Was Odysseus in Dubai?

dubaisundown - Edited
After two weeks in Tōkyō, I am now giving a few classes here in Dubai. The group of Bujinkan UAE, led by Anjaan is doing well, and new faces have appeared on the mats. The beauty of this training group is that it changes a lot as people come to work in Dubai for a limited time. Also, it is a melting pot of nationalities from the Middle-east, to Asia, Europe, and the Americas. They should call it the “Babbel dōjō!”

I’m often travelling to Dubai when I’m back from Japan or India. I love to stop here for a few classes when I can. However, my post today is not about Dubai, but about how wrong we can be as a result of expectations and overconfidence.

We know the tale of Odysseus coming back from the Trojan war. And his neverending 10-year trip back home to Ithaca. (1) During his adventures, Odysseus had to pass the dangerous Strait of Messina (Sicily). The legend said that two sea monsters the protected it: Charybdis and Scylla. (2) (3)

I was sad to leave Japan but happy to get out of the deadly heat wave. Training on this trip was more demanding and resembled a sauna experience. Naively, I thought that the Dubai heat would be drier. I was wrong! Like Odysseus, I went from one heat monster into another one.

The same lack of awareness or discernment is common when we train. In Budō, we call these “sea monsters”: expectations, and over-confidence. In Mutō Dori, expectations are wrong because there is no technique, thus nothing to expect. Moreover, if you are overconfident in your abilities, the wake-up call can be painful.
dubaiheatDo not expect anything, but be prepared for everything.

Speaking with Anjaan yesterday, he said, “this is like mixing the Dunning-Kruger effect with Murphy’s law!” That is so true!

“In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.” (4) Murphy’s law needs no explanation. (5)

On Expectations
Before I left Tōkyō, Anjaan wrote that many students are on holidays. However, yesterday thirteen participants joined this first class. So that was unexpected. Do what to do to the best of your possibilities even if you are alone. Excellence doesn’t need an audience!
On Overconfidence
At the Bujinkan UAE dōjō, I did my best to share what Sensei did in Japan, but I couldn’t. Because I understood what he did, I presumably thought I could do it. I was wrong.
An extended period of maturation is necessary to transfer new knowledge from the brain to the body. A few months are needed, at least, to get that in my taijutsu, if I can ever incorporate it.

Expectations and Overconfidence are not the proper Mutō Dori.

In the Bujinkan, we learn that failure is always Ok. When I took off from Narita, I knew that it would not be easy. The oracle told Odysseus, before leaving, that his return trip would take years. So, both Odysseus and I knew our fate before leaving (except that I didn’t need an oracle).

At the Bujinkan UAE dōjō yesterday, I was not “expecting” to “have it,” but I tried it anyway. There was no surprise; it was like “Banpen Fugyō” of the Gyokko Ryū. Hatsumi sensei with his Mutō Dori prepares us for it! Be always ready and never surprised!

On a side note and between you and me, Odysseus didn’t make it to Dubai. The Suez canal was not built yet, and I’m not sure that the beautiful Dubai existed yet. (6)

6. I read that a “Suez canal alternative” existed during Greek and Roman times. Naval exchanges linked East and West through the oceans. In Cairo, a canal connected the Nile to the Red Sea. The Egyptians called it “the customs’ canal” for logical reasons. Since then, the canal doesn’t exist anymore. But I read that, in Cairo today, you can still see a greenish line caused by higher humidity in the soil. The green line is perpendicular to the Nile and heads towards the Red Sea. But, our friend Odysseus would have needed another ten years to go to Dubai and go back home.
PS: sorry for the picture. 🙂
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Good Or Bad, Keep Laughing!

Only 40 participants yesterday night at Sōke’s class. We had so much space to train that the Dōjō felt empty.
It was my last class for this trip, and Sensei taught control with taijutsu, hanbō, knife, sword, and bō.

He insisted again on the importance of control being the theme for this year practice. Controlling is beyond action. At the beginning of the class, he said that “It’s not about taking or not taking, it’s about control.” When we train, we try to copy his movements and do not focus enough on the invisible aspects of what he does. By copying the visible, we cannot grasp the subtle essence of the control. Often he will repeat the same action a few times, but he will adjust it depending on how his partner reacts. Even though we see the different movements, we only do one of his many variations.

When this happens, we tend to forget that control is not about a given technique. About Mutō Dori technique, he said, “I’m not avoiding, I’m just controlling.”

We also trained with two swords. Sensei blocked and controlled the sword of Uke, then swept it away. The sweep action was done by one body movement. This body flow creating a whiplash effect. After letting us try it a few times, he said that “I’m not spinning the sword but going with the flow. It is the body and not the sword that controls the attack.” A whole body movement is the only way to get this. To do that, keep your arms close to the torso and move the body.

Alex Meehan from Ireland was training next to me. He told me that some physiotherapist watched some videos by Sensei. This therapist doesn’t train martial arts at all. But after watching a few clips, he said, “this man [Sōke] is amazing. He has the rare ability to move each part of his body independent of the rest.”

This comment from an outsider is fascinating. We are used to seeing Sōke move the way he does. Because of habit, this prominent aspect of his body movement is so natural to us that we don’t see it anymore. Moving one part of the body, while being fully relaxed in the rest, is what makes the Bujinkan a fantastic martial art.

Unfortunately our insistence in “doing a waza,” doesn’t allow this to happen. If we want to move like Sensei one day, we have to train this.

The “nonchalance” of Sensei’s body, is how he is able to control us. He is not fighting (Tatakai wa Janai) but he is not avoiding either (Yokeru Janai). He said, “I’m teaching all aspects of control, not how to attack.” Control is a complex ability in which our actions can “fool” Uke without the mind even trying to. It is not a decision put into motion, it is a natural body attitude. To reach this, we need to train more, and for a long time.

This is why we fail so often. And this is good. Failing a lot on the mats is the only way to get it right, the day we will need it. In training, there is no right or wrong, only learning. We do our best and fail until we succeed. This is the “fake it, until you have it” principle.

In any case, good or bad, we have to be happy to train.

During the class, Sensei took the knife from Tezuka san and asked him to explain what he had felt. Tezuka san was going to speak when Sensei threw the knife at him. Still caught in his thoughts, he grabbed the knife. He was not watching and was surprised to see it in his hand. Sensei laughed and said, “It is essential to laugh whether it is good or bad.”

Sensei was in an excellent mood, and we laughed a lot. That was a memorable Bujinkan moment. I’m leaving today with this in mind, and I cannot wait to be back in a few months to continue my training with him.

“Good Or Bad, Keep Laughing!” and be happy!


I will be back in November 2018 for Sensei’s birthday. Thank you for reading my posts,  I hope they help you. Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments. I hope to meet you on the mats one day, in Japan or during a seminar.

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