Human Bonsai!

bonsai1Over the last twenty three years here in Japan, I often have the pleasure and honor to translate for my teacher Masaaki Hatsumi Soke. Often a student has a question that he would like to ask. It is a always a delight to be able to help facilitate communication between teacher and student. So many questions and so many unexpected answers! One episode comes to mind.

A student asks, “Why are some people friendly to your face but then are hurtful and mean behind your back?”.

Sensei replies nonchalantly, “that is just how people are made.”. As I translate, I can see the look of confusion cross the students` faces. I too am at a bit of a loss. So the question is asked again and once again the answer is the same,”that is just how people are made.”.  Then Sensei looks up into space and asks me, “Paul, have you ever seen a bonsai?”. (small miniature Japanese art trees)I nod my head “yes”. In fact, I had just taken some friends to a bonsai garden the day before so I was a bit surprised by the sudden question about bonsai. He continues, “it is like a bonsai, people are made. You can make a person any way. But it is not natural. You would not go to a forest and find a bonsai. It is not a natural state. But you can twist a bonsai into any shape you want. People are the same.”

How true! Just the prior day I was remarking on the branches of the bonsai. Each branch wrapped with wire and forced to go this way or that way. Every branch! bonsai3Each branch wrapped in wire and forced to take a seemingly natural posture or kamae. And how unnatural it really is. We, too, as humans, each being wrapped in the culture, politics, education, religions and beliefs of those around us and society. Some people wrapped as capitalists, some marxists, some Christians, some Muslim. But all are being bound by the conditioning of the environment and society. Then what you think are your own thoughts can betray you.  In a tragic conclusion, we often we take a kamae or stance for or against another wrapped up in a different shape. Both unaware of the wires that trap them in this position.

Unwrapping these wires and constraints is an important step in the practice of Ninjustu. A true ninja will become free and his tree will grow strong and pure into a natural state in accordance with the natural state of his existence. A Ninja is able to explore his true essence in infinite space. That is why in the Go Jou or Five Precepts as taught by my teacher, a constant diligence and watchfulness to your true path is essential. First become aware of where you are now. What shape are you now? When your shape become visible, start unwrapping!

Kan Nin Dokuso (part one)

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Artist: Paul Masse 2007. Inscription: 天上天下唯我独

“In the all the heavens and earth, only I am exalted!”

Kan Nin Dock Son is a phrase you may hear around the Bujinkan dojo this year. Is it the theme for the year? Maybe, maybe not. Who knows?! But whether it is a theme or not is really not important, it should give you something to ponder and explore this year in addition to your continued practice of the physical movement and techniques. Kan Nin 貫忍, steadfast and single-minded perseverance all the way. Doku Son 独尊、to be revered or exalted. It most likely refers to a story of the Buddha. The story is, when he was born, the Buddha took seven steps and pointed one finger up and one finger down and exclaimed, “In the all the heavens and earth, only I am exalted!”.  What is this elusive I? Some think of it as me, my name, age ect. But you would lose some of the poetry. Who are you when your name, age, social status are stripped away. Going deeper, who are you when the body is stripped away and the mind faded and gone, and even your conscience vanishes like smoke after a fire?Maybe you have heard the Gokui (inner teachings) Persevere the body, Persevere the heart, and Persevere the conscience.

Your body had plopped out of this earth and it will dissolve back into the earth. No matter how good they wrap you like a mummy! But what of a natural energy? A power of nature that drives the seasons, sings thru a myriad of creatures? This power that keeps the clouds drifting and the water flowing, and an infinite number of stars alight? This natural power, the natural power of life is what we must become aware. When you have persevered thru all, this power will shine. Hatsumi Sensei once said to me, “it is like in the movies, when someone opens a treasure box, and their face is lit up by the golden light of the treasure.”. I really like this image. This is the treasure of Nin or Ninpo, 忍宝。 Kan Nin will help to uncover it. Be like Indiana Jones and go treasure hunting. The treasure is so near! When you uncover it, you won’t need to be and air bender or water bender or fire bender. You will know that you have been bending them all the time!

Bujinkan Year of the Rooster

Fighting Cock 闘鶏 toukei by Hatsumi Sensei
Today marks the year of the rooster by the lunar calendar. This is significant for me because I was born under this sign. During one of my visits to Japan, Hatsumi Sensei painted the fighting rooster for me as you see above.

I was attacked by mosquitoes earlier that day. It was my own fault because I had gone into a deep meditation in the woods next to a statue of 不動明王 Fudō Myō-ō. I didn’t notice the mosquitoes. But it was very hot and I was sweaty after my long climb, so they definitely noticed me! The next day, I discovered at least 30 very itchy bites.

This year I am 年男 toshiotoko, or “man of the year” since it is my sign. This can be unlucky, but I am protected. 不動明王 Fudō Myō-ō is the protector of people born in the year of the rooster.

The hour of the rooster is at sunset in the zodiac. And the direction of both the rooster and Fudō Myō-ō is west. In fact, there are still Shinto shrines where the monkey and the rooster guard the entrance gates.

I will lead the training in my dojo this year while heeding the expression, 鶏口牛後 keikougyuugo, “It is better to be the beak of a rooster than the rump of a bull.” For me, this means it is better to guide a small group of students who really care about training, instead of a crowd of people who train for the wrong reasons.

I wasn’t there, but reportedly Hatsumi Sensei first met Takamatsu in 酉年 toridoshi, the year of the rooster. I feel lucky to have this connection back to Takamatsu and the previous generations of our art through my studies with Hatsumi Sensei. The Bujinkan is a living art, and the spirits of the warriors of the past are kept alive in our current training.

I will spend some time this year focusing on the 妙音術 Myō-on jutsu that I have experienced from Soke. Since Fudō Myō-ō protects me this year, I will work to cut through my ignorance. Here is the Fudō mantra if you also want to say it while cutting through ignorance with your sword:
なーまくさーまんだーば さらなんかん
Naamakusaamandaaba saranankan
Don't ask me how to pronounce it, I think I need more training.

Kannin Dokuson: First Approach

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Sensei introduced us in November to “controlling the space with Mutō Dori”, and last week for the first class of 2017, he said the yearly theme to be Kannin Dokuson, “mutual respect.”
Each time Sensei comes up with a new theme for the year, it is important to read “between the lines” to follow Sensei’s train of thoughts. So, hereafter are a few possible hints to help us get it.
In a few days, we are entering the year of the fire rooster. (1)
Traditionally the fire rooster is called “Hō Ō”, the Phoenix. (2)
When you study the two kanji, you have 鳳 the male phoenix, and 凰, the female Phoenix. In other words, it is a representation of the Taichi, the Inyō (yinyang) of Taoism.
Inyō is represented by “zero” as we established recently in previous posts. Controlling the space means “balancing harmoniously” this complementarity between Uke and Tori during the exchange. This is the essence of Mutō Dori.
At the Shidōshikai meeting, Sensei developed his vision of “Kannin Dokuson”.
From a post by my friend Alex Esteve from Spain, Sensei was referring to “la integración y perseverancia en el respeto mutuo, respetarse y respetar al oponente”.
The way I understand it in English is to: “persevere to integrate Mutual respect, self-respect, and respect for the opponent (in our actions).”
This is the Sanshin of 2017!
But Kannin Dokuson is more than that. (3) And I will write more about it in my next entry.
________________________
1. Each Chinese zodiacal sign is linked to one of the 5 chinese elements (earth, metal, wood, air, fire). Last year was the fire monkey.
2. 鳳凰, Hō Ō, Chinese firebird; Chinese phoenix
3. 貫忍 独貴
KAN
一貫/ikkan/consistency; coherence; integration
貫/kan
NIN
忍/nin/endurance; forbearance; patience; self-restraint
DOKU
独り/hitori/one person|alone; solitary
SON
尊/son/tattobu/to value; to prize; to esteem; to respect; revered; noble

The 虚実 Kyojitsu of Control: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 3

渡月橋 togetsukyō at 六義園 rikugien. photo by Michael Glenn
Hatsumi Sensei puffed out his chest. His attacker went to grab with both hands, but then Soke collapsed the target. It was like he shrugged the attack away, tossing his opponent aside.

If you have been following my training notes, then you know that this kyojitsu of offering a target is one of the Bujinkan strategies of control that I have been writing about since my recent training with Hatsumi Sensei. He explained that he was teaching control to the Jugodans. He said he wasn’t teaching technique.

I managed to get a few pictures of the snow around the Bujinkan Hombu dojo that morning before class. A few days later it had all melted away. If you are not careful as a Bujinkan teacher, your own days as a student will melt away too.

Soke said that people in sports do technique, but we are trying to have a flow that can’t be copied. Flow is the most important thing in a fight.. This is why he teaches this way. He told us,
“You have to become the kind of person who cannot be copied.”
When Soke puffed out his chest this way, he was offering his opponent an illusion. The target was not real. He used the word 的 mato and told us to control by creating a target.

The way he moved his shoulders was very loose. And next, he made us all laugh by wiggling his ears. He did this to show how you control the opponent by having this very precise control over your own body first.

When he asked me to grab him, he did this with his shoulder and then I went flying through the air. He said,
“I’m lifting the shoulder with this kind of kyojitsu. You have to be able to move every part of your body.”
You offer the target as the 虚 kyo, or illusion. Then hit him with the 実 jistu or the truth. Another time Soke did this with a sword. He blocked the cut with his own sword. But he left his face right in front of his opponent’s blade. It did not look safe!

But this target was an illusion. As soon as the opponent tried to cut, Soke pivoted and hit him hard with the tsuba in the ribs. He looked around the dojo at our confused faces and said,
“Everyone tries to use the sword and that's why you're missing the kyojitsu. Kyo comes first and then jitsu.”
When you control your opponent with illusion, you don’t even have to fight at all. In fact, you never have to touch him. Hatsumi Sensei said we could feel it in the air. He used the phrase 空気で殺気 kuuki de sakki.

This can be thought of as sensing the intent of the enemy in the air. But it is also projecting your own threat into the air. It is like you strike with the air or the kukan itself! How does that work?

Many of us have felt this from Hatsumi Sensei. He did this to my friend Yabunaka-san. I watched when Yabu hesitated and then froze up. Next he stumbled right before Soke would have broke his arm. Hatsumi Sensei asked Yabunaka to describe this feeling. Yabunaka said that you feel like he is striking you even when he is not.

This is the opposite of presenting a target as an illusion. You strike with illusion! In fact, Hatsumi Sensei told us that this was 遠当之術 tōate no jutsu (or even 遠當之術). This is striking from a distance.

But Soke said he was not using tōate for striking, he was using it for control. For me, that moment was a big key to my whole trip and my efforts to understand Hatsumi Sensei’s current teachings.

I was lucky to be invited to uke for Soke in almost every class. And these experiences were like a gift. Every day that I train in Japan or in my own classes, I feel humbled by the generosity of my teachers and students. I hope you can have that in your training as well.
UP NEXT: Evade Without Evading: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 4