Was Odysseus in Dubai?

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After two weeks in Tōkyō, I am now giving a few classes here in Dubai. The group of Bujinkan UAE, led by Anjaan is doing well, and new faces have appeared on the mats. The beauty of this training group is that it changes a lot as people come to work in Dubai for a limited time. Also, it is a melting pot of nationalities from the Middle-east, to Asia, Europe, and the Americas. They should call it the “Babbel dōjō!”

I’m often travelling to Dubai when I’m back from Japan or India. I love to stop here for a few classes when I can. However, my post today is not about Dubai, but about how wrong we can be as a result of expectations and overconfidence.

We know the tale of Odysseus coming back from the Trojan war. And his neverending 10-year trip back home to Ithaca. (1) During his adventures, Odysseus had to pass the dangerous Strait of Messina (Sicily). The legend said that two sea monsters the protected it: Charybdis and Scylla. (2) (3)

I was sad to leave Japan but happy to get out of the deadly heat wave. Training on this trip was more demanding and resembled a sauna experience. Naively, I thought that the Dubai heat would be drier. I was wrong! Like Odysseus, I went from one heat monster into another one.

The same lack of awareness or discernment is common when we train. In Budō, we call these “sea monsters”: expectations, and over-confidence. In Mutō Dori, expectations are wrong because there is no technique, thus nothing to expect. Moreover, if you are overconfident in your abilities, the wake-up call can be painful.
dubaiheatDo not expect anything, but be prepared for everything.

Speaking with Anjaan yesterday, he said, “this is like mixing the Dunning-Kruger effect with Murphy’s law!” That is so true!

Reminders
“In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.” (4) Murphy’s law needs no explanation. (5)

On Expectations
Before I left Tōkyō, Anjaan wrote that many students are on holidays. However, yesterday thirteen participants joined this first class. So that was unexpected. Do what to do to the best of your possibilities even if you are alone. Excellence doesn’t need an audience!
On Overconfidence
At the Bujinkan UAE dōjō, I did my best to share what Sensei did in Japan, but I couldn’t. Because I understood what he did, I presumably thought I could do it. I was wrong.
An extended period of maturation is necessary to transfer new knowledge from the brain to the body. A few months are needed, at least, to get that in my taijutsu, if I can ever incorporate it.

Expectations and Overconfidence are not the proper Mutō Dori.

In the Bujinkan, we learn that failure is always Ok. When I took off from Narita, I knew that it would not be easy. The oracle told Odysseus, before leaving, that his return trip would take years. So, both Odysseus and I knew our fate before leaving (except that I didn’t need an oracle).

At the Bujinkan UAE dōjō yesterday, I was not “expecting” to “have it,” but I tried it anyway. There was no surprise; it was like “Banpen Fugyō” of the Gyokko Ryū. Hatsumi sensei with his Mutō Dori prepares us for it! Be always ready and never surprised!

On a side note and between you and me, Odysseus didn’t make it to Dubai. The Suez canal was not built yet, and I’m not sure that the beautiful Dubai existed yet. (6)

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6. I read that a “Suez canal alternative” existed during Greek and Roman times. Naval exchanges linked East and West through the oceans. In Cairo, a canal connected the Nile to the Red Sea. The Egyptians called it “the customs’ canal” for logical reasons. Since then, the canal doesn’t exist anymore. But I read that, in Cairo today, you can still see a greenish line caused by higher humidity in the soil. The green line is perpendicular to the Nile and heads towards the Red Sea. But, our friend Odysseus would have needed another ten years to go to Dubai and go back home.
PS: sorry for the picture. 🙂
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Good Or Bad, Keep Laughing!

Only 40 participants yesterday night at Sōke’s class. We had so much space to train that the Dōjō felt empty.
It was my last class for this trip, and Sensei taught control with taijutsu, hanbō, knife, sword, and bō.

He insisted again on the importance of control being the theme for this year practice. Controlling is beyond action. At the beginning of the class, he said that “It’s not about taking or not taking, it’s about control.” When we train, we try to copy his movements and do not focus enough on the invisible aspects of what he does. By copying the visible, we cannot grasp the subtle essence of the control. Often he will repeat the same action a few times, but he will adjust it depending on how his partner reacts. Even though we see the different movements, we only do one of his many variations.

When this happens, we tend to forget that control is not about a given technique. About Mutō Dori technique, he said, “I’m not avoiding, I’m just controlling.”

We also trained with two swords. Sensei blocked and controlled the sword of Uke, then swept it away. The sweep action was done by one body movement. This body flow creating a whiplash effect. After letting us try it a few times, he said that “I’m not spinning the sword but going with the flow. It is the body and not the sword that controls the attack.” A whole body movement is the only way to get this. To do that, keep your arms close to the torso and move the body.

Alex Meehan from Ireland was training next to me. He told me that some physiotherapist watched some videos by Sensei. This therapist doesn’t train martial arts at all. But after watching a few clips, he said, “this man [Sōke] is amazing. He has the rare ability to move each part of his body independent of the rest.”

This comment from an outsider is fascinating. We are used to seeing Sōke move the way he does. Because of habit, this prominent aspect of his body movement is so natural to us that we don’t see it anymore. Moving one part of the body, while being fully relaxed in the rest, is what makes the Bujinkan a fantastic martial art.

Unfortunately our insistence in “doing a waza,” doesn’t allow this to happen. If we want to move like Sensei one day, we have to train this.

The “nonchalance” of Sensei’s body, is how he is able to control us. He is not fighting (Tatakai wa Janai) but he is not avoiding either (Yokeru Janai). He said, “I’m teaching all aspects of control, not how to attack.” Control is a complex ability in which our actions can “fool” Uke without the mind even trying to. It is not a decision put into motion, it is a natural body attitude. To reach this, we need to train more, and for a long time.

This is why we fail so often. And this is good. Failing a lot on the mats is the only way to get it right, the day we will need it. In training, there is no right or wrong, only learning. We do our best and fail until we succeed. This is the “fake it, until you have it” principle.

In any case, good or bad, we have to be happy to train.

During the class, Sensei took the knife from Tezuka san and asked him to explain what he had felt. Tezuka san was going to speak when Sensei threw the knife at him. Still caught in his thoughts, he grabbed the knife. He was not watching and was surprised to see it in his hand. Sensei laughed and said, “It is essential to laugh whether it is good or bad.”

Sensei was in an excellent mood, and we laughed a lot. That was a memorable Bujinkan moment. I’m leaving today with this in mind, and I cannot wait to be back in a few months to continue my training with him.

“Good Or Bad, Keep Laughing!” and be happy!

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I will be back in November 2018 for Sensei’s birthday. Thank you for reading my posts,  I hope they help you. Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments. I hope to meet you on the mats one day, in Japan or during a seminar.

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Move Right Instead Of Left

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Nagato sensei always surprises me by moving his legs reverse to what I am used to doing with Noguchi sensei.
 
Each time I repeat his movements I have to think hard not to move wrong.
 
I was training with Martin from France (Naka Ima Dōjō, Lyon), he was Nagato’s “meatbag” of the day. (2) And as he trained a lot with me over the past years, he has acquired the wrong footwork to train with Nagato Sensei. Both, we had a difficult time doing the correct first step when receiving the attack. 
 
When Nagato sensei receives an attack, he steps backwards with the right foot. Then again sideways with the same leg. This creates a space in which he takes Uke’s balance in a natural manner. The distance created in this way, allows him to protect his body from the other fist and to dodge any second attack. Also, it prevents the attacker to kick immediately as Uke must first maintain his balance. A simple movement like that is why each class in Japan is important. Too often we keep doing the same moves, In fact, it is demanding to change our habits. Do not forget that coming to Japan is not a holiday. It is a time to rethink your taijutsu.
 
Humans are reluctant to change, we know it. You need to put your ego aside to get new ways to train. Coming to Japan is a chance to improve your taijutsu as a whole. I wrote many times about how boring some classes may be if you don’t try to do what the teacher is asking. When you are capable of “opening your eyes”, you discover a lot more than if you only come for an “exotic experience”.
 
The classes with Nagato sensei, Noguchi sensei and Senō sensei, are a perfect example of how you can learn from easy techniques. When the Japanese Shihan do a technique, it always looks simple. But when you try to copy what they want you to do, the simplicity vanishes and you find yourself lost on the mats.
 
During the break, Nagato sensei repeated what Hatsumi Sensei keeps saying. “at the Mutō Dori level, there is no technique.” Each time we want to do a technique we are trapped in our mind, and our body is stuck as a consequence. Apply the Muishiki concept. (2)
 
Trying to reproduce consciously the technique, is a paradox. How can you move “unconsciously” when you want to copy a technique. But still, it is the way to go. These conscious movements will become unconscious. But only when timing, angling and body flow are good.
 
My advice, after this class. Try to reverse your steps (left to right or right to left) in your next training. Whichever leg you use to be moving first, change it, and move the other one instead. You will discover a new facet of your taijutsu, hidden in plain sight.  
 
Hatsumi Sensei said once that Budō is the art of making the invisible, visible. Do that, and some invisible side of your taijutsu will come to light!
 
The Japanese Shihan have been training with Sensei more than any of us. Those great teachers were not good at the beginning. If they are good today, it is because they kept going and remodelling their certitudes into new ones. We call that progress. If you don’t progress, you stagnate.
 
Do the same and spread your wings. Budō is endless, it only ends when you die.
 
And remember, in your next class, to move the right leg instead of the left leg.
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Note to Koi ALL ACCESS members: You can see some of the movements we trained on http://www.koimartialart.com in the “Dōjō: Tips and Tricks” section. HERE
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Rekishi: History

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As far as I remember, Sunday classes at the Honbu are special. When at the old Honbu, Hatsumi Sensei always invited a few of us to lunch with him. We moved to the new Honbu in February 2015, and this tradition stopped. Sensei is now more talkative.

 

I used the word “tradition” voluntarily here. What is a tradition? Google says, “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.” What he did was to share the Bujinkan spirit with his older students (October 1997 and February 2015).
At lunch, he would take the temperature of the Bujinkan, and speak about the Bujinkan. I have good memories of those moments.

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But in the recent Sundays, Sensei moved from “tradition” to history. He often speaks now about the old Jidai. (1) With better knowledge about history, he wants us to prepare the future Jidai of the Bujinkan. (2)

He wants us to understand the symbol of Samurai warfare, the sword.

Last Sunday, he arrived from his usual sword dealer with six new swords and detailed them to us. He said, “high ranks must understand the Japanese sword. This is the key to unlock the understanding of Mutō Dori.”

IMG_20180729_120904History is significant when you train martial arts, this is not a sport. Japanese history is about survival, and these weapons made it possible.

By understanding the weapons, you get a glimpse on how you can move with them and survive in battle. And he wants the Dai Shihan to get this.

History comes from the Greek ἱστορία – historia, meaning “inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation.” It is Rekishi in Japanese. History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. (3)

IMG_20180729_120714We have to study Rekishi should and investigate it seriously. That is if you want to get the knowledge of the Samurai.

Our Waza were created during the Sengoku Jidai, (4) -what historians call the “Age of Warring States.” This period began with the Ōnin wars (1467-1477) and lasted for about a century. (5)

Oda Nobunaga emerged from this time of chaos and began the unification of the country. It will end with Hideyoshi, and bring Japan to peace with Tokugawa. This extended period of five centuries is the Bujinkan Jidai!

IMG_20180729_120028The history of the Samurai is what makes Japan so different from our own history. Initiated by Minamoto no Yoritomo with the Genpei War (fall of the Taira in 1185), a new Japan is born. (6)

The victory of Tokugawa at Sekigahara in 1600 completes the transformation. (7)

Our fighting arts are the means with which these changes were carried out on the battlefield.

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Ignoring Rekishi is limiting the Bujinkan to another sport martial arts.

Thus the reason why Sensei wants us to study it.

The dōjō logic replaces the military needs with a form of business at the beginning of the 17th century. It is very far from the Yoroi logic developed on the battlefield.

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This is during this period that the Katana (Edo) replaces the Tachi (Sengoku). As a consequence, Tameshi Giri will develop only after the Samurai stopped fighting. (8)

This is the knowledge Sensei wants us to get.

One thing Sensei said on Sunday, was that “you should know what weapon is good for you.” Study them and use the ones that fit your abilities.

The Bujinkan Rekishikan (9) covers the 12th to the 17th century.

It should be studied like any other Waza.
Rekishikan can lead to Reishikikan, and give us “the intuition to have the correct manners of a knight.” (10)

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1. Jidai 時代; period; epoch; era; age
2. Jidai 次代; the next era
3. Rekishi 歴史; history
8. In times of peace, there is no need to wear the Yoroi. It was then possible to cut with the sword instead of only stabbing (Tachi).
9. Rekishikan 歴史館; historical viewpoint
10. Reikishikan 礼騎士勘; Rei: manners, etiquette 礼; Kishi: knight 騎士; Kan: intuition 勘
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Muishiki: Unconsciousness

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These days Hatsumi Sensei arrives late and leaves late. It is not rare these days to finish three hours after the beginning. And Sensei explains a lot in class and during the breaks.

Sunday was no different. And Sensei is full of projects. He is getting a hundred Ninjatō swords to make an exposition. He wants to show the public how wrong scholars are about Ninpō. He is also preparing a new book with Kodansha on swords.

During class, a group of more than seventy were present. Sōke said that Dai Shihan should now train with a metal sword to understand the type of control of Mutō Dori. In the movements, he then detailed more of his understanding of “control.” Control is an essential part of Mutō Dori, but I guess that by now, you have figured it out.

Like in the previous sessions we did each technique with taijutsu, knife, hanbō, biken, and bō.

One concept he developed is “Muishiki,” unconsciousness. (1) This is the mental state where Mutō Dori can express itself. There are no more waza, no techniques.

What he does is beyond that. This also makes it very hard to explain with words. This is why in this post, I will use the words he said during training. Every quote will help you understand what “control is. It is not simple, except when he does it.

“Come close and stick to him.”
As always distance is a crucial element to master control. As there is no technique, what Sensei does is pure taijutsu. When you are afraid of the attacker, he feels it and continues even more to attack. By using “Yokeru Janai” (don’t avoid) and “Tatakai wa Janai” (don’t fight) (2), you stay close to the attacker and stick to him. This closeness forces him to react and stops his actions. Each Uke Sensei used stopped their attack after one movement. As we said earlier, they looked like suspended in mid-air. (3)

“Uke must not know what is happening, it is essential.”
Uke stops because what he faces is not logical. As Sōke is Muishiki, there is no intention he can detect. At the same time, there is no waza. Uke stops because there is no fight. He stays there because he doesn’t know what is happening. All senses are out.

“You’re not attacking or hurting him, you’re controlling.”
The quality of the control makes this lack of feeling possible. You don’t fight Uke, you position your body out of his reach but keeping contact with him. There is no fight, only control.

“Amo Isshun no Tamamushi.” (4) (5)
Ae you don’t use or show any force, Uke is not willing to attack. Sensei used the image of Amo Isshun no Tamamushi. The bee trapped between your hands will not sting because it is blind. It is unaware of what is happening.

“Remember to control within the space. Use the space within.”
Because Uke doesn’t feel, he is not threatened. You keep him controlled within the space. (6)

Muishiki is part of all that. It is like some Buddhist techniques of active meditation. You are free to move and to do whatever is possible. In Mutō Dori you are in control of yourself, of your opponent, and of your environment.

Muishiki. You are one with the universe.
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1. Mu Ishiki 無意識; unconsciousness
2. On Yokeru Janai and Tatakai wa Janai see HERE
3. See more about Ubaku in Hi no Ken HERE
4. Amo Isshun no Tamamushi: 中一瞬 の 吉丁虫. 中 amo: centre, inside, during. 一瞬 isshun: one moment. 吉丁虫 tamamushi: jewel beetle
5. On Amo Isshun no Tamamushi HERE
6. Control within the space HERE
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