Hidden Door of 三身 Sanshin

Asura in Kōfuku-ji, Nara. photo by 小川晴暘
Sanshin is one of the most basic, fundamental, and important concepts in the Bujinkan. Yet even after years of training it remains mysterious and elusive, even one the most misunderstood aspects of our training.

Ask your teacher what it is. Many will give you their pat, standard answer given to all beginners. Others will wander off in a glassy-eyed, meandering philosophical and esoteric treatise. And there are even some who will try to tell you how to stand or step while delivering a punch.

They may not be wrong. But they probably will be missing key ideas. I will not try to correct anyone except to say, please discard what you think you know.

Hatsumi Sensei recently gave us a clue to the secrets of sanshin when he was teaching us about kaname:
全体を捕るということは、要をとる。三身一如のことは言う。
Soke suggests here that you take everything together by only taking what is essential in the moment (kaname). This is sanshin unified as one reality. Three as one.

To me this is like the hidden door of Togakure, an opening to understanding sanshin. When you open this door you find your reflection in a mirror. The secret is polishing the mirror (and your heart) with training so that reflection is pure like the clear water of 平常心 Heijōshin.

You may have heard about 三心 sanshin. And that is good. In Budo this is 心技体 shingitai: mind/spirit/heart; technique; body. Or if you want to be more philosophical: 身心識 body; heart; consciousness.

These are important ideas. But Soke used the kanji 三身一如 for sanshin ichinyo. This implies more of a Buddhist cosmology. 三身 is the trikāya or threefold body of the Buddha. This symbolism is complex but I will polish the mirror a bit.

The first is the Dharmakāya, truth body. This reflects your essential nature and character. This begins with a new student who studies hard, rarely missing a class. Staying true to the kihon and forms until a breakthrough of understanding occurs (for some students, around Godan level). Looking for the limits of your nature, you discover your truth to be limitless.

The second is the Sambhogakāya, or reward/retribution body. If you trained well, you may reap the reward of joy in life and training, or blissfully enduring battle. Your reflection will be pure in the mirror. If you did not train well, your frustrations in life, the dojo, or losing and being injured in battle, will surely shatter the reflection.

Third is the Nirmāṇakāya, the manifested body or actual physical form. This transformational form also embodies henka. Take your clothes off to see this one in the mirror. Maybe you don't want this reflection to be too clear!

So how do we use this in class or combat? Soke says 三身一如. Bringing the three together as one at the essential moment (kaname). If you have not been polishing well, this will be impossible.

Another three faced symbol shows us what NOT to do: the 阿修羅 ashura or fighting demon. These are the reflections of students who are obsessed with ego, force and violence. They may be quick to anger, full of pride, envious of others, insincere with their motives, false or fake in their persona, boast full, lazy or worse... bellicose.

The mirror of the heart dims. What this means is that they are unable or unwilling to learn or train Bujinkan as it is taught. If they are teachers, they often trap themselves along with their students.

But if you unify 三身 sanshin in combat, the results are really miraculous. I've witnessed it. I've experienced it myself. Trust me, you want this. Are you ready to study Sanshin?


Secrets of 三つ鱗 Mitsu Uroko

三つ鱗 Mitsu Uroko photo by Michael Glenn
Since I am a ninja, I am part of a secret society. Secret societies are fun to learn about. One of the most obvious ways into a secret society is through its symbols. I recently stumbled across one mysterious symbol called 三つ鱗 Mitsu Uroko in a place I didn't expect to find it.

You have probably seen this symbol. For Legend of Zelda fans it is known as the Triforce. But you may not know that the creator of this game, Miyamoto Shigeru, took much of his inspiration from the mountains and temples of Kyoto. And if you travel around Japan, you will encounter this symbol yourself.

What does it mean? And why should anyone in the Bujinkan care? Let me explain.

The origin story of this symbol is tied with one of the most powerful Shogun and clans in Japanese history.

As told in the Taiheiki 太平記, Hojo Tokimasa went on a pilgrimage of fasting and prayer to the island of Enoshima. While he was in one of the Iwaya Caves, the Goddess Benzaiten appeared to him. She said that since he had been a priest in a previous life, he and his family would prosper and rule over Japan.

After her blessing, Benzaiten returned to the sea. As she slipped beneath the waves, Tokimasa caught a glimpse of a dragon's tail sliding across the sand from beneath her robes. This vision caused him to investigate her tracks in the sand and he found three dragon scales that had flaked off.
Benzaiten Appears to Hôjô Tokimasa (notice she holds 3 scales)

These three dragon scales became their 紋 mon (family crest) as the Hōjō clan rose to prominence during the Kamakura period in Japanese history.  They changed history by facing off with invading Mongols, spreading Zen Buddhism, and the foundation of Bushido. But they also had secret police and had very secretive meetings at private locations to control Japanese society.

Sometimes when you find this symbol in Japan it is part of an antique shrine. But sometimes it is in places that could represent a secret meeting spot. Does the secret cult of Uga-jin 宇賀神 still have power?

Could there be secret meetings still happening to this day? Nahhh…

Remember These 3 Steps Next Time You Get Confused In Your Bujinkan Class

自拍的藝術 photo by 【J】
The Bujinkan is not for everybody. It is only for people who get it. My way of teaching the Bujinkan is not for everybody. But it works for me. And it works for those of you who get it and who want it.

If you study with me, I add a secret teaching technique that I will call "Michael Glenn's Patented 秘密 Himitsu Bujinkan Strategy™." I use this silly name because I want you to try to figure out what it is. If you can guess it, I will send you a free DVD.

So if you want to be successful in your Bujinkan class, there are 3 simple steps:

(add Michael Glenn's 秘密 Himitsu Bujinkan Strategy™ first) then,

  1. Attempt
  2. Observe
  3. Repeat
So let's consider these steps in order.

Attempt. It is better to start by trying. Until you try, you don't even know if you can do it. Until you try, you don't know where your mistakes will be. This is the only way to know what to look for in the next step.

Next, Observe someone who is successful. In your Bujinkan class, this can be your teacher, the senior students, or even your training partner.

(This is another great spot for more of Michael Glenn's 秘密 Himitsu Bujinkan Strategy™.)

When you repeat, you will make your next attempt more knowledgeable based on your observations. Your next try will be more refined, with less mistakes. Soon you will be the example that other Bujinkan students want to observe.

If you are a teacher, set up your Bujinkan class with these steps for success. Too many teachers teach for the wrong reasons. Know your purpose as a teacher: The focus is not to teach, or to test. A teacher’s job is to facilitate learning.

The funny thing is, everyone reading this article is a Sensei. I firmly believe that our whole lives we are our own greatest teachers. But you are at the same time your own best and worst student.

Who demands smart training? Who will do this with intention? I have no doubt that my students will succeed.

The question is, are you going to be your own best teacher? Will you keep going? Will you be the example?

PS. send me an email with your answer to What is Michael Glenn's 秘密 Himitsu Bujinkan Strategy™?  get a free DVD if you guess my secret teaching technique.

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