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Showing posts from November, 2009

Bujinkan lifestyles of the sore and happy.

Hatsumi Sensei's Sunday class was the most crowded I've ever witnessed. For the bow in, we filled the place all the way past the windows. Leaving at most 10 feet to the weapons rack. The rumor was that we were over 200. My friend Gillian said she didn't come for training, she was there for the spectacle.

Even in that circus environment Soke managed to drop some gems of training wisdom among the crowd. If you were there I hope you found one for yourself.

After training I travelled into Tokyo to meet my friends Nate and Michelle and their friend Chinatsu. This was to be a spectacular second half to my already great Sunday.

First we went to Shimokitazawa to shop and people watch. We stopped for some tea that was refreshing. Next, we went for a twilight stroll through Rikugien. This Edo period garden was full of Yugen with the colors of the Japanese maple softly lit up for the evening. We ended up in Asakusa where we paid our respects at the temple and had dinner in a p…

Friday night with Hatsumi Sensei

Friday night class with Hatsumi Sensei was crowded. It's always that way the weekend before Daikomyosai. In years past I've seen as many as 160 to 170 people in Hombu! It makes for an interesting training experience.

Soke was very dynamic in the training, and was looking very lively with his intense purple hair. If you haven't seen him with it, you can visit Doug Wilson's blog: Smoke On The Water or my own post:
Iro 色: Attach to Color, Follow the Color to read all about the purple hair and what it signifies.

Sensei made great use of the crowded environment. He seemed to absorb the kukan and shrink it until his attacker was crushed within. It was like the air itself had been evacuated from the space. Yet somehow, Sensei was very free in this vacuum.

It was great to see my Bujinkan friends and family from around the world. I'm looking forward to some great training here in Japan.

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Bujinkan notes from Japan

On my way to Japan for some training. I'm going to attempt blogging during my trip. I'm looking forward to this process.

In the past, when I made these training trips, I would fill up my training notebooks with my bad handwriting. These notes consisted of descriptions of my training with Hatsumi Sensei and the Shihan. I would fill in details to help me understand what I was experiencing in each class. Some of my notes are very specific technique descriptions. Some are just poetic windows on the feeling of the class. Sensei always says the feeling is what he is teaching; it's what you should get from the class.

Sometimes my notes are in the form of sketches or drawings. And at least one year my notebook preferred to keep it's blank pages intact. Notes are something that is only useful for the notetaker. my notes are a reflection of my training journey.

Blogging during this journey will be an interesting addition to my process of understanding.


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5 Tips for Japanese Sword and Noto, Plus ONE Bonus Hint

We often use the sword with less formality in the Bujinkan than other Japanese schools do.  We treat it like a tool.  So even though we wouldn't use a shovel or a hammer with lots of ceremony and stylized movement, with any tool there are good and bad practices.


Noto or resheathing the katana is the source of many bad habits and self-inflicted injuries for would be Samurai.

Here are some tips for noto:
Practice no-look resheathing.  You should be looking at your felled opponent or your surrounding environment.  The resheath should be so natural and automatic that you can do it in the dark.Gravity is your friend. The tip should just fall into the opening of the saya or koiguchi. You are not sticking it in the hole (insert bad joke here), it just drops in from it's own weight.Push the saya (scabbard) onto the sword; don't push the sword into the saya. NEVER force the sword. The saya could have flipped unexpectedly or be split open.  You don't want to injure your hand by d…

A Bujinkan formula K(p+t)(s)=K, where S is Shizen

When I was a kid, I played ninja.  I lurked around my neighborhood, and ambushed my little brother.  I was goofy and unaware that Hatsumi Sensei was also playing in his early visits to the U.S.  during that same time.  I now know that this sense of play is what drives the art we study as Bujinkan.  Let me use a playfully silly example to explore this:

A Bujinkan formula: K(p+t)(s)=K

Let's ignore K (ku) for a minute because I'm not sure that can be taught. 
I suggest that: PLAY = SHIZEN.
so p+t=h combined with s OR,


PLAY using TAIJUTSU to produce HENKA from a state of SHIZEN.

If that hurts your brain let's forget it and consider this:

When I was 13 years old, Sensei stated while teaching in America:

My techniques are adaptable to any situation.  It is from improvising action as it flashes into my mind.  My techniques are natural techniques.
Improvisation creates natural techniques.  And now that I am 40, Sensei is still saying play!

Baby animals when they play are learning ho…

If you have rank in Bujinkan, I can tell you what it means:

Have you been promoted?  Were you congratulated by your fellow students?  How about your friends and family?  Random strangers? It means something very different to these groups. 

What about the day after your promotion?  A week later? Five months?  With time, the promotion means something very different even to you.

I can tell you what your rank means.  But first, what does it mean for you? 

It is important to answer that question every time you are promoted.  Also, it is important to know what your teacher thinks it means.  If your teacher is doing his job, he will find a way to communicate that to you.

The Bujinkan is not as systematic, or as definitive as other martial arts when it comes to rank.  You can take two shodan level students from different schools and compare.  Is their rank the same?  Usually not.  Teachers vary widely in their  requirements.  But does it matter?  People usually answer YES!  But I would say that it shouldn't.  You cannot compare the two.  Their h…

6 ways to be a bad Bujinkan student

I refused to teach someone today.  He made one of the fatal errors that I discuss below.  This happens infrequently, but often enough that it makes me wonder about people.  It also gets me thinking about my own standards as a student and teacher in the Bujinkan.

Hatsumi Sensei made a remark once about how students deserve their bad teachers.  This sounds odd at first, until you've met these students or teachers.  How do students achieve this?

Not knowing why they want to learn a martial art.

It starts here.  This informs all your choices going forward.  If you lack this answer or the answer is one you are not willing to share in public, then time to reconsider your hobby.

Not researching the style.


They e-mail after reading my website "Can I ask you what style you teach?" Not only does my website describe our style with a brief history, it takes all of two seconds to type Bujinkan into google or wikipedia.  How can you determine if I am a good teacher if you are so uninform…

Ninja Assassin. New ninja movie. Yup.

Certain members of Bujinkan Santa Monica (starts with J, ends with flames), are very excited about the upcoming movie, Ninja Assassin:



Ninja Assassin is an upcoming martial arts film directed by James McTeigue and starring Rain. The film was produced by Joel Silver and the Wachowski brothers, and filming took place in Berlin, Germany. The film is scheduled to be released on November 25, 2009.

Now I know what you are thinking:  fuck yeah, badass! 

Or, you may be thinking, what does this have to do with Bujinkan?  If you are thinking the latter, there is help.  I'm sure many members of the Bujinkan can offer relief at the end of their fist.  But, wait, I'm bringing it up.  So, what does it have to do with our training?

Probably not much in terms of martial arts.  These movies are generally populated with stunts that are a combo of Wushu, Tae Kwon Do, and MMA or the fad style of the month.  Visually arresting, but kinda unrelated to our taijutsu.

What this movie does do, is int…

Chi-Haya-Buru A Japanese Cultural Treasure

My friend Craig Olson has written a great little book:




"Chi-Haya-Buru examines the cultural significance of Japanese Uta, the venerable ancestor to the Haiku, and is a book that both historians and Japanese enthusiasts will enjoy exploring.

The author cleverly navigates the linguistic composition of these ancient literary works and gives an inside look at an exceptionally rare and powerful epitaph – Chi-Haya-Buru.

This well laid out, thought provoking book, reveals important cultural-historical links that look back to - and beyond - the very origins of Japan; demonstrating why Japanese Uta were prized by ancient nobility and still today remain a valuable Japanese cultural treasure."

If you are like me, you stupidly repeat the Japanese phrases Hatsumi Sensei uses without understanding the depth behind the words.  Or the richness of the Japanese language and the art that we study.  Most of the time, that is difficult to change without majoring in Japanese.


This book connected …

iPhone nin kanji

First try at iPhone art. Fingerpainted it all by myself! Please be kind in your judgements.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Bojutsu accuracy

In our class tonight we were studying some exciting bojutsu ideas. A common concern with dynamic bojutsu is accuracy.

How to be accurate in a free exchange with a moving and competitive target?

An answer can be found in the most basic ideas of how we use our bodies for any activity. When you reach for a cup on a table, do you miss? How about when you are walking by? How is your accuracy when you brush an insect or leaf off a friend's shoulder? Do you miss and then get hit by his unexpected counter?

These things and more we do daily and rarely make a mistake. We move the frame of our bodies naturally and accuracy is a natural result.

In the Bujinkan, one way we explore this natural movement is with sanshin no kata. We connect to the ground through our legs and knees, transfer this up through the frame of our spine and body structure, then connect it all at the end of a fist or strike. It is natural. Like walking. When done naturally accuracy results.

In bojutsu, or with an…

Tighten those apps, i-fukkin for iphone.

Found on Japan Newbie:

Here is a great Japanese iPhone app that encourages you to do sit-ups. i-Fukkin!





They should have done some research before settling on their application name though.
FUKKIN is 腹筋 (ふっきん) in Japanese, which means “abdominal muscles,” and isn’t funny at all. You can use 腹筋 as a verb too and say, 「腹筋をする」to mean “to do sit-ups.”
The app is pretty fun.
It counts your sit ups for you.
It gives you encouragement as you proceed.
When you stop, it says 「こらー!休むなぁ!!!」(koraa! yasumuna!) which means, “Hey!!! don’t rest!”

You also get to watch a nice cheer-girl urge you on.

Ever had a bad training partner or Uke? This may help...

When I am training, sometimes the techniques work very well on one person.  Then I switch training partners.  And everything falls apart.  What worked very easy is now hard.  What I did effortlessly becomes a struggle.

Why can the same technique succeed or fail so radically?  What makes going from one training partner to the next cause my technique to fail?  Sometimes I blame the Uke.  If only he had better ukemi I think.  Or, he is too stiff.  Maybe he is trying to make me fail.  Why won't he just cooperate?

But the true problem is myself, my expectations, and my failure to ADAPT.

When I meet a new training partner he becomes a mirror for my taijutsu.  Every partner I train with reflects back to me a different part of my taijutsu.  Sometimes I like what I see.  And I think, what a good training partner!  I know certain people who ONLY train with carefully selected partners because it is safe.  And maybe they like the reflection they get back.

But then there are those other times.…

Shots fired! Ninjas take cover.

OK.  We had a gang killing at the end of our training last night.  We were just about to bow out, all of us sitting in seiza (except Harry who doesn't do seiza), ...  POP. POP. Pop pop pop POP!

At least six shots. We saw the muzzle flash, smelled the gun smoke.

I took cover.  In my mind, I thought, "gunfire, take cover." But the process was way slower than the thought.  When I found cover, another man was crouched behind the concrete trash barrel.  He said, "fireworks?" I said "No, gunshots. Large caliber."

When I looked back over the concrete table, I see the young asian soccer players all scattered on the ground ( they were closer than we).  I think of the young faces of the men and women who play in that game every week.

I yell at my training group to take cover.

The cops arrive quickly- one apparently was patrolling nearby.  Some officers charge into the park on foot, some drive in.  They see us.

They approach quickly, weapons drawn, one with a sh…

Sanshin no kata, are you doing it wrong?

I was.  For a good 10 years.  Maybe more.

When I began in this art in the prehistoric '80s, no one knew anything.  Well, some said they did.  But looking back, I tend to feel differently.  Not many had even been to Japan, much less separated ninja fact from fiction.  Even something as basic to our art like Sanshin no kata, to this day, you will find fact mixed with fiction.

Since we are currently studying this in my basics class tonight, I thought i would write about it.   My CURRENT understanding of the forms (open to new info), is this:

What is often called "sanshin no kata," is actually only one exercise in a series.  The series includes

Sanshin no kata
Shoshin gokei
Gogyou no kata
Goshin no kata

Sanshin no kata is the swingy arm movement similar to chi no kata.  But it is also a way of moving.  The whole body taijutsu that makes our techniques effective at a basic level.  It can be used in the context of nearly any technique, from kicks to grappling and the obvious p…

Do you sacrifice to train in Bujinkan?

I do.  Sometimes it is a tough choice.

I am invited to a concert.  Crap, it's the same night as class.

I need to upgrade my computer.  But, it's time for a Japan trip.  Only enough $$ for one.

I am invited to two seminars in the same month.  Usually I have to gauge the bang for the buck to decide.

I am too tired/cold/sore/bummed etc. for training.  But I go anyway.

I am frustrated with my teacher or my progress.  "Keep going" as Sensei says.

I could make a much longer list.  It's very easy to let life get in the way of training.  The sacrifices can be small, or quite large.  And it's different for everyone.

I was having dinner with my friend Paul Masse, and he was talking about his first years in Japan.  As he put it, "Living in a broom closet.  Eating bulk rice and fish.  Wearing the same worn and threadbare clothes for years."  But he went to training.  He could have chosen not to, and bought some clothes.  I think he described this on his blog  (…