Stop Copying Sensei!


Noguchi sensei was very enthusiast yesterday. We covered the Tonsō no kata; the first level of Kukishin; a few sword techniques, and some hanbō jutsu. That was intense!

Noguchi sensei’s taijutsu is getting more destructured every time I train with him. As often, it is difficult to see the basics from the variations. I have attended his classes for 28 years now, and I am still amazed by his creativity.

Each time I train the Ryū with him, I have the feeling that I am studying new techniques. That is impressive and shows me the distance between his level and mine.

In the Mutō Dori part of the Tonsō no kata (waza 4, 5, and 6), we control the Uke’s sword. Noguchi sensei made a fascinating point. Uke attacks with Tsuki and Tori dodges the attack from the right. Dodging is Gomakasu. (1)

He said that holding the blade the way Hatsumi Sensei does, is not of our level. First, we have to learn how to avoid the stab. Catching and controlling the blade will come later

Sōke’s level is way above ours. He shows what is happening when you reach his degree of mastership. He does that so that we know where we are heading. But if we try to mimic his movements, we are dead.

For the last few days here, I have been exchanging a lot with my friend Daniel about this. We have to train at our level. Copying Sensei is not what we need, we need to better our sabaki first.

Too often, young black belts try to reproduce Hatsumi Sensei’s movements. They cannot do it because they don’t have acquired the basics. Footwork is key to our survival, and as long as we don’t have a perfect sabaki, and perfect timing, we cannot do what Sōke does.

Many visitors in Japan try to teach what they train here when they come back to their students. This is wrong in many aspects.

They “play Grandmaster” without the proper knowledge.
They do not teach their students.
They put their students’ lives at risk.

As teachers, we have a responsibility of transmitting what we see in Japan. But we have to do it in a way so that our students can develop their skills. If we keep imitating Sōke, we don’t pass on any new knowledge. This is not teaching, this is cheating (the other meaning of gomakasu). (1)

Teaching is Shugyō in Japanese. (2) And the essence of education is to instruct. You don’t need to look good, you have to be. It is not about showing off, some teachers should reflect on that.

If you lure your students into a fake sense of efficiency, you deceive them. You are Shūgyotō, attracting fish using lights. (3)

A fake teacher can cause the death of his students.
Be a true shugyōsha, not a shūgyotōsha!

1 誤魔化す, gomakasu: to dodge; to deceive; to falsify; to misrepresent; to cheat; to swindle. It is interesting to see that to dodge also has the meaning of misleading.
2 授業, shugyō: lesson; class work; teaching; instruction
3 集魚灯, shūgyotō: fish-luring lights


Control With Tō Toku


Precise footwork is what defines better the taijutsu of Nagato Sensei. We had a long session of Taijutsu where we “wrapped” Uke, taking his balance in many directions. François, a newly promoted Shidōshi had a long flying and crashing meeting on that day.

Nagato sensei was controlling Uke with his elbow, as usual. But he was also using his back a lot. By turning inside the attacker, Nagato sensei was taking the distance to lock Uke.

Hatsumi sensei wants us to “control” the attacker and space during the fight. This was a fantastic demonstration on how to do that. The techniques unfolding one after another, it seemed that Nagato sensei was a leaf in the wind. When you know his body shape, it is interesting. James Garcia recently wrote: “someone commented on how muscular Nagato was. He said, “yes, but with Taijutsu, you don’t need muscles.” There was no strength, only footwork.

During the break, he spokes of his relationship with Sōke. He said he was following him like the bug holding the tail of a horse and moving with him. Applied to his taijutsu, it was the same. The attacker was the horse, Nagato sensei, the bug. And whatever the opponent was doing, the control was total.

At the end of the class, Nagato did some hanbō jutsu. On a fist attack, Nagato sensei put the weapon vertical to the outside of the arm, protecting himself. It was like a high tate no kamae. (1)

This point of contact was the fulcrum. From there, he would counter attack, moving from the outside of the first to the outside in a sort of tsuke iri. (2)

That was a simple and efficient movement in one flow. What amazed me was that with this simple action, Nagato sensei was taking advantage of every opening created by Uke.

He insisted on the importance of shielding your body behind the hanbō with Tō Toku no kamae. (3) Hatsumi sensei said many times this year that there is no attack. You do not fight back, tatakai wa Janai. (4) You do not leave any suki available to the opponent. (5)

Staying out of reach is how you can control Uke’s and turn his actions to your benefit. Remember Tō Toku, it is a vital part of taijutsu.

1 縦, tate: vertical; height
2 付け入る, tsukeiri: to take advantage (of somebody’s weaknesses, carelessness, etc.); to impose on
3 匿, Toku: shelter; shield; hide
4 戦い じゃない, tatakai Janai: there is no battle; no fight; no struggle; no conflict
5 隙, suki: gap; space; break; chink (in one’s armor, armor); chance; opportunity; weak spot; breach

Bimyō or Bimyō? Both!

Despite his fragile health, Senō sensei continues teaching on Saturdays. It is always a pleasure to attend one of his magic classes.

Of all the Japanese Dai Shihan, he is the one that has this fantastic touch. The movements he teaches are always simple, but impossible to reproduce. This is why I will not even try to detail the moves we trained during the whole class.

It was some kind of Ryō Mune Dori (double chest grab). Then it was magic.

During the class, I was training with my friend Aluisio from Brazil. We had excellent training, but we couldn’t do the technique. What is nice when you practice with a high rank, is that no one is trying to win, both do their best to repeat the technique. At some point, a pair of students were doing their own stuff instead of trying to understand the waza. I saw myself doing the same mistake years ago. I went to them smiling, and asked: “did he change the technique?”. And I went back to my training spot. Both looked at me puzzled. I hope they understood this subtle message. When you are a young black belt, you cannot see correctly. Then you add the strength you feel is needed to get to the same result. But it doesn’t work like that.

The movements by Senō sensei are very light and very subtle. Many times I asked him to perform the technique on me. It was like fighting a cloud. You cannot sense any pressure from his part. But you always fall as he softly takes your balance without you knowing it.

This subtlety is the make of a great teacher. The Japanese have a term for that: “Bimyō.” (1)

Bimyō is another of these Japanese words carrying many different interpretations.

At the same time, it is subtle and difficult; delicate and complicated. Bimyō also is tricky. As I wrote earlier, when you are Uke, you know what he is going to do, and you lose your balance without knowing.

At one point during the class, Senō sensei said to ask anything we wanted and to experience with him as Tori. Many teachers don’t do that. Senō sensei is so good that his taijutsu applies the same to anyone. This is not a technique, this is real control. It is beyond the biomechanical aspects of the movement.

I hope that one day I will get this superior taijutsu. His movements are holistic in the sense that they encompass the whole without any tension. This is exquisite to be his Uke and to witness first-hand the elegance of his taijutsu. We are lucky to have him teaching us.

This natural elegance is also Bimyō. (2)

1 微妙, bimyō: delicate; subtle; sensitive; difficult; delicate (situation); complicated; doubtful; questionable; dicey; tricky
2 美妙, bimyō: elegant; exquisite

Do you Know Uchi Gake?

In the official Tenchijin, in the Chi Ryaku no Maki, in the Nage Kata you find a throw that very few people understand. It is Uchi Gake. (1)

It is listed as follow: “Uchi Mata / uchi gake (kuden) (内股内掛 口伝).”

The explanation of the Tenchijin is cryptic. It says “Additionally, after hane age, you can knock uke down by obstructing them with uchi gake (内掛け) or “inner hook.””

Ten years ago, I asked Noguchi sensei. I understood that it was similar, in a way, to the same movements in Jūdō. Except that “Gakeru” (2) means to hook or catch. (2)

In Jūdō “Gari,” means to harvest. (3)

Also, in Jūdō, they have split the Nage Kata into three sets of techniques for the arms, the hips, and the legs. This is not the case in the Bujinkan because the nage waza includes the three sets of techniques. This is a Tenchijin and will need another article.

So, why do we have “Uchi Mata / Uchi Gake” in the program? As you might have understood, Uchi Gake is the continuation of a failed Uchi Mata. After failing to throw Uke with Uchi Mata, your right leg goes down and “hook” Uke’s right leg, he falls on his back.

But this is not all. If instead of hooking the right leg, you reposition your body and hook the left leg you get another Uchi Gake. As it is the case in Jūdō, we can name the first one, Ko Uchi Gake; and call the second one, Ō Uchi Gake.

The pictures will help you to understand better.

Ko Uchi Gake

O Uchi Gake

But if we have these two extra throws, we can apply the same logic to Ō Soto gake (outside), we get:

O Soto Gake

Ko soto gake

Ko soto gake (other leg)

I hope that now you know Uchi Gake, and that you will experiment it during your next class.

1 内掛, uchi gake: inside leg trip
2 掛ける, gakeru: to catch (in a trap, etc.) / Note: there are 25 different definitions for Gake in my dictionary.
3 刈る, to cut (grass, hair, etc.); to mow; to clip; to trim; to prune; to shear; to reap; to harvest

Note to the reader: No Brasilian Spartan was injured during the session. Thank you Leandro Barros for your help.

Mitei: Undecided

Since last January, Hatsumi Sensei repeats that our actions are “undecided.” In Japanese, the term is “Mitei.” It can be translated by “untruly” or “uncertainly. (1)

In a fight, you will either lose or win, but you will know the outcome only at the end. You cannot decide it. As westerners, we are programmed by our educative system not to be undecided. And Rene Descartes, the French philosopher is the one to blame for that!

He wrote “I did not imitate the skeptics who doubt only for doubting’s sake and pretend to be always undecided. On the contrary, my whole intention was to arrive at a certainty, and to dig away the drift and the sand until I reached the rock or the clay beneath.” From there comes our problem.

“To decide” comes from the Latin “decidere.” It is made of “de” (privative) + “caedere” (to cut). It implies the act of choosing by “cutting” the wrong choices.

Once again this is what we learn in school. We train ourselves not to doubt, and to always “know with certainty.” This type of reasoning applies perfectly to non-animated objects, but not for humans. (2)

In a fight, we do not choose the actions of the attacker. We only adapt our reactions to the situation, like a surfer on a wave.

When Sensei reacts to an attack, he doesn’t know what he is going to do next. He lets the body do it. This is why he often says “I don’t do the same movement twice,” nature cannot be tamed.

He doesn’t make any choice before the movement, as he is always reacting with a natural flow. The brain (thinking process) is not part of it.

Understanding that, is understanding how to control Uke. The control of Mutō Dori is not something we “decide,” it naturally manifests itself. The control is not mechanical, it is total, and includes everything. The control is coming from outside.

Sensei uses only the word “control” in English, instead of the Japanese word “Seishi.” This is because Seishi is more physical and does not imply the non-physical world. (3)

The control of Mutō Dori can exist only when our actions remain undecided. The moment we “decide” to do any movement, we lose the ability to control the attacker.

Mitei, indecision, is a necessity to achieve full control. By full control, I mean the attacker and the space between and around us. This concept of “control” is not coming from the west, is it Japanese.

To improve our Budō, we have to behave and think like a Japanese, it is Seishi, a matter of life and death!

So, decide to be undecided!

1 未定 / mitei not yet fixed; undecided; pending
2 We have the same problem in the “discourse on the method.” It works perfectly for objects but has to be adjusted when dealing with humans.
3 制止, seishi: control; check; restraint; inhibition
4 生死, seishi: life and death, Samsara

Organized Chaos


The first class with Sensei in Japan is always particular. Whatever my expectations are, this is still something different that I find.

In that respect, this first class with him was no different.

Similar in appearance, they are not. Sensei’s classes are like fireworks, it is beautiful, powerful and always different.

Because Sensei’s Budō is unpredictable, yet always the same.
This is “order in a clear disorder,” it is like fireworks.
It is 新設の乱, Shinsetsu no ran, organized chaos. (1) (2)

Mastering the organized chaos is the type of control we are learning this year. Control applies to the whole situation. It encompasses the opponent, but also the space between the players; and the space around them. As Sensei keeps repeating, “the Bujinkan is no sports.” This is about survival at war.

And do not limit the meaning of “war” to the sole military. War is something we face every day. Surviving is not becoming “Rambo,” it is able to survive our everyday problems. Ran are war and chaos, and it is everywhere. But the most important is how we respond to it.

We confront daily situations that are difficult to control. This is Muchitsujo, disorder. (3) Our goal is to change that. In a real fight, at the office, at home, or at school; our interactions with the others are a permanent battle. We are humans, and this is how we deal with adversity. The control we seek in 2018 when achieved, frees us from all trouble. Controlling our life, and our actions is a way to be one with nature.

But Muchitsujo (3) is not a curse, it is a fantastic chance to find control. Because without the disorder, there would no order. Without adversity or risk for our integrity (physical or mental), we would die. This is Howard Bloom exposes in “Lucifer Principle” (1995). (4)

Bloom “argues that social groups, not individuals, are the primary “unit of selection” on genes and human psychological development. He states that both competitions between groups and competition between individuals shape the evolution of the genome. Bloom “explores the intricate relationships among genetics, human behavior, and culture” and argues that “evil is a by-product of nature’s strategies for creation and that it is woven into our most basic biological fabric.” It sees the selection (i.e., through strong competition) as central to the creation of the superorganism society. The Lucifer Principle shows how ideas are vital in creating cohesion and cooperation in these pecking order battles.

The Dōjō is this “magic space” where, as a group of individuals, we can learn and experiment the reality of chaos. There we learn how to control chaos and to be in communion with nature. Sensei’s teachings are way beyond the simple mechanical movements of martial arts. What he teaches is a Budō of life. And the way to get immersed in this Budō of life is by studying the cause of chaos, and to put order into it. Control is teaching that.

When you train in Japan, you learn control, and how to evolve from Michitsujo to Chitsu, from chaos to order. (5)

Then Shinsetsu no Ran becomes only Shinsetsu. (1)


1 新設, shinsetsu: organized
2 乱, ran: revolt; rebellion; war
3 無秩序/muchitsujo/disorder; chaos; confusion
5 chitsu 秩序/order; discipline; regularity; system; a method

Happiness Leads To Success!

behappy - Edited
I landed in Japan, and while getting out of the airport, I felt happy.
It reminded me of sensei’s constant advice: “be happy!”

Over the years, I often wondered how to reach happiness. In fact, until a discussion I had with Sensei in 2008, I never considered being happy as part of my life. Digging into it, I discovered many things, about happiness. The main lesson is that happiness is not permanent, it is a state of mind. It is the ability to be happy with the small things in life. If you try to be happy 24/7, you will only cultivate unhappiness.
A few weeks ago, I read “the happiness advantage” by Shawn Achor, (1) in which the author details a 7-point method to be happy. As a Harvard teacher, he studied the relationship between happiness and success. And discovered that 80% of the students were not pleased. He also established that the happy ones were more likely to get more successful in life.

I share these principles here because they apply to Budō training:

Principle 1: The Happiness Advantage (Why Happier Workers Make Better Workplaces): Happy practitioners make better Dōjō.
Principle 2: The Fulcrum and the Lever (Change the Way You Think and Maximize Your Potential): There are no limits to what you can achieve.
Principle 3: The Tetris Effect (Rewiring a Stuck Brain): Change your perspective.
Principle 4: Falling Up (Learning Resilience): Survival is about resilience.
Principle 5: The Zorro Circle (Get Control of The Small Stuff): Improve your skills step by step, never give up.
Principle 6: The 20-Second Rule (Minimize Barriers to Change): Change is bliss.
Principle 7: Social Investment (It’s All About Friends): The Dōjō is like a second family, but you have chosen it.
He writes that “Success revolves around happiness, not the other way around.” This is what Hatsumi sensei is asking from us. When we try to be happy, we succeed. This is positive psychology applied to life and Budō.

When we train, we are often confronted by failure. But the moment, we do something we couldn’t do before, the feeling we experience is happiness. It is something that is coming from us, not something that we add. And the more we experience these small moments of joy, and the more chances we meet success. Everything seems more natural, and we have no limit to create our taijutsu.

Sensei is speaking a lot about control this year. Happiness is control. Shawn Achor explains that when you “gain control and focus on little changes,” “you can make the greatest improvements.” This is my 50th year of training in the martial arts. And this is speaking to me. The man I am today is the result of these “little changes.”

Budō taught me that willpower alone cannot affect change. Developing a positive attitude towards happiness is the most important thing.
Think about it. Your success, Sōkō (2), depends on your happiness, Kō (3). If you don’t work towards that goal, you will find death, Kō (4).
Be Happy!
2 奏功/sōkō/success; achievement; fruition
3 幸/kō/good luck; fortune; happiness
4 薨/kō/death (of a nobleman, etc.)

Aging Is Not Bad!

Humans are strange. They behave as if they are immortal. Bad news, we are not and muscle mass tends to disappear gradually from age 40 onward.
“Fighting Muscle Mass Loss. Starting at age 40, adults lose on average 8% of muscle mass each decade. And the rate of loss increases to 15% per decade after age 70.”
Source: International Council on Active Aging
Last week, I gained another digit (birthday), and I celebrated my 21550th sunrise on this planet.
Ageing is normal and one should accept it. This is Keinen in Japanese (1).
As a martial artist, we have to adjust our way of training to the new reality.
When you are in your twenties it is acceptable to train to your limits.
As a young adult between 30 and 40, you have to understand that your body is changing.
When you get passed the 50s, it is time to train and be more clever. Too much stress on your aging body will get you nowhere except to the hospital.
The chart below shows the three stages of life:
My point here, is that you learn what you can do; and also what you should avoid. Crossfit training might not be the best at 50!
Looking at your age is the best way to continue to train until the end of your life.
In Japan, my teachers were in their 40s when I joined their training in the 80s. Today they are all over 70 years of age. Hatsumi Sensei is turning 88 years of age next month.
They are still in very good shape and can kick your butts every now and then. But their way of training has evolved so that they can continue.
With experience, your training and your teaching get deeper, and more philosophical. Ageing is not a curse, it is a natural process.
Do not see yourself as a punishment: 刑人, Keinin (punished man). (2) (3)
Be happy to experience 経年, Keinen, as it means you are still alive. This is good, because after all, Ninjutsu is about surviving!
1 Keinen: 経年, passing of years; lapse of time; aging; ageing
2 Kei: 刑, penalty; sentence; punishment
3 Nin: 人, person
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