No Waza, No Henka


With Nagato sensei covering the Takagi Yoshin Ryû and Noguchi sensei the Koto Ryû, the Wednesday classes were intense.

But each time they teach a (supposedly known) waza from any ryûha, I feel lost like a beginner, as the form they are teaching is often quite different from the forms I learned (with them) over the years. As pointed out by Duncan today,  Noguchi and Nagato sensei are “Dai Shihan” and this is to be expected at their level.

Yesterday after Noguchi sensei’s class, I went to speak with him about these differentials in his interpretations of the same technique. He said that once you know the waza, it is easy to change its form while keeping the same Kankaku (feeling). But he added that many teachers in the Bujinkan only do variations even though they don’t know the original waza. “This is strange”, he added, “how can they make a variation on something they never studied or understood?”.

And this is the main problem we see in today’s Bujinkan. Many visitors in Japan copy what they see Hatsumi sensei or the shihan doing. But having never studied personally at home the fundamental forms, they are only mimicking these movements. It is empty.

I had an uncle that was not a painter but he was copying masterpieces by Dali, reproducing every square centimeter and the result was amazing. But he wasn’t thinking that he knew how to paint like him! (I hope). By copying the omote you are not able to grasp the essence of a waza. Waza were designed to be simple so that kids would be able to copy them. But “if you use them as they are in a real fight you die” (cf. Hatsumi sensei). This is why there is always a kuden explaining the deeper meaning of the technique.

Each waza is in fact a result not a step by step process. Your training then consist in recreating the conditions that will make these waza possible. As long as you reproduce the steps you don’t have it.
Jissen has nothing to do with Embu (martial art demonstration).

So next time you are teaching or training, please spend some time trying to understand the basic form of the waza and you will see that your taijutsu will improve greatly. Excellence is not about collecting techniques, excellence comes from “being” the technique. And once you are the technique, simply forget it.

This year we train Shingin Budō but not so many can reach this level because they lack the basic knowledge. Learn the basics in order to be able to create variations, not before.

Did you ever wonder why the Shihan when they teach, read the techniques they have been training and teaching for nearly 50 years?

Sakki test 101


The Sakki test is the apex of a practitioner’s life. For many years sensei has been the only one to administrate the test and as one of the dinosaurs of the bujinkan (30 years in the Bujinkan last month), I had the privilege to witness him giving the test in numerous occasions. With about 30 Taikai and more than 50 trips to Japan I must have seen around 2000 Sakki tests. So I thought I knew what it was. Wrong again!

When in the Madrid Taikai of 2001 sensei asked a few of us to perform the test I was amazed to discover how draining it was to give the Sakki test. Honestly, I must admit that I didn’t believe it was that demanding. We had to do it twice and right after I left the training hall I had to take a nap before dinner as I was totally exhausted! I didn’t believe it was that difficult because I had seen sensei do up to 60 Sakki tests in a row at many Taikai.

When you are at the receiving end of the Sakki test it changes your life forever. But when you are giving the test it is like taking it again and again. This is one thing that no so many people in the Bujinkan know. Giving the test is similar to taking it! Except that you take the test only once.

Tuesday night I gave the test to three shidôshi (no, I don’t get tired anymore). And I think it is good to reveal some truths about the test for those of you who will take it soon (on either end of the sword).

1. There is no way to prepare yourself.
I know that some teachers are training their students for the test, this is useless. You have it. The perception of danger is ingrained in our brains. Only sincere training will allow your being too dodge the cut. It takes about 5 to 6 years to unearth the Sakki feeling bien in our reptilian brain.

2. It is not about crashing the skull of the applicant.
Many jûgodan try to hit the applicant, this is wrong. The Sakki test is a connection between the emitter and the receiver. It will always work if both the emitter and the receiver are connected. Without connection there is only pain (for the receiver). In fact the Sakki test is the expression of Shingin Budō.

3. Your regular senses cannot help.
When you take the test do not rely on your regular senses. If you hear the cut it is already too late. Simply relax and let your body react. Don’t think. This is why it is always better to close your eyes. But this is not a rule as many succeed with their eyes open.

4. Feel the urge to move. And move, don’t analyse.
Both the emitter and the receiver are connected and both must feel the urge to move. The receiver moves without knowing why. The emitter goes down because at some point when the connection is established, he had to go down. You don’t take the decision to move, you move because it is the only to do. Over the years I’ve seen many applicants fail even though they got the connection. In fact they are so amazed at the feeling that they last their concentration and got hit while thinking “wow I am feeling it!” and then wham!

5. Shin Gi Tai Ken Ichi Yotsu.
It is not a meditation and no god will do it for you. There’s no magic, it’s natural. The Sakki test is what makes the bujinkan what it is. It is about feeling the unity in all things, the connection with nature.

If you are to take the test soon, or if you are to administrate it, please remember that this is something that comes naturally when you are ready.

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