Are You A Mindless Cyborg?


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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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Think With Your Feet!


IMG_20181203_144937-ANIMATIONIn the Bujinkan, everything comes down to the quality of your footwork. As Hatsumi Sensei puts it, “move with your feet, the hands will follow.”

Since we are babies, our hands are the first tool we use to discover the world, not the legs. As a consequence, our feet are under-trained, but Bujinkan training modifies that. The Bujinkan way of moving and walking in particular.

Throws and immobilizations define Jūdō. Armlocks and circles represent Aikidō.  And Karate is about Kicks and punches. In the same way, our footwork defines the Bujinkan way of fighting.

But the term “footwork” is more diverse than you think. A translation is often accepted for what we believe it means, and not for the rich diversity of the language. In Japanese, there are many meanings for footwork. And they show different aspects of the same reality.

In Japanese, “footwork” is either Ashi Waza, (1) or Ashi Sabaki, (2) or even Ashi Hakobi. (3) And each one shows a different understanding in action. In his book “word and object,” Quine defines what he calls “conceptual schemes.” Words convey different interpretations that are often lost between languages. When translated into another language, some unsaid cultural aspects are lost in the process.

Each one of the three expressions for footwork bears a different meaning:

  • Ashi Waza refers to a leg technique. It is purely mechanical.
  • Ashi Sabaki insists more on how to “deal with” a situation, by using your legs. In a way, you “sort the problem” by using a leg technique. We can say that Ashi Sabaki uses Ashi Waza. (5)
  • Ashi Hakobi is more about how you move your legs to take advantage of the attacker. Whether you are applying a leg technique or not. It also implies controlling your balance by keeping a low center of gravity. (6)

As you can see, the three concepts of “footwork,” contain more than what the translated term implied. Furthermore, the “move your feet” does not cover the reality of the movements you have to perform. In fact, we should say, “move your body.” Because when the body moves, the legs are moving too. But we don’t say it only because students would not get it. They would then move only the upper limbs instead of the legs. Humans are like that. Try to explain footwork by saying, “move your body” to a group of fresh beginners, and you will see what I mean.

When Sensei speaks about moving the feet, you have to understand what he means. The way I see it is, “move your body and your legs altogether so that your hips always stay above your moving leg.” (7)

After many years of teaching, I understand that to learn a Waza, you should first get the correct “footwork.” The rest comes naturally, and “your hands will follow.” Change the way you move your body with the legs and see how better you are performing the techniques. The improvement will amaze you. You can test it in your dōjō with a simple exercise. From Shizen no Kamae, “fall” into Ichimonji no Kamae. (8) You do it by pulling your hips backward (9) and keeping them above your leg. Don’t step back, but fall backward with the whole body. It is harder than you think, but it is the Bujinkan way.

Next class, try this, and begin to think with your feet!

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1 足技 Ashi Waza: (judo) foot technique; footwork
2 足さばき, Ashi Sabaki: footwork (in martial arts, sports, etc.)
3 足運び, Ashi Hakobi: gait; manner of walking; footwork (e.g., in sports)​. Characteristic way of moving, keeping the center of gravity low (center)
4 “Word and Object” by Willard Quine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_and_Object
5 捌く, Sabaku: to handle well; to handle deftly​; to deal with; to manage; to settle; to sort; to process
6 運, Un: fortune; luck; progress, advance
7 The “moving leg” is the one doing the step. It is the front leg if you move forward. And the back leg, if you move backward.
8 In Japan, they tell you to “fall” into the Kamae. Not to “step back.” Here too, words are essential. They give you a hint on how to do it the correct way.
9 As if someone was pulling you from behind at hip level.

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Waza Are For Kids!


comica1566669916317Today many practitioners are more interested in collecting Waza than understanding their purpose. Not so many try to find out the aim of a Waza.

Maybe they get Sensei wrong. “Play!” doesn’t mean to remain all your life at kid level. You have to grow up! And the first step is to understand what a Waza really is.

A Waza is a “series of simple movement” designed to give good basics to practitioners. During feudal Japan, wars were permanent. Each technique was created on the battlefield, with a Yoroi on. When they worked, they could be transmitted. When they didn’t, well, the Samurai would die, and so wouldn’t share it. That is how our Ryūha came into existence. Only what was working was kept. No second chance. Call it natural selection if you will.

But to teach these techniques to the young Samurai (aged 6 to 14), you have to make them simple. They have to be simple because kids can’t memorize anything too complicated. And also, they had to teach the necessary habits that will make sense, when fighting with a Yoroi. So they changed the way to do them and kept only the essence. That is why, sometimes, they don’t make sense until you put the armor.

But knowing the Waza is not an end. It is only the beginning. Don’t take my words for it, listen to Hatsumi Sensei. He said, “learning a technique is not an end in itself; it merely indicates where you need to start.” And this is why collecting techniques is going nowhere. Don’t get me wrong. You need to learn the Waza to be able to adapt them unknowingly in the “fog of war.” (1)

In battle, your senses are more powerful, and your body reacts without thinking. It is once you have acquired your basics that you can adjust a Waza to the situation. There is no planning. You respond to your best, that’s all.

In a fight, your heart is beating fast, adrenaline rushes through your system, and your throat is dry. You focus more and create a “tunnel effect,” and you get the feeling that everything happens in slow motion. If you want to know more about this, read “the gift of fear,” by Gavin de Becker, it will teach you many things. (2)

A technique, as Sensei explains, is not an end, it is a start. When you reproduce a Waza from a book, you are copying a “dead” result. And that is not the way to achieve the expected result. I have explained this a few times already here. A Waza is what would happen if every basic movement was correct. But many teachers only copy the text, and consider it as some sort of checklist! The form is not the spirit. This is wrong in many aspects. If you dissect the technique to make it look like the result, you get nowhere. It is like dissecting a frog, hoping that it would resuscitate when putting it back together!

We train Waza to teach our body and our mind the possibilities of action, not to replicate them in a fight. It is only after that you destroy the form. And bring the essence out. Then use these essences extracted from the Waza to make your own survival tools.

“Waza is not an end; it is merely a start.”

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1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fog_of_war

2 https://www.amazon.com/Gift-Fear-Survival-Signals-Violence/dp/0440226198

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Tabi Tabi


IMG_20181203_165003Training is not limited to dōjō hours, homework is necessary. Once you have repeated many times the same moves, your Taijutsu gets better. To train your Kihon or your Waza has a name in Japanese: it is Tabi Tabi. (1)

Did you notice that drawings of Japanese fighters show them with the body bent forward? That is because when you fight outside, you have to get your body weight pushing down on the first half of your feet. This gives you a good Kinkō, a correct balance. (2) Today we mainly train in a dōjō, but when they created the techniques, every fight was on the battlefield.

Outside, the terrain is not flat, nor horizontal, and can be slippery. Thus balance should be your primary focus. You fall, you die! When you keep your body weight forward, you have a better chance to stay up on your feet. This is the Kuden (3) of Shizen no Kamae. (4) When you assume Shizen no Kamae, put your body pushing down on the toes and not on the heels. Sensei said, “You must always be on your toes (and) yet be relaxed.” It means that your weight is always forward, in Kamae, and during the whole fight.

Now, the difficulty is to relax every part of the legs. If you try to put your weight forward, you will feel muscular tensions at various levels. At your calves, your thighs, and your hips. You will have to train a lot to get rid of them. To get the good Kamae, you must practice over and over again. This is “Tabi Tabi”.

The reason why Hatsumi Sensei says that you have “…yet to be relaxed” is then logical. Shizen, to me, is the hardest Kamae of all. Anatomy is also a good teacher. Look, for example, at the back leg of a horse. The joint at mid-level is nothing more than the calcaneus, the heel. And it never touches the ground when the horse walks! (5) And if you are training with Shika Tabi, be aware there is no support for the arch of your feet. So, I urge you to use your body weight forward, because if you don’t, you will get tendonitis. It happened to me back in the 80s. All Bujinkan techniques are coming from the Yoroi and the battlefield. The Japanese developed this way to stand and walk to keep the body safe in battle.

The Waraji, (6) and then the Zōri, (7) are also designed to help this. The soles of both sandals are only protecting the foot, not the toes. When I bought my first pair of Waraji, I told the shopkeeper they were too short. After he explained it to me, the young Gaijin understood that it was not the case. I was wrong (again). As your toes often touch the ground, it means your Tabi would not survive very long if you use them outside of the house. (8)

The Waraji supports only your sole. Your toes being on the ground, the body leans forward. This is a natural process. You can experience it by adding some heel support inside them, and you will see how it benefits your Taijutsu. You have to find ways to improve your skills, having à better footwork is one of them. Actually, what makes Bujinkan so unique compared to other martial arts is footwork. Never forget that everything we do comes from actual battlefield experience. Our Waza survived many wars. They survived and transmitted them to the next generation until today. Nothing we do happen by chance. It is the result of a long period of trial and error. Between the 12th and the 17th century, in Japan, errors often meant death. If we train these techniques today, it is because they were efficient in a real fight.

Back to Sensei and his “You must always be on your toes, (and) yet be relaxed.” Understand that being Kutsurogu, relaxed (9), is a demand of the Yoroi. The armor is excellent protection if you stay relaxed inside. If you are tensed, the many blows you receive go through your flesh and bones. I want to repeat myself here, “everything we do comes from real battle experience.” So, please don’t try to “reinvent the wheel” in your dōjō. Please do not add things exotic to the Sensei’s Bujinkan. (10) Follow the guidelines transmitted for centuries by generations of instructors. After all, this is what transmission means.

As I often tell students in seminars, and in my dōjō, “there is a reason.” If you don’t know it, search for it. Ask your teachers or, when in Japan, ask Sensei.
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1 度々, tabi tabi; often; again and again; over and over again; repeatedly; frequently​
2 均衡, Kinkō; equilibrium; balance
3 口伝, Kuden; oral instruction​, passing information by word-of-mouth​, oral tradition
4 自然, Shizen; natural; spontaneous
5 Horse anatomy https://mobility-health.com/pages/horse-anatomy
6 草鞋, Waraji; straw sandals. https://zenike.com/products/waraji-straw-sandals-tabi-socks-set-zen-outfit-accessory-well-craft-all-sizes
7 草履, Zōri; traditional Japanese thronged sandals
8 足袋, Tabi; Japanese socks (with split toe)
9 寛ぐ, Kutsurogu; to relax; to feel at home
10 If you want to mix different bits and pieces of other martial arts, it is fine with me. If it makes you and your students happy, fine. But then, don’t call yourself a Bujinkan dōjō.

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It Is Your Fault!


IMG_20160403_130549 (1)It is your fault if you cannot do the movements correctly. I found a quote by Sensei saying, “Humans have yet to dwell upon the consequences of their actions. Most people spend their time finding fault in the action of others rather than their own.” This is Sekininkan, the sense of responsibility. (1)

On the mats, there is no way to escape your Sekininkan. When Uke’s fist hits your face, you cannot blame him for your lack of ability. And this is why I love Budō! In Budō, whatever wrong is happening to you is your fault. You have to accept it. With a sense of responsibility, you are Sekininwomotsu, responsible for your actions. Whether they are good or bad. (2)

Too often in our modern world, we don’t take responsibility for the wrong things we did. As Sensei said, “we find fault in the action of others.” When you get hit, it is always because Uke did not attack in the right way. When you cannot throw, it is because your partner is too stiff or too soft. The responsibility for your actions is one of the many lessons you learn when you train Budō.

It is your fault if you are not as good as you would like. You cannot download “excellence”! Your rank will not give you magic enlightenment! If your Taijutsu is not the best, it is your fault, by lack of training.

I saw a facebook video by my friend Cavin Pietzsch published two days ago. (3) He explains how necessary to train solo to get better. Here are some excerpts from his post:

 “In martial arts, it is vital to train on your own because dōjō time is never enough to shape up the details.”

 That is so true. I had the chance to open a few dōjō for my teacher, back at the end of the 80s. At first, no one would show up, so I had many hours of lonely training where I could polish my Taijutsu and make it better. I am sure that the level I have today comes from these self-training hours I spent back then. Nothing resists to hard work. Hatsumi Sensei used to say that “the dōjō is 6 to 10 hours a week; life is 24 hours a day! train more.”

“Training alone to improve your basics and work on your weaknesses is getting you out of your comfort zone.

When you are alone, your choice of moves is quite limited. You do not have to interact with other humans. Thus, every essential step becomes a school of excellence. It impacts the quality of your body flows profoundly. Many people complain they cannot train because they have no one to train with. That is a lie. And another example of not taking responsibility.

During your life, the only success comes if you evolve, change, leave your comfort zone, and recreate yourself endlessly. Life is about blooming, it is not about getting stuck. It is always your fault if you feel you are stagnating. Life is about permanent change, and that is why you should adapt to the flow. Each time you stop, you move backward as things are continuing their course forward.

So, please stop blaming others for your lack of competence. Face your weaknesses and become the best of yourself.

As Cavin puts it: “(when) you change, (you) understand one of the basic principles of Bujinkan: Banpen Fugyō.” (4) (5)

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1 責任感, Sekininkan; the sense of responsibility
2 責任を持つ, Sekininwomotsu; to be responsible for; to bear the responsibility of
3Watch here:  
https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10221492599090686&id=1422468549
4 万変不驚, Banpen Fugyō; 10 000 changes, no surprise.
5 Banpen Fugyō: read this interesting article:
https://classicalmartialartsresearch.wordpress.com/phraseology/banpen-fugyo-%E4%B8%87%E5%A4%89%E4%B8%8D%E9%A9%9A/

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Yokusei Jutsu: The Art Of Controlling


fb_img_1574274943555My friend Philip Pihl wrote from Japan yesterday after class. Hatsumi Sensei expressed his mastery of Mutō Dori using the body, the sword, and the knife. Mutō Dori is still the major training point to learn and understand how to express it with our Taijutsu. We entered the realm of Mutō Dori two years ago in Japan. It looked like the next logical step in our progression on the path of Budō.

During this period, I attended many classes at the honbu. Each time I am puzzled by the simple complexity of Sensei’s movements. It was like he wasn’t there. The Uke seems to be fighting alone. Their attacks were the reason for their defeat. Back in 2017, Sōke introduced a more advanced version of Mutō Dori. Until then, we knew it as being the ability to fight weapons when unarmed. Sensei used two concepts to help us. They should make us able to put into motion, the type of movements Hatsumi is showing.

The first concept is Yokeru Janai (1), or “don’t avoid the attack.” And the second one is Tatakai Janai (2), or “don’t fight.” But it is easier said than done! And I’m still not sure if I can do it today, and there is a reason for that. These concepts are not logical with usual training (except if you are a bodyguard).

In a fight, you want to fight back, while avoiding the attacks of your opponent. Our Budō training has been training us like that for years. When an attack comes, we dodge the fist or the weapon and block it in some way. Then we counter-attack in the openings. With Mutō Dori, we have to do the opposite, that is why it is difficult.

Philip quoting Sensei, wrote: “do not evade. It is easy to kill and destroy, but control is more difficult.” We have been playing with the idea of “control” since last November, but somehow, it makes more sense today. This sentence gives a “way in.” We do not “evade the attack,” but we control the attacker before the attack arrives. I understand it as another manifestation of Yūgen no Sekai. (3)

We move in this invisible, and non manifested moment when Uke takes the decision to attack. During a millisecond, we can control the opponent only if we don’t try to avoid the Tsuki, and do not fight back.

Through my training with Sensei over the past 35 years, I see how he made us walk the path. First, as “ninja kids” with ninjutsu. Then to Budō with Budō Taijutsu. Then with Juppō Sesshō and Ninpō Taijutsu. And now with a smarter version of Mutō Dori.

I like to call it “Yokusei Jutsu” (4), or the technique of controlling Uke body and mind. The goal of the Bujinkan is not war but peace. If our actions can create a state of peace around us. If our presence and our attitude can prevent bad things from happening. Then I guess we have been training correctly.

“We don’t kill or destroy” the enemy; we simply control his actions. We are not warmongers, we are peacekeepers.

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1 避けるじゃ無い, Yokeru Janai; Don’t avoid the attack
2 戦いじゃ無い Tatakai Janai; don’t fight; don’t get into a conflict
3 幽玄の世界, Yūgen no Sekai. Yūgen is subtle grace, hidden beauty; mysterious profundity; elegant simplicity. Sekai is: the world, the universe, dimension
4 抑制, Yokusei; control; restraint; suppression; constraint; curtailment; inhibition; check; curb

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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)
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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!

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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#