Hi No Ken

IMG_20180724_202510Each class with Sensei brings more depth to the understanding of “control.” We trained taijutsu, knife, hanbō, sword, bō, and yari yesterday. I can summarize it in one set of words: “Hi no Ken.” (1)

The control is the same whatever weapon you use, “Hi no Ken” applies to everything.

As I opened the training session, I was lucky to be Uke. He controlled me immediately after I attacked. Being Uke is the best way to learn. You see what he is doing, you understand it. But then you still cannot avoid or counter.

When you try to reproduce it, it is impossible to do. This is mysterious. It is like a fall on an icy floor, you witness it while it is happening, but there is no way to avoid it.

It is hard to describe. As if Sensei was not moving in the same dimension of time and space. When you attack, you are defeating yourself. He tried to helps us: “move together with the attacker”; “don’t do anything “; “Uke’s energy is my energy.” But these are only words, what you feel is much more.

The quality of his control over your actions is total, permanent and invisible. When you reach him, you don’t. You come in contact with one of his fingers, and you stay there in an Ukabu state. (2) You are suspended in mid-air, unable to move. He controls you within the space of your attack. (3)

During an exchange with swords, the blocking was an absorption so perfect that it looked like a dance. His sword met Uke’s sword and he turned around him. After that, he counterattacked with a rapid blow to the temporal bone. It was fast and slow at the same time.

The first point of contact between the swords is a Shiten (4) It is dynamic, and sliding. Not giving any force to the opponent, Sensei turns around him, not giving him a chance to adjust his next move. Uke is unable to take any action. He said, “it is not Kendō, do not oppose the attacker, move with him. “Tatakai wa Janai,” there is no fight, no confrontation.” Instead, you disappear in plain sight.

The quality of the contact and of the distance is perfect. The attacker lies there, suspended in the air, this is Ukabu. There is no force involved, Uke stays in a waiting state. But he doesn’t fall because the small support given by the sword or the finger is enough to hold him in position. Then Sensei releases it, and Uke collapses on the ground.

Asked to explain what they felt, Sensei’s Uke couldn’t say. It felt like they were trapped like flies in a spider web. In this situation, the only way to stay alive a little longer is to not move after the first attack. Watching it was nice but feeling it was even better. Sensei said that “only those who experience it, have a small chance to get it.” I didn’t. What you feel with your senses is not the reality. As I wrote, you understand, but you are unable to reproduce it. It is a very high-level skill that Hatsumi Sensei showed us yesterday night.

With Thomas Heidenreich, my training partner, we did our best, but we couldn’t get close to that. During class, I spoke with my friends Doug, Oliver, Yabunaka, and others, it was not helping either. We were all lost. What was amazing is that Sensei does the same trick with all the weapons. It is not only a sword or a taijutsu thing, but he can also do it with anyone and any weapon. He always has the perfect distance and the perfect timing.

The depth of Hatsumi sensei’s control is impossible to match. When I watch this 87-year-old man moving, I often wonder if we will be able to run like him one day. Don’t get me wrong. Sensei is human, and what he does is reachable. But how many more years do we need to get to his quality of movement?

Graf Durkheim wrote, “we understand the quality of the depth by its relation to the depth of the quality.” Hi no, Ken is the depth of the quality of control.

Doing a sword counter, Sensei said, “Cut the opponent or don’t, it doesn’t matter, the important is to control.”
Control is beyond waza, it is not a technique, it is something else.


1. Hi no Ken the secret sword. It comes from Himitsu 秘密; mystery, secret, esoteric teaching.
2. Ukabu 浮かぶ; to float; to be suspended, but also: to come to mind; to have inspiration.
3. Read this previous post: https://kumablog.org/2018/07/23/the-space-within/
4. Shiten 支点; fulcrum.

Kesshin: Determination

FB_IMG_1510929083242During the past months, Hatsumi sensei has been insisting on not avoiding Uke’s attacks. He has been repeating it, each class since I arrived.

Exploring more the concept of controlling the space from within (1), he said: “Don’t fight, but control. As you can see, I’m not dodging the attack.”

Last March, we covered the concepts of “Yokeru Janai” and “Tatakai wa Janai.” (2) (3)
You can read a few posts I wrote here about it.

If you do not avoid the attack and don’t fight then how do you expect to survive? I thought a long time about it last night with my friend Mister Jetlag. (4)

I came to the conclusion this is about determination, about your general attitude. (5) In the “Way He Walks,” I explained that Mutō Dori is the highest level of Taijutsu. It needs only one thing: perfect walking. When you “march” with confidence to the attacker, you create a space in which nothing yet is decided. Everything is possible. It is like “playing chicken” with the opponent, but not being concerned about the outcome.

There is a famous quote from Indian Chief Crazy Horse: “Today is a good day to die.” (6) This is the correct attitude to develop and nurture in training and to have on the battlefield. I often tell my students that as they wear the Yoroi on the battlefield, the risks are limited. They have to be more confident and don’t fear pain.

There is a paradox here because you will discover that the day you accept to be hit, you get hit less and less. Sensei even said once that “you have to fight with the yoroi, even if you have no yoroi.”

Determination gives you control over the space “within.” There everything is possible. Explaining a counter technique Sensei went even further. He said, “Create a space where you can create anything, but don’t necessarily do something.” Uke is not stupid, and he doesn’t want to die. So by not doing the obvious, you force him into “acting” instead of “reacting.”

“If the single-minded determination is absent, one will never advance regardless of the years in training… The technique has its place, but spiritual forging is far more important” Yamaoka Tesshū. (8)


1. Read the previous post on the kumablog HERE
2. Yokeru 避ける; to avoid physical contact with, to avoid a situation. Then “Yokeru Janai” means “do not avoid the attack.” HERE
3. Tatakai 戦い; battle; fight; struggle; conflict. Then “Tatakai wa Janai” means “do not fight or create a conflict.”
4. Some trips are like that, and your nights are endless and very short. But at least you have time to think.
5. Determination 決心; Kesshin
6. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/today_is_a_good_day_to_die
7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamaoka_Tessh%C5%AB
8. Yamaoka Tesshū: You can get his biography “The sword of no sword” at Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Sword-No-Sword-Master-Warrior-Tesshu/dp/1570620504

The Space Within


During the break, Sensei displayed a new katana. But unsheathing it, inside was a ninjatō. He told us that he was collecting a hundred of these ninjatō to make an exhibition. He said that he wanted to show the world of scholars how wrong they were. Truth is not in the books, it is in real life. A theory doesn’t supersede praxis. He then spoke about history.

“In history,” he said, “the names of the important players are often hidden. They are not forgotten. The ones we learn about in our textbooks, are there to help us not to forget, but they are not always the major ones. Important actions in life are being conveyed in the shadows”.

What you don’t see is superior to what you can. This is what differentiates the Omote from the Ura, exactly like in a technique. When Sensei moves, the things you see are not always what makes it possible. It is the invisible, the Kūkan, that gives life to the movements.

At the beginning of the class, Sensei spoke again about “controlling the space” with Mutō Dori. He said that we “do not have to control the space, but to control within the space.”

When you only control the space there are not so many options, you wrap the situation. But when your control applies “within the space,” you can create many actions. In an instant, you act on it, or not. Doing nothing is always a possibility. You are free in your body and your mind, everything is open, you are at the Ura level.

This is not the case with Uke. As he sees (or feels) what you can do, his mind is being trapped in an endless analytical process. The vast number of your possible reactions overwhelms him. His decision process is stuck at the Omote level. As a consequence, he can only react, too late, to what you are doing. When your control applies “within the space,” you are at the master of the game.

Whatever Uke tries to do, based on the Omote analysis of your actions, is visible to you. As you have no preconceived idea, your awareness is total. You see Uke’s reactions like waves you can surf when they unfold before your eyes.

During the class, Tezuka san launched a Tsuki with a knife to Sensei. Sensei stopped him with one finger to support him. He seemed like suspended in mid-air as if Sensei was “not there.” Sensei was not emitting anything.

Waiting for Sensei’s next move, he couldn’t carry out his attack to the end. Instead, he stood there frozen in time and space. When Sensei stopped supporting him, Tezuka san fell straight to the ground. It was like watching a Roadrunner cartoon. The coyote stays suspended in the air before dropping down from the cliff.

Tezuka san explained that he got locked there because he was unable to know or feel what Sensei was going to do next. And at the exact moment he made a decision to move, sensei “disappeared” and gravity took over.

In the dōjō as in our lives, we have to use the Ura more than the Omote. Remember that what you show is less valuable than what you are.

The Gentleman Magician

A class with Senō sensei is always a great moment. As he was in and out a lot recently, I was glad to learn he was teaching at the honbu. For me, Senō sensei is a gentleman and a magician. His elegant taijutsu mixed with his magic precision don’t stop to amaze me. And he is resilient like a real Shinobi. Respect!

As it is often the case when he teaches, I am lost after a few minutes. In fact, this is why I cherish his classes, they are a challenge. Being lost and unable to redo what he shows is a lesson of humility and the best way to improve my knowledge. Going to Japan is about training and learning always more.

Today’s movement was about surfing the wave created by Uke’s movements. It was a simple double Tsuki. But simplicity is hard to get. Uke was attacking left then right. On the first attack, you dodged sideways, controlling with the body and the right hand. On the second one, you pivoted like a door on the outside of the fist, control the arm and boshi/fudō ken to butsumetsu. Then Uke goes down in a kind of Katame Dori leaving him lying on his belly. From there, we did many variations using Yubi kudaki, changing sides, using Te Dama Dori, etc.


I will not explain everything we did, but want to detail a few points here:

1. Osaeru more than “control”:

In my previous blog entry, I stressed the difference bat ween “Osaeru” and “control.” Rob told me that Senō sensei was using the Japanese word instead of the English one used by Sensei. After this class with Senō, I understood the difference. Hatsumi Sensei uses the whole body and mind. Senō sensei emphasizes the biomechanical aspect of the movement. Without an excellent knowledge of the body, the “control” remains at the physical level. Once you have the knowledge, then the next step is to control the whole.

2. Elbow stuck to the body:

One interesting tip was to move, intercept the Tsuki by using the whole body keeping the elbow attached to the body. When you do that, strength is not needed as the mass of your body makes the block with the body weight behind. The footwork though is quite technical. If you do it wrong, then you release too much force and destroy the benefits of the block. You must do that with a perfect transfer of your body weight: not too much, and not too little.

3. Yubi kudaki wrapping:

Once you did the block, your hand stays glued to the opponent’s forearm. You can do this inside or outside. Then by extending your fingers, one finger gets in contact with Uke’s wrist. The footwork allows you then to rotate your hand, using this finger as a Shiten to redirect uke’s strength. (1)

4. Te Dama Dori to control the opponent:

When outside Uke you can apply Te Dama Dori to off balance the opponent quickly. You can find this in the book published by Sensei in 1983 “Togakure Ryū Ninpō Taijutsu. This is one beneficial way to get Uke’s balance without using strength. (2)

5. Use your footwork through the hips, use no strength: (3)

All these tips are possible only because you are not using any strength. As Sensei puts it “you control the attacker with your hips.” Your body moves because your body as a whole is moving.

All these points are add-ons to your movements. They are not specific to this one technique. These are the little gems you get when you come here to train in Japan.
Use them, and become a Gentleman magician too.


1. Shiten 支点; fulcrum, support

2. 手玉に取る; (leading) someone by the nose. Here it means to redirect uke’s attention to take his balance. Sensei and the Japanese Shihan use it a lot. Don’t apply force or pain that could make Uke change his steps.

3. footwork 足さばき; Ashi sabaki

The Way He Walks

IMG_20180720_213713When you train with Sōke, what is important is not what you see, but what you don’t. If you want to understand Sensei’s techniques, study the way he walks. This is the secret.

Last night there were not so many people attending class, it was good. I guess the heat in Japan is a good reason for many Bujinkan practitioners not to come. Also, the majority have reached the highest rank, so they don’t feel the need to go and train anymore. This will change once again if Sensei creates a new diploma. Then, people will rush back in to get promoted.

With not so many students in the dōjō gives Sensei the freedom to use many different weapons. That was the case in this class. We did taijutsu, hanbō, tantō, biken, and bō. Many Buki gives you a different vision on the technique. It shows the same movement with various angles and different distances. (1)

Our eyes need time to see things correctly. It happened to me last night. It was evident that what Sōke showed us was not what we had to do. When you look at his body movements, you first watch what he is doing, and make a mental checklist. But this is the beginner’s approach to reality. His Mutō Dori is beyond that. In fact, Mutō Dori is simple. It is about controlling Uke in all aspects. Your action or the lack of it controls the attacker. This happens before, during and after the attack. Also, it is not limited to the opponent, it includes the space between and around us.

In a break, I asked Rob how to say control in Japanese. “Control,” he said. He told me that the Japanese verb is “Osaeru,” but that sensei prefers the English “control.” (2)
The word “Control” is more holistic and not as diverse as the many meanings of the Japanese word. “Control” englobes the physical and the non-physical. Senō sensei uses “Osaeru,” but then he is only referring to the biomechanical level.

We began with taijutsu and for the first time “I saw it.” Uke is under control, the moment he launches the attack. (3)
Mutō Dori is the ultimate level of Budō and has nothing to do with the physical technique, it is an attitude. We know that “Kamaeru” means taking a stance, but it also means to “assume an attitude.” (4)

Thanks to my jetlag, I had time to think during the night, and I played with the concepts of Tai gamae and Kokoro gamae. Until yesterday I thought that “Kokoro gamae” was more advanced. I guess I was wrong. As a beginner, you learn that your body posture (Tai) can be different from your mental posture (Kokoro). Until last night this is why I was thinking. Sensei’s “one-body movement” lies above this dualistic vision. A holistic Tai gamae exists at the Mutō Dori.

The Yoroi teaches “One-body movement.” When you have Yoroi on, you have no choice, you have to be one. (5)
The more important lesson of Yoroi fighting is to learn how to walk correctly. The correct way of walking comes from the battlefield, thus walking is the secret of Mutō Dori. This is what I understood yesterday!

Walking is the secret origin of all martial arts. Fight efficiency is coming from your ability to walk. Remember that footwork is the essence of the Bujinkan and Budō.

Sensei’s movements are invisible because like a magician, what he shows is not what you have to focus on. He creates an illusion.

Do you want to understand Sensei’s techniques? It is simple, study the way he walks.

1. Buki 武器; weapon, arms, ordnance
2. Osaeru 押さえる
Here are the different translations of “Osaeru”:
a) to pin something down; to hold something down; to hold something back; to stop; to restrain; to curb esp.
b) to seize; to grasp; to arrest esp.
c) to gain control of something; to govern; to keep down (information); to suppress
d) to catch happening; to determine (important points); to find (proof); to understand
3. My friend Duncan explained in March that “Sensei control me, the moment he asks me to stand up and attack him.” I wrote about it in a previous entry here (March 2018).
4. Kamaeru 構える; to put on an air; to assume an attitude
5. Yoroi 鎧; Japanese armor