五條天神社で、お焚き上げ otakiage preparations at Gojoten jinja. photo Michael Glenn
Happy new year! This year makes more than 35 years in the Bujinkan for me. I am humbled by the many gifts training has given me during all these years. But I still feel excited for what the future holds.
Our 初稽古 Hatsugeiko, or the first training of the new year, was a bit different this year. For one, we actually trained on January 1, 2022. This is a holiday for most people, but many of us choose the dojo for holidays anyway! I know many of you have used your vacation time to train in Japan.
And second, I have reached that point in life where many important teachers and students that I trained with are no longer training at all. Some have died, some have quit training. Either way, I made my hatsugeiko in their honor.
For our first training of the year, I put a strong focus on kihon. It was cold, so I didn’t have to convince anyone to warm up. We all trained hard and got sweaty.
We warmed up with ukemi and taihenjutsu including: 前方廻転 zenpō kaiten; 後方廻転 kōhō kaiten; 側方廻転 sokuhō kaiten; 前方蛙廻転 zenpō kaeru kaiten; 後方蛙廻転 kōhō kaeru kaiten; 横転 ōten; and 無手横転 mute ōten. Then we did 初心五型 shoshin gokei, 基本八法 Kihon Happō and even found time for bōjutsu basics.
The first training of the new year sets the tone for the rest of the year. It is important to approach it with sincerity and a focus that will bring you the results that you want from your training. As I told my students, I am not teaching you. I can show you things and act as an example of where you can go. But in the dojo and in life you are all teaching yourselves.
Next, we continued our study of 投型 nage kata from last year with 逆投 Gyaku Nage. I worked off of my notes from my studies with Oguri Sensei in Japan. We must keep his taijutsu and training spirit alive even in 2022! I spent some time demonstrating important details for using a makikomi in this waza. Hatsumi Sensei gave us this advice,
Everyone moves with their head, but you have to move with your center here. 伸ばす nobasu, stretch him out then enter from the side.
It is interesting to move with your own center this way. Not ducking under. Not lifting the opponent’s arm. But changing your center to shape the kukan.
For me, Bujinkan training is a central part of my entire life. Maybe it is for you too. Maybe we can move with our center into the new year. This is a way to shape the future from a strong foundation.
In the Kukishin ryū, there is one central concept that many don’t know, and it is called “Jūjiro”. (1) With the pandemic, everyone experiences difficult times, and it seems that many of us should be reminded of some basic concepts. Jūjiro is one of them.
Bujinkan practitioners often do not understand or never heard of what is Jūjiro.
Let me refresh your memories about the Kukishin Ryū. When you receive an attack, you must pivot at a 90-degree angle with the body, weapon or both. Staying in line with the opponent is the fastest way to lose a fight. Sport is different as you don’t die in it. If you are defeated in a championship, only your ego is killed, momentarily.
Olympic fencers fight in line, Kendōka always remains in line. My Mandalorian friends would say, “That is not the way.” Lines are direct; therefore, they are never the best. Fencing and Kendō would get more exciting and realistic the day fencers and Kendōka are allowed to turn around each other. Because that is what you would do in a real encounter. But if sport can be a “way of life” for some, it is definitely not a real-life and death situation. Budō is not a sport, rather an ancient military system.
In Japan, Sensei teaches that Jūjiro is used in the Kukishin when possible. Jūjiro consists of moving perpendicular to the attack or using the weapons perpendicular to the target. You apply Jūjiro against a human or a weapon. If you test it in your next training, you will see how powerful it is. Jūjiro creates more freedom in your actions and opens up more possibilities for your taijutsu.
But there is more to this concept. When you think about the movements, you limit yourself to the physical world, and the material world is only the Omote.
There is also an Ura aspect we can use in the mental world. And to explain this, I will need the support of my old friends Laozi and Sunzi.
In the art of war, Sunzi says that “In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack – the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of manoeuvres. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn, and it is like moving in a circle – you never come to an end. He adds that “the meeting takes place head-on, and the victory is obtained from an angle”. This direct vs indirect can be related to the cultural differences between the East and the West. In the East, indirect actions are always preferred to direct ones. That is why the Japanese never say “no” but always find a positive way to be negative. For example, when I asked a question to sensei, he would do one of two things: he would answer my question or say something like “step by step.” That was his way to say “no” without being negative (even though he is being negative).
This Asian vision of life is beautifully explained in a book by Francois Jullien, a French sinologist. In one of his books titled “Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece,” he gives a few examples of direct vs indirect action. (2) By not confronting Uke’s actions head-on, you can redirect his intent in other directions. We are tempted to confront the other in a verbal argument instead of accompanying his vision and tilting it. This is the art of negotiation. Nothing good comes from confrontation. This is the “no fight” attitude or “tatakainai.” (3)
In the famous Taoteching, Laozi says, “don’t do anything and nothing will be left undone”, which you can understand as “when you oppose someone or something, your actions influence the outcome of the encounter. By not going head-on, you don’t create any unforeseen consequences. Direct confrontation is the opposite of the teaching of Tao. One day I had the chance to speak with the Dzogchen master of the Dalai Lama told me that “Opposing In and Yō is creating duality instead of unity, this is not the Madhyamaka.” (4) (5)
In battle, this is the direct approach that has to be avoided. Sunzi adds, “by rectitude, we make order reign, we use the troops at an angle. ”Both the direct and the indirect approaches are in use; the timing is different and should not be mixed. This no-confrontation defines Hatsumi Sensei’s Budō, and it is a very profound lesson for our lives.
Avoiding direct opposition with others is the best way for negotiating. The Covid has dramatically changed the way we live. On the planet, many groups are fighting each other violently. This is the time of direct confrontation and thus of duality. Please consider going indirectly with the flow instead of rebelling uselessly. The way of Budō is a way of wisdom. Fight what you can change by yourself and what is beyond your possibilities.
Ninpō Taijutsu teaches us the way of adaptation.
So, constantly adapt to the situation, and use Jūjiro a little more at your dōjō and outside in real life.
This 新年 (shinnen) is the Japanese for “New Year”. (1) This became a particular date only when humans began counting time. But this cosmic event has been going on for more than 4.5 billion years.
So if humans put so much weight on this date, I guess it is to get a new start every 365 days. In the Bujinkan, this fresh start always coincided with a new study theme. Sōke Hatsumi would give it at Daikōmyōsai. Since the first official theme in 1993, it represented a new start for us. And each year, we would discover a new way to fight or think. The “non-Bujinkan” new year is the same, and it is about beginning anew. There is a Japanese Shintō tradition to do a misogi to cleanse the body and the mind around the lunar new year. (2) Whatever the culture, the turn of the year is an excellent excuse to change our behaviours for the better.
That is why we make resolutions for the new year. I’m sure that many of you did it even if we know that most of these decisions will fail. But that’s the game we play every year on new year’s eve. In these times of world pandemic, the temptation to do nothing would be wrong. We have to act and avoid depression. The world situation will end one day, so we should be prepared and ready never to give up.
Budō is about patience, but patience is not stillness. You have to set new goals, come to the dōjō, and train to be ready when all this is behind us. Since March 2020, my Paris dōjō has been empty. I think students used Covid as an excuse to procrastinate. It is easy to give up on adversity, but this is far from the Budō attitude taught by Sensei all these years. If you give up now, I see that as a betrayal of his teachings. Did you forget the meaning of “banpen fugyō”, “10000 attacks, no surprise”? (3)
No one planned a world pandemic. Covid is here, and there is nothing you can do about it. So use your Bujinkan knowledge and adapt your life to it. There is no need to fight it. It is like crossing a big river, don’t fight the heavy stream, float in the water and go with it until you reach the other bank. It would be best to return to the training hall to make you feel better.
What makes us humans is social contact, not social media. If you let yourself submerged by negativity, you turn “Shinnen” into “Shinen” (深淵 “the abyss”). (4) When you dive into the abyss, there is no hope, only an endless fall into oblivion. The abyss is tempting and easy. The Budō path is more challenging but will force you to react! The resolutions for 2022 should be: stop complaining. Refuse Shinen and welcome change. Go to the dōjō and train more.
Life is not easy, and reacting will not make it easier. You are in charge of your own life. Whatever the obstacles on your way, you have to adapt. I learned one thing in Japan over the last thirty years, and it is never to give up. If your dōjō is not open because of covid, train your Sanshin no Kata, train your weapons and keep your skills to their best. If you have the chance to have an open dōjō, go there and study. Budō is life; choose to live, not to die. Only those with a surviving spirit will make it.
There is always hope ahead of us; get ready for it. In Japanese, the spring season also means “new year.” Another translation of “Haru” is “new hope” (5). There is always hope in the future; things should improve very soon.
On February 4th, we enter the year of the yang water tiger. The water tiger is full of energy; use it to your best. The “Water Tiger of 2022 implies caution, growth, development, challenge, creation, and planning.” (6)
My conviction of a better future lies in the fact that I believe in life, so should you. This faith in the future is also 信念 Shinnen in Japanese. (7)
Simon has been training in the Bujinkan for many many years and studies with the best and brightest in BBJ world as well. He is a successful business man and has lots to share with us about his journey and how the teachings of Hatsumi Sensei influenced his life. but don`t take my word for it, just listen!! Ps love this picture of Simon, a Shaolin Monk, and a Krav Maga master walking down the street and a poor unsuspecting mugger!
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SWORD FIGHTING fundamental postures with MATS HJELM. These “Kamae” is not simply a static posture you can learn from looking at a picture. Each Kamae is studied by practicing the whole movement. All Kamae have a complete technique from start to finish connected to it. The whole technique becomes the Kamae and help us understand the posture better.
Hatsumi Sōke taught us these Kamae very often without telling us what it was. He often started the Sunday morning class by taking a sword and teach one of these Kamae without explaining the origins of the technique. I as most others (I think) thought he just did something random without deeper thought behind it. I soon found out that I was wrong, it was these Kamae he was showing us. It was Ninja Happo-biken from Togakure-ryu.
This video covers Kamae no Kata, the postures and movements of traditional sword fighting techniques of Togakure-ryu.
Happō-biken, eight directional secret sword means: generating an infinite secret sword from the posture of divine mind – divine eyes (心身心眼 SHIN SHIN SHIN GAN).
Download SWORD FIGHTING fundamental postures with MATS HJELM
On this video Mats show all 8 Sword postures and techniques from the Togakure-ryū in the Bujinkan system. These are the eight postures.
忍者八方秘剣構 NINJA HAPPO BIKEN KAMAE
NINJA SWORD FIGHTING And the essential postures and movements with MATS HJELM. Each technique is demonstrated and explained from different camera angles. The instructions are in English.
This video is from a Seminar in 2021. Recorded in Sundbyberg, Stockholm in October 30’th 2021. The seminar was organised by Bujinkan Kaigozan Dojo.
About the instructor
Mats Hjelm started training in Bujinkan for the first time around 1983. It wasn’t until 1986 when he had the opportunity to start training more seriously under a Shidōshi. He has taught at numerous seminars all around the world, gone to Japan 3-5 times every year. After he started training he never had a training break. He takes his budo training very seriously! If you want to sponsor a seminar or course, please don’t hesitate to contact him. For more information see his web site kesshi.com or come and train with him at Kaigozan Dojo.