Do You Have A Backpack?

img_20191111_103247-1When you go out for a trek in the mountains, you carry a backpack. Everything you might need during the long hours of walking is inside.

When you pack it, you select the content and organize it. You know precisely where every object is:
socks, clothes, sleeping bag, map, compass, knife, rope, gloves, rain jacket, torchlight, extra batteries, first-aid kit, food, water bottle, etc.
And often, you don’t use all the things you packed for your trek. You carry them in case you might need them

The Bujinkan program is like a backpack, except that often, your bag is half empty! It is half empty because you weren’t given a chance to know what to put into it. What you need is a set of necessary and useful techniques that you can adapt to any situation. This is what the tenchijin is about.

The Bujinkan comprises nine different Ryūha (1), which makes it quite complex to learn.
When you learn a single Ryū, the basics, the technical levels are all given in a somewhat logical system. You have a set of tools to help students to learn the correct way step by step. These tools are called scrolls.

In a Ryū you have the Ten no Maki, the Ryū no Maki, the kotsu (or kurai dori), the taihenjutsu, the kamae, the densho (2), the e-densho, the kudensho, and the Juppō Sesshō. (3)(4) A Ryū details a specific approach to actual combat. But nine Ryū regroups several different methods to fight on the battlefield. They all have their specificity. That is why Hatsumi Sensei has regrouped them in a modern tool that he called the Tenchijin Ryaku no Maki. See the Tenchijin as the first level to get Hatsumi Sensei’s style of Budō. The nine Ryūha are the source for it, and also exercises to understand his way of training, his specific flow. (5)

The Tenchijin is your backpack, and you have to know it so well that you don’t think when you use it. It has to become second nature, like when you are riding a bike or swimming.

You have to use what naturally is in your backpack. To me, the Tenchijin is the expression of the “Hatsumi Ryū.” After reading this, ask yourself: “do I have a full backpack?”

Have a good trek!

Funny note: Did you know that Japanese call the ebooks, “densho”? (6)

1 流派, Ryūha; school (e.g. of ikebana)

2 伝書, Densho; book or scroll that has been handed down through generations; a book of secrets. Depending on the Ryū, there are 3,5, 9, or more densho. They detail the Waza from the beginner to the advanced practitioner

3 I already explained this structure in a previous post on this blog. And what is the purpose of each scroll. But this is not the goal of this article

4 十方折衝, Juppō Sesshō can be understood as the essence of a system. For example, the Juppō Sesshō of Gyokko Ryū is the Sanshin no Kata. That is why it is so hard to master it.

5 流, Ryū; Way; style; manner​. Or school (of thought)​. Or flow; stream

6 電書, Densho; electronic book; e-book; ebook​

Bujinkan Will Not Survive

Bujinkan will not survive, and it doesn’t matter. And here is why.

A few months ago, in Japan, I had the opportunity to speak with Hatsumi Sensei about the future of the Bujinkan. He said that he created the Bujinkan as a shell to gather everyone. To give us a chance to understand the powerful beauty of true Budō.

“After me,” he said, “my successor will name the Bujinkan shell the way he wants, and teach it the way he feels suits the art.” In the West, we are too much attached to the “form.” Instead, we must focus more on the “body flow.”

When you begin your martial arts journey, it is normal (better?) to start by respecting the forms. Then comes a moment where you have to let them go.

Forms are traps. As Sensei puts it, “if you use a Waza from any Ryū, it will get you killed, you have to adapt it to the situation.” A Waza is only a teaching tool to get new knowledge. A Waza is not a checklist of some sort but the visible result of a potential outcome. And only when you can adapt it to the terrain, the weather, and the opponent(s), can you use it. This is the essence of the Tenchijin.

When you grow up in Budō, you go through three phases of learning. The Japanese call it Shuhari (1), and it marks the path to follow. At the “Ri” level, you can express natural movement, not before. You have to get rid of the form. You have to forget everything and to “divorce” from your certitudes so that you can walk your own path.

But to forget, you must, first, learn the forms. It is not possible to overlook something you did not learn in the first place. Forgetting needs learning.

The forms found in the Ryūha are the scaffolding protecting your understanding. That allows your personal evolution in Budō. Without forms, your taijutsu will never grow, it is like a baobab in a small pot!

Budō takes a lot of time, you have to develop “Nintai” patience and train hard. (3) In the old days, young Samurai began preparing for battle around six-year-old. After the Genpuku, (4) the young Samurai could join the battlefield. They were fifteen to twenty-year-old. (5) At this young age, they had already train ten to fifteen years. Experience comes with time, and you cannot compress time.

The Japanese created a productive society able to create the warriors it required. From the Kamakura Jidai (1185) to the end of the Azuchi Momoyama Jidai (1600), Samurai rule the country. Through battles, they invent the Waza, test them, and transmit them to the next generation. We have many Ryūha in the Bujinkan today. That is because these techniques were battle-efficient and transmitted. Learning the correct form is essential.

Evolution requires an adaptation to adjust them to the modern world. And this is what Hatsumi Sensei is teaching us three times a week at Honbu. Contemporary martial arts, without knowledge from the past, stays at the Omote level. The Omote is not Budō. The Ura is what matters, Ura is to be able to use natural movement in any situation. With a lot of work, each one can do it.  

The Bujinkan will not survive because it doesn’t have to survive. The Bujinkan is a tool designed to guide us towards the natural movement. We received, receive, and will continue to receive Sensei’s vision of Budō. His teachings will last long after we are all gone. They will nourish future generations of martial arts practitioners.

Transmitting the spirit is the key. Forms are only useful learning tools needed to become natural in the Dōjō, as well as in life. Sensei said to my old friend Pedro Fleitas that “to transmit what I have, I only need one student!” Try to be this “one student,” and stop wasting your time on social media. Keep training, and never give up.

Keep Going!


1 守破離, Shuhari. The three stages of learning mastery: the fundamentals, breaking with tradition, parting with traditional wisdom

2 離, Ri; It has the meaning of divorce, separate from.

3 忍耐, Nintai; endurance; perseverance; patience

4 Genpuku:

5 WWII cemeteries are full of very young soldiers. In the marine corps, 70% were 18 to 25-year-old, when they gave their real age as many lied on their birthdate.

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