Bujinkan Hi Jo Shiki, or uncommon sense.

Last night in class we addressed a common problem.  Many students practice unarmed taijutsu and they more or less are able accomplish the technique.  Maybe not do exactly what the teacher demonstrated, but reproduce a reasonable version that arises from their own taijutsu.  This is good.  This is how the Bujinkan is set up.  Each person's taijutsu is unique to them and should not look like a picture, video, or a mimed version of their teacher.  One problem that arises is when a weapon is put into the mix.

When a weapon is introduced, students get very attached to using it, or, conversely, they can't use it at all.  Moving naturally and using the weapon fluidly during the technique is a goal that many miss.  The weapon is an inanimate object.  With no attachment to being useful or even who wields it.  The same way one makes use of the earth, or the wind is how a weapon should be considered.

But something more.  Beyond common sense there is uncommon sense or things that can't be understood with the intellect.  This is hi jo shiki.


I was at a class in Noda one day when Hatsumi Sensei said:

Don't show or use your knife right away. Animals bare their fangs. Humans don't have to show our fangs. We smile as we defeat you.
There are many ideas contained in this quote.  One is that when someone has a knife in their hand, both they and their opponent's attention tends to be on the knife.  As if the knife captured their minds.  The inanimate piece of metal can become a trap for those who allow it.

Another idea Soke may have been referring to is that in ninjutsu, that which defeats the adversary is often hidden.  It can be hidden in plain sight.  A hidden weapon, or strategy.  A subtle control of space or psychology that is never seen.

And smiling as we defeat you could be describing a purity of heart that is unmoved by insults or threats.  Unattached to the outcome of the exchange.  Just moving naturally as needed.  A clear heart has nothing to prove.

Don't try to use your weapon expertly.  Add some Hi jo shiki.

Kyojitsu and Rokkon Shoujou?

How does kyojitsu connect to this years theme of rokkon shoujou?  I was in a class at the Hombu dojo where Soke said something very curious that may provide a clue:

Hatsumi Sensei spoke about not presenting strength, but rather weakness or friendliness.

He said in this way you wouldn't be a target or present a target.

He said sometimes lies and deception were necessary and that he doesn't get angry when someone uses them on him.  That he respects that they are practicing their Budo.

It's a happier way to go through life if you don't get upset over stuff like that.

Remember kyojitsu is an interchange of truth and falsehood.  So you can present friendliness and be ready to be a true friend, but the smile you present is that of purring tiger.  Relaxed yet powerful.  Content and dangerous.

Year of the tiger baby!

Hatsumi Sensei's "Gambatte" Inspires and Destroys Excuses.

A well known quote from Sensei:

"Gambatte" or "Keep Going. "

Simple.  Two words.  So why does it mean so much?  Why is it so hard to do?  And what does he mean exactly?

Soke wrote:

Forget your sadness, anger, grudges and hatred. Let them pass like smoke caught in a breeze. You should not deviate from the path of righteousness; you should lead a life worthy of a man. Don't be possessed by greed, luxury, or your ego. You should accept sorrows, sadness and hatred as they are, and consider them a chance for trial given to you by the powers... a blessing given by nature. Have both your mind and your time fully engaged in budo, and have your mind deeply set on bujutsu.
    Adapted from Tetsuzan, Hatsumi Sensei's original newsletter in English.
    © Tetsuzan & Bujinkan International


There is the idea in Japanese culture of Musha Shugyo.   It is a warriors quest.  But also a life quest.  In order to discover your purpose and along the way, yourself, you must take a journey.  The journey often involves hardship.  It costs money.  It may cover great distance.  There may be pain and suffering.

So why go through all that?  Why bother?

The funny thing is you can't answer those questions unless you take the journey.  So it requires a leap of faith.  A  hope for the future.  And trust in those who have gone before and who beckon you to follow.

Or, you can stay where you are.  And do nothing.

There are times during your life when it is important to stop and ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.

Training in the Bujinkan is like that.   Why do you do it?  Or, why DON'T you?  Useful questions to know the answers to.  I think the only real reason for you to do it is if it is crucial to your Musha Shugyo.   Is it important for your journey in life?  If it is, then do you treat it seriously with your full commitment and heart?

There are times when giving your full commitment to something is difficult.  Those are the times where the simple idea to KEEP GOING can  get you through.  The reasons are many.  Here are some I've experienced personally:

  • Lack of time.
  • Lack of money.
  • Injury.
  • Transportation.
  • It's too far.
  • Too cold.
  • Too wet.
  • Too hard.
  • I'm frustrated with my progress.
  • I don't like someone I have to train with.
  • I disagree with my teacher.
  • I'm not in shape.  (seen this one a bunch, people feel like they have to get everything else with   their health/diet/lifestyle perfect before they can train.)
  •  Conflicts with other things- work/school/family/friends
  • I don't have anything to wear- silly, but true.

This list can be really long.  The obstacles on the journey can seem overwhelming.  But the secret is this: There is only one obstacle,  Myself. 

This is a great lesson of the journey.  Don't just read it.  It deserves more than that.  Live with the idea.  The journey is a journey of self.

And Sensei's idea to "Keep Going" is a deceptively powerful tool to help you.  It is like dripping water that doesn't stop.  There is power in that idea for your Taijutsu.  A technique can work better if you you keep going.  So can everything else.

Have the courage to make your journey.  Be strong and decide if training is part of that journey for you.  If it is, give it the commitment it deserves.

One idea from Sensei that I discussed in my last post:

"The longer you train you need to be able to ignore things that you don't need.  Things that are unnecessary.  And set them aside.

As you do this, you start to see the bad parts of your own self.    And you have to be able to toss those things aside as well. 

Because if you have one bad part of yourself still within you, everything will collapse later.

So part of what Shugyo is, what training is... is discovering the bad parts of yourself and tossing them aside.

That's what life is.  Not just in the dojo."

Destroy the excuses with two words:  Keep Going.

Bujinkan Kouun, Hatsumi Sensei's ideas on luck.

One day at Hombu, after doing a miraculous technique that seemed require impossible coincidence, Hatsumi Sensei said,

You have to be the type of person that lucky things happen to.

Really.  On reflection, I felt lucky to have heard him say that.  But that was several years ago, and the idea has stayed with me.  There seem to be many layers to that idea,  And I have heard Soke mention variations on it since.

Usually the way people speak that idea in English is, "you've got to get lucky."  Or, "hope I get lucky!"  As if luck is something that just happens to you.  Hatsumi Sensei's version seems to suggest that luck is a product of the type of person you are, or maybe an aspect of your heart or spirit.

One of the reasons that phrase resonated with me is that I have had many "unlucky" moments in my life.  Moments where I just cannot fathom the depths of my misfortune.  I won't bore you with the details, but Soke's statement seemed to suggest a solution.

A year or two after I heard Sensei say that, I was very lucky to receive a calligraphy from Sensei of the word "Kouun."  It means "luck, fortune, or prosperity."  While I was waiting for the ink to dry, I showed it to my friend Paul Masse and Yabunaka.  Paul with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, pointed out to me that people often use the word "uunko" to reflect the opposite.  It is a word that is uttered when one has just stepped in dog shit.

This reminded Yabunaka of a story.  He said that when he was traveling with Hatsumi Sensei to the Atlanta Tai Kai, the weather was quite warm.  They were walking along behind Soke along the hot asphalt.  The heat from the road caused the glue from the sole of Sensei's shoe to soften and the sole fell off.  Hatsumi Sensei didn't miss a step.  He continued walking straight on his path.  Those behind him retrieved the sole and said, "Sensei, your shoe came off!"  Sensei just brushed them aside and stated that he didn't need it anyway.

This reminded me of something else I heard Soke say that may help to understand how to be lucky:

"The longer you train you need to be able to ignore things that you don't need.  Things that are unnecessary.  And set them aside.

As you do this, you start to see the bad parts of your own self.    And you have to be able to toss those things aside as well.  

Because if you have one bad part of yourself still within you, everything will collapse later.

So part of what Shugyo is, what training is... is discovering the bad parts of yourself and tossing them aside.

That's what life is.  Not just in the dojo."

Kusari fundo, basic and advanced Bujinkan weapon.

In the Bujinkan we have a large amount of weapons. You can just look at the walls of the Hombu dojo or visit Hatsumi Sensei's house to witness an armory that would rival anything the Quartermaster in the James Bond movies would stock. And as Hatsumi Sensei often says, anything can be a weapon. I once watched him use a bag of walnuts from the market against an attacker!

Even with our exotic Ninja weaponry, sometimes the most advanced is the most simple. Something as simple as a rope or chain can be the most challenging to learn. I have seen very skilled martial artists fumble around like a kid tying a shoe when you put a rope in their hands. Flexible weapons are naturally unruly and difficult to control. And that also is their main advantage.

A good weapon to learn is kusari fundo or short cord (for safe training). The kusari fundo is a chain around 46 to 76 cm in length and weighted at both ends. It looks so simple lying there. It is easy to transport. And variations on it can be found everywhere in daily life if you don't happen to have the weapon itself.

Most students can immediately put it to use by swinging it through the air with one hand to strike a target with the weighted end. Or shooting a weight out like a dart. Seems simple. But even this simple idea requires some Bujinkan fundamentals of angles, distance, timing. Without these, targeting will be ineffective. And to compound matters, the weapon can backfire on its owner! Anyone who has practiced with Nunchaku will understand this clearly.

After swinging and striking, the next obvious use is grappling. Wrapping and tangling an opponent's arm or sword are common uses. But again, the weapon can trap the user. I've witnessed many people attempting to grapple with the weapon and their own minds are wrapped up in the effort. Their hands grip the chain with white knuckles where they themselves are trapped.

Other uses are striking with the weights or chain alone. Holding a weight in a fist and hammering away can really drive home a shattering blow. Or the chain can make a stinging, whip like attack. Snap the chain from loose to taught and it makes a very useful strike. Sometimes the whole thing is thrown like a projectile weapon to entangle or distract. It can be thrown as one mass, or spun like a helicopter.

If you think you understand the above methods, you might be missing the true beauty of this weapon. As I stated above, flexible weapons are unruly. Difficult to control. And that is their advantage. If you watch Hatsumi Sensei use them he lets them do what is in their nature. He doesn't care if it is messy or full of knots or doesn't look clean. Sometimes the more chaotic, the happier he seems. This is one of the highest lessons for weapons in general. Don't try to be expert with a weapon. Let the nature of the weapon come out. Listen to its secrets. If you try to control it, you will be controlled.

A kusari fundo hint: Play with tension and slack. When you find tension be slack. And tense! Have Yoyuu. As my friend Paul Masse describes:

When you have Yoyuu, you are not in a hurry. You can take your time. Having Yoyuu allows you to have more space, more time, and more freedom in your movement. When you have yoyuu, you can wrap your opponent up in not only technique but with your heart as well.

A weapon is just a tool. Use it. Let it go. Sometimes let it just pass through your hands and your life.

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