Are You An Eccentric?

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

Disclaimer: The class was so dense that this article might be a little too long. Sorry about that.

A class with Sōke these days is a succession of many moments. Relying on the Dai Shihan to show the techniques, he gives his advice from his chair. He only shows when a move requires his expertise.

Also, he often begins the class by showing the new swords he bought for his museum. He recently did a sword exhibition in Noda to explain to the public, the 200 blades he already has.

Friday night he displayed à few interesting Tantō that he got. Some of them had a Kozuka inserted in the scabbard. It was a first for me. (1)

Each time Sōke tells of being aware of the danger of live weapons. And shows the correct way to pass or receive a naked sword from hand to hand. Not aware of the distance, there is a danger to be cut or killed. The translators sometimes get too close to him, and some nearly got cut. When you receive a naked sword from someone, you have to be close enough to take it, but far enough not to be cut.

Sōke teaches us these things because he doesn’t want the Bujinkan Dai Shihan, to look stupid. He said that people training Kendō or other martial arts don’t know the dangers of live weapons. Because they lack awareness. The Japanese wars created our systems on the battlefield, not during peacetime in a Dōjō. (2)

We did some Waza with the Daishō, and Sensei stopped the class to teach us how to wear them. That was interesting as many practitioners do not have a clue there is a proper way of doing things. One thing to keep in mind is that our fighting systems originate from the military. In the military, they keep everything that works fine. They reject what doesn’t. Each time your teacher asks for a precise movement, try to understand the reason to do it that way. When you know the hidden reasons to do things, your Taijutsu improves. Nothing we do is by chance, there is always a reason behind.

How to wear the Daishō? (3) First, insert your thumb into the Obi and put the Kodachi, then put the Katana in this order. (4) Sōke asked us to train this to master it. He said the Dai Shihan, should have real blades to get better the essence of Mutō Dori. (5) We have to understand what is fake and what is real. He added that Takamatsu Sensei always showed him the practical aspects of Budō. The Bujinkan is not Gendai Budō, we don’t do sport. (6)

Sensei moved back to Taijutsu. After the technique, his Uke explained that he was so focused on the pain on his finger, that he didn’t see the rest. This is “Mienai.” Sensei was using his other hand to take Uke’s balance. (7) Mutō dori uses Kakushi waza whenever possible. (8) Uke can see is not what matters.

Against a knife attack, Sensei stopped the attacker and began to speak to us. Uke lost his concentration, and Sōoke peeled the knife from his grip. This is Metsubushi. (9) We use Metsubushi to confuse the opponent and are not limited to Ninja blinding powder. It can be physical or by talking. If you speak, Uke cannot avoid listening to you.

In unarmed combat, we rely too much on the hands. Sōke said that “Sebone,” the backbone, is what does the action. He asked us to try it and insisted on keeping a relaxed body and on keeping the legs unlocked. (10)

In the end, Sensei said that now the Daishihan are in charge. And if they don’t understand it is ok. Because when you get the movement by yourself, you are your own teacher. Let the action be, and do not overthink everything.

Ethics is the backbone of our soul, this is “Kikotsu.” (11) But when you only rely on physicality, you are not a Bujin but another “Kikotsu,” an eccentric. (12)


_________________________________________
1 Kozuka: This small knife was usually hidden in the Saya of a Katana, close to the Tsuba.
2 War Time vs. Peacetime: The Bujinkan systems are born during wartime (12th to 17th century). One exception is the Takagi Yōshin Ryū, formalized in the 18th century.
3 大小, Daishō: matched pair of long and short swords
4 The original Obi were larger and longer. Because of the length, there were at least three layers of belt. First, you put he Kodachi between the first layer close to the body and the second layer. Then you slide the Katana between the second and the third layer. This is a way to protect the lacquer on the Saya. This keeps the blade sealed in the scabbard and avoid humidity to damage the sword.
5 I have been using a real Katana for more than 30 years. I cut myself as expected. But when you have à real blade, you stop moving like they do in B movies. Never underestimate the danger of using a real weapon. The same goes for firearms and swords.
6 現代, nowadays; modern era; modern times; present-day.
現代武道, Gendai Budō: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gendai_bud%C5%8D
7 見えない技, Mienai Waza: Invisible technique (that Uke cannot see)
8 隠し技, Kakushi Waza: Technique for hiding; concealing; being hidden; being concealed​
9 目潰し, Metsubushi: sand, ash, etc., thrown in the eyes to blind someone. Throwing something at someone’s eyes to blind them​. Poking someone’s eyes during a fight to blind them. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metsubushi
10 背骨, Sebone: spine; backbone; spinal column
11 気骨, Kikotsu: (moral) backbone; spirit; soul; grit​
12 奇骨, Kikotsu: eccentric

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Mochikaeru, Nagato’s Spiderweb

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

I am not very fond of spiders, but I like Nagato sensei’s Taijutsu.

Nagato sensei is the master of Mochikaeru, (1) Whatever you do, traps you as if in a giant spiderweb.

Mochikaeru is his particular way to let you in his sphere of movement and to give back pain in exchange. Using his mastery of distance, he puts you off balance. When you think you have him, you end up “glued” into his spiderweb. All his body is playing against you: hands, elbows, legs, eyes. In fact, his entire body is scrutinizing you. Spiders have six eyes, and sometimes I guess him too. When you are Nagato sensei’s Uke, don’t forget his body is his eyes.

Apart from Taijutsu, he also speaks a lot during the long breaks. This Mondō is a special moment of questions and answers. When you ask anything, he will give his take on the problem you are having. It is also a sweet moment where he tells us many details about Sōke and their life before the Bujinkan went worldwide. Being 72-year-old, he is one of the key witnesses of the rise of the Bujinkan. Of how a small dōjō of eight mats, with about a dozen “meat-bags” became this sizeable international organization. (3) (4) (5)

In a recent Mondō, Nagato sensei that the Bujinkan is “blood, sweat and tears” until fifteenth Dan. After that, it is more about being happy. What is difficult is to train alternating hard and soft movements. This balance between hard and soft is challenging to do when you are Uke.

He also said that with age, we have to train softer. The goal of the Bujinkan is to be happy, not to destroy yourself. I can remember the training in the 90s’, and I assure you that Sōke is much softer than before. Life is about permanent change and adaptation.

Nagato sensei said that Sensei evolved a lot because he has been changing all the time. As a result, he is not changing but evolving. Sensei is like the reflection of the moon on the river; always different but always the same. As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “The river must be calm to reflect the full moon. (6)

Permanent changes in Sōke’s Budō makes it challenging to follow his steps. We have to catch his tail and go where he is going, letting him lead the way. Nagato sensei added that “Catching and keeping the horse’s tail is easy. But Sōke is a dragon, so it is more difficult to stay attached to the tail.”

In Taijutsu and in life, you achieve happiness and success through changes. And Mochikaeru is part of it.

My best student told me once, “The Bujinkan is like a country led by a recognized leader. The goal is to learn to be happy, and permanent change is giving us this freedom.”

Be Mochikaeru, a “dōjō frog” willing to become a prince of Budō. (7)

Change and be happy!


1 持ち帰る, Mochikaeru: to bring back; to carry home; to take out (e.g., food)​
2 問答, Mondō: questions and answers; dialogue​
3 Noguchi sensei said that at the beginning training was in Sensei’s clinic, a room with only 8 mats. They emptied it before class, and they had to avoid tripping on a 1-step platform on the side.
4 The first group was: Ishizuka, Tanemura, Manaka, Muramatsu, Kobayashi, Nagato, Oguri, Senō, Noguchi.
5 Meatbags: Each time you speak with the Japanese Dai Shihan, they say that Sensei was using them as “meat-bags.” He was not even trying to teach. He was working to understand the techniques. And it was excruciating. Noguchi sensei said that young Hatsumi weighted over 100 kg, was very bulky, and powerful.
6 Thich Nhat Hanh
7 モチ蛙, Mochikaeru: motivation of the frog (to become a prince of Budō).

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Word And Object

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

With Noguchi sensei tonight we covered the second level of Kukishin Daken Taijutsu. Each Waza was enriched (twisted) to meet his own interpretation and the depth of his taijutsu.

At some point during class, he positioned his right leg between Uke’s legs to do a basic Koshinage. While placing his leg, he said “kick,” but he didn’t do a kick, he put his thigh there. (1)
Later, he trapped his Uke was kneeling to the ground, and he captured Uke’s head between his knees, saying “happa.” (2) At another moment, he did a half Oni Kudaki and called it “Musha Dori.” (3)

In these three occurrences, the words he used didn’t seem correct. But they are. It is just that we limit their definition. The Japanese language, like Chinese or Korean processes the information by images. A word in Asia is not “definite,” it is a concept, a general idea evolving with the situation. In the West, our words have a precise definition, limiting their power. Not in the East. These languages do not see the world in the same we do.

Let’s review now what Noguchi sensei said during class.

Kick: This is our definition of Keri. But in fact, it means an “action of the leg.” The kick is one possibility amongst many. In the Chi Ryaku no Maki, there is a set of techniques called “Happō Keri Henka.” There are no kicks in these techniques, but the legs are used a lot to manage the distance to the opponent.

Happa Ken: This is one of the Hōken Jūroppō. Happa is slapping Uke with a flat hand. Here he was using the knees, hitting the head of Uke. Note that in the Takagi Yōshin Ryū, the Kyūsho for the ears is also called Happa. Happa for him is the action of hitting with the sides of the head, with the hands, the knees, or anything else. It is the function that is important.

Musha Dori / Oni Kudaki: It was not a mistake either. At the beginning of the Bujinkan, Musha Dori was the Omote form we know, and the Oni Kudaki was Musha Dori Ura. Both terminologies exist in different Ryū. Also, if you think about it, grabbing the elbow from inside or outside, are two ways to “grab a warrior.”

The Japanese language is not based on Latin, Saxon, or other Alphabet based languages. It is an image. And this image is a concept with blurred borders. If you take the word “Omote” for example and ask anyone to tell you what it is, they will all tell you that it means “outside.” And they will be right, but Omote is more than that. (5)

That is why it is vital to learn your Bujinkan vocabulary. The Japanese use their words not to define an object but because of their function.

In the train to Kashiwa, I remembered reading a book many years ago called “Word and object” by Quine. (6) You should read it. It changed my understanding of languages. In the book, Quine exposes the idea of what he calls “conceptual scheme.” From one language to another, à word doesn’t carry the same concepts. À word is cultural. It explains why a translation is often betraying the author’s initial idea.

Noguchi sensei’s class was as great as always. But if you understand what is above, it will be an essential step on your path to excellence.


1 蹴り, Keri: Kick (dictionary)
2 葉っぱ, Happa: leaf; blade (of grass); (pine) needle​ (dictionary)
3 武者取り, Musha dori: Grab the warrior
4 宝剣十六法, Hōken Jūroppō: The 16 treasures
5 表, Omote: Outside; above; in front of; exterior; on top; obvious; easy.

  • But also:
  • surface
  • face (i.e., the visible side of an object)​
  • front (of a building, etc.); obverse side (i.e., “head”) of a coin​
  • outside; exterior​
  • appearance​
  • public​
  • first half (of an inning); top (of an inning)​ Baseball term,
  • cover (for tatami mats, etc.)​
  • foreground​ Computer terminology

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_and_Object

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I Love The Noguchi Ryū!

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

Only 24 people joined Noguchi sensei’s class tonight, so we had a lot of space to train.

I love the “Noguchi Ryū” because I find his interpretation of the Waza disturbing and brilliant. It always seems that we are studying another fighting system. (1)

Tonight we covered a “twisted version” of the second level of Koto Ryū and of the Kukishin Bō. Noguchi sensei has this superior ability to transform the known into the unknown. And I am not the only one to feel that way. Yesterday, next to me, was training Elias from Norway. He is also a Bujinkan old-timer, Dai Shihan, and he often comes to train in Japan. After one “revisited” technique, we looked at each other saying, “did he change the technique again?”

We have been training the Koto Ryū with him since the 90s’. That is almost 30 years, and we are lost. We know each technique, and still, each time we feel like beginners. It is amazing!

Like always, the pace was fast, dynamic, with many henka and full of laughter. But how does Noguchi sensei do it?
Hereafter is three points that might shed some light on what is happening.

  • First: Noguchi sensei was teaching the second level from the bottom up. I mean that he began with the last technique and went back to the first. To train these Waza in a different order is perturbs our logical brain, it doesn’t help. But, would an attacker launch a predictable hit?
  • Second: He reads the same Densho he has been studying for years but gives it a twist. It is like he is reading the essence of the technique and not the step by step process. Or to put it better, the Ura instead of the Omote. Every aspect of the Waza is there, but it doesn’t feel the same. It is like a smell of a croissant instead of the croissant itself.
  • Third: He has been training longer than us, and his sensibility is beyond us. Hatsumi sensei explained that Nagato sensei and Noguchi are now evolving at the Ku level. That would explain the change in the forms.

When we think about the concept of Shuhari, Noguchi sensei is definitely at the “ri.” He destructures the techniques so much that they look different. This is pure genius and excellence. I hope that what day I will be able to reach that understanding. (2)

Sensei said we “shouldn’t do precise things because we become predictable. On the battlefield, being readable kills you as the opponent would counter you with ease.
Being unpredictable is the secret of survival. Last week SEnsei repeated again to have no preconceived thoughts. We have to be zero with no emission and no intent. And added that “often, people who studied at the university are those thinking they understand. But in reality, they don’t. Don’t think! Kankaku is important.” (3)

The Bujinkan Budō is fantastic, and I wish that more practitioners can discover how great it is. And the “Noguchi Ryū” like the “Nagato Ryū” are two advanced versions of this greatness. Come to Japan and get enlightened by these two lighthouses. Because at a certain level, it is not anymore a question of Waza, it is a question of feeling.

Follow the example of Shuhari, destroy the form, so only the essence remains: Kankaku.


____________________________________
1 Noguchi Ryū: Twenty years ago, I went to sensei’s house after class. I didn’t know what to think because each sensei was different. Actually, I was mad. I asked him, “Sensei, is it normal that I feel that I am learning the Bujinkan with you. The Noguchi Ryū with Noguchi sensei. The Nagato Ryū with Nagato sensei. The Oguri Ryū with Oguri sensei. The Senō Ryū with Senō sensei?”
Then with a smile on his face, he looked my eyes and said, “Yes.” Then he laughed.
2 守破離, Shuhari: Shuhari; three stages of learning mastery: the fundamentals, breaking with tradition, parting with traditional wisdom
3 感覚, Kankaku: sense; sensation; feeling; intuition​.

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What Is Your Reality?

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

The Dōjō was packed last night, and Sensei played a lot with the concepts of Kyojutsu and Kyojitsu. Receiving Tezuka San’s fist, Sensei was controlling him holding only one finger. Tezuka san explained that the control was not on the finger we were watching. Sensei was applying light pressure with his other hand on the shoulder blade. This small pressure was enough to take his balance. Tezuka’s attention focused only on the finger, and he was unable to move and to feel the touch on his back. Hatsumi Sensei is like a magician. He sends false information to distract us from where he is applying the technique.

That is when he spoke about Kyojutsu and Kyojitsu. Everything he does is very subtle, and you can hardly see it from the outside. All is “Mienai,” something that you cannot see. (1)

That questions our perception of reality. What is real, and what is not? This is the focal point of Sensei’s Mutō Dori this year.

But are we really familiar with the words Kyojutsu and Kyojitsu? After a quick check, it seems that many Bujinkan practitioners are not. After class, Tracy Nyholt, Michael Tano and I went for dinner. We agreed to say that few people knew the difference between the two expressions. So, let’s spend some time and explain what Kyojutsu and Kyojitsu are. Kyojutsu is the art or the way to trap the mind of the opponent. (2) And Kyojitsu is the “tool” you use to alternate between truth and falsehood. (3) We can summarize that by saying that Kyojutsu is the set of techniques using Kyojitsu.

Last month, Sensei said that “Sometimes it is important to know how to lie, but do it with a pure heart. Lying will help you to guess when something is right or wrong”. The art of Kyojutsu is an essential aspect of the fight. Deception is a powerful technique, and history is full of examples. During world war 1, the General Bugeaud, a French officer, said: “during the war there are rules, but they are very few.” But be careful. As for everything in life, what you do depends on your goals. This is why you must have strong ethics and sound morality.

Two Japanese expressions will help you get what Sensei means by Kyojutsu.
The first one is “Kyojitsu Konkō.” It is a mishmash of truth and untruth; a mixture of fiction and fact, creating an opening in Uke’s mind and body.
The second one is even better. It is “Kyojitsu Himasu.” “The difference between truth and fiction in art being very subtle; Art abides in a realm that is neither truth nor fiction.” This is the perfect definition of what Sensei is teaching now.

When I say “teaching,” please remember what he says at every class: “I do not need any more students, I teach to the Dai Shihan.” Everyone is still welcomed to class whatever his rank. But he is more showing than actually teaching. Yesterday, he asked us to watch his movements, and it is ok if we don’t understand. Sensei teaches “Ishin shoden,” i.e., through a direct transmission one to one. (6)

So if you wonder what your reality is, then all the above might help you to find your answer. You are the master of your life, and your choices are the good ones. Create your reality because no one can tell what to do.

Sensei is an artist, and the Bujinkan is art.
And art “abides in a realm that is neither truth nor fiction.”


______________________________________________
1 見えない, Mienai: invisible.
2 虚術 Kyojutsu: falsehood + art; technique​; means; way​; trick; trap; plot; stratagem​; magic​.
3 虚実, Kyojitsu: truth or falsehood​.
4 虚実混交, Kyojitsu Konkō: a mishmash of truth and untruth; a mixture of fiction and fact.
5 虚実皮膜, Kyojitsu Himasu: The difference between truth and fiction in art being very subtle; Art abides in a realm that is neither truth nor fiction.
6 医心正伝: correct and direct transmission from “heart to heart.”

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