9 tips for creating Henka

Henka is vital to our study of the Bujinkan arts.  It reflects the world around us and the ever changing present.  I would go so far as to say that if you don't understand henka, you are not doing Bujinkan.  Hatsumi Sensei has stressed this in his near constant remonstrations not to get stuck in technique.

If you are new to your Bujinkan study, how do you create henka?  Does it just spring from the imagination like a child's finger painting, or a jazz musician's solo?  Yes, and more.  In the first case a child is often learning the basics of the world around them.  They try to better control the paint to produce images, but their expertise is not there yet.  Yet they are uninhibited by failure.  And quite happy with their results.  A jazz musician has studied enough to have immense control over their technique.  Then they break away and let loose with an energetic freedom.  Most Bujinkan students are somewhere in between these.

When I was first learning about henka, I learned about changing the variables of the exchange.  So here is a quick checklist to follow:
  • Change sides:  Right, and left.  This also can mean doing it on the same side but change hands, or feet.
  • Change from inside to outside:  Going to the inside of the attack creates a certain reality, outside will be different entirely.  Advanced could be the Ura and Omote versions of the technique.
  • Change levels:  Upper and lower.  Or middle.
  • Change distance:  Long, middle, short or close.  And everything in between.
  • Change timing:  Early, now, and late timings all have their own peculiarities.
  • Change angles: straight on, off to 45 degrees, to the side at right angles, or any other.
  • Change the attack:  The attacker can also change any of the above to create henka.
  • Add a weapon:  For the attacker or defender.  Or both.
  • Work on the counter technique:  Hatsumi Sensei does this often.  Sometimes he does counters to the counter!  It gets confusing.
These are just some of the variables you can explore.  There are infinite variety.  Something as small as where you point your toes when moving can make a large difference.  Also remember that EACH point of the attack or defense can be changed with the above variables! (one idea of  Juppo Sessho)  And there are changes in the spirit and kyojitsu to be considered.  This goes on and on.
From Paul Masse:
The beginning of the Jyoraku of Gyokko Ryu states this most eloquently. “I, standing in the posture of Heaven and Universe with hands folded (as if in prayer) maintain the heart of ”10,000 changes, no surprises”(Banpen Fugyou).  The whole of the universe, and all living things are in a constant state of Natural Change.  Any occurrence may happen at anytime...  This is the True Principle of Natural Change.  Therefore resist not this natural truth, keeping a quiet and unsurprised heart.  Holding firmly to the belief that all will be well, with a roar! (kiai), I enter the posture of Heaven and Earth, Darkness and Light”.

When you let go, is when you become full.  Bufu Ikkan!

Fresh Ninjutsu Secrets from Hatsumi Sensei

I had a great training trip to Japan and I wanted to discuss something I experienced during class with Hatsumi Sensei.  I always thought learning ninjutsu would be the ultimate goal of our training.  This year I saw something beyond that.  A new horizon for me.

Students often ask me when I am going to teach them ninjutsu.  It's a valid question for an art that claims the ninja heritage.  So to answer, let's look to Hatsumi Sensei for inspiration.

When I first began training in this art in 1988, most people didnt' call it  Bujinkan.  We called it Togakure Ryu, or, more often Ninjutsu.  Out of the 9 schools we study in the Bujinkan, Togakure Ryu is one of the 3 "Ninja" schools.  The funny thing was Hatsumi Sensei was teaching us many things like Koto ryu and Gyokko Ryu, but we all called it Ninjutsu since we didn't know any better.  Or maybe he was teaching that if you had eyes to see it.

As Paul Masse recently pointed out in his blog post: Daruma, Hatsumi Sensei showed us some of his artwork during Daikomyosai.  One piece was a a picture of the Daruma with a spider on his eyebrow.  The inscription reads, "Ninjutsu is on your eyebrow."  It would be hard to see if it were on your eyebrow.  But it could be felt!  Hatsumi Soke's teachings have to be felt!  Then you may witness the spider crawling on your own brow.

Togakure Ryu was never really meant to stand on it's own, but rather alongside our other schools of budo like Gyokko and Koto ryu.  What this means in our training is that Ninjutsu is not a separate area of study.  It is more of a way of being, as the word "Ninpo" suggests.

This isn't a mistake.  Ninjutsu is something that Sensei is always teaching.  In any of his classes he will explore ideas of Ninpo no matter what we are working on.  Sometimes the secrets are right in front of your eyes but you don't see them.  To discover Ninjutsu, you have to really train hard to understand Sensei's budo, then your eyes may open to the secrets contained there.

This year,  Sensei continues to show us lessons on disappearing and becoming "zero."  Please see Doug Wilson's blog for more on this: Ninjutsu: 最高の武道 ”The Ultimate Martial Art.  Sensei is teaching us about Kukan and how to disappear within it.  Various strategies to achieve this include:

Issen Ken
Fumetsu no fusei
Kami hito e
Kukan no Tate

If you don't know what these are, they are examples of some of the "secrets" to be discovered in class. If you subscribe to my training notes (you aren't a subscriber?! you miss a LOT of free Bujinkan notes), you have already learned about some of these, and I will share more soon.

But there is always something more.  I watched Soke use the kukan to capture the attacker's spirit.  This is something else beyond just disappearing.  When I understand this, I will get back to you!

In my class, as we continue our study of Soke's Bujinkan, we will be including Ninjutsu as part of our study.  Please be aware and attend to this in your training.  The secrets will not always be spelled out.

Here is a hint: Some of the biggest secrets are contained in the character of "Nin"  Please think on this and share your thoughts in the comments below..

Ninpo Ikkan

Michael Glenn

Why do we wear tabi in the Bujinkan? And should you?

I'm not afraid of controversy.   This blog tackles the tough questions.  Questions sure to inflame the keyboard martial artists that troll the various forums.  One question that repeatedly flames up all over the interwebs is:
Why do Bujinkan members wear tabi?
I know I crossed a line.  After asking a question like that there is no going back.  If you have been hiding under a cheeseburger and don't know what tabi are, from wikipedia:

Tabi (足袋?) are traditional Japanese socks. Ankle high and with a separation between the big toe and other toes, they are worn by both men and women with zori, geta, and other traditional thonged footwear.
What are some good reasons to wear tabi in Bujinkan training?  I made a list of possible reasons:

  1. If you wanna be a ninja, dress the part.  In America, tabi are all ninja baby.
  2. When you read those ninja books from the '80's it is easier to follow the foot diagrams.
  3. If you are caught by the enemy (the cops) wearing tabi gives the insanity plea more weight.
  4. Wearing tabi will throw off trackers looking for Nikes or Skechers.
  5. For foot flexibility, also from wikipedia:  "many workers prefer them for the softness of their soles. This gives wearers tactile contact with the ground and lets them use their feet more agilely than rigid-soled shoes allow: for instance, people who traverse girders on construction sites like to know what is under their feet, and craft practitioners such as carpenters and gardeners additionally use their feet as if they were an extra pair of hands, for example to hold objects in place."
  6. It is the custom in the Japanese dojo.
  7. It's easier to be stealthy.
  8. You want to overpay someone trying to make money off the Bujinkan by ordering silly shoes from a ninja website.
  9. You can catch weeds between your toes that camouflage your feet and legs.
  10. Throw shuriken with your feet!
  11. Chicks dig it.  Girls can't resist a man in tabi.
  12. Can be used to sight or cradle your blow gun.
  13. Helps you get into the right mindset for class.
  14. Sitting in seiza is way easier.
There are many reasons to wear tabi.  Make up your own.  Or stubbornly cling to practicality and miss out on the Ninja fantasy.  It's funny, most people in the Bujinkan refuse to wear the shinobi outfit, opting instead for a simple black karate or judo gi.  But those same people will wear tabi.  But there are some that are even embarrassed to wear the black gi, calling it "black pajamas."

I say wear tabi with pride.  Or you can try to remove everything Japanese from the art and be left with what?  In the list above I included my own reasons for wearing tabi.  See if you can guess what they are.  One last reason is that after so many years of training, I actually find tabi very comfortable and even prefer them to western shoes at times.

Daikomyosai week

Daikomyosai was wonderful for me. The energetic yet subtle movement expressed by Hatsumi Sensei was very inspiring. Sensei has put a lot of faith in us to share this art outside of Japan. After hearing some of Sensei's oldest students tell their stories, the attitude they share is a sincere gratefullness to Sensei for his generosity.

Many people in the Bujinkan are inspired by Sensei and inspire others in turn. I have been creating art on my iPod during this trip. This is partly inspired by Sensei. As an artist my art has often been complex. Watching Sensei make his paintings so freely has given me another direction to explore in my own work. I know my friend Paul Masse takes inspiration from Sensei too. I even convinced Paul to do a quick sketch on my iPod. I won't post it here, so as not to embarass him. He needs more training.

After Daikomyosai, we were back to normal classes with the Shihan. Yesterday I visited the Tokyo-Edo museum. The museum itself is a fantastic architectural sight. And inside you can learn about the history of Tokyo with entire buildings reconstructed inside the huge space.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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