Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull

Perceiving the Ox, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seekers journey to enlightenment.

In the first post of this series, Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull, we felt the first inspiration to begin training even though we had no idea where this may lead. In the second post, Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints, we enjoyed getting lost in form and in henka.

Now that we've made our way to Sandan, what are we to make of it?

见牛 Perceiving the Bull
Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō

I hear the song of the nightingale.

The sun is warm, the wind is mild,

willows are green along the shore -

Here no bull can hide!

What artist can draw that massive head,

those majestic horns?

Sandan brings us through a phase of hard work and study when suddenly, through no effort of our own, the bull appears! It is there then gone again. It has an ephemeral quality that makes us wonder if it even really exists.

This is discovering the self in taijutsu. All your efforts and senses come together and you open up into a new world where the bull is everywhere. And you find yourself reflected in all of your training.

We are purifying of the senses through 六根清浄 rokkon shoujou. The roku in rokkon are the six senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind.There are also six consciousnesses found in shiki. Any one of theses six contains the whole and is not separate. In this you may find the reward of 禄魂笑淨 rokkon shou jou as Hatsumi Sensei writes it, which suggests the purification of the senses through laughter.

All movement is an expression of the true self. The ox appears openly.

When you come to accept the non-duality of yourself and taijutsu, you relax and just begin to enjoy training. You come to class not for any purpose other than it is fun!
You may find yourself becoming a guide for other students. You don't try to teach, they naturally seek you out for guidance. And you love sharing the enjoyment of training, so the sharing is abundant.

A warning here, some dangers will appear in this stage of training. One is the tendency to boast to others of what you have seen. Another is neglecting your training and chasing the ox everywhere but in the dojo. And a third danger is ignoring or disregarding your teacher because you feel he is no longer necessary to you.

"Each thing in heaven and on earth is itself an expression of 無 Mu," while this is a nice thought it is not real training. What is the essence found in training? Unless you experience training directly you will over think it.

You have clearly seen your real self and you realize its projections are everywhere. It infuses every training experience and interaction. Once you see this, it is almost funny when you discover it in unexpected corners of your experience in the dojo.

The entire way you have been understanding taijutsu now changes completely. It is like a new beginning. You go from the empty self of 忍苦 ninku to also knowing the emptiness of the world in 法句 hokku.

Next we will move into Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull

Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints

Discovering the Footprints, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
In the first post of this series, Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull, I mentioned that Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seeker's journey to enlightenment.

So what does it mean to be 弐段 Nidan?

Discovering Footprints 见迹:
Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō
Along the riverbank under the trees,
I discover footprints.
Even under the fragrant grass,
I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces can no more be hidden
than one's nose, looking heavenward.
This stage of training is very interesting because your eyes become open to signs everywhere. You spend as much effort in observing as you do training. You are developing the eyes to see the traces, or footprints of our art.

You begin to recognize these traces in all sorts of people and situations. You will see many previously hidden connections between kata. One technique naturally suggests another leading to 変化 henka. These kata or forms all contain the same traces.
"form is emptiness, emptiness is form."
Depending on your personality, there are two dangers: One is getting lost in the enjoyment of these 変化 henka. Another is becoming what Hatsumi Sensei calls a "technique collector."

If you are thoughtful, you notice that all of these footprints were here all along but you never noticed them before. You might wonder what else is also lying around beneath your feet that you are yet unable to see. As Hatsumi Sensei often says, "enlightenment is beneath your feet."

All of the kata begin to blend together until they seem the same. You start to connect intellectually to the idea that form is emptiness. Even though your own taijutsu rarely shows that.

Because you are finally seeing these things, and with every class you see more, you begin to feel that training more and training harder will certainly pay off. You train with new conviction that with more effort will come more results.

But this stage is also marked by an overwhelming realization that there is so much material to learn. The more you discover, the more there is. While this discovery is fun, it can also be intimidating.

And more than that, the harder you search, the more you pursue the Ox, the further away it runs. The harder you train the more the essence of the Bujinkan may elude you.

The poem above says that the "traces can no more be hidden than one's nose, looking heavenward." This suggests that the footprints if followed to their source will lead back to yourself. The 極意 gokui or essence of training can be discovered here.

Being a Nidan you will sense this, but not yet experience the 極意 Gokui directly.

In the next post we will look at Bujinkan Sandan参段: Perceiving the Bull

Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull

The Search for the Ox, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
When I first studied the 十牛圖頌 ten ox herding pictures and poems, I recognized some of my own journey reflected in Bujinkan training. Maybe you will see yourself there as well.

The Ten Ox Herding pictures illustrate the stages of a Zen life in the quest toward enlightenment. In Zen the ox represents the mind which is at first wild and untamed, running from one thing to another. It is said that these stories are trying to express the inexpressible.

Hatsumi Sensei has a favorite teacup with these ten illustrations on it. As he sips his tea, he says he likes to reminisce about the "old days," and he tells us how we have the same ten stages in our journey through Budo: First dan through Tenth Dan.

This will be the first in a series of 10 posts.
Just as a man would tie to a post
A calf that should be tamed,
Even so here should one tie one's own mind
Tight to the object of mindfulness.
What does it mean to be a Shodan 初段 in the Bujinkan? Let's look at this first stage from the Oxherding perspective:
Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō
寻牛 The Search for the Bull

In the pasture of the world,
I endlessly push aside the tall
grasses in search of the bull.
Following unnamed rivers,
lost upon the interpenetrating
paths of distant mountains,
My strength failing and my vitality
exhausted, I cannot find the bull.
I only hear the locusts chirping
through the forest at night.
Somehow you find inspiration to start training in the Bujinkan. This may come from a feeling that you are missing something or a need to better yourself. Or maybe that your current training is lacking in some way.

This is known as 初発心 sho-hosshin or the first stirring of the heart.

This goes from first hearing about the Bujinkan all the way through learning your basics so that you start to glimpse that there is an essence to this art that lies beyond technique. These are the footprints you look for while training on the basics. You may not know where they lead, and they remain elusive.

You will be distracted by other styles and many things that are not even related to training. There is so much to absorb that your senses will be confused.

Traps at this stage are thinking you know what is good or bad training, striving to gain rank or prove something, fear that you cannot do things, and giving up the search before you know what you are searching for.

This stage is critical for finding an authentic teacher. You will find the teacher you deserve. If your mind is clouded by what you think is right, you will get a teacher who will only confirm and magnify your ill chosen path.

All of your training will be energetic and have a feeling of really going for it. You get bloody, bruised and sweaty but love the process.

You start to notice that no matter how much you train, there is always more. The Bujinkan seems to expand the more you learn. You never reach the place where you can say, "I've got this."  This can lead to a time of doubt where other paths become tempting. You want to find training that you can master and the Bujinkan rarely supplies this feeling.

After your strength and spirit are drained, you wonder, what now? Where can I go from here? How can I keep training and persevere? Can I even do this?

Every visit to the dojo feels like another wasted effort to learn anything. Frustration will rule your mind.

This is a very important passage in training. Reaching this place means you are ready to begin learning. That is why Shodan is beginner's level. You may recognize you are caught in your own conditioning and seek a way out through taijutsu.

You will feel you are nearing the end of this level when you sense that the ego's efforts to capture the essence of training are not enough.

Next we look at Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints

Budo 武道: Bloodlust, or a Path to Peace?

Memorial Cathedral for World Peace, Hiroshima. photo by scarletgreen
What is the point of Budo? Training in a martial art is a strange endeavor. You learn how to bruise, break, maim, and kill all in the name of peace and love for humanity. At least that's what most teachers would tell you. None ever admit to having a love for violence.

But most martial arts have their roots in violence that was either forced on them by lovers of war, or developed by those who loved war. True peace lovers would never train to do what we do, right? I don't know. I don't think it's that black and white.

武道 Budo means martial way. The character of Bu 武 is composed of three different kanji radicals two 二, shoot or spear 弋, and stop 止. So the essence of Bu is the way of stopping two people from shooting at each other or from fighting! Budo prevents or stops fighting among people. Martial arts are to promote harmony and act to stabilize society.

During the 1860's in Japan, a time marked by bloody infighting among various samurai factions, this meaning seemed lost.

For training to cut human flesh, men were forced to perform executions or to act as seconds for those condemned to commit seppuku. I guess this is how they learned to decapitate. It is said that if the trainee even grimaced or turned a little pale at the sight of the gore, he would fail the test.

They would then skewer the bloodied heads onto bamboo stakes and leave them near bridges with a note attesting to 天誅 Tenchuu or heaven's revenge.

The author Kan Shimozawa wrote about how they bragged of their bloody feats:
"Every day the men would go out and cross swords with the enemy. One corpsman claimed the blood of the man he had killed today splattered on the ridge of the adjacent house. Another said that the blood [of his victim] hadn't splattered beyond the white paneled wall. Still another boasted that the blood of the man he had cut down had reached the roof of the house."
One of the men's mistresses described their bloodlust:
"People would talk about whom they had killed today, and whom they were going to kill tomorrow. It was all so frightful."
One group of hit men even adopted the nickname 人斬 hito kiri which is like calling yourself "the beheaders".

Not all were so enamored of blood. Katsu Kaishū, founder of the Japanese navy said,
"I despise killing and have never killed a man. Take my sword for example. I used to keep it tied so tightly to the tsuba, that I couldn't draw the blade even if I had wanted to. I've always been resolved not to cut a person even if that person should cut me. I look at such a person as no more than a flea. If one lands on your shoulder, all it can do is bite a little. This causes nothing more than an itch, and has nothing to do with life."
I think that whether you have an affinity for violence and martial arts bring you some measure of peace, or you are a peace lover who wants to understand the other side, training taps into some very primal aspects of our dual natures. To be a whole complete human requires knowing the dark and light and gray.

So go ahead and learn how to bruise, break, maim, and kill… all the while embracing the understanding that our training leads us to a place of never needing to use these violent skills. If you have a good teacher they will show you the path from one to the other. Do not neglect the depths of real combat and violence with the power contained therein, nor the heights of love and peace and the great powers that arise from this stillness.

Return top