Courage is more important than skills, if you don’t have courage to use your skills, what’s the point?
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.
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.
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.
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?
If anyone is interesting I’m doing three more one day Bojutsu mini-seminars this summer.
Kukishinden ryū happō biken
The founder Yakushimaru Kurando Takanao was a military governor (shugo) under Emperor Go-Daigo. The Kuki family name was an honour granted later. Kenjutsu is added to the eight methods that include bō, yari, naginata, shuriken and taijutsu. The sword (technique) is especially wonderful. At this time it was an era of war and many people were killed with the sword. Later in the period of peace it became the life saving sword. The Kuki naval forces worked on board ship so the fundamental became dropping the hips for a low stable stance.
九鬼神伝流八法秘剣 Kukishinden ryū happō biken – nine demons divine transmission style, eight methods, secret sword.
The 鬼 ki of kuki is generally translated as demon, however could also mean spirit or ogre (read Oni), more importantly this does not have the evil connotation that the word demon in English (or Judeo-Christian languages) does.
Shinden can variously be translated as ‘teachings of the gods’ ‘teaching conveyed from the gods’ ‘transmitted to the soul’.
Happō can be eight methods, laws or principles, bearing in mind that eight can imply ‘numerous’.
薬師丸蔵人隆真 Yakushimaru Kurando Takanao
薬師丸 Yakushimaru – medicine man, chemical expert
蔵人 Kurando – keeper of imperial archives or a sake brewer
隆真 Takanao – noble truth – the same kanji can also be read as Takamasa, Takanori, Ryūma, Ryūshin and various others – as there is no furigana in the article to indicate the pronunciation I’ve left it as Takanao.
守護 Shugo – military governor in the Kamakura and Muromachi period
後醍醐天皇 Go-Daigo Tennō – the later or second to bear the name Daigo, equivalent of saying Emperor Daigo II. Tennō – heavenly emperor/Emperor of Japan. Lived 1288 – 1339 and reigned from 1318 – 1339.
Go-Daigo in 1336/7 (transition from Kamakura to Muromachi period) set up the southern court and so began the period of two courts Nanboku-chō (Southern and Northern)
1185 – 1333 鎌倉時代 Kamakura jidai
1333 – 1336 建武の新政 Kemmu no Shinsei
1336 – 1573 室町時代 Muromachi jidai
1336 – 1392 南北朝時代 Nanboku-chō jidai (a subdivision of the Muromachi)
The lineage chart shows Kukishinden ryū, originating with Yakushimaru Kurando, passing through Ōoka Kihei Shigenobu to Ishitani Matsutarō Takakage who then passes it on to Takamatsu Toshitsugu to arrive at Hatsumi Masaaki. Note here that in the Japanese article 大岡鬼平重信 Ōoka Kihei Shigenobu is written – usually this person is 大国 Ōkuni Kihei Shigenobu – this may be typo from when the chart was edited for the magazine…
Thanks to everyone who has continued to prod me to continue writing this blog! Life gets busy, and it’s always easy to find other things to do, but … here we go again. :) (Yes, I promise I will eventually get to the end of this story! (Does it really have an end? Not sure about that one…) )
Last time I wrote a little bit about Karate training in Kumamoto and Kendo training in Hiroshima. Chitose Soke and Fujiwara Sensei were both amazing gentlemen who I’d learned a lot from in the short time I’d spent with them. In Part II, I wrote about my Karate training in Fukuyama with Kanao Sensei, who I continued to visit every weekend for training. In November 1990, he’d used his connections at the Fukuyama Post Office to make me “Postmaster-for-a-day” and weaseled me into being the poster-gaijin. A local TV station and 3 local newspapers came to cover the event. I discovered the old newspaper clippings in my closet and thought it would be fun to post them. :)
By the time May 1991 came around, it was time to wrap up my time in Japan and head back to Canada. After many heartfelt goodbyes to the good friends I’d met, I got on the plane back to small-town New Brunswick and back to college. I flew from Narita to L.A. and then to Eastern Canada from there. My bags weren’t as eager to get back to Canada right away, and decided they wanted to go to Brazil from L.A. instead of back home with me. It was 2 weeks before I got my luggage back – and, thankfully, all of my Kendo gear was still intact. :)
I worked summer jobs landscaping and mowing lawns to pay for the coming semester at college. The year in Japan had taught me a lot – and one of the things that it had taught me was that I didn’t want to me a missionary. The missionary that I’d been assigned to work with in Japan was so uncultured and racist that it had turned me off completely. I decided to do one more semester at the small Christian college I’d spent 2 years at before going to Japan, and then head to the opposite side of the country to a bigger university with more options when that was finished. But before starting the fall semester, I was interested to see what Karate training would be like at my home Karate club after having spent nearly a year training in Japan. I made a habit of arriving early to class so that I could work on the material that I’d learned from Kanao Sensei before the class started. Not long after I’d been back, while I was reviewing one of the Kata I’d learned in Japan, a senior member of the club approached me and asked me where I’d learned it. When I told him, he requested that I not tell or show anyone else in the club what I was doing. You see, I was still a brown belt, and apparently what I was working on was 3rd-degree black belt material in Canada. Woooo. Wouldn’t want to upset anyone with that now, would we? Wooooo. I rolled my eyes and agreed to keep it quiet. I practiced that material at home in the backyard from then on – along with the Kendo bokken kata that I’d learned from Fujiwara Sensei.
The summer came and went, and I found myself back in the dormitory at college. I roomed with my best friend Jack, who had a habit of sleeping in. I had a remedy to help him with that – it was a bamboo shinai training sword that I’d brought back from Japan with me. It seems one’s shins can only take so much before one prefers to get out of bed. :) Oh well, at least it got him to chapel some of the time. Chapel attendance was mandatory. (Yes, it was a college, not a kindergarten.) By this time I’d been promoted to Shodan (1st degree black belt) in Karate, and started a training club at the college, hoping that it might help people with fitness and discipline, and help me to remember the material that I’d been working on as well. I have a feeling that it fizzled out shortly after I left. Rooming with Jack did have its perks though. Jack was a bit of a computer whiz, and had his computer hooked up via a 2800-baud modem (or something like that) to the phone line. A full four years before Internet service started to really take off in Canada, I saw a picture of a naked woman appear on the computer screen. Slowly, ever so slowly, one slowly-inching pixel-line at a time. I forget just how long it took the image to finish loading, but once it was completed, I wondered if maybe there was something to this computer-network thing after all. It was October, 1991. Nobody knew what a Facebook was. And luckily, none of the faculty found out about the image on the screen, or I might have been demerited, suspended, punished – or just sent straight to hell. :)
Anyway, that semester passed pretty quick, and I was off to Vancouver, 5,000km away on the other side of the country. Although I’d been dumbfounded at the size of Tokyo (around 25 million), Vancouver was still pretty big by Canadian standards, at around one-tenth that size. Still pretty daunting for someone from a town of 3,600. I knew no-one in the city, and found myself in a youth hostel trying to find an apartment and a job before my money ran out. I had no idea what the city was like, and made a quick, desperate decision to rent a place that I went to look at one night. It was furnished. Pretty shoddily, but it was furnished. The first night I slept there I heard a huge crash right behind the wall of my room at about 4:30am. I discovered that my building was literally right next to the port and there was a freight rail line that ran right behind the building. Two train sections had bumped together to connect them, which is what had made the crashing sound. The next morning, I walked out into the sunshine and found myself dodging used condoms and needles on the sidewalk. Apparently Commercial and Hastings wasn’t the best place to be living. I found a job at a local Japanese tourist gift shop while waiting for the summer semester of the Canadian Summer Institute of Linguistics to start. It took me about 20 minutes to walk to work, and on the way I’d regularly be propositioned by drug dealers and prostitutes. After I’d been there a couple of months, a Vietnamese gang broke into a place up the street and killed 4 people to burgle their house. I decided I should probably look at finding a better place to live. Around that time, I read a newspaper article stating that women between age 20-25 who lived in the few-block radius I lived in were 25% more likely to die of homicide or drug overdose than anywhere else in Canada. I accelerated my new home search and found a place in New Westminster. I didn’t see a prostitute there for a full 2 weeks, so it seemed like a much better place to live.
During this time, I was of course looking for a Bujinkan dojo to train in. I figured a city like Vancouver must have a Bujinkan training group, and I found what I was looking for – a seminar advertisement – at “Golden Arrow Martial Arts Supply.” I was ecstatic – finally a real, legitimate Bujinkan dojo. I called the number listed and made plans to attend the seminar, which was held at a school gymnasium in White Rock, just south of Vancouver. I got the bus out to White Rock and was happy to participate. There were a lot of differences from what I was used to. The group hadn’t been going that long, so most of the students were still fairly junior. I’d been doing martial arts quite seriously now for over seven years and had recently come back from a pretty full-on experience in Japan. But when I looked at the kind of things that were being shown, I was intrigued and could see that this would be a very interesting art once one developed a bit of skill at it. I began to train with the instructor in his regular classes, continuing my Karate training in parallel for the first few months. I had committed a number of years to Karate now, and didn’t want to put it aside lightly.
I was approaching my Nidan (2nd Dan) grading in Karate, which was a pretty big deal. Grades work differently in Karate than in the Bujinkan. The two top people in my Karate style in Canada were both Japanese gentlemen – one was 7-Dan and one was 6-Dan. These were considered very senior ranks in our style, so even a 2-Dan wasn’t anything to sneeze at. But I was becoming disenchanted with the Karate training. I found the local instructor in Vancouver to be unnecessarily stern and overly formal, much more so than the Japanese instructors I’d trained with in Japan. I was forbidden to cross-train in anything else, even though the Soke (grandmaster) in Japan had encouraged me to train in Judo and Kendo in parallel to my Karate training. The training itself was very much geared towards winning points in tournaments, and they were strict about the contact rules – that is, you could easily get disqualified for hitting too hard. Our instructor would pair us up and have one person hold a pencil upright between his thumb and index finger. You had to hit the pencil and whip your hand back without knocking the pencil over – that would indicate that the strike was too hard and would result in a tournament penalty. It really seemed like nonsense to me, and this made it a bit easier to make the final decision to put down my Karate black belt and step out of my white uniform, and step into a black Bujinkan uniform and put on a white Bujinkan belt.
All the while I continued to dream of going back to Japan after completing my university studies. I was now enrolled at Trinity Western University (just outside Vancouver) working towards a BA degree in Intercultural Religious Studies with a Concentration in Linguistics. But most relevant to this particular story, perhaps, is that I was now training in a legitimate Bujinkan dojo that was connected to the Bujinkan headquarters in Japan. I found out that the Hombu Dojo in Japan was in a place called Noda – not Iga where I had gone looking for Hatsumi Sensei a year and a half before. The two places are actually about 500 kilometers apart. I had been way off. Next time I could get back to Japan, I’d be sure to be at the right place.
For the learning process of this secret, there is an initiation ceremony through the sixth sense, allowing the student to learn this strange technique. The student, dressed in white clothes, sitting motionless in an open room. The Master, like a shadow, without making any noise, attacks the student with a sword, as a floating boat. If the student dodges the sword, he got the secret, but if not, then that was it. There is a similarity between this and the artist who destroys his new work if he didn`t like it.
One day I was sitting in my master’s room when he told me: “wait here with your eyes closed, and do not open them, no matter what happens”, I relaxed and felt him leave the room. Suddenly, I made a side roll after I felt certain presence and I saw a shadow as if my body was splitted in half. Then I made a forward ukemi, after I felt that my head flew away. When I returned to Shizen Fudoza, I opened my eyes when I heard his voice said: “well done; you may open your eyes”. Then I say Takamatsu Sensei standing with a sword on his right hand. Being incredibly steady, I realized that this was the spiritual technique through the sixth sense. Then I received the sword of my master. Later on I was told that this was “Juji Giri Mumei no Itto”.
A year before Takamatsu Sensei died, he told me, “I let the Martial Arts in your hands.” Nine years since he died, and I’ve been training hard, and lately, I can say that this is the true Budo. By the way, in the test for Godan in the Bujinkan Dojo, I attack with determination from behind the student who is sitting, with his eyes closed. If he dodges, he passes. This is the beginning. Not only dodge an attack from behind. Sometimes you have to know the other side of the world. In human relations, the person you trust could betray you someday. Even then, you can realize the value of peace with this training. It is just a deception to cultivate only the sense , that will allow you to dodge an attack from behind. This kind of mentality creates a distance between you and the truth of life, and ruins it. That kind of mentality is the cancer to correct the growing. In this sense Juji Giri Mumei no Itto, is the operation to remove the cancer in the early stages. It can also be taken as one should stop teaching the person should not be taught.
When you teach many students, some kind of sense is important. Buddha taught ten followers, but one failed.
One of the 12 apostles of Christ, was a rebel.
Even a relationship between the Master and student, has a flaw. The relation between teachers and students, in a modern school system is bad. In these situations, the most important principle endures: Learn the mind of true Martial Arts.
When you pass the test for Godan, the way of training will necessarily change. Changes to a invisible training; incomprehensible training. I teach students who have been training for over 20 years, but only cordially. It could be the instruction of incomprehensibly strange techniques for them. They understand it, but they can`t do it. Apparently they may understand, but really don`t understand. Thus, the strange techniques start breathing . It’s ACCEPTABLE for me, if they don`t understand, because I am teaching incomprehensible techniques. If they understood, they would be Superman. They will improve, because they do not understand.
One day, one of my more graduated students, came up to me and said: “I heard out there, that there`s a technique that allows us to throw the opponent without touching. – “I decided to try and teach this, avoinding my students from getting hurt. I, along with the student and four other students, went to a place that had a video camera. Nine eyes are staring. “Forward” “Yes sir.” One passes to the other. My student, flew over me and fell. A few minutes later, he got up with blood coming out of his mouth. “Understand?” “No sir.” The “rest of you understand?” “No Sensei, but we believe that we will, when we see the video.” “You won´t understand,” I told them. We watched the video, but none of the students could capture the moment in his eyes. This is a Martial Art. It is impossible to learn the stranges techniques taking photos and writing. Another way of looking at this is that if you show your techniques in a makimono and it is stolen, doesn´t matter. This is the essence of Martial Art. Take pictures or write, is useless. No other way to study under the teaching of a Master and do what he says.
In the opportunity of publish this book, I present for your information, the book that Takamatsu Sensei had taught me. As a rule of this Ryu, it is forbiten to write down. Because if you write, the depth of its essence ends. The Martial Arts will be the secret without limitations. That is, to write this book, it is against my will. Even if I write the explanation for a future study, nobody truly learn. As Takamatsu Sensei said, “learn through hard training.”
A year before his dead, Takamatsu Sensei told me: “now you are a good Martial Artist. I have been rewarded the favors of my Masters”
I was half in doubt. I thought you could master the essence of a martial art, a few years after being taught. Since Master died, I’ve been wondering for nine years, and now I decided to publish this book. One day, I talked to a driver who lived in the U.S., that the expression of the Martial Arts, through writing, was like a sheet with musical staves. Martial Art has grown from unlimited space of zero, which was kept on paper. Even if the computer was developed to store all the information, I couldn´t figure zero. Even if it did, they could not put pressure on foreign techniques of zero without reaching the stage of constant power of Martial Arts. The Martial Artist’s dream is to live there.
Soke Masaaki Hatsumi
Book Hiden Togakure Ryu Ninpo