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This sentence is resuming perfectly my feeling during Noguchi sensei’s class, on Sunday morning. Anyone who trained in Japan, knows how “foggy” you feel during this first morning class beginning the training day. In the old days, this class used to be given after Sensei’s class. But less and less people would come, so they changed the order. We now have to wake up earlier.
To me, Noguchi sensei is a candle of happiness, even though his life has been tough at some point. (1) These events could have destroyed his happiness. It didn’t happen. The Bujinkan is about being happy and to keep going whatever hardship one meets in his or her lifetime.
Sunday, I was glad to meet my teacher again after my last Japan trip in April. (2) But to be honest, I was a little sleepy after a short jetlag night. This tiredness vanished after the first movements, as his permanent happiness spread all over the dōjō, and motivate everyone. The light of happiness spread in all directions, and everyone is lit by it.
I love Noguchi sensei’s creativity, and the way he re-interprets the well-known Waza and basics of the Bujinkan. This ability to do something new with old known techniques is amazing. It has nurtured my whole Budō approach for nearly a quarter century now. I owe him a lot for the level I have today.
Sunday we rediscovered some basic techniques of the Tenchijin. (3)
We began the class with the Tonsō no Kata (4), the escaping techniques of the Tōgakure Ryû. Those 9 techniques are the essence of the school and are much more than one thinks at first glance.
They are divided into 3 sets of 3 simple techniques. The first three Waza, deal with taijutsu; the second set of three, with Mutō Dori, the last three with strategy when facing multiple opponents.
“When dealing with multiple opponents, always attack the weakest one first”, said Noguchi sensei.
If some of the techniques use Metsubishi and Shuriken, to me, this is not the important lesson. I see the Tonsō no Kata more like the Juppō Sesshō of the Tōgakure Ryû.
We continued with the Suwari Waza from the Jin Ryaku no Maki, but we did them standing up. This is where his creativity became visible. Playing with the concept of Juppō Sesshō, we did those techniques in a totally new way, changing the angle of the grip in the ten directions. It was refreshing and reinforced our feeling of happiness.
Then we moved to the Nage Kaeshi part, reviewing Okyō, Zu Dori, Fûkan. The Okyō was quite different from the basic form I knew. Instead of the double simultaneous hits (chest and lower back), Noguchi sensei, rotated the upper torso to the left at the start of the throw, destroying Uke’s Nage Waza, and turning it into a soft but efficient Ô Soto Gake. That was effortless and beautiful.
We finished with some creative Hanbō Jutsu starting from Kata Yaburi no Kamae (5)(6) and Otonashi no Kamae. (7)
Once again, I want to emphasize that, when you come to Japan, you have to know your basics before leaving your country as you will not train the fundamentals here, only their evolution.
If you know your basics, learning their new interpretations is easy. But if you don’t, you cannot understand the Waza and will have a wrong sense of knowledge mixing the basic forms with the advanced Henka.
For the light of the candle of happiness to shine, you first need to get a candle. Learning the Tenchijin and the schools is how you get your candle ready for the light.
Someone said “What comes easy, won’t last, what lasts, won’t come easy”, this is a correct definition of the class we had today with Senō sensei.
For the whole class, we did only two techniques using his deep understanding of body mechanics. Joseph, a French Nidan, and I were lost in the first tries.
Senō sensei like any other Japanese Dai Shihan has a touch of magic when it comes to body mechanics. And to replicate it takes multiple repetitions. Often I am unable to reproduce his Taijutsu, but when I do it, even partially, it benefits my whole training.
Today, I didn’t do it perfectly as it was so subtle and efficient. I was close, but not enough. Senō’s techniques always look easy until you try to do them. A few years ago, I asked him where did he get this precision. He told me that: “for three years, I tried every possible angle, for every joint lock.”
“What comes easy, won’t last, what lasts, won’t come easy”. Excellence is about repeated failure. Nothing is given. Everything is the result of hard work. And once you have it, it will last. Remember how difficult it was as a kid to learn how to swim, or ride your bike. Today when you swim or ride your bike, you know.
The harder it is to get, and the deeper it is ingrained.
Senō sensei insisted on three main points: proper distance, correct footwork, full body pivot. They are all linked to one another, but before connecting them together, you have to study each one thoroughly.
Proper distancing is the space between you and the many possible attacks by the opponent. It is not enough to copy the blocks, locks, kicks. You have to position your body correctly at each step. Training properly demands slow movements.
As always in the Bujinkan, a correct footwork is a capital element of the technique. When you study the footwork of the Japanese Dai Shihan, you will discover that each one of them has a personal way to position the body correctly. They move all differently, but they achieve the same result. If Noguchi sensei is more into Kosshi Jutsu, and Nagato sensei more into Koppō Jutsu, Senō sensei is into Taihen Jutsu.
The last point, and he insisted a lot on it, is to move the opponent by pivoting the body as a whole, through the hips and the feet, and not with your hands. Grabbing is a consequence of a correct body motion, not the opposite. Last April, I remember how he taught us how to take Uke’s balance by bending the body forward instead of putting strength in the hands.
Your hands become your worst enemy if you overuse them because you will lose the natural efficiency created by your knowledge of distance, and by the quality of your footwork. Use your body.
Today during class, as I was struggling with what seemed simple techniques, I remembered what Kary Mullis, Nobel prize of Chemistry said: “It is complex to make something simple.” (1) I asked Senō sensei to do it a few times on my partner and me, and each time I was not able to do everything he did, even when I had the chance to experience it or to see it at close range. Senō sensei is like those close-up magicians. You can observe their movements; you never see what is happening.
“What comes easy, won’t last, what lasts, won’t come easy” is a good way to summarise the whole class. Even though I got technically close to what he did, I was not doing these techniques as well as he did. But I know for sure that my entire Taijutsu got upgraded today with the little things my body understood. What is strange is why so few people have the courage to attend his classes and face their limits. After all isn’t facing your limits, the essence of Mutō Dori? (2)