Are you a true shidôshi?

Sunday – Honbu dôjô – April 4th

Each Japan trip, the first class with sensei is always some kind of event and this Sunday was not different. He began by a long speech about chivalry playing with the meanings of kan – kanroku (dignity, presence) and kanpeki (perfection) which I found interesting after what we said about perfection in the last post.

Even if the “path of perfection is as important as the path of failure” (HS – March) our attitude has to be the one of a knight (kishi) focusing on his goals even at the risk of his own life.

Yesterday, sensei reminded us that Japanese words always have several interpretations, so we might see here a link with the “ku-kishi(n)” and become a knight without intention. As he said, “tori has to become transcendent, clear because this is the way of rokkon shôjô. (…) We should be able to have the creativity of a music composer and do techniques sometimes with a touch of humor, with a smile” (HS – March). But the technical aspect of our actions is not important, what matters is the result in becoming a true knight, a true human being.

To develop this chivalry (kishidô) attitude is a long process and many practitioners are not close to achieve it, but it goes here as well as with everything, perfection takes time and a lot of work. You can move the needles of your watch forward (technique) but this will not change the time passing (feeling). Kanpeki (perfection) is a long process requiring patience and commitment.

In India it is said that an elephant knows the time of his death. Death is the inevitable end of life and we must be aware that it is coming at one point. As sensei said yesterday we have to understand that what we learn in the dôjô is the link between life and death. A real knight should not be afraid of death as it is the logical end of the path. In March he said that: “”If you can smile in the face of your enemy you are a real master – if your enemy dies with a smile in his face – thats rokkon shôjô“.

Even though it sounds a little serious, we have to keep this ability to laugh in any situation and face the consequences of our actions without having any second thought. I often tell my students to be “face value” and responsible of their actions. Whatever we do in life is interfering with others and we should act properly. What we are learning through budô is a way of Life not a set of techniques. The techniques are the excuse to help find the solution to the questions we have. By training death techniques we learn how to become more human and to be alive. Every action bears some kind of knowledge and even if our experiences are not nice to live we have to learn from them this is the true meaning of “shikin haramitsu daikomyô”. Through permanent training in the form we discover that whatever we experience is positive at some point.

This is always a win win situation.

By understanding the values of chivalry, by becoming a knight we accept death and laugh at it like a real master. This is what the Bujinkan is all about.

By the way, did you notice that kishidô includes shidô, “samurai code” or “chivalry”? One of the meanings of shi being death therefore a shidôshi can be seen as a human who died to himself to become a perfect knight, i.e. a bujin, a military spirit connected to his environment.

So are you a true shidôshi?

Efficiency, beauty and elegance

Narita 4:15pm April 3rd

This is Saturday in the middle of the day. The custom process was so long that I miss the bus to Kashiwa therefore I have to wait two hours. This 41st flight to Japan went fast, I slept.

While queuing I was watching the efficiency of the Japanese officials at the immigration compared to the ones in Paris. After more than twenty years visiting Japan to train with sensei, I am always amazed at their working attitude. Back in 1980, I remember watching a man sweeping the street and staring at him for a long time. He was acting as if the whole economy of the country depended upon the quality of his work.

Efficiency here in Japan is not only a word it is a philosophy. This is the same when it comes to training in these ancient waza regrouped in the nine schools of the Bujinkan.

What is efficiency all about? It is about surviving, about staying alive. In a highly competitive society or in a fight the rules are the same. One has to do what is necessary not to be destroyed. Too often, the westerners are looking for something looking good, or exotic. Fighting or living is not about beauty it is about keeping your life.  And if you can reach the beauty in your actions this is on top.

It is like the sword. We have heard many teachers for years saying that you should not damage your sword when fighting and always block with the mune. Even if it is always better to do that in order to keep your weapon in good shape, the real question is: “do you prefer to save your blade or your life?” In the classical 47 ronin depicting the values of samurai, the author explains at the end during the final battle in Kira’s household that the hero whose name I don’t remember right now was fighting so much during that day that his sword resembled a saw at the end as the ha was totally damaged! I guess that he decided to protect his life rather than protecting his blade.

In my opinion this worshipping of the sword is quite modern and must have taken place when Japan was already pacified and under the strict tokugawa dictature (1603-1862). But in the old days, the ones of the Tachi, only efficiency on the battle field mattered. The image of the invincible samurai spread by the Japanese government during world war II to gather the national feeling and relayed extensively by westerners having no understanding of the Japanese culture is the reason for this mistake.

The Bujinkan is about training in the ways of the muromachi era where those modern values didn’t replace yet the true value based on the individual. So do not be so concerned about looking good. As sensei said it recently, “the path of success is important and the path of failure is as important too”.

In 2004, we entered the world of Yûgen no sekai or the world/dimension of elegance. The whole idea was to counter the attack before uke actually launched it. In short, we are blocking the decision before the attack comes. Funnily the Japanese language considers this ability as being elegant. The least we can say here is that this yûgen/elegance is pure efficiency and pure beauty.

Now if we look at it from a different perspective, we understand that beauty and elegance exist already when they are not manifested, not visible yet (we move before the attack). From that we can draw the conclusion that beauty is not physical, but that it is a truth transcending our vision of the reality perceived by our senses. Maybe this is why sensei introduced shiki, the sixth sense the year after during the kasumi no hô year.

Shiki is total awareness and this is what brings efficiency in everything we accomplish. When shiki is within your actions, then mushin can be attained.

The importance of Basics

I was speaking the other day with a young teacher, student of mine and I was happy to hear that “kamae and ukemi” were the key to understand the whole Bujinkan taijutsu“.

For this teacher, this was like a revelation! Sometimes in our lives we find a book that opens up a total new perspective of life. This comment to me is of the same quality. After training for many years and thinking that you know your basics,  you become suddenlyaware of a different quality in your basics. As Durckheim wrote one day: “the quality of the depth depends upon the depth of the quality”.

By repeating and teaching those basics (here kamae and ukemi), one day you cross an invisible border deepening your understanding of the whole picture.

The foundations of taijutsu lie in the permanent polishing of your basics this is why they are so important. Whatever your rank, training and teaching those basics is the key to generate new freedom in your own movements and reach this natural movement that sensei refers to.

Each class, whether you are a beginner or not (this includes also the high ranks) should “generate” this new depth in your understanding.

I always push my students to open their own dôjô to give them a chance to get to this “enlightenment” more rapidly.

One day I remember sensei telling me: “arnaud you have to teach what you have to teach, and you have to train what you have to train”. It took me along time to understand this Bujinkan koan. Today my feeling is that through the teaching of your students, you are actually teaching yourself more intensely that if you were attending a class. The teaching process forces you to find solutions to problems you never suspected before because each one follows different mental patterns. 

To use a metaphore, I would say that you understand the plate in which you are serving the food. The student is mainly interested in learning as many techniques as possible, and as a teacher you supply them endlessly. At one point though, you begin to consider the plate itself (the support) without which the food could not be served. This plate, this support in the Bujinkan are your basics;

Remember that a teacher is only an old student, even if too often high ranks tend to forget it. When in Japan, my mindset is the one of a true student and I make the same mistakes as everyone during sensei‘s and the shihan classes. But this is how we get a chance to evolve, and we have to create this chance as often as possible. Now what gives us access to this are the strong basics we keep training and teaching in the dôjô.

Natural movement cannot be attained without a permanent study of the basics. And these basics well understood will, one day, unveil a new reality. In a way this is exactly the process detailed in the shu ha ri (see previous posts).

So, next time you come to teach or to train in your dôjô and once the class is over, please ask yourself:

“what did I generate today?”

Duality and connection

Tachi kumiuchi is not about cutting, crushing or even hitting; it is about finding the openings in uke’s body in the midst of an ever changing encounter. These openings get visible only if you are connected to: space, time, and the opponent at all time. As always “simple is difficult” and to find, to keep, and to use the connection efficiently is very hard.

We have to find the connection to the situation to move in harmony with it. We have to be a small boat floating on  the sea and following the rhythm of the waves, no intention, no destruction. 

It is the same with budô, we have to go with the nagare (flow). En no kirinai is the key to understand that and keep the connection with our environment (human or not) and solve the problem. But we often think too much and this permanent thinking hinders the results of our understanding. Too often we want to find a technical solution to  the fight (to life?) by over-analyzing, over-reasoning and over-thinking everything.

 “Enlightenment cannot be found through the senses” said Sensei once. And becoming natural is to go beyond our senses in a realm of possibility not limited by our vision/understanding/perception of reality but by getting access to a dimension where mere reasoning is not working. This is the “zero state” or “natural state” taught by Sensei during many years. This is now our goal, our objective.

The moment you understand that the natural connection between everything goes through your body (and not only the brain), you reach the mushin state and you become aware of the implicate world underlying the explicate world that we sense.

Sensei said recently that “kan” in bufu ikkan meant “going through” and this is exactly this connection between the visible and the invisible realities that we can link here. We become able to see through the illusions of the visible reality to have a glimpse of “Reality” to find the openings to off balance uke and be happy!

Do you understand the Bujinkan?

I am always astonished to discover the misconceptions carried out by so many all over the world. 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! 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…

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)

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…

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

%d bloggers like this: