Before the pandemic, I used to go and train in Japan every four months. It has been four years since my last trip in May 2019! Needless to say that I was dying to come back.
COVID has changed a lot of things in many aspects all over the world, in Europe and the Americas. So I was expecting to see the same here in Japan. And it is the case; change is everywhere in Japan. It might be a detail, but the price of drinks in the vending machines has gone from 120 yen to 150 yen. Many places I knew, like the Ulala cafe in the Kashiwa Plaza Annex, are now closed. Many new ones that are more “COVID-friendly” have replaced them. Kashiwa is now full of coffee places turned into co-working spaces.
I’m writing this post in one of these new places. That is the Excelsior Cafe on Kashiwa’s main street by the station.
Other changes are that shops open later than before; masks are mandatory in shops and shopping malls and also in the streets, the trains and the stations. The good news is that I heard yesterday on TV that masks will not be necessary after mid-March.
If change is everywhere, it is not the case in training. Everything has stayed the same on the mats except for the number of attendees. We were only 12 at the first Noguchi sensei class I attended! You must return to the 90s or the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster to have a course with so few students. That was amazing.
As I wrote above, the 77-year-old Noguchi sensei constantly moves, creating hundreds of variations based on the same old waza. His creativity in class opens your eyes to what the Bujinkan can become when you get to his level. The beauty lies in his ability to turn any waza from any ryū (here, Shinden Fudō ryū) into something new. After training with him for 33 years, I know many of his gimmicks. Yet I’m often surprised by his interpretation of the same denshō.
One of the words for change in Japanese is “henka” (1). Noguchi sensei transforms the technique from the densho into something new. He always starts from the original form of the densho (2), and iteration after iteration creates a different movement while respecting the essence of the actual waza. Too often, young teachers do not understand the depth of the word henka. They think that anything goes, and that is so wrong. A true henka is an evolution, a metamorphosis of a waza you have mastered. And when you confront them, they keep repeating that ninpō is about forgetting the form. But you have to learn something first before you can forget it. There is no interpretation based on a poor understanding of the primary forms.
Sōke said that “henka” is made of two kanji “, hen” and “ka”, both meaning change. The difference between the two words is that “hen” is the “beginning of change”, whereas “ka” is the end of change. Therefore henka can be seen as another word for inyō (yinyang). (3)
The world has changed as everything changes. Change is a chance to mutate into something better. Japan has changed, and it is for the better. The honbu has not changed, the waza either, but the interpretation in class has constantly been changing.
Change is good and a chance for the world and your taijutsu. Remember that only change is permanent; we must adapt and embrace it.
1 変化, henka: change; variation; alteration; mutation; transition; transformation; transfiguration; metamorphosis
2 伝書, henka: book or scroll that has been handed down through generations; a book of secrets
3 陰陽, inyō: cosmic dual force; yin-yang
One thought on “Change Is A Chance”
Thank You for sharing. That was beautiful! I, too, long to return to Japan. Some day to go back, I hope.