A Hard Truth About Your Bujinkan Training Schedule

Sumo Wrestlers 1914-18, photo by A.Davey
How long does it take to be a Shihan? What about a Shidoshi? Blackbelt? How about just being good?

These seem like silly questions to ask, but I want to examine some real numbers here. I think we will be surprised at what the numbers reveal.

Let's start at the bottom.

No experience, no classes, pure beginner. How long is it to go from beginner to "not" beginner? Everyone's ideas on what it means to be a beginner are different. So I am asking you.

Is it going to classes for a few months? A year? 3, or 5?

How many ACTUAL classes does it take?

In my own training I teach 3 classes a week. So my own students have the opportunity to show up to roughly 12-14 per month. And if we take off for holidays and such, maybe 150 per year.

Except, almost no one comes to them all.

How long does it take to reach beginner's level? (That's what our black belt level is called: Shodan) How many classes? How many classes did you go to before you got there? I don't force an exact number on my own students, but it is maybe 3-5 years. Not calendar years, but actual class attendance.

So by the math above that means a minimum of 450 classes. who in the Bujinkan will claim they had that many before they reached Shodan?

Don't worry, I'm not talking about you personally, but I will in a minute.

What about Godan? or Shidoshi level? Many people seem to get there in approximately 7-10 years. Of course, I personally took a LOT longer. But  I don't think I am the norm.

So if we use my math above, that is roughly 1500 classes. But I know for a fact, that people have many gaps or lapses in their training schedules. Life gets in the way. So I truly doubt anyone actually reaches that number.

Maybe you think you have. Maybe you train 5-7 days a week for the last  6 years. OK Shihan, what does it take to be a MASTER?

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book Outliers about the 10,000 hour rule.  This rule, based on a scientific study says that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to become a master at anything.

Let's add it up. My classes are roughly 1.5 hrs long.

That means if you never miss a single class at my dojo, you hit 225 hrs per year. Divide that into 10,000 and you get…

44 years!

How many people who call themselves Shihan have trained 44 years without missing a class? How many think they have mastered training?

Hatsumi Sensei said this to us in one class,
Just because someone's 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. 
Of course, I don't believe rank or skill is all about math and hours. But I do think we should be honest with ourselves. Then we can take steps to do better or supplement our training in other ways.

I challenge you to take a hard look at your own training. Do you invest in yourself? Do you clock the hours? How many hours a week or per month is the right amount for you? What would it mean for your life if you can be dedicated to this training? How much would you grow?

PS. I know. You are different. There was that all day seminar you went to last month. Or that 2 week trip to Japan last year. That should improve the math, right?

Umu 有無: Something From Nothing

涅槃 photo by Aeternitas.
I train outdoors all year. Traditionally ninja, and many of the founders of the Bujinkan ryuha, all found their inspiration for training in nature. Lately, in every class I am annoyed with mosquitoes. But I also observe the nest of some Cassin's Kingbirds and how they teach their fledgelings to catch those same insects out of the air.

This kind of direct insight is very valuable. Hatsumi Sensei says,
"Training in nature, where there is not only a lack of footing but one is attacked by the wind and rain, is greatly different from training in a dojo with wooden floors or mats, and with air conditioning installed."
He says that to develop higher powers of perception we must train in nature. This is how we develop the ability to produce something from nothing in combat.
So every class, I start with only the open air, the sky and the earth. Then we bow in.  

This lonely path of the warrior is self reliant. Sensei says it is like the Buddha, who at his birth pointed to the heavens and the earth and said, 天上天下唯我独尊 I alone am exalted in heaven and on earth. In Japan there is an annual ceremony on April 8 to commemorate this moment, it is called 潅仏会 kanbutsu-e.

People think that saying "唯我独尊, Yuiga Dokuson" or, I alone am exalted, means you are conceited or arrogant. But the true meaning of this phrase suggests there is no separation between you and the world. It is all about positioning. In a fight, if you could see things from the position of your enemy, see through his eyes, he would be very easy to defeat. In fact, by walking in the other's shoes, the enemy disappears.

When you retreat, or separate yourself from your enemy, he will only chase you. And you may stumble. When you realize the enemy is yourself, then you have nothing to fear.

Before training outside in nature, nature was outside and you were inside. Before your enemy was separate from you and you could not control him. Take away the enemy's power.  When you realize your enemy is you, you empower yourself.

As a warrior, you must take responsibility for your own victory. So train in nature because you ARE nature. Defeat your enemy, because he is you.

How to Attack the Kyūsho, 強経 Kyokei

踩上一脚 photo by 大杨
Last night in class the kata I was teaching required you to stomp down on the kyūsho 強経 kyokei. This is supposed to move your opponent and open him up for the rest of the kata. The way most people teach this is to stomp the ground like a Maori tribesman.

Stomping like a polynesian warrior or bratty child is the omote way of doing this technique. This means it is obvious and easily seen or countered. And if this is all you put behind this strike, many opponents will not be moved.

What I have learned from Hatsumi Sensei is to accomplish more with less. Exist inside of nothingness, he says. Be able to move from there.

The Japanese text of the kata we were studying says 強経を強く踏み付けると. This suggests breaking through the strength of the opponent by stomping this 急所 kyuusho, kyokei. First, let's see where this kyūsho is located.

強経 kyokei is above the five toes of the foot. A strike here attacks the strong tendons on top of the foot. This creates an ataxia which will "open up" or cut through your opponent's defenses.

Here is some 要 kaname

This same point is considered 要衝 youshou for acupuncture. 要衝 youshou can also be read as piercing through kaname. It is interesting that the kanji in 経穴 keiketsu, or acupuncture point, may also be read as passing through an opening.

and now some 口伝 kuden

The way I have learned to open up and cut through is not by stomping and relying on ataxia. That is part of it, sure. But a better way is to use the connection through what Hatsumi Sensei calls 玉の緒 Tamanoo.

Soke tells us that this is the lifeline or thread of life and also the same connection that is used when giving the Godan test. This is what moves the person out of the way of the sword. So that is the way I would attack kyokei.

Do you think that would be enough to move your opponent?

PS. this is the type of information I share in my exclusive Keiko Kiroku training notes. To get in on this, sign up here: Keiko Kiroku

An Authentic 妙法 Myouhou: Transcendence Disguised as Injury

砲台~十八羅漢~猴子( 全身是傷 ) photo by houliuken
If you are athletic, or train hard like I do, you will face the problem of being injured at some point. At first this feels like, why me? Why now?

But then if you are like me, you get to work finding a way to move forward, overcome this obstacle and to heal. You can solve this problem. And maybe, if you approach this problem properly, you will encounter the same wonderful mystery I have. Let me explain.

I train when I'm injured. I do this because the nature of life means there will always be encumbrances to peak performance. I want to be able to adapt when I encounter those obstacles.

But there is another, better reason I have discovered. The kind of discovery that may only occur while training injured. While I was in pain and feeling gimpy one night, I had a flash of inspiration:
Constraints on free movement can open up infinity.
This is an authentic 妙法 myouhou, or mysterious law in life, art, and training. The greatest lives are lived through obstacles. The best art burns through boundaries on expression. And the freest training can be discovered and enjoyed through constraint, injury, disability, or impediments.

If you have experienced this directly, you may know what I mean even though it is difficult to describe. It's like that by adapting, overcoming, or training through the injury will open up new horizons and possibilities you did not know were there before. Without the injury, you would not be forced to find this new path, so it wouldn't even exist for you.

And your world would be smaller. And your training would be stuck on the same path as it usually is.

On this night my struggle was a knee injury. And it forced me to hop about and pivot on one leg. I had to capture my opponent's balance and throw him without great strength or control over my own balance.

Then I remembered something mysterious I had seen from Hatsumi Sensei. He seemed to be throwing his partners around not with physical effort on his part, but by disturbing their psyche or spirit. I held this image in my mind of watching Hatsumi Sensei throw someone using only the smallest gesture of his hand.

Then I began to discover a whole new world of control by playing with how my uke reacted to my strange movement. It began as simple playful distractions. But over time this exploration has led to defeating my opponents through 繋がり tsunagari. And even by a broader connection to the kukan itself.

You see, there was an infinity in training that I discovered hidden behind and through my injury. My knee has healed. A couple of years have gone by, and I still am unwinding discoveries that arose from that night and that constraint that changed the way I train.

In my blog post, Kihon: The Heart of an Infinite Circle, I wrote about this concept. Hatsumi Sensei says that kihon is like thrusting your sword into a point about which there is an Enso or limitless circle (happo) and existing in the space is the kukan.

Do not forget this mystery. Embrace it. Find teachers who embrace it rather than putting training in a box.
Here's a hint: Teachers with VERY  strong opinions about the right and wrong way to train are trapped in a box.
The best Bujinkan training adapts to you. You should not have to adapt to the training. The world doesn't need another Bujinkan teacher. We already have great ones! What the world needs is training that shows people how to truly bring their own authentic self and demonstrate that value in our art.

This is achieved through a depth of self awareness that you may only discover under adverse conditions.

This is the transcendent mystery of overcoming your own limitations.

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