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.

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