Do You Have A Backpack?

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

img_20191111_103247-1When you go out for a trek in the mountains, you carry a backpack. Everything you might need during the long hours of walking is inside.

When you pack it, you select the content and organize it. You know precisely where every object is:
socks, clothes, sleeping bag, map, compass, knife, rope, gloves, rain jacket, torchlight, extra batteries, first-aid kit, food, water bottle, etc.
And often, you don’t use all the things you packed for your trek. You carry them in case you might need them

The Bujinkan program is like a backpack, except that often, your bag is half empty! It is half empty because you weren’t given a chance to know what to put into it. What you need is a set of necessary and useful techniques that you can adapt to any situation. This is what the tenchijin is about.

The Bujinkan comprises nine different Ryūha (1), which makes it quite complex to learn.
When you learn a single Ryū, the basics, the technical levels are all given in a somewhat logical system. You have a set of tools to help students to learn the correct way step by step. These tools are called scrolls.

In a Ryū you have the Ten no Maki, the Ryū no Maki, the kotsu (or kurai dori), the taihenjutsu, the kamae, the densho (2), the e-densho, the kudensho, and the Juppō Sesshō. (3)(4) A Ryū details a specific approach to actual combat. But nine Ryū regroups several different methods to fight on the battlefield. They all have their specificity. That is why Hatsumi Sensei has regrouped them in a modern tool that he called the Tenchijin Ryaku no Maki. See the Tenchijin as the first level to get Hatsumi Sensei’s style of Budō. The nine Ryūha are the source for it, and also exercises to understand his way of training, his specific flow. (5)

The Tenchijin is your backpack, and you have to know it so well that you don’t think when you use it. It has to become second nature, like when you are riding a bike or swimming.

You have to use what naturally is in your backpack. To me, the Tenchijin is the expression of the “Hatsumi Ryū.” After reading this, ask yourself: “do I have a full backpack?”

Have a good trek!

Funny note: Did you know that Japanese call the ebooks, “densho”? (6)

1 流派, Ryūha; school (e.g. of ikebana)

2 伝書, Densho; book or scroll that has been handed down through generations; a book of secrets. Depending on the Ryū, there are 3,5, 9, or more densho. They detail the Waza from the beginner to the advanced practitioner

3 I already explained this structure in a previous post on this blog. And what is the purpose of each scroll. But this is not the goal of this article

4 十方折衝, Juppō Sesshō can be understood as the essence of a system. For example, the Juppō Sesshō of Gyokko Ryū is the Sanshin no Kata. That is why it is so hard to master it.

5 流, Ryū; Way; style; manner​. Or school (of thought)​. Or flow; stream

6 電書, Densho; electronic book; e-book; ebook​

Bujinkan Will Not Survive

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

Bujinkan will not survive, and it doesn’t matter. And here is why.

A few months ago, in Japan, I had the opportunity to speak with Hatsumi Sensei about the future of the Bujinkan. He said that he created the Bujinkan as a shell to gather everyone. To give us a chance to understand the powerful beauty of true Budō.

“After me,” he said, “my successor will name the Bujinkan shell the way he wants, and teach it the way he feels suits the art.” In the West, we are too much attached to the “form.” Instead, we must focus more on the “body flow.”

When you begin your martial arts journey, it is normal (better?) to start by respecting the forms. Then comes a moment where you have to let them go.

Forms are traps. As Sensei puts it, “if you use a Waza from any Ryū, it will get you killed, you have to adapt it to the situation.” A Waza is only a teaching tool to get new knowledge. A Waza is not a checklist of some sort but the visible result of a potential outcome. And only when you can adapt it to the terrain, the weather, and the opponent(s), can you use it. This is the essence of the Tenchijin.

When you grow up in Budō, you go through three phases of learning. The Japanese call it Shuhari (1), and it marks the path to follow. At the “Ri” level, you can express natural movement, not before. You have to get rid of the form. You have to forget everything and to “divorce” from your certitudes so that you can walk your own path.

But to forget, you must, first, learn the forms. It is not possible to overlook something you did not learn in the first place. Forgetting needs learning.

The forms found in the Ryūha are the scaffolding protecting your understanding. That allows your personal evolution in Budō. Without forms, your taijutsu will never grow, it is like a baobab in a small pot!

Budō takes a lot of time, you have to develop “Shintai” patience and train hard. (3) In the old days, young Samurai began preparing for battle around six-year-old. After the Genpuku, (4) the young Samurai could join the battlefield. They were fifteen to twenty-year-old. (5) At this young age, they had already train ten to fifteen years. Experience comes with time, and you cannot compress time.

The Japanese created a productive society able to create the warriors it required. From the Kamakura Jidai (1185) to the end of the Azuchi Momoyama Jidai (1600), Samurai rule the country. Through battles, they invent the Waza, test them, and transmit them to the next generation. We have many Ryūha in the Bujinkan today. That is because these techniques were battle-efficient and transmitted. Learning the correct form is essential.

Evolution requires an adaptation to adjust them to the modern world. And this is what Hatsumi Sensei is teaching us three times a week at Honbu. Contemporary martial arts, without knowledge from the past, stays at the Omote level. The Omote is not Budō. The Ura is what matters, Ura is to be able to use natural movement in any situation. With a lot of work, each one can do it.  

The Bujinkan will not survive because it doesn’t have to survive. The Bujinkan is a tool designed to guide us towards the natural movement. We received, receive, and will continue to receive Sensei’s vision of Budō. His teachings will last long after we are all gone. They will nourish future generations of martial arts practitioners.

Transmitting the spirit is the key. Forms are only useful learning tools needed to become natural in the Dōjō, as well as in life. Sensei said to my old friend Pedro Fleitas that “to transmit what I have, I only need one student!” Try to be this “one student,” and stop wasting your time on social media. Keep training, and never give up.

Keep Going!


1 守破離, Shuhari. The three stages of learning mastery: the fundamentals, breaking with tradition, parting with traditional wisdom

2 離, Ri; It has the meaning of divorce, separate from.

3 忍耐, Shintai; endurance; perseverance; patience

4 Genpuku:

5 WWII cemeteries are full of very young soldiers. In the marine corps, 70% were 18 to 25-year-old, when they gave their real age as many lied on their birthdate.


Why Do You Train?

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

Speaking with a friend today, I asked myself, why do people train? In the nineties, it was easy, the ninja boom made the dōjō growing fast. During this golden age, it was not rare to have 60 or 70 students per class. Today when we have 20 students attending, it is good. In the 90s’, many newcomers were there because it was trendy to do Ninjutsu. This is not the case anymore today. Today people want sport martial arts, not learning an art that is a thousand-year-old.

At the end of 2019, the attendance is so low that, sometimes, I am not sure if it is good to keep the dōjō running. In a regular class, only 6 to 10 students of all levels are attending. During the last Tenchijin seminar, in October, only seven students attended.

That is why I want to know, “why do you train?”

For me, training is a part of my life. It is some kind of life hygiene. Without teaching or training, something is missing. But if I understand why I train, I keep wondering why the students come to the Dōjō.

When you already have a black belt, or if you are a Shidōshi, I suppose that training is part of your life. But beginners stay long in the dark before discovering the beauty of our art. The learning process in the Bujinkan is slow. And it doesn’t answer the need for speedy knowledge by our younger practitioners. Young students need fast answers. Everything they do in life is fast and goes through the passive link they have with a smartphone. They have an attention default. They are unable to focus more than a few minutes!

This year, I was hoping to have a new bunch of beginners coming to the Dōjō. I was happy to see that two to four new students were popping up each class to try the Bujinkan arts. Usually, we seduce 4 out of 10 people. Not this year. To give them more chances to join, we let them try for three classes. And they attended the classes, for not coming back.

I analyzed this. I discarded the fact that teacher’s skills were not in cause. And I came up with a non-exhaustive list of the reasons preventing them from learning Bujinkan:

  1. They are not used to pay for things, they want everything for free. This is what I call the “app syndrome”.

  2. They are so used to zap from one thing to another that they are unable to focus. Young people are looking for instant gratification (1)

  3. They “try” many arts to finally stay at home and play with their phones. That is because they are not used to being in charge of their lives.

  4. They come to us because of video games where pain doesn’t exist, where you can revive yourself with a magic potion. And if you die, you start another game. There are no consequences for the actions they take.

  5. If it is a movie that brings them in, then they are surprised not to learn how to fly or to become invisible!

  6. The image of the ninja transmitted by the media is wrong. And this image breaks into a thousand pieces once they enter the Dōjō. They discover that to be good, you have to train a lot. And that goes against their ADD (2)

  7. And finally, they find out that pain exists. What a surprise!

If you experience the same situation, with many tries and no inscriptions, feel better, you are not alone.

This year, I only have 16 registered students in my Dōjō, and I’m a Dai Shihan! But before the rank, I am a Bujinkan student; I follow Hatsumi Sensei’s Budō; therefore, I never give up, I keep going. And you should do the same.

Whatever level you have, I hope this article will motivate you to join and to train more often in your Dōjō. And always keep in mind the reasons why you train!



2. ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder, check (1)

Don’t Rattle Your 忍者刀 Ninjatō

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Michael

Mt Fuji all the way from Kashiwa, photo by Michael Glenn
Hatsumi Sensei surprises me with his teaching. The night before I left for Japan, we studied 忍者刀 Ninjatō in my own dojo. Then, on Friday night in Soke’s class at the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo, he taught one of the secrets of this weapon.

I try to prepare for these lessons, yet I am still surprised. I suppose the only way is to always be ready. This is the ukemi of being Hatsumi Sensei’s student.

I landed at Narita Airport around 5pm local time. My normal plan is to run through immigration and customs as fast as Japanese bureaucracy will allow. Then catch a two hour train ride straight to Hatsumi Sensei’s class.

One hour into the train ride I began to lose my motivation. Warm trains make me sleepy. That, and the 20 hours of travel that wasn’t over yet.

I stood up to shake off the tired. It was already dark out, and the train cabin was reflected back to us in the window. I leaned my head against the door to watch the lights pass outside.

It looked wet and miserable out. I already felt the cold when I transferred at the last station. But when my eyes adjusted to the dark I couldn’t believe what I saw between the railroad ties. Patches of snow flashed by like a flickering reel of film!

It was only November. Snow in Tokyo is extremely rare this time of year. I already had two shirts on, and now I pulled a hoodie over those.

The old Atago station was dark and quiet. My breath fogged. A patch of snow crunched under my boot. During my walk to the dojo I wondered if class was cancelled.

I came around the corner and I could see the lights were on. I marveled at the snow on the rooftop. I slid open the door… Konbanwa!

A warm crowd inside and many old friends greeted me. I changed quickly into my gi. Was I ready? I don’t know, at least I was there.

Hatsumi Sensei taught at an intense pace. He started off class at the highest levels of training. It was all about letting go and 空間利用 kukan riyō, using the kukan.

The train passed by and shook the building.

"Hai, OK!" Soke called out. Then he started with the 忍者刀 Ninjatō and I paid close attention. Someya Sensei cut in at him...

Hatsumi Sensei was in 棟水之構 Tōsui no Kamae. He lifted his blade softly as if to shield against the katana. Someya tried to cut again. Soke let his sword slip and then smacked it into Someya’s neck without cutting.

He told us one of the themes this year was 一刀万方 Ittō Banpō, which is one sword, many possibilities. It may also be written 一刀万宝 Ittō Banpō which means one sword, many treasures.

There are many treasures in the study of the Ninja-tō.  Hatsumi Sensei wrote
This can be read many ways. One interpretation is that “the sword of the ninja doesn’t rattle in the dark of the night”. In other words, avoid rattling your sword.

What does that mean beyond being stealthy? Lucky for us Hatsumi Sensei has also shared this gokui in relation to the Ninja-to:
Win without drawing the sword
if you draw it, don’t cut
Simply persevere
Know the significance
Of taking a life.
When Hatsumi Sensei smacked the blade against Someya’s neck he was demonstrating this principle. He even told us that night that we were all too quick to use the sword. He said that when we tried to use the sword, we missed the kyojitsu.

I hold onto these memories and lessons from Soke like treasures. During the first hour of my train ride (which you can watch part of here: Ninja True: How to get to the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo) I caught a glimpse of Mt Fuji in the distance. The slope of Fuji Sama seemed to hold the burnt sunset for every last bit of warmth.