呼吸 Kokyuu: How Hatsumi Sensei Caught My Breath

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Michael Glenn

Michael Glenn Joins Hands with 大鵬幸喜 Taihō Kōki at the Fukagawa Edo Museum
I made sure to grip my sword well. My opponent stood before me, almost daring me to come in. I knew that if I didn’t cut in the space of that breath, I would be too late.

I cut, and I was stunned in an instant. I stood helpless at the point of my opponent’s sword… my own blade was slammed to the floor like the earth was a giant magnet.

My “opponent” was Hatsumi Sensei. He laughed as he drove the tip of his sword into my body. This forced my back up against the wood paneled wall.

This flash is burned into my memory from earlier this month. Soke was demonstrating to me a principle of 無く力を合わせ Naku chikara o awase that he was teaching that night. Meeting my attack without power. This principle was a thread that ran through many of my classes this month in Japan.

For some background, one night at Senou Sensei’s dojo,  Senou used the terms 姿勢 shisei: attitude; posture; stance; approach; or carriage (of the body)... And 態勢 taisei: attitude; posture; preparedness; or readiness. This means you can't just do a kata. It all depends on the attack... or the shisei or taisei of the opponent.

In another class Hatsumi Sensei effortlessly threw a series of opponents around the dojo. Each student he called out to attack him was bigger than the last. He was purposely choosing bigger and bigger bodies. He did this to demonstrate the slight changes in technique he used for each person. Soke said,
"When you catch a large fish, you have to change. You have to play the fish."
But how does this happen? If you’ve ever hunted or fished, you know how important it is to harmonize with the movements and mindset of the prey. It’s almost as if you merge with them as you stalk them. Then the moment of the kill creates an incredible concurrence. An incongruous reverence for life appears when you also see your own death in that moment. The body of your prey is your body.

Right after Hatsumi Sensei “killed” me, he said 呼吸から愛人 kokyuu kara ai jin. This is the merging of the breath between two lovers. But Soke used his humorous analogy to suggest you match your movements or your breath according to the way your opponent breathes. You become one with him. Like with a lover.

This was strange to me because it was like he disappeared in front of my cut. By matching me, he became nothing. He met my attack with emptiness. Then my next impression was the sheer force that dropped my own sword to the ground. But it was not his force, it was the shattering of the breath. My own breath. My own life which he had taken in that instant.

Bujinkan Japan Training Winter 2015

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Michael Glenn

Below I share a preview of my Bujinkan video exploring the kata 片胸捕 kata mune dori using concepts from my training in Japan over the last couple of weeks.

Hatsumi Sensei has been very reflective. Part of this comes from his birthday. And part of it is due to the end of a 42 year cycle that he says began when Takamatsu Sensei passed away.

In the full video at rojodojo I share many of the stories Hatsumi Soke shared with us. Some of the details include:

  • What the future holds for the Bujinkan;
  • Hatsumi Sensei’s funny opinion about his 8mm footage with Takamatsu Sensei;
  • How Soke feels about his age;
  • The responsibility of our generation for Budo;
  • Two profound lessons from the 天津鞴韜馗神之秘文 amatsu tatara kishin no hibun;
  • A hidden meaning for 親切 shinsetsu;
  • How does Senou Sensei consider 姿勢 shisei and 態勢 taisei in training?
  • Hatsumi Sensei’s stories of lodging at Takamatsu Sensei’s house;
  • Stories of the terrifying training that Soke did with Takamatsu Sensei;
  • How Hatsumi Sensei survived a live blade attack from Takamatsu;
  • How Takamatsu demonstrated deadly force to Hatsumi Sensei;
  • Why Takamatsu didn’t really teach Hatsumi Sensei form;
  • How “bad people” are dealt with in the Bujinkan;
  • How to keep from being controlled by religion;
  • One of the most important purposes for the dojo;
  • My own experiences as uke for Hatsumi Sensei;
  • Turning accidents into fortune;
  • Cutting through truth;
  • Don’t confuse Fudoshin with kamae;
  • Using the eyes for evasion;
  • Throwing the self away and finding what is hidden in zero;
  • The importance of the “next one.”

Hatsumi Sensei said that he has taught us everything there is to teach in the Bujinkan over the last 42 years. But he added that we will be continuing from zero. Over the coming weeks, I will share more about these details from my experiences in Japan. But I made this video for rojodojo to get this information out quickly. You can enjoy the full length video and help support my teaching over at Rojodojo.com

Last Stand: Wave, Breathing, Connection

From Shiro Kuma's Blog by kumafr


I’m packed and ready to share my “misunderstandings” in Paris next weekend for the traditional “dkms seminar” of December.

Traveling to Japan is like going back to school. The more you study, the more subtle details you learn. 
This trip was no different and I now have four months to make sense of everything I saw, felt, heared. 
Our five senses might be limited but they are the only ones we have, to understand how to develop our sixth sense.

Yesterday night was the last class with Sōke and we  a lot. After Peter and I opened the class, Sensei moved directly to Bō jutsu, biken jutsu, and Mutô Dori. While teaching, he reminded us that Mutō Dori this year is the essence of what he has been teaching for the last 42 years.

He insisted on the importance of not cutting with the sword, Kiru janai (1) It reminded me of the En no Kirinai, “don’t sever the connection” that we studied a few years back. (2)

This is when we began to do Ura Nami with the Bō and then with the sword. (3) Ura Nami is moving like an inlet wave, hiding is power until too late. To do so, our taijutsu is direct. We do not try to avoid contact,  we dodge the blow by a slight body movement of the body, and reach out to the target. The are many targets: neck,  chest, hands and fingers from above the attacker’s weapon or from under. It called that “Ura  Nami  no Juppō Sesshō”. 
In fact, he added that, we have to move in such an illogical way, that the opponent is unable to read our movements. Or unorthodox way of moving, might also give him extra confidence when he thinks that we are not good. This is this strange behavior that creates the opportunity. Sensei precise that he was mainly using the dynamic Yoko Aruki footwork from the Koto Ryû.

Sensei insisted that to apply this, you had to be connected to the attacker through the breathing, Kokyû. (4) When you can successfully match uke’s rhythm,  you can avoid any attack he is throwing at you because you know his timing. He used the analogy of the baseball catcher who “knows naturally” where the ball is going to land. That made me think of the book “gut feelings”, in which the author explains what he calls the “gaze heuristic”. As with the sword attacking you, and because you are connected to uke through the same breathing, you “know/feel” where, and how to counter his movements. (5)

With those three new tools: Kiru Janai,  Ura Nami, and Kokyû,  I have enough study and changes to apply in my taijutsu, before my next trip in March.

Lao Tzu said: ” If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

Thank you Sensei, for forcing us to change permanently,  and to make us head towards natural perfection. 
1. 切る/kiru/to cut; to cut through; to perform (surgery)|to sever (connections, ties)|to turn off (i.e. the light)|to terminate (i.e. a conversation); to disconnect; じゃない janai/is not; am not; are not. 
2. En no Kirinai 縁の切りない:
縁/en/fate; destiny (esp. as a mysterious force that binds two people together)|relationship (e.g. between two people); bond; link; connection. 
切りない /kirinai/to sever, not
3. 浦波/uranami/(seaside) breakers
4. 呼吸/kokyû/breath; respiration|knack; trick; secret (of doing something)
5. Gut feelings or the intelligence of the unconscious, by Gerd Gigerenzer. 
Read this book, it will help down your understanding of Budō. Here is a quote about the baseball catcher analogy: “Experimental studies have shown that experienced players in fact use several rules of thumb. (…) One of these is the gaze heuristic, which works in situations where a ball is already high up in the air: Fix your gaze on the ball, start running, and adjust your running speed so that the angle of gaze remains constant. The angle of gaze is the angle between the eye and the ball, relative to the ground. A player who uses this rule does not need to measure wind, air resistance, spin, or the other causal variables. All the relevant facts are contained in one variable: the angle of gaze. The gaze heuristic (…) work for a class of problems that involve the interception of moving objects. In both ball games and pursuit , it helps to generate collisions, while in flying and sailing, it helps to avoid them. Intercepting moving objects is an important adaptive task in human history, and we easily generalize the gaze heuristic from its evolutionary origins— such as hunting—to ball games.”

Secret Lessons From Yoroi Sensei

From Shiro Kuma's Blog by kumafr


On Sunday,  after class,  we went with Sōke to Yoshikawa to see some antiques. In the entrance there was a nice Yoroi (1)  and it gave me the idea to write about the lessons we can receive from Yoroi training.

Since December 2002, when we were introduced to Yoroi fighting,  I have had a few armors in my dōjō. And we are using them at each class. They don’t last long, but they teach us well. The Yoroi is the best sensei.

All our techniques come from the times of Yoroi fighting. They were later adapted to fit into the peace time periods. 

For the last twelve years, in my dōjō, one or two students are wearing the Yoroi during the class. This is the best tool to understand the simple complexity of the techniques of the Bujinkan. Strangely,  when I served in the UNIFIL, I discovered that my knowledge of Yoroi fighting applied perfectly to the training in modern gear. What was good in the last is still valid in the modern world.

I want to share here a few truths I learned when training with our against the traditional Japanese Yoroi:

Lesson 1:  Developing the Mutō Dori attitude,  and perseverance.

Facing an opponent with Yoroi, when wearing a simple Keikogi is helping you to get a real sense of Mutō Dori. You have to be brave to go for the clash. As General Bradley said, “Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.” I cannot imagine how brave the fighters of the old days were. 
Each time I’m fighting against a Yoroi, I find myself being scratched, bruised, and receiving a lot of pain. 
When your movement is not done correctly, you are off-balanced because of the momentum of the attack. But quoting Sensei last week, “perseverance is what Ninpô is about”.  And it takes a lot of perseverance to train that.

Lesson 2: Mune Dori,  chest grab.

The origin of the right hand grab in the chest comes from the Yoroi. If you look at the Yoroi used during the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代, Kamakura jidai, 1185–1333), you will notice that the chest is covered by two big breast plates,  much bigger than the ones we have on the armors we use for training. They protect the suspenders securing the Yoroi to the torso. 
These plates are called sendan-no-ita and kyubi-no-ita. The one covering the left chest is wider and lower,  leaving enough freedom to shoot an arrow, or to wield the Tachi. (2)
The plate covering the heart is thinner, and longer. Its length protect the chest better. (3)
Then it is logical that, in a close encounter, the heart plate is the one being grabbed. (4) (5)

Lesson 3: Butsumetsu is not a point,  it is an area.

I often hear teachers saying that Butsumetsu is located between the 5th and the 6th rib. This is wrong. (6) 
In fact, Butsumetsu is the part of the chest that is not protected by the Dō. (7) Depending on the shape of your torso, this hole is small or big.

One friend of mine, was a stuntman on the shooting of the movie “the last Samurai”. He told me that Sanada Hiroyuki (the actor teaching kenjutsu to Tom Cruise) had such a small torso that to ride his horse properly, they had to enlarge the gap of his Yoroi at the Butsumetsu level. (8)

Lesson 4: Seiza was the sitting posture designed for the Edo period.

Seiza became the “correct way” to sit put into place at the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate. I read somewhere that Ieyasu imposed it because it was difficult to jump and attack him from this position. 
During the previous periods,  Fudōza was the only possible way to sit with a Yoroi. In Fudōza, when you stand up,  the plates on your shins and legs, don’t get locked. You are free to move and stand up. (9)
Sitting being problematic,  this is also why you often see the Samurai seated on a little stool.

Note: in the Takagi Yōshin Ryû, there is a way to sit in a sort of Seiza with the Yoroi, but it requires a lot of flexibility and a lot of training. (10)

Lesson 5: Tameshi Giri was developed during peace time. 

The Bujinkan techniques were developed before the Edo period. Tameshi Giri didn’t exist at that time. (11)
The Yoroi was designed initially to stop the Yari, which was the deadliest weapon in the battlefield. Sensei explains in his Yari DVD that yari accounted for about 60% of the casualties in the battlefield. 
So a blade even big, would not be able to cut through it. Power is resulting from the momentum of the weapon. A sword doesn’t generate enough of it. This is the reason why the Tachi is used to hit first, and then stab in the holes of the Yoroi. As I often tell my students “in those times, the light saber didn’t exist.”
The strange habit of cutting bits and pieces of your opponent,   began to develop during the peace period that came with the Tokugawa shogunate. As there were no more wars, Samurai didn’t wear the Yoroi anymore. So, cutting became possible. (12)

I hope you will enjoy these lessons from Yoroi sensei. It is my understanding, that it is important to keep in mind the origin of the techniques we do, in order to be able to adapt them freely to modern fighting.

As I said at the beginning of this article we are using Yoroi in each class. I plan to finish studying all the Bujinkan schools with the Yoroi by the end of 2016. Then, starting in 2017, I will  adapt the Yoroi techniques to the Edo period. This will be easy because of the many lessons learnt with the Yoroi.

Ninpō has been adapting permanently to the evolution of warfare. Which is why Hatsumi Sensei’s teachings are so efficient. But it would be wrong to apply the Kamakura techniques with Yoroi to modern warfare without developing the experience and understanding of the reasons that created these techniques in the first place.

If you don’t have a Yoroi yet in your dōjō, then get one for Christmas. That will change totally your understanding of Sensei’s Budō. (13)

1. 甲/yoroi/armor; Japanese armour. 
2. The Tachi is used mainly Katate. 
3. The left side is often in the front when using the weapons. 
4. These plates are made of steel so it is virtually impossible to twist them as if they were a piece of fabric. This is not Jûdō! 
5. Kûden: When throwing your opponent, always make sure that the palm of your hand stays flat on his chest, as if you were holding a metallic plate, and not a Gi. you are not superman!
6. 仏滅/butsumetsu/Buddha’s death|very unlucky day (according to old almanacs). If you are stabbed here, you will die. 
7. 胴/dō/trunk; torso; body; abdomen; waist|plastron (in kendo); touching the plastron (kimari-te in kendo)|frame (of a drum, etc.); sound box (of a shamisen, etc.); hull (of a ship)
8. When you ride a horse,  the  Dō of the Yoroi is pushed upwards by the legs. The Dō is like a cylinder. So, if the Butsumetsu is too small,  the metal protection will prevent the blood to flow correctly in your arms. 
9. The first times I was wearing the Yoroi,  I made this Seiza mistake quite a lot, and often fell miserably with my plates hooked together. 
10. In fact, there is a kind of Seiza that can be done with the Yoroi,  but it requires a lot of training, and it is really painful. You sit on your left leg,  toes are hooked. Then you position the right leg,  toes hooked, in front of your left knee,  not inside. 
With this Kamae,  you can spring up easily and you will not fall. This is a “ready-to-fight” Kamae. the regular Fudōza being the relax Kamae. 
11. 試し斬り/tameshigiri/trying out a new sword or blade (originally on someone, but now on soaked straw targets). 12. In my young “Padawan years”, I studied a lot of modern sword systems (some Katori Shintō, some Musō Shinden, some Seitei iai). I also learned five Ryû of Battōdō and Tameshi Giri. This is what I call “my scarecrow cutting period “,  and I loved it. But then in 1996, Sensei taught me the Bujinkan sword fighting system in a kind of private class in the dust facing his house. He said “I’m teaching you the real sword because of your past experience”. That’s when I understood it was useless, because of the Yoroi. Scarecrows don’t wear Yoroi, and they don’t fight back.
13. Check the new website of our friend Carlos (Spanish Shihan). He is living in Hong Kong,  and has opened recently a Budō website with many nice products including some Yoroi. He assured me last week that, soon, he will be selling cheap Yoroi fitting our training needs. His website is www.japonalia.com

Kisei: The Devil’s Power Of Details

From Shiro Kuma's Blog by kumafr


Men who wish to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details. Heraclitus

Senō sensei showed a very interesting way to hit the attacker and get his balance. As he explained in Saturday, there are many steps hidden within the spaces of a 1, 2, 3 technique. This hit is one of them. Mastering it, will change your taijutsu entirely.

Uke attacks with a right fist and you pivot softly (1),  keep your hips parallel with his. At the same time, you use Naka Dakken, and hit Nagare in a special way.

Naka Dakken is a type of Fudô ken from the Koto ryû. You can see it in sensei’s book “unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai”. In this book, there is a double page with many forms of fists. Study them, they are not there by chance. (2)

To form this fist you put Sui in your palm and top it with Kû (3). You fold the other fingers so that “Ka” and “Fû” are supported by Sui/Kû. This special manner of clenching the first, gives solidity and coherence to the fist during the hit.

The way you use this fist will take uke’s balance. While positioning your hips in the correct distance and position, you hit and “sukui” or scoop the attacking forearm at Nagare. (4) The scooping action has to be done precisely. As Senō sensei said “if you are too light, you don’t take the balance; and if you are too deep, you lose the momentum of the action. The timing of the scooping action has to be fine with the whole body.

When it is done correctly, uke’s balance is broken. Uke’s stops in his attack. The next movement is hitting with the same fist, to Gankotsu, Jûjiro or Murasame.

From there, you end the fight the way you want. Either with a Ganseki type of movement in the left arm; or a Ô Soto Gake on his right side. In fact you apply Ishitobashi, the skipping stone concept taught by Sensei since last summer. (5)

I hope this very detailed explanation will help you improve your general taijutsu. As we say, the “devil is hiding in the details.”

In our case,  棄世, Kisei (death), leads to 気精, the power of the devil (spirit) is what gives strength and vigor to our actions. (6) (7)

Details are important. 
1. Depending on the distance, Senō sensei explained that you either step forward or backward. The body movement is like a dance movement, you are one with your partner. It’s nearly magnetic. 
2. Everything that is in Sensei’s books is there for a reason. It is not only to fill the pages. 
3. The five fingers follow the order of the Gogyō from the pinky (Chi) to the thumb (Kû). 
4. 掬う/sukû/to scoop; to ladle out. This is sukui. 
5. 石飛ばし/ishitobashi/skipping stones (on a body of water); skimming stones. 
6. 棄世/kisei/death
7.  気/ki/spirit; mind; heart|nature; disposition|motivation; intention|mood; feelings|atmosphere; essence. 
精/sei/spirit; sprite; nymph|energy; vigor (vigour); strength|fine details|seven.