The BKR Interview  –   Part 1

From Blog – Bujinkan Kokusai Renkoumyo 武神館國際連光明道場 by bkronline

Originally, this was going to be a short essay that was going to discuss different aspects of a long discussion I had with some Bujinkan practitioners some time ago. However, after spending several hours just talking about Budo and my experiences in Japan and China with these students, it became evident that a simple essay would not be enough. To this end, a magazine series detailing different aspects of the discussion, along with additional material concerning the Bujinkan Kokusai Renkoumyo (BKR), of which I created, seemed more appropriate. Hence, this series was born.

 
My experience in the Bujinkan
 
I am often asked, “How long have you been studying Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu?”. My answer is complex because in the early days of the art in the USA there were not many schools or teachers. I first met our 34th Grandmaster Hatsumi Sensei in 1986 at the World Ninja Summit in Ohio. But for about two years before that, I was training with a man I will call JK. He was a Kyu a ranked student under Stephen K. Hayes when I first met him in 1984. By the time I had met Hatsumi Sensei, JK had earned his Shodan or “black belt” but he soon stopped his training shortly afterward for personal reasons.
 So another friend of mine, Chris Nardi, and I continued the local group in the Albany NY area until I left for Japan to go to University and continue my training with Hatsumi
SokeAs JK had stopped training and teaching, from 1986 onward I also trained with Jack Hoban, BudMalmstrom and Stephen K. Hayes. It was always seminar training events only; I was not a member of their dojos.
The only person I trained with regularly from 1986 to 1989 was Jack Hoban, and
that was on a monthly basis in neighboring New Jersey. I pretty much got my driver’s license as soon as I turned 16 just so I could drive the trip myself from NY to NJ and back, and not rely on others. Then, at the 1989 Tai Kai, I met Hatsumi Sensei for the second time, and I really began to take my training much more seriously.
This is also when I met the well-known American instructor, RalphSevere. I started flying down to Dallas Texas to train with Ralph, and my group and I brought him up to NY a couple of times for seminars as well. So that’s how it started for me, and how I moved to Japan in 1991 after my first trip in 1990.

What is the Bujinkan Kokusai Renkoumyo?
It is not really different at all. The BKR is simply an association of teachers who all train under the same syllabus up to the 4th Dan, after that the student becomes a student of the headmaster inJapan under the guidance of their BKR instructor. The only real difference between us and your average Bujinkan Dojo is that we strongly encourage cross training with other systems and allow students to compete in various types of tournaments should they decide to do so. This is about the only thing different about my organization. We are a subset to the mainstream Bujinkan.
The training is not really different than training in with a Shihan in Japan, it’s basically the same, other than that I heavily incorporate the attitude, training techniques and fighting spirit that I received from my competition coach, Enson Inoue. I do make the training more “hard”– I like to make the training a physical workout. In my opinion, the BKR is like training the old way, before the way it is now. Hatsumi Sensei has often said that to get to his level, you have to train the way he did when he was younger. I also include a lot of Kosen Judo and MMA training as I feel they are great companions to our “Bujinkan skill set.”
If you look at the old purple Togakure Ryu Ninpo Taijutsu Book by Hatsumi Sensei, (handing it to one of the students to look at) at the beginning of the book he writes about proper diet, which Sensei takes very seriously. He discusses stretching, which you rarely see anybody does properly anymore. There are many dojos that don’t even stretch at the beginning of class. Sadly, they feel it is a “waste of dojo time”. So with the BKR, I try to cover all of this old material. I try to instill the basics.
This old book of sensei is said to be the required material up through the rank of Godan or the 5th-degree black belt (flipping through the pages of the book). I incorporate all of this, such as the Junan Taiso, which in some ways is very much like yoga. None of the stretchings is quick or fast, it is all slow and relaxed. As I mentioned above, another difference between my dojo and some Bujinkan dojo is the inclusion of contact sparring and competition in the 1960’s & 1970’s.
Hatsumi, Sensei incorporated sparring in the Bujinkan dojo training, it was called
yakusoku randori-geiko.
Anthony Netzler, my first roommate in Japan, and I had the chance to do this kind of training with Hatsumi Sensei in the park on many occasions. We were allowed to freely attack at Sensei it bonded us to him in a way. I strongly feel that this should be part of the training that I pass on to my students.”
  
Now that he is older, he does not do this so much anymore. Us few Tokyo and
 Noda-City residents at that time were very lucky, for by the time I arrived in Japan,
Sensei was already slowing down with this type of training. It usually happened spontaneously when we would help with walks with the dogs he had at the time. We would pass a park or an empty field and he would tie the dogs up and just start throwing us around. If it wasn’t for Anthony, I never would have had these opportunities. He always had a special relationship with Sensei and he got my foot in the door with him very early. I am ever grateful.
As for competition in the BKR, we consider it tradition…, Takamatsu Sensei
(our 33rd Grandmaster or Soke) was well known in the Japanese Martial Arts community in pre-WW2 Shanghai China as the “Moko no Tora” or the Mongolian Tiger. It is said he had over 100 competitive matches and never lost. Hatsumi Sensei was a competitive Judo player as well and has stated that his training in competitive Judo is what made him so strong and get him to the level of even being introduced to Takamatsu Soke.
Therefore, in the BKR the opportunity for competition is there for those who wish to pursue it with Bujinkan heart. There is resistance training and controlled sparring in all BKR session to develop each student’s ability to apply the techniques in actual situations. But there is no requirement to compete.
In my own opinion and experience, a lot of people who train in the Bujinkan may train for a year or two and earn their black belt. The problem is that they do not even know the Kihon Happoproperly. They don’t know what a proper omote gyaku is. They don’t really know what they should know. This is mainly because of Hatsumi Sensei judges a person’s rank based on “heart” and“feeling”, which is fine, that’s great.  But… if you get your Sandan in Bujinkan, then you should know that, “
Sensei sees in me that I am worth aSandan……someday.” They have to admit to themselves that they don’t know the techniques properly yet.  
In this case, Hatsumi Sensei says to go back and find a Shihan that will teach you because he is no longer teaching the basics and that’s what the BKR is really for. There are many 15th Danin the Bujinkan, but some have only been training for five or so years. It because Sensei sees in their heart that they are good people and he gives them these ranks prematurely because of their good heart. But their skill in Taijutsu
is still lacking. 
I am not Hatsumi Sensei and do not grade based on heart or feeling. If I give a student a BKR Shodan, that person will know everything that is required in the
Ten Chi Jin Ryaku no Maki2, which Sensei wrote for Shodan.
They will know the material, they can do the material, and they can apply the material. That’s all it really is. It’s no different than what Sensei has taught me in my
over 15 years in Japan.” When I first went to Japan after high school in 1990, there were only a few hundred Godan in the world. Within 20 years, there were several thousand. Who knows how many there are now. Let’s just say Sensei has definitely sped up the process. 
Sensei always says that he is not really teaching, that he doesn’t like to teach, and doesn’t want to teach. He says these things about himself and then he says that Takamatsu Sensei was the same way. He says that for a person to learn this art, they have to steal it from him. You have to watch him, pick it up, go home, and practice it. He
won’t teach it to you, you have to figure it out yourself. That’s why I wrote the article jibun denarai (to learn on your own). I interviewed [Hatsumi] Sensei for that article.”
I do believe that it was different back in the early days. The original students are like family to Hatsumi Sensei, he loves them as his own.
So, I believe he taught them all with lots of love and care. Then it was time for him to continue with his job and grow the organization into the international group it has become. From that point on everyone needed to see the Shihan to learn the basics…
 but we had to go to Soke to learn the art. This may be a difficult thing to understand for some beginners.  In the BKR we also train with weapons quite frequently and I am often asked what I think is the correct phase to incorporate weapons into training. Once a student has learned how to do ukemishoshin or gogyo, and the Kihon Happo – 
 or once they get to a basic level, they should start right away with
bokken, and hanbo, and things like that.

There is no real “rank” point where it starts. 
With the BKR, there are no formal requirements for weapons until after Shodan. Sword katabo-kata,
etc. are in the ranks above Shodan. We train with weapons at every level, but it is not a required item on the syllabus until after Shodan.
In 2001 Hatsumi Sensei knew I had made the decision to move back home to the USA for a few years before returning to Japan, and we had discussed my training because of this. He said that I should go and teach the Ju-Godan the basics! That’s how the BKR got started. He endorsed my syllabus because he wanted me to teach. 
Sensei wants the world to know that he gives rank out based on heart, and nobility. The BKR is more about the ability. I don’t have the eyes to see everyone’s heart that’s what Hatsumi Sensei does. Once I got the feeling that I was going to be leaving Japan, I started to put together all of my notes – I have tons and tons of notes from the day I started training in Japan until the day I left – so I started to organize things together, making sure that I knew the Ten Chi Jin Ryaku no Maki, and to make sure everything else that all of the teachers had taught me was together. My goal was not to create an organization where you pay money or anything like that, I don’t charge a fee to become
a member, there is no such thing.
When this magazine comes out, there will be a fee for that, but there is no fee to be a member. If you are a Sandan in the Bujinkan, and you want to have the BKR certification, there is no charge for the certification.
You just have to pass the tests.

1. The kihon happo, or “infinite basics”, along with the movements of the San Shin no Kata, are considered the basic techniques and movements of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu.

2. The Ten Chi Jin Ryaku no Maki, or “The Outline Scrolls of Heaven, Earth, & Man”, is considered the first training curriculum Hatsumi Sensei prepared for his students.


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