Sunday Is Always A Special Day


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Sunday is always a special training day in the Bujinkan.

The first class in the morning was given by Noguchi Dai Shihan on the kukishin chûden level. As to be expected the dôjô was already packed.
What was interesting is that Noguchi sensei used the “other name” of the techniques.

In Japanese each technique has two names whether you pronounce them in on yomi or kun yomi,  the Chinese or the Japanese pronunciation. This double name is what sensei is using when he plays with words making something,  something else. Did you know that shidôshi doesn’t exist? It is a “hatsumism” based upon 指導者 (shidôsha), which means: leader; guide; mentor; coach.

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I was training with my friend Rosa and we were quite into it, trying to replicate the subtle movements demonstrated. Once again I was amazed by Noguchi sensei’s ability to dig deeper in those well-known movements. Noguchi sensei has this faculty of using Uke’s body reactions to build the technique while it is unfolding.
The class was fast and full of points that will take us a few months to understand and to reproduce.

Then it was sensei’s class,  with Darren we estimated that more than 140 people are packed in the honbu. Needless to say that naginata techniques were not possible.

The honor of opening the class was awarded to my friend Jack Hoban opened it. Like Friday night, Sensei made it more simple (kami waza) and created some shortcuts that rendered uke inefficient in an instant.

Then we moved to the mutō dori, and here again, Sensei movements were unreadable by the attacker. There is no grabbing, no power, the steps are done in unity with the whole body. Going back to the image of the 土埃 (tsuchibokori),  the cloud of dust, Sensei explained that our movements have to be in perfect harmony with those of our opponent. Therefore there is nothing he can perceive until it is too late.

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When you watch sensei moving, everything is done very slowly as if he knew where and what the uke was going to do. Sensei added that to match perfectly Ukes movements so that he is not able to see us was the important point. Conceptually this is quite easy to understand, but practically it is nearly impossible to do, whether you are Dai Shihan or not.

The bujinkan is really an endless path and the technical aspect reflects your own steps on the path of life. This was repeated later today during his speech at the Shidoshikai meeting.

After the class we all meet at Hana,  the Chinese restaurant up the road from the dôjô. This year there was no dkms but a Shidôshikai meeting instead. The food was good (maybe a little heavy), the location easy to find, the timing perfect .

Before the food was served, Noguchi Dai Shihan opened the meeting for the traditional “kempai” and sensei made a deep and detailed introductory speech. I will try to summarize here the key points he covered.
After the very “packed” class, he was happy to confirm that our new honbu dôjô will open at the end of February 2015. The other when I took the pictures I measured a training surface of 11 steps by 11 steps (instead of  8×11 that we have today). So there will be definitely more space to train.
Then he reminded us that the bujinkan was more about teaching humanity how to live happy than to learn deadly techniques. He said that “peace and love are more important than war and hatred”, but then added that “because mankind is what it is, it is normal to learn how to defend ourselves”. “there will always be war, so we have to be ready for that”.

Using Jack Hoban as a witness, he also spoke about his first trip to the USA in the eighties, and said that ninjutsu at that time was on a wrong path and that he sent a message of peace there, and tried to reorient it towards the good direction.
This is when he said his famous sentence: “I’m not Japan, I’m no country, I’m a UFO”. Meaning that he is teaching for the world. Ninjutsu doesn’t belong to Japan but to mankind.
Ninjutsu had nothing to do with those spies in black, it is a path of peace and education for humanity.
Remember what he said a few years ago: “ninjutsu is not made in Japan,  it is made in human!”. All those teachers teaching the “real ninja stuff” are all wrong. Stop the movies and become and train like adults!

Then he continued and said that we, Shidôshikai members, have a mission to fulfill which is to do our best to save the planet that is going through some major changes in this period of time. If we don’t do it we might end up without a planet to live on.

He finally added that he has been collecting hundreds of weapons and densho over the years and that he would like to give everything to anyone who can make it available to mankind,  either inside or outside of Japan. He added “I will give it for free”.

So you see, Sunday is always a special day, but this one was  indeed quite particular.

When he left the restaurant, I was on his way, he said goodbye to me and gave me a big hug.  Yes a very special day indeed.

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Move Like a Cloud of Dust


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Sensei’s class on Friday was slightly above my level of understanding. I opened the class with a defense against tsuki using several mini steps and changing hands and directions, and sensei developed it to teach the essence of it.

To make myself clear, I couldn’t do the movement I demonstrated after he “cleaned” it.

In his explanation sensei used two images: 
土埃 (tsuchibokori), cloud of dust; and 
中心 (chûshin), pivot, or axis.

Using the metaphor of the cloud of dust, Sensei explained that we have to be perceived  like an innocent cloud of dust by the attacker. There is nothing strong only dust. As he cannot see the danger,  uke doesn’t react to our invisible actions. When watching him do it, it felt like he was doing nothing at all. His movements are so soft and non aggressive that uke was trapped before knowing it.

Sensei added that moving like a cloud of dust in the wind, we had to match Uke’s movements by moving slowly and using a simple 中心, axis of the  body. Being show is the secret of speed and power.

This axis became the center of gravity of the situation and allowed him to use the 空間 kûkan around and within the space between the opponents. It was some sort of a dynamic 空間軸, (Kûkanjiku), spacial axis. When uke understand the danger it is already too late. To achieve this, one has to remain totally relaxed and do whatever is unfolding in front of him without trying to do any specific action.

Dust is flying in all directions and didn’t follow a plan. Dust is pushed by the wind. We have to learn how to move like a cloud of dust. Nothing is preconceived.

Sensei ended his class explaining that we ended this year the cycle of 42 years and that he has been teaching everything that he received from Takamatsu Sensei and that from this year onwards, he is teaching the kami waza, the techniques of the gods.

Which is why this year’s theme is Shingin Budō.

Wrong Always


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For my 55th trip to Japan, I hoped that everything would go fine without any problem. Wrong again!
I booked my hotel online. Nothing new. And the hotel I wanted to go was the Mitsui garden, but last July they were doing some heavy refurbishing. So when I checked online I was happy to see that they opened in July, so I booked my stay. Wrong again!
Yesterday night after traveling from India through Dubai for many hours I ended up facing the hotel but it was still in works. Wrong again!
After a call I found out that my hotel was in fact 5km away! Wrong again!

The beauty of traveling to Japan is that whatever you do you will be facing your limits. Now being wrong can prove to be a good thing. In fact my new location is the best I ever had. It’s new and modern, and the prices are not that bad. Also I now need 2 trains to reach the honbu or the Budôkan. But I can live with it.

But being wrong is an unbending path. On the way back from the honbu, after two classes with Nagato and Noguchi Dai Shihan, I took the wrong connecting train and ended up in Moriya. Nice city but wrong again! I arrived back at the hotel half hour later.

The lesson of the day: in Japan don’t take anything for granted and keep your options open. Being in Japan to train is not limited to the dôjô, training is 24/7. And if you lower your level of awareness you are wrong.

Many friends are here for sensei’s birthday and is always nice to meet them at the other end of the planet whether they are coming from Spain, the USA, South America, the UAE, or the rest of Europe. We have been meeting here for over twenty years and this gives a social feeling during the classes.

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Nagato Dai Shihan, covered many waza from the shinden Fudô ryû, mainly based on the Nage Kaeshi. With my Spanish brother Juanma we were training with the Greek twins Adonis and Harry, they had a hard time with the jûdô guys.

Nagato sensei was following the densho, as it is now the way he teaches, and I really liked it. The Dakentaijutsu of the Shinden Fudô is really fun when done by him.

Kaname: the ura gata is the official set of henka of the ryû. It is teaching how to do the basic form reverse
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Then after a short bite we went to Noguchi Dai Shihan class. We did a lot of the Takagi Yôshin ryû shime waza. His taijutsu is still fun to train and the shime waza were not that painful. Anjaan my partner from the Dubai dôjô might not agree though.

Kaname: shime refers to choking but also to applying pressure on Uke’s structure. Very interesting as always.

I’m happy to be there again. Even if there is no more daikomyôsai, the feeling remains the same. Next Sunday after class, some will have a Shidôshikai meeting. With the new honbu being near completion I guess he has a few things to tell us.

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Did you read my first eBook?

Spirit of movement 2


The “Spirit of movement” is a mix of live experiences with sensei, my personal path in budô, and general thoughts on the martial arts.
It is easy to read and will please both the beginner and the advanced practitioner.

Below is an excerpt of this book:

“When you see the shihan move naturally and always being well positioned, you get the impression that they definitely knew where the attacker would head for and what he intended to do. But once you accept that intuition is fuelling our actions and unifies our two hemispheres, their reactions seem normal. In combat and in life, the exterior conditions are imposed on us, and if we are able to observe a situation and adjust our actions rapidly, only the intuitive adaptation which will only come after years of polishing will allow us to achieve mastership.

This simplified efficiency is the result of the “cleaning” of the movements through repetition. The more we do these basic forms, the more they are concise and precise. This is exactly what Musashi means when he writes: “don’t do anything useless”. Because at the same time your expertise is developing, you create parasitic movements. And you have to get rid of them in order to reach the true essence. In 1997, during a seminar in New Jersey, we were, a friend and I, in sensei’s room after a day of training. What he told us that night is still present in my mind. “I gave you everything you need. Now your training will consist in getting rid of all your parasitic movements and speeding everything that is useless”. With the many years of training every practitioner develops a series of bad habits inbreeding with the researched purity of the movements. Becoming concise therefore depends on this cleaning process. This phase of practice is the one requiring the most as it demands order and a deep consciousness of what is correct. Again, this bio mechanical consciousness in the movements has a deep impact on our daily lives and influence all our actions outside of the dôjô. With this physical work, the Budō practitioner becomes more efficient and direct in whatever he is doing but also in his relations with others.

Thus, budô is not limited to a system of fighting techniques, but offers us a means to approach the truth by putting us in a war-like situation. The technique is only valuable if it teaches to recognize a situation, and to respond to it most effectively. My master likes repeating that if you apply a technique of a given ryûha, of a fighting style, you are dead. Even if it is perfect, the technique activates the left part of the brain whereas intuition is located in the right part of the brain. This intuition of things always allows you to know what to do, and the benefits of martial arts begin to lap over our daily lives.”

Get the book and read the rest, here

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The Spirit of Movement


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My first eBook is now available at amazon.
Written in French in 2009, it is now available in English.
Completely rewritten, this revised edition details my life in the martial arts from 1969 to 2014. Obviously the biggest part of the book is dedicated to the Bujinkan and the 25 years of exchanges with Hatsumi sensei in Japan and during the Taikai all over the world.
Full of anecdotes and stories, this small book introduces the reader to the 6 elements, the strategy, and other concepts.

Amazon.com

Amazon.fr

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.es

Amazon.de

Fight To The Bone, Not To The Flesh


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In my dôjô we me have a new member watching every class, it is a human size skeleton*.

I decided to add this as part of our understanding of body movement. Each class is the occasion to show the students how a technique should be done. When they see the bone alignment, the joint logic, the technique begins to make sense.

骨 (Kotsu) regroups the secret principles introducing any of the ryûha but it also reads as bone. Maybe because these principles are the “skeleton”,  the foundation of the system.

Because we all have, at first, a sport educated vision of the martial arts, we miss the key point: which is to break the balance of the opponent. Thanks to the skeleton in the dôjô, the students are now able to visualize, in real size, the possible angles and the amount of leverage that can be applied to the joints at the skeleton level, therefore it is easier for them to get the technique correctly.

The typical fight in feudal Japan between two samurai implied the use of the Yoroi. The Yoroi protecting the body from the ferocious blows of the enemy **, it is obvious that hitting the flesh of breaking the bones was not feasable. But if hitting the body was hardly possible, taking the balance by using the bone structure was easy. By locking the body inside the Yoroi and by manipulating the joints, it is easy to get the opponent off balance. A fight in feudal Japan was mainly about bringing the opponent to the ground in order to finish him before he could stand up.

Trying to hit the muscles or to break the bones is sport.
Understanding the laws of balance by integrating the knowledge of bone positioning and angles is budô.

So don’t fight the flesh, but fight the bone structure. We are learning Budô not sport.

_________________
*you can get one on amazon for about a 100€
** the Yoroi was primarily designed to fight the yari
Basics:  http://budomart.eu/index.php?id_category=24&controller=category&id_lang=1&p=2

Fight To The Bone, Not To The Flesh


image

In my dôjô we me have a new member watching every class, it is a human size skeleton*.

I decided to add this as part of our understanding of body movement. Each class is the occasion to show the students how a technique should be done. When they see the bone alignment, the joint logic, the technique begins to make sense.

骨 (Kotsu) regroups the secret principles introducing any of the ryûha but it also reads as bone. Maybe because these principles are the “skeleton”,  the foundation of the system.

Because we all have, at first, a sport educated vision of the martial arts, we miss the key point: which is to break the balance of the opponent. Thanks to the skeleton in the dôjô, the students are now able to visualize, in real size, the possible angles and the amount of leverage that can be applied to the joints at the skeleton level, therefore it is easier for them to get the technique correctly.

The typical fight in feudal Japan between two samurai implied the use of the Yoroi. The Yoroi protecting the body from the ferocious blows of the enemy **, it is obvious that hitting the flesh of breaking the bones was not feasable. But if hitting the body was hardly possible, taking the balance by using the bone structure was easy. By locking the body inside the Yoroi and by manipulating the joints, it is easy to get the opponent off balance. A fight in feudal Japan was mainly about bringing the opponent to the ground in order to finish him before he could stand up.

Trying to hit the muscles or to break the bones is sport.
Understanding the laws of balance by integrating the knowledge of bone positioning and angles is budô.

So don’t fight the flesh, but fight the bone structure. We are learning Budô not sport.

_________________
*you can get one on amazon for about a 100€
** the Yoroi was primarily designed to fight the yari
Basics:  http://budomart.eu/index.php?id_category=24&controller=category&id_lang=1&p=2

Simplicity: The Omote Of Shizen


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In French we have a saying that goes “pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliquer”, which translates as “why making it simple when it can be done much more complex”.

It is often used when we are facing situations where things are done in a useless complex way. I often think about this when I’m watching the students trying to copy a movement I just did.

The Japanese have also a term for “simplicity and complexity”, and this is 繁簡, hankan. Funnily it reads the same as 反感, hankan: animosity, antipathy, or revolt. In order to survive a fight you have to be relaxed and move with simplicity.

The bujinkan movements are based on simple principles and not on fixed and complex forms. This is done in order to give us some freedom in finding the right solution to an unplanned situation. When we enter into the survival mode of action, only simple things are available. Because of the stress generated by a sudden attack the brain is frozen and thinking or analysing are not possible anymore.

Only simplicity 質朴 (shitsuboku), will work because it is natural, simple, and does not require a conscious mind behind it to put it into action.
Complexity, 複雑性 (fukuzatsusei), on the contrary, is the result of a thought process and will lead nowhere, except maybe to your own death.

In order to achieve simplicity*, one must train it on the mats. And this training is done through long repetitions of the Bujinkan basics. Once the basics are ingrained, the body and the mind are united and our moves are done without thinking in a simple manner.

Now  when students try to reproduce a movement, they often make something very complex because their abilities are hindered by their lack of strong basics. When basics are mastered, the body will move with simplicity and adapt freely to the situation at hand.

In your next trainings, try to find the simplest way of doing things. And remember this kaname:

A simple movement doesn’t require strength nor power.
A simple movement is relaxed and cannot be preconceived.

Shitsuboku leads to mastery, fukuzatsusei to nowhere.

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* simplicity is an important aspect of Shizen. A new dvds series covering the Shizen theme of 2006, will be released for Christmas at http://www.budomart.eu

Are You 2wd or 4wd?


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During my last class I discovered that one of the most difficult thing to teach is to be so relaxed when fighting that you can move any one of your arms or legs independently.

We were doing some “battlefield” situation applying Okyô.   Both opponents where attacking in Yoroi with a Tachi in Katate. Blocking and absorbing the attack, with the left arm protected by the Yoroi, each opponent was trying to hit the other with his sword. Rapidly the situation got stuck as the two bodies were forced against one another.

In this type of realistic situation there are no uke but two Tori.

Because of the close distance, applying a nage waza is the only logical possibility. We decided to train Okyô a nage Kaeshi.

What surprised me the most is that the one trying to do Okyô was so stiff in his reactions that he couldn’t do it and was often sent down to the ground by the supposed uke.

In this type of encounter there is a solution and it is to relax the right arm and to let go. This sudden relaxation creates a counter tension that sends the “thrower” to the ground.

What I understood is that because many practitioners do not have the ability to relax one part of the body (here the right arm), they cannot do the technique. They are like a 2 wheel drive vehicle.

On the contrary when you relax and become able to do it, you can do different things with any one of your limbs. You become a 4 wheel drive vehicle having each one of its wheels dealing with the ground in a various manner.

If the Yoroi is the car then your limbs are the wheels. The Yoroi is strong and united. And this unity of action is reinforced by the multiplicity of the moves of the limbs. You have to teach this ability to yourself and develop this partial relaxed attitude while caught in the middle of a heavy encounter.

You have to turn your body into a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Try it and see if your level of skills makes you a 2 wheel drive it a 4 wheel drive vehicle.

Once again Ninpô Taijutsu is 一体数多い (ittai kazûoi), “unity in multiplicity”.

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Okyô can be found here: http://budomart.eu/index.php?id_product=30&controller=product&id_lang=1

Basic vs Cosmic


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Basics are the foundation of your taijutsu and without them you will never develop what sensei calls the  “natural movement”.
One of my friend and student, recently attended a few seminars in another country. He was amazed by two things. First the majority of the teachers were developing beautiful movements with no power and no strength. Then the students were copying these nice movements.
But then he discovered that even though he was not a student of these teachers, his strong basics allowed him to adjust and to understand what was being demonstrated. The other participants on the contrary, and even if they could mimic what was shown, we’re totally unable to get these movements through their own taijutsu.

This cosmic trend in the Bujinkan has been on for some years now,  and we begin to see how bad it impacts the student’s abilities to survive in a fight. The majority of Bujinkan practitioners will be really surprised the day they have to defend themselves with these nice but weak cosmic movements they have been taught at the dôjô and during seminars.

As sensei put it last August, you have to train your strength when you’re young to be able to use the “no strength” at a later and higher stage of your budô development.

Please put some real training back in your budô studies, improve your basics, and create strong foundations before you begin to move at the cosmic level.

Real fight is fierce, it’s not nice. Panic and fear will slow down your brain and your reactions, and when panic comes, only your ingrained basics will give you a chance to survive.

Strong basics are the only thing remaining when the rest is gone. A nice waza studied in the dôjô with a complacent partner will get you killed in a real encounter. “don’t try to apply a waza in a fight, you would lose” said sensei a few times in the last twenty years.

Teachers this is your responsibility. Please teach mainly basics (together with advanced movements) and stop focusing exclusively on the cosmic moves as it will kill your students. Remember that basic moves will eventually turn into cosmic moves, it’s a natural process. Don’t force nature.

If you don’t teach correctly, your students are like lambs entering the butcher shop, and a nice “baa baa” will not stop the butcher from killing them.