What Did Hatsumi Sensei Say Four Times in the First Four Minutes of Training?

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Michael

聖観世音菩薩立像 on top of 万人塚 Banninzuka. photo Michael Glenn
In December, during a Friday night class at the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo, Hatsumi Sensei repeated a word four times in the first four minutes of class. In fact, he said it both as a statement and a question as if we just didn’t get it. ゆっくりかな。 Yukkuri, kana?

First, he had Nagase Sensei stab at him and he said,
We’re not studying the form, we’re studying muto dori. ゆっくり。 (Yukkuri)
ゆっくり Yukkuri got translated as, “Go slowly or take your time.” But those words in English don’t capture the full idea.

A moment later Soke repeated,
The feeling is very important. ゆっくり。(Yukkuri). You can create this lock here on the elbow. Take the knife. It has to be connected like this. This kind of feeling is important. ゆっくりと。(Yukkuri to)
My training partner stabbed at me and I tried to use the feeling that Soke had just shared. But I saw Soke glance at me and he interrupted the entire class again to demonstrate,
This feeling. ゆっくりかな。
This was said like a question, "Yukkuri, kana?"

Well, I did wonder. The translation was to go slowly. But in the first four minutes of class Soke had used three or four different ukes and did several henka, all while stressing the importance of yukkuri. Not very slow at all.

Up until that moment, I had a slow day. I visited a memorial for the 明暦の大火 Meireki no taika,  also known as the Furisode fire.  Which was rumored to start from the burning of a teenager's cursed kimono.

Here I said a prayer at the 万人塚 Banninzuka. This mound of a million souls was set up by the Shogun to bury the many nameless victims of that great fire that killed more than 100,000 people. The gravesite is still a burial place for anyone who has no relatives to look after their funeral.

On the way to the dojo, I bought a coffee at the konbini in the train station. The store clerk was a middle aged man wearing a Santa hat. He asked if I needed a bag. I replied, シールでいいです。 He made a goofy smile as he stuck a piece of tape on the can.

Japanese is full of little phrases that have different meanings in context. Yukkuri is one that you will hear often in Hatsumi Sensei’s class. It can mean to move slowly. But a more subtle meaning is to move at your own pace, in a relaxed way.

You don’t want your opponent to set the tempo of the fight. One time Soke told us,
You don't have to move fast. Slowly, slowly… like a snake that is hunting its prey. You wrap him up with your own body.
And another time Tezuka-san stabbed and Soke faded back. He said,
Yukkuri. Keep it connected. With this feeling, you become almost like a (妖怪 youkai) spirit or a monster.
When you are able to move at your on pace, in this leisurely way, you draw power from all around. Hatsumi Sensei said that we Daishihan are always taking the Godan test. We must have this connection of the air and of the wind, a connection of the kukan. It is the same idea whether giving or taking the Godan test, where a kind of Divine connection is important.

That is where the power comes from.

Next to the 万人塚 Banninzuka where I said my prayer earlier in the day, there is another mound. It is called 力塚 Chikarazuka, a power mound. It was built as a memorial to past Sumo wrestlers. Now the young ones pray there to draw upon the power of their elders.

I didn’t pray there, because I draw power from Soke and my teachers at the Honbu dojo. We are lucky to have this living art that is not buried in mounds and monuments. I will continue to train Yukkuri, at ease and with my own pace.

Noguchi Sensei Surprised Us With Gikan Ryu

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Michael

Noguchi Sensei Shares 40+ year old Gikan Ryu notes. photo by Michael Glenn

They love to crank up the heat in the Bujinkan Honbu. I find it too hot on most days. But today I had been doing photography out in the cold pouring rain, so I found myself ready to embrace the warmth of the dojo.

Noguchi Sensei greeted me when he arrived. He normally shares a few jokes with me, but today he seemed very focused.

Less than 20 students were waiting for him to bow in. He did so promptly as is his custom. Then he announced we were doing Gikan Ryu kata.

I was surprised. In more than 30 years I have not been shown these from any teacher. In between kata, Noguchi Sensei showed me a tattered notebook with the kata handwritten in a numbered sequence. He told me these were his actual notes from more than 40 years ago when Hatsumi Sensei taught these only to him.

if you are interested, I recorded a video of my experiences for 特訓 Tokkun members of Rojodojo: Bujinkan Kuden: Gikan Ryu with Noguchi Sensei

The class was quick and painful. This is koppojutsu after all. But Noguchi Sensei was precise and true to his notes with each initial demonstration of the kata. He even reread them and made corrections if he forgot something.

The heaters in the dojo were blowing strong. I was dripping sweat from the punishing attacks. But I did not care at all.

A feature of Gikan Ryu is lateral strikes. They hit the opponent in multiples. And the rhythm creates a new fist with each kyusho. Most of my body is marked or swollen right now reminding me of the targets.

There were taijutsu, daisho sabaki, and muto dori forms included in the text. And Noguchi Sensei even contributed some tessen henka.

After class, Sensei seemed very relaxed. I asked him what his plans were for that evening. He said he was going out drinking. He laughed and added that he did this on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays… etc.

I watched him pack up the blue 40 year old notebook and I waved goodnight. I toweled off the sweat because I had class with Soke in less than an hour.

Here’s What is Happening at Bujinkan 冬修業 Fuyu Shūgyō 2020

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Michael

Leandro Erlich's "Port of Reflections" at 森美術館, photo by Michael Glenn
In my dojo, we set a theme for each season of training. In the upcoming seminar on January 19th we will explore this theme with a sincere and direct effort. The winter season hints at 平常心是道 heijō-shin kore dō, a calm heart is the way.

I encourage any teachers who want this extra dimension for their teaching to train with me when the season is right. If you have passed the Godan, you should be able to know the right season for these things. If you don’t yet have that skill, train with the right teacher!

The topics we cover come from my own training in Japan last month. You will be surprised by some rarely taught techniques. And we will take a cue from Wumen Huikai’s (1183-1260) expression of how to have a peaceful mind or a calm heart during every season:

春有百花秋有月,夏有凉风冬有雪,若无闲事挂心头,便是人间好时节

“Hundreds of flowers in spring,
And in autumn, the moon.
A cool breeze in summer,
And in winter, the snow.
When useless things do not hang in one’s mind,
It is [always] a good season for [any] man.”

Don’t hang useless things in your mind! If you are a martial artist you must train. Don’t just think about it uselessly. For me, I don’t think about going to the dojo, I just go!

And you may have heard me say, "I never regret going to training. But I always regret the training I missed!" So we will be clear minded about this and train sincerely all year.

Here are a few dates for 2020 if you’d like to train with me during this season

冬修業 Fuyu Shūgyō Jan 19
春修業 Haru Shugyo April 19
夏修業 Natsu Shūgyō July 26
秋修業 Aki Shūgyō Oct 18


text me if you are ready to go: (424) 272-6307

Don’t let the trivialities of life get in the way. Push aside any delusions that cloud the mind. Cut through the invisible barrier with the sword of 平常心 heijō-shin!

Don’t Rattle Your 忍者刀 Ninjatō

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Michael

Mt Fuji all the way from Kashiwa, photo by Michael Glenn
Hatsumi Sensei surprises me with his teaching. The night before I left for Japan, we studied 忍者刀 Ninjatō in my own dojo. Then, on Friday night in Soke’s class at the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo, he taught one of the secrets of this weapon.

I try to prepare for these lessons, yet I am still surprised. I suppose the only way is to always be ready. This is the ukemi of being Hatsumi Sensei’s student.

I landed at Narita Airport around 5pm local time. My normal plan is to run through immigration and customs as fast as Japanese bureaucracy will allow. Then catch a two hour train ride straight to Hatsumi Sensei’s class.

One hour into the train ride I began to lose my motivation. Warm trains make me sleepy. That, and the 20 hours of travel that wasn’t over yet.

I stood up to shake off the tired. It was already dark out, and the train cabin was reflected back to us in the window. I leaned my head against the door to watch the lights pass outside.

It looked wet and miserable out. I already felt the cold when I transferred at the last station. But when my eyes adjusted to the dark I couldn’t believe what I saw between the railroad ties. Patches of snow flashed by like a flickering reel of film!

It was only November. Snow in Tokyo is extremely rare this time of year. I already had two shirts on, and now I pulled a hoodie over those.

The old Atago station was dark and quiet. My breath fogged. A patch of snow crunched under my boot. During my walk to the dojo I wondered if class was cancelled.

I came around the corner and I could see the lights were on. I marveled at the snow on the rooftop. I slid open the door… Konbanwa!

A warm crowd inside and many old friends greeted me. I changed quickly into my gi. Was I ready? I don’t know, at least I was there.

Hatsumi Sensei taught at an intense pace. He started off class at the highest levels of training. It was all about letting go and 空間利用 kukan riyō, using the kukan.

The train passed by and shook the building.

"Hai, OK!" Soke called out. Then he started with the 忍者刀 Ninjatō and I paid close attention. Someya Sensei cut in at him...

Hatsumi Sensei was in 棟水之構 Tōsui no Kamae. He lifted his blade softly as if to shield against the katana. Someya tried to cut again. Soke let his sword slip and then smacked it into Someya’s neck without cutting.

He told us one of the themes this year was 一刀万方 Ittō Banpō, which is one sword, many possibilities. It may also be written 一刀万宝 Ittō Banpō which means one sword, many treasures.

There are many treasures in the study of the Ninja-tō.  Hatsumi Sensei wrote
忍者の剣は、闇夜の剣を避けがたし
This can be read many ways. One interpretation is that “the sword of the ninja doesn’t rattle in the dark of the night”. In other words, avoid rattling your sword.

What does that mean beyond being stealthy? Lucky for us Hatsumi Sensei has also shared this gokui in relation to the Ninja-to:
抜かず勝て、抜けば切るなよ、ただ忍べ、命をとるは大事とぞ知れ
Win without drawing the sword
if you draw it, don’t cut
Simply persevere
Know the significance
Of taking a life.
When Hatsumi Sensei smacked the blade against Someya’s neck he was demonstrating this principle. He even told us that night that we were all too quick to use the sword. He said that when we tried to use the sword, we missed the kyojitsu.

I hold onto these memories and lessons from Soke like treasures. During the first hour of my train ride (which you can watch part of here: Ninja True: How to get to the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo) I caught a glimpse of Mt Fuji in the distance. The slope of Fuji Sama seemed to hold the burnt sunset for every last bit of warmth.

Bujinkan 秋修業 Aki Shūgyō 2019

From Bujinkan Santa Monica by Michael

邃渓園 Suikeien at 帝釈天題経寺 photo by Michael Glenn
This fall we will have our 秋修業 Aki Shūgyō on Oct 20. This training event sets the Bujinkan theme for our fall training. The training theme is set to take over the season. We will move from  哀れみ Awaremi to 楽しみ Tanoshimi.

Not for Everyone! Only the most dedicated teachers are willing to go on a 修業 Shugyo. Only the most dedicated students commit to the adventure. Are you in?

text or call: (424) 272-6307 to RSVP

Our theme comes from the clue Hatsumi Sensei gave us when he matched the seasons with 喜怒哀楽 kidoairaku, or human emotions. In fighting, we normally strive to remove emotion, or at least, not let it control us.

But the ura waza, or hidden technique, is to harness the power contained in emotion. We draw it out of our enemy to use against them. Maybe on a deep level, we can even tap the power of emotion from within ourselves.

Hatsumi Sensei told us we must learn 遊びの中真実 Asobi no naka shinjitsu, or the truth hidden within play.

This is training Fresh From Japan. 修業 Shugyo is the pursuit of knowledge. Learn about Bujinkan themes straight from my recent Japan trip. And Get connected to the most current training.

text or call: (424) 272-6307 to RSVP

Can you do the work? A 修業 Shugyo is not supposed to be easy. You get hours of hard training. And inspiration for months of discovery.