Fun’Iki, Control The Environment

IMG_20170428_211146This year Mutō dori is about controlling Funiki, your environment.
During the class, Hatsumi sensei demonstrated it with Taijutsu, Tantō, Katana, and Naginata. Each time the Uke seemed lost and unable to get him. His main point today was that the weapon, or the lack of it, is not what truly matter. In fact, with or without a weapon, Sensei was moving very slowly, keeping a perfect distance with the opponent, who always ended up cutting, stabbing himself, or getting controlled. There was no fight, no opposition, Sensei’s movements were natural. From the outside, it looked like Uke was fighting alone.

Sensei demonstrated it with the Tantō, using a unique grip that let his Taijutsu play by itself.
You hold the knife reverse, hiding it under your forearm and use either the blade or the Kashira to get Uke naturally. (2)
The key, he said, is not to use the Tantō, and to let Uke cut himself in the process. Correcting a student he told her that thinking about cutting with the blade, created a Teko (3), a point of leverage and focus that the opponent can use against you. Sensei added that in the case of a small weapon, it had to be always hidden.
But when Uke finally sees it, the trick is to let Uke “think” the knife while Tori still ignores it and his mind is not trapped by it. Sensei added that when you want to cut or stab with your knife, you are creating a fixed point in your mind limiting your freedom of action.

With the Naginata; it was even more devastating. Sensei said that when using this weapon, your grip of the weapon should be loose and all the movements executed using Naname. (4)
My understanding is that the physical encounter is enough to cut the enemy, your body supporting the Naginata loosely on top of the forearm. Also, keeping the edge oriented at 45 degrees guarantees a cut when in close-combat. The cuts are done by walking the body around Uke. When he was demonstrating this, I had the feeling the Naginata was alive and moving by itself.

In a sword against sword encounter, he explained to move towards the attack, using the body to support the blade as a shield. With the weapons in contact use the joints to apply leverage. Grab the opponent’s sword and then slide your katana under his helmet.

Finally, in Taijutsu, Sensei reminded us to use our fingers as if playing the piano on Uke. Then one finger extended was often enough to overcome the adversary even when he was armed with a sword.

All these techniques that we did were practical applications of high-level Mutō Dori. Mutō Dori is entirely misunderstood. It is not what we learned at beginner’s level. Mutō Dori is done in every situation, with or without weapons. Because it is about controlling Fun’iki (1), the environment, the atmosphere.

When your mental presence is aware of everything and controls the space between and around you and the opponent, then defeat is never yours. (5) (6)

The essence of Mutō Dori is Fun’Iki, to control the environment naturally.

1. 雰囲気, Fun’iki or Fuinki, air, atmosphere, environment
2. Kashira 頭, the head/top of the weapon/hilt
3. 梃子, lever(age). Teko – lever, and Shiten – fulcrum are one the secrets of the Kukishin Ryū
4. Naname 斜め, diagonal, oblique
5. Sensei used the word Fudōshin (不動心) to express it. And many of his attackers today explained that they cannot get him because of his commanding presence.
6. 不動心, Fudōshin: a) imperturbability; steadfastness
b) cool head in an emergency; keeping one’s calm (e.g. during a fight)

Kantan Janai!

seno1Senō sensei’s class was very technical, even more than usual. Luckily my partner was Holger, and we were both very much into learning because it was not easy.

Too often, when you partner with a beginner, you end up being bored or correcting your partner. Today, thanks to him I enjoyed the research/training we both did.

The locks by Senō sensei were subtle, and we had a hard time finding the right amount of force to apply them correctly.

He didn’t teach many techniques during this training session, but each one he did require a lot of work. We went to him several times for each movement to “feel” them. And even after we had experienced them, we had a real difficulty to get them correctly. It was high-level taijutsu.

I’m not saying that the movements done by the other Shihan are easy, but at least I am more used to their taijutsu. As a joke, I told him that his techniques were “Kantan” (easy), (as they were not), and he kept repeating it after each demonstration while laughing. Senō sensei is a gentleman of Budō. It is hard to accept that he was one of the more dangerous and fierce students of Hatsumi sensei when he was young!

At some point, he changed technique, and we trained the precise timing and rhythm of Uke Nagashi + lateral shutō.
This simple movement made me understand how bad my taijutsu is compared to his. I discovered that I had been far from correct for the last 33 years!

The rhythm of the counter-attack after the Uke Nagashi is more subtle than I thought, and when done properly is much more powerful. This way of delivering the shutō will be my on new personal training list, once I’m back.

What I discovered today will benefit my whole taijutsu so much, that if I would go home today only after a few classes, I think to have enough material to study before my next trip in July.

Senō sensei’s apparent “nonchalance”, hides a fantastic power. This class was a revelation. And when I discover gems like that here in training, I wonder even more why so few people travel to Japan. Visiting Japan once in your life will not suffice to improve your taijutsu. Nothing is hidden in the Bujinkan, but if you don’t come here, it will be hidden to you forever. Because without a teacher, these details are impossible to find.

To help you, here are a few points worth adding to your next training:

1. Receive the attack with the shoulders backwards, and counter with your shoulders forward
2. As much as possible, move in three directions at the same time: hips, legs, arms. This sanshin is the key to create a strong Kûkan
3. Apply pressure with your torso, not your hands. Mainly if your hands are in contact with uke’s body
4. Adjust your movements slightly by “listening” to uke’s body reactions, and do not hesitate to change the form
5. Take your time to understand with your body, and remove any force. Train slowly
1. Kantan 簡単, easy, simple, uncomplicated

Past, Present, Future: All Is Connected

nagato - Edited

For any Bujinkan practitioner (including me), Nagato sensei’s level is out of reach. With Noguchi sensei and Senō sensei, they are the best students of Hatsumi sensei. So, to say that he has “improved” would seem quite arrogant. That is honestly what I think.

As long as I can remember, Nagato sensei always did “his magic stuff”. He was never teaching a particular waza.
But when he was forced by Sensei to show the waza from the Denshō, he had to revisit his basics. By doing so, he unfolded another level of excellence, that anyone attending his classes can now see.

How is it possible? Only because he reconnected his vast knowledge to the past, train them in the present, to better his future. This interconnection is called “Kako, Genzai, Mirai” in Japanese, and was taught by Sensei in 2012. (1)

I invite you to read the excellent blog post by my friend Michael Glenn at the end of the text. (2)

The human learning process is based on repetitive cycles. Often, when we “know” something, we stop repeating it. With the years, some bad habits develop and we begin to drift away from the original form without being aware of it. Why do you think that Noguchi sensei always reads the techniques directly from the Denshō at every class? For the same reason.

Two years ago, I had to “re-study” the first Tenchijin thoroughly. I discovered that for some techniques, I had drifted away from the original text. My forms were not wrong, but they were not the ones that had to be trained. The same happened to Nagato sensei.

Now, nearly three years later, he is back to his own movements, and they are deeper, more meaningful, more powerful with less effort.

Life is about learning. And learning never stops because the past, the present and the future are One.

Next time that your teacher asks you do your basic ukemi, kamae, uke nagashi, try to remember this and enjoy this luxury instead of complaining that you already know them. To believe that you know something is an illusion. A pianist, or a dancer, do their basics every day without complaining because they know that the iterative process will allow them to show their best on stage.
1. Kako 過去, past; Genzai 現在, present; Mirai 未来, future
2. More on the subject by Michael Glenn from Santa Monica Dōjō Blog

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Do. Think. Don’t Think!

arnoguchi“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think” Socrates

Sensei once said nearly the same: “I don’t teach my students, but I teach them to teach themselves”. That is the same idea except that in Budō thinking is not possible.

If you think the movement while doing it, nothing good gets out of it. The thought process is only present in the studying phase, not during the battle.
We had a Kukishin ryû class yesterday with Noguchi sensei, and the ease with which he was unfolding the waza didn’t let any opening for thinking. Beyond the form lies the beauty of natural movement. When Noguchi sensei does a technique, he more or less always follows the same pedagogical pattern, i.e.:
1) basic waza read dusky from the denshō;
2) breaking the waza;
3) changing the beginning of it to adjust the kaname hidden within to the intentions of the opponent. (1)

This last part is always the most interesting because when he does it, it is hard to see the original form. And this is where Budō is different from Socrates. There is no thinking involved. Noguchi doesn’t think, he does henka after henka, without stopping. Those of you familiar with his classes know what I mean. Each class is a permanent rebuilding of the waza based on the kaname.

As we were uneven in the class yesterday, he asked me to correct the students which gave me a good chance to witness the whole class from the outside. This allowed me to understand better his modus operandi. When I train as a student, I’m doing my best to follow his body flow. Being an observer yesterday, gave me a deeper vision of his moves. Learning the original waza is a necessary step when your study Budō, and at a certain level, you have to forget these basic forms to dig deeper into the feeling they contain.
Many practitioners do not understand that. I often see high ranks doing waza correctly according to the text, but never going away from it. In a way, they train like “advanced beginners”.

As a Shidōshi, you have to know the basic technique. And Sensei repeated it again during his first class of the year. But to grasp the essence of Mutō Dori, one must not stop there. The real fight is not possible if you simply do the form. Waza are only valid if you can free yourself from them.

The secret is to teach the written waza and to train the kaname beyond the form. And to do that, you have to study more and to think a lot about the invisible part which lies within it. If you don’t, you will never be able to grasp the natural body flow which comes with direct adaptation.

Once you have acquired the waza, you have to destroy it. Once destroyed, you do not need to think, you use uke’s intention against him. This three-step process in Japan is called “Shu Ha Ri”, or “absorb, innovate, depart”.

Here’s how it works: “In Shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation.
Next, in the stage of Ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process, the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in Ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act following what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.” (Wikipedia) (2)

Each class with Noguchi sensei is a fantastic opportunity to see this process in action. But thinking is only possible during the first two phases Shu and Ha. Because Ri is a pure reaction, and the only thing to do is to ride the waves of uke’s intentions.

1. Kaname: 要, vital point; cornerstone; keystone
2. On Shu Ha Ri:

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Uchū Sayū: Mastering The Space-time Continuum  


The concept of “Kannin Dokuson” (1), the Mutō Dori of 2017 involves the control of the centre of space.

Since Albert Einstein, we know that time and space are interconnected. They are like inyō. There is no duality, only a space-time unity.

Sayû, the well-known Bujinkan principle of “left-right”, also means “control”. Once again, it is similar to “inyō” (the Japanese “yinyang”). Therefore controlling the space is to manage the unified interaction of yinyang within time. (2)

Last November, Sensei said the Kaname was to control the centre of the space delimited by the two opponents. (3)

A few months later, I understand it better. Sensei was preparing us to get the simple complexity of “Kannin Dokuson”: “mutual respect, self-respect, respect of the attacker”.

The moment you control the space between, and around, the two opponents, you are capable of controlling Time itself. Therefore we can see Uchū Sayū (宇宙左右), the “control of space-time” (4), as Uchū Sayū (裏中左右), “to control the invisible centre of a situation”. (5)


1. 貫忍 独尊 Kannin Dokuson

Kan 貫/ 貴ぶ/tattobu/to value; to prize; to esteem; to respect

Nin 忍/nin/endurance; forbearance; patience; self-restraint

Dokuson 独り/Hitori/one person|alone; unmarried; solitary and

Son 尊ぶ/tattobu/to value; to prize; to esteem; to respect

2. 左右/sayū/left and right|influence; control; domination

3. 要/kaname/pivot|vital point; cornerstone; keystone

4. 宇宙/uchū/universe; cosmos; space

5. 裏中 U-chū

裏/u-/ura/bottom (or another side that is hidden from view); undersurface; opposite side; reverse side|rear; back; behind (the house)

中/chū/medium; average; middle|moderation.

Push Your Limits

While in Dubai, we had an excellent discussion after the Sakki test. The new Dubai Shidōshi was telling me that when I came him for the test, he thought his heart was going to explode. He was scared to death.

But we all know, the only risk is a bump in the top of the head. There’s no need to be afraid. Tense, yes. But far, no.

We are afraid when don’t know. Training, the Sakki test, is only a question of knowing. The more we learn, and the more we know. The more we know, and the more we push our self-imposed limits.

Life is about pushing these limits. When you are afraid of something, the best attitude (Kamae) is to face it, to see what is the origin of your fear.

Many people have fears they never confronted. To me, this is not the path of a right Bujinkan practitioner. Learning the Bujinkan way is to accept those challenges and situations.

All my life I have faced my fears: heights, depths, speaking to large groups, etc. That is why I did skydiving, mountain climbing, Scuba diving, and great seminars.

Every time I found out that there were no logical reasons for my fears. Our fears exist before the experience. They are simply a mental construction that has no real foundation. They come from our reluctance to changes.

After so many years in the Bujinkan, I can say that one of the most interesting aspects of sensei’s teachings is to develop this ability to survive and to push our limits.

Instead of being afraid of the unknown, face it and tame it. It’s easier than you think.

When I called Hatsumi sensei right after the Fukushima catastrophe and asked him if he was planning to leave, his answer was “Banpen Fugyō”. To me, this is the answer to any fear: Ten thousand changes, no surprise!

Do not accept your limits, free yourself from fear itself recognise it for what it is: an illusion.

Do you want to be happy? Push your limits, because if you don’t, they will become your real limits.

Ps: congratulations to the first shidōshi made in UAE.
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Train Large And Slow

Many practitioners are wondering why we train slowly in the Bujinkan. They criticise it, saying that real Martial Arts (understand Sports martial arts here) are better because they have fights. They love the fact that there is always a winner and a loser. “It makes it easier to know who is good and who is not”, they say.

They are right! Sport is a fantastic pedagogical tool, it is a perfect system to develop your body, your reflexes and you should do sports until the end, that is until you are too old to compete.

And at what age is that? I would say around thirty. That’s nice but what do you do for the rest of your life? You quit? No. You train real martial arts.

This age problem didn’t exist in the past. First, you would hardly live past fifty. Actual combat was making sure of that.

Second, in Feudal Japan, there was no sport (it was the same in Europe). Sport as we know it is a modern thing created after WWII. Before, only the nobility could do it. Why? Because the nobles were wealthy and didn’t have to work six or seven days a week to eat. Getting bored, they developed the concept of sport. The Marquess of Queensbury defined some rules that are still valid today, the Baron of Coubertin reinstated the Olympics. But that was only at the end of the 19th century. Before that, sport is non-existent.

In sport martial arts, the champions of today lose the world title one year and get it back in the next year. That was not the case in actual battle; you always died when you lost the encounter.

What we train in the Bujinkan is based on History. It is the result of actual battlefield combat. The winners being able to transmit what worked, the nine fighting systems taught in the Bujinkan are regrouping only techniques tested in actual combat. To learn these techniques, you need to do it in a particular way. You have to repeat them slowly.

When training in Japan with Nagato sensei, you can often hear him say: “train slowly, only stupid people train fast.”

Training slowly allows the body and the brain to create specific connections that upgrade our standard “human survival kit” with which we are born. To develop these new abilities, it is also important to use large movements. Doing large movements helps to learn correctness.

Because of the adrenalin rushing in our body, because of the impossibility to think or plan anything while caught in the middle of the battle, only your reflexes can save you. If you developed new reflexes by training large and slow, there is a chance that you can react adequately, and surpass your attacker.

Maybe it’s time to change the training habits.

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