呼吸 Kokyuu: How Hatsumi Sensei Caught My Breath

Michael Glenn Joins Hands with 大鵬幸喜 Taihō Kōki at the Fukagawa Edo Museum
I made sure to grip my sword well. My opponent stood before me, almost daring me to come in. I knew that if I didn’t cut in the space of that breath, I would be too late.

I cut, and I was stunned in an instant. I stood helpless at the point of my opponent’s sword… my own blade was slammed to the floor like the earth was a giant magnet.

My “opponent” was Hatsumi Sensei. He laughed as he drove the tip of his sword into my body. This forced my back up against the wood paneled wall.

This flash is burned into my memory from earlier this month. Soke was demonstrating to me a principle of 無く力を合わせ Naku chikara o awase that he was teaching that night. Meeting my attack without power. This principle was a thread that ran through many of my classes this month in Japan.

For some background, one night at Senou Sensei’s dojo,  Senou used the terms 姿勢 shisei: attitude; posture; stance; approach; or carriage (of the body)... And 態勢 taisei: attitude; posture; preparedness; or readiness. This means you can't just do a kata. It all depends on the attack... or the shisei or taisei of the opponent.

In another class Hatsumi Sensei effortlessly threw a series of opponents around the dojo. Each student he called out to attack him was bigger than the last. He was purposely choosing bigger and bigger bodies. He did this to demonstrate the slight changes in technique he used for each person. Soke said,
"When you catch a large fish, you have to change. You have to play the fish."
But how does this happen? If you’ve ever hunted or fished, you know how important it is to harmonize with the movements and mindset of the prey. It’s almost as if you merge with them as you stalk them. Then the moment of the kill creates an incredible concurrence. An incongruous reverence for life appears when you also see your own death in that moment. The body of your prey is your body.

Right after Hatsumi Sensei “killed” me, he said 呼吸から愛人 kokyuu kara ai jin. This is the merging of the breath between two lovers. But Soke used his humorous analogy to suggest you match your movements or your breath according to the way your opponent breathes. You become one with him. Like with a lover.

This was strange to me because it was like he disappeared in front of my cut. By matching me, he became nothing. He met my attack with emptiness. Then my next impression was the sheer force that dropped my own sword to the ground. But it was not his force, it was the shattering of the breath. My own breath. My own life which he had taken in that instant.

Bujinkan Japan Training Winter 2015

Below I share a preview of my Bujinkan video exploring the kata 片胸捕 kata mune dori using concepts from my training in Japan over the last couple of weeks.

Hatsumi Sensei has been very reflective. Part of this comes from his birthday. And part of it is due to the end of a 42 year cycle that he says began when Takamatsu Sensei passed away.

In the full video at rojodojo I share many of the stories Hatsumi Soke shared with us. Some of the details include:

  • What the future holds for the Bujinkan;
  • Hatsumi Sensei’s funny opinion about his 8mm footage with Takamatsu Sensei;
  • How Soke feels about his age;
  • The responsibility of our generation for Budo;
  • Two profound lessons from the 天津鞴韜馗神之秘文 amatsu tatara kishin no hibun;
  • A hidden meaning for 親切 shinsetsu;
  • How does Senou Sensei consider 姿勢 shisei and 態勢 taisei in training?
  • Hatsumi Sensei’s stories of lodging at Takamatsu Sensei’s house;
  • Stories of the terrifying training that Soke did with Takamatsu Sensei;
  • How Hatsumi Sensei survived a live blade attack from Takamatsu;
  • How Takamatsu demonstrated deadly force to Hatsumi Sensei;
  • Why Takamatsu didn’t really teach Hatsumi Sensei form;
  • How “bad people” are dealt with in the Bujinkan;
  • How to keep from being controlled by religion;
  • One of the most important purposes for the dojo;
  • My own experiences as uke for Hatsumi Sensei;
  • Turning accidents into fortune;
  • Cutting through truth;
  • Don’t confuse Fudoshin with kamae;
  • Using the eyes for evasion;
  • Throwing the self away and finding what is hidden in zero;
  • The importance of the “next one.”

Hatsumi Sensei said that he has taught us everything there is to teach in the Bujinkan over the last 42 years. But he added that we will be continuing from zero. Over the coming weeks, I will share more about these details from my experiences in Japan. But I made this video for rojodojo to get this information out quickly. You can enjoy the full length video and help support my teaching over at Rojodojo.com

Ten Ways to 清澄 Seichou

Shibuya, photo by Michael Glenn
A few nights ago, Hatsumi Sensei was trying to give us clarity (澄明 choumei) when he changed the kanji in juppo sesshou to 清澄 seichou which means clear and serene. The idea is that when you have this kind of clarity, you cannot be harmed by any attack. And he has often told us that the Bujinkan can only be understood with a clear, pure heart.

But not many of us in the dojo were clear that day. I think some people may be confused about what Soke is doing with his current line of training. This is understandable, because it is really hard to keep up with Hatsumi Sensei's progression.

This will be the first of several articles about the training I am currently doing in Japan, to receive all of them, please subscribe here.

It's like that feeling when you see your train pull in to the station but you're on the wrong side of the tracks. You know you can run, through the gate, up a flight of stairs, across the overpass, down another flight of stairs… you might even make it before the hiss of the doors closing.

Then again, you might fumble with coins at the gate, your suica card might be tapped out, you might trip on the stairs, maybe you drop your hat, even then you have to swim through a flood of people going the other way as they get off the train.

That's how training feels right now. It's a sprint to catch a train leaving the station. Soke's budo is as high level as ever. It has always been a challenge to comprehend or physically connect to Soke's training. But now, his budo seems to be leaving the station.

Some people seem to think they know where this train is headed, but they are probably wrong. That is what is difficult as a student. We can't understand where Soke's budo is headed because I think Soke is along for the ride too.

From my perspective, Soke's current budo is not fixed, it is searching. He himself has made every effort to let us know about the coming changes in the Bujinkan and the world. He says that he has taught us everything in the Bujinkan, and now he is searching for the "next one."

I get the feeling he himself doesn't know what that is. How can anyone? He has been a shepherd for the schools he inherited, and for us, his students. But the next phase will be out of his hands.

But budo has survived centuries despite the people who practice it. Some people add to this wealth of knowledge and understanding. Other's seek to destroy it.

Yet it keeps going. And anyone with a pure heart can catch a ride. May your journey be clear and serene (清澄 seichou).

Hatsumi Sensei Expands Into A Ninpo Type Feeling

flower across from the pillar of Kyōbashi. Photo by Michael Glenn
Next week I will travel again to Japan for Bujinkan training. My 3rd time this year. That may seem excessive, but the experiences I enjoy each trip help me discover the “secrets” of our art. For example, here is a lesson from Hatsumi Sensei that taught me how to be a lucky ninja.

One Friday night Hatsumi Sensei was showing us ninjutsu. Sometimes people who don’t understand our art ask, “when is Hatsumi Sensei going to teach ninjutsu?” Well he teaches these secrets all the time. But the secrets are hidden in plain sight… If you understand what you witness.

He began by striking with a koppo ken. But the koppo ken doesn’t arrive directly. It is hidden within the pattern created in the kukan. Soke said,
“Don't strike in one pattern. Expand into a ninpo type feeling.”
Then he called me out to demonstrate. I punched. He started to perform what I thought would be a ganseki nage. But that evaporated. And as the form disappeared I was thrown by something else.

Then Hatsumi Sensei said that we cannot hold onto form. Don’t let what you are holding become an obstacle.  He continued to say that もっけさせる mokke saseru is a きまり句 kimari-ku of ninpo taijutsu.

Well, this saying of ninpo is quite deep. It has layers of meaning. Mokke is something unexpected, like a mysterious apparition. But, to keep it simple, we can just consider that doing the unexpected in a fight can lead to victory.

But “mokke” can also refer to getting lucky, like a sudden windfall. Except here you create your own luck. In another class I had with Hatsumi Sensei many years ago, he said,
“you have to be the type of person that lucky things happen to” 
So how did Soke create his own luck when he threw me? He made the form of ganseki, then let it go. In that gap, that space that opens up when the form is abandoned, freedom occurs. And the opportunity to “get lucky” appears.

Many martial artists struggle with this. People who are attracted to martial arts tend to want to control a fight, control danger, control themselves. But, if you are holding onto form or seeking to control a situation, there may be no room for luck.

You should make room for own luck. Just add your email to get the details about my latest Japan training.

The 生き様 Ikizama of Bujinkan Sanshin and Mutō Dori

日本庭園 nihon teien in Aoyama. photo by Michael Glenn
You might learn one thing in class, and then another time, you learn the opposite. Ura and Omote. These are not contradictions, but rather they are part of one another. Like 陰 in and 陽 yo.

In my own classes, we recently studied 隼雄 shunū and 隼足 shunsoku. For these mutō dori, Hatsumi Sensei has suggested that we don’t try to catch the opponent’s sword. Instead we should entrap the sword’s very existence (生き様 ikizama).

This means you don’t focus on the weapon as a physical object. You focus on it’s entire existence in space and time. What is the weapon’s potential in any moment? Soke says,

“in mutō dori, the past present and future, the time before drawing the sword, after drawing, or when the sword has been re-sheathed., what may be called the nature of the sword’s existence(生き様 ikizama) … one entraps that.”

This is because the nature of the sword itself is not a threat. One moment it may be tucked in a corner or sitting on a rack gathering dust. In a different time it is red hot metal being hammered into shape by the smith. In all of the sword’s existence, how much of its life is spent in violence? Maybe just the space of one breath.

While this gives us some insight and philosophical strategies for mutō dori, there is a flip side. Last week I taught the opposite of entrapping the sword’s existence. What is this ura of mutō dori?

In this class, we were drilling 居合間合 iai maai using Gogyō no Kata. You have all heard how important sanshin is in Bujinkan training. And this is one example why. When you truly embody sanshin, you can do it with any weapon.

But people can’t. Someone who knows perfectly well how to do sui no kata... you give them a weapon and suddenly they fumble. This is where the ura side of mutō dori can help.

The opposite of entrapping the sword’s existence is to set it free.

For example, instead of trapping the sword’s existence, we set it free. This is the way to “use” any weapon. Let the nature of the weapon itself free as you move through space and time. Then the patterns of the weapon’s existence can emerge to protect you.

This is what sanshin teaches. It is 自然観 shizenkan, an insight of nature. Soke said that Takamatsu Sensei told him that having 自然的度胸 shizenteki dokyou (natural courage) was the most important. This is what arises out of the sword’s existence when you set it free. This is what you can learn from the 生き様 ikizama of sanshin.

If you want to study sanshin with me, here is the seminar schedule: Upcoming Bujinkan Sanshin Seminars

Do You Have Enough ゆとり Yutori to do Bujinkan Shadow Techniques?

Shadows in Soke's window, photo by Michael Glenn
Last night I did an omote gyaku on my opponent’s wrist by kicking it out of the air. Then I rode it down to the ground where the wrist would break as it is crushed to the earth by my foot. But I had the control to just pin it down.

My students were very surprised. But so was I. I have seen Hatsumi Sensei apply locks before where the opponent’s body just seems to assume the form of the lock without any contact from Soke. I first heard Soke describe these “shadow techniques” (kage no waza) during one of my trips to Japan in 2003.

I never understood them before and definitely never thought I would be able to do them. But during my trip to Japan this last summer, Soke helped me put the final pieces of this puzzle in place. So now here I am, surprising myself with my own kage no waza.

You must train deeply to learn all the elements that make kage no waza mysteriously arise in the kukan. And I have been puzzling over this ability for years in my own training. Here is one key piece of the puzzle that Hatsumi Sensei personally shared with me so I could go home and study his feeling.

We were practicing multiple attacker scenarios in the Bujinkan Honbu dojo. One attacker grabs both of your wrists, the other kicks or punches at you. Then Soke told us,
“Don’t try to control him right away, just have a lot of ゆとり yutori (breathing room; elbowroom;  leeway;  room;  reserve;  margin;  allowance;  latitude;  time). The connection is very important. You don’t have to throw him or show anything pretty.”
We all tried to do as he said, but most people in the dojo fought with their partners. Hatsumi Sensei laughed while he watched me struggle with my opponents. He took pity on me and came over and asked my to grab his wrists. Then, my two training partners attacked him.

From the moment I grabbed him, I felt like a pawn. He was using my own attempt to grab as a weapon against all of us. He very casually tangled us up and left me floating in space with my training partners collapsed beneath me on the tatami. I had to twist my body just to not fall on top of them.

Soke stood there laughing at me as I hung in the air.  Everything he did was so casual. There was no rush, no force. When I recovered my balance he told me,
“You do this without waza. Wakarimasuka? Do it with tsunagari.”
Not with technique, only through 繋がり tsunagari, which is connection. Did I understand? Usually when something is above my skill level, I understand things intellectually or in theory. But this time I understood the feeling with my body. And something more…

Hatsumi Sensei decided to share more of this lesson with the whole dojo. He said,
“Use your elbow here.  Don’t try to do anything, just put it out there. Keep it attached to your body. Study this way of connecting one to the other. Don’t show that you’re trying to take something…
…remember that the connection is the reality. It’s the waza, but it’s not the waza.”
Ha! This is what I wanted to tell my own students last night. They stood there looking at me like I had done a magic trick. But it was just an extension of the training I had done with Hatsumi Sensei. This is the kind of magic that fuels ninja mythology. So we are very lucky to find it in our everyday Bujinkan training.

How Hatsumi Sensei Adapted the Ura Waza of Sanshin no Kata to a Confined Space

Not so clumsy Butterfly at Nihon Minka-en. Photo by Michael Glenn
When anyone tries the ura waza for our Bujinkan Sanshin no kata for the first time they “blunder and fumble like a moth,” in the same way I quote clumsily from Faulkner. I show it to them, then they try it… then crash and burn. You can almost see the synapses misfiring across the hemispheres of their brain.

Not many Bujinkan teachers train the ura waza of 三心の型 sanshin no kata. And our bodies get used to the kata we always do. In my own classes, I use many approaches to sanshin to keep us adaptive. Each time we do it, it should be new again.

I will be teaching this as part of my Rojodojo Expert Rally if you want join us in Phoenix or Chicago. If you can’t make those cities, you can invite me to visit your dojo. As Hatsumi Sensei says, these things are 参考書 sankousho (a reference) for training.

I felt new again when Hatsumi Sensei showed a very practical use for the ura waza of sanshin no kata during one of my visits this year to Japan. He was showing how to use kakushi buki and he said,
“It's like the sanshin no kata. You go with the body like this.  When you don't have space (kurai dori for a 狭い semai, narrow confined, small space) you do it like this. Study that when you can't move.” 
We all tried it, but I think you can’t master it immediately. Especially when your brain and body are used to the kata you normally do. When I teach this ura waza, I literally start with putting one foot in front of the other. If you can get that small detail, you are on your way.

We should not try to be experts all at once. Rather, we should strive for the process of continual small improvements in training. It is the aggregation of these marginal gains that leads to mastery. I hope to see you at one of my Rojodojo Expert Rally’s! You can also join my email list for future updates.

Is this the most adaptive word in the Bujinkan?

In a recent class we studied Bujinkan uke kihon gata. I demonstrated how to physically do a jodan uke. But here is what I wrote in the training notes that I send out to my subscribers:
 "performing jodan uke begins with an attitude. Remember, uke comes from 受けるukeru which means to receive. There are three important moments when I  have to remind students of this: during ukemi; when performing uke nagashi; and even when being an uke."
But the fourth moment for this attitude is the MOST critical for your Bujinkan training. It is so important that I made a video about this word that you can watch below:

the most adaptive word in the Bujinkan?
Is this the most adaptive (and important) word for your Bujinkan training?
Posted by Rojodojo on Wednesday, September 9, 2015
you can also watch this on http://youtu.be/2pN1StVJhD4
receptive. that’s the sense
of an approach

no, more of an attitude for training.

some students arrive clear and receptive
others show up closed off
should they even be called students?

those who insist they are open
are the most dangerous to themselves
Their attitude fills them like the zen master’s
teacup. Can I serve them any more tea?

When I am a training partner. I receive.
In this moment I am filled with knowledge.
Do I even care that my role is to lose?

I receive an attack. this is the flip side of my counter.
Not a block.
after, I reverse the flow.
just enough
to match for that which I was given

I float here. In the space.
My ukemi protects me not because I am good
But simply receptive.
comfortable in my own space
that belongs to everyone else too.

If You Only Do The Densho Version of Bujinkan Kata, You're Doing it Wrong

Bujinkan Honbu Dojo and Summer Grasses, photo by Michael Glenn
In a recent class in my dojo we were studying the Bujinkan kata, 彈指 danshi. It is important to note that the waza is not in the densho. The densho cannot capture the fullness of the technique. The waza is transmitted from teacher to student as densho PLUS kuden. If you just do the densho version, you are doing it wrong.

This was evident when I had a student read from the densho and show the technique. Then I showed the actual waza as I learned it from my teachers. There are many subtleties not contained in the densho that make the technique real and functional. Some of these are burned in my own memory from experiencing them in person, some I recover from my personal training notes.

For example, when striking with the boshi ken, there is a particular way to trace the anatomy to the target. This comes from Hatsumi Sensei who shared 切紙  急所説明 48穴当込みの場所 , 口伝。This art of paper cutting (kiri kami) is used to show the kyusho locations of 48 openings for striking, and it is a kuden (verbal transmission).

Another example comes from Soke’s use of 親殺 oya goroshi. I rarely see him do this kata without emphasizing this aspect.  It has an out-sized effect on the outcome of this kata. But it is not in the densho.

To finish, I shared some of the feeling from my two Japan trips so far this year. We move beyond the waza to defeat the opponent using 繋がり tsunagari alone. The ability to do this supersedes all form. And it is one basis for the theme this year.

繋がり tsunagari means connection, link, or relationship. And maybe the most important connection in the Bujinkan is to the lineage of the art in Japan. Strive for the most direct connection possible. Go study there yourself, or study with a teacher who does. In my opinion, I think you should do both of those things.

Go Ahead, Ask Me About Sanshin Again...

Michael Glenn, Bujinkan Honbu Dojo, Last Month
Sometimes I go on a rant in my personal Bujinkan training notes. I usually don't share it publicly on my blog. But this one happens SO often, I will just hit you with it.

Not a week goes by that someone doesn't ask me "how" to do sanshin. This week, I'm really annoyed with this question. For two reasons: one, this question always comes from people who don't even know what they are asking... and two, because they never listen to my answers!

Anytime I do sanshin, I am reminded of my last class with Oguri Sensei and him teaching us these movements. He studied these even to the end. More than 45 years of Bujinkan training, and in his last class on earth, this is what we studied.

If you need a quick summary of sanshin in the Bujinkan, I wrote it: Sanshin no kata, are you doing it wrong? But nobody listens. People do whatever their ego tells them.

I know this because of the wide "variety" of basic versions I have seen from different teachers and at different dojos over the years. The one that I focus on is directly from the Japanese text as shared by Hatsumi Sensei.

But I have watched him teach it this way, and people ignore him. Even in Japan!

It always surprises me when people bring their baggage with them even to the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo. You would think after all the expense and effort it took them to get there, they would be ready to learn something. But something else happens...

Hatsumi Sensei will show them how he would like the form practiced and studied. But they never let go of their baggage of how they learned it from some teacher outside of Japan. People make excuses and call it henka, but many times it is just wrong.

They can't even bother to try it his way even right in front of him at the Honbu dojo. Then they go back home, and continue to show their badly formed kata. I feel sorry for their students.

The saddest part is, they or their students never actually "see" the lesson Soke is sharing. So they think they are studying the correct form. And will even argue with someone who tries to help.

I admit, "seeing" what Soke is teaching us is often a challenge. And I screw it up too. But people who never trained in the Bujinkan at all will argue with me. And even "experienced" Bujinkan students who are trapped in their so-called "kihon" that they never understood in the first place will debate with me about it. It gets really old.

The kicker is, you don't have to take my word for it, why not just copy Soke? That seems straightforward, but with sanshin, people don't. But I guess you can't be bothered because YOUR teacher taught it differently.

I say YOU because no one ever thinks it is them. It is always that other dojo over there that is messed up.  When I have this same discussion face to face with someone, they nod like they agree. But what they agree with is that OTHER people do this, never themselves.

So please, don't ask me "how" to do sanshin unless you are "really" asking and prepared to forget all that you already think you know about it. I hope my rant doesn't prevent you from blindly continuing to do what you think you know!

Bujinkan Nagamaki in the Mountains with Peter Crocoll

Robert, Peter, and Michael in the Forest of AZ
I went to the annual Arizona Bujinkan campout in the mountains of the Coconino national forest. This is an event I have been participating in for more than 20 years. Big thanks to my teacher, Peter Crocoll, and all of my friends in AZ who welcome me back home every year.

After an 8-9 hour drive from Santa Monica, we arrived mid afternoon to our campsite of over 7000 ft elevation. We set up camp quickly because this time of year, afternoon rain showers are common. But the rain came in the evening.

Heavy and loud with lightning. But I was happy to curl up in my sleeping bag in the cold mountain air for some rest. Adjusting my heart and lungs from sea level can be hard work.

During the night, the rain broke. I woke up with moonlight illuminating my tent. I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. There was a dark silhouette crawling up the wall. I thought a big insect had gotten inside so I poked at it. It was a tiny frog!

The next morning, I had a very early hike. Then my student, Robert Grove prepared a very hearty breakfast. It turns out I didn’t need to pack any food at all, because he was quite the camp chef.

My teacher, Peter Crocoll began the morning session with nagamaki kihon. Then we moved into some bisento kata he did with Someya Sensei in Japan. The nagamaki has no formal kata in the Bujinkan, so the bisento forms are a useful starting point.

I did some of these forms with Someya Sensei myself during my March Japan trip. They are short, direct, and deadly. A sword on the end of a polearm is a formidable weapon!

During the whole weekend, I would find myself getting too flashy with the weapon. I wanted to twirl, cross step, and brandish it. But Peter kept reminding me that straightforward taijutsu was the best approach. This was also my experience with Someya. This is why it is so important to remain a student, because you never see your own movement clearly.

We trained all day, then had a dinner break. Now it was time for night training. I will not reveal much about this because it is meant to be experienced.

We start when it is dusk, but still plenty of light. Peter asked me to show some muto dori I did in Japan during my recent trip in July. Then he asked my friend Nate to share some of his experience.

As the light faded, our eyes adjust. But away from the city, and out in the wilderness, it gets quite dark. The moon wasn’t rising until early morning. So the darkness was nearly absolute.

Imagine doing muto dori in these conditions. We can’t even see our opponent, much less the weapon. Soon, it did not even matter whether you were facing the opponent or not, since you cannot see even your own hands.

Some people had revelatory experiences in these conditions. I felt myself become the darkness. And that was pure fun!

Afterwards the time around the campfire roasting marshmallows was very relaxing. We shared many jokes and old training stories. Normally this goes pretty late into the night, but many people were exhausted after training all day. I stayed to put the fire out around 11 pm.

Then I went for a solo hike in the blackness. No flashlights. Just pure sensory blending with the dark forest.

Later that night, I awoke in my tent to find the moonlight streaming in. The tiny frog was crawling up the outside of my tent again. I must have parked my tent on top of his home! or maybe he just liked all the dew that condensed on the fabric of my tent.

Next morning, I was up quite early for a hike. Robert again prepared a great and hearty breakfast. I told him that I decided he must come along on all of the camping trips!

Peter continued with bisento waza using the nagamaki. He showed the basic form and the ura waza. Peter takes detailed and extensive notes during his Japan trips. So he always shares the little details that reveal the secrets of our art.

I gave Robert a surprise promotion to nidan. He performed well in this stressful ambush I prepared for him. He already had a shodan from another dojo when he started training with me a year ago. But his martial arts background goes back more than 30 years.

It was hard to say goodbye to my friends (really more like family). And the mountain forest. Training in this environment brings me a bit closer to the experiences of my ninja ancestors from the mountains of Japan.

Why is There an Ox Cart Wheel in the New Bujinkan Honbu Dojo?

Two shishi dogs and goshoguruma in the new Bujinkan Honbu Dojo. photo by Michael Glenn
Before class, Hatsumi Sensei unwrapped several large objects. Noguchi Sensei was quite curious. Two were the heads of dogs.

I laughed when Noguchi Sensei forced open the mouth of one. As the jaw came unhinged, Noguchi bent over to see if there was anything inside. Then he put his hand in and pretended the dog was biting.

The third object was a large wheel. I turned to my friend Paul Masse and said it looked like a dharma wheel. But I was ignorant.

I look at my students and I know immediately when they understand and when they don’t. It’s natural as a teacher. And Hatsumi Sensei does the same thing. I don’t just feel his attention, I literally see him watching. It is like we are all travelling down the road he built.

He is patient about it. He knows if we stay on the path, it will all work out. That night he even told us,
“I’m giving you some hints so that you can practice on your own. Don’t worry if you can’t do it right away because you won’t be able to do it right away.” 
Well, maybe this wheel is a hint of some kind. I asked Senou, Noguchi, and Nagato Sensei about it and they all said 御所車 goshouguruma. Which is the ox-cart the wheel comes from. In the Heian period, noblemen rode in ox carriages. By itself the wheel is sometimes called 源氏車 genjiguruma.

That is because the wheel is a crest for the Genji (or Minamoto) family. You may have heard of The Tale of Genji. In Japan, an indication of your refinement and culture is to employ motifs drawn from literature that connect to your situation or frame of mind or to the occasion. And you need sophisticated understanding of Japanese culture to be able to identify these motifs. So this wheel often refers to a scene from chapter 9.

In this scene, Hikaru Genji was participating in the purification ceremony of the priestess of Kamo Shrine. In the middle of the crowd who gathered to see him, an argument broke out between the Lady Aoi and the Lady Rokujou about the positions of their ox carriages to have a better view of Genji.

Some people act like this in the dojo! Positioning themselves to gain favor of the teacher. But I don’t think that is the message Soke intends by placing this symbol in the Honbu.

In tonight’s class, Hatsumi Sensei used his fingers to attack as usual. But he said something about this that transformed my understanding of how he uses them. He told us,
“You’re not actually using the fingers. You’re using them as a point, a fulcrum to move around.”
This is like the hub of a wheel! And the fingers could be spokes. I never considered it this way before so I will study it when I arrive back home.

If you want to follow my studies, I include many more details in my personal training notes. You can subscribe here

Like the rolling of wheels, Hatsumi Sensei kept on us about the importance of continuous connection. A wheel must have this kind of connection with the road. If you break that connection, the wheel is useless. Well, Soke told us a similar thing happens when you attack,
“Anybody can just attack, but it takes more skill to control. Everyone tries to attack and that’s why they make mistakes. If you just try to control it leads to the next one. I keep teaching this year that it’s connected to the next move, the next one. Because if you stop right there that’s when you die.”
He next did muto dori against a rokushakubo strike. He told us,
“It's all connected. You have to use the kukan and move in it. It has to be all connected and continuous."
And then he took up 澄水之構 Chōsui no Kamae against a sword. That’s when he revealed,
“Because it’s all connected like this, you take his will, his desire to fight. It’s not about attacking men or dou or specific kyusho. Know the importance of the intervals in the kukan and the connection between those.”
Well, I would add, that you should know the importance of visiting the Honbu dojo and your own connection between you and your teachers. Every trip makes me happy that I have set my wheels on this road. I hope you can travel along the path with me.

The 骨 Kotsu of Bujinkan 手解 Tehodoki

Michael Glenn is frequently beat up in the Bujinkan Hombu Dojo
A little over a week ago, I was in Soke’s class trying to do 両手解 ryō tehodoki. Normally, this is not difficult for me except there were complications. Hatsumi Sensei showed this double wrist escape while he was being punched by a second attacker. Of course, he destroyed them both with little effort.

Soke looked around the dojo. I think he saw everyone fighting. His main point tonight was not to fight at all. He admonished us, “戦わない tatakawanai.”

Hatsumi Sensei watched me and said to do it without waza, without technique. He offered his wrists so I could grab them. I didn’t feel him move at all.

One of my training partners tried to punch him, but was blocked by my own arms. Then we were tangled. My other training partner attacked Soke, and all three of us ended up in a pile on the floor of the dojo. Hatsumi Sensei stood over us laughing. He told me, don’t do it with waza, but with 繋がり tsunagari or connection.

Then he decided to share this most important idea for the whole group. He said,
“Study this way of connecting one to the other. Don’t show that you’re trying to take something. I’m not taking anything, but still holding. If you put it out there too fast they will feel that with their reflexes. Don’t try to take anything. Release or let go in the middle. Remember that the connection is the reality. It’s the waza, but it’s not the waza.”
Well now my mind was blown. The connection IS the reality. Not the fight or any technique. Wow!

Hatsumi Sensei had me grab him again. He spoke as he tangled me up with my partners,
“Don’t try to attack, just consider the importance of connecting one to the next, and the next. This is the 骨 kotsu (knack or secret) of fighting. Very important in a real situation.”
But Soke didn’t knock me down. He just walked away and left me hanging in mid air, about to fall on one of my training partners. I teetered there like I was in a weird game of twister. I guess that’s what happens when you lose your connection.

悪い感覚 Warui Kankaku: Use Your Bad Technique as a Strategy

I get the distinct feeling I'm being watched. I wonder if he would approve?
I sat across the dojo from Hatsumi Sensei. He had just thrown his opponent to the ground. Then he kicked him in the skull. I felt the thud in my legs where I sat. The impact vibrated across the entire floorspace.

Then Soke said something that made everyone laugh, but he was quite serious…
"This is a bad feeling."
He used the words 悪い感覚 warui kankaku. He went on to add that you have to take what's bad, and make it good. This idea hits on many levels for our current Bujinkan study.

Of course when someone attacks you it creates a bad feeling. The bad feeling can also arise when you find yourself in a bad situation. It can even help you avoid trouble before it starts. Take the "bad feeling" and turn it to something good by winning the fight, or by escaping before the fight.

But Soke also meant 悪い感覚 warui kankaku on another level. He meant that we should take our bad technique and make it good. Not just to get better as a martial artist, but to use this as an actual strategy in combat. Use your own bad technique to win!

How do you do that? The answer has a big clue for this year's theme. Soke said,
"Don't think of trying to make it work. You don't have to make this work. Don't be tied up in whether it works or does not. No one ever teaches you that it's ok if it doesn't work."
"It's ok if it doesn't work, because you can change. You can keep going."
Hatsumi Sensei even gave us an example of how to do this. First, you may try to do a technique. Maybe you use a technique that you are skilled with. When the opponent senses this, when he thinks you are about to do a technique, you just take that away from him.

Then you do a bad technique. Maybe one that you've never studied. Or a random henka that doesn't even exist in the densho. This kind of "bad feeling" is a way to steal the fighting power away from your opponent.

This leads to 自然力 shizenryoku, or to a power greater than yourself. Soke looked up from his defeated opponent on the mat. Many of us in the dojo were stunned. He said,
"There's no decided outcome, but because of that, there is. You're not deciding the outcome. You let that be decided naturally. This is this year's theme."
This happened during my first class when I got off the plane and went straight to the dojo. After 20 hours of travel, I could have just passed out in my hotel room because I was "too tired" to go to training. But I would have missed this experience. I'm glad that I took that bad feeling and made it into something good instead.

How to Use 初心 Shoshin to Protect Your Bujinkan Training

Rain brings Summer Flowers to the Bujinkan Hombu. photo by Michael Glenn
During the tea break today, Nagato Sensei said some profound things. He began by speaking about how Soke has said that we should not teach bad people. Then he gave some examples.

Nagato named names. He listed some of the bad people that have passed through the Bujinkan. He aired some dirty laundry with details I won't write about here. Then he also shared how they are dealt with by Soke and the Japanese instructors.

Nagato commented on the interesting fact that Soke does not eliminate these people from the Bujinkan. He said we need these bad people around to learn from them. They are the devils we know. Keep your enemies closer, as they say.

He said in the Bujinkan, we need to be capable of doing worse than the devil himself. He used the mafia or the yakuza as an example of evil. They may be bad, but we are worse. He said they should be afraid of us.

But then Nagato explained that the most important of all is to protect the goodness in yourself. Don't allow your ability to destroy evil, or to be more terrifying than the devil, color your own heart black. How do you stay clear of the bad around you?

Nagato used the word 初心 Shoshin. This is beginner's mind, or the spirit of a newborn. It can also be your original motivation for training. He said people forget why they began training. Then they lose their way.

They get caught in ideas of rank, power, politics, or building territories. And the purity of budo is lost to them. This purity that can both protect and destroy is a gift. Throw it away at your own peril.

New Bujinkan Book, "Dancing Embers" by Sleiman Azizi

Warm People, 日本民家園 Nihon Minka-en, photo by Michael Glenn

My friend Sleiman Azizi has a new book out called Dancing Embers. I’m not sure if Sleiman wants anyone to know, but besides being a martial artist, he is also a poet. Being a poet myself, that was one of the things that drew me to him.

I met Sleiman many years ago during one of my trips to Japan for Bujinkan training. He was not one of the loud, in your face foreigners that one often enjoys in the raucous atmosphere of the Bujinkan dojo. In fact, I may never have noticed him at all had my teacher not introduced us.

I felt a quick bond because of the subversive twinkle in his eye. I often gravitated towards his corner of the dojo during my many visits. Over the years we continued to trade training ideas along with plenty of dry humor.

One day, without knowing why, I turned to him for advice about a pending complication with my upcoming godan test. My mind had been in turmoil for days because of a premonition I had about it. Sleiman gave me a quick suggestion that immediately felt right. I thought, “ok, that’s what I will do.” My premonition turned out to be correct, and it was Sleiman’s advice that carried me through.

For this I owe him my kansha (gratitude) for being a kansha (person of sense).

But, like so many of the people I meet in training, I never felt I really knew him. This connects with one of the central ideas of his book, that you cannot really know budo because it is not there to be known. Especially with Hatsumi Sensei’s expression of Budo. It is like like the sun trying to find a dark place to hide.

So how did I begin to know the author of this new book, Dancing Embers? One day I discovered his poetry. Poetry can reflect the inner world of the author. Poetry and budo have a long history together. This poetry tries to express the inexpressible nature of life and death. The writer may fail, but in the effort we can find beauty.

And it may bring us the closest to knowing the essence of budo.

The closest I can get to knowing Sleiman is by following his thoughts. Or, as he suggests in the book, his 随筆 zuihitsu are the miscellaneous writings he shares so that we may follow the brush of his thoughts. This is like my own experience riding along with him on the train after a great class at the Hombu dojo.

Remember that subversive wit I mentioned? Well, while applying poetry to thoughts of budo, Sleiman often confronts himself and the reader with the ridiculousness of it all. It is like the sufi story where Mulla Nasreddin was throwing handfuls of crumbs around his house. "What are you doing?" someone asked him. "Keeping the tigers away." "But there are no tigers in these parts." "That's right. Effective, isn't it?

With the teaching methods of a trickster, Sleiman’s thoughts and writings often pass judgement. But it is the judgement of fire that burns both the judge and the accused. No one escapes. Not even the author.

This is a common trickster approach. Some of the deepest lessons in Budo are found in this space. Sleiman writes,

“Just as a good chef can taste the mindset of the person who made the food being eaten, so too a good reader can read the mindset of the person who wrote the words being read.”

If you wish to approach your budo from an oblique angle that will provide insights that cannot be found elsewhere, get a copy of Sleiman’s book, Dancing Embers (Amazon link). You will be included in the private conversations and thoughts of someone who has lived many years in Japan and studied Hatsumi Sensei’s budo with a heart full of reflection.

A New Beginning and a New Bujinkan Shodan in My Dojo

The Belt Exchange, Michael Glenn promotes Jesse to Shodan
Yesterday a new 初段 shodan was born in my dojo. My student Jesse proved that he has what it takes both with technique and heart. But he also showed something more which proves his understanding of what it means to be a Bujinkan Shodan.

I don’t give out rank easily. As the day grew closer for Jesse’s initiation, I checked my records to see when he started training. I was very surprised to see that he began exactly 5 years ago! I hadn’t planned for his black belt to fall on that anniversary, but sometimes everything lines up just right.

Jesse doesn’t know yet what it means to be a black belt in the Bujinkan. And of course everyone’s experience is different. I wrote an entire series about the black belt ranks that begins here: Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull

For me personally, It was a new beginning. It took me a lot longer than five years to get my black belt. Getting there symbolized a re-dedication to the passion I had for Bujinkan training that began in my youth. But also a more mature relationship with training and how it fit into my life.

I have watched some of the same things happen for Jesse. But in ways unique to him. The kind of training we do means that Jesse has had to grow as a person to improve with the martial art.

This is because there is an invisible barrier in the Bujinkan. It is found in your own heart. If you don’t find it and discard it, learning (and often training itself) comes to a stop.

I watched Jesse struggle over the past five years to find that and discard it. It was clear when he did. And his training improved. Now he is a strong example for the younger students. He is also a great reflection to remind the senior students where they’ve been and what training is all about.

Shodan means beginner level. As Jesse’s teacher I personally guarantee that Jesse has well begun! Thank you Jesse and Ganbatte!

What if I Give Everyone in the World Bujinkan Rank?

The Crowded Path to 弁天堂 Benten-dō, photo by Michael Glenn
This could be one of my silly or offensive posts. But, you may already know my personal feelings about Bujinkan Rank. Or, about how long it takes to get a Bujinkan Black Belt.

I remember when Hatsumi Sensei marked the occasion when he awarded the 3000th godan. We all stood and applauded. That was some years ago. He recently said there were 400,000 Bujinkan members worldwide. That seems like a lot.

So what if I just promote everyone in the world? I'll make up my own rank and promote everyone because I think my (fake) numbers may surprise you. I'll call my fake rank the "Rojodojo Bujinkan Level."

Out of an estimated 7 billion people on earth, what is Your Rojodojo Bujinkan level?

(my made up levels are not proven by science, so don’t check my math too close)

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 0

  • about 5 billion people (about 70% of the population)
  • These are people who have never heard of martial arts or don’t care

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 1

  • about a billion people (about 15% of the population)
  • People who like martial arts movies.
  • Maybe learned a technique from their friend.
  • Called a dojo once to check prices.

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 2

  • about 100 million people (about 1.5% of the population)
  • People who took a martial arts class when they were a kid.
  • Or studied a couple weeks at the gym.
  • Maybe they bought a book.

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 3

  • about 10 million people (about 0.15% of the population)
  • Someone who achieved rank in a martial art or studied more seriously as an adult.
  • Still probably never heard of the Bujinkan.

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 4

  • about a million people
  • These people are actively studying a martial art.
  • Some have even heard of the Bujinkan.

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 5

  • about 100,000 people
  • People who actively study the Bujinkan.
Hatsumi Sensei says it’s more than this, but most Bujinkan members haven’t even trained once this month. And to me, once a month is not very active.

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 6

  • about 10,000 people
  • Have reached Shidoshi level or close to it.
  • Some even run their own dojos.
  • Maybe they visit Japan occasionally.

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 7

  • about a thousand people
  • Jugodan ranks.
  • There may be more or less, but it’s growing close to this number. 
  • Some are actively training/teaching. Some are not.
  • Some have died and we miss them.

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 8

  • about 100 people
  • Shihan.
  • People who are top rank and actually know what they are doing.
That’s 100 people in the whole world!

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 9

  • about 10 people
  • the teachers I train with in Japan.

Rojodojo Bujinkan level 10

  • Hatsumi Sensei
(since this is my list, I can put whoever I want on top)

You might notice that if someone is one or two levels above you, they seem cool. Three levels above and they start to seem a bit strange. If you examine someone four or five levels above, they are just crazy. Anybody above that, you should just run away from them.

Going the other direction, people one level below you seem ignorant. Two levels below are assholes. Beyond that, are they even alive? I mean can they fog a mirror?

Do you think my numbers are even close? Where do you fit in there?

How to Use 精神 Seishin to Rearrange the Body

Michael Glenn visits 鬼の子の木 by 熊澤 未来子。Ichigayatamachi, Tokyo
I watched as Hatsumi Sensei brought his really big, central European opponent to his knees. He did this somehow without force. Even on his knees, the guy was almost as tall as Soke.

Then Soke snapped a sharp kick to a kyusho on the man’s leg. He yelped like a hurt pony. As he twisted to get away from the pain, we all saw that it was a trap that Hatsumi Sensei had set to pin the guy’s other leg.

How does Hatsumi Sensei break down bigger opponents so easily?

Maybe you’ve heard Hatsumi Sensei’s recommendation that we drop technique. Or not to focus on technique. Or that technique is a trap.

For many people who attend a martial arts class, this seems counter intuitive. We came to class for a reason. Why would we be there if not to learn technique?

Many martial artists get stuck at this level. They are happy obsessing over their technique and endless variations of it. You know the type, the ones who argue endlessly about the “correct” way to do kihon. Or which lineage is the “real” one.

Soke has in mind a larger purpose for budo. The purpose of growing human potential. We come together in the pursuit of martial arts to polish each other’s hearts and be polished.

But the mirror of the heart gets clouded by thoughts of technique, rank, of winning or losing, of honor or proving oneself. To study with a clear mind you must drop all of these thoughts. Kakusan Shidō, founder of Tōkei-ji said,
“If the mind does not rest on anything, there is no clouding, and talk of polishing is but a fancy.”
This is the approach of the pure spirit of 精神 seishin. Seishin is the spirit or soul, heart or mind. This is the part of you that defines yourself. Hatsumi Sensei says,
Seishin is the self, the self is found in seishin. There is no self apart from seishin, and this is why seishin doesn’t exist without the self.
In martial arts study, we try to teach this part of ourselves through the physical means of budo. Fighting your way to enlightenment may seem odd to an outsider. But combat has a stark clarity. And it quickly cuts through the noise of ego to hit your body and affect your spirit.

There is even a ninja secret to protect the spirit. Have the perseverance of Ninniku Seishin: "hiding spirit" hide your intentions, don't show off everything, be patient, wait and endure to succeed. This is how you protect seishin.

One of Takamatsu Sensei’s teachers, Toda Shinryuken, The 32nd Soke of 戸隠流忍法 Togakure Ryū Ninpō, said,
 己を空にして, また体に配す
One must empty oneself and then arrange the body again. 
Arrange the body again? What does that rearrangement look like? This cannot be explained or even thought about. It is what Soke wants us to study with the Bujinkan theme for 2015. Hatsumi Sensei has not even spoken much about it, because it really is beyond thought, beyond words.
“Think the unthinkable. How to think the unthinkable? Be without thoughts, this is the secret of meditation” Dogen Zenji
This is also the secret for the student in the dojo. Have you ever had training like this? Try it next time and you might see what your teacher is really teaching beyond techniques.

八方睨み Happonirami: Stop Staring at Me!

Daruma with 八方睨み Happonirami eyes, which way is zen? photo by Michael Glenn
I grew up in the southwest United States. Where the desert sky is so big that at night you feel like you can run away from the moon. This feeling grows while driving very fast. You feel as if you are pulling away, but then you look back and the moon is following you.

In Japanese there is the phrase 八方睨み happonirami, which means staring in all directions. There are many famous paintings of dragons and phoenixes with eyes that follow the viewer.

Maybe you’ve seen a creepy picture like this. No matter where you stand it seems to be looking at you. Hatsumi Sensei has even painted Daruma this way.

But happonirami is also a way to ward off evil. By watching in all directions, you are vigilant and can see the enemy approach. How do we do this?

One key is to not look at any one thing or dwell on technique. Unfocus. One day Hatsumi Sensei told us,
“Don’t look at the attack. Don’t watch it. If you try to evade, block, and take a kamae you will be too slow. Be like stardust in the sky.”
If you go stargazing (放心状態 houshinjoutai), you become abstracted or dazed out. You lose the self and any technique along with it. Your mind can be empty and clear like the starlight.

But don’t focus on attacking or defending. Don’t let your gaze fall on any one spot. If you do, your mind becomes cloudy.

Another day Soke told us,
“You're not looking at a specific place to kick. You're feeling where to kick. In budo you don't use your eyes to look at a specific place.”
In Bujinkan training and in all martial arts, there is the problem of perspective. When you study something deeply, you get too close to it. You don’t see the bigger picture that might be obvious to someone on the outside.

We have a phrase in English that says when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Or, if you hold a gun in your hand, every argument looks like a target. Someone who doesn’t have a hammer, gun, or martial arts will find a different solution that could be better.

Most fights are over something that only the combatants care about. Anybody watching the fight might just be amused. That is why the crowd gathers.

Arguments occur because people get attached to their position. Instead, don’t take any position, or you take one that allows you to see a bigger picture… Like 傍目八目 okamehachimoku, which means having the perspective of a bystander. Or, 岡目八目 okamehachimoku, that suggests you can see in all directions from the top of a hill.

Have this distance or perspective to see the big picture. For example, if you watch sports you often see more than the players do. Some people even yell at the TV because they saw an opportunity to score that the players didn’t see.

We have a ninpo gokui in our Kukishin Ryu Densho about the moon,

    月影の いたらぬ里は なけれども 眺むる人の 心にぞすむ
    Tsukikage no itaranu sato wa nakeredomo nagamuru hito no kokoro ni zosumu.

    Though the moon shines all over the world

    Leaving no corner in darkness,

    Only those who gaze upon the moon

    Appreciate its serene light.

Make your technique soft like moonlight. Disappear like stardust. Not only will you see from a great distance above everything, but you take on the ephemeral quality of magic and nothingness.

鬼角拳 Kikaku Ken Makes Me Laugh

Demon greeting in the new Bujinkan Hombu Dojo, photo by Michael Glenn
The other night, I gave each of my students a Glasgow kiss. They didn’t like it. This is a slang term for a headbutt.

If you subscribe to my training notes (if you aren't a subscriber yet, you miss a LOT of free Bujinkan notes), you know that we are currently studying 宝拳十六法 Hōken Juroppō in my basics class. These are the 16 striking treasures of the Bujinkan curriculum.

The Bujinkan name (or slang) for headbutt is 鬼角拳 Kikaku Ken. To help everyone visualize why this strike has the name that translates as demon horn fist, I brought a small oni mask for everyone to see where his horns are located. It may even be technically correct to grimace like an oni while delivering this strike.

The 鬼 Oni, or demon is not the same type of demon that westerners fear. Oni are associated with wild energy and bodily strength. They can be positive or negative.

You will see many people in the Bujinkan who embody both qualities. Like the Japanese expression, 鬼面仏心 kimenbusshin, the face of a devil but the heart of Buddha. This is the stern expression you see on a warrior while his heart is tender and compassionate.

Hatsumi Sensei said that
“In the Bujinkan now we have really reached the time of demons (oni). When you say demon many people think of an image of something that is very wild. But it is not like that. Oni are very important creatures in Japan given to us by the gods to protect justice. I am sure that there will be more demons in the future of the Bujinkan to look after the world.” 
This why I laugh out loud every time I headbutt someone. One year, when Hatsumi Sensei set the yearly theme as Kukishin ryu, he wrote a scroll to hang in the (old) hombu. It read 九鬼大笑 kuki taishou... 9 demons, hearty laughter.

Most depictions of Oni in masks, sculpture, or painting show them with a very large and scary smile. This is because they know a secret. Laughter is the only thing that will defeat our biggest enemy... ourselves. The inner demons float away on a smile.

Bujinkan 妙音術 Myō-on jutsu, a Mysterious Sound in the Kukan

The old bike path to the Bujinkan hombu dojo is gone, photo by Michael Glenn
Last week we were making a video of 折倒 Settō for my Bujinkan class. This is a simple Kotō Ryū kata that many have experienced. But this time the expression of it was different. My opponents were collapsing and flying away as if by an unseen force!

I was fortunate to study this kata in Japan last month with more than one teacher. They were generous with the pain. Below I describe how when I did it with Hatsumi Sensei, he gave me a gift that has opened up a new understanding of taijutsu.

Everyone knows that proper taijutsu is not supposed to be muscled or forced. You should drop the power out to do it well. I wrote about that here Releasing the Power of 力を抜くChikara o Nuku

The key in that idea is expressing power or force, then releasing it. But the surprise for me was what Hatsumi Sensei said last month. He told us to put your intention in the kukan, then remove it (空間と退かす).

Maybe you’ve heard the expression that nature abhors a vacuum. In Physics this means that empty space will quickly be filled. When you remove your own muscle or intention from the technique something will replace it.

Hatsumi Sensei has suggested this year (and last) that we power our taijutsu with shizenryoku or the power of nature. Natural forces will rush in to fill the gaps we leave in the kukan. He even gave a name to one force that can appear when you remove your intention: 妙音術 Myō-on jutsu.

I won’t try to explain 妙音 Myō-on too much. Except that it is a vibration of mysterious sound that comes from what Soke calls 自然観 shizenkan. This view of nature or natural philosophy is connected to mythology and 五行 five element theory 

In religion it is associated with 妙音樂天 heavenly music from サラスヴァティー Sarasvatī who in Japan is expressed as 妙音弁才天 Myō-on Benzaiten holding a biwa (traditional Japanese lute).

This kind of metaphysics gets really esoteric. But one practical result for our training arises from this. In the very next sentence after using the word 妙音術 Myō-on jutsu, Soke said,
万物すべて武器 banbutsu subete buki
This means everything is a weapon. Don't be stuck on the idea that only weapons are weapons. In this way the mysterious sound of the Kukan can be your weapon.

The Stunning Effect of 気分 Kibun in Hatsumi Sensei's Class Last Week

The lotus bearer from 金龍の舞 kinryu no mai. photo by Michael Glenn
Hatsumi Sensei did not move. The attacker with the sword missed him completely. I watched the next demo more carefully. His feet literally did not move at all. Yet he was not cut.

Maybe some of you have witnessed this strange event in person. If you have, you know how weird it can be when you try the same thing with your training partner. Most of us cannot repeat this.

After Soke demonstrates, you try it, and you get cut every time. Or, you must leap out of the way. But never can you repeat what he did.

I have seen him demonstrate this in class many times over the years. And I have to be honest, I always thought it was fake. I just chalked it up to a bad cut from the attacker.

But after last week’s training, I’m not so sure anymore. Soke shared something with me personally that I did not consider when I judged the previous demonstrations. I’ll try to describe what he showed me.

Here is what Soke told us that night. He said that normally when we evade, we do so with our minds gauging the distance or the angle of the attack. We’ve all been learning this since we were born. Our eyes process the physical properties of the incoming attack, and we duck or dodge.

But Hatsumi Sensei said That if you think about trying to evade, it’s already too late. Instead, he was using a kyojitsu of the kukan. The whole space and everything in it is controlled with kyojitsu. He controls the attack before it occurs, and there is no need to evade.

How do you do this? Well, what I felt when he asked me to attack him was a blankness or an absence. It was bizarre. Like having your memory erased. He just was not there. Yet I was thrown quite hard.

Hatsumi Sensei then said, you are being controlled by 気分 kibun rather than anything physical. Kibun is the mood or atmosphere. You may even translate it as the spirit of the moment.

This is the kyojitsu he applied on me, or rather, the entire kukan. And if his attacker with the sword experienced the same thing, I can understand why he missed. How do you cut absence or emptiness?

Instead of judging the bizarre appearance of what I witnessed in Soke’s classes, maybe I should realize I didn’t have all the information. I was lucky that Hatsumi Sensei chose to demonstrate on me personally to show me this part of the puzzle. Now I have a lot to work on at home to harness this power of moody kukan.

The Ura Side of Bujinkan Sakkijutsu

金龍の舞 kinryu no mai, 浅草寺 Sensō-ji, Tokyo. photo by Michael Glenn
This is one of those Bujinkan training trips where I will be sore for the entire trip. Besides the normal beatings at the hands of my training partners, Hatsumi Sensei, Senou Sensei, Noguchi Sensei, and Nagato Sensei have all seen to it that they personally roughed me up.

For members of Rojodojo, I made a video: Bujinkan Japan Training Report: Kinryu Edition  Because...

Yesterday, I went to see 金龍の舞 kinryu no mai. Dance of the golden dragon. This is a rare sight… the sensoji temple also has the name 金龍山 kinryuzan. According to legend. the fisherman who founded the place saw a golden dragon swoop down out of the sky and create a forest in one night.

Eight guys carry the dragon and the 9th guy carries a lotus flower. This is symbolic of the dragon's dual nature. Although the dragon is fierce while attacking, it also protects.

Hatsumi Sensei has been saying the same thing for many years. In fact, on Tuesday night, he showed us this dual nature against his attackers. During one throw, he said he was trying to protect, but those who do not accept it defeat themselves.

He also shared what he called the ura side of 殺気術 sakkijutsu. This exposes the dual nature of sakki and requires a feeling of sutemi. Hatsumi Sensei used a baseball analogy where instead of going for a home run, you bunt.

When you bunt in baseball, you receive a fast moving ball and deaden it with your bat to slow it down. Your opponents chase a slow rolling ball while the runners advance at fast speed. It's a way of controlling the tempo of an attack.

Hatsumi Sensei said 勝負 shoubu, victory or defeat, is already decided before the fight begins. Then everything moves in slow motion for the opponent. He cannot stop it from happening. All he can do is witness his own demise.

This may come as a shock or surprise. And that is what defeats the attacker rather than any physical technique. Soke said he is like the monkey who puts his hand in the jar to grab the food, but then can't pull his fist out.

This is why Soke told us to release, or set ourselves free from 技術 gijutsu or the technical qualities of fighting. Technical skills are like the monkey trap. Soke said,
People think that they perform techniques with their own power, but they don't know that it's the kami that drive their bodies.
If you move with your own intention, then you can't use the power of kami.

And this power, this ura side of sakki, allows you to dissipate any attack. Imagine the arrows turning to flowers before Siddhartha. What Soke did in one class this week was cause his attacker to defeat himself by trying to help the attacker or even protect him.

Hatsumi Sensei told us this was for the "jugodan" test. When I became a 15th dan, I began to feel Soke's warning that the jugodans are constantly taking the sakki test. Anytime, anywhere. It does not only exist in the dojo. This is why we need to discover the ura of sakkijutsu that Hatsumi Sensei was teaching at Ayase.

The Golden Dragon (kinryuu son 金龍尊) is often mentioned in the Suvarna- prabhasa-sutra "Golden Light Sutra". This is where the idea of the 四天王 shitenno comes from. Soke has referenced this with 4 Japanese shihan and also used it as a nickname for some European shihan.

These four kings are supposed to protect the head of the kingdom. But only if the ruler is just. This is why Soke tells us to only teach people with a good heart. If you do not have a good heart you will never be able to harness the power of the ura side of Bujinkan Sakkijutsu.

In Bujinkan Ninpo, We Live or Die with 空 Ku

Shide at 稲荷神社, 南柏 Minami Kashiwa. photo by Michael Glenn
In the following account, I describe a night when I killed somebody. The intention rose up my body, filled it, and took over. Then I struck him down. He never saw it coming.

Before you report me to the authorities, make sure you read all I have to say about that night.

Life and death can flip in an instant. They both exist in the same moment. What separates the two?

One moment you are full of life. You were born, grew up, and live with the choices you make every day. You have dreams and goals for your future. But all of your history and all of your future can be taken from you right now.

Life. Death. One and the same.

In our Bujinkan training, we have strategies to deal with this. I previously wrote about one of these that Hatsumi Sensei calls 過去現在未来之術 Kako Genzai Mirai no Jutsu. This is an art of existing in the moment between life and death.

Life or death only happens in the present moment which is ephemeral and very small. In fact, it is a moment of zero. It is like a 要 kaname of life and death.

That night I killed somebody symbolically. Hatsumi Sensei asked me to give the godan test. The guy never saw it coming, and I killed him with my sword cut. But it was also a moment in which I existed. That same moment of life or death. And I killed myself along with my victim.

Hatsumi Sensei commented, “In ninpo taijutsu you have to become 重いで空 omoide ku,  heavy with emptiness.” But he also changed the meaning by using 思いで空 omoide ku, which means thinking, imagining, or feeling emptiness. Empty your mind of life or death in this moment of zero.

If you want to know more, you can watch the latest video I made about 過去現在未来 Kako Genzai Mirai. In the video, I also show how to find the pivot point on your sword.

The Invisible Barrier of 銛盤手裏剣 Senban Shuriken

Wall and Trees 鎮護堂 Chingo dou, Asakusa, Japan. Photo by Michael Glenn
There is a secret hidden in 銛盤手裏剣 senban shuriken. I have seen the word senban written in many ways, such as 銛盤、 施盤、or 旋盤。All of these project different meanings.

As you know, Hatsumi Sensei often uses wordplay to expose different truths. And he wrote senban for us with different kanji that reveal a secret. But first let me tell you why you should care.

There are invisible barriers in our training. Here is one you may not know about:

As a Bujinkan student, you may come to stand on the edge of your own humanity, look down to the light side, and the dark side. And there you will find yourself. You might love or hate what you see. That’s a terrible beauty of training.

When I was young, I was not smart. I secretly ordered some senban shuriken through the mail because my parents would never have allowed me to possess ninja weapons. I had to wait everyday by the mailbox to get the mail before my parents did.

When my shuriken arrived, I quickly removed them from the package to test them out. I chose a tree in the yard for a target. I had no idea what I was doing.

I was poor in ability and aim, but the big mistake was my choice of a target. The tree stood in front of a stone wall. Every time I missed, the senban slammed into the wall.

Within 15 minutes, the metal points were dull and bent.

Now, 30 years later, I see many students make the same mistakes I did. One of the biggest and worst mistakes is like choosing a bad shuriken target. You choose the wrong reason for your training.

I made that mistake too. It was difficult to fix. I almost didn’t recover.

Why do you train? Do you even know? Have you chosen a bad reason or target?

Soke recently demonstrated 閃万飛低 senban hitei. This was a way of writing senban I had not seen. My translation is not the best, but you may read it as 10,000 flashes flying low. Imagine the flashes from a storm of metal shuriken flying in every direction.

This image can lead us to an enlightened direction. The flash of inspiration (閃き) can appear from 10,000 directions (meaning from anywhere and everywhere). But you may only perceive it by flying low, or training with humility.

If you cannot, you are the target. Your life is like a storm of 10,000 senban. And every shuriken will be aimed at you.

This is one of the invisible barriers of the Bujinkan. To truly understand our art you must erase the self. It seems like that is simple advice. Don’t be a target. Become zero.

But your reason for training appears from your own ego. That means it already is, or will become a barrier to understanding the Bujinkan. You have to let it go.

The problem is not the desire to train. The problem is that no one puts in honest effort to remove these barriers. Most people don’t get past their original motivation and they give up the idea of trying. An then so many Bujinkan students merely half-ass their training. Or they quit.

I see this in every dojo across the Bujinkan. I see it in my own students. I see it in myself.

Real Bujinkan training is not a game. It is not playing ninja. It is hard work.

If you want to to know what I work on in my own training, you can sign up for my weekly training notes: http://eepurl.com/cD5v6

So what is your reason? if you’re going to get serious about training , you have to have your “why” squared away. You have to welcome the storm of shuriken that you will face. And mentally, never give yourself the option to quit.

Hatsumi Sensei explains one ninja senban tactic like this: 心して前万に投げること、大秘なり This big secret is like carefully throwing away all of the bad parts of yourself. Then you will be invisible to the enemy behind a storm of shuriken.

The Distance Secret for Shaping Kukan

Vending Machines, Matsudo photo by Michael Glenn
I used to have a friend who was so beautiful. She had a classical face like you would see in a Renaissance painting. Her brown skin was rich in color and smooth. She always had a bright smile for me. Then one day, I met her at the grocery store and she had deep wolverine style wounds across her face.

She had gotten into a fight with another woman who clawed her face. The scars were deep, and never went away. She never smiled the same after that. This sad story demonstrates the raw savage power of 蝦蛄拳 shako ken

Hatsumi Sensei taught us some secrets hidden within shako ken in a recent Friday night class at the Bujinkan Hombu dojo. He showed us how to use it not just to attack directly, but to shape kukan.

He held the claw up like 刀匿礮姿 tōtoku hyōshi in the space. Most of us can understand the obvious shape that brings to the kukan. The hand and arm project out from one side toward the attacker and you pivot around it as a shield. That is a very important detail that many people have yet to learn. But I email everything I learn first, so get your email here

But Soke was not teaching only about shielding. He kept trying to get us to understand a deeper, more hidden strategy. One that he has tried to teach for years.

Hatsumi Sensei use the word 片方 katahou. This is a way of shaping the kukan to one side or the other depending on the needs of the moment. Sensei said you should,
“Create Distance with one side and then take the other. There’s no need to create technique or throw the opponent. Because you have created the correct distance. Remember this waza of the kukan.”
Anyone who has trained much with Hatsumi Sensei will recognize this strategy. He often influences one side of the body to affect the other. And it usually is the opposite from whatever surface technique we might be studying in that moment.

That same night, I think Hatsumi Sensei could tell that I wasn't getting it. He told me,
"I've been teaching this kind of kurai dori for 42 years. Whether only in this fight, or in any of the seasons, I move with that time."
To drive home this point he demonstrated on me, and he said,
"There are many ways of holding this. You don't need to grab. You don't need to throw. 空間を梃子 kukan wo teko you use the lever of the kukan. Take it right here. Bring your shoulder down. It's not with the intention of throwing."
During the class break, Hatsumi Sensei painted a picture for me of a beautiful woman with long hair covering one side of her face as she looks back at me over her shoulder. When I look back through my memory, I think of my friend and the way her smile became more wistful and hesitant after the damage to her face.

Everybody uses 合掌の構 Gassho no Kamae for Prayer, But in the Bujinkan We Fight With It

Rainy Day Gassho at 霊巌寺 Reigan-ji, Koto, Tokyo. photo by Michael Glenn
In one of my classes we were studying a Gyokko ryu kata that begins from 天略 宇宙合掌 Ten Ryaku Uchū Gassho. Maybe you’ve studied this in your Bujinkan class. But even outside of Bujinkan training, if you are human, you have used gassho at some point in your life. It transcends cultures.

That night, as I recorded a training video about this for Rojodojo.com, I wanted to share even more about gassho with everybody. So what I show in the video is that there is much more to this humble kamae then you might think. But if you want to know what mysteries are bound up with this stance, keep reading.

Gassho is a general term that describes any form that brings the hands together, often in a form of prayer or reverence. In the Bujinkan the symbolism of this kamae runs deep. And the position is even sometimes called 金剛拳 kongo ken and it is used to strike or even conceal weapons.

In Buddhism the right hand represents the Buddha, and the left represents you (or all sentient beings). They come together, and one becomes the other. Some different types of gassho include 堅実心合掌 steady heart gassho, 虚心合掌 relaxed, open minded gassho, and 金剛合掌 kongo gassho (vajra, diamond thunderbolt of indestructible truth).

Each finger represents an element. Gassho no kamae holds the unity of chi, sui, ka, fu, ku in your hands. Then you rip that unity apart as the attacker enters. This feels like a void opens and the attacker falls in. But you are really expanding the unity to engulf the opponent until he is no longer an adversary.

If he continues to fight in this space, he will not survive.

You may not know that one form of gassho often shown in Bujinkan kata is called Baku-in 縛印  or 縛拳 baku ken and it comes from Mikkyo. This is a form of “binding,” tying a spirit body or physical body down so they become trapped in a form of paralysis. But it is also for collecting yourself to bind or set your own resolve.

Then the kamae becomes 子持虎の構 komochi-tora no kamae. Hatsumi Sensei told us to start with kongo gassho, where you are unified with the whole universe. This is not a fighting stance. It is the tiger protecting her cubs. Your opponent will see it in your eyes.

Set your mind on perseverance. But if the attack comes, watch out! It can flip like the child holding the tiger.

Gassho no kamae unifies all of the universe within you. Then when you receive the attack, you tear this unity apart into a duality. Like ripping apart yin and yang, or 陰 in and 陽 yo. And that is the large void that the attacker is sucked into.

But you cannot really divide yin and yang. They cannot ever be ripped apart. That is like making the sound of 忍び手 shinobi te, a type of silent clapping, or bringing the hands together without making a sound. What do you hear in silence?

What really happens from gassho no kamae? It expands the unity within yourself to include even more. The attack, the defense, nature, even Kami… All included within the space. This is Shingin Budo.

As you expand like this, all of your ego, strategy, preconceptions, muscle or force, and technique grow smaller and smaller. The more you expand and allow into yourself, the less important and useful they are. You empty yourself more and more to make room.

During all of my trips to Japan last year, Hatsumi Sensei asked us to allow Shingin Budo to fill up this empty space in the void, in the kukan, and in ourselves. But even Soke cannot show you how. Each person has to find their own path to get to that open place.

Clap your hands everybody, and everybody just clap your hands.

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