Bujinkan Rank from the Heart

御神籤 omikuji, 道祖神社 (Doso jinja) Katsushika, photo by Michael Glenn
One day you learn there are no Bujinkan ranks… only people you can choose to invest in.

We form many relationships in this world: Family; friends; coworkers; parole officer; guy who works at the sandwich shop… It's obvious not all of them have the same value.

One thing I really love about the Bujinkan, is that it is possible to develop some of the most meaningful relationships of life with people you meet in training.

I have made lifelong friends. I have seen others do so. I have watched people date and get married after meeting in training. I have witnessed children start training at a young age and grow up to become amazing adults with an entire Bujinkan dojo looking out for them.

I have also lost friends who have died. I have my own personal way of honoring their life in my training. But the whole art is richer for the life they shared with us. And many of us feel this deep in our hearts when we bow in for each class.

There are people who have fallen away from the Bujinkan part of their life for some reason. We never forget them. And when they return, we welcome them like family.

At these times, no one thinks of rank or politics.

We are only thankful.

Hatsumi Sensei shared with us that the Samurai who became a Zen Buddhist... Shōsan, had the feeling of "The heart that thinks of oneself, suffers. The heart that thinks of others, is free."

I choose to invest in people on this path with me. My students, my teachers, my family.

How do you invest in yourself and others? Is Bujinkan training a choice for you?

The 奇翻 Kihon of 宝剣 Hōken

sky pots, at 赤門勝専寺浄土宗 photo by Michael Glenn
There are mysterious and strange surprises when studying the Bujinkan and what it means to be ninja. But the deeper you go, the more you find it is all connected. The mysterious evolves from the not so mysterious. Like kihon.

Let's consider the kihon of muto dori. On its surface, it seems simple. Evade when the sword cuts.

But this is reasoning from analogy. You know that when you don't move you will get hit or cut, because that has happened in the past or in other situations. But what is so amazing about the teaching Hatsumi Sensei has shared with us, is that we don't reason from analogy. We don't do things because that is the way they've always been done before. That produces a dead and lifeless art.

Hatsumi Sensei has written kihon as 奇翻, which suggests an odd turn, or a tricky mind with wondrous power. So, maybe we should reason from first principles instead.

So again, with muto dori, what is the first principle? The sword cut? Or the person cutting?

Why are they cutting? It is their mind or spirit that has made this decision. Their will controls the blade. While our spirit is in danger from it. All are linked and connected.

This kind of thinking will get you in trouble in a fight. But in training, it shines light on strategies that we can actually work on. So when the time comes, we do not sever the connection as Soke often advises.

Let's flip it. You hold the sword. How do you cut?

In our training we study how to cut with good taijutsu. Your taijutsu comes from your own mind, will, life force, or spirit… whatever you wish to call it.

Then we target our opponent and cut. You see how an inanimate object like a sword is connected through your will to cut the opponent and his will to survive? Everyone in the fight is connected this way.

Soke sometimes calls this 繋がり tsunagari, which is a connection, link, or relationship. He always tells us not to cut this connection. In fact, we train to use it for many amazing results in combat or in our lives.

Hatsumi Sensei has also shown us how to do muto dori this way. He calls this 影の無刀捕秘剣。I won't say more about this here, but...

If you hold a sword in your hand with this feeling, that sword becomes something much more than an inanimate piece of metal. It becomes 宝剣 hōken. With this you can cut away the illusion of all obstacles.

The Art of Hidden Change

Hidden Convenience, Kashiwa. photo by Michael Glenn
I saw the way Hatsumi Sensei hit the guy in the neck. But his victim fell down like he had been shot. I tried the technique with my training partner. Not the same result.

People sometimes ask, when do we study Ninjutsu? I answer, every class.

Here is one of the lessons of the Bujinkan. There is more to it than what you can see. This makes it hard to study unless you experience it in person with a qualified instructor. Even then, you will miss most of it.

What is happening underneath the surface techniques are what Soke calls 小さな chiisana henka  and 見えない mienai henka. These are small, hidden changes where the real art comes alive. You won't find them in technique descriptions or even in the densho.

These are best taught through kuden or even better through 以心伝心.

This is why the same kata done by different instructors can appear so completely different.

It is also what allows you to win no matter what your opponent does to counter. This 技術 gijutsu is the skill or art of adapting in an invisible way. Soke says 小手を返す kote o kaesu. Meaning the skill of adapting to these small changes.

This kind of 手業 tewaza is something I experienced directly that day in Soke's class. He showed me on my own hand which bone he was striking with. Then he hit me.

Sure it hurt. But it was the small hidden thing that stuck with me all day. Somehow the strike seemed to clack the vertebrae in my neck together. This caused an alert up my spinal column to my brain that I couldn't shake easily.

Had he done the strike for real, this hidden effect might have dropped me. It sure got my attention. But the lesson was hidden from anyone watching us.

It is these small hidden changes that make us ninja. Find a teacher that knows this and study well.

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