Bujinkan Godan 五段: Taming the Bull

Taming 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.

If you haven't read my other posts in this series, please check them out. You may find them useful no matter what your rank is:
Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull
Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints
Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull
Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull

In the Bujinkan, Godan is marked by the Godan test. You must be free of doubt to pass through this gate. How do we become free of doubt?

Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō
牧牛 Taming the Bull
The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down
some dusty road.
Being well-trained, he becomes

naturally gentle.

Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.

Once you have caught hold of the bull, rather than simply hanging on desperately as he bucks and runs around, it is necessary to tame the bull. The Ox or bull in these parables is the mind. In our Bujinkan training, it is the mind, spirit, and body.

Most of us begin training to develop physical skills and abilities. As we search for that elusive quality that our teachers have and seem to create at will, we start to realize we need to develop our minds and spirits equally.

In catching hold of our true nature- our true mind, body, and spirit… we discover where the heart of our training lies. While this is a nice feeling and helpful in the dojo, we may wonder, can we call this essence up at will?

To tame the ox, you must notice, it is not you doing anything. You are not performing techniques. You are not passing the Godan test. You are just sitting.

Having this realization is wonderful. But it is still far from being able to create this and connect to it when needed. The Godan test marks a chance for you to do that. If you pass, there may be a curious sensation of having done something, but not having done anything at the same time.

This is a vital feeling!

A feeling at the root of 虚実 kyojitsu. Truth and Falsehood. In taming the Bull, when you show truth, your taijutsu will be good. When you are mislead by falsehood, the Ox runs away with you dragging behind. To master these two is to understand one is the other. Truth is Falsehood, and Falsehoods are truth. When you can present either one purely the Ox is tamed.

To keep this feeling awake in the dojo requires a renewed focus and disciplined training (whipping the ox). With sincere training that is connected to your true nature, the pure essence of training will be reflected in your heart. This is the polishing of the mirror of our hearts.

The more pure your taijutsu becomes, the less whipping is needed. This will be reflected in your uke's response to your efforts, in your relationships in or out of the dojo, and the naturalness of your taijutsu.

Eventually the Ox is so tame, that you can let him go and he will follow you anywhere. In the dojo, with any uke, on the streets, at work, home, with your family… Your kamae expands to be always present.

When sitting for the Godan test, you should have no doubt about passing. The person giving the test also has no doubt. Their cut is a connection from the heavens down through you into the earth. As Soke often tells us, Don't sever this connection.

We'll see where this leads us with Bujinkan Rokudan 六段: Riding the Bull Home.


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