A New Bujinkan 初段 Shodan in my Dojo

Richard chats with Peter Crocoll
I went to Arizona last weekend for training. This was more than just a normal training trip. One of my long-time students, Richard, was going for his initiation to shodan.

In many dojos, a Bujinkan 初段 shodan  is not really treated as such a big deal. In most of the Bujinkan it requires at least a few years of study and a proficiency with the basics. But in my dojo and my teacher's dojo, we see it as an important event in a student's journey. So we approach this threshold with certain key ideas.
Peter Uses a Ninja-to on Richard
To begin with, skill and technical ability are important. Richard had to demonstrate this, but by the time I put any student up for shodan, I already know very well what he is capable of. So we only look at technique to make sure the student knows for himself what he is AND is not capable of.

The next part has to do with the personal journey. How or why did you start? Why do you keep going? For most of us, these reasons change as we grow in the art. Richard's path to his shodan was not straight or direct, but it was natural like life.
Peter Disarms Richard
Then there is the connection to our history. The student should be able to trace a direct line from his own training back through his teachers to Hatsumi Sensei and the history of the art in Japan. The more direct this connection the better. Lucky for Richard, he was surrounded by many people who have trained with Hatsumi Sensei in Japan directly and some who have been doing so for decades.

The importance of 忍 nin in our study cannot be overestimated. We often think of nin as perseverance. And it is.
Peter Cuts Richard Down
But some deeper meanings arise as you advance in training. The character for nin has the sword over the heart. This has been suggested to mean that even under the threat of the sword, the heart will persevere.

You may also find your heart reflected in the polish of the sword. It might be a way to hold your own blade or you may find it reflected in your enemy's weapon. But your heart can be made clear by the polishing done in the dojo.
Richard relaxed and happy before the storm
When you have completely polished the mirror (your heart) it is absolutely clear of dirt or imperfections. So then perseverance is easy, because there is nothing there. You reflect your enemies back to themselves. You embody nothingness and you are not a target. There is nothing to attack or defend and endurance is a matter of sutemi.

This idea takes us well beyond shodan. But this weekend all of us who were there to help Richard were there to be nothing but a mirror for him. Our job was to remove our agendas or egos from the process so that he would only find himself reflected back.
Michael Glenn and Richard with his new shodan
Congratulations Richard! Thank you for training with me all these years.

Quick! Change Your Bujinkan Training with 早替わりHayagawari

Kabuki Performer, photo by Michael Glenn
One of our Bujinkan gokui comes from the secret writings of Shinden Fudo ryu and it says, 
豹変して必ず勝つ hyohen-shite kanarazu katsu. 
"Sudden change will always prevail." This kind of change suggests sutemi or discarding the self.

Hatsumi Sensei tells us that this kind of change can come from the unconscious. He uses the expression 早替わり hayagawari to describe this quick change.  And it can lead to a complete transformation in combat, your Bujinkan training, or even your own life.

What is 早替わりhayagawari? Like many of the references Soke gives to us, it originates from Kabuki theater. It is a quick change technique for actors on stage. The tricks they used allowed them to quickly change from one occupation to another, male to female, young to old, good to evil, etc.

Sometimes actors would even play more than one character in a play. Then they would need tricks called 外連 keren to make a quick change on stage, or hayagawari. They might have one costume hidden under the layers of another. Or, the actor could add makeup to quickly transform his face. Actors used different masks over the face, or even 後面 ushiromen which were masks on the back of the head.

All of this calls to mind the ninja techniques of 変装術 hensojutsu. There were a number of stock characters the ninja might employ like a craftsman, priest or monk, traveling entertainer, or even a samurai! A quick change of mannerism, accent, language, or attitude could complete and really sell the effect.

Add to this other kabuki/ninja effects like 宙乗り chûnori, and you could fly. Or the tricks used for rapid appearance or disappearance of the actor. I saw a demo of some of these last April in 墨田区 Sumida and I was reminded of Ninja disappearing tricks I have learned over the years.

One secret to all of this is that by adopting the outward, physical change, there is an inward change that occurs. This is a secret for life. We learn it as children with our play and the art of pretending to be something you are not. Fake it till you make it.

If you want change in your training, or in your life, use sutemi and discard the self. Act the part. Take on the role. Learn your lines. Before you know it you will achieve 早替わりhayagawari. You might be more surprised than anyone else at how quickly you transform.

Today's Gift from me: Hojojutsu Quick Snare Bujinkan Video

(if you can't see the image click here)

Hidden Weapons of the Unconscious

Black Market at 江戸東京博物館, Edo Tōkyō Hakubutsukan. photo by Michael Glenn
One of the secrets to understanding this year's theme of 神韻武導 Shingin Budo  is the ability to find the hints and openings hidden everywhere. These are like the lingering sound of a bell that hangs in the air after it has been rung. If you did not hear the original strike of the bell, would you know what you were hearing or where it originated from?

This sound is like the hidden training that takes place in the Bujinkan. Training that takes place in the unconscious. If you are only learning with your body and mind, you are missing out on the important unconscious training that is very real in correct Bujinkan training.

You may know that your unconscious affects ordinary life. It also is at work in combat or in the dojo. But do you know what it is doing?

Hatsumi Sensei has written 無意識 muishiki (the unconscious), as 武意識 buishiki which is warrior consciousness or military awareness. With this kind of unconscious ability, you will always be able to tap into hidden fighting strategy. Or find a surprise victory in an impossible situation. This is also a secret for hidden ninja weapons.

The best hidden weapons are not weapons you are hiding. That takes too much conscious effort and can be seen, read, and even countered. The best hidden weapons are hiding in plain sight.

Soke tells us we can find 鉄扇 tetsubane, 鉄刀 tetsuto, 馬手差 metezashi, and 隠し武器 kakushibuki hidden everywhere in normal everyday life. These things leave hints or suggestions (暗示 anji) to the warrior who is attuned to their resonance. Your unconscious can read these clues and allow you to find these hidden weapons.

If everyday objects can be transformed into weapons by the unconscious following these hidden signs, then what about yourself?  Soke says that this type of knowledge will make your life pulsate (生悸に一変) and undergo a complete change. It can make it possible for 早替わり hayagawari, or for you to quickly change into anything. This is the real shugyo.

Martial arts create this kind of transformation in life. Seek out a dojo that has these hidden hints and signs for your unconscious intelligence. Remember, if you're the smartest guy in the dojo, then you're in the wrong dojo. Look for hints that lead you to hidden knowledge and the right teacher for your whole self, not just the conscious part.

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