Adapt Or Die


adapt or die mockupI’m happy I have studied Ninpō Taijutsu for the last 36 years. Bujinkan trained me to be ready for the unexpected. Like the Black Swan (1), unexpected events occur. The pandemic blew out the world economy. Our way of life is badly hit, and many training halls had to close. Some of them will never reopen.

At the end of June in France, the government allowed us to go back to the Dōjō. With a mask and with little contact. Thanks to the Bujinkan wide range of possibilities, we’ve been teaching Bō jutsu (outdoor) for a few weeks. If it feels good to be back on the mats, but I’m concerned about the other martial arts.

If the Bujinkan is lucky, to have plenty of weapons to train. Gendai Budō (2) such as Jūdō, Karatedō, Aikidō, BJJ need physical contact. When they lifted the ban partly at the end of July, we went to train long weapons, outdoor. My Gendai friends couldn’t resume training, as physical contacts were not authorized.

You know how hard it is to have regular students in the Dōjō and to keep them. The pandemic might spell out the end of martial arts the way we know them. A large part of existing training halls will not reopen after the ban. And those reopening might also die by lack of adaptation.

If you read the “Spirit of Movement” (3), you know that, before entering the Bujinkan, I trained Jūdō for a long time. I let down Jūdō, and chose Bujinkan. I couldn’t learn two martial arts in parallel and manage my daily job. But some do that correctly like my Spanish brother, Juan Manuel Serrano. Not only is he a reputed Bujinkan Dai Shihan, but he also earns a 6th dan in Jūdō! And to achieve this rank in Jūdō is not easy. Even today, he continues to teach both arts at the same time. That’s impressive. During the pandemic, he was able to continue by teaching long weapons. But his fellow Jūdō teachers had to stay at home!

The Bujinkan teaches several qualities such as resilience, perseverance, and excellence. Three aspects impersonated by my friend Juanma. Budō training teaches to adapt and to accept change when it comes. Without accepting change, we cannot adjust our behaviours. Charles Darwin wrote that “It is not the strongest of the species that survives. It is not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” This could be a sentence said by Hatsumi Sensei during class.

In Japanese, “to adapt” is “atehameru”.

The essence of Bujinkan, Budō, and Life is adaptation.

Weapons, tactics, and mentalities evolved through centuries. Martial arts have always adapted to change. It would never have survived to the 21st century if the warriors didn’t welcome change. That is what Bujinkan is and what Bujinkan is teaching.

Today’s change is the “mask”. You don’t need to like it. Wear the mask, and get a new chance to adapt your behaviour to this unexpected situation. Just Do It!

Atehameru to atehameru (apply and adapt).

We are Togakure ninja. Therefore we have been wearing masks since 1161. Stop complaining and go back to training. The freedom you seek resides in your training.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Swan:_The_Impact_of_the_Highly_Improbable

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gendai_bud%C5%8D

3 “The Spirit of movement” exists in e-book or paperback depending on the language, if you are interested check it: ENGLISH, ESPANOL, FRANCAIS

4 当てはめる, atehameru: to apply, to adapt

adapt or die mockup

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Back to Panem et Circenses?


dan mockup (1)Are we Back to “Panem et Circenses,” the times of “Bread and Circuses” as exposed by Juvenal around two centuries before our time? It looks like it! (1)

This metonymy by Juvenal, a Roman satirical poet, was to show a population’s erosion, or ignorance, of civic duty as a priority. If people have enough food and enough entertainment, they don’t see their (civic) duty as a priority. That is what is happening today with the pandemic.

This world pandemic is impacting our daily lives in a way that no one could have predicted. Whether you believe in it or not, is irrelevant here. What is not, is how we react when facing a situation like this.

I see the pandemic as an opportunity for humans to change, adapt, and develop new behaviours. And what I see is different. We are moving backwards, not forward. While the world is changing fast, our actions are still pre-COVID ones.

Let me give you some examples. A majority of humans have now to wear masks. In a few weeks, it became a regular piece of clothing. Every day, millions of people on the planet are saying “Oh no, I forgot my mask again!”

When we did not have them, people were demanding more masks. Now masks are mandatory, and we have enough. And the same people are complaining again. They protest against the government because they feel their freedom is in danger. There is no logic.

What the Bujinkan teaches is to learn how to survive. It is not about judging others, and I am not trying to. But the pandemic forces our Society, as a whole, to evolve. That is why people’s expectations of “bread and circuses” are not helping. Being reluctant to change is not new.

A long time ago in Mesopotamia, the Sumerian put up the bricks of our civilization. (2) They were the first to invent writing. But when they decided to change the way of writing, things didn’t go without protests. (3) (4)
When the Portuguese landed in Japan in 1543, they were the first Europeans to set foot on the islands. (5) They brought the first set of muskets with them. That was a significant change for the traditional Samurai who rejected this new weapon. Fast forward, in October 1600, Tokugawa unifies the country with brilliant strategy and firearms. Traditionalists lost because they refused to change. Change is happening, and to survive, we must adapt to it, not reject it.
When Emperor Meiji got his power back at the end of the 19th century, he was breaking a rule dating back to 1185. That was not easy, but he did it. The famous Yamaoka Tesshu was also a man of change. (5)

The examples above show that change has to be accepted. Change is permanent and natural. When you refuse it, you stay locked in the past. If we have to wear masks today, it is not to lose our freedom, but to stay alive.

And if you think the pandemic is not real and reject the mask, you make other people nervous. If you don’t do it for yourself, you can do it for your fellow humans.

Personal freedom is vital for humans. It is not in danger because of a mask, some handwash, and social distancing. That is our civic duty to follow and respect the rules so that the majority can be or feel happier. As a Bujinkan member, my goal is to go with the flow, not to fight it. I suppose you are not interested in the immediate rewards of “Panem et circenses.” Because if you are, you might be betraying the Bujinkan teachings of Hatsumi Sensei. Is it what you want?

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1. Bread and circuses
2. Sumerians were counting in base 12, which is the reason why we measure time in multiples of 60. That is why there are 12 houses in the Zodiac.
3. The Sumerian people invented writing. They wrote from right to left and from up to down. Then a few thousands of years later the Akkadians, changed it to write on paper the same way we do.
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuneiform
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan%E2%80%93Portugal_relations
6 We covered the life of Yamaoka Tesshu and his achievements earlier on this blog.
7 More on Yamaoka Tesshu https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamaoka_Tessh%C5%AB

 

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Social Distancing Is Budō


ninja t-shirt
Make a mask with a t-shirt

We live in troubled times. Social distancing is now mandatory in many countries. To know the correct distance is essential. 

Hatsumi Sensei’s DVDs are all subtitled “martial art of distance.” The Bujinkan martial arts teach proper distancing. Thus, the forced social distancing we apply these days is practical Budō. In the dōjō, we learn to survive any attacks coming from the enemy. In these days of the pandemic, our enemy is not visible (Omote), but invisible (Ura). Our only option to survive the virus is to keep a proper distance with others. 

As it is often the case in Japanese, “distance” can use different Kanji. It is Michi no ri (1), Kyori (2), or Aida (3). Let’s understand the concept hidden in the strokes.
The first one “Michi no Ri” uses “Michi,” or “Dō.” (4) This is the Kanji that we find in Budō. (5) Budō, the “way of the martial arts”, becomes the “martial arts of distance “as in Sensei’s DVDs. At Honbu, Hatsumi Sensei explains that “Bu” is “to maintain peace and protection.” So, the correct distance in Budō is a means of protection.

The second one, “Kyori”, is even more interesting. If it is “distance or range,” transformed as Kyoryūmin (6), it means “resident.” And because of confinement, we are all becoming full-time residents! 

The last one is “Aida.” It also reads as “Ken.” This is not the one meaning sword, but the one used in the Kanejaku. (7) That is the measurement system used in Japan before the switch to the metric system. (8) For your information, a Ken is 181.82 cm, and this is the size of a Tatami. (9)

In conclusion, Budō, the art of distancing is the best way to keep us protected. As a full-time home resident, when you go shopping, use the distance of a Ken to limit the risks of infection.

A few days after the Tsunami hit Fukushima, I called Hatsumi Sensei on the phone. When I asked him, if he planned to leave Noda, he answered “Banpen Fugyō”, “10 000 attacks, no surprise.” (10) This is the attitude you should have. Don’t complain about confinement at home as you cannot change it. Use this time to do or finish all the things you have been postponing for months, or for years. The pandemic time at home can be profitable, turn it into an opportunity. And make “Kyori” (11) out of “Kyori” (2), a “huge profit” for yourself.

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1 道のり, Michi no ri / Dō no ri: distance; journey; itinerary​, path (e.g. to one’s goal); way; process; route; road
2 距離, Kyori: distance, range
3 間, Aida, Ken: space (between); gap; interval; distance​, time (between); pause; break​. Span (temporal or spatial); stretch; period (while)​. Relationship (between, among)​, members (within, among)
4 道, Dō: Road; path; street; route​; way; set of practices; rules for conducting oneself​
5 武, Bu: martial arts
6 居留民, Kyoryūmin: A resident
7 曲尺, Kanejaku: carpenter’s square (for checking angles)​, common shaku (unit of distance; approx. 30.3 cm)
8 https://taikosource.com/glossary/kanejaku/
9https://www.traditionaloven.com/tutorials/distance/convert-japan-ken-unit-to-centimeter-cm.html
10 万変不驚, Banpen Fugyō. Read the excellent post by Luke Crocker https://medium.com/classical-martial-arts/banpen-fugyo-9bbbc64a9487
11 巨利, Kyori: Huge profit

Omnia Causa Flunt


Omnia causa flunt, “Everything happens for a reason.”

I like this Latin expression. This is precisely the same in Budō. We don’t do movements to look good, but to stay alive. If being elegant was the goal, we would be dead. At war, the only goal is to stay alive, to carry out the mission. In life, awareness will do the same. If you want to live a successful life, you have to accept the law of causality. Because whether you want it or not, “Everything happens for a reason.”

During the warring period of feudal Japan, the Samurai might have followed the same rule. Marshal Bugeaud, a French officer from the 19th century, said, “at war there are principles, but they are few.” It is the same in Budō and in life.

Hereunder are six basic principles that each practitioner should train and apply. Let’s review them together. They are suitable for Budō and for life.

Don’t fight!

That is the best principle of all. Often, speaking and communicating will get you out of a bad situation. But it will not work every time, and you will not be able to avoid the attacks. Then accept it, stay relaxed and let your training do it for you. The same applies to Budō and in life.

Don’t get hit

Don’t dream! In a fight, you will get hit, and it will be painful. Abandon any romantic vision displayed by the movies. You are not an actor in Hollywood, this is the real world. Wake up! Focus on the situation you are facing, and limit as much as you can, the efficiency of your opponent. The same applies to Budō and in life.

Keep a proper and correct distance.

This is the first thing to do. If you are out of reach, Uke will not touch you. Now don’t overestimate your chances. When you have a gun in a holster and him a knife in his hand, you cannot draw fast enough if he is at less than 8 meters. So instead of trying, move away from his line of attack. It is always better to avoid direct confrontation. The same applies to Budō and in life.

Move out of the line of attack.

To do so, you have to react by the lines of cutting, punching or kicking. Against a sword, visualise the plane of cutting and stay out of it. Training your distance and understanding the angles will keep you safe. Move where your attacker will not be expecting you. Every attack generates dead corners preventing the opponent from getting you. Learn these. Usually it is by putting the attacking fist or weapon between you and Uke’s body. His body will serve as a shield. Look at how Sensei is always well positioned. Don’t be a target. The same applies to Budō and in life.

Expect the moves

Expect Uke’s moves, understand the loss of balance consecutive to his actions. When you move at the right moment, the attacker is unable to change his direction and to adjust his actions in time. If he does, it will be detrimental to his balance. He will crash faster. The momentum of his movements will make him fail. Your ability to expect what is coming next is the key to your success. The same applies to Budō and in life.

Send false signals

Begin one thing and do something else. A deception is a vital tool in your arsenal. The body reacts before the brain has time to analyse what is happening. Thus any move out of the logic forces Uke to change his attack, but this is useless. The momentum of the initial steps will forbid him to change his movements. The same applies to Budō and in life.

When you look at this list, you have, more or less, the exact definition of the Mutō Dori we learn these days in Japan. What Hatsumi Sensei teaches is not mechanical anymore. It is a holistic understanding of life and Budō. This allows us to get the intelligence of the moment. His Mutō Dori is not limited to Budō, it is something that you can use in your everyday actions. Every move we learn was not created by chance. The waza are there because they are useful. When it comes to applying these techniques, everything is always “undecided.” This is how Sensei’s movements look so natural.

The reason why he moves the way he does is that his body has ingrained all movements. He expresses them now without thinking. He is Mutōsei, uncontrolled (1), and because of that, he can control the attackers.

Omnia Causa Flunt, “Everything happens for a reason.”

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1 無統制, Mutōsei. Uncontrolled

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omnia

Put The Bar High, But Not Too High


When you want to improve your skills, you have to define your objectives. How you choose them will make you successful or not.

Success is not only about reaching your goal, but it is also how you passed the obstacles on your way to getting to it. Saint Exupery wrote, “what matters is not to reach your destination, but to walk towards it.” (1) That is why you have to find goals that will force you to overcome some difficulties. But as in the Indiana Jones movie, I would say “Choose wisely!”

If your goals are too easy to get, you will not improve. When you have low standards, you get low abilities. I see many people on the mats with small objectives, they reach them, but do not get anything in exchange. Then it is better not to define any goal at all! Everything you gain without hard work in this life is not suitable for your development. It is a loss of what you could get by having higher standards. When your standards are poor, you don’t evolve, you regress.

A real goal has to be challenging to reach, but it has to be reachable. If your goals are too high, you will never get to them. And as a consequence, you might lose faith in yourself and quit. Quitting is never the right solution. The “keep going” principle given by Sensei at the start of the Bujinkan adventure is our strength. More than a quote, it is a credo.

Never give up. Fail and try again. As the Japanese saying says “Fall 7 times, get up 8 times.” (2) Failure is always your best teacher.

In defining those goals, you have to get a chance to be successful. Success is a state of mind. If you become successful in the dōjō by improving your skills, you will find the same success in any endeavour you do.

Success is also a habit that you build every day through failure. The late Arthur Ashe said, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” (3) The doing is often more important than the outcome. That is where Budō becomes a school of life. Your evolution on the mats will reflect in your daily life, and lead to happier living. Everything is connected.

I hope it is now clear how important it is to set achievable goals for your practice. This will have a positive effect on your life and bring you happiness. Isn’t being happy what Hatsumi Sensei teaches at every class?

We will never be perfect, as perfection is divine, but our commitment to Budō brings us every day closer to it. The more we train, the better we get. Our techniques get more straightforward and efficient.

Here is another quote by Saint Exupery. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” (4)

Get rid of your self-imposed limits, aim high (but not too high) and be the happiest Budōka you can be.

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1 “Ce qui importe, ce n’est pas d’arriver, mais d’aller vers.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry in “Citadelle”
2 七転び八起き, Nana korobi ya oki. Fall 7 times, get up 8 times
3 Arthur Ashe was a great American tennis player in the seventies. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Ashe
4 “La perfection est atteinte, non pas lorsqu’il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais lorsqu’il n’y a plus rien à retirer.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry

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Make Mistakes By Doing New things


IMG_20171125_104614This week should have been Senō sensei’s birthday. And thinking about his classes at the honbu, it reminded me of the soft precision he used in his teachings. He was also the only Dai Shihan asking to be hit, to show the perfect timing. His Taijutsu was impressive, and he was never afraid of making mistakes. We should be doing the same.

Somehow it resonates with my recent article on failure. You must make mistakes to improve our Taijutsu. (1) I spoke about Shippai, failure. But Shippai also means a mistake. (2) As often in Japanese, an action (mistake) can be a result (failure).

The moment you decide to change, you make errors. And as a consequence, you improve your skills. Albert Einstein said, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” We have to stop being afraid of change, and always try new things. This is the path Sensei is showing us to develop our Taijutsu. Accept it today, even if I know how hard it is to turn a decision into action.

Humans are reluctant to leave their comfort zone, they avoid trying new things. Humans love routine and hate changes. Even though we know that in life (or in a fight) everything is about accepting change. Did you know that “Henka” that we translate by “variation” also means “the beginning and the end of change?” (3)

Because we make mistakes, we can correct them and get better at our Taijutsu. Any new learning, or any further action we take, will see us fail. Accepting our errors is the best way to excel one day. With each try, we change the form until we reach the correct way to do it. What is wrong becomes good. But this way to train demands to be relaxed. This is why stiffness in the body or in the mind while training cannot be. Hatsumi Sensei often tells us to relax. Only when you release all tensions, that change is possible. 

In an ancient interview, Sensei explained that “what is not natural is not in harmony with life. Life changes constantly, everything is naturally evolutive, because nothing is static. In this perspective, everything that tends to remain static is not natural. And thereby, because it goes against nature, is doomed to disappear for it is fruitless.” The nine schools survived all these centuries because they didn’t remain static.

Humans learn new things because they make mistakes. The late Senō sensei used to tell us that when learning a new form, we make big mistakes at first. And then, through repetition, we make smaller ones, until they nearly disappear. Step by step, we get the correct movement and get it right.

“Machigai” also means a mistake. (4) So please accept “Machigai” and don’t “Machigae,” “wait to change.” Do it now! (5)

To accept change is the key to adaptation, and to natural movement
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1 https://kumablog.org/2019/12/05/are-you-a-failure/
2 失敗, Shippai: Failure; mistake; blunder
3 変化, Henka. change; variation; alteration; mutation; transition; transformation; transfiguration; metamorphosis
4 間違い, Machigai: mistake; error; blunder​. Accident; mishap; trouble​. Improper conduct; indiscretion
5 待ち替え, Machigae: Machi, waiting; waiting time. Gae, change; alteration; substitute.

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Value What You Have


 

FB_IMG_1575890665755The Bujinkan created by Sōke is like a treasure, but few practitioners understand what it is, or how much it is worth. There is a Japanese saying for people not valuing what they have. It is “Neko ni koban,” as our “casting pearls before swine.” (1)

The Bujinkan is a treasure because of its techniques, like any other martial art. But also because it transforms us into human beings. My Budō brother Daniel Hernandez left Japan today with a beautiful message to sensei and to us. Here are some sentences that are taken from it. (2)

I don’t come to Japan only to train, but mainly to see you (Sōke), to see your eyes, feel your immense love, and to know that you are well. You are the only lighthouse in my life. (…) And I come here for the most important thing, you, my dear master. (…) Thank you in advance to all my brothers, and Bujinkan friends, to take good care of Sōke.

If your vision of the Bujinkan limits itself only to the technical aspect, it is good, but it is not enough. The Bujinkan is a holistic experience. And Waza is as valuable as the calligraphy session. The Bujinkan experience is bathing you in a mix of Waza, Japanese and Asian culture, language, and meaning of life. This complex mix allows you to find the best in yourself, and to get rid of the negative aspects in you. But, here, too, not everyone succeeds.

fb_img_1575890784627.jpg

Over the years, I saw many practitioners entering the path fully committed, and then leaving after a few years. They judged that the commitment was too high a price to pay for their ego. And I can accept that.

There is nothing wrong with loving the mechanical moves of Budō. If it is your case, I have to tell you that you are not Bujinkan. Sōke teaches at all levels and people like Daniel or myself, have been “educated” by Sensei’s vision of Budō. The men we are today have nothing to compare with what we were at the beginning.

All those years of travels and training. All those private moments with Hatsumi Sensei, have carved us into a better version of human. We are not perfect, but we are still walking the path under his guidance and his care for humanity. Sensei is a beautiful human being, and his love has been spreading all over the planet through his Budō. He gave the world a new vision of Budō that will last and blossom.

Stop arguing on social media about changes happening these days. They are not necessary. Stay focus on your training, trying to get what Sōke is teaching us. It is more essential than fighting techniques. Sensei is showing happiness, love, and tolerance. And between two Shutō and locks, we have to do the same.

Begin to value the extraordinary we have to be around a man like him. And don’t be the one not appreciating this beauty.

Stop wasting your time, (3) and accept this marvelous gift that Sensei is giving us.

Value what you have!

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1 猫に小判, Neko ni koban: Literally: Gold coins to a cat. Meaning: Casting pearls before swine / Giving something of value to a recipient that does not value it.
2 From my Budō brother Daniel Hernandez
おせばになりました いろいろと どうも ありがと ございました でわ また どぞ よろしく おねがいします.
De Corazón a Corazón ♥, I Shin Den Shin. Así recibí de usted querido Sōke sus enseñanzas, sólo agradecer todo el cariño brindado a través de los años. Espero sepan entender, ya no vengo a 日本 a practicar, sólo vengo a verlo a ud 先生, ver sus ojos, sentir su inmenso amor, y saber que está bien. Sólo ud 先生 es mi faro. Y no es por que no pueda seguir aprendiendo, de todos puedo y debo aprender. Pero estoy aquí por lo más importante, usted querido Maestro. Agradezco a mis Hermanos y amigos, y les dejo un pedido, cuiden a 先生 por favor. Makoto de Gozaimasu.
3 “Neko ni koban” also means “great waste.” Daniel Hernandez left Japan with a nice post on Facebook.

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Are You A Mindless Cyborg?


IMG_20111125_073713-1

Body and mind are one. If you only develop the body and let the soul out, your taijutsu will be artificial. It will look good but miss the flavour. And it will never be alive and natural.

All martial arts in Japan, follow a three-step pattern called Shingitai. (1) Created by Sumo, the Shingitai is now used by all martial arts. Shin is the spirit/mind; Gi is the technique; (2) and Tai the body. But “Shin” is what makes it vital to your progression. Without “Shin”, your taijutsu is only Gitai, robotic. (3) If you don’t improve your general understanding of the art, you will move like Robocop and become a Cyborg!

shingitai

To understand this, we have to reverse the order of the terms. Shingitai is, in fact, “Tai Gi Shin,” as it is the natural order of our evolution.

And this is how to understand it:

  • Tai: Since the 19th century and the Meiji restoration it refers to the physical body. This is the first level of development for any budōka. It is purely mechanical. During this phase of your learning experience, you do the basics in a “1-2-3” sequence. It develops a basic flow in your movements.
  • Gi: This also reads as “Waza”. (2) This is not only the technique but carries the meaning of skill. This is the second level of the development of a Budōka. At this stage, you learn the correct form. You can reach this level only if you master the basics, not before. This is a rather formal phase where you must be as close as possible to the form taught in the dōjō. Precision in the techniques is required from the practitioner. It is not the time to create your own flavour.

  • Shin: This is the heart or the spirit. The Japanese do not differentiate the two meanings. It is the last level of development that you get after many years of training. If Shin is the last part of the path, it is also the longest. Many Bujinkan practitioners will never get to this level. To go there, you need to commit more to the art. Actually, I don’t know many who succeeded. Many are good at mastering the forms, very few can learn the essence.

When you have a free “Tai” thanks to good basics, you can enter the world of techniques. As we said earlier, the Gi is the second level of your training. See the “Taigishin” as three steps that you have to walk up in the proper order. The low level of many teachers comes from this lack of understanding. I get it, Waza can be more attractive, but if your body is not ready to play, the results will not meet your expectations. As always, going too fast is not the best way to train. Some things need time, and you cannot compress time.

But one thing you must never forget is that each technique is there for a reason. Because what you see is not the technique, it is only the “Omote”, the outside of it.  In a Densho there is always a line after the description of the Waza saying “there is a Kuden”. (4) (5)

The Kuden is the essence of the technique, and it is often transmitted in a class by the teacher. Without the Kuden, the form is a set of mechanical movements. There is nothing “magic” in a Kuden. It is the key to help you unfold the power of the technique. Within a given Waza, there might be more than one Kuden. And that is why it is so important to train slowly. Slow speed will help you extract the essence from each sequence of movements. When your professor performs a technique that you try to replicate, you often fail to succeed. Because you only do what you saw, but did not grasp every aspect of it, the essence is missing. It is like copying the Mona Lisa, one square centimeter after the other. In the end, your painting will “resemble” the original, but the essence will be missing. Copying a masterpiece will not make you capable of making a painting of your own. When you copy, you are not a painter. It is the same in Budō.

Teachers have a responsibility to teach their students to learn how to paint; hold the brushes, mix the colours, and structure a painting. But a teacher will never paint for you! This is why the Kuden is essential to teach things that are not visible to your naked eye. If you want to improve your Waza, stop seeing them as a checklist. Do them many times, until the outcome is like the essence and the form the teacher demonstrated. I insist: A Waza is not a checklist, it is a result. Create conditions to achieve the same result.

During one of my stays in Japan, a Japanese Shihan used a beautiful metaphor to help us understand. He said that each Waza is a canal with different angles. When you learn the sequence, you only have to stay in the middle of the channel, equidistant from the banks. This is the 1-2-3 pattern. Once you know it, you can go downstream, and “cut” the angles to gain speed and efficiency. You repeat it until you can do it right.

channelThe three phases are:

  • Phase #1: You learn the steps (TAI) in a “1-2-3” form. At this level, it is not essential to understand the Waza.
  • Phase #2: You understand the waza (GI), and you begin to cut the angles. The movement starts to flow, you gain speed.
  • Phase #3: You are efficient (SHIN), you have developed your movement, that is the one suiting your body. And you can do it your own way.

Shingitai is one of the secrets of Budō. If you don’t train the “Shin,” in each training, you will move like a Gitai, a robot. So, are you willing to stay at the Gitai level, or do you prefer to become a Shingitai practitioner?

Hint: Sensei said that “Budō is made in human,” it means that we are not Cyborgs!

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1 Shingitai
2 技, Gi or Waza: No difference! “技” is pronounced either “Gi” or “Waza.” As always you have the Japanese pronunciation, and the Chinese one.
3 義体, Gitai; Cyborg, artificial body
4 伝書, Densho: book or scroll that has been handed down through generations; book of secrets
5 口伝, Kuden: oral instruction​, passing information by word-of-mouth. It is also sometimes used as “experience”. The one you develop by making mistakes and correcting them.

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Are You A Failure?


Are you used to fail? I hope for you. This is good and the best way to improve your skills. When you learned to ride a bike, it was not easy, but you got it. It was the same when you learned how to swim. I am sure that today when you ride a bike or swim you don’t think about the “how to do it?”, you do it without thinking. Failure is the best teacher you can find. It teaches you more than success.

Edison said it took him 1,000 tries to make the light bulb working without exploding. A journalist told him that he failed one thousand times. He answered, “I have not failed 1,000 times—I’ve successfully found 1,000 ways that will not work.” When you learn Budō, this is the kind of attitude you should have.

In the west, our society forbids us to fail. This comes from our catholic education, our philosophy of life and our culture. But in the East, they regard failure differently. They consider it a chance to do better.

Failure in Japanese is Shippai. (1) It is made of two Kanji, the first one is “error” and the second one is “failure.” We fail because we make an error, and we make an error because we are not good enough yet. This is the learning process. Whatever you learn, it will take you a lot of time before you can master it. You need a mentor to guide you in this learning process. That is where the sensei enters.

In Japan, a series of three concepts: Taihen, Kuden, and Shinden explains transmission. In each word, the last kanji is “Hen” (or Den) which means “transmission” or “change”. (2)

  • Taihen (大伝) is the body. This is the physical transmission learnt through repetition. (3)
  • Kuden (口伝) is the knowledge acquired with experience (doing, learning, studying). (4)
  • Shinden (神伝) is the ingrained knowledge (as if transmitted by the gods). (5)

 

taihen kuden shinden drawing (2)

The Human learning process always follows the same three-step process.

First, you learn the physical movement step by step. Speed and strength are not critical at this level of learning. Second, you fail until you learn how to do it well. This is also at this level that you are speeding up your moves. And third, you integrate the experience and stop thinking on how to do the movement. But the learning process doesn’t stop here, it continues. After you reached the first Shinden, begins another Taihen. Another Kuden follows, then another Shinden. This is a continuous process because perfection is never possible. You can always learn and improve your skills a bit more. Do not stop at what you know. Push the boundaries of your knowledge so that every day you can better your skills.

I see the Taihen, Kuden, Shinden process as a spring. Each full circle leads to the next coil, and it is going upward. You make progress by repeating the same things over and over. And you do that until you reach a new level, where you learn new things again. This is a continuous process.

TKStime (2)

That is why it is vital not to give up. Excellence takes time and is based upon multiple failures. You have to learn to fail better. Senō sensei said that when you learn a Kata, you make many errors. After many repetitions errors become smaller. And one day, you have it, but there is still room for improvement.

Hatsumi sensei has a beautiful sentence to explain it: “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter! Try again. Fail again. Fail better! (6)

So, are you ready to be a better failure?

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1 失敗, Shippai; Failure
2 伝, hen; To transmit. Connections; influence. Change
3 大伝, Taihen; Teaching through the body
4 口伝, Kuden; oral instruction​. Passing information by word-of-mouth​. Oral tradition
5 神伝, Shinden; Teachings conveyed by the gods
6 From the book “Understand? Good. Play.” by Benjamin Cole

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Is Sensei A Black Hole?


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I was reading an article about the discovery of a new black hole that wasn’t respecting conventional physics. And I found some similarities with Sensei’s Budō. Like a star, Hatsumi Sensei has accumulated a lot of mass/knowledge over the years. That is why his Taijutsu is far beyond our understanding.

What is a black hole? “Black holes are volumes of space where gravity is extreme enough to prevent the escape of even the fastest moving particles. Not even light can break free, hence the name ‘black’ hole. (…) With so much mass in a confined volume, the collective force of gravity overcomes the rule that usually keeps the building blocks of atoms from occupying the same space. All this density creates a black hole.” (1)

Like a black hole, Sōke has accumulated so much, that the “building blocks” of Taijutsu become formless. And they merge into something different that we cannot comprehend.

About this newly discovered black hole, the article says that such an object should not exist. “One possibility, however, could be a fallback supernova, in which material ejected from the dying star falls immediately back into it, resulting in the direct formation of a black hole. (2) Isn’t it what we witness when training with Sensei at honbu? His no-power Taijutsu should not exist either. It goes against everything believed to be “martial arts.” We see what he does, but we don’t get how to reproduce it. I have been training with him for over thirty years now. If I can see what he is doing, there is no way I can naturally do it myself.

When you watch him, his movements don’t seem very hard or complicated. But no one, and I include the Japanese Dai Shihan, can do what he does. His Taijutsu, like a black hole, has surpassed the level of normal biomechanics. His movements are so polished that even if you can see them, you are unable to do them the way he does. There is no strength, no power, yet it is only strength and power!

These days Sensei only speaks about control. Full control of the opponent is only possible once you have surpassed the form. You don’t have to think about what to do, you are the movement. No intent, only natural response to the stimuli created by Uke.

After we collected every forms possible, I hope we can destroy them and reach his level to become a black hole too.

Hatsumi Sensei turned up 88 years old this December. “8” when horizontal means “infinite, so I guess that now he is like a “double infinite, no wonder we can’t copy what he does.”
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1 https://www.sciencealert.com/an-impossible-black-hole-has-been-found-in-the-milky-way-galaxy
2 https://www.sciencealert.com/black-holes

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