Obon: No Class

Obon paper lanterns carrying the spirits

Next week-end sensei will not teach because of the Obon, a Buddhist ceremony of filial piety in honor of the ancestors of one’s family.

This ceremony is held around mid August (it depends on the region of Japan and/or of the calendar in use solar or lunar) and is based on the Ullambana Sutra, one of the Sutra of the Mahayana Buddhism.

What I find interesting here comes from a discussion I had the other day with Senô sensei before the class took place.

The Obon (or Bon) is a very important time for the Japanese people as this is a time where the spirits are there. It ends with the famous paper lanterns floating downstream and symbolizing the souls of the deads going back to their own world.

Even though the Obon is not a holiday, it is a custom to let the people honor their ancestors and not work on these days.

Obon matsuri

Honoring your ancestors, and filial piety are linked to the bujinkan in many aspects.

When I was speaking with Senô sensei he used many times the word yûgen when speaking of the souls of the deceased; and also of the sanjigen (the third dimension).

And these two concepts were the ones we studied respectively in 2004 and 2003 whe nwe entered the world (sekai) of juppô sesshô. When those concepts were taught by Hatsumi sensei we had no clue about their meaning and they looked like some esoteric concepts far from our concern.

After all we come to Japan to train fighting techniques, no?

In fact  all through these last years Hatsumi sensei has been teaching us more than techniques, he has shown us the Japanese culture and shared with us his vision of the world as a Japanese.

Without his very special way of teaching we would still be excluded from this world of understanding and our improvement in the bujinkan arts would be limited. This way of teaching made us go from childhood to adulthood without knowing it.

Another interesting link to the bujinkan is the term sôke because its chinese origin (Mandarin Zongjia) conveys “strong familial and religious connotations. Etymologically it represents a family performing ancestor rites”.

As always there are various meanings but one interests us more as the “sôke is the one responsible for maintaining the ancestral temple on behalf of the entire clan organization. In Japanese texts,  sôke always implied a familial relationship replete with filial duty (but) the Japanese use of this word is not limited to consanguineous contexts” (from William Bodiford, UCLA).

“Bujin” in Chinese is “Wusen” which is, as you know one of the nicknames given by the Chinese to Takamatsu sensei. Therefore the bujinkan is the “house of Takamatsu sensei.

Sensei in front of the memorial

And this explains why Hatsumi sensei is using this specific term od sôke which is rarely used in the martial arts world. In fact, in my understanding Hatsumi sensei sees himself as the “son/heir” of Takamatsu sensei and he has developed the bujinkan in order to revere his memory.

The other day when we went to sensei’s second house in Tsukuba we performed a ceremony in memory of Takamatsu sensei and we were asked by sensei to put incense sticks on his memorial. The love and respect of Hatsumi sensei towards Takamatsu sensei is obvious when you watch the dvd “Takamatsu Toshitsugu, the last ninja”.

So if you are now in Japan do not be too sad if you have no training on Friday and Sunday because the spirit of Takamatsu sensei will be there with you for the whole week-end.

Obon fireworks

Share with the Japanese the joy of these two days where obori (obon dancing), fireworks and matsuri are held,  and on Sunday night go to river outside of Noda and watch those beautiful paper lanterns going down the river to reach the sea.

Be happy!


Update on death & Toda

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Takamatsu sensei doing Take Ori

In one of my previous posts I quoted Hatsumi sensei saying that a true master should be able to “laugh while facing the ennemy”.

This is quite similar to  what Toda Shinryûken Masamitsu, Takamatsu sensei grandfather (or uncle*) once told him:

“Never talk about knowledge as you could lose it,

Confront a defeat with a smile even if you are closely facing it,

And even when you are faced with certain

death, die laughing!”

This year’s theme is Rokkon Shôjô so keep smiling whatever hardship you are confronted with.

* All Bujinkan books keep repeating that Toda sensei was Takamatsu sensei‘s grandfather but recently one Japanese shihan during class said that actually Toda sensei was Takamatsu‘s uncle not grandfather…

To a Westerner the sounds for ojiisan (grandfather) are very much similar to ojisan (uncle). Sorrymasen. :)


Japanese historical periods etc…

Izanami and Izanagi from the Kojiki

In this blog I have been speaking a lot about muromachi, azuchi-momoyama, edo, meiji periods. A short listing of the previous periods of Japanese history seem to be a good idea now.

Japanese history is very rich and goes back to the beginning of mankind. As you know, every ryû tries to be linked in time as far as possible in order to give credential to their fighting system. They often try to be originating from the  first emperors. Even though one can doubt about the  veracity of those facts, it is good to have an overview of Japanese history.  As you will see, religions, China, and wars are closely interconnected. Learning the Bujinkan is also trying to understand how this culture is coming from. 

Disclaimer: 1) the big periods can be divided into smaller ones named after the emperors, 2) depending on the point of reference there can be discrepancies in the exact duration of any period*. History is not always accurate. But we can see 12 large periods from the beginning to today. I have added links to wikipedia for those interested in having more information on the periods preceding muromachi.

Yayoi period (300 BC – 370 AD): the prehistorical period, tumulus culture. More on Yayoi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yayoi_period

Yamato period (370 – 538): unification of the country by the Yamato court. ends with the introduction of Buddhism. More on Yamato http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamato_period

Asuka period (538-710): flourishing of Buddhist art (temple). New organisation of society: Taiki reformation, establishment of Taihô codes. More on Asuka http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asuka_period

Nara Period (710-794): Capital Heijô (Nara prefecture). Shintô based on the Kojiki (712) is the religion of the Kami. The Kojiki depicts the mythology of Japan. More on Nara http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nara_period

Heian period (794-1192): Heian capital (Kyoto). Creation of hiragana. Writing of the Genji Monogatari. Many embassies are sent to China to learn the crafts and Buddhism. Shingon Shu and Tendai Shu are imported to Japan by Kobo Daishi (810) and Dengyo Daishi (805) respectively. This is also at this time that the Gyokko ryû and Kotô ryû are supposedly introduced to Japan from China. During the Genpei war (1182) Minamoto no Yoshinaka captures Kyoto. He is defeated by Minamoto no Yoshitsune. After the defeat, Daisuke Nishina  retreats to Togakure mountain (today Togakushi) and changes his name into Daisuke Togakure. He supposedly founded the Togakure ryû.  Myôan Eisai comes back from China and establishes the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism (Linji in Chinese). More on Heian http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heian_period

Kamakura period (1192-1336): Samurai culture is spreading. The Daibutsu is erected in Kamakura city (Kanagawa prefecture). Minamoto no Yoritomo establishes the Kamakura government (1192). Go Daigo Emperor (1318-1332) saved by Kurando the founder of the Kukishinden ryû. It ends with the overthrowing of the Kamakura government 1333). Foundation of Sôtô Zen by Dôgen coming back from China where he studied Ch’an Buddism. More on Kamakura http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamakura_period

Muromachi period (1336-1573): Muromachi government in Kyoto established by Ashikaga Takauji. at its peak, Ikebana starts. Ônin wars (1467) opens the sengoku jidai period. Introduction of firearms (1543) by the Portuguese.

Azuchi-momoyama period (1573-1603): Nobunaga overthrows the muromachi government (based in Azuchi castle). Unification of the country finalized by Hideyoshi (momoyama castle). Sen no rikyû perfects sadô (tea ceremony) and becomes the sadô master of Hideyoshi. Many castles are built. Sekigahara wars.

Edo period (1603-1868): Tokugawa Ieyasu creates the Edo government and moves it to Edo (Tokyo). In 1563, Commodore Perry (USA) forces the opening of the country.

Meiji period (1868-1912): Meiji restoration. The samurai lose their power. Japan adopts modern standards. Clans are abolished and swords are banned (1871). The Empire is given a constitution (1889).

Taishô period (1912-1926): The Taishô Emperor is enthroned. Japan gets into WWI in 1914.

Showa period (1926-1989): Enthronement of  the Showa emperor Hiro Hito. Japan attacks Pearl harbor (Dec. 1941) and forces the USA to get into WWII. After Japan’s defeat, a democratic constitution is established (1946).

Heisei period (1989- today): Enthronement of Aki Hito. Modern times.

Those 12 periods are the main ones creating the backbone of Japanese culture. It will not change your taijutsu but will help you understanding the “invisible” aspects of our art.

*Alternative list of periods http://www.meijigakuin.ac.jp/~watson/ref/nengo.html