Kantan Desu


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This has been a tremendous trip this time again and I have enough to study and train for the next four months before I come back.Today was my last class with Sôke and because of that I was asked to open the ball, in fact the first five dances were for me.

It is pointless to repeat here that after each technique I did, his interpretation was far beyond my understanding. He always does it, and I’m always hoping that his movement will be reachable. It’s not.Being uke with sensei is like going back to kindergarten. Nothing to feel, nothing to understand, only the feeling that attacking him was really a bad idea. No strength from his part, and no chance of survival from mine.

Luckily sensei speaks a lot. And today (but also during all the other classes), he spoke about Juppô Sesshô no jutsu. Since 2003, and the sanjigen no sekai we started the Juppô Sesshô cycle. This cycle is still on and it is really the highest form of expression of budô. I wonder how many other material arts teachers have mastered this superior form, no one other than Hatsumi sensei I guess. Nagato sensei commented that Takamatsu never taught sensei any of the Tsurugi, but he told him that when the time come, he would know how to deal with this weapon. Takamatsu sensei was right.

Commenting one of his movements Sôke said that he was zero and that zero is ten, which in turn is Juppô Sesshô. “Zero is ten” means that after nine we go back to zero (10 = 1 + 0), this is a new beginning (like with the 42 cycle – read previous post).

By being zero in the movement you can adapt to any change in uke ‘s attitude. By not having any intention yourself, by being zero, you can overcome any attack without strength, or speed.

Sensei added that the use of strength and speed was a “childish conception of martial arts”. Real budô is about moving naturally, walking without hurry. Slow motion is the essence of budô. This is particularly true when the same taijutsu techniques are applied with weapons. And today we also used both the bô and the Tsurugi with the same taijutsu movements.

During the morning class, Nagato sensei repeated once again that in budô we don’t try to make it look good. In a real fight it is simply about efficiency. And if it looks good, it’s a bonus.Kûkan is everything and sensei said that by changing the angle of our footwork, we can increase the Kûkan. Space and timing define Kûkan. Then in this new increased Kûkan, the weapons can be drawn easily. In taijutsu close distance is possible but when dealing with weapons, our distance must be adjusted to the size of our weapons.

The Bujinkan is a fantastic martial art system, and it is quite simple after all. But to make it simple, in appearance, is quite difficult.Today, the last class with sensei was simply a difficult one.

In the morning, Nagato sensei, with a smile on his face, kept repeating 簡単 kantan desu (it’s easy) but maybe he was trying to say 感歎 kantan desu (astonishing)!

Each trip for me is a permanent astonishment, I learn more about myself, about my errors and misconceptions, and I always feel I’m richer after sweating in the dôjô with sensei and the Shihan than before coming here.

Bergson said that “to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly”.  So I guess that each trip makes my existence a little better and that it is helping me to create myself a little more.

Thank you sensei for having created this opportunity for us and to have shared it with the world.

“42 “: The End Of The Cycle


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“The need to be right is the sign of a vulgar mind” said French writer and Nobel prize laureate Albert Camus. To change your mind and recognize that you might be wrong is what the Bujinkan is teaching us. Being right or wrong, strong or weak is irrelevant, it is “vulgar ” and a low understanding of true martial arts.

When you have the chance to spend some private time with Sôke, you have to be ready to see the world differently afterward. Each time I meet him in his house I come with a list of questions. But even though I have already my own answers, I always come to him with an open mind ready to modify my perception of the problem. When you speak with sensei, it is like what they say in Zen Buddhism, you have to come with an empty glass, so that it can be filled. If your glass is already full then nothing can be poured into it.

Yesterday in sensei ‘s house I had the chance to spend some quality time with him. While walking the dog, we began to speak about some technical points I wanted to get advice on (see detail in previous entry).
But then once my glass had been emptied, he began to speak about the Bujinkan. He said that we were ending a cycle of 42 years and we are beginning another one right now. He kept repeating “this is the end of the cycle “. By chance Darren and his translator joined us and communication was easier.

What I understood is that the number 42 is an important symbol not only in H2G2* but in many ancient traditions. In Japan it is often considered as a negative symbol because when you read the figure “42” as “4” & “2” it means death**.

Takamatsu sensei died when Hatsumi sensei was 42 years old. So this year he said, we have to be cautious. Maybe this is why we will not have the usual daikomyô sai this year. But this bad omen can also be tuned into a positive one, the end of the cycle being the new beginning (remember the new season in the kihon happô year).

Hatsumi sensei said that now it is up to the jûgodan to conduct this new cycle. This is not new as this was inferred by the scroll hanging in the dôjô this year giving the theme. Don’t panic! It doesn’t mean he is quitting. Sensei said that his budô is not Japanese but belongs to the world. During this 42 years cycle, he said, he has been spreading what true budô is. And this is not limited to the Japanese martial arts as “learning to survive is a human being quality, it is not limited by any borders “.

A few years ago, sensei said in class that “the Bujinkan is not made in Japan, it is made in Human”. The Bujinkan Budô he is teaching is based exclusively on survival and not on waza.
In order to survive “everything can be used”, he added, “a pen, a spoon, a cup can be tuned into deadly weapons and ensure your survival, if you understand the essence of budô “. The ryûha, the weapons are only tools to develop this understanding, the core essence of our training is Juppô Sesshô.

Since 2003, we are learning this Juppô Sesshô and this is the highest path of budô. Katachi are necessary to access the true kankaku. The saino konki is not in the forms, it is developed by and depending on his or her commitment and understanding. Only time and experience matter.

In the class after our meeting I asked him to paint a scroll with the text hanging by the shinden. But when he did it there were more kanji than on the original one. I asked why and he said: “I transformed it so that now it is a 御守 Omamori”. This new “42” cycle begins well.

Let me quote Albert Camus once more:  “You cannot create experience. You must undergo it”. So I hope to see you soon on the mats so that we can undergo our experience together.

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* Hitchhiker ‘s guide to the galaxy
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker’s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy
En español para MF2: http://es.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy  😉
** Symbolism of 42: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/42_(number)
*** Omamori: good luck charm, amulet

Koto vs. Gyokko part 2


ImageAfter the post on “Koto vs. Gyokko”, I received a few comments by Bujinkan members not agreeing totally with what I wrote.

The main questions being:
1) the relative distance of the school’s (short and long); and 
2) the “new” Kokû (inside / outside).

So as I had an appointment with Sôke before the class I decided to ask him directly. It is always better to ask the source.

When I arrived to his house, he was ready to go out to walk his barzoi dog, so I went with him. While we were walking to the “dog relieving spot”, I saw a short window of opportunity to ask about those two points. His answers are given below, between brackets.*

Distance: “everything that we train now is Juppô Sesshô so all distances are correct”. 
When it comes to physical fighting, the distance is the distance of contact (arms or legs). But the Koto (the tiger) jumps from further away, you are moving into the center. The Gyokko (ie. Gyoku+ko) waits for the attacker, you are the center of the sphere (gyoku = 玉, ball, sphere, pearl).

The Chinese and the Japanese have this image of “crouching tiger, flying dragon”. In 2003, the first year of the Juppô Sesshô cycle, the full name of the theme was “Koteki Ryûda Juppô Sesshô Hibun no Kami”.**
Symbolically the Chinese dragon/tiger image is a representation of yinyang***. They are therefore complementary (as stated in my post). The title “Koto vs. Gyokko” should have been written “Koto/Gyokko unity”. You find a hint in Hatsumi sensei ‘s book in the chapter concerning the Gyokko Ryû. Did you notice that at the beginning of the chapter, sensei writes about “Gyokko Ryû Kosshi Koppô Jutsu? Then the natural opposition is replaced by a strong unity.

Kokû: “each one expresses it differently, everything goes, this is Juppô Sesshô that we are expressing these days”.
Then still holding the leash around his wrist, he stopped i the middle of the street and asked me to attack. I did as ordered and he naturally extended the left forearm to receive/cushion the attack while nearly simultaneously digging a deep and painful boshi Ken*** at the joint of the elbow. “This Kankaku is important” he said.

I wish I could have taken a picture of this particularly moment.

And to end this, my post was not about the Gyokko Ryû or a specific way of doing a given waza, my point was to explain that the diversity of interpretations that you find in Japan when you train opens up new worlds of opportunities when your eyes and spirit are ready to see and understand: 神心神願, shinshin shingan*****

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* caution: sensei varies his answers depending on the moment, or the person asking. My point is that he might have said the opposite and still be correct.
** Koteki Ryûda: crouching tiger, flying dragon
Juppô Sesshô: negotiating in all directions
Hibun no Kami: (is the) secret expression of the gods
*** the tiger and dragon in the I Ching http://www.biroco.com/yijing/dragon_tiger.htm
**** boshi Ken is typical from the Gyokko Ryû

*****神心神願, shinshin shingan: the eyes and the mind of  the gods

The Bujinkan paradigm


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Stephen Hawking said that “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” 

Well, Wednesday night during Noguchi sensei’s class I faced the illusion of my knowledge. Everything began nicely when he said Gyokko Ryû. Then hell broke loose as he recreated the techniques totally. His big smile when he said it should have prepared me for something special.

Over the last 25 years I went through these techniques many times with him. Every high rank knows Kokû, Renyô, Gyaku nagare, Dan shu, Dan Shi, Hanebi, at least that was my feeling until Noguchi sensei reversed everything. Once again I was lost.

I will use the Kokû we did that night as an example:

Uke attacks with right fist
Tori, inside, does a circular migi age shutô to the elbow
Uke kicks with right leg after receiving the shutô
Tori then does ura Keri gaeshi with the left leg and then steps in with right foot and hit migi boshi Ken at uke’s migi butsumetsu.

For years we trained Kokû from the outside, doing it from the inside was mind blowing! This new form was very interesting and full of discoveries for me. I might already have done it like that in the past alone in my dôjô or here in Japan. But after Hatsumi sensei ‘s class of Tuesday in Ayase, it was, at least for me, like entering 範列 hanretsu, a new paradigm. Because I saw infinite possibilities of interpreting our hundreds of waza from a totally renewed approach!

When you have studied, trained, and learnt this budô for thirty years you have, more or less, seen everything. Or at least this is what your ego thinks. The reality is that the learning path is endless and that other universes of possibilities are there if you are brave enough to look for them.

Master Yoda said: “Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” This is why I call it a paradigm as it changes totally our point of view on the art. I used the 範列 concept a few times already here in this blog because when I train here, I often have to redefine what I thought I knew (the point of view). It is easy to play the “master”, and many of us jûgodan, do that quite well… And the older you get, the easier it is. But this is the dark side of the Bujinkan.
Again as Yoda said in Star Wars:
Luke: “Is the dark side stronger?”
Yoda: “No! No…no. Quicker. Easier. More seductive.”

Remember that there is no shortcut to excellence in the Bujinkan and that it does not come with the rank. If the Bujinkan was easy it would not be worth training. But it is not difficult, either, if you are ready to get rid of your certitudes.

It is not がん蛋 Gantan (difficult for barbarians) but 簡単 Kantan (simple) if you take the good decision, “shusha dori” (取捨取) which is to come here in Japan and to train. Back home we try too hard to stick to the text and by worshiping the 貌 Katachi (the form), we lose the 感覚 Kankaku (the feeling). The kankaku can only be found here at the source of the “force”.

Sensei, in his last classes, insisted a lot on not being too much focusing on the Katachi but working to express the Kaname though the Kankaku. If you see yourself as a student of Hatsumi sensei and if you follow what your master is asking, then each time you come here you might have to redefine yourself, and change your paradigm.

If you prefer to think that you know everything already maybe you are suffering from a deep Dunning-Kruger twisted 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. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

Ayase: Mysterious Opportunities


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During the last class in Ayase at the Budôkan, sensei never repeated twice the same movement. Instead he was surfing from one opportunity to another.

Written differently Ayase can be 怪瀬, “mysterious opportunity”, and indeed his movements were definitely mysterious and he was adapting his actions to any opportunity offered by the opponent.

That was even more difficult for me as he asked me twice to demonstrate. Then he was expressing it in such a “mysterious ” way that I couldn’t repeat it!

Apparently to an observer what he was doing was simple and obvious but when you had to do it, it was nearly impossible to copy. Once again I got totally lost!

Facing a group of lost students he stopped and said: “I teach the same feeling with many forms, don’t memorize them. In a real fight you will have no time to think, only to react. ”

If we try to analyze, I would say that sensei was using a Sanshin consisting of Karada (body movements), maai (distance), and by not grabbing uke at all.
Nagato sensei in a recent class reminded us of the Takagi Yôshin Ryû concept of 中一瞬 の 吉丁虫, “Amo isshun no tamamushi”, catching a bee in your hand and not being stung. The idea being to hold it softly, leaving a small kûkan inside the hand so that instead of attacking, the bee tries to find a way out. Remember that when a bee sings you, it dies right after. Each time it is a balance between life and death.

Like the Takagi bee, uke is trapped in the kûkan generated by sensei but he is apparently free to move. Sensei applies tensions by moving his body naturally. No information is sent to uke’s brain therefore, uke continues to dig his grave, because from his perspective there are still opportunities. But it is like the “shicho” situation when you play go.

At one point, Hatsumi sensei came to tell me how important it was to use kyojitsu: big/small, strong/weak, full/empty in order to force uke to react wrong. By  playing alternatively with the increase and decrease of pressure with his body and his mind, Sôke creates suki (openings) and takes advantage of them instantly. I commented that it looked like a Kurage movement (jellyfish), and he agreed with a smile.

Sensei is moving in a way that creates natural tensions and when they are created, he lets go. Uke is defeated by his own tensions. But because uke keeps trying to win, the form of sensei’s movement keeps changing. This is why sensei never did the same movement twice.

This formless expression of taijutsu was also applied successfully with the Tsurugi in Mutô Dori taijutsu. Using the Sanshin: Karada, maai, no grab explained above. Your Kamae (attitude) forces uke to take action. Uke is free to move apparently but in fact he is caught in a mental and physical spider web. Once there, there are no escape. Walking to the light at the end of the tunnel, uke is destroyed by it.

Funnily uke never sees the danger of his situation before it is too late. Until the last second he hopes to win. Then dies. In fact uke is あやせ, “ayase” (cuddled) by 怪瀬, “ayase”, (mysterious opportunities).