Sensei Is Magic


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Yesterday 297 participants tried to fit into the Honbu for Sensei’s class.  We broke the Guinness book record by nearly 150!
To say that training was quite impossible would be lying as Sensei took this opportunity to teach Ninjutsu in crowded areas. This didn’t prevent him to do some knife and sword techniques. Sensei was I great mood and moved like a magician.
I had the privilege to open the class,  paying attention to do a technique that was fitting the lack of space. Sensei is a “magician” and we had a lot of fun, and we actually trained quite well.

Magic is is the name given to science and knowledge, when we are unable to comprehend what we are witnessing. Yesterday was magic!

Sensei spoke about becoming zero.  Due to the lack of space,  he taught how to fight in crowded areas. He was really impressive. And his many Uke were all in pain event though there was hardly any movement to see. He reminded us that this year was about ” Me, Yubi, and Kokyû”, eyes,  fingers,  and rib cage. To be able to defeat the attacker,  he said the key was to lift the shoulder to distract Uke’s attention,  and to use the elbows as pivoting points.

When I was his Uke,  I didn’t see anything.  His reactions even though they were soft,  we’re impossible to counter as he was always distracting me from knowing from which direction his next move would come. The slight movement of his shoulder was forcing me to focus on his upper body,  while the attack was coming from a different angle.

Sensei explained that when our movements are prevented because of too many people,  or because of  a confined space,  then this wave-like motion of shoulders, upper torso, and pivoting from the elbows was the answer.

The elbows were the meeting point from which the hands would grab,  hit or twist.  Like a magician performing close-up  magic,  it was impossible to see what was coming next. He said that because we have no intention,  it is impossible for Uke to see the attack.

One thing that struck me yesterday is that by telling us “use your shoulder and use your elbows” he is in fact programming us to be distracted from his real movement. And when we try to replicate it,  we cannot.  We cannot,  simply because we try to do it.  Trying we are not zero,  therefore it is impossible. Speak to uke in order to defeat him. That was brilliant!

This attitude of not doing anything is the essence of being zero and if you think of being zero,  you cannot be.

As he said last week, don’t misunderstand this “zero” concept.  Being zero is not being empty,  on the contrary.  The only thing is not to have any preconceived idea. Uke attacks and you move naturally. What he did with Pedro was amazing. Sensei was there but he wasn’t. Magic!

One thing he said,  was that you don’t fight the opponent,  you refuse the fight and defeat him.  Therefore the only one fighting is the attacker.  Not having any opposition in front of him, the attacker is not able to react.  And when he does, it is too late.

This year is about 42, the beginning of the new cycle in the Bujinkan, and I guess that in a few hours we will know more about it. But it is interesting to see that the 297 participants add up to 9 (2+9+7 = 18 = 9).

This “9” of yesterday finishes the cycle,  and prepares for the new beginning that is supposed to be announced today during the Takamatsu Memorial.

Indeed,  yesterday was magic and sensei a real magician of Budō.

I’m now on my way  to it,  stay tune for more.

Nagato No Kyori


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I really enjoyed the class yesterday with Nagato sensei. As usual we began the class with the new Godan. 
During this session, I focused mainly on Nagato sensei’s footwork, which is, as you may know, quite different from Noguchi sensei’s.

Nagato sensei has a very interesting way to always be well placed, that allow him to take uke’s balance in a very natural way. His 距離 (Kyori), distance, is perfect because of the way he walks out of the attack. (1)

The movement was the usual attack with migi tsuki. 
Nagato sensei avoided the attack by controlling / absorbing the attacking arm from the outside at the elbow / forearm level with his own right elbow.  Then switching arms, he made his Uke pivot to the left, and pushed right Shutō into the jaw.

What was interesting is that Nagato sensei sidestepped with a small step to the left with his left leg. Controlling now the inside of Uke’s arm, he pivoted clockwise with the body, putting his right leg nearly behind and in line with the front leg. This precise stepping opened a Kûkan, in which the switch omote / ura was possible. Uke’s body was being repositioned, and Uke was suddenly fighting for his balance. The resulting Migi Shutō was unstoppable. The end of the movement included many variations around Omote Gyaku / Oni Kudaki / Yuji Kudaki.

The Kaname here, was that the sidestepping during the attack, was done close to a 90° angle. And with a perfect Kyori. Not too close, but not too far. Always balanced, Nagato sensei was able to step forward, and deliver the Shutō naturally. The Shutō was more a push than a hit. Uke being pushed backwards, his body bent forward in reaction, to compensate for the force being applied. This unplanned reaction of Uke’s body opened the possibility for the Gyaku to be applied to the right arm.

Later, we did the same by absorbing the Tsuki with the chest, from the outside, keeping Uke’s hand stuck to the body. The footwork was the same, only the angling was different. Wrapping the thumb with the right hand, Nagato applied Yubi Kudaki, and created the space for the Gyaku (Omote Gyaku, Oni Kudaki) adjusting to Uke’s reaction.

There were many other variations including kicks to the groin from the inside. Rico, his Uke at the moment, have enough bruises to testify.

The two different ways of doing this “Uke Nagashi” are possible because the initial footwork was perfect. No wonder that Hatsumi sensei’s videos are subtitled “martial arts of distance”. The proper distancing is created by this dance-like footwork. When Nagato sensei was doing it, I was amazed to see how soft and natural his taijutsu was. There was no unnecessary force used in the process, only perfect Kyori.

When we began the cycle of Juppō Sesshō back in 2003, I remember sensei explaining that our movements should resemble those of a bossa nova dancer. To me Nagato sensei’s moves looked like bossa nova.

When you become able to do that, you are always balanced and this is why Uke, trying not to fall, is trapped by his body reactions.

Proper distancing and footwork, create an unconscious change in his mind. From the “attacking mode”, Uke’s body switches to “surviving mode”. Uke is not in control of his actions anymore, his body reacts to unseen dangers, but he is always too late.

Yamaoka Tesshû says that “outside the mind there is no sword. When facing an opponent, do not depend on the sword; use mind to strike the adversary’s mind. This is no sword.” This is exactly the same that is happening here but with taijutsu: get Uke’s imaginary fears work for you.

When you master your footwork, distance, angle, and rhythm, your movements are natural. There is no intention. You do what is required by Uke’s suicidal reactions. Real fight is mental not physical. But to teach the mental state, one needs to develop first the physical state.

The “Zero intention” of Mutō Dori taught by Sōke these days, is the result of highly trained basics, and ingrained knowledge of body mechanics. When the fight unleashes, it is too late as your brain will be frozen. Your body will react by itself. If you have good taijutsu foundations, you’ll be able to survive the fight. If you don’t, then it’s too late. The “ninjutsu is formless, everything goes” that was famous in the 80s, has been widely spread and bright a lot of misconceptions in what we actually train. You can forget the form only if you have trained the forms extensively. This is not magic!

Train your basics slowly, study the Waza thoroughly, learn about your body and its possibilities (strengths and also weaknesses). Slow motion will get you there. This is not sport, this is survival training.

Everything that you learn is Omote. Everything that keeps you alive is Ura. As a sincere practitioner, your only objective is to turn the Omote learning into natural Ura movements. This is one of the meanings of shingitai. (3)
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1. 距離/kyori/distance; range
2. 要/kaname/pivot|vital point; cornerstone; keystone
3. 心技体/shingitai/ heart, technique, physique