Ninja Clan 2.0

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

Climate change is now accepted. As a consequence, polar bears are having increasing difficulties in feeding themselves. 

“Because of melting sea ice, it is likely that more polar bears will soon starve, warns a new study that discovered the large carnivores need to eat 60 per cent more than anyone had realized. Turns out they are high-energy beasts, burning through 12,325 calories a day—despite sitting around most of the time, according to a unique metabolic analysis of wild bears published Thursday in Science.” (…) “Climate change is heating up the Arctic faster than anywhere else, and sea ice is shrinking 14 per cent per decade.” (1) 

That means that by the end of the century, the Arctic will be nearly free of ice!

I am concerned because I am a polar bear. In 1987, Sensei saw my picture taken in the snow and nicknamed me “Shiro Kuma”, the polar bear. (2) 

I can easily view a lonely polar bear drifting on a shrinking iceberg. With the pandemic, Our Bujinkan lives turned into the ones of a polar bear. Since March 2019, we are in a world pandemic. For many students and teachers, it has been difficult, if not impossible, to train in a dōjō. And I’m not even considering training at the Honbu. It is forbidden to travel to Japan. 

The world of martial arts was huge, comprising millions of practitioners worldwide. It collapsed in a few months with the spreading of the virus. In this metaphor, martial art is the arctic ice bank melting down. And martial artists are the polar bears isolated on the melting icebergs. 

The recession in the martial arts world has and will continue to strike us. I see the majority of martial arts halls disappearing by lack of practitioners. This is sad but doesn’t mean the end of Budō. You can find the seeds of success in the midst of defeat. Hatsumi Sensei repeated in class that “it is ok to lose a battle, as long as you don’t lose the war in the end.” We lost this battle, but the war is not over yet!

To win the war, we have to change our understanding of what and how we train. Since our dōjō closed last March, I have been thinking a lot about our next Budō moves. With my students, we conducted some experiments with that and came up with a few rules:

  • Budō practitioners are still there, but training places are closed 
  • A lot of self-training can be implemented, but there are limits 
  • We can train alone, but we often need an external “eye” to improve
  • Budō training should be more adapted and teaching chiseled 

To get to that, we must accept that big dōjō or organizations might not survive the virus. As a result, “family size units” or small structures will be key elements to our rebirth. I am preparing a book on that. (3) 

These small training units will become the “ninja clans” of the 21st century. The virus forced us to recreate the ancient ninja clans of feudal times. This is why our future structures have to be limited in size. I call this new period of Bujinkan training “clanification 2.0.” (4)

Obviously, there are benefits and disadvantages to this “clanification.”

ProsCons
Better quality in teachingSkills limited by the size of the group 
Real student / sensei relationTechnical diversity limited to the abilities of the teacher
No hiding in class: better controlNo hiding in class: lesser skills
Bad teachers will self-disappearLess exchanges with other “clans”
The arts will surviveSome teachers will turn into half-gods
Hyper specialization of the groupHyper specialization of the group

When we reopen our Bujinkan training groups, we will have move from “Taijutsu” (5) to “Taijutsu.” (6) We will train like our Budō ancestors. Right now, we may be like drifting polar bears on a chunk of ice. But I am confident we will find land soon. And our ancient traditions will survive the harshness of history once more. 

After all, our only job is to survive.

———————

1 From National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/polar-bears-starve-melting-sea-ice-global-warming-study-beaufort-sea-environment
2 白熊: Shiro Kuma, white bear aka polar bear
3 publish it soon
4 clanification: I made-up this word by adding clan and the suffix “-ification.” The Oxford dictionary definition for the clan is “a group of people with a strong common interest.”
5 体術, Taijutsu: fighting technique done with the body
6 隊術, Taijutsu: fighting technique done by a military unit; or army squad

Watching Is Not Training!

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

shoto no waza

The world health situation locked down many Dōjō. Since last April, people have asked me a lot about my thoughts on video training. As you know, my streaming website offers 160 Gb of Bujinkan videos. The platform covers all the aspects of our martial arts. (1) 

So, people expect me to be in favour of video learning. I’m sorry to disappoint them, I am not in favour of video learning. I am confident you will agree with me after reading this text.

As the title says it quite clearly, “watching is not training.” The learning process is not passive, it demands action. If you want to learn, you have to train. There is no magic shortcut. When I was younger, I loved to watch formula 1 races on tv. It didn’t improve my driving abilities in any way!

Watching is not training. A video only shows things in a 2-dimension system. In comparison, live techniques are always in 3-dimension. A screen shows only parts of the movement from one direction captured by the camera. It cannot “show” you what Uke “feels” when he receives the Waza. I organized a few Taikai in Paris for Sensei. It was always surprising to see the camera guys unable to capture the depth of Sensei’s moves. And they were still recording in the wrong direction.

Hatsumi Sensei advises us to watch his DVDs and read his books every day. But he doesn’t say that you will learn the techniques by doing so. He wants us to watch and listen to the things he does and says while moving. By watching the global movement, you begin to dive into the action. Watching and listening is not enough, though. Videos and speech give only an idea. But must be experienced at the physical level, in your body. A Waza is much more than a series of movements. The real knowledge about a Waza, a level, or a Ryū lies beyond the mechanical aspects. À video is only Omote, actual training with a teacher is the Ura.

There is one aspect of videos that I like. Videos are better than texts. Everything happens in one moment, unlike when you read a book because you have to read line by line. That is why many practitioners stay at the “1, 2, 3” level. Many never leave kindergarten, and that sadly includes many teachers.

You need a teacher to improve. Videos are reminders of things you know already, not stuff you want to learn. A good teacher helps you grow in the technique. He adapts his teaching to each individual. That allows you to understand the Waza for you, with your own body. Videos and texts cannot teach that. 

A teacher is much more than a video because he is a “sensei” (2)(3), i.e. “someone born into this path before you”. He made all the mistakes you do. That is why he can guide you through the proper motion and the right understanding. A good teacher will teach on a personal basis, one to one. Actually, this is what Sōke has been repeating for decades. The link between you, the student, and your Sensei is exceptional. Once you accept him, or her, as your teacher, you build indefectible trust. No arguing between master and disciple can take place. 

This precious binding between you and your teacher is why martial arts are nor sports. It happens the moment you decide to do whatever it takes to make it possible. 

Remember, you will never be the disciple of your video or DVD player. You are Human!

___________________

www.koimartialart.com
2 先生, teacher; instructor; master
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensei 
Sensei: “he who was born before another”

Be Happy With What You Have

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

Hatsumi Sensei teaches us to be happy, and many practitioners don’t listen to him. The people in the Bujinkan are more into learning many Waza than developing a happy life. When you try to smile and be happy, your life improves. Happiness makes you satisfied with what you have. I recently read a quote saying, “Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have.” Where are you?

Why is it that we always want to have more? Why is it that we are never satisfied with what we already have? In these days of Covid, people behave strangely. One day the demand masks, and when they are available, they do not want to wear them. They demand a vaccine, and when it is available, they don’t want to get it. The vaccination process is too long, they criticize; too fast, they blame governments.

With the pandemics, everyone on the planet is a doctor. They know better what to do and how the virus spreads and develops. They all have an opinion. They cry a lot over the supposed loss of their freedom. What loss? We are trying to get rid of the pandemic. This is amazing to see people being so self-centred and narrow-minded.

I don’t know if what the governments do is good or bad. And I don’t care. My concern here is that freedom is more than that. Freedom is not behaving like a 5-year old kid! The world is not a giant kindergarten. Being an adult is to know when to speak, and when to shut up. True freedom is when you find satisfaction with what you have, not with what you want. In Japanese, the word “freedom” can be Tokuritsu (1), and it has many meanings. The Japanese language uses abstract concepts to explain the world. They do not define it. Instead, they wrap the idea in a box. Tokuritsu is also: independence, separation, isolation, or self-reliance. What people call “freedom” is actually the opposite of this.

What they call freedom is, in fact, dependence. Humans have an atavic need not to be separated or isolated.

Society has taught us not to try to depend on ourselves. We live through social media, reality shows; and phone apps. I have the feeling that this fake sense of freedom is enslaving us. We are the prisoners of our wishes and what we have doesn’t please us. This freedom is the opposite of the Japanese definition, it gives no liberty.

Hegel said, “When liberty is mentioned, we must always be careful to observe whether it is not really the assertion of private interests which is thereby designated.” (2)

This is why I try to be happy with what I have. I do my best never to cry over the things I don’t have.

The health situation is complicated, our governments do what they can. These lockdowns will not last forever, be patient, endure, and develop your resilience. Because this is what Hatsumi Sensei is teaching. So, behave like the ninja you always wanted to be.

Be Happy!

  1. 独立, Tokuritsu: independence; self-reliance; supporting oneself; being on one’s own​; freedom​; separation; isolation
  2. Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/georg-wilhelm-friedrich-h-quotes


A Crisis Is A Mysterious Opportunity

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

This post will come as a reminder for many readers. I’m not the first one to write about the word “crisis” in Japanese. I already wrote about it a few years ago in this blog.

When it comes to making puns on words, the Japanese language is like the French language. Similar sounds written differently have different meanings. (1)

The word “kiki” means “crisis” in Japanese. Kiki is composed of two kanji: “dangerous” + “opportunity”. So, a Japanese sees “crisis” as a “dangerous opportunity.” (2) It can be risky, but it doesn’t mean it is always wrong. I love this!

Opportunities are always moments where things can go wrong. The ability to take risks is what makes humans different from animals. Some humans will take significant risks; others won’t dare to move. But learning Budō is an opportunity to accept to take risks, and thus improve your survival skills. That is why you should never give up on your training. I know that this period of a pandemic can be challenging to many practitioners. A majority of Dōjō have closed with the lockdown, or are bankrupt after ten months of Covid. That is not a reason to quit! So, focus on “ki” (3), and turn this “kiki,” crisis, into “kikai,” a chance, an opportunity.

The moments we live these days might be difficult for many. But I’m confident they prepare us for a better life and embrace new opportunities. Human history is full of moments where a new paradigm replaces an old one.

Our Society will be different soon, and I want to believe it will be a wonderful (5) change. Kikai (4) will lead to kikai (4), a “chance” to experience a “mysterious” opportunity. Too many people die from the pandemic. And one death is one too many. But Covid is not the “Black Death” of the 14th century that killed 25 million people! (6) It is not the Spanish Flu that killed 20 to 50 million people worldwide. (7)

Hatsumi Sensei often speaks of the mysterious aspects of Budō. Now that we understand those terms better, it might help us get the essence of what he is teaching us. What we do on the mats is both wonderful, strange, and mysterious. The natural movement exists in the ether, and our body and mind render it visible. Each encounter, each fight is potentially dangerous. So, let the mysterious aspect of life deal with it, and there is a chance always to find success.

Success is an attitude. It is an action without intent. Once again it goes back to the Tao when Lao Tzu writes “don’t do anything, and nothing will be left undone.” The path of action is kikai, a course of opportunity and chance; and happening in mysterious ways.

_________________

  1. In French jump is “saut”, a bucket is “seau”, a seal is “sceau”, dumb is “sot, and they all sound like “so” in English!
  2. 危機, kiki: crisis; critical situation; emergency; pinch
  3. 機, ki: chance; opportunity
  4. 機会, kikai: chance; opportunity
  5. 奇怪, kikai: strange; wonderful; weird; outrageous; mysterious
  6. “Arguably, the most infamous plague outbreak was the so-called Black Death, a multi-century pandemic that swept through Asia and Europe. It was believed to start in China in 1334, spreading along trade routes and reaching Europe via Sicilian ports in the late 1340s. The plague killed an estimated 25 million people, almost a third of the continent’s population. The Black Death lingered on for centuries, particularly in cities. Outbreaks included the Great Plague of London (1665-66), in which 70,000 residents died.” from National Geographic.
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu

“Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people – about a third of the world’s population at the time – in four successive waves. The death toll is typically estimated to have been somewhere between 20 million and 50 million, although estimates range from a conservative 17 million to a possible high of 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.”