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.

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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.

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