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.

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:

Shuhari: Gyokko Ryû Revisited


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!

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

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