Nage to Nagato

This is my second day here and it is time to write about the first feelings discovered so far. Many friends are here from all over the world, but  there will be no DKMS, we have enough space to train properly. The feeling these days is very nice. I have been attending the DKMS since 1990 and it is always a special moment in the bujinkan life as this is the birthday of our Soke.

This year no taikai but a nice gathering on Monday night for his birthday at the honbu, like it was the case some ten years ago. The dojo is filled with food and beverages, a keg of sake is positioned under the shinden and everyone is having a good time. A dôjô  is not a dead room, it is a place to live in.

Today during Nagato sensei’s class, Beth from Scotland, who had just been promoted to judan by Lubos yesterday, opened the class. For once we avoided the too common Ô soto gake as she did a Nage Kaeshi technique. This Was a nice pick as it gave us an opportunity to better study the feeling of Nage waza used in the bujinkan.

Our Nage waza are different from Jûdô as we use any opening given by the opponent/grabber to finish him right away.

Nagato sensei stressed many times that Jûdô was a sport and that the mutual grabbing of the opponents should never occur in a real fight.

When someone grabs you, grabbing back is the insurance of being thrown right away. Nagato sensei said that in sport there is no risk the attacker will tsuki you but in  real fight it is more likely going to happen. This is why instead of grabbing the gi, you should secure the left hand of uke.

Each time Eugenio (Nagato sensei’s uke) was coming close to him for grabbing Nagato sensei’s would:

1) take some distance,

2) fake grabbing back.

Those two steps are important but remain useless if you let the grabber actually grab you. He said that the jûdôka were fast and powerful and that distancing yourself from the grabbing hands was buying you some time to counter the technique. In the bujinkan tenchijin the Nage kaeshi (counter throws) are done at three different moments which are:

1) before the grab,

2) during the grab,

3) after the grab (often with a Ryû Sui Iki technique).

He has been training Jûdô and he said that it was difficult for him to understand the Nage waza of the Bujinkan because of that. Coming from a Jûdô sport background, he added that it took him many years to stop grabbing the opponent back. I trained Jûdô for 17 years myself and it took me at least 8 years to stop reacting like the pavlov dog in these circumstances. I was happy to discover that it happened to him too.

In fact, being a former jûdôka, I found this class full of insights and I guess that we will train these movements the way we learnt them today when I come back to my dôjô.

As it is often the case, there were many small technical points to work with.

Understanding the gokui of Nage waza is understanding that every move is omote or ura, forward and backward depending on uke s way of attacking. Nagato sensei said that you should not know beforehand what you were going to do but simply react to the attack in the most appropriate manner. Once the distancing and the fake grab in action, do your best to react according to uke. And this is why your answer to his question is either omote or ura.

Also you should not grab back but stay relaxed and fake it. The moment you grab your opponent back firmly you fly. Don t grab! This is why he qualified our style of nage of being not Jûdô but jûjutsu.

Speed is forbidden, be as slow as possible. Speed is often the main cause of failure in jujutsu. If you fall the opponent doesn t stop but continues until you are submitted.

This way of reacting works the same whether uke grabs or punches. Only the footwork changes. Bujinkan is about footwork not about technique. We are training a jutsu not a dô and there is no second chance.

As we are used to do, the entry is done through kamae. Our kamae shield the attack and provide the opening in uke’s defence that allow us to counter his attempts efficiently.

Speaking with Eugenio after the class, he explained to me how he felt the throws being applied to him during the 70 minutes he spent in hell. He was asked to attack many times and each time went flying through the dôjô.

I will try to translate his feelings herunder.

The first part of the throw that Nagato sensei did was always getting the balance from the shoulders which created an off balancing from the upper part of the body. Taking the balance from the shoulders  (like you would when fighting an opponent with yoroi) was putting uke in a precarious posture. Uke trying not to fall would then give openings allowing him to place his hip and throw. Eugenio who was the Uke for the whole series of variation never had a chance to recover his balance. Once his attack was launched then he was doomed and was thrown each time. There was no recovery possible.

At the end Nagato sensei summarized the Nage waza as follow.

Let the technique happen by itself. In fact he stressed that there were no technique and this is why the Bujinkan is not a sport like Jûdô.

By not doing anything we let the natural flow unfold and no Nage can be applied.

Added comment: my understanding would not have been the same without training with a fantastic partner during that class, “El Juan Manuel G”. Gracias. ;-)


Japan Training: I got 無 nothing for you

無 mu near Kitasenju, photo by Michael Glenn
My classes with Hatsumi Sensei for the last week have had an intense energy. Not because he is more intense than usual. His training is of a high level and never fails to surprise. But the intensity comes in the form of my own resistance to what he is sharing.

He has been really emphasizing the 無 mu in muto dori. As some of you may know, muto dori has been a strong theme throughout training this year. After my other visits to Japan this year, I studied this from the feelings he gave us.

But the difficulty for me now is that when he embodies mu, I get nothing. He is not presenting any feeling that I can key in on. This is instructive yet difficult to parse. It cannot be broken down for study.

Soke is removing himself from the equation. He doesn't exist so he cannot be hit. But he seems to be doing this on a personal level too. Sensei made a very intricate and intense painting of a lion. He was asked, how long did it take? He said, "only a couple of minutes. But if I stopped to think about it it would have taken much longer."

There seem to be other things like this at work in the Bujinkan as well. Some key people have passed on. There is no Daikomyosai this year. But the hombu dojo still stands, despite all the other buildings around being dismantled. This is the mystery of mu.

But one day soon it will be gone too. Maybe the natural progression of the Bujinkan leads to this kind of dissolution. 

Soke said last night that the important things in life cannot be seen. This is where the life force or spirit is. When death happens the form is emptied. Where does the unseen go?

This kind of emptiness will never be cut by any sword. This is muto dori.

Ryaku. Waza. Kata

wpid-20130730_122758.jpgWhile teaching in India it occurred to me that the Tenchijin is a set of RyaKu not techniques. The Japanese language makes a difference between the way a,  技 (technique) and the Kata 型 (model, arrangement of techniques).

Ryaku 略 has the meaning of “abreviation” or “outline”. This means that the Tenchijin is not about techniques but is a group of outlined forms and model, leading to the understanding of the essence of techniques.

This is maybe why at the end of the Tenchijin it is said that “there are no fundamental techniques” in the Bujinkan.

Thinking deeper in the system we can also see that the three parts composing the programme are in fact defining a new Sanshin:
The Ten represents the learning of footwork;
the Chi exposes the biomechanical aspect of waza;
the Jin then being the mix of the first two parts and displayed in the form of Kata taken from the 9 ryūha.

The concept of Ryaku makes it much more easy to reach the natural flow shown by sensei.

Don’t make dead forms from the techniques and models of the Tenchijin, let them free to adjust naturally to the flow of things.


The Ninja Tourists

Michael Glenn being a good tourist, Bujinkan Hombu Dojo
I am preparing for my third trip to Japan this year. In my preparations I came across some old notes from another trip I made many years ago. Before one class I had with Oguri Sensei, I encountered a common attitude among visitors to the Bujinkan Hombu Dojo.

The Ninja Tourists.

On my way to Oguri Sensei's class, I bumped into one of these tourists from Los Angeles. Since I know him from back home, I stopped to chat a bit. This was his first trip.

He was very happy. Beaming in fact. He showed me some photos he had gotten of himself with various teachers. But then he said something that sounded off to my ears,

"We are part of history!"

I asked, "How do you mean?"

He said, "Being here."

That seemed wrong to me at the time.  To me it was just class, just training.  You would be part of history sitting at home watching TV too.  But for him it was like visiting a holy place.  That's one extreme of the tourist attitude.

The Japanese people and Bujinkan teachers are just normal people with lives. Not Ninja fantasy characters.

No matter how great they are as martial artists, what can anyone learn from them with that attitude?  You'll see what you want to see and learn what you want to learn.  Which may or may not be what is being taught.  More than likely what is being taught will be a little more grounded in reality.

Some foreigners treat the visit like a martial arts mecca.  Meanwhile Hatsumi Sensei is showing various ways to punch somebody in the throat.  It seems like there may be a dangerous disconnect there.

But, all these years later, I've softened my attitude about this. Most of the Japanese teachers seem happy to meet all these excited visitors from around the world. And as Nagato Sensei told me a few months ago, Fate has brought us all together.

What is right for my training is not what is right for anybody else's training or life. And what was right for me that day so many years ago was getting myself to Oguri Sensei's class.

I said goodbye to my friend from LA. Then I sat on the train thinking about how happy he was with his tourism. When I got to the Hombu dojo, Oguri Sensei had a smile for me that I will not forget.

There were only 4 of us in his class that day.

My friend from LA was not there but I guess he was right. We are part of history. I had a great class with lots of personal instruction from Oguri Sensei.

He has passed on, but I shall always value those classes because they are now part of my history.