Social Distancing Is Budō

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

ninja t-shirt
Make a mask with a t-shirt

We live in troubled times. Social distancing is now mandatory in many countries. To know the correct distance is essential. 

Hatsumi Sensei’s DVDs are all subtitled “martial art of distance.” The Bujinkan martial arts teach proper distancing. Thus, the forced social distancing we apply these days is practical Budō. In the dōjō, we learn to survive any attacks coming from the enemy. In these days of the pandemic, our enemy is not visible (Omote), but invisible (Ura). Our only option to survive the virus is to keep a proper distance with others. 

As it is often the case in Japanese, “distance” can use different Kanji. It is Michi no ri (1), Kyori (2), or Aida (3). Let’s understand the concept hidden in the strokes.
The first one “Michi no Ri” uses “Michi,” or “Dō.” (4) This is the Kanji that we find in Budō. (5) Budō, the “way of the martial arts”, becomes the “martial arts of distance “as in Sensei’s DVDs. At Honbu, Hatsumi Sensei explains that “Bu” is “to maintain peace and protection.” So, the correct distance in Budō is a means of protection.

The second one, “Kyori”, is even more interesting. If it is “distance or range,” transformed as Kyoryūmin (6), it means “resident.” And because of confinement, we are all becoming full-time residents! 

The last one is “Aida.” It also reads as “Ken.” This is not the one meaning sword, but the one used in the Kanejaku. (7) That is the measurement system used in Japan before the switch to the metric system. (8) For your information, a Ken is 181.82 cm, and this is the size of a Tatami. (9)

In conclusion, Budō, the art of distancing is the best way to keep us protected. As a full-time home resident, when you go shopping, use the distance of a Ken to limit the risks of infection.

A few days after the Tsunami hit Fukushima, I called Hatsumi Sensei on the phone. When I asked him, if he planned to leave Noda, he answered “Banpen Fugyō”, “10 000 attacks, no surprise.” (10) This is the attitude you should have. Don’t complain about confinement at home as you cannot change it. Use this time to do or finish all the things you have been postponing for months, or for years. The pandemic time at home can be profitable, turn it into an opportunity. And make “Kyori” (11) out of “Kyori” (2), a “huge profit” for yourself.

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1 道のり, Michi no ri / Dō no ri: distance; journey; itinerary​, path (e.g. to one’s goal); way; process; route; road
2 距離, Kyori: distance, range
3 間, Aida, Ken: space (between); gap; interval; distance​, time (between); pause; break​. Span (temporal or spatial); stretch; period (while)​. Relationship (between, among)​, members (within, among)
4 道, Dō: Road; path; street; route​; way; set of practices; rules for conducting oneself​
5 武, Bu: martial arts
6 居留民, Kyoryūmin: A resident
7 曲尺, Kanejaku: carpenter’s square (for checking angles)​, common shaku (unit of distance; approx. 30.3 cm)
8 https://taikosource.com/glossary/kanejaku/
9https://www.traditionaloven.com/tutorials/distance/convert-japan-ken-unit-to-centimeter-cm.html
10 万変不驚, Banpen Fugyō. Read the excellent post by Luke Crocker https://medium.com/classical-martial-arts/banpen-fugyo-9bbbc64a9487
11 巨利, Kyori: Huge profit

Omnia Causa Flunt

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

 

Omnia causa flunt, “Everything happens for a reason.”

I like this Latin expression. This is precisely the same in Budō. We don’t do movements to look good, but to stay alive. If being elegant was the goal, we would be dead. At war, the only goal is to stay alive, to carry out the mission. In life, awareness will do the same. If you want to live a successful life, you have to accept the law of causality. Because whether you want it or not, “Everything happens for a reason.”

During the warring period of feudal Japan, the Samurai might have followed the same rule. Marshal Bugeaud, a French officer from the 19th century, said, “at war there are principles, but they are few.” It is the same in Budō and in life.

Hereunder are six basic principles that each practitioner should train and apply. Let’s review them together. They are suitable for Budō and for life.

Don’t fight!

That is the best principle of all. Often, speaking and communicating will get you out of a bad situation. But it will not work every time, and you will not be able to avoid the attacks. Then accept it, stay relaxed and let your training do it for you. The same applies to Budō and in life.

Don’t get hit

Don’t dream! In a fight, you will get hit, and it will be painful. Abandon any romantic vision displayed by the movies. You are not an actor in Hollywood, this is the real world. Wake up! Focus on the situation you are facing, and limit as much as you can, the efficiency of your opponent. The same applies to Budō and in life.

Keep a proper and correct distance.

This is the first thing to do. If you are out of reach, UUke will not touch you. Now don’t overestimate your chances. When you have a gun in a holster and him a knife in his hand, you cannot draw fast enough if he is at less than 8 meters. So instead of trying, move away from his line of attack. It is always better to avoid direct confrontation. The same applies to Budō and in life.

Move out of the line of attack.

To do so, you have to react by the lines of cutting, punching or kicking. Against a sword, visualise the plane of cutting and stay out of it. Training your distance and understanding the angles will keep you safe. Move where your attacker will not be expecting you. Every attack generates dead corners preventing the opponent from getting you. Learn these. Usually it is by putting the attacking fist or weapon between you and Uke’s body. His body will serve as a shield. Look at how Sensei is always well positioned. Don’t be a target. The same applies to Budō and in life.

Expect the moves

Expect Uke’s moves, understand the loss of balance consecutive to his actions. When you move at the right moment, the attacker is unable to change his direction and to adjust his actions in time. If he does, it will be detrimental to his balance. He will crash faster. The momentum of his movements will make him fail. Your ability to expect what is coming next is the key to your success. The same applies to Budō and in life.

Send false signals

Begin one thing and do something else. A deception is a vital tool in your arsenal. The body reacts before the brain has time to analyse what is happening. Thus any move out of the logic forces Uke to change his attack, but this is useless. The momentum of the initial steps will forbid him to change his movements. The same applies to Budō and in life.

When you look at this list, you have, more or less, the exact definition of the Mutō Dori we learn these days in Japan. What Hatsumi Sensei teaches is not mechanical anymore. It is a holistic understanding of life and Budō. This allows us to get the intelligence of the moment. His Mutō Dori is not limited to Budō, it is something that you can use in your everyday actions. Every move we learn was not created by chance. The waza are there because they are useful. When it comes to applying these techniques, everything is always “undecided.” This is how Sensei’s movements look so natural.

The reason why he moves the way he does is that his body has ingrained all movements. He expresses them now without thinking. He is Mutōsei, uncontrolled (1), and because of that, he can control the attackers.

Omnia Causa Flunt, “Everything happens for a reason.”

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1 無統制, Mutōsei. Uncontrolled

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omnia

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Put The Bar High, But Not Too High

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

When you want to improve your skills, you have to define your objectives. How you choose them will make you successful or not.

Success is not only about reaching your goal, but it is also how you passed the obstacles on your way to getting to it. Saint Exupery wrote, “what matters is not to reach your destination, but to walk towards it.” (1) That is why you have to find goals that will force you to overcome some difficulties. But as in the Indiana Jones movie, I would say “Choose wisely!”

If your goals are too easy to get, you will not improve. When you have low standards, you get low abilities. I see many people on the mats with small objectives, they reach them, but do not get anything in exchange. Then it is better not to define any goal at all! Everything you gain without hard work in this life is not suitable for your development. It is a loss of what you could get by having higher standards. When your standards are poor, you don’t evolve, you regress.

A real goal has to be challenging to reach, but it has to be reachable. If your goals are too high, you will never get to them. And as a consequence, you might lose faith in yourself and quit. Quitting is never the right solution. The “keep going” principle given by Sensei at the start of the Bujinkan adventure is our strength. More than a quote, it is a credo.

Never give up. Fail and try again. As the Japanese saying says “Fall 7 times, get up 8 times.” (2) Failure is always your best teacher.

In defining those goals, you have to get a chance to be successful. Success is a state of mind. If you become successful in the dōjō by improving your skills, you will find the same success in any endeavour you do.

Success is also a habit that you build every day through failure. The late Arthur Ashe said, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” (3) The doing is often more important than the outcome. That is where Budō becomes a school of life. Your evolution on the mats will reflect in your daily life, and lead to happier living. Everything is connected.

I hope it is now clear how important it is to set achievable goals for your practice. This will have a positive effect on your life and bring you happiness. Isn’t being happy what Hatsumi Sensei teaches at every class?

We will never be perfect, as perfection is divine, but our commitment to Budō brings us every day closer to it. The more we train, the better we get. Our techniques get more straightforward and efficient.

Here is another quote by Saint Exupery. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” (4)

Get rid of your self-imposed limits, aim high (but not too high) and be the happiest Budōka you can be.

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1 “Ce qui importe, ce n’est pas d’arriver, mais d’aller vers.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry in “Citadelle”
2 七転び八起き, Nana korobi ya oki. Fall 7 times, get up 8 times
3 Arthur Ashe was a great American tennis player in the seventies. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Ashe
4 “La perfection est atteinte, non pas lorsqu’il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais lorsqu’il n’y a plus rien à retirer.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry

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Make Mistakes By Doing New things

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

IMG_20171125_104614This week should have been Senō sensei’s birthday. And thinking about his classes at the honbu, it reminded me of the soft precision he used in his teachings. He was also the only Dai Shihan asking to be hit, to show the perfect timing. His Taijutsu was impressive, and he was never afraid of making mistakes. We should be doing the same.

Somehow it resonates with my recent article on failure. You must make mistakes to improve our Taijutsu. (1) I spoke about Shippai, failure. But Shippai also means a mistake. (2) As often in Japanese, an action (mistake) can be a result (failure).

The moment you decide to change, you make errors. And as a consequence, you improve your skills. Albert Einstein said, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” We have to stop being afraid of change, and always try new things. This is the path Sensei is showing us to develop our Taijutsu. Accept it today, even if I know how hard it is to turn a decision into action.

Humans are reluctant to leave their comfort zone, they avoid trying new things. Humans love routine and hate changes. Even though we know that in life (or in a fight) everything is about accepting change. Did you know that “Henka” that we translate by “variation” also means “the beginning and the end of change?” (3)

Because we make mistakes, we can correct them and get better at our Taijutsu. Any new learning, or any further action we take, will see us fail. Accepting our errors is the best way to excel one day. With each try, we change the form until we reach the correct way to do it. What is wrong becomes good. But this way to train demands to be relaxed. This is why stiffness in the body or in the mind while training cannot be. Hatsumi Sensei often tells us to relax. Only when you release all tensions, that change is possible. 

In an ancient interview, Sensei explained that “what is not natural is not in harmony with life. Life changes constantly, everything is naturally evolutive, because nothing is static. In this perspective, everything that tends to remain static is not natural. And thereby, because it goes against nature, is doomed to disappear for it is fruitless.” The nine schools survived all these centuries because they didn’t remain static.

Humans learn new things because they make mistakes. The late Senō sensei used to tell us that when learning a new form, we make big mistakes at first. And then, through repetition, we make smaller ones, until they nearly disappear. Step by step, we get the correct movement and get it right.

“Machigai” also means a mistake. (4) So please accept “Machigai” and don’t “Machigae,” “wait to change.” Do it now! (5)

To accept change is the key to adaptation, and to natural movement
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1 https://kumablog.org/2019/12/05/are-you-a-failure/
2 失敗, Shippai: Failure; mistake; blunder
3 変化, Henka. change; variation; alteration; mutation; transition; transformation; transfiguration; metamorphosis
4 間違い, Machigai: mistake; error; blunder​. Accident; mishap; trouble​. Improper conduct; indiscretion
5 待ち替え, Machigae: Machi, waiting; waiting time. Gae, change; alteration; substitute.

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Value What You Have

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

 

FB_IMG_1575890665755The Bujinkan created by Sōke is like a treasure, but few practitioners understand what it is, or how much it is worth. There is a Japanese saying for people not valuing what they have. It is “Neko ni koban,” as our “casting pearls before swine.” (1)

The Bujinkan is a treasure because of its techniques, like any other martial art. But also because it transforms us into human beings. My Budō brother Daniel Hernandez left Japan today with a beautiful message to sensei and to us. Here are some sentences that are taken from it. (2)

I don’t come to Japan only to train, but mainly to see you (Sōke), to see your eyes, feel your immense love, and to know that you are well. You are the only lighthouse in my life. (…) And I come here for the most important thing, you, my dear master. (…) Thank you in advance to all my brothers, and Bujinkan friends, to take good care of Sōke.

If your vision of the Bujinkan limits itself only to the technical aspect, it is good, but it is not enough. The Bujinkan is a holistic experience. And Waza is as valuable as the calligraphy session. The Bujinkan experience is bathing you in a mix of Waza, Japanese and Asian culture, language, and meaning of life. This complex mix allows you to find the best in yourself, and to get rid of the negative aspects in you. But, here, too, not everyone succeeds.

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Over the years, I saw many practitioners entering the path fully committed, and then leaving after a few years. They judged that the commitment was too high a price to pay for their ego. And I can accept that.

There is nothing wrong with loving the mechanical moves of Budō. If it is your case, I have to tell you that you are not Bujinkan. Sōke teaches at all levels and people like Daniel or myself, have been “educated” by Sensei’s vision of Budō. The men we are today have nothing to compare with what we were at the beginning.

All those years of travels and training. All those private moments with Hatsumi Sensei, have carved us into a better version of human. We are not perfect, but we are still walking the path under his guidance and his care for humanity. Sensei is a beautiful human being, and his love has been spreading all over the planet through his Budō. He gave the world a new vision of Budō that will last and blossom.

Stop arguing on social media about changes happening these days. They are not necessary. Stay focus on your training, trying to get what Sōke is teaching us. It is more essential than fighting techniques. Sensei is showing happiness, love, and tolerance. And between two Shutō and locks, we have to do the same.

Begin to value the extraordinary we have to be around a man like him. And don’t be the one not appreciating this beauty.

Stop wasting your time, (3) and accept this marvelous gift that Sensei is giving us.

Value what you have!

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1 猫に小判, Neko ni koban: Literally: Gold coins to a cat. Meaning: Casting pearls before swine / Giving something of value to a recipient that does not value it.
2 From my Budō brother Daniel Hernandez
おせばになりました いろいろと どうも ありがと ございました でわ また どぞ よろしく おねがいします.
De Corazón a Corazón ♥, I Shin Den Shin. Así recibí de usted querido Sōke sus enseñanzas, sólo agradecer todo el cariño brindado a través de los años. Espero sepan entender, ya no vengo a 日本 a practicar, sólo vengo a verlo a ud 先生, ver sus ojos, sentir su inmenso amor, y saber que está bien. Sólo ud 先生 es mi faro. Y no es por que no pueda seguir aprendiendo, de todos puedo y debo aprender. Pero estoy aquí por lo más importante, usted querido Maestro. Agradezco a mis Hermanos y amigos, y les dejo un pedido, cuiden a 先生 por favor. Makoto de Gozaimasu.
3 “Neko ni koban” also means “great waste.” Daniel Hernandez left Japan with a nice post on Facebook.

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