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.

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