Sayonara Nihon


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This was an excellent trip full of new insights, discoveries, and friendship.

I trained for the first time in the new honbu dōjō. I like it.
I met old friends and exchanged a lot.
Sensei’s classes are brilliant as usual and full of subtle points and concepts: Karada gaeshi, ishitobashi, sanbon, Nuki gaeshi.
I enjoyed training with the Dai Shihan:  Senō, Nagato, and Noguchi and revisit the denshō with their eyes.

But above all I enjoyed the privilege of spending some time with our Sōke in  Saitama, and in Noda.

Thank you for the bears.
I’ll be back at the end of July after the Paris Taikai. (1)

Sayonara
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1. Paris Taikai 2015: 3 days of training with Pedro, Peter, Sven, and Arnaud. Saturday 11th, Sunday 12th , and Monday 13th of July.
Registration: http://www.budomart.eu

Mitsuguma


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Friday class was good for me, not only because I learned many things, but because it was “Kuma night”.

As you know Sensei gave me the dragon name of “Yûryû” (勇竜), brave and courageous dragon in the 90s’. But he always call me “Shiro Kuma” (白熊) polar bear. To explain why here would take too long.

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So yesterday Sensei arrived in the dōjō called me and gave me a statue of a bear.
On the soles of the four feet he wrote:

忍び足 Shinobi ashi / stealthy steps; soft steps

不動心 Fudōshin / imperturbability; steadfastness | cool head in an emergency; keeping one’s calm (e.g. during a fight)

勘忍成就 Kannin Jyōju:
勘忍 Kannin / pardon; patient endurance; forbearance; forgiveness
成就 Jyōju / fulfillment; fulfilment; realization; realisation; completion

白竜 Haku ryû / white dragon (1)

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I must say that I was really touched by the gift, but I was moved by the words he wrote on the bear. This is for those extraordinary moments that I love training in the bujinkan.

I thanked Sensei a lot for his gift.

Then my friend Paul Masse joined us with another bear and have it to me!

What is the probability in this universe that someone is given two bears at the same moment? None! But it happened.

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On this second bear,  painted in white, Paul had written “Kûma” (instead of “Kuma”). This Kûma is the other pronunciation of Kûkan, (空間 space; room; airspace).

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When Paul gave me the bear, Sensei commented “this is a very mysterious moment”.

That was a fantastic lesson for all of us to be witnessing the manifestation of what sensei keeps teaching. In Budō, things are natural as Kami Sama influences our actions from the invisible world.

Like in a fight, there is nothing to do, but simply to let things happen.

Thank you Sensei, and Paul for this nice lesson.

The Mitsuguma is happy. (2)

___________________
1. This is Hatsumi Sensei name
2. 三つ熊 / mitsuguma / mother bear with two Cubs :mrgreen:

Collateral damages:

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Yabunaka San and the two bears. 😕

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Family picture :mrgreen:

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No comment 😁

Bujinkan Is History


yoroi class

Yesterday I had dinner with Yuji Kogure, Quest Videos CEO, and we spoke about the importance of History to understand what is the Bujinkan.

The Tsurugi was a major step in our training as it linked the ancient past to the modern world. Since Sensei explained that the Tsurugi was the origin of the Sanshin no kata, we were able to link the evolution of sword warfare: Tsurugi, Tachi, Katana.

The Tachi created during the Heian period (end of 10th century) was “en vogue” during the warring states period. The use of the Tachi lasted, more or less until unification was completed by Tokugawa Ieyasu after his victory at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600).

Then the katana took over when wearing a Yoroi was not so common (peace time = no need for Yoroi). Before that, during the warring states periods: Kamakura jidai, Muromachi jidai, and Azuchi Momoyama jidai, (roughly 1185-1600), the Yoroi was needed. The Bujinkan techniques were developed during these four centuries of nearly permanent warfare. (2)

In those times, a young Samurai was considered an adult at fifteen (元服), so his training had to begin at an early age. (3)
Symbolically we have 15 Dan ranks in the Bujinkan for the same reason. (4)
So the Japanese Samurai of that time had to solve the following problem:
“how to teach battlefield techniques to young kids?”
And they came up with a simple answer: they invented taijutsu!

On the battlefield, a soldier always has weapons, unarmed combat (even in today’s armies) is therefore very rare. What they did was stripping the battlefield techniques of the Yoroi and weapons, and teach them as Taijutsu to the future samurai.

This is understandable for many reasons:
1. Yoroi is expensive and heavy
2. Weapons are expensive and heavy
3. And if kids had a Yoroi fitting their body, they would not be able to learn the forms because of the weight.

So what we call taijutsu today was in fact battlefield techniques mimicking the movements you have when wearing the Yoroi and the weapons. I’m sure that many of you wondered once why some of the waza do not seem “logical”? They don’t seem logical because they are missing the Yoroi and the weapons.

Since last year, I have revisited many waza with Yoroi and weapons (sword in the right hand and Yari in the left), and I understood a lot. The apparent lack of logic in them vanishes when you are wearing the full equipment. In my dōjō, we always have one or two students training with Yoroi, and the benefits are amazing, even to the observers. If you have a Yoroi, please use it, don’t let it rust in a corner. Use it and you will be surprised to see how the Yoroi can teach you correct taijutsu and proper footwork.

This bears three conclusions:
1. Densho are made of sets of simple techniques because they are designed for kids.
2. Waza are fighting techniques simplified to prepare the young samurai to enter the battlefield.
3. Taijutsu was invented for that purpose.

During the Edo Jidai (1603-1868), there were no more battles (nearly), peace was established and the waza evolved into techniques to be used in duels and unarmed Taijutsu. This is also when they began to cut with the sword. Before peacetime, it was impossible because of the yoroi. (5)

What we do in the dōjō reflects this evolution. But if you want to improve your skills, you have to study what I consider to be the foundation of our art: those four centuries of warfare that created our techniques. This reason is why I consider History to be so important. Teachers, please teach Japanese history during your classes. It will help your student improve their skills and also understand why the Bujinkan is not a sport.

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1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heian_period
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamakura_period
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muromachi_period
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azuchi%E2%80%93Momoyama_period
3. 元服 げんぷく ceremony of attaining manhood
4. “In the Shinto faith, boys were taken to the shrine of their patron deity at approximately 14 years old. They were then given adult clothes and a new haircut. This was called Genpuku.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coming_of_age#Shinto
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo_period

Zentai: The Holistic Budō


hs ajc

In a recent class sensei defined his movements as being zentai. (1)
Zentai (全体) is a full body movement where everything moves naturally. Zentai is a holistic approach of taijutsu. As Nagato put it in his last training, “taijutsu is not limited only to body movement, it also includes the weapons.”
Holistic taijutsu encompasses everything: body, weapons, troops, surroundings. There might be a pun here between taijutsu (体術) “body technique” (2) and taijutsu (隊術) “technique done by a group of warriors” (3). This second taijutsu refers evidently to the battlefield. Another Zentai (全隊) explains it. (4)
So, as a consequence, limiting our training to the sole Waza without incorporating the rest (troops, terrain, surroundings) would be a significant misunderstanding of sensei’s vision of Budō. And Zentai would never be achieved.

Zentai is the only correct way to move because it deals with every aspect of reality at the same time. To achieve this state of oneness, we have to be relaxed. A full relaxation of the body and the mind will reveal our ability to survive effortlessly and to adapt. We get why we have to be physically relaxed as the yoroi is protecting us, but it’s hard to be mentally relaxed. The more we try not to think (i.e. to not bother about the outcome), and the more we are trapped by our thoughts.

In the Tenchijin, there is a concept that is fundamental, it is called “Shizen gyō un ryû sui”. At the Shizen level (自然) our movements become spontaneous and always suit the situation. (5) Our movements flow naturally in a relaxed manner.

In a previous post I explained about being creative and spontaneous: this is Zentai. I see today, that Zentai can be the next step on the Warrior’s path to evolution. It’s holistic nature might be the hardest thing to achieve, but once we have it, the world will be an easy place to live. And you’d better work to get Zentai now because once you have it on the mats, it will positively impact your life outside of the dōjō.

Omote and Ura are one!
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1. 全体/zentai/whole; entirety; whatever (is the matter)
2. 体術/taijutsu/classical form of martial art
3. 隊/tai/party; group; crew; team; body|company (of troops); corps; unit; squad
4. 全隊 zentai the entire force (of soldiers)
5. 自然 /shizen/nature; spontaneity|naturally; spontaneously

Be Always Protected… Or Not


nagato ajc

Today at Nagato sensei’s class, we did some variations around Teiken (蹄拳) from a rear body hug and Musan (霧散) from Shinden Fudō Ryū. After reviewing the basic forms from the Densho, Nagato sensei did many applications around the initial form. He was de-structuring the original movement to adapt it to different types of situations. In fact, it was obvious to me that each waza is destined to become a world of possibilities. I saw here today the exact same “Ri” demonstrated yesterday night by Noguchi sensei (see previous post).

We did a lot of variations with the sword in the belt, and we added it to the movement. Sometimes the sword was unsheathed; sometimes it was not.

Speaking of drawing the sword, he said that we had to “apply the techniques with the sword but in a natural manner. This is not Iaidō! Iaidō has nothing to do with the Bujinkan”.

He said that we must develop our sword movements through taijutsu. This is the quality of our Taijutsu that gives life to the blade, not the opposite. This is why it is not iaidō. He also explained that if we do not have a good taijutsu it is impossible to get the freedom necessary to use the sword in a real fight.

I would add to that Iai kata are useful to develop the handling of the weapon, but they don’t teach you how to survive a fight. In a real fight, there is no “Uke” as both opponents are “Tori” by nature.

What I liked is that, still speaking about the sword, he said that we have to “keep it secret”, referring to our personal style of moving the sword. It does make sense after all the warriors had to have a “competitive advantage” over their enemies if they wanted to survive. Making it logical then keep it secret. Secrecy is the foundation of warfare.

It was overall, a very interesting class in may aspects. The central point Nagato sensei insisted on was that whatever the situation, we have to “be protected at all time”. By saying that his body was preventing any counter attack from Uke. Nagato sensei was controlling the arms of the attacker permanently by either grabbing or supporting them with his back.

The first objective of training is self-protection. But added, that when you reach a high level, ” you sometimes have to let a side of the body unprotected so that you can channel uke’s movements”. When Uke is in the fight and sees an opening, he will more likely try to use it. You have to be so good that you let him believe that he can win. This is Kyojutsu (3).

It is like in the attack of the village in the “7 Samurai” by Kurosawa (4). If you remember it, the farmers keep the door of the village open to let the enemy enter. But they close the gate after three or four are in. They kill them and open the door again to get a new batch of thieves.
You have to do exactly that (if you have the level). And this is why Nagato sensei said “the sword can be used efficiently if and only if, you have a good Taijutsu”.

Nagato sensei’s ended the class explaining that the techniques in a Ryūha are very simple. So please don’t make them complex. If you find them complicated, it is maybe that you don’t have the technical level (yet) to understand their simplicity.

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1. 蹄 hizume (tei) hoof; and 拳 ken hand game (e.g. rock, paper, scissors)
2. 霧散 musan dispersing fog; vanishing fog
3. 虚 kyo unpreparedness; falsehood; 術 jutsu art; means; technique
4. Watch the clip on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZTqxfjnziA

Shuhari: Gyokko Ryû Revisited


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We were only 8 participants for Wednesday’s class with Noguchi sensei. What a luxury!

As always with him we went fast, so fast that I got confused me than usual. My confusion was not based on the techniques we did (it was the first and second level of Gyokko ryû), but by the way he unfolded these techniques. Everything was different thus remaining the same. His interpretation based on the essence of each waza he came up with waza that felt so different that it was like studying the Ura Gata of Gyokko ryû.

My American partner and I were feeling like beginners, unable to find in these supposed well-known forms the usual waza. For example we did Dashin from a front attack or a side attack;   Dan Shu and Dan Shi were studied with so much freedom that it was as if they were different techniques.

Noguchi sensei was teaching us how to get Shu Ha Ri (守破離). (1)

Shu Ha Ri is the objective of life:

Shuhari roughly translates to “first learn, then detach, and finally transcend.”
shu (守?) “protect”, “obey” — traditional wisdom — learning fundamentals, techniques, heuristics, proverbs
ha (破?) “detach”, “digress” — breaking with tradition — detachment from the illusions of self
ri (離?) “leave”, “separate” — transcendence — there are no techniques or proverbs, all moves are natural, becoming one with spirit alone without clinging to forms; transcending the physical (2)

Shuhari is the true Tenchijin.

Often people ask me why I keep going to train in Japan. My answer is always the same: I go to dig deeper in the supposed knowledge I have. Ranks are one thing, but there is an enormous gap between our abilities to do the basic waza (chi) compared to adapting the essence of the waza to a new reality (ten).

“The sky is the limit,” says the proverb but we often remain at the ground level. We keep repeating dead forms and do not allow our bodies to drift away from them.

This is Ten vs. Chi. But there is even more than reaching the Ten level, there is the Jin level. And the Jin, is only possible to learn when you train here with a Japanese Dai Shihan and with Sensei. If sometimes we succeed to reach the Ten, we are still missing the Jin.

What we did yesterday was a set of techniques inspired by the gods: a Jin approach of the Gyokko ryû. And this is why you have to come to Japan every year (at least). Your Dan rank is not a proof of your expertise. The Japanese Dai Shihan are experts. They have been training nearly fifty years, and they have refined their understanding so much that the technique doesn’t exist anymore, they have reached the Ri where only the flow remains.

When Sensei says that we have to be relaxed and not to do techniques because they would kill us, it makes sense. We have to follow the path of the Tenchijin / Shuhari and continue to learn. There is no end.

Keep going!

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1. 守破離/shuhari/Shuhari; three stages of learning mastery: the fundamentals, breaking with tradition, parting with traditional wisdom
2 . http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuhari

Mutō Dori Is Not Mutō Dori


sensei saitama

During class, Sensei spoke about ishitobashi again (skipping stone) and did many applications with Mutō Dori. The sword was either in Uke’s hand or Tori’s hand. We have already covered the complexity of Mutō Dori in this blog because this is the essence of the Bujinkan.

Sensei often refers to it but last night it was even more complex than before.
But we have to refresh our memory before I try to explain what Sensei said.

“Many people think that Mutō Dori is about the opponent wielding a sword while you have none, but this is not the case. Even if you have a sword, Mutō Dori starts with the development of the courage to face an opponent with the preparedness of not having a sword.
This means if you don’t thoroughly train in taijutsu you will not obtain the knowledge of the refined skill of Mutō Dori. Therefore, you must first know the purpose of the path of training. If you are unaware of this and proceed down the path of thinking that sword training is only about cutting and thrusting, then there is a danger that you will go down the path of the evil sword. The sword harnesses a pure essence that is life-giving – one who cannot live the way of the sword saint will foolishly think that the sword is only a tool for cutting. Those who do this can never achieve enlightenment.
The warrior’s heart is ruled by preparedness, and nature’s heart, or god’s heart, is fundamental. The heart also governs the warrior’s physical kamae. Therefore, if there is no unity in spirit and body, you will never understand the reason for being a martial artist. You will leave no vulnerability or opening (suki) if you remain consistently prepared.(…)
Many people do not fully understand Mutō Dori, and believe it is simply the knowledge of defending against a sword attack, but I would urge you to understand that it is the mind and skill of disarming the opponent, whether they wield a yari, naginata, bō, shuriken or gun.
You must understand the mind of “ten thousand changes, no surprises” (Banpen Fūgyō), and attain the knowledge of Mutō Dori in response to infinite variations. Attaining knowledge of real Mutō Dori means you will earn the protection of the gods.” (1)

This text echoes the Musō Ken of my previous post on Ishitobashi (2). As we have no intention, our movements flow in a natural manner as if inspired by the gods. No ego involved in the process.

Because as we discovered when studying the tsurugi: “Mutō Dori is the Gokui, the essence of Budō. The Gokui is always simple and formless in its manifestation, but it is difficult to make it simple. When using the tsurugi the movements are the result of taijutsu nothing else. The blade moves by itself following what the body is creating in the Kūkan. As the Zen master Takuan said: “I do not see the enemy, the enemy doesn’t see me” and this is because we do not try to do anything specific. When contact is established, we flow like water as if we were surfing on top of uke ‘s waves of intention. The tsurugi is only the metallic extension of our body. We don’t think the movement, we don’t think the weapon, we don’t think the opponent.” (3)

And this surfing on “uke’s waves of intention” is another way to explain Ishitobashi. Yesterday, Sensei emphasized the importance of those “air pockets” between two hits on the water when skipping a stone. These Kūkan (air pockets) are the key as it is in between those touchdowns that you can influence the outcome of the fight.

I must admit that I felt lost at this moment of the class. But then it got worse.

Sensei said that Mutō Dori (無刀捕) was not Mutō Dori! Instead, he said that “dori” he used was in fact “kurai,” “冥,” something obscure, deep, incomprehensible. (4)

Indeed, his movements were utterly incomprehensible. On my way back to Kashiwa, I began to think a lot about the class. And I saw some connection with the concept of Kurai dori present in every Ryūha. Technically it means “seizing a situation in all aspects”.

But I let my friend Pete Reynolds explain it better:
“Kurai Dori” is an important concept. Hatsumi Sensei has talked frequently about it as has Andrew Young, but what is “Kurai Dori”? “Kurai Dori” literally means to take a position, but this only hints at it’s full meaning. Does it mean to take a kamae? Yes. Does it mean to take a kamae relative to your opponent(s)? Yes. Does it mean to take a kamae relative to your opponent(s) and also physical objects around you? Yes. Is there a wall or a window behind you? Behind your opponent(s)? Are other people or animals around? What are the weather conditions? Is it raining? Is it day or night? Is the sun at my back? Is it windy? What is the effect of all these things? What is my relative position to my environment? “Kurai Dori” is all these things and much more!
Is your environment composed of only physical components? What about your emotional environment? Is your boss pleased or agitated? Is your spouse happy or sad? What is the emotional state of your opponent? Is he enraged? Cool and detached? Frantic? What is my emotional state relative to them? How does that affect things? This also is “Kurai Dori”.
What about your spiritual environment? Do you have a pure and benevolent heart or are you spiritually hollow? Is your spirit strong? What about those around you? What is the nature of their spirit? Good, bad, weak, strong? What effect does their spirit have on your spirit, and yours on theirs?
Yes, “Kurai Dori” is taking a position, but it is doing it with a complete awareness of your environment on every level. “Kurai Dori” is the awareness and understanding that lays the foundation for “Koppo.” (5)

Now, things make more sense isn’t it? This new deep understanding of Mutō Dori (無刀捕) is Kurai Dori. Let read Sensei again “Many people do not fully understand Mutō Dori, and believe it is simply the knowledge of defending against a sword attack, but I would urge you to understand that it is the mind and skill of disarming the opponent, whether they wield a yari, naginata, bō, shuriken or gun.” (1)

As Sensei said last Sunday, don’t be concerned about the attack or the attacker, be brave and walk towards the enemy until your body reacts according to the situation. Mutō Dori (無刀捕) is having the courage of not thinking; of facing danger naturally with a relaxed body.

Mutō Dori (無刀捕) is what the Bujinkan is teaching. Be creative, be spontaneous and never be afraid. If you can do that, then you will be walking the path to Takō (多幸), great happiness.

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1. This text comes from Hatsumi Sensei’s book “Japanese sword fighting”, pages 64 and 65 (published 2005 by Kodansha). You can read more about it in a previous post: https://kumafr.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/muto-dori-hiden/
2. post: https://kumafr.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/ishitobashi/
3. Read the full post here: https://kumafr.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/muto-dori-is-buto-dori/
4. 冥い くらい a: (Usually written using kana alone) dark; gloomy; b: dark (in colour); dull; c: depressed; dispirited; d: unclear; unfamiliar; unknown
5. Explanation by Pete Reynolds in http://www.kihon.com/articles/kurai_dori_by_pete_reynolds.html

Are You A Thief?


steal

For years, Sensei told us to “steal” the techniques when in Japan. Because if you took a movement or a waza, no one would lose anything. So I was surprised last Sunday that he said the exact opposite!
What he said is that if you think about “stealing” a technique then you are a thief. (1)
But both options are correct because this question is only a timeline problem. So how can we reconcile this apparent paradox? Here is my proposed explanation.

Sensei keeps saying that he is teaching the Jūgodan exclusively, and he forces us to free ourselves from the Waza. If you are a Jūgodan and continue to “steal” techniques, then you have no time to develop your taijutsu, free from the Waza. You are a thief.
But there is a time when you are a young padawan (2), and things do not make sense at all. It is even worse if you have the chance to train in Japan.

The Bujinkan is a Sanshin with three levels: Shidōshi, Jūdan, Jūgodan, and at each level we must adjust the way we learn.
At Shidōshi, you “visit” the schools, the weapons, and you develop your understanding of the whole system. Supposedly you have a good knowledge of everything; you are only missing the Kūden, the experience. In my opinion, this is the period where you have to “steal” what you are missing.
As I wrote earlier, it deprives no one of anything but it helps you fill in the technical gaps you might have.
When you reach the Jūdan level, the “stealing” period is over. It is now time to dig deeper in your abilities through the five elements. As you know, each rank above Jūdan is linked to each one of the five elements.
When finally you reach the Jūgodan level, you begin to express your feeling about Budō. And this is what you pass on to your students to the extent that it is easy to name the teacher of any shidōshi you see on the mats. We all have a particular “touch”, and our students behave exactly like us.

Last year, Sensei asked the Japanese Dai Shihan to teach only from the Denshō. Sensei teaching only the Jūgodan, the Dai Shihan have the responsibility to prepare the next generation, and this is why they were asked to teach only from the denshō. But with them too you will learn a personal approach of Budō. In fact, each one of them has a unique Budō flavor. What you get from training with all of them is a chance to develop your mix. And this is the final objective because Sensei wants the Jūgodan to develop their interpretation of Budō. This last level comes after learning the basics, the ryūha, the weapons. And after you developed a good understanding of Budō.

You have to create your “Budō flavor” and to do that, you cannot steal. You have to be spontaneous and creative. Stealing at this level would be like copying Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Even if you would make it close to perfection, it will never be the original Mona Lisa. Because we have to be free from the forms, we must learn them precisely, without this learning stage, it is impossible to get a natural flow. Natural flow doesn’t come out of anywhere. And until then, we have to “steal” what we don’t have.

So you now get why this apparent paradox is not one. A beginner will never be able to understand the depth of Sensei’s Budō, what you see in class is never what it seems. The best is to copy (steal) what your teachers do in the dōjō until you have it. See that as some scaffolding. It supports your progression until a certain point. But if you stay at this level there is no way for you to reach the freedom of movement that Sensei is teaching in every class.

Once again. When your technical skills get good, you have to stop stealing the technique, on the contrary, you now have your personal way of moving developed by years of polishing your techniques.

When you train, you must understand the gokui, the essence of what you see. Trust me, this is a very long process as we never know if our vision is coherent with real fighting.
Budō is coming from actual combat; not from a sport. Our techniques are old and come from a natural selection where only the best (and the lucky ones) could survive on the battlefield.

There are five principles underlying Japanese Heihō (兵法), strategy, and waza is not one of them, They are:
Ten no Ri, 天の理, the principle of heaven (weather, climate)
Chi no Ri, 地の理, the principle of earth (terrain, surroundings)
Jin no Ri, 人の理, the principle of man (forces in presence, troops)
Heiki no Ri, 兵器の理, the principle of weapons (the weapons on each side)
Jōyō no Ri, 吉の理, the principle of chance (seizing the opportunity and being able to adapt)

At the strategy level, there is no more time for stealing, you have what you have. At Jūgodan level, you are responsible for your actions, and your only objective is to survive with what you have acquired.

If you are a true Shihan, stop behaving like a thief.
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1. Message to Darius from Indianapolis: I’m sorry I told you to “steal” the technique, just the day before Sensei said we shouldn’t. Bad timing I guess 🙂
2. For those who have been sleeping since 1977: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Padawan

Ishitobashi


Kuki to Kuma
Kuki to Kuma

Since last November, Hatsumi Sensei has been playing with the concept of Ishitobashi (石飛ばし), skipping stones. (1) This “ishitobashi” is his way of describing the interaction between Uke (the water, nature) and Tori (the stone, Mankind) in the encounter.

We have all played that game when we were younger, trying to have a stone do as many bounces as possible on a body of water. (2)(3)(4)

Budō is no different.

When you study the physics of Ishitobashi you know that, to succeed, you need five conditions:
1. a flat stone, not too big and well balanced
2. a body of water rather quiet with no ripples
3. enough thrusting and twisting power
4. no wind
5. a perfect angle and distance to fly on the water without drowning

When you are conscious of those five conditions and incorporate them in one instant, your stone throwing is good.
If you don’t meet one of those elements then, your stone will drown irremediably.

Making a parallel with our Budō, we find here the six elements of the Japanese Rokudai (六大):
The stone is Chi (地).
The water is Sui (水).
The thrusting power is Ka (火).
The wind is Fū (風).
The angle and distance are Kū (空).
And the sainō (才能), the ability to seize the situation as a whole without thinking is Shiki (識).

When Uke attacks we must be like a skipping stone, bouncing naturally on the surface of his intentions and actions. And this is why there is no thinking involved in the process.
Ishitobashi is similar to Chūto Hanpa (中途), the famous concept of “half-cooked techniques” that Sensei explained in class a few years ago. (5) (6)

Because our goal is not to do a technique but to adapt to whatever is coming at us, we are free to move and overcome uke’s intentions.

In a more philosophical manner, this ability to adaptation is close to the concept of “not trying”. This idea might go against your inner beliefs, but it has been studied for centuries in Asia. The Chinese Taoist concept of Wuwei (無爲), of “not doing” or “effortless doing”. And this is what Sensei is asking to do (or not do). (7)

For those of you interested to put this Wuwei into your daily lives, I advise you to read the book “Trying not to try” by Edward Slingerland. The book begins with Wuwei, creativity and above all with spontaneity. (8) (9)

Slingerland says that: “Our excessive focus in the modern world on the power of conscious thought and the benefits of willpower and self-control causes us to overlook the pervasive importance of what might be called “body thinking”: tacit, fast, and semiautomatic behavior that flows from the unconscious with little or no conscious interference. The result is that we too often devote ourselves to pushing harder or moving faster in areas of our life where effort and striving are, in fact, profoundly counterproductive.” (10)

The “body thinking” he describes is what Hatsumi Sensei teaches. We achieve natural movement when we can “think” with the body. Our movements are spontaneous and like the stone bouncing on the water, our actions are always attuned to the situation.

Sensei is an artist; this means that creativity is his drive, if we want to become genuine martial artists then we have to to be more creative and spontaneous. This creativity is echoing what he told us on Friday night. “Don’t learn the techniques, let your body do what is necessary without intention if you try to do a technique in a fight you will be readable, and you will die.”

Ishitobashi is Musō Ken (無想剣).

PS: 15th Dan, don’t forget to bring an engraved “ishi” (石), stone, to “bashu” (馬主), the horse owner. (11)
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1. 石飛ばし skipping stone (on a body of water), skimming stone
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_skipping
3. http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/stoneskip.html
4. https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/wrong2.html
5. 中途 chūto in the middle; half-way
6. 半端 hanpa
remnant; fragment; incomplete set; fraction; odd sum; incompleteness
7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei
8. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18050134-trying-not-to-try
9. A big thank you to Phillip Mayr from Bujinkan Salzburg for advising me to read this book.
10. excerpt from http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/04/21/trying-not-to-try-slingerland/
11. In Sensei’s garden Kuki and Tobi, his two horses will keep an eye on your stone. 😉

What Type Of Shihan Are You?


Takamatsu Sensei’s memorial

I have been speaking with many Bujinkan members since I arrived in Japan, and it seems there are a few misconceptions about the term Shihan.
It is understandable because the word “Shihan” has various possible meanings.

The two more common are:
市販 Shihan
1: selling on the market (in the marketplace, in stores, etc.); making something commercially available;
2: (No-adjective) commercial (e.g. software); over-the-counter; off-the-shelf; store-bought

師範 Shihan
instructor; (fencing) teacher; model (I guess this is the correct one).

A Shihan is then a teacher and/or an instructor, but the use of this title depends on the martial art you train. For example, it is different in Karatedō, Jūdō, Aikidō, etc.
Some say you need at least an 8th dan to be called a “Shihan”. I honestly do not know what is the rule for the Bujinkan.

The “Guidelines for Participation in the Bujinkan” by Sōke Hatsumi, say that “true Shihan can be given fifteenth dan” (1). So at least we know that a Jūgodan is a Shihan, but I guess we can use the term before reaching this ultimate rank.

Until recently there was no diploma for Shihan. But last year things have evolved as Hatsumi Sensei created two new awards of “Yūshū Shihan” and “Dai Shihan”.
Only Jūgodan can receive these titles.

A Yūshū Shihan (優秀師範) is an “important Shihan”. (2)
A Dai Shihan (大師範) is a “senior instructor”. (3)

Hatsumi Sensei has given several Yūshū Shihan awards but only ten Dai Shihan (so far), three in Japan and seven abroad. I hope this helps you to understand better how the Bujinkan works.

Whether you are a Shihan, a Yūshū Shihan or a Dai Shihan, it doesn’t matter because every Shihan is a Jūgodan. Respect those titles but don’t give them too much importance.

Sunday in his garden in Saitama, next to Takamatsu’s memorial, Sensei said: “we have created the Bujinkan dōjō in memory of Takamatsu sensei, and there must be unity amongst its members. No one is above the others, no one is the head of the Bujinkan, we are all at the same level. When people are competing, peace cannot be achieved”.

So as happiness is the goal of the Bujinkan, is it really important to know what type of Shihan you are?

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1. http://bujinkanguidelines.mobilewebpage.net/
2. 優秀 Yūshū: superiority; excellence
3. 大師範 Dai Shihan: master; senior instructor