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Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 7: 中心 chuushin

Hatsumi Sensei and Michael Glenn
I got off the plane and went straight to the dojo. This is extreme. And maybe a little foolish.

I got up at 5am in California, went to the airport to fly across the Pacific Ocean for around 12 hours. When I land in Japan, I get on one train for an hour, then another for half an hour, and the last one to the dojo for another half hour.

When I arrived for Hatsumi Sensei’s class, he decided to throw me around the dojo. Then I got back on a train to go check in at my hotel. When I finally lay in bed, it is 22 or 23 hours since I left home. But I lay awake trying to understand what just happened in training.

Even if I only had this one class, the whole trip was worth it. Hatsumi Sensei was teaching us about control. But it is not accomplished by purely physical means. In fact he said, “Don’t grab, it’s neither grabbing nor not grabbing.”

What is in between grabbing and not grabbing when you are trying to control someone? This in between space is what he was trying to show us. And here is a huge revelation for your training if you are ready for it. Soke said,
“Don’t do more than necessary by grabbing. But trying NOT to grab is also doing too much. you have to be in the middle. that middle space is where you can disappear.” 
What does this type of control look like? Well, I just felt it and witnessed it in the Bujinkan Honbu dojo. The opponent ends up fighting himself. Soke was doing this against knife attacks. And every time the attack came in, Soke pivoted around it and was able to redirect the knife so the attacker stabbed or cut himself.

This can happen when you are neither taking nor not taking. But what you do “take” are things you can’t see. Those in between things, those invisible things are really controlling the opponent. とってでとってない totte de tottenai.

Soke threw his opponents very painfully. But they couldn’t take ukemi because he controlled them. He laughed and said 親切 shinsetsu. which is the word for kindness, but the kanji means killing the parents. Like you’re killing them with kindness. He said that throwing them is a type of kindness.

He also used the word たすけて tasukete which suggests that he is helping them find the destruction they seek. You are helping them and using kindness to throw them, but then you have to be able to immediately kill them. Kill them with kindness.

I watched as he demonstrated a type of 手の内 tenouchi which is the way of using the palm or the fingers. He would catch the opponent’s finger right in the center or palm of his hand and move it around like a joystick.

He told us 力を感じさせない chikara o kanji sasenai… don’t let the opponent feel your power. You control through connection, but when you connect these ideas, they become zero.

Remember, it’s not your hand that is connecting to the opponent… and it’s not the place on the opponent where you put your hand…. it’s the connection. It’s the zero in the middle. In between your hand and the opponent is where the connection exists.

When you block or place a hand on the opponent, it’s neither the hand or the opponent that matters. It’s the connection or the place in between. That moment of zero.

Soke says we are studying mutō dori. And when we do mutō dori we are not really taking their weapon. He said we are taking 中心 chuushin, or their central point. This is their essence or core spirit.  Another way to write the kanji for 衷心 chuushin can mean their innermost feelings or inner spirit. Hatsumi sensei called this type of control “zero-style.”

Soke reminded us that he cannot teach this. We have to discover it for ourselves. We have to try to get this feeling from him in person.

I had travelled 5497 miles or 8,846 km for tonight’s class. I closed my eyes and dropped my head into the 蕎麦殻枕 sobagara pillow. I was exhausted, but for a lifelong budo addict like me, every mile was worth it!
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Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 6: 神経 Shinkei

Ricky, Kiwa, and Michael on our way to the Bujinkan Honbu
I got up really early on Sunday to meet a new Japanese friend in the train station. He had been training in a Bujinkan dojo in Tokyo until his teacher died. I was sad to hear about the death of his teacher who had been Soke’s uke for many years. And I was very surprised to learn that my new friend had never been to the Bujinkan Honbu dojo to train with Hatsumi Sensei.

I decided to risk breaking some kind of Japanese formality or etiquette that I was unaware of and invite my friend to train with us today. I hoped that Soke would be happy to meet him. We never know what these connections might bring.

In Hatsumi Sensei’s class everything he taught was about using small points of connection for control. He demonstrated this with with his fingertips. In one moment he slapped the opponent in the eye with his index finger. Then he showed us how to line up the body and the shoulder behind one finger as if it was a sword.

Then you pivot around that point. When you pivot around this small point, you control the opponent’s kamae, his balance, or the point of pain.

Soke said,
“With the fingertips being able to 変えるkaeru. You've got to be able to do this just with your fingers. it's not a technique. you don't really feel like moving much, right?"
Soke said he was controlling through connection. Connect to the opponent’s movement, but also what he is thinking and feeling. Once you make that connection you can control him. Control his body, thoughts, and his feelings through this connection.

But he emphasized,
“You’re not controlling one specific point, you’re controlling everything. I said by the fingers, but it’s not really the fingers. It’s about control. It looks like it’s happening at the fingers but it’s actually happening with the whole body.”
Soke used the word 神経 shinkei. This is a sensitivity through the nerves.
“Study this way of controlling through connection. Connect with what he's thinking or he's feeling. It's not technique. you have to be connected with him like this. You can't teach this. If you try to avoid, you're going to break that connection.”
This is not something you do with your own human intention. Shinkei is instinctual like an autonomic response that your body has if you are sensitive enough.

You use the small parts of your body. To demonstrate Soke began to wiggle his ears and we all laughed. Then he said to take the small things and connect to the big things in the kukan and then use that connection.

This is the correct 空間利用 kukan riyō or use of space. When you connect with a finger, it is a small thing or point. But it connects to a big thing which is the conflict or your opponent’s aggression. You use that small connection (NOT the finger… the connection itself) to control.

Hatsumi Sensei said we create a vacuum and have this “mood.” Soke used a play on words between English ムード muudo and Japanese 無道 mudou or even 武道 budou. You are being led by the martial arts into zero. Going between mood and the way of emptiness or formlessness. We are led by the martial arts into zero and become zero through the martial arts.

During the break, Hatsumi Sensei painted a dragon for my new Japanese friend. Many of our other Japanese Shihan and buyu were very friendly and welcoming to him. Maybe in time he will find his new teacher in the Bujinkan.

UP NEXT: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 7: 中心 chuushin
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Ninja True: Bujinkan Iceland

I visit Iceland to share some Bujinkan lessons from training in Japan with Hatsumi Sensei. As you will see, I have made my own Icelandic saga and many new friends:
https://youtu.be/Dmynj-nntCM

Also, if you want to always be the first to hear about my current Bujinkan training, please subscribe here
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A Pattern 荒む Growing Wild: Bujinkan Strategies of control Part 5

Nezu Bamboo. photo by Michael Glenn
Have you ever leaned against a tree and felt the wind blowing the whole trunk? It is an interesting feeling because the trunk feels so solid, yet it sways in the wind. Even a small breeze can shift the whole thing.

One Tuesday night in the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo I felt this from Hatsumi Sensei. It was so soft and subtle that it would be easy to miss. And at this point, Soke said,
“Don't do too much. Whether it's in contact or not, you're moving away. But you're not trying to do it. 力を感じさせない chikara o kanji sasenai.”
Chikara o kanji sasenai. This means you don’t let the opponent feel your power.  You don’t let him feel any technique from you. Or any force, or power. You may use force and power, but you want to use it in a way that he cannot feel it! Then when it affects him, he has no idea where it comes from or how to counter it.

That afternoon I had spent some time in a bamboo grove near 関さんの森 Seki-san no mori. The breeze was quite strong. I stared in wonder at the movement of the very tall bamboo as they swayed and squeaked against each other in the sky above me. I placed my hand on one of the culms. I felt it move my palm softly.

In this way you do not telegraph or give away your intent. This is a fascinating way of using taijutsu. You are responsive to your opponent, but not fighting.

Hatsumi Sensei showed this again when his opponent grabbed his wrist. He told us,
 “He will have the tendency (勝ち gachi) to relax his grab so you wait for that. Then you move with 雅致 gachi (artistry or grace) to control with your feet. Study this connection.”
He then told us we should float the opponent in the kukan. What does that mean? Well, imagine a heavy object like a bundle of bamboo. It would be hard to push around with one finger. But if it were floating as a raft in the water, you could push and turn it through the water with very little force. Even if someone were sitting on it, you could still move it easily.

This is what happens to your opponent when you float him in the kukan. Hatsumi Sensei said that one of the themes for the Jugodans in this type of training was to be able to apply a technique without really doing it. He told us to not use any technique, yet have it happen anyway.

He described it as 荒むのパターン susamu no pataan. This is a pattern of wildness. There's no pattern but it's all connected.

This is challenging to get your mind around. If you think of a technique like omote gyaku, or ganseki nage, these are techniques that you normally have to do yourself. And we train hard to learn to apply them correctly. But for us Jugodans, we have to have these techniques happen without actually doing them ourselves.

One clue for how to do this was when Soke told us to break the balance in the space. You do this by becoming the kukan yourself. If you become the kukan, there is no pattern and you can be free. This is the kind of control he wants us to embody.

UP NEXT: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 6: 神経 Shinkei

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Muto Dori With Marishiten

Michael Glenn 

at 摩利支天 徳大寺 Marishiten tokudaiji


The other night in Hatsumi Sensei's class I ran to grab a bokken from the weapon rack. When I returned, my training partner was waiting for my attack so he could try the muto Dori technique that Soke had just demonstrated.

When I cut down I had a great surprise. Hatsumi Sensei appeared from behind my training partner. He pushed my training partner aside so that I was cutting at Soke instead!

I thought that I hit something but Soke was beside me laughing. Somehow I missed. He said that I should learn this feeling.

This year one of the main themes of the training in Japan is Muto Dori. Anyone who has cut at Soke will tell you that he disappears or even splits in two. 

That was what I experienced this time. It was like there were two of him. I hit one but that was an illusion. 

I've often struggled to understand the reality behind this. Even though I can sometimes do this with my own students, the act remains elusive from any explanation.

But today I was lucky. Hatsumi Sensei gave us a big clue later on in the class. He showed a knife evasion and he said to move like the heat wave from  摩利支天 Marishiten. He said this as an aside to his uke and then he moved on. 

Marishiten is a goddess I have some familiarity with. One of the very first shrines I visited in Japan was  摩利支天徳大寺 Marishiten tokudaiji in Tokyo. This place is a bit hidden in the middle of a very urban market.

Marishiten is very important for warriors and for ninja. She protects because she uses illusion to help us disappear from our enemies. In Mikkyō (esoteric Buddhism), there are mantra and mudra which are said to make a warrior invisible.

Marishiten appears like a ray of light or mirage. Her image is like a shimmering heat that bends light. Under her protection, anyone who attacks us would be blinded by illusion.

The illusion comes in rays of shimmering light. When you look, it is like staring into the sun, and Marishiten charges from within this brilliance. 

When Soke said this a subtle light went off in my brain. This ineffable feeling he wanted me to understand was now more than just an odd experience I feel when I attack him.  You have to see more than the illusion.

Maybe my training is to grasp the nature of the mirage and illusion that arises from Marishiten. This is one aspect of Hatsumi Sensei's lesson to me. But an odd side effect of this knowledge it is that I can now learn to counter this. 

The mirage of Marishiten is a type of blindness. Once you can see and pierce through this veil, what lies beyond it grows clearer. I do not know what surprises Soke has waiting for me when I see past this layer, but I suspect it will open like the lotus blossom.

Marishiten is often depicted standing on a lotus. But her more angry form is shown standing on the back of a wild boar. Hopefully I will see flowers instead of beasts!
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