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​.


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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Robin Hood Was Clueless

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

Robin Hood is famous for his archery skills, but when it comes to Bō Jutsu, he is clueless!

Everyone remembers the scene in every Robin Hood movie. Where Robin fights Little John with a Bō, across a river. Well, did you notice that they are only hitting the staff and not the hands of the opponent? This is often what you see on the mats. When two partners fight with swords, they only try to hit the weapon instead of the hands of the opponent. If you want to do that, then forget Budō, and go train Chanbara! (1) The Bujinkan teaches battlefield fighting techniques, this is not a sport.

In a recent class, Hatsumi Sensei said that “Controlling the weapon of Uke makes you control his body.” You control Uke not by hitting the sword, but by controlling the way Uke is wielding it. By doing so, you control all his body movements and can read his actions before he does them. This is another aspect of Mutō Dori.

When receiving an attack, you have three possibilities. You hit the weapon, the opponent’s body, or Uke’s hands. See that as another Tenchijin. On May 5th, Sensei said that “Mutō Dori is connected with the past, the present and the future.” (1)(2)(3)

The past here is the blade (delayed reaction).
The present here the hand (perfect timing).
And the future is the body (overdoing it).

Last year, Sensei explained that putting your blade on the fingers of Uke, you control his actions. You don’t need to cut deep into his flesh, micro cuts will be efficient. The reason why it is better to hit or slice the fingers is that they are accessible. The Yoroi doesn’t protect the tips of the fingers. If you go for the body, you need to enter the distance and take the risk of a counter attack. Also, hitting the body can only be in the unprotected spots. You need to be more precise and aim at the two Suki of the Yoroi: Butsumetsu or the neck (between the Menpō and the Kabuto). (4)(5)

When you place your sword on Uke’s Tsuka and the fingers, the momentum of his attack will get him injured. This is the easiest way to control him. The only thing you have to do is to be slow and lift the tip of your blade to meet the space where Uke will end. Perfect timing is crucial, and speed and strength will not help. They are counterproductive.

The Shintō religion has one word for that specific moment. And Sensei repeats it often, it is Nakaima, the middle of now. (7) Total awareness is being in a permanent present.

You can live in a permanent present can only if you let your body do the movements for you. With no preconceived intention.

Stop fighting like Robin Hood and Little John on the river, train like a professional. This applies to anyone because, in the street, there is no camera, and your nice patch will not protect you.

1. Chanbara: Check the link and don’t laugh. https://www.internationalsportschanbara.net/video/
2. 無剣取り過現未繋ぎます, Mutō dori kagenmi tsunagimasu
3. 過現未, Kagenmi: past, present, and future; three temporal states of existence
4. 繋ぎます, Tsunagimasu (Tsunagu): to connect; to link together​
5. 面頬, Menpō: face guard
6. 兜, Kabuto: Helmet
7. 中今, Nakaima: the present (esp. as a privileged moment in eternity)​
8. 中今, Nakaima: Definition

You Don’t Know The Sakki Test!

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

The Sakki test is an essential part of the Bujinkan training. But it is wrapped in so many layers of fantasy that it is time to write about what the test is.

At the Madrid Taikai in 2000, Sensei let us give the Sakki test. It was the first time that someone would give the test instead of Sensei. I remember walking with Pedro to the examination room. I was telling him, “it is no big deal, we saw Sōke performing it so many times, it is easy.”
To be honest, I thought the test was only a marketing tool to get the westerners excited. I was so wrong!

Each one of us did the test twice. No big deal. But less than a half hour later, I felt so tired that I had to go to my room to have a nap. I had seen Sensei perform 30 or 40 tests in a row at Taikai, and he didn’t look tired. But me, after only two tests, I was a wreck. It was an excellent lesson. But let’s destroy a few illusions here.

The Sakki is not something you get, you are born with it. Education, life, make it sink deep into your brain. And it takes five to ten years to crack the lock and make it appear again.

When I explain it, I like to use the following analogy. See your brain as a recipient full of dry mud. The Sakki is like a light buried down under, below several layers of dirt. Through consistent training, some cracks appear. On the day of the Sakki test, if you are ready, the Sakki feeling will move upward, and you will dodge the sword. There is no magic! All animals have it, and we are animals. We just overthink and let the feeling of danger guide our lives. Modern society kills this natural human ability.

People refer to it as “to sense the killing intent.” If this etymologically correct, this is not what is the Sakki test. (1)

First, you sit in front of a guy with a sword, knowing that he will hit you in a minute. There is no surprise attack. There is no “thirst for blood” from his part. And if there is, then the guy should see a doctor.
Second, the Sakki test concerns both participants. The emitter and the receiver. Many transmitters do not know how to do it correctly, and many receivers expect the gods to make them move. This is not how it works.
Third, the Sakki manifests itself only when both participants have a connection. You can see the sword as the link between the two persons. Once there is a connection, the test can be performed.
Fourth, the Sakki test is as hard for the emitter as it is for the receiver. In fact, both are taking the test. Failing the test is not always the receiver’s fault, it is often because of a lousy emitter.
Fifth, the emitter with his eyes closed “feels” when he has to cut. It is not his decision; the sword goes down by itself. Only the quality of the connection makes it possible. If it is not magic, as I wrote earlier, but at least, it is mysterious.

A friend and student came back from Japan recently. He shared with me Sōke’s vision: “Passing the sakki test is spreading out energy to the applicant. It is not a killing feeling, It is only energy.” He added that Sōke was paying more attention and was evaluating the one giving the sakki test to the applicant.

When last Friday Sensei told me to give the test, I was expecting something particular. After giving the test since 2000, I can say I’m used to it. But on this night, it felt like a test because instead of one or two applicants, they were eleven. (2)

When I positioned myself behind the first one in the series, I needed a few deep breaths to get ready. To my surprise, I was not tired at all after the tests. My Sakki training had paid off.

Today I see the Sakki test as a way to improve our understanding of Sensei’s budō. To the Sakki, “killing intent,” I prefer another “Sakki” meaning “to make your spirit blooming.” (3) After all, the seeds of Budō will bloom one day and transform us into real Bujin.

1. 殺気, Sakki: a thirst for blood; bloodlust; determination to kill​
2. 8 passed it on the first try, 1 with Nagase sensei. The last 2 got it correctly on Sunday.
3. 咲く気, Sakki (Saku Ki): blooming spirit

Keep Your Distance With Nagato!

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

Today Nagato sensei taught a new approach to Mutō Dori. Somehow his Taijutsu has evolved since I was there a few months ago. I shared this feeling with my friend Oliver Piskurek, who agreed. It amazes me that teachers like Nagato sensei can still improve their movements.

Nagato sensei is still moving in the same way, but it looks lighter and more powerful at the same time. In today’s training, I noticed two things. First, there is a new quality in his dynamic distancing. And second, he has increased the angling of his body in the footwork.

This is the new approach to Mutō Dori I was referring to.

Concerning the dynamic distancing. Nagato sensei receives the attacks with tiny backward steps. That keeps him out of reach but still able to get Uke’s balance at any moment. He will move backward to receive a Tsuki with a series of three or four small steps. This allowed him to stay at the limit of extension of Uke’s arm. Controlling the hand/forearm, he can then place his elbow to wrap Uke and throw him with a Ganseki nage or Ō Soto Gake. His typical style (changing hands, using the angles, hitting hard between the moves) remains. The only change is this more dynamic footwork keeping him off distance at all times.

Combined with this distancing is the angling of his body. He is often turning or pivoting his whole body at a 90-degree angle to receive the first attack. This angle forces Uke to twist his upper body. Because a double fist attack is fast, Uke has to launch his second fist at the same time he is turning the torso. The result is an off balancing of the body. This opens many Suki in Uke’s posture that Nagato sensei uses to destroy him. (1)

He said many times is that we have to learn to move like him step by step, and slow. Learning a complex sequence one move at a time is the best way to get it right.

We often train too fast. As a result, our brain and body cannot memorize the moves. Fast Taijutsu is the enemy of good Budō.

During class, Nagato sensei was always referring to his movements as being “Mutō Dori.” And I must say that it showed another facet of it. Each video by Hatsumi Sensei has “martial arts of distance” as a subtitle. That is what we trained today, a perfect illustration of how to master correct distance.

Copy that and keep your distance with Nagato!


1/ 隙, Suki: chink (in one’s armor); chance; opportunity; weak spot​