Do you understand the Bujinkan?


1993 vs 1996?
Keep the connection

Do you really understand what the Bujinkan is?

When I give seminars, I am always astonished to discover the misconceptions carried out by so many teachers and students all over  the world. As I said once during a seminar: “no one is forcing you to claim to be “Bujinkan”, if you want to do your own stuff then do it but do not call it Bujinkan!”.

So it was a real pleasure last week-end to meet Manolo Serrano’s group in Belgium and spend some time with him and the Mitrou brothers from Greece. All of them being 14th dan, it was good to share our common vision of the art. On the way back, I thought it would be appropriate in this blog to refresh our memories about what is the Bujinkan really is.

When Hatsumi sensei began to spread his vision on budô and to share it all over the world, there was no plan, no step by step process going on. Hatsumi sensei was only sharing his knowledge to everyone willing to listen. Then in 1983 he published, in Japanese, his first “ten chi jin ryaku no maki” detailing the basics and fundamentals of our art. A revised version of it translated into English reached us in Europe in 1987. Ten years later Hatsumi sensei decided to move on and established a theme and a concept to work with for each year.

In 1993, I was lucky to be already jûdan in the Bujinkan so I had enough basics to follow sensei‘s evolution in his teachings. As many Bujinkan practitioners of today were not students at that time, I want to list here once again those themes that created the art we know now.

After the ten chi jin, we learnt distancing and angling for 5 years:

  • Bô jutsu – 6 feet staff (1993),
  • Yari jutsu – spear (1994),
  • Naginata jutsu – halberd (1995),
  • Biken jutsu – sword  (1996),
  • Jo jutsu – 3 feet staff (1997).

During the Valencia Taikai (1995) and again in Sanmyaku (the Bujinkan newsletter of that time) Hatsumi sensei said that “bô, yari, naginata are the sanshin no kata of long weapons”.

Then we entered the world of budô taijutsu and studied not the schools (as it is often believed) but the 5 pilars of body movement, through five of the 9 schools that was:

  • Taihen jutsu – shinden fudô ryû (1998),
  • Daken taijutsu – kukishinden ryû (1999),
  • Koppô Jutsu – kotô ryû (2000),
  • Kosshi Jutsu – gyokko ryû (2001),
  • Jûtaijutsu – takagi yôshin ryû (2002).

This second cycle of 5 years that can be related in some way to the gogyô allowed us to understand (through training within specific schools) the various way of meeting the opponent and adapting our ways of fighting to the situation.

The third cycle has been even more complex as we entered the world or dimension of juppô sesshô (negociating in ten directions). That was also a 5 years long cycle. Juppô Sesshô is the highest mechanical and technical level in any martial system (ryûha) in Japan and gives the ability to adapt a specific type of fighting to any situation encountered. As for the second cycle (the 5 pilars of budô taijutsu), the important point here had nothing to do with either the weapon we used or the school studied. The juppô sesshô cycle was the following:

  • Sanjigen no sekai – kunai & shotô (2003),
  • Yûgen no sekai – Roppô kuji no bikenkukishin sword (2004),
  • Kasumi no hô – gyokko bô (2005),
  • Shizen – shinden fudô ryû (2006),
  • Kuki taisho – sword and yoroi (2007).

The juppô sesshô has discouraged a lot of practitioner and even today many of the shidôshi really have no clue of what has been studied during these 5 years. Many teachers do not understand the depth of what we have been receiving. How many of them know that the techniques of the kukishin ryû bô jutsu were used to teach the feeling of kasumi from the gyokko ryû? Also the move from “happô” to “juppô”  has to be seen as some kind of a quantum leap in the world of Bujinkan physics.

This juppô sesshô cycle ended the series that we can now see as a kind of ten chi jin. We all know that the ten ryaku deals with footwork (angle, distance); the chi ryaku with the body mechanics (budô taijutsu); and the jin ryaku with a mix of everything (moving from body to spirit).

This 3 steps progression (sanpô) of 5 years (gohô) therefore can, or should, be considered as the true kihon happô of the Bujinkan (3×5=8!).

Then it was time to begin the study of shiki – consciousness- the 6th element that sensei introduced to the community back  in 2005. So we studied things based more on “philosophical” concepts than schools or mechanical movements. That was:

  • Menkyo kaiden – destroy the thinking process (2008),
  • Sainô kon ki or sainô tamashii utsuwa – ability, spirit, container(2009)
  • Rokkon shôjô – happiness is the essence of life (2010).

If Hatsumi sensei follows the 5 year cycle that he, apparently followed until now, we can expect the end of this for 2012. But this is only a guess.

I hope that this little review of the various themes will be helpful to you and that now you can answer the initial question:

Do you understand the Bujinkan?

Be happy!

Do you have a good connection?


en no kirinai
a deep connexion

En no kirinai

has been one of the important teaching of Sensei at Daikomyo sai and ever since then in is classes at the Honbu or in Ayase. Do not severe the connexion so that you can reach a different level in your ability.

As I told my students in December:

“During last daikomyo sai, Sensei asked us to not severe the connexion (en no kirinai) between uke and tori and within their mutual environment. This is only possible when reaching the mushin state of action where kûkan becomes a reality. Like photons and stardust colliding in space, their encounter reveals the intention and allows the body to flow in a natural manner”.

Since then I also understood that this connexion should not be severed within our own self.  The connexion within ourself, our opponent(s), and our environment is vital to our survival. Not only can we react to the ever changing situation but we become able to stop thinking. To quote sensei‘s:

“if I do not know what I’m going to do next how do you want uke to be able to decipher my future movements?”

This thinking and not thinking thing is the key to understand the Shu Ha Ri (see previous articles) as by not thinking you become permeable to the multiple informations received by your 6 senses (the regular 5 + Shiki – consciousness). Failure is created by thinking and analysing wrongly a situation because our attention is mainly focused on a few parameters only instead of encompassing the whole.

This ability will then allow us to reach the  mushin state. As I wrote many years ago:

 If earth does not think; if water  does not think; if fire does not think; if wind does not think;  and if emptiness does not think, then why do YOU think?

I will explain in detail one day this  idea of photons and stardust but for now we only have to understand that photons do not think (as far as we know); that stardust do not think (as far as we know) and that they are totally invisible from an external observer until they collide on one another. The techniques are the same, you do not want to do anything, you react to  a complex set of parameters without analysing (i.e. without thinking).

You are connected, you are one, you are zero.

Tachi or Tachi?


keep your balance!

The key thing with the Tachi kumiuchi is to stay balanced which means not to lose your balance. It means that you have to stay up standing. Being balanced actually means to be equally unbalanced in all directions at the same time.

We all know that the techniques done on the ground are called “suwari waza” and that the standing techniques are called “tachi waza”. And understanding the habit of sensei to play with words maybe one of the key principle for this year is to master our ability (kon) to stand up and not to fall. we have to learn to be toatally, and equally unbalanced.

A closer look at the various meanings can help us here; Roku is “6”, Shô is award, and Jô is emotion. The concept for this year being “rokkon shôjô” through Tachi we can understand the “rokkon shôjô and tachi” concept and theme in a very different manner. Also the number “6” can refer to the four direction plus up and down (some other understanding of Juppô sesshô).
So if we replace all these terms by their different meanings we get:

“rokkon shôjô tachi kumiuchi” = developing the ability to be (un)balanced in all directions (tachi) by developing our emotions (be happy) when meeting with others.

Shu Ha Ri (2)


With the study of Tachi waza, Sensei plays a lot these days with the different meanings of the word “Ri”. As you know the japanese language being monotonic, one sound has always several meanings which gives this language a great variety of possible understanding and/or interpretations.

Depending on how you write it, the word “ri” has the meaning of 1. distance, keeping away or 2. truth, principle.

Understanding this ambivalent signification one can see that going through the sequence of Shu (learning) and Ha (understanding) one will reach the truth or distance himself from it. The truth in your Taijutsu comes only when by learning for a long time you are able to understand the hidden part of the waza.

Therefore, you begin to go away from the form to express the principle of it. One day in Japan one of the Shihan said that the waza is only to channel our understanding in order to develop the natural flow created by our ability to adapt our movements to the situation.

Now if we look at the other meaning of distance or keeping away, it can be understood positively or negatively. We know many teachers getting lost in the world of variation and having at the end no clue about the real (true) forms. As I often say, it is easy to tell the students to forget the form when you do not know it before. Remember, if you want to forget something, you first have to learn it! Those teachers have no Shu, no Ha and will never get close to the Ri. We can also see this “keeping way” or “distancing” as the result of a true Shu Ha Ri progression where your understanding distances itself from the dead form of the waza to bloom into another technical dimension, one that encompasses the connexion with everything around and within you.

To finish on this new approach given by the different meanings of those sounds, we have to be aware that there are other meanings for those three sounds (even for “ri”):

Shu: master, lord; kind, variety, species; actor, supporting post; tumor; hand (Te).

Ha: edge of a sword; leaf (like in happa); tooth (like in hadome); clique, faction, school.

Ri: official; clever; old measure; diarrhea; advantage, benefit, profit, interest; rustic, ill-mannered.

So Shu Ha Ri could also be to become the “clever master [manipulating] the edge of the sword” or in modern term to become a true swordmaster. Interestingly, this year’s theme is “Tachi Kumiuchi” and as Sensei said recently: “the true swordmasters were the Tachi Masters”.

Be happy!

Shu Ha Ri


go beyond the form

Today while training in Tachi waza with a group of students I thought that maybe the whole thing about Shu Ha Ri that Hatsumi Sensei is pushing these days may have always existed but that we were not ready to understand it.

We know that Shu is learning the form, that Ha is absorbing the form and Ri is destroying the form. But we all know also that Sensei used to say: “understand? good. Play.” Now can’t we understand that as “understanding the Shu, becoming good at the Ha level and destroying it by playing with the concept more than the initial form?

I will think a little more around that and come back to you.

be happy!

Be like Seaweed in your training


We must train our basics to be like water; in fact we must become like seaweed. Seaweed under water is attached to the ground. Like some kind of water Tenchijin, we must become seaweed and sway without tension in the stream of life. Stop hugging hard onto things. Let go of your beliefs and mental structures and discover the true freedom of life. The Bujinkan is a tool that is to be used mainly out of the Dojo. 

Hatsumi Sensei explained it once: “training in the Dojo is only a few hours per week, life is 24 hours a day”. 

The more you “keep going”, the more likely you will reach this higher state of freedom you are looking for. 

Here is a poem called “Seaweed”, by D.H.Lawrence explaining it perfectly: 

Seaweed sways and sways and swirls

As if swaying were its form of stillness;

And it flushes against fierce rock

It slips over it as shadows do, without hurting itself