Tsurugi: The Divine Sword


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Sensei taught a lot of things related to the Chinese sword during the last day of the Taikai.
This sword that we call Jian or Ken is in fact Tsurugi.
This is the weapon of the high level warriors.
Even though the Chinese jian / ken does not carry any “social meaning” the Japanese when referring to Tsurugi include their myth of creation in it. As you all know this is Kusanagi no Tsurugi * given by Susanô to his sister, the sun goddess Amateratsu. She later gave it to Ninigi no Mikoto** the grandfather of the famous emperor Jimmu as a proof of his divine origin.
Kusanagi no Tsurugi is one of the three regalia of the Japanese Emperors.***
So where “ken” is a simple sword, Tsurugi is linked to the divine.
Sensei introduced the day by insisting on the fact that it is impossible to understand Japanese warfare if one doesn’t study the three types of sword that created Japanese warfare expertise: Tsurugi, Tachi, Katana. Each refers to a specific period of development of Japan.
The use of the Tsurugi is so old that no written techniques have survived. They were recorded on animal skin or bamboo slivers (thin blades) and didn’t resist the passage of time. These times were chaotic times and Japan was not one country but a group of multiple little clans run by warlords.
The Tachi was the weapon of choice of the Bushi cast he said when permanent fighting was happening. The Katana became popular with the forced peace time set by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1603) and therefore was the weapon of the Samurai.
To make it clear only the Tsurugi and the Tachi were used in fight and Japanese martial arts are the result of using these weapons.
Sensei opened the morning session by asking a few Jûgodan to demonstrate their vision of Chi no Kata; and from there we moved to the Tsurugi. I must say that the Tsurugi is really a fantastic weapon that renders alive our taijutsu. Nagato sensei said in his class that if you don’t have a good taijutsu the Tsurugi cannot be used properly.
To begin sensei explained that the Tsurugi is stuck at the hip level ad that the footwork puts it naturally into the opponent attack. There is no thinking process. The sword pivots from this contact point right into uke’s attack. Deflecting the attack the tip of the blade is immediately pointing to uke’s body. The Sanshin motion of Chi no Kata becomes a natural reaction and no intention can be deciphered by the opponent.
Once again sensei said that this was mutô dori. We all know that mutô dori is a technique where you are unarmed facing an armed attacker. So it took me some point to figure out exactly what sensei was trying to say. I understood that the weapon was simply an added extension of the body. As you don’t think the word and as the sword moves with the body movements, you are moving naturally as if you had no weapon. And that is exactly what I meant earlier when saying that the Tsurugi was making your taijutsu alive. I honestly don’t know what people who didn’t attend the class can understand from what I’m writing here. But if you simply stick the Tsurugi to your hip and use your taijutsu, I’m sure that the majority will get what I’m trying to say here.
During the morning break, my friend Elias who like me had been used by sôke as uke came to me to share what he experienced. The situation we had to face were the same. Sensei asked us to attack and we stopped immediately because the tsurugi was aiming (on its own) towards our face. What Elias said to me was that the way sensei moved the tsurugi from the pivoting point at the hip made it impossible foe him to see it coming. And the reason was that sensei was keeping his elbow low so that no shoulder movement was being perceived. And when you did, it was too late. When hee asked me to attack him sensei modified his movement slightly. Instead og being completely invisible, he did some kind of seigan no kamae and got my attention on the tip of the blade a few centimeters away from y face. Then in both cases, sensei moved his forward foot a little more and stabbed us in the throat.
These two examples are quite interesting because they summarize the essence of fighting with the tsurugi. Elias didn’t see the second step forward because he couldn’t see the blade. I couldn’t perceive it either because my focus being on the blade the foot was hidden by it. Both examples demonstrate a high level of 見えない 技 mienai waza, techniques you cannot possibly see. But in both cases the end was the same, death.
To summarize this sensei said that tsurugi waza followed a specific sanshin: foot, spine, fingers. We already explained in various posts here the importance of the fingers. The fingers are the extension of your leg movement relayed by the spine. You must be able to change your fingers positioning while moving the body so that the blade is arriving straight to the 隙 suki (gap, space, weakness) in uke’s defense.
Another point that was important is distance. Sensei said that the difference between life and death in a fight often resumes itself to the thickness of a sheet of paper. When you master taijutsu the body moves at the exact distance of uke, not too far, not too close. And when you add the tsurugi your body must find the new perfect distance to be far and close enough of uke. A wrong distance will create new opportunities for uke. A correct distancee will stop uke in between two movements.
After thinking a lot about the tsurugi and thanks to this fantastic day I want to share here now two things that make it easier for me to use this sword:
1. You only have to do taijutsu, the blade moves by itself. Forget the blade. For example if you do a basic uke nagashi, do it with the tsurugi in your hand and see what is happening. Do not try to do anything with the sword, let it react on its own (mutô dori principle).
2. I spoke with sensei last Tuesday during training and he confirmed that I was right to think “hanbô jutsu” when training with the tsurugi. So next time you train use a hanbô. When you have the movement correct, replacce the hanbô by the tsurugi and see how similar they move. The tsurugi is not sharp on the major part of the blade so there is no risk for you.
Next week, I will record the basics of tsurugi for Budomart and koimartialart, and I will use all the knowledge I got this time to make it easy for all of us to learn this fantastic weapon.
*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kusanagi
**http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninigi-no-Mikoto
***http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Regalia_of_Japan

Inryoku: Attraction


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Attending a class by Noguchi sensei is always a good moment. To me it is similar in many ways in having a very nice dinner at a grand restaurant in Paris.
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His taijutsu is full of flavors, very refined, elegant and classy; and I always feel sad when it is over. I am a student like any other and sometimes, even in Japan, I don’t feel like going to training. I do it but sometimes reluctantly. But when his class begins, suddenly you feel happy as his joy is visible. After the class you feel more rested than before.
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His Bujinkan interpretation expresses itself through feeling, and the class tonight was deep, innovative and will change (again) my understanding of Budô. But if you have already attended one of his classes, you know exactly what I mean.
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Tonight a TV crew was there and that added some rhythm to a class that usually is not missing it. In 90 minutes, Noguchi sensei creates a world of possibility and an infinite number of variations. He doesn’t do a technique, He is the technique.
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We covered some of the Takagi Yôshin ryû techniques during the class. None of these techniques of the Shoden no kata were new to us: kasumi dori, dô gaeshi, karame dori, kyoto, katamune dori, oikage dori, iki chigae, ransho, kobushi nagashi. But what was new was the way Noguchi did them using more than ever the 引力 inryoku (principle of attraction). Each technique was done in such a way that uke was “sucked into” the worst possible situation. Every action he was taking was leading him into a trap.
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This concept of inryoku together with the concepts of 重力 jûryoku (gravity) and 磁力 jiryoku (magnetism) are three keys to understand the Gyokko ryû Kosshijutsu and were taught extensively back in 2001 during the Gyokko Ryû year.
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But is is one thing to discover some concepts one day and to see their evolution 12 years later. And this is exactly what we witnessed tonight. The way Noguchi sensei is trapping his opponent is simply amazing. As usual there is no hits, no inflicted pain. Uke is down not by using strong movements but by creating the illusion of these strong movements. Uke reacts to the pain he “feels” is coming and the consecutive tensions create a kûkan in which he falls every time. From the outside it looks that uke is swallowed into a black hole.
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This inryoku turns any movement into a death trap for uke. Noguchi sensei by alternating the fake tensions with a total relaxed body attitude, creates a situation where uke does not understand what is happening and rushes into the trap.
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To be able to attract uke is not easy at first, but after many years of repeating these movements with him, one becomes capable of expressing it. This is real 虚実 kyojitsu, alternating falsehood and truth and the essence of Hatsumi sensei’s ninpô.
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Attraction is created by moving the body lightly at a slow speed that cannot be perceived in time by uke’s brain and by emitting fake intentions so strong that uke cannot avoid to react to them. This is the practical application of proprioception* as defined by scientists.
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But Noguchi sensei is not only using attraction in Budô. He is a shining and attractive human being full of joy and light. Attending his classes is the best remedy I know to feel better when life is tough.
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Thank you sensei for your magnetism and for sharing with us your budô vision.
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* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception

Kantan Desu!


 

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Today during his class at the honbu, Nagato sensei kept repeating that everything he was doing was 簡単 kantan (easy, simple). He repeated it many times during training.

But watching the many practitioners in the honbu I got the impression that these “easy and simple” techniques were quite difficult to reproduce for those of us who were not used to Nagato sensei’s taijutsu.
It reminded me of Kary Mullis (Nobel prize of Chemistry 1993)*, who said in his book “Dancing naked in the mind field” that to make things look simple, it is very difficult. This simplicity we are striving to get is the result of a long and difficult process.
During the break I was exchanging on that subject with my friend Joe Maurantonio and we finally agreed that this “simplicity” in sensei’s budô was indeed the real secret to be found in the Bujinkan. And we also agreed that only those who could develop the proper vision could see it. It reminded me of a discussion I had in the 90s with Mark Lithgow after a dinner we had with Sôke in Noda.
Mark said something that I will always remember: “Sensei is not teaching 体術 taijutsu (body techniques) but 目術, mejutsu, (the art of seeing reality).
The magic about Hatsumi sensei’s philosophy of budô and that it is so simple and obvious that very few students are able to understand it. Speaking about that we agreed, Joe and I that sensei’s vision had had a strong impact on the way we developed our lives as adults.
The real secret about Sôke’s ninjutsu is that there is no secret when you finally understand. Everything is hidden in plain sight!
But it takes many years to discover that and not everyone will find it. Joe told me that it reminded him of some sentences of  “Ninpô: Wisdom of life”** one of the first book written by Sôke translated into English.
With Joe’s permission (he is the publisher of the book) I reproduce here a few sentences taken from this great book on Life and budô that each Bujinkan practitioner should have in his library.
About the secret, Hatsumi sensei wrote: “I believe secret teachings should only be given to those students who can find and create new lessons for themselves. This is because the secret teachings are not about how many techniques one knows, but rather about a person’s insight and preparedness.”
When you develop the “eyes of the heart” nothing is complex anymore, as you are in symbiosis with nature.
Sensei adds that: “if you are a martial artist and master budô and practice ninjutsu, you wil gain the most essential secret of all methods. This secret is called 心心 心 眼, shinshin shingan, (the mind and eyes of god). This knowledge is to know Tendô, the “path of heaven”. The truth of heaven is the correct way, without evil intent.”
 
Today was another great day for learning. Thank you Nagato sensei’s, thank you Sensei.
** Ninpô: Wisdom of Life: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ninpo-Wisdom-for-Life/132927646718631

 

Mutô Dori or Mu To Dori


hsac21Yesterday’s class in Ayase was amazing, Sensei was in a very good mood and was smiling the whole time from ear to ear.
Sensei did so many variations that I have to admit that I had a hard time remembering anything. But I will try here to explain some of the few technical points I remember.  But as I was largely unable to do the technique demonstrated yesterday please do not see this post as a 伝承, denshô (transmission). See it merely as a message brought to you by a 伝書鳩, denshobato (carrier pigeon).
Sensei was alternating taijutsu and Ken jutsu and was demonstrating one signle principle: how to use kûkan. as we know since 2003 and the beginning of the Juppô Sesshô cycle of study, Kûkan (space) lies between uke and tori and also around them both and the body movements carried by the legs create the opportunities of action.
Luckily he said a few times that it was correct not to remember anything. Watching around me I was happy to see that I was not the only one totally lost and obeying to his advice.
By not using any strength (力じゃない, Chikara janai, no physical strength) we do not create the body counter reactions generated usually in uke’s body. Therefore we are virtaully invisible and free to move towards the opponent because he cannot figure out where the next attack will be coming from. Uke doesn’t perceive your movements as being a danger for him. When you move softly like that, uke creates the tensions and destroys himself into the kûkan. Kûkan is not empty there is a density to it. Sensei asked us to use it in order to defeat the opponent. By extending and shrinking the space like a 水母, kurage (jellyfish), uke is lost and his reactions are always out of tempo.
Sensei’s movementswe always coming from 体, Tai (body). He said that we should not use the legs nor the arms but the body only. When uke thinks the danger is coming from the legs, the arms are taking his balance and conversely. In other words, you are “jin” at all times and when uke reacts to “ten” he is defeated by “chi”; and when uke reacts to “chi” he is defeated by “ten”. You don’t anything. As the Tao te king puts it: “don’t do anything and nothing will be left undone”. By not showing intention but creating the illusion of movement, uke is fighting against himself. Last night it seemed that uke was being suicidal.
The 肘 hiji (elbows) were playing a big part in this mind trapping of uke. The arms, at the elbow level, were either stuck to the body or fully overextended. Sometimes at the same time, sometimes one extended one stuck. Sensei was using his spine and shoulder to redirect uke’s body during the attack. When moving sensei looked like he was boneless and his moves were all soft and non aggressive, nearly feminine. Sometimes he looked like someone who had lost his mind.
The 攫むじゃない, Tsukamu janai (don’t grab) also played a large part. Sensei’s hands were often open and grabbing not possible. The action was carried out by the body, the arms, the legs, the hips, the spine. When you don’t grab uke, you don’t inform him on your intention, not being able to guess your next move, he is lost in the kûkan and whatever he does is wrong and out of rhythm.
Action on the 指, Yubi (finger) with the fingers or the hand was paramount during the whole class. Sensei was not holding uke but inevitably uke’s fingers were trapped in sensei’s palm, softly but firmly.
Sensei showed also how to pin uke down with only one finger, by softly rolling uke’s eyeball with the tip of one finger. I had the chance (sic) to experience it and surprisingly it stops
immediately all your reactions. Sensei rolled my eyeball softly through the eyelid protecting the eyeball, there was no pain at all and no danger for the eye but somehow your brain orders the body not to move. The only option is to wait, hoping you still have two eyes at the end.
We did a lot of kaeshi waza where sensei was attacking and using uke’s blocks or grabs, as a starting points for countering. One important point he explained was to immediately open and stretch the fingers after being intercepted by uke. Extending the fingers changes the 梃,  teko (lever) and creates a natural off balancing.
Also when receiving the attack, or countering the blocking, sensei used a few times some strange kind of hira ichimonji no kamae, expanding and/or decreasing the space. Once again the image of the kurage comes to mind.
He also demonstrated 陰陽, Inyô (playing hard and soft): Often when in contact with uke, what was hard became soft and conversely. These alternative tensions in sensei’s body sent wrong imformation to the body of uke who, by overreacting was losing his balance and the control he thought he had over sensei. I was sensei’s uke and had the chance to feel and experience it, it was really strange as if your body is drunk. Suddenly you find yourself only supported by nothingness. He added that it was like juggling with uke. By alternating hardness and softness your body and mind are trapped.
But the worse is coming now!
All these points we covered above were done altogether at all time! No wonder why we felt lost during this class. And he used the exact  same techniques with the Ken. Only distance changed but these points were applied seamlessly with the Ken.
He referred many times to his movement as being “Mutô Dori”, even when both uke and tori had the sword in hand! That was 無刀執り, mutô dori in the sense that he was “juggling” the sword around without hitting uke at all. The sword held in many different ways (kata yubi, ryô yubi, ôya yubi, etc) was simply landing softly on uke’s body creating from uke’s behalf a useless counter reaction. Then with simple walking motions sensei would end up putting one edge of the blade on the open spots of uke’s body. Let me insist again: all the points detailed above were applied also with the Ken.
At one point he slammed down uke’s weapon with the flat side of the Ken held in Ôya yubi and added the second hand to increase the force of the control. Shiraishi who was uke lost his weapon repeatedly. The slapping movement was swift, not violent but powerful.
Sensei also spoke of 実戦の空間, Jissen no kûkan to summarize the movements of the class. This way of real fighting is based on the density of empty space. By using what he called  気の流れ, Ki no nagare, the flow of energy (i.e. kurage) you trap uke in a dimension beyond his level of perception. Time doesn’t exist anymore and your space is definitely not uke’s space. Having no time nor space to refer to, uke explodes by himself and offers his body to be slaughtered.
Maybe I got it wrong and when Spoke spoke of 無刀執り, mutô dori I should have understood 無人執り, mu to dori, no one is grabbed. I hope that some of these explanations will help you to understand that yesterday night was really like being caught into the twilight zone. But the most surprising was to see Sensei’s permanent large smile.
I loved this class.
As a side note there were a few rewards distributed by Sôke during the class:
My friends Betsy Lomax (USA) received the gold medal of the Bujinkan,
and Gustavo Sanchez (Mexico) received the Shingitai diploma.
Congratulations to them both!

 

Rank Is Not Competence


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I have been traveling to train in Japan over 50 times over the last 23 years. I’m what you can call a “Jurassic ninja”. 

But yesterday for the first time I forgot my belt on the mats. I left it right after Nagato sensei’s class and it made me think on the value one attaches to this piece of fabric and what does rank really means.

Luckily for my ego, my friend Joe Maurantonio message me that he found it and put it on the big koi at the entrance of the dôjô. And luckily I didn’t forget my key of the dôjô so I got it back.

To see my belt lying on top of this huge koi fish* was quite symbolic. As you know we have created with my friend Shiva from India a Bujinkan website** for online streaming and in the past three years we have recorded all the training themes (weapons, ryûha) from the end of the 80’s until the beginning of the Juppô Sesshô cycle (2003).
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For that I see myself as being quite competent. But is it true?
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Theoretical 応答能, ôtônô, (competence) is shown by the belt. On the mats it is easy to look good as everyone expect you to be good: “he is Jûgodan, so he must be good”. This is an illusion, a twisted appreciation of reality, and a true cognitive dissonance*** because they judge you on the omote (what people think you are) and do not see the ura (what you really are).
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Outside of the dôjô the attacker has no clue about who you are in your “dôjô cocoon” and when he comes at you he has no doubt about the outcome of his attack. Unlike what we often see on the mats, he is 200% Tori and sees you as a full Uke. No belt, no rank. There is only reality.
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Forget the Matrix; there is no blue or red pill, or any plug to download competence in your brain; there are only many years of hard training. Rank is not competence and a belt doesn’t do the training for you. If we witness that everyday in our lives and in the dôjô, the majority tends to forget it. Whoever we are, whenever you are in Japan you are only a student and not a teacher. My brother Pedro explained it nicely in a recent FB post, please read it****. Pedro explains that there is only one sensei, Hatsumi sensei. If you believe yourself to be a 先生 sensei maybe what you call sensei is only 浅才 sensai (a lack of ability).
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In each class you can see those “sensai teachers” teaching their lack of understanding to their partner instaed of training. They often train with a kyû belt or a young black belt. These “buyû” have no 武勇 buyuu martial prowess, they are simply 不優 buyuu badly skilled!
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Their 自信 jishin (self-confidence) is 児真 jishin (childish reality).
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These sensai teachers are the perfect illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect*****:
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“The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes. The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self.”
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The more unskilled they are and the more they believe in their own value. They train fast in order to hide their incompetence. They inflict pain to their partner thinking that the more pain they give, the more skilled they are. Don’t get me wrong, to inflict pain is ok but why doing it when it is unnecessary? They hide in the back of the dôjô (far from sensei) to teach their own 無能, munô (inefficiency) to their victim of the day.
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Over the years I have tried to tell them not to do it, but it proved to be useless as they are only listening to themselves and do think they are good. Maybe this is why I have so many high ranks teachers disliking me. A few years ago two guys came to Nagato sensei and said: “sensei we don’t understand” and Nagato sensei answered: “you don’t understand? then go back home!”. They still come to Japan and train with him regularly. But if he can say that, as I am not Japanese people consider me wrong, arrogant or incompetent.
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But how can it be different?
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Each time they come to Japan they are promoted. This persuades them of their own value. They have no doubt. When they return home to their worshipers (no one forces the students to pay the training fee) believe their teacher is good because the “Japanese Shihan” give him a higher rank. This is a vicious circle.
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Another reason for their wrong behavior is that the “ranking race” stops at the Jûgodan level. So these “unskilled individuals” will eventually get to this rank. And having the same rank will consider themselves equal to you. I recently experienced it as a freshly promoted Jûgodan corrected me on a waza I have been training when he was still wearing pampers!
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There is no shortcut to experience! 応答能 ôtônô, (competence) is acquired through time and the belt you wear is only a piece of fabric. Rank is not competence it is a trap for your ego.
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So please enjoy your next training as a true 学生 gakusei (student) and don’t forget that being a gakusei means to 学 (learn) 生 (life) and that it is the chance that Hatsumi sensei is offering us.
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* koi fish: the Japanese bass. For some reason there is a huge stuffed koi in a glass box at the entrance of the dôjô. Maybe a ninja bass, who knows.
** www.koimartialart.com gets about 1500 visits per week. All the dvds from www.budomart.com are available in online streaming. We did that to serve as a “Bujinkan library” of all the waza in order to help the teachers and the community to remember the general forms. A video is always better than a written text as simultaneity is visible. This is not the case in a book where everything is linear. Disclaimer: these are my interpretations and they are not “official bujinkan” material.
*** cognitive dissonance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance
**** Pedro’s post: “Gisei” you can find it  here: https://www.facebook.com/pedro.fleitas.5?fref=ts
***** Dunning-Kruger effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

Kûkan, Fibonacci, and Snail


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When a beginner attends to a class with Nagato sensei it seems that he is always repeating the same movement.

When you have been training in Japan with him for over twenty years you see things differently. Nagato sensei’s movements are like a reverse Fibonacci suite*, the more he repeats the movement, and the more he is getting closer to the opponent.
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The Fibonacci suite looks like the shell of a snail and this is also how we should train, in slow motion.
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Nagato sensei taijutsu is very precise in his teaching and beginners often seem not to grasp it. He always begin the class with a movement given by one of the participants. Then he shows how to be always protected while getting closer and closer using his own precise footwork.
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You have to know that each one of  the Japanese Shi Tennô has a particular way of moving the legs. I remember once attending a class where he was asked to demonstrate one of the kihon happô. I was training with a Japanese high rank. We were both regular students of Noguchi sensei at that time and our taijutsu had the “Noguchi touch”. I was the first to do the kihon happô and I was unable to do it! A kihon happô! My ego felt bad and I felt bad for my Japanese partner, thinking tat he was judging my poor level of understanding of the basics. But then when he did it, he did the same exact wrong movement I just did. That day I understood that each one of them has his own way of moving. This is why when you have the chance to come to Japan, you must train with as many shihan as possible as each one is giving you a brick to build the walls of your own house of taijutsu.
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Nagato sensei when teaching is not trying to show “the true technique”, he is showing how to survive an actual fight. And to do that he repeats the movements changing the distance and the angles and getting closer. This is what I call the “artichoke approach”. Each repetition is like eating the leaves of an artichoke** as gradually you are reaching the essence/heart of the technique as you would the heart of this vegetable.
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By adjusting slowly his footwork Nagato sensei teaches the best way to get to the core of the technique. The precision of the angles, the subtle variations in the way he holds the opponent are close to heart surgery.  And he is always fully protecting himself from any reaction of his opponent.
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The beauty is that Nagato sensei can do that with anything demonstrated by the uke of the day, even with an apparently non interesting technique. This is the sign of a true shihan and I wish that one day I will get to this level.
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But this progressive adjustment is only possible if you train slowly. Forget the running rabbit attitude and learn by being slow like a snail. Everyone knows the fable of the hare and the tortoise by La Fontaine***, this is the same. When you train fast you miss the norikae (see one of my previous post) and end up using strength. The worst is that the technique you are supposed to learn is not there anymore. The beginning looks similar. The end looks similar. But the technique is absent of your movements.
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It is like the normal distribution in mathematics (aka Gauss curve or Bell curve****). The key element here is the center of the bell curve called “standard deviation”. When you practice like a rabbit i.e. too fast the standard deviation disappears and you are left only with the omote of the technique.
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On the contrary, when you train like a snail you enter the ura, the heart of the waza and you can really learn.
Speed in the dôjô is often the mark of a bad practitioner. Doing the movement fast is a self centered approach. You learn nothing and you can even be dangerous to your partner.
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Many times over the years I heard Nagato sensei stopping the class and saying “people that are moving fast are stupid!”. Space and time are connected as we know since Einstein’s theories. The slower you train, the more chance you have to “see” the kûkan. Low speed is the key to unfold the kûkan and this is what we learned again today during his class. When you train slowly your brain has enough time so that your body can understand the technique. You have to create the proper brain connections in order for your body to move without thinking.
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The Bujinkan is not about looking good during training with flashy visible movements made to impress our fellow practitioner. The Bujinkan is about teaching our body and mind to move correctly and this is achieved by really studying what is taught in class.
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You might do it differently in your own dôjô but if you came here to train, then train for real, like a snail. I leave with one sentence that hatsumi sensei said to me once: “Arnaud, train what you have to train, and teach what you have to teach”. Meditate this.
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If you behave like a 兔 usagi (rabbit) you will only get 有詐欺 usagi (a fraudulent existence). Thank you Nagato sensei for another enriching class, I’m drooling for our next class.
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** How to eat an artichoke: http://www.wikihow.com/Eat-an-Artichoke
**** Gauss curve: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_distribution

Ken no Nigiri


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At the end the class Hatsumi sensei came to me, took the wooden ken I got from Tanaka san* and showed me how to hold the Ken.

The Ken is versatile and the many possible 握り nigiri (grips) reflect this. Sensei demonstrating these grips to me precised that the many ways of holding the weapon implied the ability to change the grips freely according to the body movements. If you play tennis or golf you already know that. Different grips are used in different situations.
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The Ken is really a refreshing weapon because it is the extension/expression of our taijutsu. Nothing is wrong and everything goes.
The freedom of action of the Ken should reflect the way we lead our lives. After many years when sensei taught us to be happy, we are now free to live for ourselves.
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During the calligraphy break, sensei wrote in gold letters the bija mantra for Fudô Myô on my Ken.
As you all know, Fudô Myô is a major divinity in Japanese Budô, and he holds a Ken with a vajra/sanko handle in one hand. Fudô Myô is  often represented symbolically by a Ken. You would often find a simple Ken or a dragon wrapped around the Ken engraved on the blade of the Samurai to bring the divinity’s protection to the warrior.
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Fudô Myô (Acala)** is dark skinned, surrounded by the flames of sapience in which are hidden 9 karasu (crows). In Japan, the legend goes that the crows are the eyes of the gods watching our human behaviour.
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They caw to report to the gods.
Fudô is a myô***, i.e. a “angry-faced” divinity. He is benevolent, his left hand carries a mala (nenju, rosary) to catch those of us going away from the righteous path. He is holding a Ken in the other hand to cut our passions. Fudô has one eye looking up and the other looking down, one tooth going up, one tooth going down.
Fudô is a protector like all Myô divinities.
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Hereafter you will find the grips that sensei was kind enough to teach me at the end of Sunday class. In his explanations sensei insisted again on the importance of having a lot of mobility with the fingers to make the blade alive and move freely. Train that at home.
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Keypoints:
  • the tsuba is flat and the fingers are a natural extension of your body movements.
  • the blade is not sharp close to the tsuba allowing you to hold it with the fingers without getting injured
  • thrusts are done with flat blade
  • the body is behind all your movements, the legs are hitting uke through the sword
  • using the legs allows you not to use chikara (strength) 
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One finger (forefinger)
You hold the tsuka and your forefinger is extended on the tsuba and directs the blade.
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One finger (thumb – new)
You hold the tsuka and your thumb is extended on the tsuba to thrust the tip flat in a kind of boshi ken.
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Two fingers (forefinger and middle finger)
You hold the tsuka and your fingers are extended on the tsuba and direct and secure the blade.
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Holding the Tsuba (thumb and forefinger – new)
I see it as a kind of “ihen” in-between grip. It can be used also for thrusting (palm up).
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Reverse grip
Used when hiding the blade and to change side rapidly or to hit with the kashira.
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During the break and before writing on my Ken, sensei drew a bird diving to attack that I believe to be a crow: “hichô” he said simply while handing it to me.
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hicho
Later when he wrote the bija Fudô Myô on the Ken, he also wrote: カー “kaa” on the opposite side of the Ken: the cawing of a crow.
Everything is connected.
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Be aware of coincidence and be open to reinterpret always what you think you know until you stop thinking and only act freely.
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This is what you learn when training in the Bujinkan under such a fantastic master.
Be happy, be free!
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*Tanaka San is selling two types of wooden Ken to the Bujinkan members
** Fudô Myô:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acala
*** Myô: http://global.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/400424/Myo-o

Norikae: Change Your Mindset


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Do you think Hatsumi sensei is reading my blog? we can think so because in today’s class he gave us the next level to understand the Henka article.

I was asked to begin the class with some taijutsu technique. Uke attacks with a fist at short distance and by moving up and down, left and right you pull him down softly at your feet once uke’s balance is broken. Quoting Noguchi sensei in class today I would say it was a juppô sesshô technique. Hatsumi sensei did many henka around that, not using force at all, grabbing the fingers, crushing the nails having uke dance like a fool with pain. At one point he turned to me and said: “Norikae!”. Totally taken by surprised I said the only logical thing: “nani?” (what?). Sensei explained that the new taijutsu he is developing these days the key was to understand the possible changes that could be done and not to be lost in the way.
Softly he did many “henka” taking uke’s balance only by holding a finger and controlling him seamlessly. As my friend Sven would say the technique “is not about power it is about control”. Sensei added “this is moving like a butterfly”, it was soft and light at the same time but very powerful. To keep the control with these soft movements was the spirit of woman self defense which we will study during the taikai.
乗り換え norikae or 乗り換える, norikaeru is a verb used when transferring trains or changing buses. If you take the wrong track you never reach your final destination. Norikae is the keypoint to develop proper control of the opponent. Once again there is no strength at all (he repeated many times again 力じゃない, chikara janai, don’t use strength). Having no preconceived plan of action you move like a butterfly from one control to the other, never stopping until uke is defeated. But if you make one mistake, i.e. miss a connection, you end up dead. To reach this ability one must have developed a powerful taijutsu and, he added, this is the most difficult expression of taijutsu, .
Let me illustrate this 乗り換え “transfer, change” concept with an example. Mistakes are always possible and the results can be dramatic. If during your meal you use tabasco instead of ketchup you might get quite surprised after the first bite. On a side note and speaking of tabasco, sensei said that you could put some chili on your nose to peek into the eye of the opponent. This way of thinking is also ninjutsu.
Full awareness leads to instantaneous changes and adaptation to uke’s reactions. Then strength is not necessary. Whatever move you are doing it can be wrong but if you don’t dwell on your mistakes, learn from them, and regain advantage over uke, it is good. In any situation you have to decide fast and often there is no time to think. You have to become so good that you surf on the best possible wave of action.
Ninpô taijutsu is a tool and your choice of action will determine your fate. But as it is the case with any tool there are always several options. A tool does not have 識 shiki, consciousness; you do. A lighter for example is a simple tool: it can be used for the fireplace, cook your food, or burn your house. Because you have shiki you don’t destroy everything. This is norikaeru.
If we dig deeper, 乗り換える norikaeru has also the meaning of “changing one’s mind”. You must be capable of changing your course of action at any moment. The quality of your listening to uke’s reactions makes the correct norikae.
This is why Hatsumi sensei’s techniques are so difficult to get. But the difficulty does not lie in the movements per se. It is based upon the awareness to adjust, in a blink, to uke’s reactions without thinking or using any strength. What sensei has been teaching today is indeed for me a new paradigm. I understand now why he was saying last year that this “goshin jutsu” was the hardest way to learn how to fight.
This is linked with 縁の切身ない, en no kirinai (don’t sever the connection) that we studied a few years ago*. By keeping the control and the contact with uke we are able to move freely and to defeat him. By understanding what sensei was teaching today we become able to 乗り代える, nori kaeru, “ride on the change”; and to 忍びの理科得る, shinobi no rika eru: “obtain the science of ninjutsu”.
*search for it on this blog, several entries

Henka: A Poetic Strangeness


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We often use the word “Henka” 変化 when referring to an adaptation of a given waza. But this word is more than it seems. I remember Sensei explaining once that in a Ryûha, a henka is described as a part of the level considered. A henka in a school is like another way of doing the same technique but respecting the 法 hô, principle of the original waza.
The dictionary gives different meanings: “change” or “variation”; but also the meaning of “transition”, as if a henka could be the passage from one technique to another. When one studies a Ryûha he is often surprised to see that the “official henka” links the waza from which it is created to the next Waza coming right after it.
Apart from these “official henka” the word in general refers to the ability to apply a prinicple of action to different situations. The Kanji 変 Hen alone has the meaning of “change” but also the meaning of “strange, curious, funny, unexpected”. When I first joined Sensei’s teachings at the London Taikai of 1987, I had no clue about anything, but even less the word henka. But I do remember vividly that each technique he was doing seemed “curious” and for sure totally “unexpected”!
Many Bujinkan practitioners do not know enough the basics and fundamentals of the art to produce correct henka, but I noticed that things are  slowly “changing” and every time I meet bujinkan practitioner in Japan or abroad I can see a positive evolution in their understanding and performance. Like many of you I don’t speak Japanese but I keep digging in my dictionaries in order to understand Sensei’s budô better. As he wrote in his book “unarmed fighting techniques of the Samurai”, it is important to understand the meaning of the names of the waza.
Hatsumi sensei is not only a fantastic martial artist, he is a philosopher of the martial arts and his teachings can be applied in our daily lives. Like Monsieur Jourdain in Moliere’s theater play, we do henka everyday without knowing it! The Bujinkan is teaching us to adapt our lives to the situations and people we meet, and we are adapting our actions in permanence without really being aware of it.
The world of henka is endless but first you need to know your basics correctly. If “hen” means many things, this is also the case with “ka”. Ka, 化 is the “action of making something” i.e. the perpetual change, the perpetual adaptation. But written differently: 下, it is “under” meaning that change lies under, invisible to our senses. Creating a henka is the action of moving something from the invisible world to the visible and sensitive world.
In my opinion this is the real lesson of this world of henka taught by sensei. Funnily, the suffix 課, ka as a stand alone also means “lesson”. This is a lesson we learn by adapting our lives to reality. It is close to the sentence we all repeat before and at the end of the class: “shikin haramitsu dai komyô”; as each action taken brings a lesson to learn from. And often the lesson is unexpected, therefore it changes the regular understanding of henka 変化 into henka 変課 .
Seeing the world differently is the strength of 歌人 kajin, the poet who plays with the words in order to manifest the beauty that lays hidden invisible around us. I have the feeling that Sensei has transformed us into 変歌人 henkajin, eccentric poets ; or to be in the mood for the kunoichi taikai beginning in a few days into 変佳人 henkajin: unusual beautiful women.
Thank you Sensei to make us 変化仁 henkajin, men of change and adaptation.