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.
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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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. https://www.quora.com/How-old-were-the-soldiers-during-WW2#