Tag: bujinkan

Kūkan (空関): The Empty Gate

When I was asked for a theme for three upcoming Bujinkan seminars (details below) that I’ve been invited to give in April, the concept of Kūkan immediately came to mind. Kūkan is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the Bujinkan, and Chris Taylor, host of the Vancouver seminar, asked me to elaborate more specifically on how we’ll be approaching it…

When Hatsumi Sōke uses the word Kūkan in the Dōjō, it’s most often simply translated into English as “space”, but as is often the case when Sōke speaks, there is frequently a deeper sense than can be conveyed in a single word, and the translator is often pressed to succinctly express the full meaning of one idea as Sōke quickly moves on to the next. For instance, there’s another word that Sōke uses from time to time that’s also translated as “space”: Kokū. In both Kūkan and Kokū, the same character for ( 空 ) is used, which has the meaning of emptiness or void. When this character is pronounced Sora, it means “sky”. It can also be pronounced Kara, as in Karate ( 空手 – “empty hand” ).

But while both Kūkan and Kokū are often simply translated in the Dōjō as “space”, they have quite different meanings. Kokū refers to boundless, limitless space, space that has no borders or boundaries. This term thus often refers to the heavens, the cosmos – outer space. Kūkan, on the other hand, could in one sense be rendered as inner space – it refers to space that has borders or boundaries by which it is outlined or enclosed and by which the shape, dimensions / size, or range (distance) of the space are defined. The character normally used for the Kan of Kūkan is 間, which depicts a sun ( 日 ) in the space between the two doors of a gate ( 門 ). The doors define the space or interval that the sun’s light shines through. This character for Kan can also be pronounced Ma, and it is used in this form in another term often used in the Dōjō – the term Ma-ai ( 間合 ), meaning “distance”, the interval between two points.

In thinking about the theme for the upcoming seminars, however, I decided to play with the characters a bit. Instead of the Kan normally used in Kūkan, I thought of another Kan – the character used in the word for “joint”, Kansetsu ( 関節 ). This came to mind because the skeletal joints are an example of Kūkan within the body structure. The little spaces between our finger joints, for example, are what enable us to use our hands with a dexterity that wouldn’t be possible if our fingers were each formed from a single, solid bone. (Similarly, the links in a chain employ empty space for flexibility – and even a rope derives its suppleness EmptyGatefrom the small spaces between the strands of which it is composed.) This Kan ( 関 ) is used to convey connection and relatedness. Budō ni kan-suru ( 武道に関する ) means “related to Budō”, for example. So Kūkan written as 空関 has the sense of “related to empty space”.

Additionally, the character 関 literally means “barrier” or “gate” (a gate being a wall or barrier with an opening in it). Thus, Kūkan written as 空関 also has the sense of being “void of impediment or obstacle” in addition to the sense of relation to empty space, and it’s this idea that I’d like to get across in the Taijutsu techniques that we’ll be working on in the upcoming seminars. Creating space allows one to pass through obstacles without impediment, resulting in smooth, effortless, and efficient movement in the same way that one passes through the empty space in a wall created by a door or gate. An opening is an opportunity that may look like nothing – and it is! That’s what makes it useful. I sum up this paradox with the phrase Nai ga aru ( 無いが有る ), meaning Nothing (or more accurately, nothingness) exists. The theme of these seminars thus refers to finding and creating empty spaces, and using those openings to one’s advantage in Taijutsu. I look forward to seeing many of you in Stockholm, Brussels, and Vancouver!

Kūkan Ikkan!

Shawn Gray
Ryūun (龍雲)

160430 Seminar T-Shirt
~ Upcoming Seminars (2016) ~
“Kūkan: Nai Ga Aru”

Apr 16-17 – Stockholm (details)
Contact: Kent Thorén (email)

Apr 23-24 – Brussels (details)
Contact: Jan Ramboer (Facebook)

Apr 30 – Vancouver
Contact: Chris Taylor (Facebook)

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A Guide to Happiness – Kōfuku No Shiori(幸福の栞)

Kofuku No Shiori - JapaneseA couple of weeks ago I posted a few of observations about Kōfuku No Shiori on Facebook – posting a longer follow-up here at the suggestion of friends.

fuku No Shiori (幸福の栞), which translates as “A Guide to Happiness“, is a short text by Takamatsu Sōke. In seeing the Japanese original again recently, a number of things came to mind and I thought it might be good to post an English translation that will perhaps breathe some new life into this well-known and meaningful piece. Here’s the Japanese original:

Let’s break it down and see what we can find …

1) 皆さん、互いに憂を捨てて幸福を得ましょう。

The first thing that strikes me when I read the Japanese is the use of 皆さん (“Mina-san“), which means all or everyone. It begins the first sentence, and you can see that it appears at the beginning of two other sentences in this text as well. This is interesting because it indicates that Takamatsu Sōke was consciously addressing a group of people – all of the readers. The original context may have been such that it was intended for his own students, or for a specific group, such as a group of Hatsumi Sōke’s students at the time. Nevertheless, when we read it today, we can read it as if it’s addressed to us, the readers, as well. Why is it significant that the text is addressed to everyone? The rest of the first sentence sheds more light on that, beginning with the next phrase, 互いに (tagai-ni), which means together, mutually, or with each other. The opening sentence ends with the verb 得ましょう (emashou), meaning to obtain or to attain, with the verb ending (~shou) being used to further suggest togetherness in the same way that we use the word “let’s” in English (tabemashou = let’s eat; ikimashou = let’s go). So, in writing about Happiness (幸福, kōfuku), the author isn’t simply saying, “Be happy”, he’s saying “Everyone, let’s attain happiness together.” That’s quite a significant difference. There’s more here, too. He also refers to the throwing or casting away (捨てる) of sorrow (憂, urei – also translated as grief, etc) in this same context of togetherness. An accurate rendering of the first sentence in English would thus be, Everyone, let’s together cast away sorrow and attain happiness.

2) 皆さん、幸福は人生最高の満足です。

Once again, he begins with 皆さん, Everyone, and simply states that happiness is the most satisfying thing in life (a more direct, literal rendering would be, happiness is life’s ultimate satisfaction).

3) 悲しみとか不満とかを捨て、思い直すのも幸福です。

Ultimate satisfaction sounds great, right? Everybody wants that! The author recognizes that it’s not that simple – human beings struggle with feelings of sorrow and discontent. The author urges us to find Happiness by discarding those negative feelings and taking another look at our situation. Sorrow (悲しみ, kanashimi) and discontent (不満, fuman) are pretty straight-forward to translate, and although 捨てる (suteru, used above as well) has a wide range of possibilities (such as “throw away, “leave behind”, “discard”, “abandon”, “dispose of”, etc.), I thought “cast away” fit well in this context.

What I found interesting here was 思い直す (omoi-naosu). Omoi is from Omou (思う), “to think“. Naosu (直す) is interesting here because not only does it have the meaning of doing something again (repeating something), but also because it carries the sense of “fixing”, “correcting”, or “repairing” something in the process. For example, in addition to having the sense of repeating something, Naosu is also commonly used to say things like “I’ll fix the chair” or “I’ll correct the issue”.

I’ve rendered Omoi-naosu as “re-thinking” to convey the sense, which I think is implied in the original Japanese, that Happiness is achieved here not only by simply looking back upon sorrow and discontent in life, but by actively choosing to discard sorrow and discontent and re-think (re-frame or “correct”) our perspective on our life experiences. I think Takamatsu Sōke is observing that Happiness doesn’t come from our external circumstances but from the perspective that we choose to take on those circumstances: Casting sorrow and discontent away and re-thinking is also happiness.

4) 災害、病害を前知して覚り改めることも幸福です。

Like the previous sentence, this one is simple, direct, and to-the-point in the Japanese. The first two terms are 災害 (saigai – calamity, disaster, or misfortune) and 病害 (byogai – disease or blight). Saigai can perhaps be understood as the calamity itself, and Byogai as the bodily effects of the calamity. 前知 (zenchi) refers to foreknowledge or anticipation, 覚り(satori) means understanding (but also with the sense of enlightenment or spiritual awakening), and 改める (aratameru) refers to correcting, rectifying, or improving – similar to the idea expressed by Naosu above. Once again, Happiness isn’t a product of our circumstances, but a product of our perspectiveAnticipating and correcting one’s understanding of the ravages of calamity and disease is also happiness.

5) 皆さん、幸福は眼前に持って居ります。

Again, 皆さん, Everyone. Again, short and to-the-point: Everyone, happiness is waiting there before your eyes.

6) これを掴むと掴まぬにより、不幸とも幸福ともなるのです。

There are a couple of interesting points here as well. The first is the use of これ (this) at the beginning. What does this refer to? Does it refer to happiness? It could, yes. It could also refer to the previous sentence as a whole, which gives a different sense to what follows: whether you grasp (掴む, tsukamu) this or don’t grasp (掴まぬ, tsukamanu) this. So the phrase could mean a) whether you grasp happiness or not, or b) whether you grasp the point of the previous statement (about happiness waiting there before your eyes) or not. Maybe they’re both the same thing. ;-)

Another interesting point here, I think, is the mention of 不幸 (fukou, unhappiness) as the alternative if you don’t grasp it: Whether you grasp it or not determines your unhappiness or happiness.

7) 何人もお聞きになり、お尋ね下されて、幸福の栞を拾おて下され。

I like the way that Takamatsu Sōke ends this piece. He doesn’t say, “There’s my advice, take it or leave it” or, “That’s the word on finding happiness, there you have it.” He encourages the reader to go out and find the guide for Happiness for themselves by asking (お聞き) and inquiring (お尋ね) of everyone (何人も). Ask others, get opinions, and find it for yourself: Ask everyone, inquire of them, and find the guide to Happiness.
I think these together form a pretty accurate translation of Kōfuku No Shiori:

Everyone, let’s together cast away sorrow and attain happiness.
Everyone, happiness is life’s ultimate satisfaction.
Casting sorrow and discontent away and re-thinking is also happiness.
Anticipating and correcting one’s understanding of the ravages of calamity and disease is also happiness.
Everyone, happiness is waiting there before your eyes.
Whether you grasp it or not determines your unhappiness or happiness.
Ask everyone, inquire of them, and find the guide to Happiness.



‘Kōfuku’, by Hatsumi Sōke


Takamatsu Sōke led an adventurous life, but in hearing and reading stories over the years, “happy” isn’t always the first word that comes to mind – at least not when one looks at the external circumstances of his life. But as the wise Ninjutsu master teaches us here, it’s our internal perspective that matters. Looking back over painful or unfortunate circumstances, re-considering, re-thinking, and re-orienting our perspectives can allow us to lead fuller, happier lives. In a recent message I received from Shiraishi Sensei, he referred to ‘the study of Ninjutsu, which creates happiness’. I’m willing to bet that he’s read Kōfuku No Shiori a couple of times.

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Muto No Kyojitsu (無闘の虚実)


Back after a _long_ hiatus, with a brief post to explain the theme for two Bujinkan seminars I’ll be doing in January – Vancouver (Jan 4/5) and Houston (Jan 11/12). Maybe writing this will also spur me on to go back and pick up Path to the Heart of the Flower, a story that I began to write in early 2012. I also have some other ideas that I’d like to write about, but it’s hard to find the time. Thanks to those of you who keep asking me to write, as it helps to keep it on my mind and pushes it a little higher up on the priority list. :)

When the seminar hosts asked me about a theme for training, I thought back over some important things that Hatsumi Sensei focused on in Hombu Dojo Keiko this past year. The official theme of training as announced at the beginning of the year was Ken (劔), the straight, double-edged sword, but as often happens with Sensei, the theme had completely morphed by the second half of the year. In fact, we rarely used Ken at all in training for most of the whole second half of the year. I’m not sure the reason, but we somehow found ourselves doing a lot of Muto Dori (無刀捕り) work against both regular Katana (刀) and Bo (棒). Sensei continued to stress the central importance of Muto Dori throughout the end of the year, with much mention of the role of Kyojitsu (虚実) within Muto Dori movement.

Hell under the upraised sword . . .

Hell under the upraised sword . . .

I’ve always liked to cheer for the underdog. I like strategies and techniques that enable a physically weaker person to even the odds against a physically stronger person. That’s why I like Gyokko Ryu movement. Sensei emphasized the importance of this kind of movement a lot early in the year,  and especially at the Bujinkan Women’s Taikai in March. In fact, Sensei stressed that women’s self-defense was the last and greatest thing that he learned from Takamatsu Sensei, stating that this idea reflects the pinnacle of Taijutsu training. The use of weakness to defeat strength.

This idea is highlighted even further when the opponent has a weapon and the defender is unarmed. Facing a physically bigger, stronger opponent can be daunting enough as it is, let alone an opponent who’s trying to take your head off with a meter-long razor blade. Learning to deal with this type of situation is challenging for even the most skilled martial artists, which is precisely why Muto Dori should be practised with  proper Kihon (基本, fundamentals / basics), practised well, and practised often. The lessons learned can be applied not only to classical scenarios with swords, but also to modern situations where an opponent might have a knife, a stick, or virtually any other kind of weapon. Or no weapon at all – Muto Dori principles can just as easily be applied against unarmed attacks.

That brings me to the concept of Kyojitsu (虚実). That’s Jitsu (“fact, truth”) with an ‘i’, not Jutsu (“art, technique”) with a ‘u’. Different words, different meanings, different spellings. The word Kyojitsu is made simply by putting the Kanji for “lie” or “falsehood” next to the Kanji for “truth” or “fact”. False-fact. Lie-truth. How does this make any sense? This is a great term because the composition of the term itself teaches us about the nature of its meaning. That is, that its nature is illogical. By definition, it doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to make sense. Sensei often talks about common sense being of no use in a fight – that one needs to throw away common sense in that situation and adopt un-common sense. Fighting is crazy, and war is insane. Why should one human being want to harm another human being in the first place? Perhaps that’s the actually the root of the issue, but standing around philosophizing about it in an illogical situation will only get you cut down by that meter-long razor blade. There’s a time for thinking, and a time for doing. Standing unarmed in front of a sword-wielding attacker is not a time for thinking. People involved in serious accidents or other life-threatening situations often say that in the midst of the craziness, in the midst of the chaos, it was as if their mind shut off and they went on to auto-pilot. That is, they stopped thinking, and just acted. To many people, even the idea of stop thinking sounds illogical. How do you stop thinking? Not by thinking about stopping. Only by doing it. This concept don’t think, just act is essential to Muto Dori. To do this, of course, requires a lot of practise. Your body needs to know what to do when you put it on auto-pilot, and it learns what to do through repetition, training, and practise. A Gokui (極意, mystery / secret) of Muto Dori teaches this importance of doing:


Furi kazasu tachi no shita koso jigoku nare
Ichi to ashi susume saki wa gokuraku

Hell under the upraised sword,
one step forward is paradise

... step in, and Heaven is your reward.

… step in, and Heaven is your reward.

So let me see, this angry guy is brandishing a meter-long razor blade at me, and you want me to … what? Stepping in might sound illogical (not to mention dangerous). On the spot, it might seem to make more sense to turn and run away (when in fact turning your back could be even more dangerous). This daring to step in, this stepping forward instead of away, this doing, is one example of Kyojitsu.

In thinking about these ideas, I realized that there’s a Kanji meaning “fighting” that is also pronounced “To”: 闘. One can therefore write Muto the regular way (無刀), which means “without a sword”, and one can also write Muto as 無闘, “without fighting”. (Wouldn’t you know it – the day after I realized this about these Kanji, I discovered the same use of it in Sensei’s latest book, Ninja Taizen.) This kind of wordplay is another example of Kyojitsu – first the word means one thing, and then it means something else. Or, you think it means one thing, when in reality it means another.

So this is the type of concept that we’re going to be working with at the two seminars I’ll be teaching in January – “Muto Dori – Muto No Kyojitsu” (無刀捕り:無闘の虚実). I guess you could also call it, “Head-scratching non-combative unarmed responses to armed attacks” if you like. :-) I hope this short article has helped to shed some light on the ideas behind the theme. If you’ll be in Vancouver or Houston during the dates listed above and would like to attend, please contact me on Facebook or by email at bujinkan@graydojo.org, or contact the seminar host directly via the Facebook page.


The secret of Muto Dori is achieving a state of non-combat.
The secret of Taijutsu is to know the path of peace.
~ Hatsumi Masaaki Soke ~

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Courage is better than skills


Courage is more important than skills, if you don’t have courage to use your skills, what’s the point?

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Bojutsu vs Kenjutsu vs Bojutsu vs Kenjutsu…


Cutting against his arm

This summer like most summers we train a lot more with long weapons since the dojo is too small to really use long weapons properly. This summer we train Bojutsu against Kenjutsu (long staff against sword). I think I teach and train a little different than most Bujinkan teachers out there, but I can’t really say maybe there is those who approach the training like I do. Let me explain.

Kote haneage followed by Haneage

Kote haneage followed by Haneage

First of all you learn how to use the staff, spinning and striking etc, this is mostly solo-training. Then you learn the Keiko Sabaki Kata (movement practice techniques) in my dojo we only practice one technique for the whole two hour class. Some students really have problems with coordination, others capture it quicker. In this first step I don’t mention distance, timing or anything except which strikes and blocks to make. This can also be solo-training and done alone against an imagined opponent.

Second I take the sword and we focus on how to handle the situation the best way with a sword. If he is attacking me with the staff I immediately counter him by stepping forward. I’m not gonna step backwards defending myself all the time, when he steps in to strike me in his preferred distance out of my reach; I boldly step in at the same time and block the staff and get even closer into my preferred distance so I can cut him with the sword. As I see it this is the only chance I have against a longer weapon, there is no point of running backwards.

Catching the staff and Tsuki

Catching the staff and Tsuki

Thirdly I take the staff again. I attack the kenjutsu-ka fully (not really, but almost) and make sure he does a good block, and as he block I don’t stay frozen or try to push harder on him. As I strike I’m already prepared for the next movement when he comes in and try to cut me, I move out to my distance and do the next strike.

Then I take the sword again and try to avoid being hit from this point in the technique, by blocking and countering again. I’m not really gonna give up or run away. If I can cut I will cut.

Then again I take the staff and try to deal with this really difficult opponent, I avoid his cut and counter him until the end of the technique where I make it impossible for him to do anything. Then the technique is finished without changing the sequences of the strikes, the only thing that is flexible is the distance and the timing. And this is where the true training comes in.

Then at the end of the class we record a short demo to video which will be available for download later. This is how we spend our two hour trainings at Kaigozan Dojo this summer.

No henka, no variations, true to the technique.

Kote haneage as he try to cut my left arm

Kote haneage as he try to cut my left arm

I always thought quality is better than quantity. It is amazing how cleverly these techniques is made up, it is so much more than executing the strikes rapidly against a rather passive opponent. If the opponent (sword-guy) is good and understand how to use the sword there is really not many options to change the technique and do something different, the possibility for henka becomes very narrow, what you can change is very small details. For me this is what henka means, you failed your initial technique and need to adapt because of miscalculation.

I know there are those out there only doing henka-training, but how do you do henka training only, henka of what? If you try to train yourself into intuition without basic foundation you are doing something I don’t understand. You weren’t born out from nowhere, someone did something very basic with someone and you was born. How do you henka anything into existence?

Victory ending of the technique

Victory ending of the technique

If anyone is interesting I’m doing three more one day Bojutsu mini-seminars this summer.

Happy Training!


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