Japan Training: I got 無 nothing for you

無 mu near Kitasenju, photo by Michael Glenn
My classes with Hatsumi Sensei for the last week have had an intense energy. Not because he is more intense than usual. His training is of a high level and never fails to surprise. But the intensity comes in the form of my own resistance to what he is sharing.

He has been really emphasizing the 無 mu in muto dori. As some of you may know, muto dori has been a strong theme throughout training this year. After my other visits to Japan this year, I studied this from the feelings he gave us.

But the difficulty for me now is that when he embodies mu, I get nothing. He is not presenting any feeling that I can key in on. This is instructive yet difficult to parse. It cannot be broken down for study.

Soke is removing himself from the equation. He doesn't exist so he cannot be hit. But he seems to be doing this on a personal level too. Sensei made a very intricate and intense painting of a lion. He was asked, how long did it take? He said, "only a couple of minutes. But if I stopped to think about it it would have taken much longer."

There seem to be other things like this at work in the Bujinkan as well. Some key people have passed on. There is no Daikomyosai this year. But the hombu dojo still stands, despite all the other buildings around being dismantled. This is the mystery of mu.

But one day soon it will be gone too. Maybe the natural progression of the Bujinkan leads to this kind of dissolution. 

Soke said last night that the important things in life cannot be seen. This is where the life force or spirit is. When death happens the form is emptied. Where does the unseen go?

This kind of emptiness will never be cut by any sword. This is muto dori.

The Ninja Tourists

Michael Glenn being a good tourist, Bujinkan Hombu Dojo
I am preparing for my third trip to Japan this year. In my preparations I came across some old notes from another trip I made many years ago. Before one class I had with Oguri Sensei, I encountered a common attitude among visitors to the Bujinkan Hombu Dojo.

The Ninja Tourists.

On my way to Oguri Sensei's class, I bumped into one of these tourists from Los Angeles. Since I know him from back home, I stopped to chat a bit. This was his first trip.

He was very happy. Beaming in fact. He showed me some photos he had gotten of himself with various teachers. But then he said something that sounded off to my ears,

"We are part of history!"

I asked, "How do you mean?"

He said, "Being here."

That seemed wrong to me at the time.  To me it was just class, just training.  You would be part of history sitting at home watching TV too.  But for him it was like visiting a holy place.  That's one extreme of the tourist attitude.

The Japanese people and Bujinkan teachers are just normal people with lives. Not Ninja fantasy characters.

No matter how great they are as martial artists, what can anyone learn from them with that attitude?  You'll see what you want to see and learn what you want to learn.  Which may or may not be what is being taught.  More than likely what is being taught will be a little more grounded in reality.

Some foreigners treat the visit like a martial arts mecca.  Meanwhile Hatsumi Sensei is showing various ways to punch somebody in the throat.  It seems like there may be a dangerous disconnect there.

But, all these years later, I've softened my attitude about this. Most of the Japanese teachers seem happy to meet all these excited visitors from around the world. And as Nagato Sensei told me a few months ago, Fate has brought us all together.

What is right for my training is not what is right for anybody else's training or life. And what was right for me that day so many years ago was getting myself to Oguri Sensei's class.

I said goodbye to my friend from LA. Then I sat on the train thinking about how happy he was with his tourism. When I got to the Hombu dojo, Oguri Sensei had a smile for me that I will not forget.

There were only 4 of us in his class that day.

My friend from LA was not there but I guess he was right. We are part of history. I had a great class with lots of personal instruction from Oguri Sensei.

He has passed on, but I shall always value those classes because they are now part of my history.

詒転三転 Iten Santen: Never Ending Change Filled With Deception

Kashiwa Annex Frosted Window, photo by Michael Glenn
Bujinkan fighting is an illusion. You will never find two witnesses of a fight who see the same thing. Even if you haven't seen this in a fight, you have in the dojo. Most of the time, no two students in the dojo witness what Hatsumi Sensei has shown in the same way.

One day Soke said this was like  詒転三転 iten santen. I had no idea what he meant until I realized it was a play on words as he is fond of doing. The standard phrase is 二転三転 niten santen. This means being in a state of flux, a sequence of never ending changes.

The way Sensei said it was to imply that these never ending changes are full of deception. A result of 虚実 kyojitsu. This is why Bujinkan is an art. You might say that art is neither truth or fiction.

Soke told us that the real essence of the technique or of kyojitsu exists in
"The place where one cannot see. It's here where changes to the extraordinary happen."
This is akin to the short story 藪の中 Yabu no Naka by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. If you haven't heard of it, it is better known as the basis for the movie 羅生門 Rashōmon. The plot has various witnesses to a murder describing what they saw. Of course no one's version of the crime matches.

What happened? What happens in Soke's classes? What did anyone actually see? Something extraordinary that will never be discerned with the rational mind.

The name of that story, 藪の中 Yabu no Naka has become a common phrase to describe an event where no one can really say what happened.

When I train or teach, I am striving for something that cannot be comprehended. Beyond technique and form. When I succeed I have the pleasure of seeing the confused looks on my student's faces.

That part is amusing. But what really is fantastic for me is to see my students do something I myself cannot comprehend! When that occurs it is sublime.

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