Koto Ryū Noguchism


img_20171129_204009.jpgNoguchi has developed his taijutsu like every Japanese Dai Shihan. He has been my “teacher” since 1993. He is impressive and can turn any known Waza into something so different from the original technique.

Attending a class with one of the Japanese Dai Shihan is like training another martial art. I spoke about it with Hatsumi Sensei. I said “Sensei, is it normal that I’m training Bujinkan only with you. And train the Noguchi Ryū, Oguri Ryū, Nagato Ryū, Senō Ryū with the Japanese Shihan?” He looked at me for a moment and said: “yes, each one has to develop his taijutsu”. Some Japanese Shihan, like Someya sensei and others, respects the original forms. But it is well accepted that each one of them has developed a personal body movement. That is why it is crucial to train with each Japanese Shihan to get a deeper understanding of Sensei’s Budō. Diversity is the key to unlock your taijutsu.

Yesterday we were studying the first level of Koto Ryū. From the start, Noguchi sensei modified the form, to put into play his particular body movement. We did Yokuto with a Gyokko Ryū approach. He replaced the linear footwork typical of the first level of the Koto Ryū. Instead, he used the circular motion of the Gyokko Ryū Kosshi Jutsu. You can find videos on YouTube of Sensei using the same Kosshi jutsu approach. (1)

Sensei taught the difference between Yoko Aruki (Koto Ryū) and Jūji Aruki (Gyokko Ryū) in 2015. In Yoko Aruki your toes are heading towards the same direction. In Jūji Aruki your toes are perpendicular. Check this video on my YouTube channel.

Noguchi sensei has his interpretation of the Waza. He makes so many variations that what remains is his fantastic body flow. This multi-approach allows each one to find what move suits him the best. The Waza is not a dead form anymore. That is the magic of Kankaku! (2)

Senō sensei explained that Budō has two legs: Waza and Kankaku. To walk you need both. But to get the feeling, you first have to learn the basics and the Waza. Too many practitioners make the trip to Japan without proper training in the basics. It is a loss of time and money.

When I came here for the first time, the Japanese were still teaching the basic Waza. That is not the case anymore. When you come to Japan, do not expect to learn the basics as they don’t show them anymore. You come here to get the correct feeling that will allow you to develop your own taijutsu. This implies that you have learned the original forms in your dōjō before coming.

We had a great class yesterday full of “Noguchism”. I trained with Harry Mitrou (Dai Shihan Greece), who used to be training with me in the Paris dōjō many years ago. It added to my pleasure.

It was a good night.
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1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43aY6fxCrLA&t=40s
2. 感覚, feeling

Mutō Dori Is Happiness


Thank you Sensei for the gift of happiness!

What I like about this period of the year here at the Honbu, is the happiness emitting from Sensei. His classes resemble more a family gathering than a Budō training. In fact, we don’t train that much, and we have long breaks.

Everyone has now reached the highest Bujinkan ranks. So those travelling to Japan come only to pay their respects to Sensei. The group has been the same since I attended my first DKMS in 1990. And I know that many other friends are on their way to be here for the second of December. (1)

Sensei teaches a Way of Life. Our presence for his birthday is our way to thank him for a gift he has been giving for 50 years. (2)

What we receive in Japan is not only about technique, it is about learning to live a happy life. “Be Happy!” he keeps repeating. Happiness reveals itself when duality disappears. It is a simple process, even if many don’t see it (or don’t understand it). The Bujinkan is teaching us “inner freedom”.

Ashtavakra said:
By inner freedom one attains happiness.
By inner freedom, one reaches the Supreme.
By inner freedom one comes to the absence of thought.
By inner freedom to the Ultimate State.॥50॥ (3)

Sensei said that “beyond philosophies and religions lies the Mutō Dori no Sekai, the world of Mutō Dori.” (4) That is a level that transcends Waza and Kankaku (feeling), thinking and analysis. That leads to inner freedom, a no man’s land where everything happens naturally. Natural movement generates happiness and happiness generates natural movement.

That is why during the week before his birthday, Hatsumi Sensei looks so happy. There is no more agenda or expectations, it is about living in the “Nakaima”, the middle of now. (5)

When you look at him seated on the mats with us, you feel his pure joy of being in the middle of many of his “kids”. We are what he helped us to become.

For me, to see him so happy is the best present we can give him. He gave us so much. This particular time of the year is our way to pay him back for what he has given. Our presence around him expresses this inner freedom of Mutō Dori that he is teaching.

Thank you Sensei for these 50 years,
Thank you for giving us the Mutō Dori no Sekai to find happiness.
______________________
1- Dai Komyō Sai aka DKMS is Hatsumi sensei’s birthday party. He was born on December 2nd, 1931 in Noda.
2- The Bujinkan celebrates 50 years this year. I have been in the Bujinkan since 1984. That is more than 33 years ago.
3- https://sites.google.com/site/vedicscripturesinc/home/ashtavakragita
4- Mutō Dori no Sekai: 無刀取りの世界, the world of Mutō Dori
5- Nakaima: 中今, Shinto concept of the present (esp. as a privileged moment in eternity)

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Listen With Your Body


IMG_20171126_101547A class with Senō sensei is always a pleasure. First he is a gentleman; second, you get out of it more confused than when you entered. His last two classes were no exception!

If we began with the Kunai, the beauty of his taijutsu was not about the weapon. The Kunai was an excuse to show his perfect sense of distance and control. Hatsumi Sensei speaks about controlling at every class, Senō sensei showed it. From his classes, I got a few interesting points that I want to share with you. They are four and should be done together.

1- Absorb with the legs, don’t put any strength in your arms and hands.

When you are in contact with Uke, don’t let your upper body do the technique. Instead, use your knees and legs to get the balance. Too often, when we are close to the opponent, we tend to use the upper body. Taijutsu is about using the body, and this is why we call it TAI-jutsu or “techniques with the body.”

2- The Kunai makes contact and defines a Shiten. (1)

With a Kunai, a Tantō, or your fingers, the point of contact with the opponent becomes your new vertical axis. From this fulcrum, you turn around it and get Uke’s balance. I asked Senō sensei to show it to me several times and each time I was feeling nothing. That was a weird sensation. It was like fighting the wind. When he is in contact with you, his legs turn around the Shiten, and you lose your balance by the lack of power applied to it. You do this Mawari movement (2) only with the legs. Uke sees the contact on the upper body. But as he cannot feel anything, his balance disappears when he walks around.

3- Get rid of any support.

The moment Uke leans onto you, and you feel his weigh is when you drop your support. That is “Jokyo”, or “to get rid of the support”. It was a fantastic sensation. There is no Chikara at all. (4)
Because of the lack of presence of Tori, Uke is alone, suspended in the air. He falls as a result. This concept of Jokyo is the evolution of Fuyū (5) used by Senō sensei until now. Jokyo comes after Fuyū. It is its evolution. After you become able to put Uke in suspension, you let him fall by removing any support he is using. Let gravity play its role.

4- Listen to Uke’s tension with your body.

Do not analyse. Feel the tensions in Uke’s body. And react by adjusting your body position with your legs.

When you can do these four things together:

  • absorb with your legs,
  • create a Shiten,
  • apply Jokyo,
  • listen with your whole body,
    you are always protected.

During the last class, I was training with my friend Juan Manuel Guttierez from Argentina. We were unable to unify those four aspects of Senō sensei’s taijutsu. We did our best to get the four concepts together, but there was always one or two missing. It felt like trying to keep water in your hands. It feels impossible to do it.

Because of training like this one, you see the importance of studying in Japan several times a year. How are the others teachers able to teach without coming here? I don’t know.

When you know the Waza from the schools, and the weapons, then the real study can begin. And this is only about feeling. And this is the level of Mutō Dori that they teach these days here in Japan.
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1- Shiten: 支点, fulcrum; support
2- Mawari: 周り, circumference, turning around a point (different from pivoting which is mawashi)
3- Jokyo: 除去, removal; getting rid of​
4- Chikara: 力, force; strength; might; vigour (vigor); energy​
5- Fuyū: 浮遊, floating; wandering; suspension

Who Is The Boss?


IMG_20170723_121157It’s been a long time since I got angry. Today I am.

Hatsumi Sensei has announced a few modifications to the way we deal with the Honbu Dōjō. These changes concern the Dai Shihan in the first place, and their followers. They will the ones putting into place this new organisation. I have read a few comments criticising the number of newly promoted Dai Shihan.

Strangely, the critics come from those who don’t have the promotion yet. That is wrong! Whatever Sensei does, he has a reason for it. If you don’t know it, it is because you don’t see the big picture.

He also insisted that we DO NOT use the internet to communicate about it but to do it face to face. I wrote about it and still, I get personal messages on the internet from people asking to know more. What is wrong with them? Sensei said NO internet!

Next Sunday, there will be a Bujinkan gathering in Atago. We will celebrate the 50 years of the creation of the Bujinkan. Sensei might (or might not) explain his new vision at this occasion. Until then, be patient.

I see all that I described above as a lack of respect for Sensei’s decisions. The Bujinkan is not a democracy, it belongs to Hatsumi Sōke and follows the Japanese ways. Hatsumi Sensei is our leader. He is your boss, and his decisions you have to respect them, even if you do not understand them.

Hatsumi Sensei is the Bujinkan. If you don’t agree with how he deals with his Bujinkan, then shut up and leave. There is nothing to argue. His words define what the Bujinkan is, and how it evolves. No one should discuss his choices.

You can exchange in private, but questioning his authority is not the way to go. We have a boss, we have chosen him, and your rank is not an excuse to rant about his actions.

Please remember that, accept it, or leave the Bujinkan.
No one is forcing you to stay if you don’t like it.

Who is the Boss? Hatsumi Sōke.

Kashiwa November 28th, 2017
From an angry Polar Bear

Be Like A Butterfly!


FB_IMG_1511541272692During Friday’s class, I asked Sensei to write: “It is not about fighting, it is about controlling.” What I got was “Chochō Hanami Maai” or “Butterfly, flowers, distance.” (1)
Since then I tried to see the link between my request and his answer. During the Sunday class, he spoke about the butterfly. It helps to shed some light on the hidden meaning of this cryptic calligraphy. Sensei said that we should move like a butterfly and don’t give any feedback to the opponent. When you don’t use strength, the adversary cannot react and wonders what is happening to him. This activation of his mental process slows him down and allows us to take the advantage. Uke of Hatsumi sensei and Senō sensei, I felt no physical contact at all on my arm and body. The way they touch you is similar to the touch of a butterfly. There is nothing to feel, and as Tezuka San put it “it is like fighting alone.”
Sensei often defines his art as “the martial art of distance.” I finally understood it yesterday. Distance is not limited to our leg movements. It also implies the quality of the contact between Uke and Tori. A butterfly landing on a flower will not bend the flower. In this allegory of Chochō Hanami Maai, we have to become the butterfly. Uke is the flower, and the distance is the quality of the strength or the lack of it that we apply to the movement.
Demonstrating this with Adonis Mitrou from Greece, he asked him to explain what he felt. Thinking for a moment, Adonis came up with a Gyokko Ryū concept. “Kokū no Naka ni no Kūkan,” or to find the emptiness in the centre of space. (2)
Sensei welcomed this interpretation. It was showing the connection between his body flow and the Gyokko Ryū. This concept is central to the understanding of this essential Bujinkan fighting system. The quality of your control is what matters. It is your ability to find the perfect distance between you and the opponent. Like the butterfly landing on the flower.
I miss the old days where training was only about the mechanical aspects of technique. But I have to admit that this more profound approach to Taijutsu is much more fulfilling. The butterfly attitude is far more complicated. But the results are beyond your wildest dreams.
It is very high-level Budō. It explains why Sensei said that the 50 years of the Bujinkan arts, led us to get the real essence of Budō.
Kantan desu. (3)
Everything is easy when you become a butterfly, so I wish you a happy flight. Ganbatte!
_______________________
1 – 胡蝶, 花実, 間合い, butterfly, flowers, distance
2 – 虚空の中にの空間, the emptiness in the centre of space
3 – Kantan desu: 簡単, simple; easy; uncomplicated
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Tatakai Wa Janai


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Chochō, Hanami, Maai: 胡蝶, 花実, 間合い

The more I train here, and the more I am lost.

Today, during Senō sensei’s class, I partnered with my friend Michael Glenn (Santa Monica dōjō). We were lost. How those who come here once or twice in their life can understand the Bujinkan arts. Yesterday night, Hatsumi Sensei’s class was another moment of solitude. Sensei is hardly moving and stops you without applying any force.
As his Uke, I felt like I am suspended in mid-air alone, unable to continue the attack. Sensei is like a ghost, holding with a tiny point of contact. In fact, it is as if he is not there. One thing for sure, he is not fighting you. Uke is the only one fighting. He is fighting gravity, balance, tensions because it feels like there is nothing in front of him.
To “help us” understand, Sensei repeated many times “Waza Janai,” there is no technique. (1) And he was right. Writing these lines, I have a hard time explaining the unexplainable. You have to feel it for yourself to begin to get it; there is nothing to understand. It is beyond the technical realm. Sensei moves in such a perfect way that the only thing you get is a feeling of powerlessness.
In the past, it was easy to explain what he was doing because we had the support of the Waza. Now it is mission impossible.
Sōke’s central teaching yesterday is to get to control the opponent by controlling the situation. It is about full awareness.
Last year, this year, and next year, we are studying the art of Mutō Dori. That is a very high-level approach to the concept of Mutō Dori.
He summarized it when he said:: “Tatakai Wa Janai”, there is no fighting. (2) He added it was only about control. To control without intention, and without technique, is the Mutō Dori level we have to study this year. I never suspected something so tricky. Once again, the only chance you have to understand it is to be Sensei’s Uke. I am lucky to have felt it, even though I am far from being able to do it myself.
During the calligraphy session, I asked for “It is not about fighting, it is about controlling.” And he wrote “Chochō Hanami, Maai,” or “butterfly, flowers. The distance”. That is the picture illustrating this post. (3)
I still have to get the hidden meaning behind this cryptic kōan. That will be the subject of another post if I can fathom what he meant.
_____________________________
  1. Waza Janai: 技じゃない
  2. Tatakai Wa Janai: 戦いわじゃない. Tatakai: battle; fight; struggle; conflict
  3. Chochō Hanami, Maai: 胡蝶, 花実, 間合い

 

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Ken, Tachi, Katana


 

I recently asked you about your expectations about the videos and texts that I do. To my surprise, you are 90% willing to have more insights on History in Budō. In this first article, I will address a point that might change your vision of sword fighting.
Only the Kukishinden and the Togakure Ryū have sword Denshō. And we use the concepts and the body flow of each other school to get their specific biken jutsu.
Here are the few points for you to keep in mind when using a sword:
#1 Taijutsu is a tool for the training of the young Samurai aged 6 to 15 before they could wear the Yoroi. Or have the muscles to use the massive weapons.
#2 Taijutsu became a significant fighting art during the second half of the Tokugawa period.
#3 During the Edo no Jidai (1), there was peace and no more battlefield encounters.
#4 Peace time is the reason for the creation of “martial arts” as we know them today. Historical reasons explain that:
a) Hideyoshi killed his major rivals (2),
b) Shimabara rebellion (3),
c) the need for the former soldiers to survive during peacetime. (4)
tsurugi
#5 The Tsurugi (Chinese sword) has been in use in China and Japan for more than 4000 years.
In the myth of the creation of Japan, Jimmu sent by Amateratsu comes to the archipelago with a Tsurugi, the famous 草薙劍 Kusanagi no Tsurugi.
tachi
#6 The Tachi replaced the Tsurugi around the end of the Heian no Jidai (794-1185). (5)
#7 The way of the Tachi benefits from the Tsurugi experience developed for more than 40 centuries.
#8 The Tsurugi and the Tachi were used on horseback with Katate, only one hand. There were used for stabbing. (6)
biken
#9 The Katana began to be used in the 16th century. It replaced the Tachi with the Tokugawa peace.
#10 The last sword technique of the Kukishin biken jutsu, “Tsuki no Wa” is a Tachi technique.
#11 The Sanshin no kata is a Tsurugi and a Tachi set of movements, it was then adapted to the Katana, and then to Taijutsu.
#12 The Katana was used standing up, not on a horse. So it didn’t need to be as long as a Tachi. The Katana was used to stab and to cut.
#13 My sword teacher told me that the two-hand grip on a smaller blade, increased speed and precision. The triangle uses the power and flexibility of the wrists. (7)
#14 With peace, the Yoroi stayed home. The Samurai could now use their sword to cut the opponent. Before the Edo period, it was not possible. (8)
#15, As a result, the quality of steel improved even faster.
#16 My sword teacher said that “cutting with a Katana is easy, after all, it is made for that. But that genuine expertise is to know how to stop the blade after the cut.
For over 45 centuries warriors used the Tsurugi and Tachi for fighting. Without this knowledge, the Katana would not be the same. You must train all three swords if you want to understand about sword fighting.
This is a Sanshin.
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  1. Edo no Jidai (1603-1868)
  2. Hideyoshi killed three Daimyō opposed to him. As a result, a lot of Ronin began to wander all over Japan.
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shimabara_Rebellion
  4. Unemployed soldiers began to teach Martial arts to the civilians. This situation led to the creation of many Dōjō. The technical level was not always “high level.” “By the end of the Tokugawa era, there were 718 swordsmanship schools, 52 archery schools, 148 spearmanship schools, 179 unarmed combat schools.” p26 In “The truth of the ancient ways” by Anatoliy Anshin, Kodenkan Institute NY. We can imagine that the majority of these schools were not the best.
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heian_period
  6. Katate: 片手, one hand
  7. He lived in Japan for 17 years. As a Frenchman, he was a member of the Japanese Kendō team, vice world champion of Kendō (for Japan). Teacher of the Musō Shinden Ryū, and 35 other older Kenjutsu schools, teacher of 5 styles of Battōdō. Only to let you know that when he spoke, I was listening.
  8. The Yoroi is designed to parry the Yari, the most dangerous weapon on the battlefield. I read a paper explaining that the Yari accounted for about 60% of the casualties in comparison to the 21% of kills with the swords. (data from 10th to 17th century).

 

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33% Discount at Budomart In November!


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I began training in June 1984. This year it is my 33rd year in the Bujinkan. With Christmas coming soon, I thought it would be nice to celebrate this anniversary together.

During the whole month of November, you get a permanent discount of 33% on ALL budomart DVDs. That is my way of thanking you for being in my life.

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Saigō Takamori, The Unlucky “Last Samurai”


saigo

There is a new painting of Saigō Takamori in the Dōjō from the Edo period. (1) (2)
Saigo Takamori helped to replace the Bakufu to install the Meiji restoration.

During the Boshin war (1868-1869), Saigō Takamori led the Meiji army. Disagreeing on the reforms put in place by the new power, he left the court and went back to Kagoshima in Satsuma. As a clan leader, he was right to his people, he rebelled to the Meiji power and went to war against troops of the emperor. These events are called the Satsuma rebellion.
In the end, surrounded by the imperial troops, injured, he committed seppuku in 1877. He was 49-year-old.
Sensei explained that Saigō was unlucky.
These were difficult times of change. The official start of the Meiji restoration is 1868, but this didn’t happen overnight. In fact, the end of the Satsuma rebellion of 1877 is the real beginning of the Meiji era.
He was pardoned in 1889, and he is considered today a significant historical figure of Japan. Today you can see his statue facing the parliament in Tōkyō.
Considered “the last Samurai” by many, his luck left him. As Hatsumi sensei often repeats, “to succeed, you need to be lucky. Create your chance.”

For Western minds, it is strange to consider that chance can be created. But when I look at my life in the Bujinkan for the last 33 years, I understand what sensei means. Last Sunday, Sensei added that “if you want to live a long time you need to have luck!”
Train sincerely and the Bujinkan arts will help you to get lucky, unlike Saigō Takamori.
_______________________
1. Saigō Takamori: (西郷 隆盛 (隆永), January 23, 1828 – September 24, 1877)
2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saig%C5%8D_Takamori
3. Boshin wars; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boshin_War
4. Wikipedia: “…Unable to overcome the affection that the people had for this paragon of traditional samurai virtues, the Meiji Era government pardoned him posthumously on February 22, 1889.”

Demo: The Intelligence Of However


The waves keep crashing on the shore, they change to adapt, but they are all the same. Water flows on what it finds on its path.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,” said Stephen Hawking. That is what we learn in the Bujinkan.
A friend in Japan noted that Sensei always finished his sentences by “Demo” (however). Sensei leaves all his answers unfinished. (1)It reminds me of the concept of Chūtō Hanpa, (2) where you do NOT finish the technique.
It is easy to understand it in a fight where many right solutions are possible. There are many ways to adapt to a given attack. But it seems more difficult to apply it on a daily basis. Our problem is that we are too judgmental. We always an opinion about everything. Sensei doesn’t have any firm position. He never closes the door, and never get things fixed permanently.
His answers are flows of possibility fitting the moment. All through these last thirty years, I often saw it. One day Sensei would answer a specific question. Two years later, he would give a different answer to the same problem. The first time, I thought my memory was defective. But when the same occurred many times, I began to believe that he is only adapting his answer to the moment. There is no truth, the only possible course of action is to adapt.
In life, as in technique, there is no right or wrong answer. There is only a flow of opportunities leading into one direction or another, both being good. In one of his book, he wrote: “[…] you must know when to bend with the wind, and know that there is no need to bend when there is no wind.” Later he adds “[…] If you ask if there is truly such a thing as the fundamental techniques of ninjutsu, we will have to say “no.” If you ask if you are doing the fundamentals correctly, we will tell you that there is no right or wrong way. These movements we call the fundamentals are only a means for the attainment of the natural-appropriate responsive movement that comes with personal enlightenment.”
Strangely in the text above he keeps letting things open, one moment there are no fundamentals, the next sentences he says there are no right or wrong to do these fundamentals! This the “Demo” attitude that is so characteristic of Sensei’s personality.
The Bujinkan is not about learning hundreds of Waza, it is about being able to adapt, to not be judgmental, and to be happy, Demo…
__________________________________________
1.Demo: でも, but; however; though; nevertheless; still; yet; even so; also; as well
2. Chūtō Hanpa: 中途, in the middle; half-way + 半端, fragment; fraction; halfway

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Cincinatti, Ohio January 2018

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