The Gentleman Magician

A class with Senō sensei is always a great moment. As he was in and out a lot recently, I was glad to learn he was teaching at the honbu. For me, Senō sensei is a gentleman and a magician. His elegant taijutsu mixed with his magic precision don’t stop to amaze me. And he is resilient like a real Shinobi. Respect!

As it is often the case when he teaches, I am lost after a few minutes. In fact, this is why I cherish his classes, they are a challenge. Being lost and unable to redo what he shows is a lesson of humility and the best way to improve my knowledge. Going to Japan is about training and learning always more.

Today’s movement was about surfing the wave created by Uke’s movements. It was a simple double Tsuki. But simplicity is hard to get. Uke was attacking left then right. On the first attack, you dodged sideways, controlling with the body and the right hand. On the second one, you pivoted like a door on the outside of the fist, control the arm and boshi/fudō ken to butsumetsu. Then Uke goes down in a kind of Katame Dori leaving him lying on his belly. From there, we did many variations using Yubi kudaki, changing sides, using Te Dama Dori, etc.


I will not explain everything we did, but want to detail a few points here:

1. Osaeru more than “control”:

In my previous blog entry, I stressed the difference bat ween “Osaeru” and “control.” Rob told me that Senō sensei was using the Japanese word instead of the English one used by Sensei. After this class with Senō, I understood the difference. Hatsumi Sensei uses the whole body and mind. Senō sensei emphasizes the biomechanical aspect of the movement. Without an excellent knowledge of the body, the “control” remains at the physical level. Once you have the knowledge, then the next step is to control the whole.

2. Elbow stuck to the body:

One interesting tip was to move, intercept the Tsuki by using the whole body keeping the elbow attached to the body. When you do that, strength is not needed as the mass of your body makes the block with the body weight behind. The footwork though is quite technical. If you do it wrong, then you release too much force and destroy the benefits of the block. You must do that with a perfect transfer of your body weight: not too much, and not too little.

3. Yubi kudaki wrapping:

Once you did the block, your hand stays glued to the opponent’s forearm. You can do this inside or outside. Then by extending your fingers, one finger gets in contact with Uke’s wrist. The footwork allows you then to rotate your hand, using this finger as a Shiten to redirect uke’s strength. (1)

4. Te Dama Dori to control the opponent:

When outside Uke you can apply Te Dama Dori to off balance the opponent quickly. You can find this in the book published by Sensei in 1983 “Togakure Ryū Ninpō Taijutsu. This is one beneficial way to get Uke’s balance without using strength. (2)

5. Use your footwork through the hips, use no strength: (3)

All these tips are possible only because you are not using any strength. As Sensei puts it “you control the attacker with your hips.” Your body moves because your body as a whole is moving.

All these points are add-ons to your movements. They are not specific to this one technique. These are the little gems you get when you come here to train in Japan.
Use them, and become a Gentleman magician too.


1. Shiten 支点; fulcrum, support

2. 手玉に取る; (leading) someone by the nose. Here it means to redirect uke’s attention to take his balance. Sensei and the Japanese Shihan use it a lot. Don’t apply force or pain that could make Uke change his steps.

3. footwork 足さばき; Ashi sabaki

The Way He Walks



When you train with Sōke, what is important is not what you see, but what you don’t. If you want to understand Sensei’s techniques, study the way he walks. This is the secret.

Last night there were not so many people attending class, it was good. I guess the heat in Japan is a good reason for many Bujinkan practitioners not to come. Also, the majority have reached the highest rank, so they don’t feel the need to go and train anymore. This will change once again if Sensei creates a new diploma. Then, people will rush back in to get promoted.

With not so many students in the dōjō gives Sensei the freedom to use many different weapons. That was the case in this class. We did taijutsu, hanbō, tantō, biken, and bō. Many Buki gives you a different vision on the technique. It shows the same movement with various angles and different distances. (1)

Our eyes need time to see things correctly. It happened to me last night. It was evident that what Sōke showed us was not what we had to do. When you look at his body movements, you first watch what he is doing, and make a mental checklist. But this is the beginner’s approach to reality. His Mutō Dori is beyond that. In fact, Mutō Dori is simple. It is about controlling Uke in all aspects. Your action or the lack of it controls the attacker. This happens before, during and after the attack. Also, it is not limited to the opponent, it includes the space between and around us.

In a break, I asked Rob how to say control in Japanese. “Control,” he said. He told me that the Japanese verb is “Osaeru,” but that sensei prefers the English “control.” (2)
The word “Control” is more holistic and not as diverse as the many meanings of the Japanese word. “Control” englobes the physical and the non-physical. Senō sensei uses “Osaeru,” but then he is only referring to the biomechanical level.

We began with taijutsu and for the first time “I saw it.” Uke is under control, the moment he launches the attack. (3)
Mutō Dori is the ultimate level of Budō and has nothing to do with the physical technique, it is an attitude. We know that “Kamaeru” means taking a stance, but it also means to “assume an attitude.” (4)

Thanks to my jetlag, I had time to think during the night, and I played with the concepts of Tai gamae and Kokoro gamae. Until yesterday I thought that “Kokoro gamae” was more advanced. I guess I was wrong. As a beginner, you learn that your body posture (Tai) can be different from your mental posture (Kokoro). Until last night this is why I was thinking. Sensei’s “one-body movement” lies above this dualistic vision. A holistic Tai gamae exists at the Mutō Dori.

The Yoroi teaches “One-body movement.” When you have Yoroi on, you have no choice, you have to be one. (5)
The more important lesson of Yoroi fighting is to learn how to walk correctly. The correct way of walking comes from the battlefield, thus walking is the secret of Mutō Dori. This is what I understood yesterday!

Walking is the secret origin of all martial arts. Fight efficiency is coming from your ability to walk. Remember that footwork is the essence of the Bujinkan and Budō.

Sensei’s movements are invisible because like a magician, what he shows is not what you have to focus on. He creates an illusion.

Do you want to understand Sensei’s techniques? It is simple, study the way he walks.

1. Buki 武器; weapon, arms, ordnance
2. Osaeru 押さえる
Here are the different translations of “Osaeru”:
a) to pin something down; to hold something down; to hold something back; to stop; to restrain; to curb esp.
b) to seize; to grasp; to arrest esp.
c) to gain control of something; to govern; to keep down (information); to suppress
d) to catch happening; to determine (important points); to find (proof); to understand
3. My friend Duncan explained in March that “Sensei control me, the moment he asks me to stand up and attack him.” I wrote about it in a previous entry here (March 2018).
4. Kamaeru 構える; to put on an air; to assume an attitude
5. Yoroi 鎧; Japanese armor

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