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勝負いなく Shōbu Inaku: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 2

In the first article on Bujinkan Strategies of Control, I described one of the times I attacked Hatsumi Sensei. Anyone who has been Soke’s uke can tell you the same thing. What it looks like and what it feels like are very different!

One common thing we all feel from him is that he disappears. I know that sounds odd, but it’s like he’s there in front of you, then he’s not. In fact, last week he explained how this is one of his strategies for control. He told us to,
“Move naturally like this as they're coming in. Move naturally without making a fight of it.” That was the English translation but Soke used the the words 勝負いなく shōbu inaku meaning that there is no fight or the fight disappears. Shōbu implies a contest or a match where victory or defeat is decided. Since we don’t study sports martial arts, we are not attached to either of these outcomes.

いなくなる inakunaru means to disappear. Or, in a definition that will help us understand this strategy, it means “to stop being". An…

Bujinkan Strategies of Control

The train rattled by the Bujinkan Honbu dojo. I looked down at the knife in my hand. I looked up at Hatsumi Sensei who called me to stab at him. I plunged the knife toward him. He made a kiai that came out like the creaking, groaning sound of an old iron gate.

It was not a human sound. And he was in my face, laughing. I fell to the floor. He asked me to speak and share what I just felt with all of the students in the dojo. All I could say was that his smile made me drop.

It has been difficult to write about my training with Soke during this trip. Not because I don't have anything to share. But because writing or talking about it is a distraction from the experience itself.

I didn't want my own thoughts or preconceptions to intrude on the direct transmission of the teaching that Soke is giving us. So I waited. Just absorbing as much as I can. And now I feel I can begin to share.

In every single class, Hatsumi Sensei tells us not to fight, but to control. In fact, he says that…

Snow on the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo

Last week when I arrived in Tokyo, it was cold and dark. Much colder than anyone expected. Tokyo hasn't had its first snowfall in November for 54 years. And breaking an even older record, this was the first accumulation of snow in the city center since records began in 1875.

It was dark when I arrived, but I pressed my face to the cold glass of the train to get a look at it. I knew it would melt quickly. So I made a video and you can just see it outside the train: Ninja True: How to get to the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo.

When I arrived at the dojo, a man doing construction near the train tracks called it a November surprise. He thought I was funny because I was poking at the snow and taking pictures. I told him I live in Santa Monica and we never have snow.

Even though it was cold on my arrival, the reception I got from my friends here in Japan has been very warm. The Bujinkan is truly international. I got warm greetings from Spain, Australia, Florida, Canada, Estonia, Colombia, France… an…

Bujinkan Kuden: 自然行雲流水 Shizen kōunryūsui

We have a Bujinkan kuden, 自然行雲流水 Shizen kōunryūsui.  This is sometimes translated as going with the flow. It originates from an old Chinese poem. But in Japan it became an essential mindset for zen.

It is having a mind that is light and carefree like the journey of the clouds through the sky. No matter what wars are being fought on earth, or what pain and emotion is being expressed, the clouds just float by. What if your mind could be light like that?

But this saying also suggests we can flow along like the water in a river. No matter what obstacle it encounters, it just keeps going. It is ever changing and persistent. What if your mind could run deep like a river?

The river and the clouds are connected of course. The clouds drop rain and snow which feeds the river. Then the water might evaporate and rise back into the sky to become a cloud again.

In Bujinkan taijutsu, this mindset is expressed as natural and smooth movement. This kind of taijutsu is not an attack or a def…

The Yari Kuri of Bujinkan 槍術 Sōjutsu

In a recent class we were training 四方技 shihō waza. This form has an important secret for all of Bujinkan 槍術 sōjutsu. Soke calls it 槍繰り yarikuri. This can be translated in various ways, like repetitive thrusting.

But we must consider why Hatsumi Sensei explains it this way. What he tells us about yari kuri is that,
“the thrust is kyo, the kuri is the jitsu.” This means we should employ 虚実 kyojitsu in our thrusting with the yari. Where the thrust is the illusion or falsehood, and the repetition is the truth.

This means that each thrust with the yari can be either true or false. So how do you decide which is true and which is false? Hatsumi Sensei described this moment in terms of our bojutsu gokui, when he says
“realize the moment of truth, thrust in, and only after you feel a connection with something does the force naturally flow into it (the thrust).”
I recently made a video about this Bujinkan gokui


In this shihō waza, our first thrusts are probing. Then as we step out to the r…

Bujinkan Kyūsho: 呼吸 Kokyuu, 指 Yubi, and 目 Me

In the past few years, Hatsumi Sensei has been exploring more than one theme every year. And some of the Bujinkan yearly themes have actually stretched across more than one year. For example, one Bujinkan theme this year of “skipping stones” I first heard from Hatsumi Sensei during one class back in September of 2014: The 間 Aida of Skipping a Stone Across Water

Another Bujinkan theme that Hatsumi Sensei has been expressing the last few years is the use of 呼吸 kokyuu (the breath), 指 yubi (the fingers), and 目 me (the eyes). These three are not to be taken individually. They must be connected in the same way that the ripples on a pond are connected by the stone that skipped across it.

In one cold December class Hatsumi Sensei described this for us,
"(the eyes and the breath are) connected like skipping a stone. It’s connected together but really you disappear. Take the eyes and the fingers for jissen. In a real situation you don’t want to just go for them, you just kind of let them …

Make the Opponent Empty

I've been writing lots of articles for my personal Bujinkan mailing list which you can sign up for here: Bujinkan Training Notes

The other day I wrote about something very important in our Bujinkan training. It starts with a question that everyone forgets to ask:

Who is it that fights? When you are in a fight or an argument, who does the fighting? Is it you? Your opponent? Does it just happen by itself?

Obviously any fight requires at least two participants. Unless you are fighting with yourself. But in that case there are still two because you are divided against yourself.

What if you didn't participate? Remove yourself from the fight. What happens?

The fight dissolves. Almost as if it was never real. Leave the opponent to fight with himself.

In a recent class with Hatsumi Sensei, he told us how NOT to avoid a sword,
"If you evade, you will die. Move without any intention to fight. Make the opponent empty. Make him forget his own intent to fight. Make him forget th…

Hold 間 Ma in Your Mind For Heijōshin

I have an important suggestion for you if you plan on training in Japan. When you show up to the dojo, put yourself in the proper mood for training. I suggest a state of 平常心 heijōshin which is a steady and calm presence of mind. Otherwise you can quickly become lost in the depths of what you have just jumped into.

If you’ve ever been to one of Hatsumi Sensei’s classes, you know that a lot depends on the mood. Yes, the Bujinkan Hombu Dojo has a mood. There is a feeling or sensation in the air. Where does this come from and how does it affect our training?

For example, during one recent class I was tired from training 2-3 classes every day for two weeks in Japan. But I showed up to the dojo in an expectant mood. In fact, it seemed there was a mood of anticipation among all of my training friends in the Hombu that Tuesday night. But, when Hatsumi Sensei arrived, his mood prevailed over all of us.

And during this class, he told us,
“I’m not teaching budo, I’m teaching the feeling of contemp…

Axis of the Zero

Two weeks ago, Hatsumi Sensei spun around in one of his classes to show us the back of his sweatshirt. We could see an 円相 enso silk screened there along with the English word, “zero.” He showed us this to put emphasis on a comment he had just made,
“We need to learn to move like this. we need to make everything… our entirety into zero.” You may have heard Hatsumi Sensei speak about zero. He has used this term for many years to describe his martial art. But in recent classes, it has been a focal point to our training.

In fact, when I was in Japan last December, Hatsumi Sensei acknowledged arriving at this zero state. But it was not something he could teach. He said it had taken him 42 years to internalize everything Takamatsu Sensei had taught him. He added that in that 42 years he had given everything and taught everything, so now we are back at zero. He looked out at us during that special Wednesday class and said,
“There's nothing to show, nothing to tell. We're just going t…

誠 Makoto: In Defense of Sincerity

I just watched Hatsumi Sensei make an attacker kill himself. This has been happening in every class for the past week. Sometimes it is with a sword, sometimes a knife. But the opponent always ends up cutting or stabbing himself.

I'm in the middle of my Bujinkan training trip here in Japan. And I haven't had much time to write. But also some things in Soke's budo are difficult to express. Like how does he get the attacker to do this?

Hatsumi Sensei told us,
"It's important to do this kind of action through the kukan. Use the kukan, become the kukan. You need to receive the opponent's power and be grateful for his power." This sounds like a joke but Hatsumi Sensei sincerely meant it. In fact, sincerity became something of a theme my first night here. Hatsumi Sensei painted 誠 makoto for me on a scroll. Of course this has more than one meaning. One is sincerity, another is truth or reality.

Hatsumi Sensei was trying to get us to understand how to use sincerity …

空き Aki: Fill Your Bujinkan Training With the Light of Emptiness

Hatsumi Sensei told us about a very scary moment in his training with Takamatsu Sensei. One evening they were relaxing at Takamatsu Sensei’s house. Takamatsu was drinking sake. He poured himself another big glass and held it up. He said, “Let’s go train!” And he gulped down all of the sake, slamming down the empty glass on the table.

They went to the nearby jinja. It was late and cold, but the moon was shining down on the shrine. Takamatsu Sensei took out his sword and said, “This is where you live or die. You must grab my sword.”

Hatsumi Sensei told us in that moment his fear left him. Takamatsu came at him with the sword. He instinctively grabbed the blade. He told us that it was a cold night and his fingers didn’t work very well, so he couldn’t fully grasp the blade. He thinks that is what saved his hand from being cut.

Soke said this fact was testament to how good Takamatsu Sensei’s teaching was. This made me laugh because it sounds more like madness than teaching. But, teaching …

After You've Taught Everything, You are Left With 意識 Ishiki

Right now in the Bujinkan, we are starting from zero. Hatsumi Sensei  says he has taught us everything. What will come next will emerge out of zero.

Sometimes there is this weird incongruity when training with Soke. He tosses me around the Bujinkan honbu effortlessly and I am almost 40 years younger than he is. His mind and wit are quicker than most people I know. But the fact is, he is an old man. He himself remarked that “I'm kind of stupid so I didn't realize I was getting older.”

Last month when I was in one of Hatsumi Sensei’s classes, my friend Silvio Herasme asked Soke how does he feel right now?  Hatsumi Sensei said that right now he feels very satisfied or content.

He continued to say that he felt happy that Takamatsu taught him and he could experience this life of budo. He was content to be surrounded by many friends who have been studying for 20-30 years or more. Then he mentioned how dangerous it is to be Soke.

One of these dangers is the onset of age. when we are you…