自然力 Shizenryoku in San Francisco

San Francisco from Alamo Square, photo by Michael Glenn
I was preparing for my seminar in San Francisco this weekend, and I wondered, what is the best way to share the feeling I have gotten from Hatsumi Sensei this year?

I have told my own students that I don't know how to teach this year's theme. But that is no longer true. After my trips to Japan this year and a lot of study in my home dojo and elsewhere, I have had some breakthroughs and insights.



Damion tabi shopping in Noda, photo by Michael Glenn
My friend Damion was very gracious to help organize a day of training in San Francisco.  To help people who were there to connect in a deeper way to their experiences, here are notes about what I shared on Saturday. But these notes can also be useful to any of you studying the 2014 Bujinkan theme.

We can start with the basic concept, "don't use your own power or technique." But if not, what do you use?

It is best to approach this question from various paths. For each person and moment there is an effective path. When I help students explore more than one path we may find it together. And if we are lucky we can stumble to a path Soke has pointed out to us, 神の道 kami no michi.

I wrote previously about 神韻武導 Shin Gin Bu Dou and creating space for it in your training. But there is a natural progression for this that students of different levels may take. The first is moving from technique to 自然力 shizenryoku or the path of natural power.

1. Power in combat is not what you deliver, but rather what is felt.


The forces of nature are far greater than any of your muscle. What natural forces do you have at your disposal? Which powers of nature can you summon to your aid? The first that we all learn about is gravity.

It seems that nothing needs to be said about gravity. But far too many martial artists use muscle where gravity can do the job and do it better. Good technique, leverage, and bio-mechanics all address this. If you only study these, you can go far.

2. Power in combat is greatest when the source is not perceived.


Hatsumi Sensei told us that training after godan is mienai keiko. Unseen training, invisible training. Some other natural paths in combat are psychology, strategy, and kyojitsu.

The fastest strike is the one that is not seen. The scariest enemy is invisible. And the toughest combat of our lives is with ourselves. Bring all of that to bear on your opponent.

Strike in ways that cannot be perceived. Disappear or make yourself zero so he doesn't even know to fight you. And reflect back or magnify his internal struggles. Give him no easy choices.

3. Real power cannot be understood.


Soke continued by telling us that after mienai keiko we pass into wakaranai keiko. This is training that cannot be understood. He has been saying this all year.

In class, he says if we don't understand something, that is good. It is purposely not understandable. He said things that are understood will get you killed.

Think of a natural disaster or even random violence like a bombing. Why some survive and others do not is incomprehensible. No sense can be made of it.

This is the path Soke wants us to find in our training.

So it is with Shingin, you connect to this incomprehensible force. You get on the same path with it and invite it into the kukan. Live in that place where you've found it or created it.


A big thanks to Damion and my friends in San Francisco. It was fun training with you. I look forward to the next one!


虚実 Kyojitsu: A Path to Natural Power

Soke is a Trickster, photo by Michael Glenn
Hatsumi Sensei swung the bo across the line of the swordsman's cut. In the dojo we hear a sawing or zipping sound. The bo is hollow!

A weight from the 忍び杖 shinobi-zue swings through the air, barely missing the overhead lights. It continues wrapping around Soke's attacker until he and the sword are wrapped up. But Soke doesn't appear to move at all!

He finally drops the bo, and his attacker collapses in a tangled heap. What just happened? How can any of us in the dojo use that same feeling?

Soke called this 自然力 shizenryoku, natural power or the power of nature.

One of the secrets to this type of natural power is understanding power itself. Power that is not from your own effort or what you put out. It is how you are felt, or the effect you have. The perceptions of the opponent are what matter.

This is the heart of 虚実 kyojitsu.

I go to Japan to study the yearly themes and more. But I never know what I will learn when I arrive. During my trip last month, I learned about some of the paths that the power of 神韻武導 Shin Gin Bu Dou may take. 

You may be lost about this year's theme. Then lighting strikes in the night. In that brief flash, you see a path. Then darkness again. Hatsumi Sensei encouraged us to follow a path of natural power.

Soke describes this 自然力から神の力 shizenryokukara kami no chikara. This power of kami that arrives from the force of nature. That's the path or channel by which we experience this power. There's a natural power or strength from kami, a non-physical power. That power channels down from above and you should follow it.

But tonight in the dojo, Hatsumi Sensei was talking about skipping stones across water. And the moments between skips, The 間 Aida of Skipping a Stone Across Water . He said we should alternate between small kyojitsu and big kyojitsu in this very small moment or aida in the kukan. And each moment is connected in this continuation.

He added that this year is about 自然力 shizenryoku or the power of nature like a stone skipping across water. We should apply kyojitsu in this way. After Soke wrapped his opponent up with the chain and bo, he said,
"This year's theme is to not use our weapons. Or not to beat up the opponent. Just let the opponent become bound up (or bounded)  by his own technique."
He told us that to be able to apply kyojitsu tenkan you have to separate yourself from your own desire. And then follow the path of natural power. Maybe it's the path you see in a flash of lightning.

Hatsumi Sensei said that the very survival of the Bujinkan is because it has been passed from one Soke to the next in this way. Down through the path of the Kami. Along this natural line of power.

This is the lineage and how it is inherited.

The 間 Aida of Skipping a Stone Across Water

Michael Glenn Shares a Stone from the Santa Monica Mountains with Hatsumi Sensei
My punch at Soke left me hanging over the depths. Beneath me was the profound moment of life or death falling into darkness below. I felt I could sink with it.

Above was Hatsumi Sensei, who had just bounced me off the surface of this pond like skipping a stone across the water. I looked at him, he laughed. He wasn't going to let me sink. Not today.

Not today because he is sharing the idea of skipping a stone across the water with the whole class. Last week he used this image again and again in his classes. And right now I was the stone.

When I heard him talk about this in previous classes, I nodded my head. The concept made sense to me. It reminded me of another image he had used last year of 乗換 norikae. Changing trains, going from one track (or technique, kyusho, etc…) to another.

But now when I experienced what it felt like to be the skipped stone, I realized there was so much more. There is the stone, the person throwing, and the surface across which you fly. But there is also the entire body of water. What lies beneath?

If you've ever skipped stones across a pond, you may recall the rhythm. If you have a nice flat stone and a good throw (angle and speed), the stone will skip or bounce off the surface a few times. The first bounce is long, the second shorter, and each one after has less space between bounces. You may even get 6 or 7 before the stone sinks.

But the stone does sink. Just as the opponent is defeated. The final result is the sinking of the attacker into the depths.

Hatsumi Sensei wants us to focus on 間 aida. This is the space between, or the interval from one time the stone contacts the water to the next. During this moment, the stone flies through the air, but falls again toward the water.

Today, in this class as Hatsumi Sensei's uke, I am powerless to stop myself from hitting the surface again.

In this moment, this aida... I skim across the surface and I glimpse something that really surprises me, and that I don't know how to explain. I realize my fate is in the depths below. I am going to sink. But when I look down at the water I also see Soke's reflection, smiling at me.

When he describes to the class a stone skipping across the water, it is easy to think of a stone, of throwing, and watching it bounce across the water. But that is the training that exists above the surface. That is beginner stuff. When you pass Godan you may glimpse below the surface.

He was not just skipping a stone. He was drawing on the power of the depths below without sinking into them himself. And even more, he had decided that he was not going to let me sink either. I felt that at the end. He let me see deeply into the depths of our training by protecting me from what was beneath.

I'm sure this all sounds crazy, but describing what I felt is difficult. So I offer you the metaphor of the skipping stone that Hatsumi Sensei gave us. It is up to you if you want to pick up the stone for your own training.

Return top