nagato sensei teaches something closer to “street fighting” and Senô sensei a bio mechanics study course. Both are important, and both will help you improve your survival skills.

To the techniques we studied today, and echoeing with what Hatsumi sensei taught yesterday about small hidden weapons, we added a teppan (鉄板)** (or shaken) to the movements. What was really interesting was that the edge can be used as a pivoting point or a supporting point where it is in contact with uke. This chûshin action emphasizes the movements of  the body and facilitates the off balancing of uke. A corner of the teppan can be used either to inflict pain to uke or as a pivoting point or increasing leverage, the body turning softly around the attacker to take his balance. This is done with no strength simply by applying your knowledge the bone structure of the body. 

Playing with the words we can say that: the kotsu, 糊 (sizing) is to know the kotsu, 骨 (bones) of the joints, in order to develop the kotsuzui, 骨髄 (true spirit) of taijutsu in a kotsu, 忽 (instantly). So I kotsu you, 乞 (invite) to find the kotsu, 骨 (secret) and develop the kotsu 骨 (know-how) to become kotsu, 兀 (dangerous).
*note: like many I travel to Japan three times a year to train with my teacher.
**note: a teppan is like a shaken but it is square with no hole in the middle, and the size of the palm of your hand. Bigger or smaller than the palm and the teppan will be not as efficient. Like any shaken it is not sharp. Usually it is not to be thrown at the opponent (you can) and it is used to hojo (support) your controls on uke’s body.

Shihanden at Bujinden

In the last five days, I had the chance to train three times with Nagato sensei and I noticed a new “trend” in his way of teaching. I have been training under him for over twenty years and I see when things are changing. As it is (should be?) the case for all of us, he is still evolving and he keeps improving his taijutsu.
師範伝 武人伝 The shihan ways at Bujinden:
Each one of the Japanese shihan has developed his own taijutsu over the years. I remember telling Hatsumi sensei one day that when in Japan I had the feeling that I was training the bujinkan with him and the Oguri ryû, Noguchi ryû, Nagato ryû and Senô ryû. He answered that I was correct and that it is the way things should be. 
As a sidenote, I want to add that when you have the chance to be in Japan you should not limit your training only to sensei’s but take the opportunity to learn different ways to train by visiting as many shihan as possible. Our body movement is the melting pot of all these experiences and the more experiences you have the more likely you will find what is suiting your body. Yesterday for example I was training with my tall friend Robin. At some point I was totally unable to apply the technique on him as he is much taller than me and that in a ganseki like movement, I couldn’t lock his arm without holding it with mine. His arm kept popping out of my shoulder (angle). So I had to change the technique and do a regular ganseki to do it. Later on a hip lock technique Robin was unable to do it on me, I was too low. Each time he would try it, this would create openings for counter. I liked his comment at that time: “this one is not for me, I will never do that”. And this is the main point of training with different teachers. Everything they demonstrate and teach cannot be fitting us but be recognizing it we learn to avoid those movements detrimental to our survival.

Another point is that apart from being students of Hatsumi sensei, each one of us is more or less the student of a given shihan. I mean that we received our taijutsu foundation from one particular shihan at the beginning. And from there we evolved by training with the others. It was obvious yesterday, Robin is a Nagato sensei student, I am a Noguchi student. And our taijutsu are quite different because of our different origins. From 1993 and until the opening of the honbu dôjô (10th heisei, 10th moon, 10th sun, 10th hour, 10th minute)* sensei ordered me to train exclusively with him and Noguchi sensei. After this opening I was allowed to train with the sole shi tennô and only when they were teaching at the honbu. I had been training with Nagato sensei before 1993 and I liked his taijutsu that was looking more powerful and more efficient. Gaman was permanent during his classes. I remember him stopping the class one day saying: “I don’t hear the hits!”… Next time you visit sensei in Japan, I invite you to ask him with whom you should train in particular. Depending on who you are and from where you are coming sensei will direct you to one or many shihan to help you unfold your own taijutsu.

Over the years, like many of us, Nagato sensei pure power was replaced by a more softer approach of the fight and mental pain replaced body pain. He didin’t lose efficiency though. We can say the same with Hatsumi sensei too. But Nagato sensei’s style has always been focusing on “real fight”, real encounters. Even when his taijutsu became softer he was still having this nice powerful flow of movement, changing his hands permanently, crossing the arms and unfolding uke to take his balance and finally stab or hit him from a blind spot.

So what is this new “trend” and this evolution in his taijutsu? It is: metsubushi, gassho, ganseki nage, sha ha ashi, mienai waza. Let’s review some of the points we studied this week:

目潰し Metsubushi, blinding powder: In each technique Nagato sensei insists that we are using metsubushi to blind the opponent. This “metsubushi” action of the hand and finger can be real or not, the idea is that uke reacts to it. Whether you are throwing  something at him or not doesn’t matter as log as your action opens up new holes in his guard. Remember that illusions can be powerful.

合掌 Gasshô, hands in prayer: Speaking of guard, he still insists a lot on guarding yourself from uke’s reactions but this time he is putting his hands together and extended both arms towards uke. This allows you to rapidly change thedirection of your and and body, to free your elbows ans to control uke’s balance. Remember that the attacker outside of the dôjô doesn’t attack in line…

岩石投げ/落し Ganseki nage/otoshi: This “prayer” move will open uke, extends his arms and allow you to place a devastating ganseki like movement. Many techniques we did ended up in ganseki age or ganseki otoshi. This created more space to turn around and helped to guard ourselves from any short weapon attack. This was the kaname. Remember that kûkan is everything.

斜八脚 Sha ha ashi**, moving the legs in all directions: In many throws we often create a body reaction from uke resulting in a failure. By using the footwork and the sha ha ashi moves we unlock these tensions and become able to throw or crush uke. Remember that distance is given by footwork.

見えない技 Mienai waza, invisible technique: We also did some knife applications (weapon in the left hand) where we used it as a natural extension of the hand, always hidden from uke’s sight. Instead of grabbing the attacking hand we would simply place softly (Kochô gaeshi) the knife on the forearm, hidden under our other arm crossed over uke’s chest. 

Nagato sensei said that: “it is easy to use a knife in plain sight but not showing it is smarter”. This is the same with our fighting skills, don’t show them and you will keep an advantage over your opponents. If you look strong and powerful you are asking for troubles.

*note: Numerology rules Japanese lives. The inauguration of the honbu dôjô took place on the auspicious day of the 10th october of 1997, at 10:10pm. The repetitive “10” can be seen as the completion of the cycle (kû); and also as the beginning of the bujinden, the transmission of the bujin to the world. 
**sha ha ashi is a concept explained in “togakure ryu taijutsu”, first tenchijin book published in 1983 by Hatsumi sensei. it is also in the 1987 edition reedited by Solkan. Sha diagonal, ha all directions and ashi leg. It is using the legs on the shin bone, heels, foot to apply lever on uke’s legs and take his balance. It is sometimes referred as “Ashi rau”.

Happô Biken

Today I gave a class on biken jutsu at the honbu and we studied the kukishin sword. The two hours passed so fast that we didn’t have time for a break as we use to have here in mid class.
It was nice to dwell  gain into the waza of the school as we mainly apply the kankaku of the various schools into our classes with sensei and the shihan. This is what sensei explained to me over lunch last Sunday.
Since we  entered the world of Juppô sesshô in 2003, everything we do now is based upon the taijutsu with weapons using the “flavor” of each style and mixing them together. what we study now during class with Sôke is not anymore the waza but something we can call 風味の技 (fûmi no waza), a flavored technique. Last year for example we did a lot of sword techniques with the fûmi of Shinden Fudô ryû. But beginners need to have a from to start from and the kukishin biken jutsu (and the togakure biken jutsu) are there to give them that. So it was nice to review the techniques again.
The kukishin happô biken is quite complete with 9 techniques divided into 3 sets of 3:
  • tsuki komi, tsuki gake, kiri age
  • kiri sage, kinshi, kochô gaeshi
  • shi hô giri, happô giri, tsuki no wa

Each one of these basic techniques is then completed by a set of 9 sayû* gyaku; and a set of 9 henka. Which makes a theoretical total of 27.

What I understood last year in April when training with sensei is that we can see the sayû gyaku (左右逆 – left right reversing forms) as how to apply the basic form to the left or to the right of the opponent. Each sayû gyaku contains in fact more than one or two forms. Then the henka (変化 – beginning of change/end of change) is how to apply the basic form while moving forward or backward. Here again you have more than two ways of doing each one of them.

So from the 9 basic forms listed above with the added sets of sayû gyaku and of henka, we get an infinity of possibilities to adjust the technique to the fighting conditions. Maybe this is the reason why Toda sensei told Takamatsu going to challenge Ishitani, sôke of the kukishin: “don’t use sword techniques against Ishitani sensei as his kukishin biken jutsu is much more powerful than our togakure happô biken”.

The reason why I separated the basic forms into three sets is that if you study these techniques carefully you will notice that they do not apply on the same timeline. The first set is used when you react after the attack begins (nijigen no sekai); the second set while the attack begins (sanjigen no sekai); and the third one before the attack begins (yûgen no sekai).

Also in each group you will see that the first technique of each group is a ten (going up); the second one a chi (going down); and the third one, a jin (going to the opponent). These groups (tenchijin and up/down/forward) actually define a matrix of actions that can be adapted through the sayû gyaku set and/or the henka set.

Maybe this is what sensei meant also by naming it “kukishin ryû happô biken”.

*note: sayû is the Chinese pronunciation of hidari migi.
DVD:  I recorded the basic techniques and also their tachi version on video. Those interested can find them on www.budomart.com
  • Biken jutsu (2 dvds basic and kukishin)
  • Tachi waza (3 dvds)

Meridian, Speed & Excellence

Each action should be following each other in a logical manner. In the technique, we move to one point of control to another as if climbing a rope, as sensei put it we “should control the opponent as if going up or down an acupuncture meridian.”*
But sensei’s was not trying to teach us any japanese medicine or acupuncture**, he was using this image in order to explain that “like on a meridian” each point of control belongs to the same line. Uke cen be controlled on any point of the same logical line. Balance is taken the same way on each point of the same logical line. Balance is lost when we control a point on one line and then move to another point located on another line.
This is why it is important in your training to understand the bio mechanics of the human body. By moving from one point to another point of the same line, you keep the off balancing at all time and it doesn’t matter if the first point is at the arm and the second one at the belly or the leg.
Often these days this control is done with the legs using the sha ha ashi principle. This has been done repeatedly by sensei, Senô sensei, Nagato sensei and Noguchi sensei. This gokui of taijutsu is used a lot. By using your legs to continue the off balancing of uke you free your hands and ready them for another action. Also as uke reacts according to what he perceives and see, uke will often be unaware of what is going on at ground level. This mienai waza is a real asset in your taijutsu.
This natural action of your legs also frees your body and you can then develop your intention. But to be really efficient you should know when to show your intentions and when not to show it. In the tenchijin of 1987 it is said that you should “be able to bend when there is wind, and not to bend hen there is no wind”. Adapting our behaviour to uke’s perceptions, to our environment, and to our intuition is the goal of taijutsu.
Waza without Kankaku is only a dead movement if you are not able to change it according to the situation and to uke’s reactions. In Nagato sensei’s class today, he mentionned the fact the “doing a good looking but inefficient technique is stupid. It is better to do something “ugly” but efficient than dying doing a beautiful waza. The Kankuku is what allows you to adapt the kata.
A few years ago, Senô sensei explained that a kata was to be considered as a channel. A kata includes some kaname that you have to pass in order to achieve the result you are looking for. At first, your kata is mechanical and inefficient. With hundreds of repetitions you acquire the nagare (the flow) and turn a dead movement into a part of your taijutsu. The Kata becomes alive with the adding of the kankaku.
Be careful as the kankaku alone will not suffice. You do have to learn the form to discard it. You learn an “inanimated” kata to “channel” your body mechanical movement. You train a kata to “animate” it and put life into it. You destroy the kata to express your natural body movement. And this destruction arrives only and only when you have mastered the initial form. Nagato sensei was complaining the other day that in the bujinkan too many students (high ranks included) didn’t put enough effort in learning the forms.
I see many bujinkan teachers applying “henka” without having the essence, the kaname of the original technique. Without hard work there is no improvement possible. This lack of work often leads these teachers to train fast, use force and be violent (and dangerous to their students). This is not  the proper way of training.
Please never forget that there is no shortcut ot excellence, it takes time, effort, and requires hundreds of repetitions***.
As Nagato sensei likes to put it: “Only stupid people train fast, try to be clever, train slowly”.
*note: The human body has 12 meridians: 6 on the hands and six on the feet. There are also 2 additional ones going around the body. These two meridians are called tenmo and chimo (ten and chi) and link the front of the body (tongue to scrotum) and the back of the body (upper palatal teeth to scrotum), creating a ring flowing up and down the body. On a different logic the Japanese consider the fingers as the five elements. They are counted from chi, the little finger; to kû for the thumb. If you add tenmo chimo and the elements you get a tenchijin.
**note: I remember one student asking him about the kyûsho and the acupuncture meridians and his answer: “if you want to learn them then become a therapist, we are doing budô here not medicine”. Don’t loose the objective.
***note: If you have no plug behind your head you are still in the matrix and you have to learn the hard way. Excellence and proficiency cannot be downloaded to your body.

Sanshin is Kihon Happô (2)

First of all I want to thank you for your comments on the this subject, and if you did not read them, I invite you to do it now on the blog. 

After publishing the first article on this subject, I remembered that I forgot to tell you a few things. It is mainly about chance and memory.

1. tenchijin 1987:
When I received the first version of the tenchijin in English back in 1987, the “shoshin gokei gogyô no kata” (gogyô) was described as: “chi-mizu-hi-kaze-kû” this is the reason why it caught my eyes when I discovered it in the first edition of the “unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai”.
At first I thought that this were the real names but then one day, I was on skype with one of my students. Because I wanted him to discover this by himself I asked him to go on the sanshin no kata page and to read them. He did. But there was no comment at all. I insisted that he read them loud and this is when I discovered that his edition was different from mine. I couldn’t believe it so he showed his book on the screen. This is how I discovered it.

Sensei often says that we have to “create chance” and until that day I didn’t understand what he meant by that. I think that I understand it better now. Chance is keeping your eyes and your mind open. Keeping your mind open develop your intuition. Intuition comes from “intuitus” in latin that means “glance”. If you watch carefully what you see around you, then the illusion of what you want to see vanishes and you see the things the way they are, and not  the way you think they are. 

Keeping your mind open is also important. The way we see and understand the world is conditioned by our education or, sometimes our lack of education. Some time ago I gave sensei a book called “the black swan”. The whole idea was the following: “All swans must be white because all historical records of swans reported that they had white feathers”. This proved to be wrong when black swans were discovered in Australia in the 19th century. It is not because we don’t know something that this something doesn’t exist. In the book the author details a theory about “unexpected events of large magnitude and consequence”. (more on this at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory).

We learn to create chance by expecting the unexpected. In a technique if you react according to what you think is going to happen, there is big probability that you will fail. Remember the words of Takamatsu sensei: “opening his eyes and his heart, a ninja can react  adequately to the subtle changes from heaven so that there should never be for him anything called surprise” (in “ninjutsu” by Takamatsu sensei).  If you expect the unexpected, there is no surprise and you learn to create chance for yourself and for those around you.

2. Kihon Happô of Gyokushin ryû:
At the turn of the century, whike in Japan, I asked sensei about the Gyokushin Ryû. He told me that we had lost the techniques* but that the concept remained alive in our taijutsu. Then he decided to show me some of these concepts. We were in his house and space was difficult to find. I was stuck between the table covered with piles of documents and objects, the ground was supporting piles of videos and books, and the small corridor between the wall and the piles was about 50 cm width. No space to move at all.

Nevertheless he showed me the “kihon happô of  the Gyokushin ryû”. In fact he showed me the feeling of the Gyokushin ryû, but instead of showing me the kihon happô as hesaid he would, he did the sanshin no kata. In the Gyokushin he explained, you have to “be” the element you are manifesting. For example, when doing ka no kata, you move as if you are walking barefoot on burning coals, in the sui no kata you move as if you were swimming in water. After throwing me on the wall, the armchair and the table, and after I added some mess by crashing all over to the messy room, I asked him: “sensei why did you say “kihon happô and did the sanshin no kata to me?”. He looked at me and said: “the sanshin no kata is the kihon happô”. I looked stupid, behaved as if I understood, and accepted his answer.

We know that both sets of techniques are origining from the Gyokko ryû**. The kihon happô is the entry point of the school and the sanshin no kata is the juppô sesshô of the school (the exit point). They are the beginning and the end; the alpha and the omega; the hen and the ka. 

Permanent changes and permanent adaptation are only possible when you stop asking “why? and begin to ask “how?”

*note: sensei told me once that we have no techniques either for the kumogakure ryû, only the concepts. This is why we never studied those two schools as we did for the other ones.
**note: Gyokko ryû gave birth to the Gyokushin ryû and to the Gikan ryû

Sanshin Is Kihon Happô

The Japanese people are very found about numerology and sensei being Japanese I was not surprised yesterday night when he said “the sanshin no kata is the kihon happô”.

In this blog I already wrote a few articles referring to this and referring mainly to the kihon happô. But the same can be done with the sanshin no kata. You can find it here: https://kumafr.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/does-3-5/ but there other articles speaking about this in the blog.

But how can the gogyô of the sanshin 五行 be equal to the kihon happô 基本八方*. Everyone knows that 3 doesn’t equal 8, at least for a Western mindset, but maybe it is time to begin to think like a Japanese.
Before trying to understand this puzzle, let’s review what we start with:
the “sanshin no kata” is a set of 5 movements based on the five elements,
the “gogyô” (which true name is “shoshin gokei gogyô no kata”**, in the tenchijin of 1987) is made of the Japanese five elements (the “dai gogyô” refers to the Chinese ones),
The “kihon happô” is a set of 3+5 which contains all the prinicples of movements and opens up in all directions,
The “kosshi kihon sanpô no kata” is used against attacks (aka “sanpô no kata”),
The “hoshu kihon kata gohô” is used against grabs (aka “gohô no kata”).

Even though “sanshin” means 3, there are 5 elements. And if you add 3 (san-shin) + 5 (go-gyô) the result is 8 (hachi). This hachi plus “hô” becomes “happô”. Etymologically “happô” (hachi + hô) can have the meaning  of “8 principles” 八法 **or  “8 directions” 八方; but in Japanese it is mainly understood as 八方 “all directions” or can also be understood as a “large hanging lantern”, maybe a big lantern showing us the correct path of budô? Therefore, the kihon happô is a fundamental set of movements to move our body in all directions. This “happô”, lights the path to our progression in the martial world.
But as you know, “sanshin” refers to many things. You can see “sanshin” as: 
1) a sum up of the tenchijin philosophy; 
2) a set of three actions (kamae, uke nagashi, kaeshi); 
3) a time line (before, during, after); 
4) a space locator (forward, center, backward); or 
5) having the mind and attitude of a three year old child. 
(This is a another group of 3+5 making another 8!)
All these interpretations are correct and were taught by Sôke over the years. They are all true and please remember that there is no hierarchy between them. Any one is as good as the other ones.
Now why does 3 = 8? We have to dig a little deeper here.
In the nineties while in transit from Japan, I had the chance to meet a russian specialist of both Chinese and Japanese. As we had a few hours to wait before getting into the plane he tried to explain the different visions of the two cultures. What he told me is that by tradition and culture, the Chinese are Ura, they conceive a non-manifested world; conversely the Japanese are Omote, they have a materialistic vision of the manifested world. 
The Japanese see the world from the earth (chi) were the Chinese see it from heaven (ten). This explains partly the differences between the Chinese and Japanese gogyô. 

The Chinese dai gogyô are wood, fire, earth, metal, water. The Japanese and the Tibetans have the series we know in the bujinkan. But to make it a little more complex, the Japanese gogyô can be seen with either a Chinese approach (more spiritual) or a Japanese one (more grounded).  My Russian specialist used the gogyô as an example. 
Chi and Kû are the same in both philosophies and they are similar to the “alpha and omega” of the Greeks, a circular flow; or the henka cycle (beginning-end) of  the Japanese were change is permanent.
But things get even more intricate with the other three elements (sanshin?) because they are different both in name and nature.

  • Sui (Chinese) is Mizu (Japanese). The Chinese humidity of the air is opposed to the Japanese water in the river.
  • Hi (Chinese) is Ka (Japanese). The Chinese sun is opposed to the Japanese bonfire.
  • Fû (Chinese) is Kaze (Japanese). The Chinese atmosphere is opposed to the Japanese wind.
The bujinkan martial arts do not stop at the door of the dôjô. You have to train your brain and learn to think outside of the box***. I wish that after reading all of the above you begin to consider that actually 3 can be equal to 8. 
But there is more…
Because of its success, Hatsumi sensei’s book “unarmed fighting techniques of  the samurai” has been republished twice. Now, depending if you have the first edition or the second one (I have both) you would have two different “sanshin no kata” mix of the Sino-Japanese logics! I guess that not so many bujinkan practitioners noticed it***. 
In the first edition, the sanshin is described as chi-mizu-hi-kaze-kû (or 11011) and in the second edition it is the regular chi-sui-ka-fû-kû (or 10101). The techniques are the same but the feelings you develop when doing the first set or the second one are totally different. Try them. 
Funnily I noticed that when you put the two sets, one on top of the other you get a sort of DNA helix. If you train with the omote and the ura feelings, you will discover new things in your taijutsu. In July 2011, I told him about my DNA discovery during lunch and about those differences I found between the two editions. His answer was: “yes this is the same”.
But can you really trust a ninja master?…. or was his answer much deeper than I thought?…
* note: the bujinkan “kihon happô” is 基本八法, “8 principles”
** note: “shoshin gokei gogyô no kata” is 初心互恵 五行の型  “original five elements mutual benefit form” (?) 
***sidenote: Everything keeps changing even a book, so please remember that sensei often invites us to “read between the lines”, maybe it is time for you to begin? 😉

Nuku Dummy!

Last Sunday, Nagato Sensei insisted on the idea of nuku 抜, in this case drawing out the body in the middle of the technique. When uke reacts in tension expecting contact you use this tension against him by removing, withdrawing, your body from the expected contact. The kûkan created confuses uke’s balance (body and mind) and he falls by himself.

This is someting that sensei is using a lot tricking both our body and our brain. When you are uke with sensei there is nothing and you are reacting to an illusion of physical presence. This type of movement is also called kûki nage, 空気投げ (throwing by emptiness) and from the outside, it looks like uke is thrown by an invisible opponent. Falling apparently for no reason, uke looks like a fool which is normal as nuku 温 means also “idiot” or “dummy”.*

This concept of nuku is familiar to all of us when training biken jutsu. In the bujinkan getting the blade off the scabbard is called nuki gatana, 抜き. The nuku action is done not by pulling the sword off the scabbard but by “peeling off” the scabbard from the blade. This nuki action proves to be faster and more accurate in a real fight. I understand that it was the correct way to draw the sword during the Muromachi period. My guess is that this was done to have the time to free the whole blade of the tachi. Also sword fights were mainly about stunning the opponent, taking his balance and stabbing the unprotected part of the body through the holes in the yoroi. When the Tokugawa period began and peace established they abandoned the yoroi so the swords became smaller and the unsheathing of the sword was replaced by the iai action as cutting was now possible.

There is a good way not to forget this difference with other sword system: I have been told that in Japan they use “nuki” when peeling the skin of a banana. Obviously when you eat a banana you do not pull the fruit off the skin but peel the skin to eat the fruit.

The nuku action explained by Nagato sensei is possible only if uke is attacking correctly. By attacking correctly, he meant that the body of the attacker should be behind his attacks. He didn’t mean that we have to use violence but simply to be true in our intentions even if training with no speed. He added that many times he watches bujinkan members not attacking properly and that it is wrong. Because without a real intention these high level techniques cannot be revealed.

To add to that I encourage you to train more and to master the tsuki (and the uke nagashi). These are fundamental techniques of basic taijutsu and they are not trained enough in many dôjô. Train your kihon happô at each class and when you have the chance to be uke, train on your attacks. After a while you will notice a real improvement in your taijutsu as a whole. I remember once someone asking sensei about tsuki and kicks and telling him that they were not really taught in the bujinkan. Sensei answered dryly: “and why do you think we train the kihon happô for?”.

A good and long study of the kihon happô will benefit to your whole taijutsu and this is why sensei asked us to train them at each training session. This is something he told us long time ago but I believe it is still true today. If you do not train the kihon happô and/or the sanshin no kata in your dôjô at every class then please print this and give it to your teacher. 
Call it is a direct transmission of the Sôke from last century.

With good basics in your taijutsu you are capable of attacking in a true manner and those beautiful nuku moments can be yours. 

* “nuku” has also the meaning of “doing something to an end” if you want to be a good bujinkan practitioner this is what you should do, train to master the basics then move to the weapons and the schools. On a side note, there is another meaning to “nuku” but it would be incorrect to explain it here. 🙂
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