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経津 Futsu: Reflections on a Theme for 2012

Training sometimes seems mysterious. Even more so when Hatsumi Sensei gives us Japanese philosophical ideas to consider.  Sometimes these mysteries come in the form of a stated yearly theme.

The idea or feeling behind the yearly theme continuously changes as our lives and training evolve through the year. So whatever we think the theme is, it's important not to get attached to any set concept and to allow the natural evolution of training to occur.

These yearly themes and ideas Soke gives us are like gifts that resonate throughout the year as reflected in our training, in our taijutsu, and our lives.

As we enter 2012 what sort of starting point might we have for the yearly theme?

UPDATE: 2012 theme seven months later: Shot to the Heart of Kaname 要

I was at a class earlier this month where Hatsumi Sensei gave us some hints. We spent a considerable portion of this class exploring concepts with a sword sometimes against long weapons like a bo or yari.

At the end of class, after bo…

Fushaku Shinmyō 不惜身命: Mind and Body Like Diamond

Hatsumi Sensei's classes are often too crowded to do "large" techniques. Or, to train with weapons that need "large" distances. Recently I was lucky enough to be in a class that was small enough for Sensei to have us using Bo, Yari, and Naginata. Along with the big weapons came some big ideas for training.

He was attaching these weapons to his uke's body or clothing, then moving in a way where the weapon seems to develop a life of its own. He explained he was using a reflection of the attacker. That was a big idea that reminded me of another time when he described 辛抱 Shinbo to us.

 One other large idea he put out there for us came at a moment of evading a yari thrust. He used the phrase 不惜身命 Fushaku Shinmyō. Roughly translated in this context it means sacrificing one's life to accomplish its resolution. It can be related to concepts of Sutemi and throwing away the self.

The roots of this idea come from Buddhism and the Nyorai Juryo Hon chapter of the Lot…

How to Grow Your Own 器 Utsuwa

Did I learn anything? Sometimes I wonder. I watch Hatsumi Sensei teach and then he does something or says something that I find fascinating. So I look around the Hombu to see how other people are reacting. Did they see what he just did? Did they understand what he just said? Did I?

That's the real question. What is my own capacity to understand?

Is everyone at the hombu dojo having the same training experience and are they getting as much from it as I am? Will I understand or experience the training as deeply as someone like Oguri Sensei who has been training more than 40 years and actually trained with Takamatsu Sensei?

The answer is no. We are not having the same experience or learning the same thing. No one there is. We all have different levels of understanding. As for myself, I can only experience training to the fullness of my capacity.

In Chinese they say, 大器晚成 it takes a long time to make a big pot. This suggests that great talents mature late or the idea of being a late bloo…

Hatsumi Sensei VS. Pro Wrestler Rikidōzan

During a recent Sunday class at Hombu, Hatsumi Sensei was showing techniques  against a double lapel grab. He made a point of demonstrating these techniques on some of the largest foreigners in the room. He tossed them around easily and made them groan or whimper in pain.

He then said that all of the Jugodans in the Bujinkan should be able to defeat any pro wrestler. He wasn't talking about the kind of pro wrestling we see now that is full of theatrics and largely staged, but he was referring to the kind of athletes and matches that were common during his youth.

Hatsumi Sensei then told us about a story from his past when he had accepted a grudge match against one of the most famous of those wrestlers, Rikidōzan.

Soke shared with us the surprise ending to this event, but first let's learn more about this legendary fighter. From the Rikidōzan Wikipedia entry:
Mitsuhiro Momota (百田 光浩 Momota Mitsuhiro?), better known as Rikidōzan (Japanese: 力道山, Korean: 역도산 Yeokdosan, November 1…

Show the Truth in Your Training

Here I will share a story I heard from Kan Junichi during Daikomyosai that proves Hatsumi Sensei is not a superhero who can dodge bullets. Of course I joke, but the story does prove something very important about the essence of training. First let me explain why I am not a superhero myself.

I screw up often when I teach. I get things wrong, I slip, stumble, misspeak, let myself get hit by my students, use the wrong words, or misremember facts. If a mistake can be made, I've made it. But I always do my best to acknowledge and recognize this humbly. My mistakes are my most important teachers. Training is not real if there are no mistakes. Teachers are not real if they don't allow themselves this honesty.

I've met many martial arts instructors who are terrified by this. They must always project some kind of superhuman perfection to their students and others. They only demonstrate with uke's who make them look good. And they won't try anything that could make them look …

The Kyūsho 五輪 Gorin: Sun Crossing the Belly

Ideas as fundamental as Kyūsho 急所 (vital or tender points on the body) can seem mysterious when you try to really understand them. We have many Kyūsho 急所 in the Bujinkan. They have interesting names which vary according to the ryu. But their names and locations on the body are just the beginning and a door to understanding something deeper.

Let's consider the meaning of the kyūsho 五輪 Gorin.

I thought I was comfortable using this kyūsho until I read what Hatsumi Sensei wrote in his Advanced Stick Fighting book,
"The kyūsho known as "Gorin" means to point at "chi-sui-ka-fu-ku." I was confused but curious about this statement. This inspired me to examine 五輪 Gorin more closely.

Gorin is normally explained as five vital points around the navel. That seems simple enough. But what are the five? and what about the variations of 五輪月影 Gorin Tsukikage and 五輪稲妻 Gorin Inazuma?

You will be hard pressed to find any Bujinkan teacher to explain more than the name and general …

出花 Debana: Seizing the Flower of Intention

Timing is basic to combat strategy. Whether it is unarmed, iaijutsu, or even gunfighting. This variable and how you manage it contains hidden lessons.

Consider this example from a gunfight in William S. Burroughs' "The Place of Dead Roads,"
Suddenly Kim flicks his hand up without drawing and points at Mike with his index finger.
     "BANG! YOU'RE DEAD."
     He throws this last word like a stone. He knows that Mike will see a gun in the empty hand and this will crowd his draw….
     (With a phantom gun in an empty hand he has bluffed Mike into violating a basic rule of gunfighting. TYT. Take Your Time. Every gunfighter has his time. The time it takes him to draw aim fire and hit. If he tries to beat his time the result is almost invariably a miss….
     "Snatch and grab," Kim chants.
     Yes, Mike was drawing too fast, much too fast.
     Kim's hand snaps down flexible and sinuous as a whip and up with his gun extended in both hands at eye level.

Why Do You Take Ukemi?

Bujinkan ukemi doesn't look impressive. It's not supposed to. It has other goals.

In my Tuesday night class we were studying koshi kudaki. There are many levels to studying such a simple looking technique. First you need to understand the attack which is normally a type of hip throw like o goshi or harai goshi. As we were studying the attack, one of the students who also studies Judo was taking proper Judo ukemi. I suggested to him that this was creating a bad habit. His ukemi looked great, so what was bad about it?

It is important when studying any martial art to understand the goal of the study. In many modern arts, the goal is sport. In sport, there are judges to determine points or winners. But the judging gets more insidious. Your teacher naturally judges your form or technique. Your fellow students judge as they watch you. You even judge yourself. All this judging creates an impulse toward pretty form. Clean moves. Flashy kicks or throws. Satisfying slaps on the mat duri…

Jōtai 状態: The Art of the Situational

Hatsumi Sensei often speaks in English. Of course his accent is Japanese so you may not notice or understand. One English phrase he says often is "case by case." When he says this the translator will often repeat it just because it is hard for ears not accustomed to the Japanese accent to catch the meaning.

What might he mean when he says "case by case?" In English, when someone says to consider something on a case by case basis, it means to judge each situation independently and as unique, even though it may appear similar.

Hatsumi Sensei also uses the word 状態  jōtai which is the current status;  condition;  situation;  circumstances;  or state. This suggests the ever changing state cause by the bufu blowing through the kukan and our connection to this.

When we study fighting in class, our actions often become fixed. The opponent repeats the same attack as we attempt the same technique over and over to study it. This is not real. And students often get confused when…

死門 Shimon: Gates of Death

Hatsumi Sensei tells us that we should awaken to the fact that we are only living in the space between life and death.

I've had a lot of death in my life recently. Every year that goes by, it seems that I know more and more people who are no longer around. That is natural as I grow older I guess. But in noticing this I also determine that death is always there, I just am not aware of it.  This awareness is an important quality in Budo.

People can misunderstand the famous quote from Hagakure, "The way of Bushi is the way of death." I think Soke is leading us to different understanding of that phrase. He says,
"All worldly things are impermanent; life and death are but one. Bushido is what runs through the Wabi and Sabi (transient beauty) of nature. Yet I feel compelled to say that enduring to the end no matter what happens, persevering with life despite being prepared for death at any time, is actually the secret of Bushido." This "secret" has opened up…

Kill Assumptions with 捨て身 Sutemi

Assumptions are deadly. They kill the chance to learn anything in class, and they can get you killed in combat. Sometimes they are subtle and you are not aware that you are making them. One simple interaction I had with Hatsumi Sensei illustrates this.

I was training at Hombu dojo one Sunday. Sensei was generously making calligraphy and ink paintings for the students. When he had my blank shikishi 色紙 board in front of him, he took one look at me and said,

"You like manga right?"

For some reason this question threw me. Sometimes Sensei takes requests from people. People often request calligraphy of a certain phrase or kanji that is meaningful for them. Some people just let Sensei decide.

In the many times Sensei had painted something for me before, he had waited for my request. This time he did not. He just asked that question.

So what were my assumptions? I had two. And they were both off the mark.

One had to do with my poor understanding of Japanese. When he said the word &quo…

百景 Hyakkei: One Hundred Famous Views of My Mind

Well I've done it. Something no one else in this office would ever have thought possible. I've done something that most would consider a foolish and wasted effort. Something that only history will judge in it's fickle wisdom:

I've written ONE HUNDRED blog posts. This one makes 101.

I never set out to do that many. In fact, I don't know what I set out to do exactly. I simply started writing. One every week. And then I persevered.

Just like people start with training. They start for many reasons. None of those reasons matter so much. Just starting and then showing up for class every week. It's the perseverance that leads to growth and enlightenment in our art. You eventually find yourself with a lot of knowledge under your belt. Enough knowledge so that you are courageous enough to admit you know nothing.

Hatsumi Sensei says that he didn't start out to teach:
"When I first started accepting students, it was not truly for the purpose of teaching but rather …

The Natural Form of Gogyo Hidden in Steam

The study of form. It is where most classes begin. But it also leads to some of the biggest failures and flaws in martial arts training. So much so, that Hatsumi Sensei constantly reminds us not to focus on or memorize forms.

Yet, it is hard to teach or learn anything without using form as a starting place. How do we resolve this paradox? We can look at one of our basic forms to seek answers to these questions:

Gogyo no kata: why and how does form corrupt our training of this basic concept?

I will give two examples that have far reaching implications in the Bujinkan worldwide.

In the first, it comes from a natural human tendency to take something new and compare or relate to something else we already are familiar with. This happened many years ago in the Bujinkan with the Gogyo. It was the concept that the gogyo should be a spiritual concept like the godai.

Sensei has said this isn't the correct approach:
"We are training with the gogyo no kata: chi, sui, ka, fu, ku. If you think…

Purifying the Senses with Less Muscle

There are different ways to consider the words rokkon shoujou.  When Hatsumi Sensei put this idea out for us as a theme for 2010, many of us gave the concept a lot of thought and smiles (he did say it was the purification of the senses through laughter). But it is not only about thinking. To succeed with rokkon shoujou, we need to include it in our everyday practice and training for it to have any effect.

Our training consists of fighting and combat. How does one purify the spirit while fighting?

I can give you something to work on in every training session that will get you started. But first please consider how training reflects your spirit. Maybe you've heard a song of the gokui that says,
"If you possess a heart like clear water, the opponent is reflected as though in a mirror." Well the opposite of this is also true: if your heart is muddled and confused it will be reflected and magnified in your taijutsu. Another gokui reflects this idea,
"Bottomless waves that…

嵐 Arashi: Don't Get Caught in Your Own Storm

I read a curious poem this morning in a story from Saigyō.
The Japanese poet Saigyō (1118-1190) was a Buddhist monk and lived most of his life as a traveling mendicant and hermit. His poems often relate the tension he felt between renunciatory Buddhist ideals and his love of natural beauty.In the story I read this morning, he was caught in a rainstorm during his travels through Osaka. He tried to take shelter at a brothel. Yet he was turned away by a prostitute. But this was no ordinary prostitute. In the legend, she was an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Fugen who symbolizes meditation and practice. Knowing this, Saigyō was frustrated that someone so enlightened would  force him back out into the rain. He wrote:

How difficult I suppose,
    to reject
This world of ours.
    And yet you begrudge me
        a temporary stay.

In his frustration, Saigyō could get angry at this teacher in disguise and miss an important lesson. Do you ever get angry at your teachers? What happens after the s…

万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo: Emptiness in the Midst of Constant Change

You may have heard about 万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo and how it has emerged to be part of this year's theme along with Kihon Happo. This arose partially because of the earthquake and other events in Japan, but this is also how Hatsumi Sensei seems to explore every year. Soke says,
"To be able to survive and live in the midst of this constant change, it is important to comprehend that which is the essence. To this end, I believe it is important to vary this theme of change every year."Maybe you have a teacher who reminds you of 万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo all the time. You get the idea of "Ten thousand changes, No surprises", but how to put it into practice?

There is a poem from the 22nd Buddhist Master 摩拏羅:Manorhita,

心隨萬境轉 the mind follows the ten thousand circumstances and shifts accordingly;
轉處實能幽 It is the shifting that is truly undefined.
隨流認得性 Follow the current and recognize your nature;
無喜復無憂 No rejoicing, no sorrow.

How do you recognize your nature and what is it exactly? M…

Kokū 心空: Striking the Empty Mind

How do you know where to strike? This is a question I often hear from students. It seems like it should be obvious. And sometimes it is. Strike where you find an opening… or where it will do the most damage. But as simple as that sounds, it is not easy to find those spots.

Many of us have had the experience of watching Hatsumi Sensei strike someone at a particular spot or kyūsho and the strike causes a dramatic effect in his uke's body. It sends the guy flying, or he is writhing in pain. Then we try to hit the same spot on our uke, and nothing happens. Even if Sensei told us what kyūsho he was striking.

This is frustrating indeed. Some people blame their Uke for resisting. Or they think, if I "really" hit him with damaging force he would react. Sometimes people just shrug and say that of course Hatsumi Sensei does it better because he has way more experience. And while that is true, shrugging it off doesn't help us understand what is actually happening.

One way to …

Utsuru 映る: Is Your Mind Reflected in Your Taijutsu?

What have you been studying for the Bujinkan yearly theme of 2011? It seems that every year we start out on a journey of exploration. At the beginning of the year our minds seek something concrete to study. And Hatsumi Sensei puts something out there for us to consider. But as the year goes on, the theme evolves so that by the end of the year it feels like something else entirely.

However frustrating this may be for those of us who don't live in Japan to try to keep up, this is a very natural way of learning. And it is a lesson in itself. This year started out with Kihon Happo, but has transitioned to also include 万変不驚 Banpenfugyo and Juppo Happo.

There are many ways to look at Banpen Fugyo (Infinite change, No surprise). But how do you train on this? A very simple but profound example can be found in nature when we observe the reflection of the moon. I wrote about this before in my post "Ninpo and Mu: Waxing and Waning Like the Moon" but with this year's theme I thi…

消体 Shotai: You Cannot Divide Nature

Hatsumi Sensei writes that sensing the true nature of things (消体 shotai) like budo and nature, shows that they are connected and cannot be divided. He explains this by way of photography:
"The mon 門 (gate), or shumon 宗門(religion), and bumon 武門(martial), are captured beautifully by the shutter of the famous cameraman Ken Domon."Ken Domon, in advocating realism, said: "Realistic photography in the true sense brings us directly to reality. Photographic expression is an attempt at a truthful presentation of reality — in other words, it is a crystallisation of man's anger, his happiness and his sadness."

Domon famously defined his goal as a photographer as "the direct connection between camera and motif."

Domon's method of photographing temples was to stay at the location for some time before taking the first photo. He would then begin photographing based not on a systematic, scholarly approach to the subject, but based on how his feelings towards the s…

Mutō Dori 無刀捕: Hidden Strategy is Beautiful

We have a profound strategy in the Bujinkan which often goes unnoticed. I think it is not obvious because the name creates a certain idea. Mutō Dori 無刀捕 (no sword capture). People hear that and they already have an idea in their head about dodging sword cuts.

Hatsumi Sensei makes reference to this strategy not just when he is unarmed facing a sword wielding attacker, but also during unarmed taijutsu, and while using all manner of weapons.

So forget the sword for a moment, and let's discover some hidden layers in Mutō Dori.

First, relying on any weapon or technique is a trap. If you become an expert, your mind will get stuck there. Use your weapons or techniques with the same mindset as mutō dori. This is a natural, everyday mind.

In avoiding a sword, if you think about avoiding, you will be cut. If you think about not avoiding, you get cut. You should think about nothing and when the sword cuts, naturally get out of the way. Wherever your mind stops is a trap.

Second, don't t…

拍手 Hakushu: The Sound of Ninjas Clapping?

What's with all the clapping when we bow in?

One of the first strange things a new student in the Bujinkan has to do - after putting on a hood and tabi to scale the castle wall on a moonless night to sneak into the dojo - is learning and performing the bow in before class. Hopefully it only takes them a few mumbles to learn the phrase "Shikin Haramitsu Daikomyo," while they clap and bow, even as their face shows the strain of a beginner sitting in seiza.

We all went through this. No matter our age or rank. For me, I remember just trying to fit in during the class. Saying nothing at first, hoping to time my claps with the rhythm of the group. I first learned about one translation of the words when I was trying to learn to pronounce them. I won't go into that now (another post maybe). But what I will say is that the bow in process turned into a habit that lost what little meaning I could give it.

Many years later - maybe when I first had to lead a bow in myself - I ga…

平常心 Heijōshin: a Heart Like Clear Water

I don't spend a lot of time in front of a mirror. Those of your who know me may think, "that's obvious." But when I do get in front of a mirror, after I get over the shock of my appearance and really look to see what is reflected there, it makes me smile. The smile comes from a recognition of my own spirit reflected back at me. Thankfully, that is a happy reflection.

In training it is said that we are polishing each other's hearts so they are clear like a mirror. If we get this natural clarity we will have 平常心 heijōshin and reflect the hearts of our training partners (or opponents) back to them.

One of the songs of the gokui says,
"If you possess a heart like clear water, the opponent is reflected as though in a mirror." This state of mind is like 無念無想明鏡止水 munen muso meikyōshisui,  "Without worldly thoughts, clear and serene as a polished mirror or still water."

This is very powerful advice. Reflecting your opponent's technique, rhythm, and…