Bujinkan Strategies of Control

雪吊り yuki zuri at 六義園 Rikugi-en. photo by Michael Glenn
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 this is the theme that he is teaching from. He uses the 外来語 gairaigo (borrowed from English) pronunciation of the word control. In the Japanese pronunciation this becomes コントロール kontorooru.

He tells us that what he is showing us cannot be taught. He says,
"I'm not teaching how to fight. I'm showing control. If you try to fight then it's a very low level of budo. Please learn to control."
Why can't this be taught? Because it's control, not waza. Waza (techniques) can be taught. But this is not waza. It's control.

Soke says he's not teaching technique anymore. He told us to have this control of あも一寸の玉 虫 amo issun no tama mushi.  In a real confrontation, this "amo" is very important.

Hatsumi Sensei's classes are all about control. But first you have to control yourself, only then can you control the opponent. He demonstrated this over and over by controlling his opponents without even touching them. It happened to me every time I faced him. He explained it like this:
"You have to be able to not do a technique yet have it happen anyway. This is the theme for the 15 dans this year."
One of the ways he does this is kukan no コントロール kontorooru… to control the kukan or use the kukan to control. But here is a warning: Any method you use to try to do that will probably not work! That is the mystery of this strategy.

Since I cannot possibly share everything I am experiencing here in Japan in just one article, I will write a series of articles. Maybe I will call them Bujinkan strategies of control. If you want to receive all of them, make sure to subscribe here.

When I attacked Hatsumi Sensei with the knife, he asked me to share the feeling I got from him. In that moment it was overwhelming, so I couldn't say much except that his smile made me drop to the mat. But now that I've had some days to consider what happened, my feeling is that he used one of the strategies I will write about next. 次次次… The next one is the best one!
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Thank You For The Gift!


The Daikomyō Said is always a magic moment in the life of the Bujinkan. This year was no exception.
The format has evolved over the years. Training halls have changed many times until there were no halls and no training sessions.
The formal dinners at the Hilton or the Noda Park hotel, replaced the open party at the Honbu until there was no more dinner.
Today, there are regular classes followed on Sunday by a small lunch party. And this is fine because the feeling is still the same.

Daikomyō Sai is not only about Budō, but it is also more about respect Kumite. Apart from the techniques taught during this period of the year, this is the chance to spend some quality time with friends from all over the world, around our Sōke, for his birthday.

Every year the group gathering in Atago is about the same. Sensei has created a formidable group of friendship where borders don’t exist anymore. This is really a very special moment for all of us. This year again, many made the trip for Sōke’s birthday.
Moti from Israel; Sheila, Jack, Jay, Michael, Phil, Par, Ed, Doug from the USA; Juan-Manuel, José and Rosa from Spain; Peter from the UK; Laszlo from Hungary; Oliver, Stefen and Jacqueline, Michael, Alexander, Raphaëla, Simon from Germany; Christian from Argentina; Lubos from the Tchech Republic; Lauri from Finland; David from Colombia; Harry and Adonis from Greece; Faraji from Iran; Jorge from Chile; Ole from Denmark; and many others. Sorry for the many names I forgot, and for the students that made the trip to the Honbu this year. But thank you all for being there.

During his birthday speech, Sensei said the Bujinkan has spread a lot in the last 42 years of its development. Today the Bujinkan regroups more than 500000 practitioners worldwide.
Sensei went back on the “42” cycle. When Takamatsu Sensei told him “I taught you everything” back in the seventies, Sensei said that he had no clue at all. But after “teaching for 42 years what he didn’t understand, I now know what he meant at that time”.

We are beginning the third part of the Sanshin. And he is confident that the next 42 years will be good. (1)

Being now 85 years old, he has covered two “42-year cycles”. The third period of this Sanshin cycle is beginning, and that it is our responsibility to take over, and to bring it to the next level.

Later, he added that “we now have over 450 Jûgodan and 4200 Shidōshi (another 42) in the Bujinkan, I’m confident that within this vast group, many good men and women will continue to walk the path initiated with Takamatsu Sensei”.

“Ichigo Ichie” (2) he added, “it’s not an issue of time, but moments in time, a continuation of moments. I have a happy life. Enjoy your life, enjoy those moments, and don’t think so much”, were his words of conclusion.

Thank you Sōke for the gift!

__________________
1. Sensei likes to play with numbers. He was 42 when Takamatsu Sensei passed away. He taught us for 42 years since. Now that he is 85, the third “42-year cycle” begins. For the twisted like myself I would add that 42 = 6. 3 x 6 = 18. 18 = 9. Everything is in order.
2. 一期一会/ichigoichie/once-in-a-lifetime encounter (hence should be cherished as such)

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The Depth of Quality

When put in jail in Japan after the war, the famous German Zen philosopher, Karl Durkheim, had time to meditate.
One day in this cell, his hand on the table, he understood that “the depth of a quality, is related to the quality of the depth.”

This sentence is what came to my mind today when attending Senō sensei’s class. The quality of his movements is so subtle that it is impossible to get them from the Omote. With Liz, a  Canadian and Japanese resident, we had to feel the techniques at least ten times to begin to understand the Ura.

When you are his uke, there’s no strength at all. It is like fighting a cloud. You are trapped softly, as is he was not there. At some point, he quoted Hatsumi sensei repeating that you have to “throw yourself away”. To disappear. Becoming zero is the only way.

We did many similar techniques today. I’ll try to share one of them here. You receive uke’s attack softly with the arm, the thumb protruding at the triceps level. Then you twist slightly your forearm which in turn locks uke’s wrist. The ability to keep a relaxed body is important, and this twisting of the limb, so typical is Senō sensei’s movements is a major part of it. When the is no tension in your body, each part of your anatomy can move freely and independently. There is no intention at all. This is zero.

The movement is so soft that the attacker has no knowledge about it. After receiving the attack (ukeire) (1), entering with your leg in a sort of Ô Soto Gake, you threaten his face with the top of your elbow and wrap/rotate uke’s shoulder with your open hand flat on the shoulder blade. Uke doesn’t know he is trapped before it is too late. His spine is composed, and he flies away with no force at all. Naturally.

Senō sensei’s explained that the “gake” was different from the usual one (2). Here, the idea is to suspend the opponent between two points, so that he is never aware of what is happening to him (3).

Another important aspect is the rhythm of your movements. Senō sensei’s spoke of Jiki, the time between the steps. Like when you are playing music, rhythm is vital. A technique is not flat. There is a tempo. Going too fast or not respecting those breathing moments will prevent your actions to be efficient.

That was another great class. When you have the chance to train at this level, you understand how foolish it is to train fast, using speed and strength. Softness is much more efficient. It is the only way to reach the quality of Budō you’re striving to achieve.

“the depth of a quality is related to the quality of the depth”.

___________________
1. Ukeire: see previous posts
2. 翔る/kakeru/to soar; to fly|to run; to dash
3. 架ける/kakeru/to suspend between two points; to build (a bridge, etc.); to put up on something (e.g. legs up on table)
4. 時期/jiki/time; season; period; phase; stage

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On Asobi, by Magnus Andersson

saitama-8
Playful warriors

Another interesting comment on Asobi by Magnus Andersson.
Thank you for your comments.

For what it’s worth here are my thoughts on asobi. Feel free to use it or dismiss it.

The concept of asobi which Hatsumi sensei use from time to time can easily be dismissed as children’s play or play with the technique in a light-hearted manner. However, it can be more serious than that. To use asobi in the context of a battlefield martial arts should be interpreted in a different way, I believe.

It is not child’s play but rather the activity between reality and unreality, between the real and the unreal. It’s in a way Kyo Jitsu.

When taking a look at the kanji for asobi 遊, we find that the original meaning is also “to wander” or “to go a distance”. Another meaning is “to freely wield (a sword)”, and it is also the very verb (to “play”) that the Chinese use in the idiom “yóurènyǒuyú” which means “to do something skillfully or with ease” or “to move skillfully or easily”.

So could it be that Hatsumi sensei is knowingly or unknowingly asking us to go through the training with skill and to explore the real and unreal in our movement to be able to move more freely and without any preconceived notions? We most certainly need to aim for zero and become one to make it happen.

It could be farfetched, but I don’t think we can afford to take his “play” as anything, but seriously if we want to evolve. I believe you wrote a few years back on your blog that sensei wants us to be “seriously” playful. Could this be what he meant? I leave it to you to figure it out

I know that you and Hatsumi sensei like to play with words, so I leave you with this little pun based on the kanji for asobi…. It is better to be serious in your training and be a yūshi 遊子 a wanderer (of the path) than becoming a lighthearted yūshi 遊士 (a playboy)

Have a pleasant evening.


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On Enthalpy by H. Weill

koi8
Young sensei and young arnaud at the Italian Taikai

Dear Arnaud sensei,

Thank you for sharing your thought with us. The idea of enthalpy is interesting, as a chemist myself I appreciate your vision.
I would like to suggest also my opinion.
Hatsumi Sensei speaks firstly on the idea of high sensitivity that is mentioned in the words “all of the Uke’s actions are immediately felt once they are expressed.Then it is easy to defeat the attacker as long as we are “zero””.

The concept may come from the idea that it is by far simpler to recognise a small signal when the level of the noise around it is near. It is a physical concept for signal identification that is called signal to noise ration (SNR) (1). In practice, this is the reason one can hear the weakest whisper in the silence of the night. Or why fluorescence spectroscopy (that looks for a light signal in the dark) (2) is orders of magnitude more sensitive than UV-vis spectroscopy (the looks for the reduction of an intensity of light source) (3).

To my opinion, at least in part of Hatsumi Sensei words, he talks about creating a subdimension of spacetime (4), a silent mini-universe in which one traps his opponent separately from the noisy universe we exist in. Thus enabling him to feel Uke’s actions immediately even when the sensory signatures that he makes are infinitesimally small (5). Somewhat similar to the way a spider while being totally motionless feels the action of its prey that was caught in its web.
Also, I feel that Soke speaks about controlling the reality that Uke perceives.

One should remember that what we call “reality” is a processed reconstruction of spacetime that is built upon the information collected by our sensory system (6). In other words perception (7) and what we learn with time. To do something (e.g. strike with our fist) we calculate the needed force and the length of time of its application to create the correct trajectory in spacetime. During the performance of the action, our brain receives feedback information from the sensory systems and tries to calculate any needed corrections at that given period of time.
Here we go back to the term of SNR. The sensory system is eventually a collection of sensors that each one has its one unique SNR – the ability to determine statistically if a reading received is a meaningful signal or just an unimportant noise (1).

To my opinion Soke teaches us to make our signal to be as close as possible to zero to the visual and somatosensory systems (6) of Uke – this idea is manifested through the concepts of Ku and Kozushi. The first deals, mainly, with Uke’s visual system and the latter with the somatosensory system (touch and proprioception). When one masters the two concepts, he is able to avoid the Uke’s sensory systems thus creating a new reality for him, an illusionary one. An illusion that the caster disappears altogether or appears where he is not. Thus disabling Uke from calculating the correct trajectories needed for his actions. With that, we can go back to Sokes words: “all of the Uke’s actions are immediately felt once they are expressed.Then it is easy to defeat the attacker as long as we are “zero””.

This is in my opinion what stands for the kanji of Bujinkan – the term Bu Kami – the warrior god/god of war, a god that creates a new universe at will in the context of the art of war.

______________________________________________
(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signal-to-noise_ratio
(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluorescence_spectroscopy
(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultraviolet%E2%80%93visible_spectroscopy
(4) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacetime
(5) http://www.dictionary.com/browse/infinitesimally
(6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensory_system
(7) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perception


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