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

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