Bujinkan Rokudan 六段: Riding the Bull Home

Riding the Ox Home, 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
Bujinkan Godan 五段: Taming the Bull

Passing beyond Godan brings us to a place of creative play. The Bull (mind) obeys without searching about and we don't need to work to constrain it anymore.
Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō

骑牛归家 Riding the Bull Home
Mounting the bull, slowly
I return homeward.

The voice of my flute intones
through the evening.
Measuring with hand-beats
the pulsating harmony,
I direct the endless rhythm.

Whoever hears this melody
will join me.

Sensei says that "When you pass the Godan test, then you realize 無意識 muishiki." This is moving from the unconscious. Once this seed is planted there is nothing to do except allow this state of muishiki to grow. There is no longer any question of trying to prove anything in relation to your rank.

When people first pass Godan, sometimes they continue searching for something in themselves. Some kind of change in ability or looking for more in training and wondering, is this all? At this stage the search comes to rest. The wall between unenlightened/enlightened, strong/weak, soft/hard, good/bad, and win/loss disappears so training follows its own course.

Unhindered, free taijutsu without any blocks.

Here is a trap. You become so free and comfortable and relaxed with training that improvement stops. This is like the middle age of training. People just settle in and enjoy, comfortable in rank and ability. But the real, true polishing of the heart is yet to occur.

Hatsumi Sensei says,
"Just because someone has been training for 40 or 50 years, it doesn't mean anything. Even for myself, no matter how long I've been training.. it's nothing special. I'm still walking along behind Takamatsu Sensei. That's what the tradition means."
Riding the ox home. Where is this home? And why are we not there yet? One experience of home is to be back where it all started, as a beginner. Beginner's mind as they say. Going full circle. We are not there yet because our self is still busy admiring it's own reflection in training or technique. We are not yet able to do taijutsu without observing ourselves in the experience.

Sometimes, like watching the sunset, or listening to the flute, we become nostalgic for the "old" days of training. We tell many stories to junior students about how training used to be. We miss those times.

But every note resonates with us, calling us back to pure training without thought or technique. We can experience the muishiki of the moment of godan anytime in the dojo. And this is like our compass, marking the path ahead.

Here whether we are teaching others, or being taught, we move beyond words and concepts. We can learn so much from a glance of our instructor. Or, a lesson becomes self evident so that when we show a technique, nothing needs to be said.

Hatsumi Sensei uses the word 暗黙的 anmokuteki, which is an implicit teaching. This is a silent, sometimes secret teaching that arises from a natural understanding between teacher and student. The only reason this teaching stays a secret is because the communication is on a level that not everyone is prepared to observe.

We should also teach ourselves in this manner. Then the Ox doesn't need to be led. He knows the way.

Next in this series: Bujinkan Nanadan 七段: The Bull Transcended


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