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?


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

Roppō Kuji No Biken? Again?

plaque honbu

Sensei did a lot of Nagamaki (長巻) at the beginning of the year. Last month in Argentina Christian, who just arrived from Japan, told me that Sensei seems to be teaching Roppō Kuji no Biken (六法九字之秘剣). It is like going back to the theme of 2004! I didn’t understand until I arrived here.

Sensei is teaching a lot of sword techniques every class. On Sunday, we trained sword on the first part of the class. Sensei said that we simply have to use the sword naturally without trying to cut or block. He used me as uke and what I sensed was strange. It was as if he was not there at all.

Sensei deflected an attack effortlessly and said that we must use the sword naturally without trying anything like cutting or blocking. He called that Musō Ken (無想剣), the “sword without intention”.

In this technique, the footwork is positioning the blade to intercept the attack, and there is no intention emitting from us. Only by adjusting distance and timing, we can control the attack of the opponent. As explained in a previous post this is the “Engeki Ken” (縁隙剣) of the Gyokko Ryū.

Sensei then showed an unusual stance originating from the Kukishin Ryū based on Seigan no Kamae.
The sword is not pointing towards the eyes but is slightly lower as if we are aiming at the knees of the attacker (I guess we should call it “Hiza no Kamae”).
In my thirty years of practice, I saw that for the first time. With this new Kamae, Sensei does not put muscular force in his grip and can absorb the strength of the attacking blade. He is walking around uke’s blade deflecting it to let the opponent passing him. It was very soft and looked natural. This quiet power was devastating as the attacker would prepare his grip to receive the counter strike but only encounters nothingness. By not blocking and deflecting uke’s blade, uke meets some Kūkan and loses his balance. This no-power blocking is more powerful than a regular ukemi. Instead of having two “yang” it was a real yin-yang. Uke and Tori were one.

And experimenting it, I understood why Christian said that Sensei was teaching again Roppō Kuji no Biken (六法九字之秘剣). And I think I can explain why Sensei is teaching this the year of the new Honbu opens. It is because of numerology.

Let me explain. We know the Japanese are very fond of numerology. The first Honbu dōjō opened on the 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year of Heisei (1997) at 10:10pm. The number “10” symbolizes the end of a cycle and a new beginning.
In 2015, Sensei inaugurated the new Honbu on the 22nd day of the 2nd month of the 27th year of Heisei.
When you add the number of the days to the number of the month you get 2+2+2 = 6; and when you do the same with the numbers of the Heisei year, you get 2+7= 9.

This “6-9” is the symbol of Roppō Kuji no Biken. It also symbolizes the inyō (yin-yang), and this is what he did exactly on Sunday, being one with the attacker through the use of Kūkan.

What we see is not always reality, it is often an illusion.

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Engeki Ken

Hasso Butsu
Hasso Butsu

During class Sensei taught a sword concept coming from the Gyokko Ryū called engeki ken (縁隙剣). When you apply it, you connect (en) your sword (ken) to the gaps in uke’s armor (geki). The blade is the center of your body movements, and you turn around uke to find an opening. In the Bujinkan, the sword is used more as a shield than as a cutting device and the body makes it possible. There is no tension no hard blocking, only precise footwork allowing you to get uke’s balance and creating opportunities to counter him.

The theme for this year is Goko Goshin (悟光護心) (1) which translates as “the light of enlightenment protecting the heart/spirit”. When you visit the new honbu dōjō, you will notice eight golden statues of buddhas and bodhisattvas lying under the shinden (2). They are the protectors of the eight directions (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW). They are here to protect the dōjō as a whole, and us during training.

I began to understand why Sensei chose this yearly theme when told the following story. We all know that Sensei collects old weapons. Visiting recently his regular antique shop, he saw a beautiful sword. When he unsheathed the blade, it was carved with the “Hassō butsu”, those eight guardian Buddhas of the zodiac. He saw that as a good omen for the new honbu dōjō he bought it. Then he put the statues of the Hassō butsu in the Shinden as a protection.
There is also a giant eagle on the left side (Takamatsu sensei’s favorite bird).
On the right side is an Ironwood statue of Kanjin (Jiangzhen) a Chinese monk who brought Buddhism to the country in the 8th century (3). We are fully protected!

The sword is also a means of protection, and therefore I see here a direct link with the concept of “engeki ken”. When using the sword we have to shield our body with this connection to the opponent through the blade. Once again, the Bujinkan is about footwork and the body rotates around uke keeping the blade between us. When Sensei moves, he does it in such a natural manner that the attacker doesn’t know what he is facing.

During the class on Sunday, he took us Pedro and me as uke a few times. And each time we were defeated even before attacking. It felt like fighting a ghost. There was nothing to generate a reaction from our part. Every move sensei was doing was like he was not there. As Pedro explained: “sensei is destroying my confusion.” Sensei’s non-presence creates such confusion that we are dead before doing anything. It was a very strange feeling.

After the class, a group of students went to Sensei’s house in Saitama to help Sensei clean the Takamatsu memorial from the growing weed. It was a very pleasant moment. After the cleaning was done sensei offered us a drink and spoke a lot about happiness and being relaxed. Those who were lucky to be there that day will remember forever this precious afternoon in the garden under the sunny sky.

That was another engeki ken (苑闃乾), being “quietly in the garden under heaven”. (4)
Thank you sensei for this beautiful day in the dojo and the garden.
1. 縁隙剣
En: fate; destiny (esp. as a mysterious force that binds two people together);
Geki: gap; space; chink (in one’s armor, armor); chance; opportunity;
Ken: sword (originally esp. a double-edged sword); saber; blade;
2. http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/8-zodiac-protectors.shtml
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jianzhen
4. 苑闃乾
En: garden (esp. man-made); orchard; park; plantation;
Geki: quietly;
Ken: qian (one of the trigrams of the I Ching: heaven, northwest)*
*The Hasso butsu are also related to the trigrams of the I Ching.

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