Nagato Sensei: Henka Your Basics!

Nagato sensei was in a good mood today. And even if we finished the class fifteen minutes earlier than usual -he had an appointment- his class was dynamic and full of insights.
“When you make natural Henka on basics, it turns into an art form,” said Nagato sensei on the first set of movements he did today. And in fact, the natural flow of his movements during the whole class was simple and efficient.
Each technique he would do was repeated in many forms. “don’t do the same technique twice, change them permanently. As you know, the word “Henka” in Japanese means “change” (1), and he did change the original forms a lot. “It is like the Kihon Happō in the Gyokko Ryū, each one of them has “8” variations, and each variation has another “8” changes, and so forth”.
What I understood is that if you stop at the basic form, you will never be able to adapt to the many attacks launched by your opponent. For example, we did many variations around Harai Goshi. One particularly interested me, I will call it Uchi Mata Oshi. (2) In this Henka of Uchi Mata you stay away of Uke, you push him to his outside, and, using crossed legs, you throw him with the inner leg.
We also did many variations on Ō Soto Gake turning around the attacking fist and applying different foot movements such as Ko Soto Gake, Ko Uchi Gake. We also passed in front of Uke, and used the technique on the opposite arm, using a natural Te Hodoki turning into a “super Hon Gyaku” as he put it.
That was interesting to see the variety of Nagato sensei’s Henka. Each time he would do like Senō and flood us with three or four different movements. “Don’t copy what I’m doing, grab the feeling.”
On Uchi Mata, please remember that it is called Uchi Mata / Uchi Gake. Strangely Uchi Gake is rarely taught, and that is a shame. It can be Ko Uchi Gake (on the inner leg) or Ō Uchi Gake (on the outer leg). The same also goes with Ō Soto Gake that can turn into Ko Soto Gake. The Kaname (3) is how you manage the distance and the body angle between Uke and you.
We then applied all these Taijutsu moves (Uchi Mata, Ō Soto Gake, and their many Henka) with the Hanbō. Uke would attack with the hand, or grab a wrist with one hand and attack simultaneously with a Tsuki, grab both wrists, or the stick. Nagato sensei insisted on the core aspect of all these techniques. Each time he would end his technique saying with the now familiar “Kantan Desu!” (4) and smile at our inability to reproduce his free flowing movements.
Another great class by a Japanese Dai Shihan.
1. Henka: 変化, change; variation; alteration; mutation; transition; transformation; transfiguration; metamorphosis . Interestingly, the Kanji 変 means to change (at the beginning), and the Kanji 化, to metamorphose (the end of change)
2. Oshi: 押し, push; pressure
3. Kaname: 要, vital point, keystone, key point
4. Kantan: 簡単, simple; easy; uncomplicated

Noguchi Sensei: Happiness, Basics And Creativity

Buddha said that “thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

This sentence is resuming my feeling entirely during Noguchi sensei’s class, on Sunday morning. Anyone who trained in Japan knows how “foggy” you feel during this first class beginning the training day. In the old days, this class used to happening after Sensei’s class. But less and fewer people would come, so they changed the order. We now have to wake up earlier.

To me, Noguchi sensei is a candle of happiness, even though his life has been tough at some point. (1) These events could have destroyed his happiness. It didn’t happen. The Bujinkan is about being happy and to keeping going whatever hardship one meets in his or her lifetime.

Sunday, I was glad to meet my teacher again after my last Japan trip in April. (2) But to be honest, I was a little sleepy after a short jet lag night. This tiredness vanished after the first movements, as his permanent happiness spread all over the dōjō, and motivate everyone. The light of happiness spreads in all directions, and everyone is in the light.

I love Noguchi sensei’s creativity and the way he reinterprets the well-known Waza and basics of the Bujinkan. This ability to do something new with old known techniques is amazing. It has nurtured my whole Budō approach for nearly a quarter century now. I owe him a lot for the level I have today.

Sunday we rediscovered some basic techniques of the Tenchijin. (3)

We began the class with the Tonsō no Kata (4), the escaping techniques of the Tōgakure Ryû. Those nine Waza are the essence of the school and are much more than one thinks at first glance.

There are 3 sets of 3 simple techniques. The first three Waza, deal with taijutsu; the second set of three, with Mutō Dori, the last three with strategy when facing multiple opponents.

“When dealing with multiple opponents, always attack the weakest one first”, said Noguchi sensei.

If some of the techniques use Metsubishi and Shuriken, to me, this is not the important lesson. I see the Tonsō no Kata more like the Juppō Sesshō of the Tōgakure Ryû.

We continued with the Suwari Waza from the Jin Ryaku no Maki, but we did them standing up. That is where his creativity became visible. Playing with the concept of Juppō Sesshō, we did those techniques in an entirely new way, changing the angle of the grip in the ten directions. It was refreshing and reinforced our feeling of happiness.

Then we moved to the Nage Kaeshi part, reviewing Okyō, Zu Dori, Fûkan. The Okyō was entirely different from the basic form I knew. Instead of the simultaneous double hits (chest and lower back), Noguchi sensei, rotated the upper torso to the left at the start of the throw, destroying Uke’s Nage Waza, and turning it into a soft but efficient Ô Soto Gake. That was effortless and beautiful.

We finished with some creative Hanbō Jutsu starting from Kata Yaburi no Kamae (5)(6) and Otonashi no Kamae. (7)

Once again, I want to emphasize that, when you come to Japan, you have to know your basics before leaving your country as you will not train the fundamentals here, only their evolution.

If you know your basics, learning their new interpretations is easy. But if you don’t, you cannot understand the Waza and will have a wicked sense of knowledge mixing the primary forms with the advanced Henka.

For the light of the candle of happiness to shine, you first need to get a candle. Learning the Tenchijin and the schools is how you get your candle ready for the light.


  1. Noguchi sensei was born the same day as the Hiroshima bomb destroyed the city, his elder brother was killed during the war, and his beloved son died a few years ago at age 36.
  2. For some reason, 24 years ago, in July 1993, Hatsumi sensei asked me to train exclusively with him and Noguchi sensei. Noguchi sensei became my teacher.
  3. A new reprint of the original Tenchijin has been released in Spanish (the English version should be released very soon), check the Shinden Ediciones by my friend Fernando Aixa, Jûgodan. Without a doubt, the best-published version so far. A must-have for any serious practitioner.
  4. 遁走/tonsō/fleeing; escape
  5. Kata Yaburi no Kamae is often called Hiraichimonji no Kamae in basic programs.
  6. 型破り/katayaburi/unusual; unconventional; mold-breaking
  7. 音無しの構え/otonashinokamae/lying low; saying nothing and waiting for an opportunity
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