Bujinkan Year of the Rooster

Fighting Cock 闘鶏 toukei by Hatsumi Sensei
Today marks the year of the rooster by the lunar calendar. This is significant for me because I was born under this sign. During one of my visits to Japan, Hatsumi Sensei painted the fighting rooster for me as you see above.

I was attacked by mosquitoes earlier that day. It was my own fault because I had gone into a deep meditation in the woods next to a statue of 不動明王 Fudō Myō-ō. I didn’t notice the mosquitoes. But it was very hot and I was sweaty after my long climb, so they definitely noticed me! The next day, I discovered at least 30 very itchy bites.

This year I am 年男 toshiotoko, or “man of the year” since it is my sign. This can be unlucky, but I am protected. 不動明王 Fudō Myō-ō is the protector of people born in the year of the rooster.

The hour of the rooster is at sunset in the zodiac. And the direction of both the rooster and Fudō Myō-ō is west. In fact, there are still Shinto shrines where the monkey and the rooster guard the entrance gates.

I will lead the training in my dojo this year while heeding the expression, 鶏口牛後 keikougyuugo, “It is better to be the beak of a rooster than the rump of a bull.” For me, this means it is better to guide a small group of students who really care about training, instead of a crowd of people who train for the wrong reasons.

I wasn’t there, but reportedly Hatsumi Sensei first met Takamatsu in 酉年 toridoshi, the year of the rooster. I feel lucky to have this connection back to Takamatsu and the previous generations of our art through my studies with Hatsumi Sensei. The Bujinkan is a living art, and the spirits of the warriors of the past are kept alive in our current training.

I will spend some time this year focusing on the 妙音術 Myō-on jutsu that I have experienced from Soke. Since Fudō Myō-ō protects me this year, I will work to cut through my ignorance. Here is the Fudō mantra if you also want to say it while cutting through ignorance with your sword:
なーまくさーまんだーば さらなんかん
Naamakusaamandaaba saranankan
Don't ask me how to pronounce it, I think I need more training.

The 虚実 Kyojitsu of Control: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 3

渡月橋 togetsukyō at 六義園 rikugien. photo by Michael Glenn
Hatsumi Sensei puffed out his chest. His attacker went to grab with both hands, but then Soke collapsed the target. It was like he shrugged the attack away, tossing his opponent aside.

If you have been following my training notes, then you know that this kyojitsu of offering a target is one of the Bujinkan strategies of control that I have been writing about since my recent training with Hatsumi Sensei. He explained that he was teaching control to the Jugodans. He said he wasn’t teaching technique.

I managed to get a few pictures of the snow around the Bujinkan Hombu dojo that morning before class. A few days later it had all melted away. If you are not careful as a Bujinkan teacher, your own days as a student will melt away too.

Soke said that people in sports do technique, but we are trying to have a flow that can’t be copied. Flow is the most important thing in a fight.. This is why he teaches this way. He told us,
“You have to become the kind of person who cannot be copied.”
When Soke puffed out his chest this way, he was offering his opponent an illusion. The target was not real. He used the word 的 mato and told us to control by creating a target.

The way he moved his shoulders was very loose. And next, he made us all laugh by wiggling his ears. He did this to show how you control the opponent by having this very precise control over your own body first.

When he asked me to grab him, he did this with his shoulder and then I went flying through the air. He said,
“I’m lifting the shoulder with this kind of kyojitsu. You have to be able to move every part of your body.”
You offer the target as the 虚 kyo, or illusion. Then hit him with the 実 jistu or the truth. Another time Soke did this with a sword. He blocked the cut with his own sword. But he left his face right in front of his opponent’s blade. It did not look safe!

But this target was an illusion. As soon as the opponent tried to cut, Soke pivoted and hit him hard with the tsuba in the ribs. He looked around the dojo at our confused faces and said,
“Everyone tries to use the sword and that's why you're missing the kyojitsu. Kyo comes first and then jitsu.”
When you control your opponent with illusion, you don’t even have to fight at all. In fact, you never have to touch him. Hatsumi Sensei said we could feel it in the air. He used the phrase 空気で殺気 kuuki de sakki.

This can be thought of as sensing the intent of the enemy in the air. But it is also projecting your own threat into the air. It is like you strike with the air or the kukan itself! How does that work?

Many of us have felt this from Hatsumi Sensei. He did this to my friend Yabunaka-san. I watched when Yabu hesitated and then froze up. Next he stumbled right before Soke would have broke his arm. Hatsumi Sensei asked Yabunaka to describe this feeling. Yabunaka said that you feel like he is striking you even when he is not.

This is the opposite of presenting a target as an illusion. You strike with illusion! In fact, Hatsumi Sensei told us that this was 遠当之術 tōate no jutsu (or even 遠當之術). This is striking from a distance.

But Soke said he was not using tōate for striking, he was using it for control. For me, that moment was a big key to my whole trip and my efforts to understand Hatsumi Sensei’s current teachings.

I was lucky to be invited to uke for Soke in almost every class. And these experiences were like a gift. Every day that I train in Japan or in my own classes, I feel humbled by the generosity of my teachers and students. I hope you can have that in your training as well.
UP NEXT: Evade Without Evading: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 4

Return top