Training, Flowing, Being


Teas break during Nagato's class

The heat and humidity are tiring us Continental Europeans not used to such a tough weather. Eugenio Penna from Sicilia and the Indian group lead by Shiva are fine with it. They are only missing hot spicy food! (not Eugenio though).

The August climate is not my favorite, everybody knows that polar bears (Shiro Kuma) prefer the cool weather, but I always enjoy travelling to Japan for my second trip in summer. The dôjô is nearly empty and the rhythm of things is moving to a slow pace unlike the frenzy of DKMS where the dôjô is packed with over a hundred practitioners or the spring trip in April where I try to understand better the new theme developed by sensei.

This trip also I appreciate the size of the “kuma group”: 6, roku. It goes well with the theme of the year rokkon shôjô as we are 6 souls (i.e. roku + kon = rokkon) living happily (shôjô). I must say that Shiva, Arjun, and Zam have become real buyu and have succeeded in blending within the bujinkan community. The other day sensei was telling us over lunch that he was not the “king” of the bujinkan and that NO ONE was in charge of a country. The bujinkan is a gathering of individuals and does not need any national organization to run it supposedly under his name. He added that we have to consider him more like some kind of spiritual guide giving the direction and the interpretation of things, a little like the pope. Through him we are all connected. That was last year concept of en no kirinai, or do not sever the connection. Yesterday I gave a class right before the one by Nagato sensei and this connection was obvious to all of us attending the two classes. The technical points Nagato sensei and I developed were so linked that some students asked me after his class if we had planned it beforehand as it looked like part 1 and part 2 of the same corpus!

Spain, Italy, France, India, Hungary

During my class on nagare and tachi I insisted on “rounding up” our moves to free ourselves from any preconceived techniques and one hour later he taught us to flow in a hanpa way (half finished movements) and play with the distance by adapting our moves to what uke was coming up with. Shiva opened the class using Darren as uke and therefore was used by Nagato sensei as uke during the whole class. He was quite tired after the session.

At one point Nagato sensei said that we “should not copy” his movements but rather try to get the feeling in order to adapt our actions to the changes of uke. His footwork was the key to put that into practice. Uke was attacking 2, 3 or 4 times like in a kukishin technique, and we adapted the distance to get into uke’s centre and pin him down. To see the simplicity of his body flow is always amazing to me. He is connected to his uke and seems to be able to read his intentions even before uke begins to move in the attack. This ability to connect to the opponent and to the environment can only be achieved through efficient distancing and footwork and is the expression of our humanity. This is a one to one encounter and no organization can recreate this feeling. We are individuals in charge only one life, ours.

I have been in the bujinkan for more than 25 years and I have been witnessing the raise and fall of many organizations where the head teacher would behave like a king. I always tried to keep away of this natural human tendency in my country but unsuccessfully as other teachers are always critical about what is created to develop the bujinkan in the good direction. The bujinkan is not rich of the strength of those superficial organizations but of each shidôshi and of the strength of their commitment and implication. A country is strong because his bujinkan members are good humans with good technical skills.

Shiva promoted by Noguchi to 8th dan

During the Sunday class, Noguchi sensei called me in and promoted Shiva directly to 8th dan for the man he is and the hard training he is going through, not because of some Indian National organization. In the bujinkan this is the human value of the individual that is graded and not his or her technical skills. And because of that we often see high ranks teachers not able to show very high technical skills, but they are good human beings in the eyes of sensei. During lunch the other day he said: “I am not giving ranks for the technical abilities of the people but for the human value of the individual”.

The bujinkan is not a sport martial art and observers (even insiders) should make an effort to accept that. The bujinkan is a way of life originating in the dawn of humanity and t hat has been revived by Takamatsu sensei in the 20th century and is continuously developed by Hatsumi sensei in the 21st century. The bujinkan is a school for the development of the self using old fighting systems to unlock our human abilities. The best illustration being the sakki test (殺気). During the sakki test, the receiver puts to light a natural human ability -sensing danger- that he had since he was born. The polishing of the training is revealing it gradually and the test is the proof that this change has occurred.

The develoment of the sakki (殺気), of the intention, of the attitude (構えkamae), of the feeling (感覚 kankaku); the ability to see through the illusions (勘 六 kanroku), to float freely on the flow of life (流れnagare), and finding happiness (清福 seifûku) are some of the main benefits one can get from his many years of years of training. By interacting with other beings, and other cultures you develop your self in a way unattainable by ordinary people. In my last class people attending where coming from India, Spain, Hungary, Germany, Belgium. This is the true sense of community the bujinkan is creating and this is why no organization should dictate our behavior.

Nagato sensei yesterday insisted that we developed asobi (遊び)  in our training. We have to be playful and happy like kids playing “seriously” the role of some kind of hero. This ability to “play” is at the core of bujinkan training and we should never forget it.

Playfulness and happiness are found in regular training and this is what sôke wants us to study.

Rokkon shôjô!

Ayase Tonight


Ayase Budokan

I am just coming back from the Ayase class (exceptionally on Friday). The first class with sensei after four months of  diet is always a good experience. Before the class I gave him his “official” Yûro Shi Tennô t-shirt made specially for him and he wore it right away. This is our little “post Paris Taikai ritual” that has been going on for a few years now.

As usual he asked me to open the class and we did a nice “flowing” movement receiving an attack in a very soft uke nagashi, moving uke off balance with the footwork, changing hand an ending in a sort of omote gyaku. No grab, no violence, only a nice nagare keeping uke in motion preventing him from attacking twice and taking his balance. On top of that sensei did it better with less movements and a better efficiency. I guess this is why he is the teacher and me the student. Every time I have the chance to demonstrate a technique I am always amazed at his ability to simplify my movements and to make it so good that I cannot reproduce it, even though it was my movement in the first place.  I did three other techniques during the class and  each time sensei was developing more flow by moving less. when you watch him moving you easily forget that he is over 80 years old. He looks like a young man!

His natural movement is really like “magic” as he is able to grab a form and to add life into it. When you are his uke you feel no danger at all and when he controls you on the ground he is hardly touching you, but you still cannot move. In fact this is not that you cannot move, you could but you do not want to move as if his presence manifested by a very slight physical contact was draining any intention of retaliation from your brain. All those who have had the chance to be his uke can tell you that. Power is expressed in such a subtle way that your decision process is blocked. In a way you feel so safe that you are not willing to move anymore.

Today during the class sensei covered many aspects of budô. He  insisted on the importance of understanding the juppô sesshô to be able to fight without fighting and to be in control of the utsuwa (– ki) with our tamashii ( – kon). He didn’t use these terms from last year but this is the easiest way to express it. In one technique that  I did that was ending with yoko nagare, he insisted that we move in a direction opposed to the other possible opponents. That is what I prefer in the bujinkan training. It is not only two fighters but always more than two fighting and our actions should unfold in a natural manner in order to stay protected in any directions potentially dangerous. The movement is limited and by using uke as a shield we are able to protect ourselves using our first opponent against his partner(s). This is to me the real difference between sport martial arts and true budô. In the bujinkan strength is not the point and violence is useless, the whole thing is to develop the correct attitude to help us flowing without thinking in  the action.

The true movement is not a technique it is a response to a situation where no preconceived answer can be applied. Sensei insisted once again in not grabbing the opponent. When you grab uke you are actually showing your intention, grabbing yourself, and freezing your flow. This is why he insisted again in the juppô sesshô concept in the sense of “negotiating” (折衝 – sesshô) in all directions (juppô = 10 directions). On controlling uke he said that we have to control uke not with our strength but with our legs activating the kûkan (空間). The known concept of yubi ippon jubun (one finger is enough) to control uke was used extensively to create the sanken (a series of three hits) followed rapidly in different part of the body and to prevent uke from thinking properly or understanding what is happening. We did also techniques against kicks and used the kake taoshi hitting uke to sai with sokki ken. Once again sensei insisted that we hit with the body not the knee. He used the same explanation when controlling uke on the ground “choke him with kûkan” by using your legs.

Finally he referred to henso jutsu explaining that historically there were 7 ways to disguise yourself (cf. sarugaku, kumuso, yamabushi, hokashi, sukke, tsunegata, akindo). But this was for us to understand that we must adapt the techniques to the type of clothes worn by the opponent. Part of our study of budô should be dedicated to learn how to adapt a given technique to the type of cloth the opponent is wearing.

In conclusion quite a nice class full of tips and tricks to work on in the future weeks.

Tomorrow at lunch I am invited with a few other jûgodan in his second house. I will take a few pictures of Takamatsu sensei’s memorial and of the lunch and share them with you on this blog (hopefully tomorrow). Stay tuned!

Be happy!

Japan 42: The Arrival


crossing the "flow" of a river in India

I arrived this morning in Narita and now after a well deserved shower and a little nap I feel ready for this new trip.

It was strange to arrive in Narita before the shops and restaurants were opened. In 20 years it was the first time I saw those shops closed. Naively I thought that in Japan people were working 24h a day. 🙂

I spoke today with Volker Paternoga who is going back home tomorrow. He got promoted to 15th dan and told me how strange it was to give the Sakki test. The sakki test is nothing “magic” it is a natural human survival reaction put to light by years of training. Actually I see the sakki test as double: the day you take it; and the day you give it. This is to me the exact same experience and feeling. When you lower the sword it is not from your own decision, you lower the blade because it is time to do it.

Everytime the thinking process is involved in our actions we lose the nagare of life and we “force” our nature in an unnatural manner. To the same extent on the mats, the best natural movements appear when there is no preconceived idea on what we are going to do.

Hatsumi sensei’s budô is the school to be moving into the flow of things and take the best out of it whatever is happening. I am really happy to have the opportunity to meet him again and to learn more.

Eugenio from Italy is there and I have to meet him in the lobby. I will keep you informed as much as I can on this blog during my trip.

Be happy!

Nagare: Sanshin to Mushin


As individuals our actions have very little chance to change the way the Universe is running because Nature does not take our human desires into account.  The meteorite that crashed in the Yucatan 65 millions years ago might have been obeying the laws of the Universe, the dinosaurs didn’t agree with it crushing them all!

As we cannot influence what is outside our Body&Mind (B&M) complex/entity, we must recenter our actions for the exclusive benefit of ourselves by flowing and drifting aimlessly within (or on top of) the outside world. The B&M has to learn to achieve “total coordination” in order to develop this natural ability to flow.

The 流れ(flow, nagare) is more than a movement it is above all an attitude in Life, and this is exactly what I have  been learning during the last 26 years with Hatsumi sensei. We train to suppress the thinking and analytical process in our actions. This is the secret of Hatsumi sensei’s budô.

In a real fight if you are (body + mind + intention + analysis) you are dead . Fighting is about reacting without intention 無想 (musô), and not about having a perfect body shape, a fantastic mind, and a lot of intentions!

Our first objective is to find this unity and  instead of being three (body, mind, and consciousness) to become ONE. This unity is possibly achieved by training thoroughly the fundamentals and the basics of the bujinkan.

Unity is  結束 (kessoku) but the first kanji is 結 (like in yûgen) from which we understand that from the ONE we can find the invisible nagare and become ZERO.

When the practitioner reaches this level of “oneness” he gain access to the “zero state” of 無心 (mushin) he can flow without intentions on the stream of Life.

And the proof is that  無心, mushin has also the meaning of “innocence”, like the innocence of a 3 year old kid (cf. sanshin no kata). leads to mushin.

“3” becomes “1” and “1” becomes “0”

Only Nagare Matters


the flow is permanent adaptation

When we begin the study of the bujinkan arts we are surprised to hear the teacher speaking of nagare (流れ, flow). Our intention when entering a dôjô was to learn a set of fighting techniques but we finally ended up learning how to flow with things!

The first encounter with this “flowing reality” is when we learn the uke nagashi. Uke nagashi is wrongly translated as blocking and is very far from reality and many should try to understand it in order to better their taijutsu.

Uke (受け) is the receiver of the technique in martial arts but ukemi (受身, the fall) also has the meaning of “passive  attitude”, from that we understand that uke nagashi, receiving in a flow, can also mean “flowing passively in a natural manner”. As you see the idea of “blocking” is not the only thing here!

In fact uke nagashi has multiple forms such as: Absorbing, Blocking, Countering, Deflecting, and Evading (remember the first letters of each word read:  ABCDE). The flow with which we act is not impeding the movement on the contrary. Flowing in the technique is to follow a natural succession of actions created by the encounter. As sensei said last week, there is no possibility to change what is happening, the only thing to do is to adapt to it. This is the true definition of nagare.

Whatever event  happening on the planet we are nothing and cannot modify the outcome of it, but as an individual we have the power to adapt our actions to it and to flow mindlessly with it. This flow is similar to the crossing of a river, thinking and fighting against the stream is useless. Trying to understand it will not change its power,  we just have to follow its flow and to drift through it until we reach safely the other bank.

In the dôjô, all our movements should be done according to this natural flow. We should wait “passively” and react when the opportunity emerges. Taijutsu is nagare and nagare is achieved when thinking, analysing and pre-conceiving are abandoned.

Adaptation is the essence of nagare!