Everything Is Possible

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

After many years you understand that whatever the odds, everything is possible as long as you don’t give up. If you can think outside the box, everything is possible. If you only follow the rules, you become the source of your limits. Thinking outside the box in Budō demands that you already have a deep understanding of the basics. The Kukishin Biken Jutsu details everything in three sets of Waza.

Let me tell you an anecdote that happened with Hatsumi Sensei. The date is April 1996, the place is Noda, Japan. Right in front of Sensei’s house. The theme for the year 1996 chosen by Sōke was Kukishin Biken Jutsu. The Taikai in Holland was scheduled a few weeks later. The training was dedicated to the sword. Sensei wanted me to be his Uke, so he shared a lot before our meeting in Amsterdam. At the end of a class at honbu, Sensei called me and asked me to come to his place the next day. “Come with your belt and your Kukishin sword”. Before I left, he then added, “please bring a few friends to train with you. Be there at 1 pm.” So, the next day at 1 pm, our small training group of six was waiting outside his home. Sensei exited the house with a few dogs and crossed the street. In those days, an empty patch of land was facing the house. The building shadowing his home today was not built yet.

For two hours, we practised in the dirt, and he taught us Kukishin Nuki Gatana. (1) He would show the movement and then sit on the ground with his dogs while we trained. Our group of Gaijin was wearing jeans, sneakers, t-shirts and a budō belt. It must have been strange to see. To the Japanese people of Noda passing into the street, it must have been weird. Anyway, that was a great class! Sensei demonstrated the many proper ways to get the katana out and use it. When I went to pay for the lesson, he said: “puresento” (present). I thanked him.

I asked if there was more to learn about it? He said, “Always. But Aruno san, this is only training, not jissen (real fight). When things get real, do whatever you have to stay alive. Ninpō is only about surviving. Form doesn’t matter. Everything is possible.” His answer is still vivid in my memory even after all this time.

As you know, at www.koimartialart.com, each Koi member can ask questions after watching a video. (2) Recently, a Koi member asked me. “Would it be possible to twist the sword while doing Tsuki Komi? The edge of the blade is up and able to cut the opponent’s fingers or wrists that are not protected by the armour?” Immediately the Nuki Gatana training session jumped back to my memory. But instead of answering to the Koi community, I’ve decided to write this post to benefit everyone.

Is it possible to turn the blade up in the technique? Yes, you can turn the edge up because “everything is possible.” The same freedom applies to anything in the Bujinkan. The Bujinkan Budō is about adapting our knowledge to reality. Respecting the Waza as a beginner is mandatory. But a Waza is the only set of rules to follow. Rules are made to be broken. Depending on your skills, you can adjust it or tweak it to survive.

When you study the Kukishin Biken, each level of nine techniques appears to repeat itself. The first level gives the name of the Waza. The second level adds “no Sayū Gyaku” to the title, and the third level adds “no Henka” to it. After thirty years of training in Japan and asking many questions, I begin to understand it.

Disclaimer: nothing official, only my interpretation. That is what I teach my students. It is working for them, and for me, I will detail it here for you as I do on Koi.

Once you know the three levels of nine Waza. Then you notice that each technique of the first level repeats itself with an added suffix. Let me explain. The first Waza is “Tsuki Komi” and becomes “Tsuki Komi no Sayū Gyaku” at the second level, and “Tsuki Komi no Henka” at the third.

To make it easier, I named the levels of the Kukishin Biken Jutsu syllabus as follow. The first one is Nijigen no Sekai. The technique is simple and moves only in a 2-dimension plane. (3) The second set of Waza is Sanjigen no Sekai. (4) You repeat the same Waza but moving to the left or to the right. This is now a 3-dimension plane. The last level is Yūgen no Sekai. (5) This is the mental or psychological dimension. Here you move forward or backwards, above or under. Hatsumi Sensei called this; the invisible dimension where things are not yet manifested. (6)

The three sets prepare you to move in any direction in space and time. It is defining a sphere of infinite possibilities. For this reason, I see Kukishin Biken Jutsu as a dynamic in-yō. 

Tama, the sphere, is central to Japanese Budō, and you find it in many Ryū. (7) But Tama is also the pearl. As always, the same sounds can have different writings. (8)

I also see some similarities with Pythagoras’ book “The golden verses.” (9). He explains there what he defines as the “Tetractys” or “Quaternary.” (10) To summarize, he writes that space is four shapes included in one another. One is the dot, two is the line, three is the surface, four is the volume. Likewise, our Biken Jutsu system includes the previous one at each level. The only thing remaining to discover is proper timing.

Once you know the mechanical aspects, it is easy to adjust and adapt the forms to the situation you’re facing. In our case, turning the blade edge up is ok. Learning to use a sword is a long process until you reach the “Shuhari” point. Use the sword to the best of your ability when your life is in balance. And do not refrain from destroying the form if you need to.

Always keep in mind that everything is always possible!

__________________

1 抜く, Nuki (nuku or nukiru): 1) to pull out; to draw out; to extract; to unplug; to weed

2 www.koimartialart.com is a streaming platform. Koi offers 160 Gb of Bujinkan videos covering all Waza of the Bujinkan. Check it today!

3 二次元, Nijigen: 2-dimension. 次元, Jigen: dimension, level. And 世界, Sekai: 1) the world; society; the universe​; 2) sphere; circle; world

4 三次元, Sanjigen: 3-dimension

5 幽玄, Yūgen: mysterious profundity; quiet beauty; the subtle and profound

6 Definition of dimension in physics and mathematics. “The dimension of a space or object is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it.”

7 玉, Tama (or Gyoku): ball; sphere; globe; orb. Tama is the same kanji that makes the names of the Gyokko Ryū or Gyokushin Ryū. Many websites translate the term “tama/gyoku” by jewel. It would be more correct to translate it as pearl.

8 摩尼, Tama (there is no order in Japanese between kanji): jewel; pearl; gemstone​

9 The Golden verses by Pythagoras.

Download the pdf at: https://www.academia.edu/33840619/The_Golden_Verses_of_Pythagoras

Or get the kindle version for 1 USD at Amazon or the paperback.

10 Quaternary by Pythagoras https://theosophy.wiki/en/Tetraktys

https://www.redbubble.com/i/hoodie/Everything-is-possible-by-T-shirt42/77929343.0VJPW

Can We Excel, Or Not?

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog



Studying martial arts is training to become the best budōka possible. But can you reach excellence? The quest for excellence fuels the Budō passion, but excellence is a utopia, is it possible? But is it possible to get it even if you are not a divine being? I don’t think so. 

I recently wrote a text on learning and the need to never stop learning. These days many ask what we can do when a majority of dōjō is in lockdown? 

While studying at CSUC, I learned that any training can be both physical and mental. Mental training is quite powerful. That is why professional sports coaches developed visualisation techniques. Visualisations work nearly as good as physical movement. Even though mental training can bring a lot of benefits, that is not our subject for today. But if you want, I can write a post on that; please let me know in the comments. (1) 

Excellence is often your goal when on the path of Budō. But you need an excellent teacher to mentor you. In class, he shares his knowledge and guides you through the 5-steps of the education process. 

The 5-steps process :

  • Step 1: Watching and Listening
    By attending the class, you get the steps and the mechanics of the Waza you are learning. 
  • Step 2: Training and Experimenting
    You train the movement and discover the steps that are working or not. By experimenting, you develop the “form” of the waza.
  • Step 3: Repeating and Correcting
    This is when you repeat what is correct and do your best to change what is not.
  • Step 4: Learning and Acquiring
    The number of times you repeat the correct moves will speed up your ability to get it. After a while, your brain and body ingrain it. It is now part of you. 
  • Step 5: Getting and Adapting
    Now that you can do the technique, you can adapt it to real-life situations.

Acquiring new habits and adapting a waza is positive. Why? Because it gives freedom of movement. This freedom leads to Sensei’s “natural movement.”

That is why students should never give up. Learning is a commitment for the whole life. Because of constant learning and repeating, we get closer to excellence and perfection. So, we can agree with Aristotle when he says that “we are what we keep repeating. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

In Japanese, excellence is “Shun” and also genius. It carries out the idea of diverging or deviating from the “usual path.” This is what you do when you think outside of the box. If you apply the same rules as others, you have no chance to reach excellence. (2)

Geniuses are the ones not following the tracks of others. They are the ones creating their own ways. It is a two-fold process where you follow the guidance of others in phase #1 to go on your own path in phase #2. 

Learn from everyone. Train and copy your teacher until you can think and act by yourself. That is when you will be able to get closer to “shun” excellence. And Spring is the best time of the year to do it. At the time I’m writing this, Spring has begun. And nature is now blooming with a renewed life energy. “Shun”, written with another kanji, is Spring, Shunki being the spring season. So train and learn now that your energy level is at the highest. (3) 

A new set of movements always looks complex. Then it gives space to something more efficient and straightforward. Simplicity is complicated to achieve; it requires hours of hard training. To excel, you need to be simple, and maybe some people will consider you as a genius. Keep in mind this quote by Albert Einstein. 

“Genius is making complex ideas simple, not making simple ideas complex.”

Be simple, be good, be happy!

___________________

1 https://www.compedgept.com/blog/visualization-and-athletic-performance
2 俊, shun: excellence, genius
3 春季, shunki: spring season; not to be mistaken for 春機 shunki: sexual desire

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Never Stop Learning!

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

What makes humans different from monkeys?
The brain.
At least if you use it.

I do not think that people are using their neurons anymore, letting social media feel for them. This is sad, but it does not surprise me. We use our brains less than before. Is this “evolution” or “involution”? (1)

So why is the evolution of our society forcing us to use it less and less? When I listen to people aged 20 to 40, I often find myself lost. What happened to reasoning, knowing, analysising, or having culture? In less than ten years, the rise of social media has changed our behaviours and our vision of the world. People do not think any more; they take everything at face value. People have become superficial, their life ruled by news anchors, deep fakes, and conspiracy theories.

People do not use their brains anymore. They take every piece of information as “truth” and do not dig further to check the validity of what they see or read. We can blame the internet for that. Do not get me wrong. If I love the many possibilities offered by the internet. It is faster than an encyclopedia but still requires a large dose of critical sense and judgement. And often the problem does not stems from the answer but from the quality of the question. Today asking the “good question” does not seem to have more value. It was not like that in the past. In Plato’s books, I love how Socrates develops his argumentation with his listeners. It is always pure logic. (2)

Today the beauty of reasoning does not attract anymore. By focusing too much on practicality, our education system failed us.

Education does not train us to think, so we cannot learn. Everything today has to be black or white. Enforced Manicheism kills our capacity for judgment. In the past, our elders were the ones knowing, and the youngsters would listen to them. Today, companies fire employees when they get old. They get older, so we send them to nursing homes. That is how we interrupt inter-generational transmission. When the young do not respect parents, elders, or teachers, this is the beginning of anarchy (Plato again). (3)

To replace wisdom, experience, and knowledge, we now have a new type of elders. These “Elders 2.0” are social media, and they are not as wise as version 1.0.

Besides, as everything is fast, it is easier to let your phone give the answer than for you to think by yourself. The fast-food society has generated the fast-thought society. People are getting dumber. Today, a sad consequence is that as we cannot ask the “good question.” It is therefore quasi impossible to solve a given problem. One night I was on the road to see my parents for the weekend. I left my Business School in the middle of the night. When you drive alone at night, your brain often switches on automatic mode. It was à three-hour drive. Then, without any reason, I began to wonder why the last four months of the year had a wrong number? We know that September is the ninth month of the year.  But “sept” means the seventh month. “Octo”, means is eight, “Nove” is nine and “Dec” is ten. Why was that? 

When I got home at 3 am, I couldn’t sleep and I jumped on the Encyclopaedia to find the answer (the internet did not exist at that time). And I did. (4)

I was aware the explanation would not change my life, but I had to know out of sheer curiosity. Today, curiosity seems to have disappear. Without curiosity, answers are useless and lead humanity to its downfall. When you are not curious anymore, you accept things the way they are presented to you. You no longer think for yourself. You live like sheep.

When you do not study history, you cannot learn from the past or from your elders. Many criticize the loss of freedom being the consequence of the pandemic. But few try to understand why it is happening. Losing our free will momentarily is no big deal if it is for the greater good. I follow the news in many countries. No one has any clue on how to solve it. Governments probably make mistakes, but they are doing their best, whether you like it or not. The problem is that pandemics last for a long time, and that we have à very short memory. 

The Spanish flu that killed around 50 million stayed a few years. And their society reacted in the same way as we are today. There is an interesting article in the footnotes. It shows the similarities in people’s reaction to the flu in 1918. One century later, we forgot the lessons learnt by our ancestors. (5)(6)

Our evolution in budō comes training a lot, learning a lot and above all, remembering. Like in budō, life has an Omote and an Ura side. Information is a two-sided reality, with visible aspects and hidden ones. When you only concentrate on the visible parts, you miss the real size of the iceberg.

That is why fake news spread over social media like a wick on fire on a keg of gunpowder. The “sharers” don’t read what they see. They share the Omote. They focus more on spreading the info the fastest possible. They don’t think or analyze what they send to their “friends.” 

Authentic or Fake, they want to be the first to share the information. That gives them a feeling of superiority. This is so ridiculous. Some people on the internet rush to share any information that has a catchy title. And they do not read the article, only the title. Sometimes what they send to their thread is in contradiction with their beliefs. Titles are click baits supposedly to force readers to dive into the article. The writers of these texts are not even interested in the truth; their goal is to collect as many clicks as possible. Today society values your importance by the number of clicks you make. Or to how many virtual friends you have on social media. This is not how you learn and improve.

It doesn’t work like that on the mats. It doesn’t work like that in life.

You cannot remember something you never learned. Learning is the key to critical thinking. Without the capacity to learn, we are dumb clickbait hunters. With a good quality of learning, we digest the techniques and make them ours. Learning teaches how to adapt our actions and our thoughts to a chaotic situation.

This is how it works on the mats, as well as out of the hall. Sensei says that the Dōjō is 10 hours per week when life is 24 hours a day. Every day is a day to learn something. What you discover doesn’t matter as long as you keep the process alive. The word student in Japanese is “gakusei,” which means “life of learning.”(7)

Every night before going to bed, ask yourself, “What did I learn today?”

___________________________________

1 Involution: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Involution_(philosophy)#:~:text=In%20philosophy%2C%20involution%20occurs%20when,%22turned%20in%22%20upon%20itself.
2 Plato on education: https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/education/platos-theory-of-education/40135
3 In “The Republic,” book 7
4 Names of the months: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September
5 https://theconversation.com/people-gave-up-on-flu-pandemic-measures-a-century-ago-when-they-tired-of-them-and-paid-a-price-156551
6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu
7 学生, gakusei: Student; 学: earning; scholarship; study; erudition; knowledge; education +  生: life; living

Asobi, Enjoy!

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

Stone with Shintō kami in the garden in honor to Hatsumi Sensei, by Pedro Fleitas, Dai Shihan, Canary Island

On Change

Changes can be positive or negative, but that doesn’t matter. I generally enjoy changes when they happen in my life. I believe that each accepted change improves who we are. This is a chance to evolve. During those times of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have the opportunity to develop our way of life and to earn new lessons for happiness. I acknowledge that, right now, things are not easy for everyone. Still, this planetary trial will eventually turn us into better human beings through the steps we are forced to take in changing our society as a whole.

On Mr 19

Before “Mr 19’s” arrival, I had two lives. In my first life, I worked and taught Budō in France; in the second one, I travelled the world, giving seminars and meeting friends. (1) For the past twenty-three years, I sincerely enjoyed spreading Sensei’s art over Europe, Asia, North America, Meso America, and South America. I loved to go twice a month to a new place, discover our planet, and meet new people. I appreciated having the chance to understand the cultural differences making humans so rich. For more than twenty years, it gave me a privileged position. It made me more tolerant than I was and more open to others. But that was before the pandemic. 

Today, this life is gone. And I know it will never be back to the way it was. My Dōjō closed in March last year, my students are gone. Borders are closed, and we can’t go anywhere. This understanding of the situation is the reason to write this post today. If you hope that things will reverse soon, I think you are lying to yourself. We have to create a new environment for our practice. My wish is that this small text will help you to do the same. If I’m rethinking my life, you can do the same. But be assured that this new life will still be around Sensei’s Budō.

On The Black Swan

Some will tell you the Covid pandemic is a curse, and it is terrible for some. But I find this vast reshuffling quite interesting. Who could have thought that one day, it would be impossible to travel? That fact alone is a typical black swan in its own right. The black swan theory was expressed by Nicholas Taleb in his eponymous book. Here what it is:”The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist. The saying became reinterpreted after Europeans encountered black swans in Australia.” (2)

Who would have bet that one day, a “black swan” would ground the world population? It was unpredictable, but it happened. And we have only one choice to adapt. But luckily, this is what Budō is about: persevere, adapt, and be resilient. Take this opportunity and change your life with a new set of rules. “Change” differs from “chance” by only one letter. Give it a chance, learn the lesson, and change your life.

On changing, Takamatsu sensei wrote: “By opening his eyes and his mind, the Ninja can follow the subtle seasons and reasons for heaven. Changing just as change is necessary. Adapting always so that in the end, there is no such thing as a surprise for the Ninja.” (3)

On Adapting

The only possible survival path to follow is to adapt. There is no other left. Avoid surprises, be wise, and make a good choice. I notice a general tendency in the news and social media to be critical of governments, politicians, society, etc. But I don’t get it. By the way, it was the same reactions during the Spanish flu in 1918. The truth is that this is a black swan, so no one knows how to deal with the situation. It shouldn’t exist. But as it is happening, we have to accept it and keep a positive mind. Takamatsu sensei wrote that we have to be “changing just as change is necessary,” not too much, but enough to adapt our lives to the new reality.

By adjusting our expectations and our goals, we can embrace what cannot be avoided. Like in Budō, it is crucial to assume the correct Kamae. I wrote many times about Kamae, explaining that one meaning of this kanji is attitude. A positive attitude will welcome these changes with an open mind. This is the concept of the Asobi mind. People are often too serious or dramatic. Asobi means to put some playfulness in your life. (4)

On Playfulness

During Honbu classes, Hatsumi Sensei has been teaching this concept a lot. When you put Asobi in your actions, you live better and happier than before. I observe that people tend to be too serious. They are tensed and forget to look for happiness. So they become miserable. Unhappiness happens when people resist changes. Even when they are inevitable.

The pandemic created a paradigm shift on the whole planet. Adjusting to the new paradigm (5) might prove hard or maybe impossible. But it will happen. Develop the Asobi attitude if you want to survive, stop crying, stop complaining, live the moment. This is common in Asian philosophies. This is the “Here and now” of Zen Buddhism, or the “Nakaima” from Shintō. If I prefer Nakaima, which represents the center of the moment, both have the same value. Stop living the past; live the present. And be happy to have this possibility. (6) When you criticize and refuse changes, you are not walking a successful path, on the contrary. Success comes with adaptability. Takamatsu sensei wrote that by “always adapting (…) there is no such thing as a surprise for the Ninja.”

So don’t be surprised. Increase your Asobi in life and embrace those changes that cannot be avoided. Adapt your actions to the permanent chaos of life and enjoy the moment. Do that now, and there will be no surprise and no black swans.

Asobi. Enjoy!

Side Note to black swans: In Eastern France this year, 16 swans developed the Aviary flu (H5N8), another coronavirus. Surprise! To my black swans’ friends, be careful; you should adapt too.

________________________

1 People often tell me that I am lucky to travel the world and visit Sensei 3 times a year. That is not true. Back in 1997, leaving a well-paid managerial position in an IT company, I took a decision and made changes in my life to get the life I wanted. This is different today. The difference is forced on us and concerns everyone on the planet. But the outcome will be positive in many aspects. The change is already in place. We just have to let it mature enough to benefit from it. 

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

3 Those lines are from Takamatsu’s text on the “Essence of Ninjutsu.” The whole text is available online: https://archive.org/details/TakamatsuNinjutsuHiketsuBunEssenceOfNinjutsu

4 遊ぶ, asobi: to play (games, sports); to enjoy oneself; to have a good time​

5 Paradigm: a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model. A paradigm shift is when a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions is happening. Here this shift will change profoundly how we live our lives on Earth for many generations.

6 中今, Nakaima: the present (esp. as a privileged moment in eternity). It is made of two kanji, “middle” + “now.”