Sōzōryoku: Creativity And Imagination

Noguchi sensei’s creative power is impressive! It is called “Sōzōryoku” in Japanese. Now, depending on how you write it, is (the power of) creativity (1); or (the power of) imagination. (2)

After training with him for more than 28 years, I am often surprised by his way of destructuring the Waza. This is still beyond my abilities. All the techniques we train in the dōjō are coming from the Densho.

Each class, Noguchi sensei read the technique as if it is the first time, and comes up with a new interpretation. Over the years, he has developed his own destructuring pattern. But I find the variations of these popular movements always surprising.

I guess this is due to the way the Japanese language plays with concepts and images instead of words, the way we do. By playing with the many meaning of one given set of kanji, you can come up with an infinity of interpretations.

For example, Sōzōryoku as “the power of creativity” is a mix of “genesis+create+power.” (3) (4) (5)
But when Sōzōryoku has the meaning of “power of imagination,” it is “idea+form.”
And with a Buddhist spiritual connotation, it becomes “perception+appearance.” (6) (7)
The many interpretations of the Kanji make Japanese more alive than western languages. In that respect, this is what makes Noguchi sensei’s taijutsu so playful.

Here are the definitions of the dictionary for creativity and imagination.
“Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new that has some kind of value. What counts as “new” may be about the individual creator, or to the society or domain within which the novelty occurs.”
“Imagination also called the faculty of imagining, is the ability to form images and sensations when they are not perceived through sight, hearing, or other senses. Imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge. It is a fundamental faculty through which people make sense of the world, and it also plays a key role in the learning process.”

Creativity adds value and imagination makes sense. Both are the sources of Mutō Dori. You can see them as two legs, to walk you need both of them. And proper walking is the secret of Mutō Dori. Through creativity and imagination, we will be able to move like Sensei does.

The way Hatsumi Sensei and the Japanese Dai Shihan move, is the result of their fantastic ability to rethink the already known. Keep in mind that they have been repeating the same Waza for more than fifty years! And still, they surprise us every class.

So, remember that, next time your students (or yourself) complain about repeating the Sanshin no kata and the Kihon Happō.

Sōzōryoku is the real training, and the correct path to develop your own taijutsu.

1. Sōzōryoku 創造力; creative power.
2. Sōzōryoku 想像力; (the power of) imagination
3. 創 = genesis
4. 造 = create
5. 力 = power
6. 想 = conception; idea; thought . It is also “perception” for the Buddhists (Samjna)
7. 像 = image; picture; portrait , form; shape; appearance

Sakizuke: The Ranks You Don’t Deserve!

sakizukeThis morning, I was exchanging with my friend Leandro Barros from Brazil. We were discussing ranking in the Bujinkan.
He had read an article on Sakizuke by Duncan and was wondering when he should grade his students. (1)

This article is a reminder about the benefits aspects of the Sakizuke system. (2)

In modern Japanese, it means “appetizer.” (2)
When breaking it in two, you get “earlier” (3) + “add” (4).
Both mean that the “real stuff ” is coming later.

Sakizuke is a typical Japanese concept. It is the way Sensei gives ranks in the Bujinkan.
The black belt ranking in the Bujinkan is not a system based on rewards like in sports. You know why? Because the Bujinkan is not a sport! The Bujinkan teaches Budō, not entertainment.

The Sakizuke is for the black belts. But beginners need a comprehensive grading system. For many years I did like everyone not having exams for my students. Then I noticed they were quitting fast. So in 2005, I created a grading system for the Kyū belts covering the whole Tenchijin, and they began to stay. For a beginner, I guess it is essential to know what they know. Also, do not forget that in Japan, you get a black belt when the teacher thinks you have understood your basics. Shōdan, first Dan, means that you move wrong but that you are accepted as a student by your teacher. Coloured belts for Kyū is a Westerners’ invention. (5)

You can find the various modules for beginners on Koimartialart, my streaming platform . (6)

The real question is how do you rank your black belts? This is where the Sakizuke system comes into play. To understand the Sakizuke, imagine you get a gold medal and then you are asked to win the race. This is how it works.

Duncan says it better:
“The ranks in the Bujinkan are for the heart. Those with the right heart will accept rank from their teacher without question. Students having a feeling of discomfort or inadequacy for their new rank, should then go away and train hard until they become worthy of the grade. This is understanding Sakizuke and the correct feeling to have when dealing with the Bujinkan grades.”

Many criticize the system without understanding it. These teachers still have a sports mentality. The Sakizuke is typically Japanese, it is part of Budō.

I have a pleasant memory that might help you understand it. When I was 13th Dan, I had a coffee with Sensei in his house. At one point he said that he wanted to promote me to 14th dan.
I told him that I was not worth my 13th dan yet. He looked at me and said, “yes, but you are getting close to deserving it. This is why I want to give you a 14th dan.” I objected that I would be back to Japan four months later and that he could give it to me at this moment. “No,” he said while filling the diploma, “If I die tomorrow, you have the rest of your life to be worth it.” This is Sakizuke.

Your rank is a potential level. It is up to you to deserve it or not. Many high grades in the Bujinkan don’t understand it, which is why some have a deplorable level. Don’t be that kind of black belt. Be aware of your level and study hard to be worth it. At the end of the day, your rank will not protect you in the streets, train hard if you want to survive.

Bujinkan ranks are traps for your ego, they are a challenge to your intelligence. Accept them but train harder and fill them with sweat. See your rank as a container. From the outside, it looks like the Schrödinger’s cat who is dead or alive; your tank is either full or empty. What is inside only depends on you. (7)

The Bujinkan is Ura, so leave the Omote, and enter the Ura side, because there is much more to gain for your Budō and your life.

Be happy!


1. “Thoughts on Ranks” by Duncan Stewart (June 2012), https://tazziedevil.wordpress.com/page/2/
2. Sakizuke 先附 or 先付け; appetizer, postdating
3. Saki 先; earlier
4. Suke 附; to add, to join, to attach
5. Coloured belts: When Jūdō came to Europe, Kawaishi Sensei was forced to accept the coloured system by the French federation of Jūdō in exchange for a working permit! This system was then adopted worldwide, in and out of Jūdō. More on that: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/07/history-color-belt-scheme-martial-arts/
6. https://www.koimartialart.com
7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat