The Birth of Bujinkan Henka

地蔵尊 Jizouson Altar at 万満寺 Manman-ji. photo by Michael Glenn
Henka is like a ritual of birth and death. One essential fact of existence that everyone seeks to forget, is that we are born to this world and guaranteed to die.

Everything dies. Thus the way of Bushido is death. But Hatsumi Sensei would like us to flip this idea to rebirth and to give life, protect life. How do we do this if we are half dead already?

The traditional rites of passage used to teach people to die to the past and be reborn to the future. I feel this process every time I travel back to Japan. It is always a new birth.

Sensei seems to demonstrate this in every henka and even by the way he moves through his day. This is what we should strive for in every class and in our lives.

Why die to the past and be reborn? What does that even mean? What is the point?

Everyone comes to class for different reasons. But most hope to improve themselves in some way. What kind of improvement are you seeking? To be a killing machine? or to find life inside of death and protect it?

If you are having trouble answering this question, your Bujinkan training may be broken or dysfunctional in some way. How do you fix it? When something is broken in life people take different approaches.

Some deny it. You can try to recapture the good old days when everything was "better." Sink into nostalgia of dead martial arts. But burying yourself in the past is digging your own grave because the past is already dead.

Some people work furiously and with hard headed determination to repair what they think is broken in the Bujinkan. To patch together whatever pieces of the past that they can grab onto. And maybe insert some modern creative approach onto the gaps to try to hold it together. This Frankenstein method may work for awhile, but a corpse is still a corpse, and this new body of training will rot from the inside.

A third mistake people make in trying to "fix" their Bujinkan training is to attempt to design a better martial art. This takes ambition, intelligence, and ego. Some of the ideas will be great. But they are like a house of cards because they assume an ideal future and a clean foundation on which to build. Neither will ever exist.

We've all seen people make these mistakes or have made them ourselves.

How do we overcome death or dead martial arts?

Only birth can conquer death. Not a birth of anything you recognize, but something new. Within the Bujinkan, within Martial arts in general or within your own life, there must be a continual recurrence of birth if we are to survive.

Soke teaches this way. He often cites Charlie Chaplin, who when he was asked what the favorite film of his career was, said "The next one." This means the one that hasn't been born yet. The one that is full of potential. This is the way Sensei speaks about henka.

Hatsumi Sensei has spoken to the passing of generations and the birth or renewal of the spirit of the Bujin in every generation, every Soke, every teacher, every student.

It begins in every class. Being reborn. Bujinkan Henka. As I have heard Sensei say so many times, it's not this technique, but the next one... And the next. The one that hasn't happened yet, hasn't even been thought of, or born into existence.

Train like this if you want to live.

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