Don't be Dekunobō  木偶の坊, Have Shinbo 辛抱 Instead.

photo by roy costello
One night I was training in Hombu dojo with Hatsumi Sensei. It wasn't very crowded and he had us working with the bo which is definitely rare in the Hombu nowadays. He did a technique that left a very odd impression on his uke and those of us watching. It was as if he released the bo in the kukan, and the bo acted as his agent, throwing the attacker and tying him up. Wow. That was odd.

Soke seemed to notice the confused looks around the room, because he explained to us that this was Shinbo. The translator looked confused as well, so Soke pointed up above the kamidana to the picture of Takamatsu Sensei holding the bo. Sensei explained that was why he wrote Shinbo beneath that picture.

So what did Soke mean by Shinbo?  I am probably more lost than the translator, but Soke has referenced that idea before.

There is a related concept called 花情竹性 "Kajo Chikusei where we strive to be as gentle as a flower, and as straight, or straightforward, as bamboo. In this idea, the heart of a warrior means having a sincere heart. Sensei says Ninjutsu is a great warrior's path open only to those whose heart is in the right place.

There is this interplay between being soft, gentle, and warm hearted or strong, brazen, and bold. Both qualities in balance. Soke says "It is not always the case that big techniques beat everything; it is a fact that sometimes small techniques can beat big ones."

Hatsumi Sensei encourages us to live upright like a bo. Honest and straightforward in heart. But this doesn't mean being naive. If you know how to use a bo, you know the tricks and deception possible with it's use. Meaning in your stance of being a straightforward person, you are ready for people who are not, and who may use deception against you.

Sensei says that when a young man appears to be a dekunobō 木偶の坊 or でくの坊 (wooden doll or useless stick), if he endures long enough he can become a strong man someday. This endurance can be seen as 辛抱一貫 Shinbo Ikkan.

As for the astonishing and inexplicable technique Hatsumi Sensei showed us that night, he says:
"Few people have been taught the Kasumi no Den ("message of the mist") known as Shinbo ("true, enduring stick"). You project a shadow image of yourself into the void.

Hmmm. One of me is too many. I'll have to make room for my shadow...

狸寝入り Tanuki Neiri no Jutsu: Sleeping Tanuki Technique

photo by rumpleteaser
Sometimes the simplest strategies or tactics are the most effective. One day my teacher, Peter asked me to be a spy, and I used a strategy that any child understands.  Hatsumi Sensei calls this tactic "tanuki nemuri." And it was very effective. I got the all the information from the target and then some! He literally volunteered information that would expose him.

A tanuki is a masked animal like a raccoon, yet big and stocky like a badger, and is known to fake being dead when surprised... because of this, the idiom "tanuki neiri" [literally "fall into a tanuki's sleep"] means to feign sleep.

The mission I was tasked with was reconnaissance and information gathering.  OK, it wasn't secret agent stuff, but I approached it with professionalism and as part of my overall training. Basically it involved one of my teacher's ex-students.  He had only trained with Peter briefly, and never made it beyond 7th kyu or so. Well, some years later, Peter received several reports that this guy was teaching and running his own training group. The reports included stories of dangerous training that sent students to the hospital. Since Peter was the senior Bujinkan instructor in the region, and had once had this guy as a student, he felt some responsibility to check into this.

The guy was training in a park, and Peter felt he couldn't just walk up himself, because this guy would recognize him and cover his activities.

All I had was the name of a park in another town. This was in the old days, before the Internet and Google. I needed a strategy. I decided the best way to get information was to pretend to want to become the guy's student. I thought it would look suspicious to just walk up out of nowhere and ask to be his student. How could I make it look innocent?

What do people do in parks? Besides Ninja training? Picnics, exercise, walk their dogs... wait, I have a dog that loves walks in the park! I put her in the car and we were off.

After an hour driving, my dog was very excited when we started circling the park. The park was crowded with families. I drove around the perimeter and quickly located the "ninjas."

My dog put her nose to the ground and we walked all over the park. As she sniffed the ground I casually watched the ninjas go through their taihenjutsu drills.  I allowed my dog to slowly find her way closer and closer.  We paused under a nearby tree.

Once I determined who the teacher was (the only black belt, and giving instruction), I made my interest more obvious.  I began actively staring and edging closer.

He caught my stare. At first he ignored me. But I edged closer.  The next time he looked my way, I asked a very dumb question, "What kind of karate are you guys doing?"

He seemed pleased to answer, "It's not karate. We are training ninjutsu."  "Oh wow! You guys are ninjas? I wanna be a ninja... How do I be a Ninja?"

Once he started talking, I couldn't shut him up. He told me all about their "deadly" art. They were training to be assassins.  They practiced invisibility and stealth. I made a comment about their "cool" shoes and asked where I could get ninja shoes.

Things got interesting when I asked him how he started teaching. He said that he had lived in Japan, and he was the personal student of an old Japanese man who was the "last" Ninja. The old man had given him a test where he tried to kill him with a sword. I asked him his teachers name, and he said Hatsumi Sensei. He said, after he passed this test he was given a licence to teach.

I was all, "Wow, so you are like a black belt? Are you licenced to kill or something?" He said that he is a 10th degree black belt.

Tanuki-neiri is said to have its origin in the days when no distinction was made between the tanuki and the mujina or badger, and the latter was believed to have been unable to see or hear during the daytime and therefore likely to just sit tight and try not to attract too much attention to itself.

Today the most common place to find people playing possum is in crowded commuter trains and subways, where younger people lucky enough to have found seats feign sleep to avoid making eye contact with elderly commuters to whom social convention dictates they give up their seat. Along with both its less common variations, tanuki and tanuki-ne, the idiom is not used as it`s English equivalent "play possum” to mean “feign ignorance."

I knew I had him on that point. Back in those days, there weren't very many Judans (in fact, maybe only the Japanese Shihan), and my teacher certainly would have known about this.

I watched their class for awhile.  My dog was bored by this time and was napping under the tree.  I soon had to move her because, to my amazement, they started throwing shuriken and shooting arrows at the tree. This seemed hazardous with all the children and families running around the park.

Most of his students appeared to be teenagers from the neighborhood. After they were done, the guy told me he could rank me up to 9th dan, one rank below his, if I started training with him. I acted excited, but drove home bewildered.


Hatsumi Sensei says, that humans will show their true nature when around a "sleeping" person. He says, "If you pretend to be sleeping you can see to the bottom of the enemy's heart and intentions." And that, "you just cannot win if you do not have this skill of playing dumb."


In the end, this guy seemed out of touch with reality. When Peter eventually confronted him, he claimed he had an evil twin brother that sometimes impersonates him. He claimed to have gotten his rank in the mail through a home study course. Then he legally changed his name and started wearing strange military garb and saying he was in the special forces. Peter informed the authorities about the guys odd and dangerous activities. Over the years, from time to time, the guy would show up at some Bujinkan event seeking rank from different instructors, and Peter would try to let everyone know to be careful with him.

Hatsumi Soke Says to Live Like Momotarō 桃太郎

photo by barto
Modern life is difficult.  Some people may even feel they are enduring in a kind of hell.  If you are going to live in hell, you'd better learn how to survive.  Hatsumi Sensei gives us a clue for how to negotiate these difficult times and circumstances.  He says we should be like Momotarō 桃太郎 who is a popular hero from Japanese folklore:

The Tale of Momotaro

Once upon a time an old couple lived in the hill country of Okayama in Japan. The old man went everyday into the mountains to cut wood, while his wife went to the river to wash their laundry. One day the old woman was washing clothes by the riverside when a great, golden peach came floating down the river! It looked so delicious that she decided to roll it home to surprise her husband.

When the old man came home, the old woman cut the peach open. To their great surprise, a small boy leaped from inside the peach! Instantly, they loved the little boy because they had never had any children of their own. They decided to call him Momotaro, which means, “peach boy”.

The old couple raised Momotaro well. He grew big and strong. One day he told his parents that he would leave to make his fortune. He wanted to rid the land of the horrible Oni (demons or ogres) that inhabited Onigashima 鬼ヶ島 (Island of Oni).

Though the old woman was sad to see her son leave, she fixed him some delicious kibi-dango, dumplings made from millet, for his journey.

As Momotaro hiked to Onigashima, he made friends with a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant, giving each of them a dumpling for their companionship. He was glad for their company when he arrived at Onigashima. Momotaro and his companions found that the gate to the Oni's fort was locked, but the pheasant flew inside and found the key. Once the pheasant opened the gate, Momotaro and his friends fought fiercely with the evil Oni. The pheasant pecked their eyes, the dog bit their legs, and the monkey clawed their backs.  Finally, the Oni surrendered their horde of treasure, and Momotaro returned to his village a hero. Momotaro and his parents lived happily ever after.

There are many versions of this tale with each version the story takes on different details to suit the region and the times, but only from Hatsumi Sensei have I seen these details:
Momotaro's monkey excelled at wisdom,  vicious wisdom.  The pheasant had an ability to predict earthquakes.  The dog looks faithful, but it can become like a ninja and smell the differences at work, using various means and tricks.
Sensei goes on to say that to live well in troubled times we should practice these three elements and embody each animal with our body and soul.

Here is a fun animated version of this story:

Kage No Keiko: Don't Ask a Shadow for Answers

Photo by OiMax
There is an old tale about a teacher whose students asked him, "Where does your teaching come from?  What is its source?  Who is your teacher?"

The teacher replies,
You are not ready for my answer.  If I say that my teaching is from inspiration, you will consider me crazy.  If I say it is my own teaching and skill, some will worship me and never learn.  If I name my teacher, many will turn to him to ask the same dumb questions while ignoring real study.

In the Bujinkan, Hatsumi Sensei has told us that training is a process of developing the eyes to be able to see true budo. Hatsumi Sensei talks about different types of keiko or training, even in dreams.  He says that when he is training intensely, he will have weird dreams.  He tells this story about his teacher Toshitsugu Takamatsu,
He would draw from 5:00 a.m. to noon every day.  One day, he painted a picture of a dragon for his friend.  A few nights later, my teacher dreamed about a dragon that had no eyes.  The dragon said to him, "I want eyes."  The next morning he called his friend and his friend told him that the painting of the dragon had no eyes.
Sensei says that this dream training comes when you are having a hard time mastering something.  He says the "secrets of budo are introduced as "dreams from the gods."  Soke tells us that the best way to train is to learn physically first, then understand the theory.  Devote yourself to constant keiko.  Have the feeling of Ninpo Ikkan.

He says that if you get stuck you can focus even though you cannot move forward.  This is when you pass into kage no keiko (shadow training).  I wrote about the phases of training and other types of keiko here: Beyond Godan Into Wakaranai-Keiko

The teacher from the old story continues, "If, after being told a hundred times that the teachers are all one and the techniques are meaningless you still look for the source, you will never find it."

The students ask, "Then what shall we do?"

The teacher responds,
"Stop imagining that, just because you can ask a question, you can perceive the answer without any of the foundation necessary for such a perception to occur."

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