Kukishin seminar

2007 applying Sei on Jime on a journalist from the Tokyo Shinbun attending the Kukishin class

The “Shugyô”, one week seminar on Kukishin Taijutsu, biken jutsu and yari jutsu begins in a few days.
Join us and rediscover this fantastic fighting system.
Details http://www.shugyo.eventpages.org
Bring your padded weapons.




The Japanese developed their fighting systems out of necessity. They were not the more gifted, nor the best. But they did it for a longer time than us.

When you try to understand the development of Japanese Budō it is important to keep in mind the time-line of Japanese history.

In the West we do not really understand the reality of Japanese warfare and we take for granted that the 江戸時代, Edojidai (1603-1868) is the “golden age” for martial arts. This is a common misconception.

The 鎌倉時代 Kamakurajidai (1185-1333) didn’t survive the Mongol invasion of China (1279)*.  Japan since the T’ang Dynasty (618-906)** has been in close contact with the Chinese Empire. Through its “embassies”*** Japan had been copying everything from China since the 7th century (coins, writing, silk, arts, science etc),  in fact the Japanese society was a copy of the Chinese structure (political and economical). So when the Mongols invaded the Empire in the 13th century, and tried to invade Japan twice in the process****, the Japanese economical and political system collapsed and gave birth to a new type of society.

The 鎌倉時代 Muromachijidai (1333-1573) that followed tried to keep things the way they were, but when the 応仁の乱 Ôninran began (Ônin war 1467-1477) it was too late. It was the beginning of 下剋上 Gekokujō; a time when the lower daimyô tried to take power and replace the ancient rulers*****. It ensued a period of permanent wars 戦国時代, Sengokujidai (1467-1568), that ended up with the unification of the country and the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603.

Even though many of our fighting systems had been created before the 14th century, this is during these centuries of warfare (14th – 16th) that our ryûha were developed and refined. Not after.

In fact, I consider the Tokugawa period as the end of creativity in the martial arts. Because this is during this Edo period that the ryûha were systemized and  lost the creativity that made them survive until then. As explained brilliantly in “the principle of Lucifer” by xxx, “every living cell, plant, animal, if not under the risk of being destroyed will not carry out the necessary actions in order to survive”. survival is what triggers creativity. Peacetime is not.

Hatsumi sensei often says that we are training Muromachi techniques. I never heard him say that we were training Edo techniques. So when unification was finalized by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the development of Budō techniques stopped. And what I love about the bujinkan is that we keep these old techniques alive as well as their creativity.

There is no other martial art as complete and true as the bujinkan because we train the ways of the past in order to apply them in the modern world instead of reproducing dead techniques carved in granite by four centuries of peace time.

* “The Mongol invasion of China spanned six decades in the 13th century and involved the defeat of the Jin dynasty, Western Xia, the Dali Kingdom and the Southern Song, which finally fell in 1279. The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan started the conquest with small-scale raids into Western Xia in 1205 and 1207. By 1279, the Mongol leader Kublai Khan had established the Yuan dynasty in China and crushed the last Song resistance, which marked the onset of all of China under the Mongol Yuan rule. This was the first time in history that the whole of China was conquered and subsequently ruled by a foreign or non-native ruler, compared with the Manchus (who established the Qing dynasty) who did so a few centuries later”. From  http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_invasion_of_China
** T’ang dynasty: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tang_dynasty
*** Embassies: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_missions_to_Imperial_China
**** The Mongol invasions of Japan (元寇 Genkō?) of 1274 and 1281 were major military efforts undertaken by Kublai Khan to conquer the Japanese islands after the submission of Goryeo (Korea) to vassaldom. Ultimately a failure, the invasion attempts are of macrohistorical importance because they set a limit on Mongol expansion and rank as nation-defining events in Japanese history. During both invasions, the Japanese defenders were aided by major storms which sunk a sizable portion of the Mongolian fleets. From http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_invasions_of_Japan
***** Gekokujō (下剋上) is a Japanese term for “overthrowing or surpassing one’s superiors”. It is variously translated as “the lower rules the higher” or “the low overcomes the high”.


The Truth About Toda Sensei

takamatsuTraditionally in Japan, the young bushi were not taught the fighting techniques by their father but by one of their uncles.
The reason for that is that an uncle was less likely to listen to the screaming of the kid. Learning Budô is painful and as Sensei said once: “if you don’t like pain, then don’t train Budô”. But we can imagine that things were even tougher for a young kid in 19th century Japan.

We know from the stories told by Hatsumi Sensei, that Takamatsu Sensei’s nickname, when he was a kid, was 泣き味噌, nakimiso (crybaby). We also know that Takamatsu’s father was often mad at him for not showing the courage expected to be found in a kid descending from a bushi family. His father was very strict and the young Takamatsu was often physically punished. This was common practice at that time (19th century).

Takamatsu’s father wanted his son to join the army and thought that he needed some training before joining the academy, and for that reason, decided to send his son to Toda Sensei’s “Shinden Fudô Ryû Jûtaijutsu dôjô”.

Takamatsu began his training, reluctantly but with consistency. He was 9 year old only when he began his training with Toda Sensei. He would join training every day after his day at school. The way trainings were conducted at that time was tough and painful. Hatsumi Sensei’s said that even though Takamatsu was a small kid (weak), he was treated by the older students as if he was a grownup, and that he spent his classes being hit and thrown all over the dôjô.

The name Toda Shinryûken Masamitsu is known to all of us in the Bujinkan. He was an instructor at the Tokugawa Military Academy in Nakano-cho in Kyoto* and retired (or resigned) for political/ethical reasons**. He taught at his Shinden Fudô Ryû Jûtaijutsu dôjô supposedly until he died in 1909. When Takamatsu (nakimiso) joined in, Toda Sensei was already very old (1818-1909)***, being 70 years older than the young Takamatsu.

But there is something that many practitioners don’t know. Toda Sensei was Takamatsu’s uncle and not his grandfather who died before he was born.

This “grandfather” error stems from the fact that in japanese 祖父, “oji”, grandfather sounds exactly the same as 伯父 “oji”, uncle. I guess that the first westerners in Japan who heard the story understood it wrong and since then the error is repeated all over the net. But if you have read Hatsumi Sensei’s books or attended classes in Japan, you should know. This “Toda sensei was Takamatsu’s uncle” was told to us during a break by Nagato Sensei.(spring 2012).

But if you never read Sensei’s books then check these:

“By the way, as you know, I was taught ninjutsu by my uncle, who used to belong to the samurai class of Iga province”. In “Essence of ninjutsu” by Hatsumi Masaaki, p17 (english edition), Contemporary books, 1988.

“Takamatsu sensei often said that between training sessions with his uncle, Toda Sensei, he was made to copy out Toda Sensei’s densho”. In “Unarmed fighting techniques of the Samurai”, by Hatsumi Masaaki, p168 (1st edition English), Kodansha International, 2008.

Please read Hatsumi Sensei’s books thoroughly and not only between the lines.
And when you have a doubt, ask Sensei directly he will gladly give you the answer.

* This is not to be mixed with the “famous” Nakano Academy in Tokyo created in 1938.
**Takamatsu sensei’s own teacher, Toda Shinryûken – the 32nd grandmaster of Togakure Ryû Ninpô- taught Budô as chief instrutor at a martial academy in Kyôto, and enjoyed an excellent reputation. He was asked to do this by Matsudaira Noriyasu (1794-1870), one of the Shogunate’s senior councillors. However, political changes meant that Matsudaira Noriyasu lost his position, and Toda Shinryûken immediqtely left the academy, traveling around the kinki area, keeping his whereabouts hidden. He never again took up an official post”. by Hatsumi sensei, in “The Way of the ninja”, (1st edition, English, p27, Kodansha publishing, 2004.
***some other source say 1824-1909.

Caught In Invisible Brambles


How many times did you, as a kid, ruin your clothes in a blackberry bush while picking the fruits? I guess many times. The type of movement we are expressing today in Shingin Budô* ressembles this blackberry bush, except that we are the bush and uke is the fruit picker.

The 6th element completing the五行, gogyô is 識, Shiki, or consciousness. But Hatsumi sensei also refers to it as “awareness”. This awareness allows us to grab and to create the kûkan** in order to defeat uke. Since 2003 and Juppô Sesshô***, things are no more “images in two dimensions”, they are live movements in 3D.

十方, Juppô is the evolution of the wheel of the 8 directions (happô)**** to which a vertical axis linking Ten and Chi is added. The wheel of 2D with this vertical axis in the middle, oscillates in such a way that the original circle (2D) becomes a sphere (3D). This is why sensei says that video cameras cannot seize his movements as they can only give a two dimensional representation of what is really done

Awareness belongs to 3D world which is “Sanjigen no Sekai”*****. The brambles of the blackberry bush are the same. It is a “sanjigen bush”, and when reaching out to grab the fruit you are caught without strength by the many thorns that were not visible until then. This is the feeling you have when you are attacking Hatsumi sensei, you get captured without knowing it. Sensei is permanently using the kûkan and gives you the wrong feeling that you can get him without damages.
He is like the brambles and he catches you from an invisible spot while you are only focusing on him.
He is a blackberry bush and his thorn will tear you apart.

This knowledge of Kûkan is the key. He explained it once saying that “even if you give uke some space to move, he will not, because he is stuck in the kûkan”. After being sensei’s ule, one friend told me that it was like being trapped by brambles: the more you move and the more you get stuck and injured.

When you are able to manifest this awareness of kûkan, you are a true Bujin. There is no preconceived intention, you do what you have to do because the kûkan evolves with uke’s moves. In fact once you have reached full awareness and consciousness, you become able to react unconsciously inside a permanently evolving kûkan.

It sounds like paradoxical isn’t it? in fact, it is not.When you move in full consciousness you don’t think, you are fully aware of everything surrounding you (uke, kûkan, environment), you are zero. Any modification of those elements, even minimal, will be taken into account and dealt with naturally.

Sensei said once:” 90% of the mind is in the subconscious. Use it in the Kûkan and you will become invisible to uke”. This was during the Daikomyôsai 2008 and it is still valid at the Shingin Budô level.

The bujinkan is as simple as that, and this is why it is complex.

*神韻武導, Shingin Budô: our martial ways are guided by the natural artistry of the gods
** 空間, kûkan: empty space
***十方折衝, Juppô Sesshô
**** 八方, happô has the meaning of “all sides, all directions”. Front, back, left, right, and the 4 diagonals. Symbolized by a circle or a wheel.
*****三次元の世界, Sanjigen no Sekai was the theme of the first year of Juppô Sesshô in 2003.

Chûshin And Chōwa


Recently Senō sensei said to my friend Moti that he might come back to teaching. This is a very good news for all of us as his taijutsu completes perfectly the classes of the other Japanese Shihan. The depth and precision of his movements are always impressive.

I remember him teaching once the concepts of 中心, Chûshin* and Chōwa**; “pivot and harmony”. When those two concepts are done together, the balance is uke is taken.

Senō said that in any movement do, we have to pivot from our control points (chûshin) in order to harmonize (chōwa) our actions with the attacker’s actions.

When you reach this level, there’s no technique but only a permanent adaptation to the tensions of uke. Often, because of the pivoting of the body, you are so close to uke that your legs are in a position to take his balance from under, using 斜八足, Sha Ha Ashi.

When using Sha Ha Ashi, use your leg to take Uke’s balance but do it with the full body weight without using any strength. You don’t pivot with the legs but with the whole body.

Everything comes from the proper use of distance****, and by increasing or decreasing this distance, your body enters the kûkan created and adapts freely to Uke’s reactions. Using the Chûshin, you stay in the middle of the kûkan and become the Tenkan, everything rotates around you.

Chûshin is at the center of the kûkan.  We can say that this is the kaname of the 空間, kûkan. This is the 要の急所, kaname no kyûsho explained by sensei during the Daikômyôsai of 2011.

Using the Chûshin lying in the center of this evolutive kûkan properly, you can easily break Uke’s balance, keep yours, and reach chōwa, full harmony.

*中心/chuushin/center; centre; middle; heart; core; focus; pivot; emphasis; balance|-centered; -centred; -focussed; -oriented; centered on; focussed on
** 調和/chouwa/harmony
*** 斜/sha/diagonal, 八/hachi/eight/infinite, and 足/ashi/foot|leg
****remember that sensei used to subtitle each of his videos “martial art of distance”
***** 空間/kuukan/space; room; airspace


daikokujinWhile cleaning my papers I found a notebook relating my japan trip of April 2007.
A lot of time has passed and my students of 2007 are all 15th dan now and live their own lives.

During the year 2006 we had been studying the Shinden fudô ryû, and even though we were now studying the concepts and techniques of the kukishin ryû the concept of Ikken Hassô 一剣八双 (one weapon, all weapons/directions) was totally in harmony with the feeling sensei was teaching.

Ikken Hassô can have different interpretations but what sensei said that night of Friday 13th, April 2007 is interesting.

Here are my notes from what he said during that class:

  • You have to train all the weapons but not only in the use they were designed for. This is the essence of Ikken Hassô 一剣八双.
  • Train slowly even if Uke is fast, use small (light) controls.
  • When uke is down be like a cat playing with a mouse.
  • You have to train the feeling hidden within the form of the waza and only then you can play, this is the way you should train.
  • Shingitai Ichi 心技体一 is very important in budô”.
  • Train the 9 schools but with the principles of the Bujinkan, because the evolution of the bujinkan follows the Bufu Ikkan 武夫一環”.

What is amazing is that Sensei is still saying the same today. The Bujinkan has been created through the study of the nine schools but has become today a path on its own. This is why for example even if we have sword techniques only in the Kukishin ryû and the Togakure ryû*, we can train sword techniques with the feeling of any other ryûha.

Later during the same trip, I went for lunch with him and Nagato sensei and he said: “The fake Shihan like xxx and xxx go by themselves. Anyway I had this statue of Daikokujin made to smash those who are in the way”. He laughed and added “it weighs 6 tons!”.**

Did you know that Daikokujin 大国主神 when written Daikokujin 大扱く塵 could mean “big stripping of impurities”. Maybe the statue is there to clean the bujinkan from those fake practitioners.

* only these two ryûha have biken densho (private discussion with Sôke in 2013).
**the huge statue outside of sensei’s house in Noda was made in memory of Takamatsu sensei for the 50th anniversary of their encounter in Kobe (1957).