Ninpo and Mu: Waxing and Waning Like the Moon

Full Moon over Nagoya Castle; photo by ka_tate
In a Ninja's view of the universe, Soke Hatsumi comments on how beautiful it is to see a crescent moon peering between the clouds...  And he suggests that the "secret is to let your own existence resonate with the universal consciousness" ... whether in the form of moonlight or other natural phenomena.  He has also told us that taijutsu henka are like the phases of the moon.  These phases occur naturally, in a natural connection to the movements of Earth and Sun.  Your taijutsu should reflect the world as natural as the moonlight. I write more about this type of reflection here: "Utsuru 映る: Is Your Mind Reflected in Your Taijutsu?"

What is to be learned from cold moonlight?  In Japan, the moonlight has an empty longing to it that resonates deeply with the Japanese spirit.  Hatsumi Sensei has made reference to the author Yasunari Kawabata who, on winning the Nobel prize for literature in 1968, spoke movingly about the moon and it's deep companionship with the Japanese.  Here he quotes the priest Myoe,

"On the night of the twelfth day of the twelfth month of the year 1224, the moon was behind clouds. I sat in Zen meditation in the Kakyu Hall. When the hour of the midnight vigil came, I ceased meditation and descended from the hall on the peak to the lower quarters, and as I did so the moon came from the clouds and set the snow to glowing. The moon was my companion, and not even the wolf howling in the valley brought fear. When, presently, I came out of the lower quarters again, the moon was again behind clouds. As the bell was signalling the late-night vigil, I made my way once more to the peak, and the moon saw me on the way. I entered the meditation hall, and the moon, chasing the clouds, was about to sink behind the peak beyond, and it seemed to me that it was keeping me secret company."

Hatsumi Sensei writes about his intentions for sharing Ninpo:

There is a saying: "The village that shines in the moonlight leaves a different impression in the souls of different people."  The Chinese characters for strength and nothingness are both read "mu" in Japanese.  Therefore, nothingness is the same of strength.

My intention is to introduce you to the world of Ninpo through the method of expression based on nothingness.
Sensei also wrote, "There is no village on which the moon does not shine, the moon lives in the mind of the gazer."

What do you see in the moonlight?  Where does the light fall?  Does it illuminate something beautiful for you or melancholy?  One way to grasp our training is to approach it with the clarity of moonlight. Don't train with ego, just allow the nothingness of the teachings to fall over you.  You can find great joy if you sacrifice yourself to your training.  Have the feeling of surrender or sutemi.  And like the moonlight, understanding will flash in your eyes.

Soke talks about finding a purity of focus in life so that there is no worry for death,

In order to do so, we must have a clear purpose in our daily life.  If we live our daily lives with sutemi, the mind of budo, and the passion of the artist who pours his soul into his works, we can almost forget about death, and never regret our life at the moment of its end.
Moonlight is nothingness yet shines on all the world.  That is a clear purpose.  And the strength of Mu.

Ninja Morality of Kogarashi Monjiro

This time of year is often spent helping, giving or thinking of others.  There are many people who misinterpret the life of a ninja as one of a solitary, dark and shadowy existence.  A lone wolf sneaking in and out of other's lives to accomplish some mission.

Sensei suggests to us that this is not a healthy view.  He says that it is an ideal to have others depend on you.  People think they are too busy to help others, but if you decide to ignore everyone else, trusting only yourself, you will soon become one of the busiest of all men.  He continues,
To give a helping hand to poor people and to want to save them is the humanity of Japanese, and of a warrior's heart.
Hatsumi mentions the character Kogarashi Monjiro from the novel and 1970's TV series set in the Edo period, originally written by Saho Sasazawa. Acted by famous samurai actor Atsuo Nokamura.  Monjiro lived the wandering life of a gambler.  He had a nihilistic attitude and sought to eliminate and avoid involvement with others as much as possible.

The main character is said to have been born in a poor farming family in a village called Mikazuki (half-moon), Nittagori Country in Gunma Prefecture. When Monjiro turned 10, his family left their native soil and was separated. Why the lonesome Monjiro started to live as a homeless wanderer is unknown.
Monjiro’s typical posture includes a wooden toothpick between his teeth, and his nickname “Kogarashi” (the sound of a cold wind wailing) comes from the sound he makes when he breathes with the toothpick. He is a guy who knows no love for people, but cannot overlook evil deeds.
Soke says,
"It doesn't concern me," is a famous Monjiro quote that best represents today's irresponsible times.  In reality, Monjiro never left without helping somebody.  While he says, "It doesn't concern me," he still becomes involved and fights the villain.  This is what is so very charming about the Monjiro character.  He gives justice to people's morality. 
Hatsumi Sensei continues with this advice,
You might be living in a nihilistic manner with a callous attitude but I would prefer you have the Japanese spirit deep in your heart.  Compassionate people make others feel gracious and trustworthy
So please get into this wonderful ninja holiday spirit!  But I don't suggest wearing your red, fur lined ninja/Santa Claus suit out in public...

Munenmusō  無念無想: Free From Worldly or Worthless Thoughts

photo by Frogman!
There is a common saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  We see this all the time in training.  People begin to grow in their skill with taijutsu and two things often occur:

  • They injure themselves or others.
  • Or... they stop learning because they think they got it already.
This blind spot is very dangerous, because by their nature the person that is full of "knowledge" is unaware that they are ignorant.  And sometimes they convince others that they know something or have "secrets".

Hatsumi Sensei talks about this knowledge as if it is a burden.  A weight that should be shed.  Soke said that people want to possess the densho or secret scrolls.  But that when people learn the secrets they were searching for, they become too tense to move freely.  They are burdened with the knowledge and trying to use it correctly.
I am sure it is a great mistake always to know enough to go in when it rains. One may keep snug and dry by such knowledge, but one misses a world of loveliness.  - Shakespeare
Sensei likened this to kareteka who used to train with iron geta.  This is a similar principle to the modern fitness training with ankle weights.  At first they are heavy, but eventually the wearer gets used to them and doesn't even notice the burden.  But how freeing and light it will feel to remove them entirely!

I am amazed at people who attend classes or train at a seminar yet miss everything being taught because they are full of knowledge already.  Their consciousness is heavy with what they know.  Leaving no room for anything new.

A great example for us is the theme for 2011.  How many people think they know kihon happo?  There are teachers already teaching this theme or planning their seminars for 2011.
Alexander Pope shared this idea:
That a little knowledge is apt to puff up, and make men giddy, but a greater share of it will set them right, and bring them to low and humble thoughts of themselves.
 I watched Hatsumi Sensei write the scroll with this theme for my teacher on November 23.  He said it was the first time he had written the theme for next year.  But the kanji were not the "normal" way kihon happo is written.  This signifies Sensei's intention to take a fresh approach to the kihon.  Or, at least, to get us to drop our preconceptions and learn it anew.

So what effort in learning can you make?  Sensei suggests:
From nothing (not thinking), something (an action) comes forth, and the person who masters this idea is the one who can comprehend the secret teachings.  This understanding in your heart is more important than the techniques.  The mind of "munen muso" (no thought, no mind) in the heart is the real secret teaching rather than the waza.

中途半端 Chuuto Hanpa: Betwixt the Half Assed

photo by roland
Something many of us have heard Hatsumi Sensei say during his classes is the term "chuuto hanpa."  He has been using this phrase for many years to try to communicate an idea that is difficult to teach.

中途半端 chuuto hanpa / "unclear, betwixt and between, vague, half-hearted"
chuu / to / han / pa
The meaning of the first Kanji is "middle." The second Kanji means "way." The third and fourth Kanji mean, "half" and "end," respectively.

Chuuto means "halfway" or "along the way." Hanpa means "to be on neither side and be vague." Chuuto hanpa indicates the state of things which are left unfinished or the state of someone or something that is vague and unclear.

So what are some of the things this can teach us?

One is to let go of technique.  We all learn technique.  Some of us become good at techniques.  But technique is a trap.  The minute you try to apply a technique, people's survival instinct naturally drives them to actively resist or evade somehow.

It is an even bigger trap for learning.  You see your teacher show a kata, and remember, "I know xxx kata, I recognize this technique."  Then you may stop learning and fall back on habit.  Meanwhile, you missed what the teacher was REALLY showing you.  This is why Sensei advises us again and again, don't collect techniques, or memorize kata.

Here is a tip: be a beginner again.  It is like you are an expert guitar player and reading a book on basic guitar.   It is hard to be a beginner there.  Instead pick up a flute and do the same lesson.

When your technique is strong, drop it and try something where you are no good at all.  If you want to learn.  The best teachers create a class where this happens for you.

Another lesson of chuuto hanpa, is that of freedom.  By not taking any fixed technique or point, you may move freely.  When an opportunity arrives you can take it freely because you are not fixed on any technique or situation.

And a surprise awaits-  By half applying one technique and moving half into another, the effect is greater.  For example, if you apply musha dori while doing an omote on the same wrist, you can do something quite powerful without force!  Your opponent cannot counter or resist easily because you are never fixed.  That musha dori could finish with seoi nage, or nothing at all.  How do you counter that?

A greater surprise awaits even further into the esoteric whereby you float in the middle space, opening up the possibility for divine technique to enter.

This may be part of your life journey.  When you have become a great person in your field and are puffing up with pride, move to some other path where you are small and know nothing and be nobody again.  That's where learning happens. 

Crash, Bang, Daikomyosai!

photo by Joi

Daikomyosai has started with a crunch.  Hatsumi Sensei started the morning
wearing armor that he said was like that worn by Tokugawa.  This armor was meant to have no weak points or openings.  It was impenetrable and an impressive gold color for when the shogun would lead the way into battle.

Duncan and Holger were also in armor.  Sensei used Duncan as his uke and
proceeded to demolish him and his armor stitch by stitch.  As Duncan put it, "my armor is now rubbish."  And he later told me, Sensei used his armor against him as a weapon.  It appeared very disconcerting for Duncan.  Duncan is good with ukemi and there was really no useful ukemi for what he was enduring.

Sensei really has been focusing on the 15th dans while I've been here.  He
wanted them all to show something that they have been exploring in their
training this year.  It was a great chance for us to see how the Bujinkan is being taught around the world.  Sensei called on teachers from Spain, England, Russia, Venezuela, Israel, Argentina, the United States, Australia, Canada, and more from around the globe, to share with us.

He also has been instructing the jugodans directly about the godan test.
Sometimes he even speaks during the test itself.  I won't say here what he has been saying, but it's obvious he is trying to improve the way the test is taken and given.

Day 2 was more crash and smash in yoroi.  Sensei had all of the Shihan battle Duncan and Holger with tachi and yari.  Their movement looked great and Sensei pointed out to us that it was all unrehearsed.

Then Sensei pushed and coached Duncan and Holger into sort of randori with yoroi on.  It was smashing and crashing. When they were taking turns winning sensei encouraged them not to give up.  There was no submitting.  The energy rose and those two really got into the spirit of bushinwa.  Everyone in the room felt the specialness of this moment and erupted with a very enthusiastic applause.

After the first break some of the new godans were asked to demonstrate something with the tachi and they did well for being put on the spot.

The afternoon session was mostly tachi.  The use of the tachi is very
different than that of the katana.  So many people have not trained well with katana, and the tachi is even more foreign for them.  Even to the point of not knowing how to wear or hold the weapon.  Since that has been part of the theme for 2010, people still have time to study.

My training partners and I were called on to demonstrate a technique, so we went to the middle, it was a two swordsmen vs one tachi scenario.  We began our attack, the defender clocked the first attacker with the kashira of his weapon right on the bridge of the nose.  Blood spurted.

I hesitated with my attack.  The audience urged us to continue.  I attacked and was thrown.

By now he blood was really gushing from a cut on the guys nose and dripping all over the tatami mats of the budokan.  I decided we should not continue and held off on attacking further.  The other poor attacker had to get bandaged up for the rest of the day.

Control of distance and of the kukan is paramount with tachi or yoroi kumiuchi.  I saw many lessons being learned the hard way today.

Then Sensei asked the Shihan to explain how to give the godan test for the
jugodans.  I won't repeat these lessons here, but there was a lot to consider.  I think this is very important for the future of the Bujinkan.

Day 3 was great with a real family feeling throughout.

Sensei said the jugodans were always taking the sakki test.  He referenced a throw that someone did as sakki nage.

Steve showed us some wonerful tai sabaki using his wheelchair.  And later Brian who is missing his lower legs and half one arm was simply amazing.  Sensei had us all work on the samurai walk along with suwari waza to get the feeling he conveyed.  He and Steve were extremely well spoken and moved me greatly in sharing their experience of this Daikomyosai.

And I think their sentiments were shared by most people.  This was the warmest and most heart filled Daikomyosai I have ever attended.

Soke had the Jugodans share some more of their experiences with training and there seems to be more camaraderie than I have seen before.  Really special.

Then Sensei gave us maybe a bit of a preview for the new year with an exploration of kihon happo.

Sensei said that in the Bujinkan, there is always tomorrow and a chance for a new beginning.  I definitely am looking forward with a renewed heart and spirit to many tomorrows in this art that has opened up my international family.

Echo (yamabiko  山彦) of Hatsumi Sensei

It's strange how training in Japan feels like coming home. Even though I don't travel here as often as I'd like there is always a moment after all the stress of travel drops away and I can relax into this experience that just feels right.

Maybe it's the family feeling that exists in Hatsumi Sensei's Bujinkan. Maybe it's all the friends and good memories here. Or maybe it's just reconnecting with the source of this art that is such an important part of my life.

Class with Sensei Tuesday night was truly wonderful. There were so many important discoveries I found in Soke's taijutsu that I told my teacher Peter Crocoll that even if all I had was that one class my trip was worth it. He said he thought the same thing last night.

It's hard to convey what happened in writing, but I will be working on this material for many months to come in my classes at home.

Sensei had us working on kage no tsuki for a bit. Then he made reference to existing in the kukan. He said you use a point in the kukan and you live there. For me it is like balancing on a needle. But you can make an entire life at that point as your spirit expands to open up space for you. Very esoteric stuff.

Sensei also made reference to yamabiko  山彦 or echo. The technique he did took the attacker's intent and echoed it back on him. If you think about how a mountain echo works, it starts at one small point, your shout, then expands outward, bouncing off the canyon walls, to return to you in waves that seem magnified.

I was also fortunate to watch Hatsumi Sensei write a scroll for Peter. He told Peter it was next year's theme and this was the first time he wrote it. I'm not sure I should say more about that here, except next year should be great!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Groping the Void with 探り回る Sagurimawaru

Photo by judepics
There are various types of awareness we use to gather information.  Maintaining good situational awareness is key to succeeding in any complex environment or encounter.  Once, when we were studying taihenjutsu and ukemi with Soke Hatsumi, he made reference to the term 探り回る (Sagurimawaru) which translates roughly as "to grope for, or fumble."

But Hatsumi Sensei didn't talk about this in a way us English speakers might normally consider the term fumble, as some kind of clumsy, unskilled, movement.  He spoke of it more as a exploration and a searching about the environment to see what you may discover.  It was a process of discovery.

So if we fumble about the Japanese language and look at other related terms in our art or just in the Japanese idiom, we may discover something:

You may have heard about the Ashinami Jukka Jo- The ten ways of walking according to the Ninpo book Shoninki, but we also have 探り足 Saguri Ashi and Saguri Aruki which are used for stealth and to feel your way with your feet when your eyes are not enough to set your path.

When you are trying to understand someone else you may use 探り合い  saguri ai to probe each other or sound each other out.

Maybe you are uncovering secrets:  探り当てる saguri ate ru - to find out

If you feel like Marcellus from Hamlet that something smells rotten in the state of Denmark: 探り出す saguri dasu to spy out / to smell out

Maybe you lost your house keys and need: 探る saguru to search / to look for / to sound out

Many people use training in the Bujinkan to: michiwosaguru 道を探る to seek a path;  to find one's way.

If you have bad manners you could saguribashi 探り箸  using your chopsticks to find a food you like by rummaging in your dish, pot, etc. (a breach of etiquette)

So at the root of understanding 探り回る Sagurimawaru in our training are two contrasting perspectives on your approach as a student in class.  Are you fumbling about blindly or are you on a path of discovery?  This is a choice you make everytime you step into the dojo, whether you slip in with saguri ashi or trip over the threshold.


Nakaima 中 今: a Privileged Moment in Eternity

photo by Guitarfool5931
People in the Bujinkan often mention distancing, angling, and timing as part of fundamental taijutsu.  While we train to get these right, there are many subtle nuances to what is "right."  For example, there is early, middle and late timing, but also an entire spectrum in between these measurements.  And there is a way to step outside of this measured time entirely.

The ability to do this can be related to awareness in the moment.  Soldiers in combat are encouraged to keep their head on a swivel so as to maintain situational awareness.  Another simple look at states of awareness in combat can be found from Jeff Cooper, founder of the American Pistol Institute ("A.P.I.") in 1976 in order to teach the Modern Technique of the Pistol as a method of the handgun for self-defense.  He describes this color code:

"In White you are unprepared and unready to take lethal action. If you are attacked in White you will probably die unless your adversary is totally inept.

In Yellow you bring yourself to the understanding that your life may be in danger and that you may have to do something about it.

In Orange you have determined upon a specific adversary and are prepared to take action which may result in his death, but you are not in a lethal mode.

In Red you are in a lethal mode and will shoot if circumstances warrant."

In the Bujinkan, we focus on awareness from the learning of kamae leading to the experience of the Godan test and beyond.  Hatsumi Sensei talks to this point as the secret of winning.  He says,
One never knows when a fight might start.  That is why in Budo one keeps prepared, so that should a fight arise, one can settle it as quickly as possible.  In a dangerous situation, you act swiftly without any hesitation.  That is the secret of winning.
He describes how to do this,
You must KNOW that you can win, and use this energy in your encounter.
In Shinto there is a word, "Nakaima," which literally means "the middle of now."  It teaches us that the current moment embodies the whole of time, and consequently, that how you live the current moment is of supreme importance.
Nakaima 中 今 as described by Shintoists repeatedly appears in the Imperial edicts of the 8th century. According to this point of view, the present moment is the very center in the middle of all conceivable times. In order to participate directly in the eternal development of the world, it is required of Shintoists to live fully each moment of life, making it as worthy as possible.

Hatsumi Sensei may also be referring to this concept with the idea Kanjin Kaname.  This can be translated as "what is truly important," but another reading is "the heart and eyes of the gods."  When you are in accordance with this, you are in accord with the laws of nature or heaven.  You cannot fail.   You may achieve kamiwaza (divine techniques).  Isn't that what you are studying in your dojo?

Ninjutsu - The Spider's Thread (蜘蛛の糸, Kumo no Ito)

photo by ajari
This last year, some of us have heard Hatsumi Sensei make reference to a spider's web dangling down from heaven.  As usual with Soke, there are many layers to this idea.  If you subscribe to my training notes (if you aren't a subscriber yet, you miss a LOT of free Bujinkan notes), you can get even more details from my classes with Hatsumi Sensei.

One idea that Sensei put out there for us was in his painting of Daruma with a spider descending a web and alighting on Daruma's eyebrow.  As Paul Masse explains:
The Inscription reads, “ Ninjustu is on your eyebrow.... the spider`s thread, so close, the village of Togakure”.  Sometimes things are so close to us that we can not perceive them.
Hatsumi Sensei has continued to reference this web from the heavens.  If Ninjutsu is on one's eyebrow, or there is a thread to heaven dangling down but we do not see it, how can we use that in Budo?
Maybe it will help if we look at another story that Hatsumi Sensei described to us.

"The Spider's Thread" (蜘蛛の糸 Kumo no Ito) is a 1918 short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, first published in the children's magazine Akai Tori:

One day, the Buddha was strolling alone along the edge of a lotus pond in Paradise. The blooming lotus flowers in the pond were each pure white like jewels, and the place was filled with the indescribably wondrous fragrance continually emitted from each flower’s golden center. It was just morning in Paradise.

After a time, the Buddha paused at the edge of the pond and from between the lotus leaves that covered it saw a glimpse of the state of things below. Now this celestial pond just happened to lie directly over Hell, and peering through that crystal-clear water was like looking through a magnifying glass at the River of Death and the Mountain of Needles and such.

The Buddha saw there, in the depths of Hell, a single man writhing along with the other sinners. This man was named Kandata, and he had been a notorious thief who had performed murder and arson and other acts of evil. In his past, however, he had performed just one good deed: one day, when walking through the deep forest, he saw a spider crawling along the road. At first he raised his foot to crush it, but suddenly he changed his mind and stopped, saying, “No, small though it may be, a spider, too, has life. It would be a pity to meaninglessly end it,” and so did not kill it.

Looking down upon the captives in Hell the Buddha recalled this kind act that Kandata had performed, and thought to use his good deed as a way to save him from his fate. Looking aside, there on a jade-colored lotus leaf he saw a single spider, spinning out a web of silver thread. The Buddha carefully took the spider’s thread into his hand, and lowered it straight down between the jewel-like white lotuses into the depths of Hell.


Kandata was floating and sinking along with the other sinners in the Lake of Blood at the bottom of Hell. It was pitch black no matter which way he looked, and the occasional glimpse of light that he would see in the darkness would turn out to be just the glint of the terrible Mountain of Needles. How lonely he must have felt! All about him was the silence of the grave, the only occasional sound being a faint sigh from one of the damned. Those who were so evil as to be sent to this place were tired by its various torments, and left without even the strength to cry out. Even the great thief Kandata could only squirm like a dying frog as he choked in the Lake of Blood.

But one day, raising up his head and glancing at the sky above the lake, in the empty darkness Kandata saw a silver spider’s thread being lowered from the ceiling so far, far away. The thread seemed almost afraid to be seen, emitting a frail, constant light as it came down to just above Kandata’s head. Seeing this, Kandata couldn’t help but clap his hands in joy. If he were to cling to this thread and climb up it, he may be able to climb out of Hell! Perhaps he could even climb all the way to Paradise! Then he would never be chased up the Mountain of Needles, nor drowned in the Lake of Blood again.

Thinking so, he firmly grasped the spider’s thread with both hands and began to climb the thread, higher and higher. Having once been a great thief, he was used to tasks such as this. But the distance between Hell and Paradise is tens of thousands of miles, and so it would seem that no amount of effort would make this an easy journey. After climbing for some time Kandata tired, and couldn’t climb a bit higher. Having no other recourse, he hung there from the thread, resting, and while doing so looked down below.

He saw that he had made a good deal of progress. The Lake of Blood that he had been trapped in was now hidden in the dark below, and he had even climbed higher than the dimly glowing Mountain of Needles. If he could keep up this pace, perhaps he could escape from Hell after all. Kandata grasped the thread with both hands, and laughingly spoke in a voice that he hadn’t used in the many years since he had come here, “I’ve done it! I’ve done it!”

Looking down, however, what did he see but an endless queue of sinners, intently following him up the thread like a line of ants! Seeing this, surprise and fear kept Kandata


Though the thread had been fine until just then, with these words it snapped with a twang right where Kandata held it. Poor Kandata fell headfirst through the air, spinning like a top, right down through the darkness. The severed end of the silver thread hung there, suspended from heaven, shining with its pale light in that moonless, starless sky.


The Buddha stood in Paradise at the edge of the lotus pond, silently watching these events. After Kandata sank like a stone to the bottom of the Lake of Blood, he continued his stroll with a sad face. He must have been surprised that even after such severe punishment Kandata’s lack of compassion would lead him right back into Hell.

Yet the lotus blossoms in the lotus ponds of Paradise care nothing about such matters. Their jewel-like white flowers waved about the feet of the Buddha, and each flower’s golden center continuously filled the place with their indescribably wondrous fragrance. It was almost noon in Paradise.

(16 April 1918)

As I read this story I remember Soke talking to us about connection.  He said you have to see beyond the surface to see what the possibilities are.  He told us that his teacher Takamatsu said "Don't ever sever the connection."

One way to explore these connections is through Juppo Sessho.  This refers to ten directions.  What are these ten directions?  There are eight directions of Happo which are really infinite and can be said to be part of the Sanjigen no Sekai (3 dimensional world.)  As Paul Masse says about the Daruma in Soke's painting,
The Daruma`s eyes are staring inward.  This is a form of “Happo Nirami” or “Staring in Eight Directions” .  It is also a form of “Ma Yokei”  or “warding off evil”.

But the Daruma doesn't see the spider.  That's because the spider is coming from another direction.  The other two directions are Tenchi.  Heaven and earth or (hell).  This is another dimension.  If you can connect to this with Juppo Sessho, then you really will be a Bujin!

Neko no Myojutsu - The Cat's Eerie Skill

People fear their own instincts.  They seek answers outside of themselves when there is a powerful spirit inside that has many abilities that can be tapped.  Animals in nature don't look outside themselves.  And yet many are terrifying fighters.  How do they accomplish this? 

They seem to do this through instinct and play.

We all have instinct.  It is there, waiting for us to make use of it.  You only need to listen.  And to develop the ability and skill to use it, play is a powerful ally.  Hatsumi Sensei uses that word to describe our training.  So is it part of your regimen?

From Neko no Myojutsu by Issai Chozan (1727):
... the cat replied, “Because of the self there is the foe; when there is no self there is no foe."
 When I was a boy, me and my buddies had many mock battles.  Sometimes the whole neighborhood seemed mired in war.  We took it seriously.  But we knew it wasn't.  There was a reality to our play that put us and our personalities on the line.

I see this in the dojo.  Personalities are on the line.  The training we do is serious, yet also play.  How best to take advantage of that dichotomy?
 More from Issai,
"Teaching is not difficult, listening is not difficult either, but what is truly difficult is to become conscious of what you have in yourself and be able to use it as your own. This self-realization is known as 'seeing into one's own being,' which is satori. Satori is an awakening from a dream. Awakening and self-realization and seeing into one's own being – these are synonymous.”

You must become transparent to Bushido, so that your training becomes a transparency through which light shines.  This is the Budo in you, coming out through your training.  Your instincts and natural ability will rise above the ego.  Your eyes may open to see real Budo.

Soke says,
If you persevere in Ninjutsu as I have done, you will come to discern the ocean of difference that lies between things seen with true eyes, observed using the intuitive "feeling" you develop in this art, and those seen through the glass eyes of people who have not trained at all.

When he says "people who have not trained at all," I think that can apply to many people who visit the dojo and put on a gi.  They go through the motions of training, but they are really not training at all.

Bujinkan on Television

Dimitri, Duncan, Daniel on TV
Since I live and train in Los Angeles area, I receive many invitations to appear on TV shows.  Some of these are big popular shows on major network television.  The producers usually call or e-mail me and say that they are doing a show on the topic of Ninjas, and they want to find a gang of black clad people to do some crazy ninja flips while spewing throwing stars around the studio.  I always decline their exploitation.

There is something very important to understand about Bujinkan in the media.  The media almost always present something fake.  They do this because their goal is to sell advertising, not to inform anyone about anything real.  What sells more ads, the cartoon, movie flash of Ninja that people want and expect to see, or real training?  We have to admit, VERY few people are interested in real training.  But a lot of people love NINJA!

I have worked in film, television and the entertainment business for much of my life and I know this fact first hand.  Every show I have ever worked on that uses "real" people for part of its content, chews them up and spits them out.  They are rarely allowed to present their truth.  Where I live, with Hollywood Boulevard 10 minutes from where I train,  that showbiz mentality is just part of the fabric of life.  Most people here have come to expect the falsity of it.

So when any Bujinkan member somehow gets invited (or coerced) onto television, they should expect this repackaging of themselves to sell ads.  If you expect it and you go there to do your best to represent your art, you may sneak some reality in, but don't be disappointed if it makes you look silly.  Because it inevitably will.

Hatsumi Sensei has become very media Savvy in all his years of dealing with them.  He seems to know and accept the reality the media offer.  And by knowing this, he can choose to participate or not.  When he does, he takes full advantage of the opportunity.

My friend Duncan Stewart was on Japanese Asahi TV recently and he says this about the experience:
I knew that whatever I did, it would be difficult to give a good example.  This was because we were at the mercy of the Director and the editorial department, not to mention my own nerves. Also, the television show we were to be on was a very light hearted “variety show” aimed a comedic entertainment.  Regardless, I took the opportunity to learn first hand what Soke often talks about in regards to public demonstrations for the mass media...

Soke advised me on this type of thing before I went to the studio. However, like most things in life, you never understand the words of wisdom you receive from your teachers/parents until you experience them directly.
So I applaud Duncan for his transparency and willingness to jump into the fire of TV.  He looked great, and obviously is learning much more than combat skills from Hatsumi Sensei.

The "Ninjas" in the first part of the segment are not Bujinkan nor affiliated with Duncan.

Weapon Malfunctions Can Turn Into Tactical Failure

Don't malfunction yourself.
What if your gun jams, or you sword breaks, or even worse, you have a complete tactical failure?  The first two are are easy problems, the third is more difficult, but can be dealt with naturally.  Let's consider all three in turn.

If you have any firearms training at all, you already know that you should train for malfunctions.  A malfunction in this case is confined to the weapon or the ammunition itself.  It is a malfunction of the tool you are using.  A stove-pipe, a misfeed, or the worst, a broken firing pin - are all situations that must be trained for.  One common malfunction that we don't even consider as a malfunction is running out of ammo.  Why is this not a malfunction?  The weapon is essentially useless.  We don't see it as a malfunction because this is something that we very naturally expect to happen.  We train to reload.  You should train for those other malfunctions just as you train to reload smoothly and with as little interruption to your defense as possible.

And of course this training must include making a hasty tactical withdrawal (retreat)!

On several occasions I have been training with Hatsumi Sensei and he has used two swords that have red saya.  These swords never draw properly.  He at first blamed it on them being new.  But I saw this occur again years later.  Maybe the saya have a poor fit or something.  The cool thing was, that he didn't let the malfunction slow him down at all.  He made use of the half drawn sword.  In one case he said, 
"It's OK if the sword doesn't draw.  What's important is this aspect of the sword not drawing.  You can't have the idea that the sword is always going to draw.  You must have the expectation that the sword won't always draw."

So lets consider tactical failure.  Whether with a gun, a sword, or with your tactics, use yourself in a way that you don't become an obstacle.  Don't malfunction yourself.

Don't get caught up in the malfunction so that you yourself malfunction.  The failure will spread like a virus.  Soke went on to say something simple yet profound about using weapons,
"All these things are connected and you have to have this connection within the weapon."

So if you want to overcome tactical failure, there is a natural solution to the problem.  If you understand Sensei's kuden up to this point, you will know that having a natural posture and natural heart is the secret. Soke refers to his teacher Takamatsu Sensei who said that nature lies in a sincere spirit.  And that nature will bring about the destruction of your opponent.

If this doesn't help you, remember this is kuden.  It is something I've learned and experienced directly from Soke and my teachers.  You need to find a teacher to experience it from.  You can't learn it by reading about it.

Happo Tenchi: Ten Directions of Truth

Photo by ePi.Longo
In all ten directions of the universe,
there is only one truth.
When we see clearly, the great teachings are the same.
What can ever be lost?  What can be attained?
If we attain something, it was there from the beginning of time.
If we lose something, it is hiding somewhere near us.
Look: this ball in my pocket:
can you see how priceless it is?
Ryōkan Taigu (良寛大愚)

There is nothing wise I can add to the beautiful poetry above.  Just that, I find my inspiration from many sources.  I am constantly amazed at how these inspirations in martial arts and life mirror each other.
Who has heard Hatsumi Sensei utter similar ideas?

Ryōkan Taigu (良寛大愚)  1758-1831, Japanese Zen Master, hermit, calligrapher, and poet; his name means "Goodly Tolerance."  Another Buddhist name that he took for himself means "Great Fool."  Ryokan is one of the most beloved figures in Japanese Literature, and is especially known for his kindness and his love of children and animals; he even used to take the lice out of his robe, sun them on a piece of paper on the veranda, then carefully put them back into his robe.  He used to smile continually, and people he visited felt "as if spring had come on a dark winter's day." 

His most famous haiku was written after a thief had broken into his hut and stolen his few simple possessions:
The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window. 

How Can You Learn Shinobi Secrets?

Photo by Son of Groucho
Do you think you have a grasp on this art?  Have you done all the kata in the Tenchijin Ryaku no Maki?  Maybe you have memorized all the (known) kata from our 9 Bujinkan ryuha.  Maybe you have even mastered the Togakure-ryu Juhakkei - the 18 forms of the shinobi (is that even possible in the modern era?).  How long have you been training?  3 years? 10?  how about 20? Do I hear 30?  I know someone with over 40 years in this art and he is still learning new material.

Don't miss the train by not showing up.

Recently, I was at a seminar with my teacher, Peter Crocoll.  I was considering leaving early because I had a 9 hour drive back home.  I brought this up to him, and he said, "you can leave if you want, but what I'm about to show has never been shown in North America."  I stayed.  And it was worth it.

I almost missed training with Peter again this month.  It literally was a coin flip whether I made the trip.  Somehow I pulled it together.  And guess what?  He showed material I had never seen before.

Soke says that he intends to live by the words he heard from his teacher Takamatsu Sensei, "However much I study, it is never enough."

I started training in this art in 1988 (officially).  In all these years, there have been many occasions where I was shown something very interesting and important, and then I never saw it again.  Never in Japan, never at a seminar, never in regular classes, and never in a book or on video. 

Our art runs deep.  Many of the skills in our training could be a lifetime of study all by themselves.  It took many lifetimes and the lives of many warriors to develop this art.  So it is unwise for me to think that my 22 years mean very much.

I was training at one of Hatsumi Sensei's Tai Kai, and Oguri Sensei was there.  Soke showed something and Oguri got a funny look on his face.  Hatsumi Sensei noticed this and asked Oguri to share his thoughts.  Oguri said that he had been training over 40 years and this was the first time he had ever experienced this.

This makes me wonder what I miss when I don't make it to class.  Anytime I start to think about missing a trip to Japan, or going to a seminar, I think to myself, "what if I miss that hidden secret in our art that will make a big difference in my own training?"  And then I am very motivated to go to class.  The simple truth is, I am always happy when I go to class, and missing class just feels empty.

Plan For Chaos, Fight Your Plan

by PhillipC
A commonly heard phrase in military circles is,
No plan ever survives contact with the enemy.
This quote was originally uttered by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, a German Field Marshal during the 1800's.  But Colonel Tom Kolditz, head of the behavioral sciences division at West Point, sums it up this way:
You may start off trying to fight your plan, but the enemy gets a vote.  Unpredictable things happen- the weather changes, a key asset is destroyed, the enemy responds in a way you don't expect.  Many armies fail because they put all their emphasis into creating a plan that becomes useless ten minutes into the battle.
So what do we do as martial artists?  For the most part, martial arts is learning to deal with smaller battles with individual or few enemies.  But the same conundrum confronts us.  All of our training for battle, the years of classes and techniques we have learned, and all the hard work to stay fit- all of this will be upset by this simple truth of battle.

One answer can be found in the Bujinkan training method.  Soke's classes consist of a cascade of henka.  Unending change that teaches us to be very responsive.  But there is something more than that.  By becoming zero or empty we can respond in combat with tactics that can't be understood or defeated.

You can't teach this.  But you can use certain mental constructs to describe it.  One that I sometimes use in my classes is the concept of Past, Present, and Future in a fight.  If the attacker strikes, he is in the present.  If you respond, you are in the past.  Not the best place to be, especially if he is quicker or better than you are.

Better to connect to his rhythm and respond in the present as he attacks.  Real time.  If you are flowing in the present, it gives you the chance to counter if he falters or provides an opening.  But you also have the opportunity to disrupt his rhythm.

Even better is for you to be in the future.  Make him respond to you.  Or know where he is going to strike so you can trap him.

But the best is to do the unexplainable.  Once Hatsumi Sensei was asked,  "What would you do if a sniper shot at you from half a mile away while you were going out your door?  He said, "I would never walk through that door at that time."  We have many ideas to explain this unexplainable core of our training.  Things like Ku, Shizen Shugoku, Hi Jo Shiki and the like remind us that this art is bigger than any of our plans.
Maybe through this you can know Banpen Fugyou.

Bojutsu Gokui: How to Get Hit Over the Head by the Void.

by pusgums
We were in the middle of a bojutsu class and I had an epiphany.  I was trying to explain how to hold the staff.  "You must hold it lightly.  Yet firmly connected to your kamae and spirit."  My words failed me.

Yet, I was feeling something with the rokushakubo I wanted to communicate.  I tried demonstrating various aspects of the movement and grip on the bo.  And none of these things held the idea I felt. Luckily, I remembered a quote from Hatsumi Sensei and I dropped it on the students:

In a verse of the gokui: "striking the void, if there is a response in your hands, that is the gokui."  You must have the enlightenment of the Buddha of the void (koku-bosatsu), whose heart was as infinite as the void itself.  Thrusting the bo into the mist is in truth thrusting one's heart and mind, and this is one method of koku - void training.

Yes!  I was feeling it.  You have to hold the bo very lightly to feel the response from the void.  The response I felt was like creation.

Not long after this exciting insight I was hit on the head by my uke's bo.  If you mess about in the void you might get hurt.   That's one thing I love about training- the immediate feedback that keeps me humble.

Hiding Behind Totoku Hiyoshi No Kamae

Seeing Totoku Hiyoshi No Kamae for the first time can be misleading.  Usually a student's first exposure to this kamae is seeing someone hold a sword out in front of themselves while someone else throws shuriken at them.  Then the instructor hands the sword to you and says, "Next."

by eflon

This aspect of Totoku is often perceived as one of those quirky things in our training that we may try out, but never take seriously.  After all, who has had to dodge shuriken for real?  I'm not counting the dishes your girlfriend threw at you during a recent argument.  Maybe you try this out, maybe block a few rubber shuriken and then forget it.

Totoku forms part of some very rich strategy in our art.  And the more you look for it, the more you will encounter.  I personally have heard Hatsumi Sensei reference it many times, and it wasn't anything to do with shuriken blocking.  It is a running theme in our taijutsu that has to be experienced from a qualified teacher.

Maybe a starting place to understand this kamae can be from the Tachi.  This sword was mainly held in one hand.  There was little tradition of handheld shields in Japanese Budo.  So how do you deal with incoming arrows, spears, or enemy sword attacks?  You use your own sword.  The first use of the sword is to protect yourself before cutting.  It becomes your first line of defense and your shield.

What if you don't have a sword?  The idea of Totoku goes even deeper.  It moves into the idea of hiding yourself behind a shield.  But what is a shield?  Soke speaks about this in reference to Goton No Jutsu:

Examine the character for "Ton" as used above in Tongyo ("hiding one's form"; or alternatively, "the discretion doctrine"), and you can discover it to be a combination of the characters "fleeing" with a "shield" - just as along the path of Ninpo.  The priciple of recognizing the value gained by winning through flight is one of Ninjutsu's cardinal rules.  However it is not simply a question of escaping.  What can one use as a shield?  One can use:
  • the Five Elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water)
  • the Five Rings
  • the Five Ways (the way of enlightenment)
  • the Five Arts
  • the Five Teachings
  • the Five Confucian Virtues (benevolence, rightousness, prosperity, wisdom, and sincerity)
  • Nature
  • the shining (or shadowed) glory of the martial ways
  • beliefs
  • politics (or rather policies for life)
the shields are multiple and varied.

Soke says on another occasion,

Everything is a natural shield.  So, anything can be a natural shield.  One should move in a connected way like Juppo Sessho, and Koteki Ryoda which include these teachings.  Such things are written in old Japanese scrolls.

And finally, I watched one day as Soke was demonstrating some of his mysterious muto dori, and he explained, "You must evade by the thickness of air.  Use the air as your shield."

Kankaku 感覚: Can You Smell It?

One night in my hotel room in Kashiwa, I had a personal breakthrough. It was after one of Soke's Friday night classes at the Hombu dojo in Noda. I was in the habit of taking detailed notes after training. Tonight these notes were different.

Normally, when I put pen to paper, the details of the class line up across the pages of my notebook faster than my hand can scribble. All sorts of details: names of techniques and henka, where Soke had his left hand, what weapons he used, things he said, etc. Tonight I stared at the blank page in a daze and wrote:

"Where to begin?

Holding without holding.
Striking without striking.
Technique without technique.

Accident turns to fortune.

Slipping - blending.
Letting opponent defeat themselves."

That was it? Vague ideas to be sure. These notes would probably be useless to anyone but me. But when I read them, they do trigger feelings from that night.

Sometimes in training I am left scratching my head. No matter how hard I try, or how intently I observe, I cannot repeat what Hatsumi Sensei has just shown us. I guess that's to be expected. Soke often states that he wants us to just get the feeling of his movement.

This is the idea of Kankaku
(n,vs) sense; sensation; feeling; intuition. Soke has many ways of expressing this. One time I heard him say that we might just notice the scent of it. It was a way of suggesting that the feeling was subtle and ephemeral and could pass by on a breeze. In my case, maybe I was passing a strong odor.

Another time, Hatsumi Sensei suggested that there was a strange wind blowing through the world. He said we should try to incorporate the mood of that wind into our movement. I don't know whether I can be that connected in training to invite the whole world into my movement, but I can at least open up to the feeling in the dojo. That is a start.

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Prepared to Die: 決死の覚悟 Kesshi No Kakugo

How much do you sacrifice for training? Does it seem like a lot? We might consider this in light of what Hatsumi Soke and his teacher Takamatsu O-Sensei have offered us.

Hatsumi Sensei said,

... when I had an opportunity to meet with Takamatsu Sensei a year before he passed away, I was told by him, "You are now all right as a budoka. I have taught you everything. I have been able to repay the kindness of Toda Sensei, Ishitani Sensei, Mizuta Sensei."

Takamatsu had such gratitude to his own teachers, that he devoted himself to Hatsumi Sensei and to the tradition that they shared with him. Those who have been dedicated teachers understand the responsibility and sacrifice this was. Add to this the burden of the very survival of nine ryuha and all the history and wisdom they contain, and it cannot be considered lightly.

Our Soke obviously does not take it lightly. He states,

"... I have decided to bare and show budo to the world, as well as demonstrate my personal techniques. In becoming bare is hidden 決死の覚悟 kesshi no kakugo, the resolve to face death."

Shall we give less of ourselves or our training?

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Shizen No Kamae: The Moment Before Change

Hidden within Shizen no kamae is the key to understanding all kamae. This simple looking stance, two feet on the ground, hands and arms relaxed, spine upright... It is how we've readied ourselves all our lives for all variety of activity.

But outward forms can be misleading. Hatsumi Sensei has reminded us many times that the form of the kamae is not the kamae. Rather it is the spirit and feeling held there. The lifetime of experience with our bodies held naturally. But there is something within Shizen no kamae that goes beyond our experience. It starts with another idea Soke has given us about kamae. He simply calls it, "the moment before change."

In the moment of change we can connect to more than ourselves through 先達 sendatsu (guidance) or 閃達 sendatsu (flash of inspiration). This guidance or inspiration comes from a connection to nature; our own nature and the opponent's, as well as the nature that surrounds us. Soke tells us that Shizen no kamae is the embodiment of nature.

It is the like deer that bounds away without having seen you. Or the leaf that turns toward sunlight. Hatsumi Sensei says that "Nature's creations continue to live bound by the ties of nature." And the intuition (kandankei 寒断計) they receive from nature should be treated with more significance. This intuition or guidance speaks to us without words or thought. Can you feel this in Shizen?

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Don't Be Defeated by Victory

Victory and defeat are the same. They arise from the same source. To experience one is to understand more deeply the other. Hatsumi Sensei tells us that this aspect of fighting is expressed in old documents as "Koteki Ryoda Juppo Sessho no Jutsu," and in nature as the tiger fighting the dragon.

People seasoned by competition know this. They move beyond focusing on victory or worrying over loss to just doing their best. The process becomes important. Being present in the moment for optimal performance.

Veteran soldiers know this also. Ask them about winning or losing and they will have no words for you. Victory or defeat in war is terrible. Soke says, "Those who yearn too much for victory suffer forever from their victory."

Hatsumi Sensei often suggests to us that in training there should be no distinction between attacker or defender. When we realize this and move beyond ideas of winning or losing, then real victory can occur. Or, in the dojo, real training might begin.

Knowing this gokui of victory, one may form an interesting strategy. For as Lao Tzu stated, "Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself." Hatsumi Sensei encourages us by saying that, "True warriors, however, will cultivate readiness without fear," and that, "This is because they are standing on the lifeline of enlightenment; they are detached from victory or defeat, and have the insight and knowledge to separate themselves.

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Through the Kagami 鏡

Mirrors can represent truth back to us. Do you see yourself reflected in your training? What is reflected?

The mirror or kagami 鏡 plays a crucial role in Japanese culture. It is one of three Imperial relics handed down from the gods along with the sword and jewel. It was hung from a tree to lure the sun godess Amaterasu out from hiding in a cave. Her brother Susano-o had filled the world with darkness and storms, but when she peeked out and saw her own reflection of light, she felt safe.

Soke has mentioned the idea that training is a process that polishes our hearts till they reflect one another purely. As you would polish a bronze mirror.

The Kamidana we pay our respects to in the dojo has a mirror in the shrine to attract the Kami residing in its reflection. Mirrors are significant in Shinto as the reflective surfaces are thought capable of revealing without prejudice the true aspect of any person or object placed before them.

The word kagami also has a different kanji which means: to take warning or learn a lesson from. If we take the 'ga' (self, ego) out of the word kagami we end up having the word "kami" which is spirit.

And what reflection does Soke see? He says that: "Soke signifies nothingness, zero, emptiness, void. Something that exists, and yet does not. The Soke is just an ordinary person, and yet, somehow, he is someone who is living his life according to some invisible divine command. You see, I do not live by my conscious mind, not at all, so that whatever I have thought up till now can just suddenly change in my mind, though it is not a consciously engineered change."

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Explosive Ku Power! An Essence of Budo.

Budo isn't talking. Budo isn't thinking. Nor is it writing or reading. Budo isn't sport. It isn't self defense. Definitiely isn't fighting.

I could go on like this endlessly saying what budo isn't. But let's try to get at what it is. One impression I have from Hatsumi Sensei is that the essence of budo lies in the creativity that arises from ku.

Soke shows us this in his art and his budo. He says,

"There are so many blessings that come out of that emptiness... It reminds me of the painter Okamoto Taro, who says that his creations appear like explosions out of nowhere."

In budo, the second you make a technique, or talk about it, or drill it, you cut yourself off from the source. Things become fixed and frozen. And thereby defeatable or dead.

So how can budo be taught? What are classes for? Soke's method is unique. He says,

"What I want you to do is just take it as it is. Don't think too much. If you get involved in thinking about it, the whole thing gets lost or loses its purity. Don't think during practice- DO! The more you think, the further from the truth of budo you get: budo is not an academic subject!"

The essence of budo is really very simple because Satori is only a step away.

An explosion from ku could come from any direction. Even from within.

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Kuden is Much More Than Just Talk

You know you are doing something right when the activity engages you fully in mind, body, and spirit. And when you forget to look at a clock. The time passes swiftly and you lose track of the world.

That's how Bujinkan training is for me. And evidently was for Hatsumi Sensei when he was with Takamatsu. Soke said:

"A talk with Takamatsu Sensei could go on for a thousand years without being exhausted of interest. I used to be like an eager child, sitting in his home fascinated as I listened to him talk. He spoke with everything- body, mind, heart, and spirit- and his words touched each of these in me, like sparks of light and understanding. The talking role falls to me now, as I pass on what I can to my students- my martial arts friends."

I feel lucky to have found this art and to have met and trained with Hatsumi Sensei. I hope everyone can find a passion that creates these sparks of life.

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Roppo: six ways to infinity.

You may remember "Roppo kuji no biken" as the theme from 2004. But this idea of "roppo" cannot be left in 2004 and does not only apply to the sword. In fact, Hatsumi Sensei made reference to this recently.

In a Friday night class at Hombu, Soke said that roppo was a way of evading and taking space. He said it was six ways of backing up. He said it was like roppo training in Kabuki theater.

In Kabuki "roppo was used originally as a form of entrance but became more used for exits along the hanamichi. It is derived possibly from the swaggering walk (tanzen roppo) of the Edo period dandies as they strutted between the teahouses of the pleasure quarters. Its literal meaning is "six directions" and the term may have been derived from the purification ceremony of low ranking priests where they referred to heaven, earth, east, west, north and south. There are several forms of this exaggerated style of exit. The tobi roppo (flying roppo) involves the actor gesticulating with his hand whilst bounding along the hanamichi in a skipping motion. The kitsune roppo involves the actor leaving the stage with curled "paws" in the manner of a fox."

Roppo is also described in this Aikido Journal interview with Seigo Okamoto Shihan:
"Roppo can be understood in a variety of ways, such as the roppo of roppogumi [six groups of chivalrous young men who used to wander the city streets in the Edo period]. Or it can be equated with the roppo from the kabuki term roppo o fumu of Benkei [a priest of the early Kamakura period and a famous retainer of Yoshitsune Minamoto. Roppo o fumu means to make one’s exit with bold gestures along the runway].

However, I usually compare roppo to gaming dice to describe techniques which can deal with any situation from any direction, top or bottom, front or back, right or left, like the faces of dice. But these techniques do not have square angles like dice but are round, forming six (roku) infinite circles."

Sometimes it takes an idea like roppo to get your taijutsu to flower.

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Beyond Striking and Kiai Into the Mysteries of Toate No Jutsu

There are mysterious things in life. Or maybe not so mysterious if you understand the secret behind such things. Then they become normal, or just part of being alive.

One mysterious thing in our art is the idea of Toate No Jutsu (techniques for striking from a distance). How can this be real? If you haven't experienced it or delivered such a strike youself, then perhaps it is not real for you... Yet.

If you subscribe to my training notes (if you aren't a subscriber yet, you miss a LOT of free Bujinkan notes), you know that we studied this the other night in my basics class.

One secret of this technique lies in connecting to your opponent and the void. And in trying to understand this mystery it can be useful to make connections. So here we go,

I was at a Friday night class with Hatsumi Sensei in the Hombu Dojo when Soke described toate no jutsu as a kiai or projection of spirit (maybe 気迫 kihaku?). Sensei said it was like the color of your heart projecting into space. That color comes from your character or can be that which you decide to project. He said all this with his purple hair and made reference to Kabuki theatre in which a purple scarf on the head denotes death.

He asked Someya Ken'ichi to describe a time when Sensei "threw" a shuriken at his foot. There was no shuriken but Someya felt frozen in place and the spirit drained from his body. You can find a more detailed description of this event in "My experience of Toate Fudo Kanashibari no Jutsu" (Someya Ken'ichi, this article originally appeared in the Bujinkan Sanmyaku Densho in 1996)

Soke then went on to say that a true Bugeisha does not maim or kill, but rather removes the fighting spirit and the will from the enemy. Have you ever done this? Do you know how? Or do you just punch and kick about blindly without connection? I have heard Soke say many times, there is no attacker or defender. No distinction if you are connected.

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To Bujinkan Teachers: Stop Teaching!

Running classes is an interesting lesson for me. From the beginning my goal for having classes was to further my own training. It was never a selfless act of giving or sharing. And because of that goal, I work on things in class that I want to learn.

Seems selfish. But what I have discovered is that is really all that can be done. I believe you can't really teach Bujinkan. It can be felt, experienced, and lived. But each student must discover it for themselves. Ultimately we are all responsible for our own training.

One Friday night at Hombu, Hatsumi Sensei suggested that teachers should be discovering as they teach, learning and teaching at the same time. I am pretty sure that's what he has done all these years. It certainly shows in the freshness and vitality he brings to every class.

In that same class, Soke also said that if we train with him, we are walking beside and in parallel with him. If not we fall into a hole. That is a path of discovery. The hole is the ego and the belief that you have accomplished something.

So I don't feel guilty about not teaching the students who train with me. Instead I invite them to join me on the journey. The gift of discovery is one of the most selfless things Soke has given us. I hope I can be that example for someone else someday.

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Can You Tap-Out A Bee?

Have you ever tried to capture a wild animal? Or just hold an animal that doesn't want to be held? The results are predictable, in that they involve emergency rooms and injury. If you haven't tried it, then come at it innocently, without aid of guns, tranquilizers, or nets. You will be humbled. That is why people use the phrase "a force of nature" to describe something gone wild or that is unstoppable.

People like to train in submission fighting. Or they view a tap-out as something to strive for. I have never seen Hatsumi Sensei use a submission hold or go for a tap-out. Sure his Uke's tap plenty, but he often ignores it. That is not his goal.

At the risk of creating controversy, I suggest that you not water down your Bujinkan training with MMA, submission fighting, BJJ, or any other sport martial art. Unless your only battles will be on the mats. Where you can tap-out, or the ref can stop the fight.

In real life, people or animals do not tap. You may break their arm, but that doesn't mean they will stop trying to hurt or kill you. You can choke them out (at great danger to youself), but few situations give that opportunity. It is important to ask, what is the goal of a choke? Is it stategically sound in most situations? You may have to kill or they regain consciousness. And good luck choking out anything wild.

There's a reason police prefer to overwhelm a suspect with many officers or tasers, or finally, firearms. Because it's very difficult to apprehend someone who resists. In fact, in almost any scenario, police prefer to use psychology or tactics that convince the suspect to submit willingly. Otherwise, someone gets hurt or killed.

Soke often suggests that we control our attacker by not holding them too tightly. Oddly, the tighter you hold the more unpredictable they may be. Their struggle becomes more frantic, wild, and dangerous. Adrenaline kicks in and a cornered animal will fight with everything its got.

Instead, if you hold lightly, give it space to move, you can let it defeat itself. Or submit from confusion or exhaustion. This is like a net. Or a spider web.

I heard Sensei describe this idea with the phrase:

Amo issun no tamamushi.

From Mats Hjelm,

"The Gokui secret teachings of our Takagiyōshin-ryū tradition contain a story about catching a bee. There is a power phrase that goes “Amo issun no tamamushi” By saying this mantra and grabbing a bee without hesitating, you will avoid being stung."

Every time I have heard Hatsumi Sensei talk about this he demonstrates by cupping his hands or making a very loose fist. The idea is you give the bee room to move, holding it loosely. Then it will crawl around looking for an escape.

If you clamp down or hold the wing, you will likely be stung.

I find this in life. The more I try to control, the less I have. And when I try to force my will, more surprises confront me. Better to be zero where submissions and control are like the mist.

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Winning by Mistake

I was training with my teacher Peter Crocoll this weekend and I made a critical error that led to an injury to my eye. Peter was teaching sojutsu, and the worst possible thing happened. I blocked a seven foot spear with my eye.

This injury could be devastating. Yet I am fine. It could have been embarrassing, yet was not. Instead, my taijutsu protected me and I came out with some wonderful knowledge. I won.

Soke says to always be winning. He references Daruma who fell down seven times but got up eight. In other words, don't fall down- fall up.

I was supposed to use my hips to redirect the spear with my weapon. Instead I used my hands alone and the thrusting Yari was directed right at my eye. What saved me was my experience with taijutsu. I FELT what was happening and was able to ride the strike so that it glanced off my eyelid. The injury I received was a swollen bruise. Oddly the yari didn't even make contact with bone or my eyeball. How does a seven foot spear thrust into your eye and just miss? Thanks bujin.

So often we strive to be perfect and be mistake free. But maybe the illusion of perfection is the mistake. My mistake was very important for my training. I'll happily accept the bruise.

This goes for teaching as well. I heard Hatsumi Sensei say that teachers shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes or look foolish in front of their students. This idea really frees up teaching and makes it more honest.

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Kamae Gokui: My Tiger Kamae is Strong.

1985. I'm having lunch with my friends from high school. We chose this spot on campus because no one bothered us there. We could be the goofy teens that we were without trouble. Except today.

I was about to experience maybe the most important lesson about kamae that Soke has offered us. I had been obsessed with ninjutsu and devoured every book, magazine, or VHS tape I could find. I was still a few years away from any real training. It just wasn't available then. There was no such thing as the internet in '85, and very few legit teachers of Hatsumi Sensei's art anywhere.

We were sitting on a bench, eating our lunch, and around the corner comes some guy I had never seen around campus. He asks for a cigarette. None of us smoke. He demands money from me. I tell him to leave us alone. He states that he will take it from me.

I stand up. "You can try," I tell him. Then I take a deep pose in what I now know as doko no kamae (sometimes called the angry tiger posture). He suddenly looks quite insecure. He considers his options and says, "You're crazy." Then he leaves.

My friends sit frozen on the bench looking at me, lunch falling from open mouths. We burst into laughter. I collapse back to the bench. My voice and hands shake from adrenaline. We eat for a minute, then each decide that maybe we should get to class early today.

I was lucky he didn't call my bluff. I had no idea what to do if he attacked. I had zero training. I was just copying a pose I had seen in a book. But with kamae it is all about spirit. And apparently I sold it.

Hatsumi Sensei makes reference to this gokui of kamae often, for example, "In referring to seigan no kamae one may be in any stance. What is important is the spirit. Not the form. In fighting it is what is inside of you that counts."

Soke also describes this as an aspect of Banpen Fugyou (many changes, no surprises). "This is the truth of spontaneous change. Therefore, I never go against nature and favor the quiet mind that is never surprised, that remains free from conflict."

Soke describes kamae simply as "the moment before change."

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A Fistful of Nothing, or the Void of Koku.

Some of the best lessons of the Bujinkan lie in between techniques. Before the attack or after the battle. Or simply in the air between combatants.

In this space, this void, there exists everything and nothing. Both peace and conflict can arise. And anything in between.

虚空 Koku
If you don't find this idea in your training then you miss out on a great power in our art and in life.

Hatsumi Sensei gives us a roadmap to understand this in the following quote:

It is taught that the foundation of Budo is to first understand taijutsu, through which you can fight even if you have no weapons. This means to persevere in the martial ways (bufu ikkan), and to train consistently and with utmost effort. Then you will grasp the secrets of muto dori (no-sword technique). Succeeding in this, the mysteries of the secret sword (hiken) will be revealed, and no matter what weapon you hold, your heart and your taijutsu will dance skillfully in the void (koku).

While these ideas may seem esoteric or advanced, they have great practical application. If you dismiss them as something apart from the reality of training or combat then you miss a very large variable that can harm or protect you. The void doesn't take sides.

Paul Masse reminds me of this idea in his blog:

(妙術、実)あると思えば,ない. ないと思えば, ある。If you think there is something, there is really nothing. And when you think there is nothing, there is something.

Ignoring ideas about Ku in training can be the same as ignoring how to punch or kick. You need both. And nothing.

Soke continues to say:

Facing an opponent, armed with a sword, adapting to change (henka), hiding in the void (koku), accepting change, and acquiescing to the void - this is never about killing the opponent or benefiting from the aggression of your allies.

Bujinkan Rules of Engagement

Sometimes people want to adopt military or law enforcement tactics in the Bujinkan. Maybe they percieve these tactics as being the most real since these people are on the front lines testing their tactics everyday. While it's true their tactics are proven and tested, the reality their tactics address is not the same reality the Bujinkan is training us for. This can be seen clearly in the "rules of engagement" in the military or "use of force continuum" used by law enforcement.

standard police Use of Force Continuum:

1. Physical Presence
2. Soft Hands
3. Mace or Pepper Spray
(A K-9 unit would fall here)
4. Hard Hands
5. Police Baton, etc.
6. Threat of Deadly Force
7. Deadly Force

The 1999 Marine Corps Close Combat Manual (MCRP 3-02B) presents a “Continuum of Force” broken down as follows:

Level 1: Compliant (Cooperative). The subject responds and complies to verbal commands. Close combat techniques do not apply.

Level 2: Resistant (Passive). The subject resists verbal commands but complies immediately to any contact controls. Close combat techniques do not apply.

Level 3: Resistant (Active). The subject initially demonstrates physical resistance. Use compliance techniques to control the situation. Level three incorporates close combat techniques to physically force a subject to comply. Techniques include: Come-along holds, Soft-handed stunning blows, Pain compliance through the use of joint manipulation and the use of pressure points.

Level 4: Assaultive (Bodily Harm). The subject may physically attack, but does not use a weapon. Use defensive tactics to neutralize the threat. Defensive tactics include Blocks, Strikes, Kicks, Enhanced pain compliance procedures, Impact weapon blocks and blows.

Level 5: Assaultive (Lethal Force). The subject usually has a weapon and will either kill or injure someone if he/she is not stopped immediately and brought under control. The subject must be controlled by the use of deadly force with or without a firearm.

In Bujinkan training Hatsumi Sensei says:

Start each moment from zero. In a fight or in life.


Don't try to capture, let them get trapped. Remove yourself from technique. No form there. In real combat technique becomes a target.

Neither of these lists address the "zero" state Hatsumi Sensei often speaks about. Of course you could be in that state and still take the actions suggested by those rules of engagement. But, from a zero state the range of possible responses becomes infinite. And those that are contained in the "rules" above either arise naturally or become unnecessary.

My friend Paul Masse connects this idea to Banpen Fugyo:

Transcend the idea of the need to define things (life), of trying to control that which can not be controlled and move spontaneously and naturally in your natural state. 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”.

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Be an Insect of Victory or kachimushi

Takamatsu Sensei used to say that even a small fly could go go to the ends of the earth if it held onto a horses tail.

That's what we are doing if we follow Hatsumi Sensei's teaching. We are trying to hang on to a galloping horse. But the horse is not Soke. It is the many generations of tradition and the spirit of Ninpo that is greater than any of us.

Even Hatsumi Sensei himself has stated that his fifty plus years of training doesn't mean much. He feels he is still walking along behind Takamatsu.

Soke also reminds us that a horse's tail is actually used to flick away pests. So if you don't respect the nature of what you have grabbed onto by training in the Bujinkan, you may be in for an unpleasant journey or swatted away.

Once you have a feel for the nature of the ride you are on, the trick is learning how to hang on. It can't be done with strength or willpower.

Maybe this is one meaning of Bufu Ikkan.

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