Hidden In Plain Sight


I keep writing about the importance of coming to Japan to train. Each time, there is something new to learn, and to bring back home. Often this “something” is hidden in plain sight, in the middle of a regular class. That was the case yesterday night during Noguchi sensei’s class. 

We were covering the first level of the Gyokko Ryû: Kokû, Renyō, Gyaku Nagare, Dan Shu, Dan Shi, Hanbō etc. As always, Noguchi sensei was recreating the waza we all know with his special twist. Refreshing and full of new insights. We reached the end of the Ten Ryaku no Maki. (1) Everything was fine until that moment. Then, Noguchi sensei said: “there are 3 jûmonji, one for each level.” And putting his words into action, he demonstrated them.
I have been training with Noguchi sensei as my main teacher since 1993, (2) and yesterday was the first time I saw that. And, believe me, we have been going through the Gyokko ryû syllabus many times during my sixty trips to Japan. I never saw that before.

I immediately went to him with Juan-manuel, Eugenio, and a few others. Noguchi sensei, notebook in hand, went through the densho showing the texts of the techniques. I told him, that it could be some Ramen recipe book so none of us could read Japanese. He laughed but continued his explanation.

So here is the story:

In the Ten Ryaku, the Jûmonji #1, is the one we know. 
Uke attacks right, then left. 
This is the one we do in the Kihon Happō.

In the Chi Ryaku,  Jûmonji #2: 
Uke attacks Tentō kiri with the Shotō. 
You move away low and to the left at 45° and dodge the attack. At the same time, you hit your left thigh with your hand to trigger a whiplash jump that thrusts you forward into uke’s face, that you shutō vertically. Uke steps back from the hit, and launches a second attack. This time, you do Ura Uke Nagashi, do the same slapping on the right thigh, and the same hit to the face, but with Migi shutō.

In the Jin Ryaku, Jûmonji #3:
Uke does right tsuki. 
You apply Sayû (3) Uke Nagashi to the arm, step in with Te Dama Dori (4), and by hitting Sayû boshi ken to Butsumetsu.
Noguchi sensei precised that the hits were done twice on the same spots, double hits on the forearm, and double hits to Butsumetsu.

This class made me think a lot. On the way back to Kashiwa, I was speaking with my friend Sveneric,  he said that he saw this done once in the past. But we agreed to say that it was the first time, we clearly saw the link between the three levels of the school. These last five minutes of the class were an eye-opener.

But this “answer” brought many new “questions”:
A) How come this is not detailed in all the notes I have been collecting and training for the last 30 years? 
B) How to include the three Kamae used for each level? (5)
C) How come I didn’t see that before?

I guess I’ll have to come back again, and ask about it. Training in Japan, when you’re ready to destroy your certitudes, is a fantastic way to keep your progression in budô alive. Too often, practitioners come to train in Japan, but they come here only once in their life, and behave as if they knew everything. I don’t get it.

I’ve been coming here for more than 25 years, and I’m still puzzled by my lack of knowledge. There are no secrets in the Bujinkan, everything is “hidden in plain sight”, and it takes a very long time to be able to see it. Linking this to my previous post, the Omote Waza is nothing compared to the Ura Waza.

The Bujinkan System is really not WYSIWYG, it is definitely WYSINWYG! (6)

Keep going!

1. The Ten Ryaku no Maki is sometimes called “Jō Ryaku no maki”, sometimes “Shōden no Kata”. Hatsumi sensei used the three names over the years. 
2. In 1993,  Hatsumi sensei told me: “Arnaud from now on, you train only with me and Noguchi.” Only in 1997, when the old honbu dōjō opened, was I allowed by Sōke to train with all the Shi Tennō at the honbu. And not with anybody else. I obeyed, and never asked him why he ordered me that. More than twenty years later, it transformed my taijutsu to resemble Noguchi sensei’s taijutsu.
3. Sayû = Hidari migi
左右/sayû/left and right|influence; control; domination
4. Te dama dori is when you step on uke’s foot (ie deceiving him by stepping on his front foot). It is made of:
手/te/forepaw; foreleg
騙す/damasu/to trick; to cheat; to deceive
5. Each level of the Gyokko is linked to a specific Kamae,  variation of Shizen (or Hira), they are:
Ten Ryaku Uchû Gasshō no Kamae 
Fûten Goshin Gasshō no Kamae
Hano Banitsu no Kamae 
For more on these Kamae, check the Gyokko ryû at www.koimartialart.com
6. What you see (Omote) is NOT what you get (Ura)

Tōtoku Hyōshi, Protect Your Self


To say that yesterday night, the Honbu was packed would be an understatement. There were so many people that my camera couldn’t focus properly. :mrgreen:
And there are still new people pouring in every day. Next Friday, I guess that some might have to train outside!

Sven, who arrived the day before, opened the class with a movement (grab + tsuki), that allowed sensei to dwell into the Tōtoku Hyōshi and many other concepts.

We all know Tōtoku Hyōshi, a biken jutsu Kamae where, in Hanza, we (supposedly) protect the body and dodge a Shuriken, with the blade put vertically in front of us. (1)

But yesterday, Sensei, teaching Mutō Dori, simply used his shoulder. Lifting his shoulder, he was deflecting the tsuki by turning in, and applying a kind of Omote Gyaku on the grabbing hand. This subtle lift of the shoulder acted as a Ô Sode (the shield on the Yoroi) and protected him, even though he was getting closer.

The movement was so slow and relaxed that uke was falling into a Kûkan. There was no opposition, no intention at all. Once again, he insisted on not putting any strength (Chikara janai), and on not grabbing. Then Sensei added a few times that we have to use “Nuku”, to slip into the distance.

Using Moguri, Sensei lowered his hips, throwing his elbow towards the face of Uke. There was no physical contact, but the attacker reacted with his whole body, which gave the opening for Sensei to apply a sort of Omote Gyaku. (3) 
This was not the regular Omote Gyaku as Sensei pivoting in,  grabbed the forearm and drove his four fingers deep into the flesh to reach the tendons.

I asked him to feel the movement, and you can see the result in the picture. It felt like being crushed by the claws of an eagle. While the pain was building up when he dug deeper and deeper into my forearm, I noticed that the rest of his body remained totally relaxed. Impressive … and very painful. Remember that pain is your best teacher.

Hatsumi sensei said, this grab was Shishin ken. (4) Too often, practitioners think of “shishin” as being only the pinky. In fact, each finger can be used to do it. (5) He also illustrated it by using his “claws”, with double digging on the face, the ears, and poking the eyes. (6)


During the rest of the class, Sensei showed how to apply all of these concepts against sword or knives. Being zero is the hardest thing to do. The brain understands what being “zero” means, but it is hard to express it with the body. In order to achieve it, you have to let go of the forms that built your taijutsu, and free yourself of any intent. As Yamaoka Tesshû said, even if you’re facing certain death, don’t hesitate and move forward.

After the Sakki tests, I spoke to Rico,  a new Shidōshi from Delaware Bujinkan Dōjō, who did a nice test. He said that “at first I had a lot of fear,  then I let go, and my body did it. I only knew that I succeeded when, standing up, I heard the people applauding”. The Bujinkan is about “letting go” and “not being afraid”, this is Kuki Taishō.*

On the mats, you will get pain. But each time you freak out instead of facing the opponent, you lose a chance to improve yourself. Training is useless if you don’t use it to develop your inner strength. Dōjō training allows you to learn concepts such as Tōtoku Hyōshi, Nuku, Moguri, Shishin Ken, and to apply them in your daily lives. If you don’t get that, then I think you are losing your time on the mats.

Don’t be a “nuku”. (7) Train harder with sincerity, and work to become a true human being by using the protection of Tōtoku Hyōshi !

1. 刀/tou/(single-edged) sword; katana|dagger; knife|scalpel
匿/toku/shelter; shield; hide
拍子/hyōshi/(musical) time; tempo; beat; rhythm|the moment; the instance; chance
2. 抜く/nuku/to extract; to omit; to surpass; to overtake; to draw out; to unplug|to do something to the end
抜ける/nukeru/to come out; to fall out; to be omitted; to be missing; to escape; to come loose|to fade; to discolour|to wear a hole (e.g. clothes)|to leave (e.g. a meeting)|to be clear; to be transparent (e.g. of the sky)|to be stupid; to be absentminded; to be careless; to be inattentive|to exit (a program loop).
Note: there’s also another “politically incorrect” meaning for this word.
3. 潜り/moguri/diving; diver|unlicensed (doctor, driver, etc.); unregistered; unqualified
4. 指針/shishin/needle ; indicator; pointer; index|guiding principle; guideline; guide
5. I think that this is because in the Tōgakure Ryû Ninpō Taijutsu book (published in 1983 by Sensei), the technique is only shown with the pinky. I have to repeat here, that this knowledge can only be acquired here in Japan when you train with Sōke. You have to experience it directly from the source. 
6. Sensei was always using two fingers,  one inside the eye socket, one inside the ear. Fernando, Pedro, Oliver and others can show you their marks. 
7. 温/nuku/idiot; dummy; slow person
* More on Kuki Taishō at http://www.koimartialart.com

Yoko Or Jûji Aruki?


Koto Ryû is Yoko Aruki, in the same way Gyokko ryû is Jûji Aruki. (1)
Each fighting system of the Bujinkan has its particular details. In these two systems, because of the initial distance, the way to cross your legs while fighting, is logical. But this logic has to be enforced in your habits. And, believe me, is not that easy to get it right. (2)

We did some Koto Ryû taijutsu with Noguchi sensei, and I had a hard time crossing my legs correctly on each movement. I am more a Gyokko man.
I got it right only when I began to train more slowly and kept my feet facing the same direction. Slow speed in the acquisition process, is very important to get this footwork motion right.

As often in the Bujinkan, this is not the upper part of the body that matters, but the legs. You know that Bujinkan is about aruki. It couldn’t be more accurate than during this class.

Last Friday, Hatsumi sensei spoke about the difference between the levels of omote waza and ura waza. His point, was that omote is physical, and is mental. But depending on the fighting system you train in, and of your technical level, there are other interpretations.
Omote waza / arms, upper body – ura waza / legs, lower body 
Omote waza / simple – ura waza / complex 
Omote waza / standard teaching – ura waza / secret teaching 
Omote waza / beginner level – ura waza / advanced level 
Omote waza / obvious – ura waza / complex 
Omote waza / hands – ura waza / feet

On Sunday, Noguchi sensei’s movements were refreshing, and the lines of his legs defined a very nice Koto ryû space. The straight footwork of the Koto ryû have the correct distancing m and he could get his partner off balance without any strength.
At one point, he insisted on going beyond the form, destructuring the original waza, in order to adapt it to uke’s reactions. It was a nice warm up that made sense when the class with Sōke began right after his.

When in Japan, do not focus on the way Sensei and the Shihan unfold the techniques. Whatever they do, it will never be exactly what the original text say. Instead, try to “read between the lines” and learn how to “read” their movements. This is the best way to improve your taijutsu. Obviously, it requires that you already know quite well the waza of every fighting system of the Bujinkan.
Free flow comes from good basics. How do you want to adjust a movement if you don’t know it in the first place? Is impossible. Learn the waza, train the waza, then go to Japan and learn the flow of natural movement. This is why you train ride basics in your dōjō. The tenchijin leads to the ryûha (taijutsu and Buki). Ryûha lead to the honbu. There’s no shortcut. Excellence is based on the correct training in the fundamentals.

Often I hear practitioners complaining that classes are not for beginners. Maybe that is why Sensei keeps repeating that he is teaching for Jūgodan.
Understand me well. It is ok for beginners to come and train in Japan, but it will not be easy. At least they will have good memories.
Beginners should come for the omote waza, advanced practitioners for the ura waza. 
1. Reminder to beginners: Yoko aruki and Jûji aruki are two different ways of cruising the legs. Toes and feet facing the same direction = Koto ryû ; toes and feet perpendicular = Gyokko ryû. 
2. Koto ryû having an initial distance of 2m, the movements are more aligned than in the short distance Gyokko, where twisting the body up and down is more logical (distance 60cm)

Shinobi Is Kokoro


The class with Senō sensei was as impressive and precise as always. With micro details such as rotating the bones of the forearm, and folding the wrist slightly during the uke nagashi, we are able to take Uke’s balance before he could feel it. I could write about it, but it will never describe the beauty of his taijutsu. The best is to come here and to train. What I want to write about today is about one thing Senō sensei’s commented before the end of the training session.

At the end of his class, Senō sensei spoke about the meaning  of the kanji for Shinobi. Honestly, I didn’t get everything (I still don’t speak Japanese), but what I got,  made me think about the many hidden meanings of this kanji. I would like to share my thoughts with you.

Everyone in the Bujinkan knows that Shinobi is composed of 2 kanji: sword (Tō) above heart/spirit (kokoro). (1)(2)(3) So nothing new there.

So, to me, what was new in the way Senō sensei explained it is that he said that “the blade is hidden in the heart/spirit”. The usual and common understanding is that we must “have a spirit as sharp as a sword”. This is why Senō sensei’s interpretation acted as an eye opener.

What I understood is that, linked to what Hatsumi sensei said the day before, we have to hide our intention, and be ready to terminate the opponent when the occasion arises. A Waza is intention, this is why there can be no waza in a real fight.

A waza by definition is a drilled exercise repeated thousands of times until it is ingrained in our mind / body. (4) To get this level of ability, one must repeat his basics during many hours, months, and years. At some point, there is no thinking, only a natural movement. This is what you did when you learned to ride a bike,  or when you learned to swim. Even if you don’t do it regularly you can ride a bike, or swim the minute you do it again.

When you have acquired this ingrained state, the mind / body reacts and the only thing you do is to witness what is happening. You’re not actor, but spectator of your actions.

In a real fight, you have no time to think. Thinking is possible only when you train. When you fight it is to late.

If your basics are bad because you didn’t spend enough time studying the tenchijin and the fighting systems of the Bujinkan, you will never be able to adapt your taijutsu to the situation.

On the contrary, if you did your homework, your mind / body will slash the opponent naturally.

When you put intention in your movements,  it is because of a lack of mastery of the basics of the Bujinkan. Many dōjō are developing a mix martial art approach of the Bujinkan, instead of respecting Hatsumi sensei’s path of the natural movement because of these weak basics. In sport, nothing is natural, it is mechanical.

How many time did I hear Sensei say “chikara janai”, don’t use strength ? Or use your “karada”, your body? The problem with us, Westerners, is that we cannot fathom how we can be efficient without thinking thoroughly, and using strength. For many,  “Mushin” is only a nice philosophical concept. (5)

At the beginning of the year, Hatsumi sensei spoke about Yamaoka Tesshû (1836-1888, famous swordsman, calligrapher, and Zen master). Yamaoka developed the “sword of no-sword” concept. This is another definition of Mutō Dori. (6)

When the sword is hidden in the heart/spirit there is no sword visible, and therefore there is no intention. And because there is no intention, only the heart / spirit remains. “be slow and relaxed” said Sensei on Sunday, “and the movement will reveal itself”.

The sword but visible, only the kokoro is there. Maybe this is why Takamatsu Sensei wrote about “kokoro no Budō”, the heart /spirit of Budō.

Next Saturday we celebrate Takamatsu sensei’s memory. Please think about it.

1. 忍び/shinobi/stealth|travelling incognito (traveling)|ninjutsu|ninja|sneak theft; sneak thief|tolerance
2. 刀/tō/(single-edged) sword; katana|dagger; knife|scalpel
3. 心/kokoro/mind; heart; spirit|the meaning of a phrase (riddle, etc.)
4. I use “mind / body” as being one and not two. There is no duality. Inyō is unity. 
5. 無心/mushin/innocence|insentient (i.e. plants, inanimate objects, etc.)|free from obstructive thoughts|to pester someone (for cash, etc.)
6. Reminder: mutō dori is about facing the attacker with no fear, even if it is lethal. [for more, check mutō dori in this blog]

Sidenote: For those wondering. Stephen Hayes, moving away from the Bujinkan, called his system Tōshindō (sword+heart+path = Shinobi path). But that has nothing to do with the bujinkan.

Heijōshin vs Heijōshin And Other Considerations


Every time I’m here, I have the feeling that Sensei’s Budō is getting more subtle.

The theme this year is multiple (like it is always the case) and revolves around Mutō Dori, the Katana, and the concept of zero. 

Hatsumi sensei precised that “zero is not nothing, it is a point”. It’s not empty. I understand it as another form of inyō. (1) 
Because there is nothing, there is everything. Inyō represents the cosmic dual forces, but it is not dualistic. There is no opposition, there is only 真心, reality. (3)

Sensei exclaimed this apparent paradox speaking about 平常心, Heijōshin, “one’s presence of mind”. (2) 
In the encounter with the opponent, one must not show his intention, one must have no feeling. Having no feeling, Tori simply surfs on Uke’s intention. The situation is read and answered naturally. 
Because you don’t have any intention, you can react naturally, which is why Sensei that Heijōshin is in fact Heijōshin 平常真心, with “shin” being “magokoro”, sincerity or reality. (3)

Being zero,  you can adjust to reality and defeat the attacker with no intention. Uke is trapped by his actions. 
This is why, he said, there’s no waza. Waza will get you killed in a real encounter. A waza is a form, it is not zero. If you remain zero and shows no feeling nor intention, you can use uke’s the against him. 
This is Kyojitsu tenkan hō (虚実転換法), and Kyojitsu tenkan hō  (虚実転換方). Alternating strength and weakness, intention and lack of intention, you force uke to stay in his waza state. Uke reacts to his own movements and cannot see defeat before it is too late for him. This is the essence of Mutō Dori,  whether you have it haven’t a weapon.

Like with Ishitobashi, the skipping stone of last year, the various kûkan created between the contacts with water, unfold possibilities invisible to uke’s intentions. (5)

Tenkan Hō is like Henka. The beginning of change (hen/tenkan) and the end of change (ka/hō).

At the beginning, I wrote that the theme of this year “revolved” around Mutō Dori. Amazingly, Tenkan also has the meaning of revolving, and defines your ability to alternate intention and no intention. 
Therefore, we must see Heijōshin, (平常真心) as the true essence of Mutō Dori. 
I told you that sensei is getting more subtle, didn’t I?
1. 陰陽/inyou/cosmic dual forces; yin-yang; sun and moon, etc.
2. 平常心/heijoushin/one’s self-possession; one’s presence of mind
3. 真心/magokoro/sincerity; devotion; reality
4. Kyojitsu tenkan hō
虚実/kyojitsu/truth or falsehood
転換/tenkan/convert; divert
法/hou/law; act; principle|method|mood|dharma
方/hou/direction; way; side; area (in a particular direction)|side (of an argument, etc.); one’s part|type; category|field (of study, etc.)|indicates one side of a comparison|way; method; manner; means|length (of each side of a square)
5. Ishitobashi 
石飛ばし/ishitobashi/skipping stones (on a body of water); skimming stones
6. 転めく/kurumeku/to spin; to revolve; to twirl|to be dizzy; to feel faint|to bustle about

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