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Japan Report Five 令和5年


Bujinkan training in Japan isn’t only about training. Sometimes it is about cultural experiences you might have there. And sometimes you might even find healing in the dojo!

I began this day in Japan with a visit to 美術刀剣松本 Bijutsu Tōken Matsumoto in 西葛西 Nishikasai with my teacher Peter Crocoll. He brought a tsuka from home to be refurbished with new 柄巻 tsukamaki and fittings. We had some nice tea while Peter and Matsumoto-san swapped stories about their experience at this year’s 大刀剣市 Dai Tōken Ichi sword show. While they chatted, I wandered the shop looking at all manner of swords and weapons for sale. By the time we left I was happy to still have my wallet!

This is a summary of the video I recorded in Japan which you can see here: Japan Report Five 令和5年

From there it was back to Noda-shi for training. On my way I shared a story from one of the classes I had with Hatsumi Sensei at the old Honbu dojo. Soke was teaching 無刀捕 mutōdori but reversed it to teach us a counter. In the video I demonstrate the grip change that he showed us. This grip is used for deception so your opponent cannot tell from which angle your sword will arrive. The cut appears to come straight down, but the grip change is hard to perceive for your opponent.

He told us when you cut, 相手の影成っている Aite no kage natte iru, you have to become the opponent’s shadow. Stick to him as his shadow. Mirror his position. Then, no matter how he tries to evade, he can’t escape his own shadow.

Hatsumi Sensei often shared small tips like this. These tips are the kind of thing you discover only by training with a teacher who has depth. I feel lucky to visit and train in Japan for these many years with Hatsumi Sensei.

Next, I arrived at the dojo for Noguchi Sensei’s class. He taught the 初伝型 Shoden Gata from 虎倒流 Kotō Ryū. After showing the basic form, he did many henka where he controlled the space by changing angles and levels.  

For example, with 押虚 Ōgyaku, after checking the opponent’s attempt to throw, he dropped to attack the knee or even the foot. During the kata 捕捉 Hosoku, he slid down the leg from 声 koe to the knee or ankle. I was training with Wakana and she is a lot smaller than me, so I really struggled to get low enough. And she had to stretch to get up high!

We had a lot of fun and Noguchi Sensei came over to help us often. He asked us if we had seen the viral 刺股 sasumata incident that had happened in Tokyo. Three men on scooters showed up to a jewelry store for a smash and grab robbery with hammers. An employee of the store grabbed a sasumata and started thrashing them with it. He even beat the hell out of the scooters! We had a great laugh with Noguchi Sensei about this.

Later that evening, I ran into a friend and asked him how he was. He had tears in his eyes and was really down. He had received some bad news from back home. I don’t want to give details because it is private. But during our conversation I suggested to him that if he went to class it could help and he might find healing in the dojo.

Anyone who has trained a long time can tell you that Bujinkan training can be like a form of therapy. Many times in my life when I struggled with emotional or physical problems, going to the dojo lifted my spirits. It seems odd that getting beat up has healing properties!

A long time ago during a class at Ayase, Hatsumi Sensei said that training is like 武道の鍼灸術 budō no shinkyū-jutsu. This is the budō of acupuncture. The idea was that just because you are causing pain doesn’t mean you are causing injury. He told us this as he attacked kyūsho. Then he said it was a form of healing.

Soke said that this is what 天津 蹈鞴 Amatsu Tatara is all about. You might use pain to promote healing. People show up to the dojo with all kinds of problems in life, both physical and mental. But through training they start to feel better. I thought about my friend and the pain he was in. And I hoped that through the pain, he might find healing in the dojo. 

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