NINJA SWORD FIGHTING techniques with MATS HJELM. During the first two months of 2022, we at Kaigozan Dojo studied the “hidden secret sword techniques” within our Bujinkan Dojo system transmitted from Masaaki Hatsumi Sōke to Mats Hjelm.
秘剣術 Bikenjutsu (Hidden Sword Techniques). There is six fundamental sword techniques from the Togakure-ryū Ninpō-taijutsu school in the Bujinkan Dojo.
Happō-biken, eight directional secret sword means: generating an infinite secret sword from the posture of divine mind – divine eyes (心身心眼 SHIN SHIN SHIN GAN).
Download NINJA SWORD FIGHTING techniques with MATS HJELM
On this video Mats show all 6 Sword techniques from the Togakure-ryū in the Bujinkan system. The basic form, many variations and very important concepts in sword fighting was covered. These are the eight postures.
忍者秘剣術 NINJA BIKENJUTSU
NINJA SWORD FIGHTING techniques with MATS HJELM. Each technique is demonstrated and explained from different camera angles. The instructions are in English.
This video is from a Seminar in 2022. Recorded in Sundbyberg, Stockholm in February 12’th 2022. The seminar was organised by Bujinkan Kaigozan Dojo.
About the instructor
Mats Hjelm started training in Bujinkan for the first time around 1983. It wasn’t until 1986 when he had the opportunity to start training more seriously under a Shidōshi. He has taught at numerous seminars all around the world, gone to Japan 3-5 times every year. After he started training he never had a training break. He takes his budo training very seriously! If you want to sponsor a seminar or course, please don’t hesitate to contact him. For more information see his web site kesshi.com or come and train with him at Kaigozan Dojo.
In the Kukishin ryū, there is one central concept that many don’t know, and it is called “Jūjiro”. (1) With the pandemic, everyone experiences difficult times, and it seems that many of us should be reminded of some basic concepts. Jūjiro is one of them.
Bujinkan practitioners often do not understand or never heard of what is Jūjiro.
Let me refresh your memories about the Kukishin Ryū. When you receive an attack, you must pivot at a 90-degree angle with the body, weapon or both. Staying in line with the opponent is the fastest way to lose a fight. Sport is different as you don’t die in it. If you are defeated in a championship, only your ego is killed, momentarily.
Olympic fencers fight in line, Kendōka always remains in line. My Mandalorian friends would say, “That is not the way.” Lines are direct; therefore, they are never the best. Fencing and Kendō would get more exciting and realistic the day fencers and Kendōka are allowed to turn around each other. Because that is what you would do in a real encounter. But if sport can be a “way of life” for some, it is definitely not a real-life and death situation. Budō is not a sport, rather an ancient military system.
In Japan, Sensei teaches that Jūjiro is used in the Kukishin when possible. Jūjiro consists of moving perpendicular to the attack or using the weapons perpendicular to the target. You apply Jūjiro against a human or a weapon. If you test it in your next training, you will see how powerful it is. Jūjiro creates more freedom in your actions and opens up more possibilities for your taijutsu.
But there is more to this concept. When you think about the movements, you limit yourself to the physical world, and the material world is only the Omote.
There is also an Ura aspect we can use in the mental world. And to explain this, I will need the support of my old friends Laozi and Sunzi.
In the art of war, Sunzi says that “In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack – the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of manoeuvres. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn, and it is like moving in a circle – you never come to an end. He adds that “the meeting takes place head-on, and the victory is obtained from an angle”. This direct vs indirect can be related to the cultural differences between the East and the West. In the East, indirect actions are always preferred to direct ones. That is why the Japanese never say “no” but always find a positive way to be negative. For example, when I asked a question to sensei, he would do one of two things: he would answer my question or say something like “step by step.” That was his way to say “no” without being negative (even though he is being negative).
This Asian vision of life is beautifully explained in a book by Francois Jullien, a French sinologist. In one of his books titled “Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece,” he gives a few examples of direct vs indirect action. (2) By not confronting Uke’s actions head-on, you can redirect his intent in other directions. We are tempted to confront the other in a verbal argument instead of accompanying his vision and tilting it. This is the art of negotiation. Nothing good comes from confrontation. This is the “no fight” attitude or “tatakainai.” (3)
In the famous Taoteching, Laozi says, “don’t do anything and nothing will be left undone”, which you can understand as “when you oppose someone or something, your actions influence the outcome of the encounter. By not going head-on, you don’t create any unforeseen consequences. Direct confrontation is the opposite of the teaching of Tao. One day I had the chance to speak with the Dzogchen master of the Dalai Lama told me that “Opposing In and Yō is creating duality instead of unity, this is not the Madhyamaka.” (4) (5)
In battle, this is the direct approach that has to be avoided. Sunzi adds, “by rectitude, we make order reign, we use the troops at an angle. ”Both the direct and the indirect approaches are in use; the timing is different and should not be mixed. This no-confrontation defines Hatsumi Sensei’s Budō, and it is a very profound lesson for our lives.
Avoiding direct opposition with others is the best way for negotiating. The Covid has dramatically changed the way we live. On the planet, many groups are fighting each other violently. This is the time of direct confrontation and thus of duality. Please consider going indirectly with the flow instead of rebelling uselessly. The way of Budō is a way of wisdom. Fight what you can change by yourself and what is beyond your possibilities.
Ninpō Taijutsu teaches us the way of adaptation.
So, constantly adapt to the situation, and use Jūjiro a little more at your dōjō and outside in real life.
Hidden Alcove at 戸定邸 Tojō-tei. photo by Michael Glenn
Within the 九法の力 Kyū-hō no chikara, or the power of the 9 methods, there is a kuji that holds the 秘技 higi or secret technique to overcoming a hundred enemies:
This kuji, or gokui, repels any method of capture or defeat. You protect yourself by changing the attack itself with an immovable spirit. This is the time to do or die. You are prepared for death, but you’d rather do the enemy in.
How do you do instead of die? In that single moment of life and death you remain unmoved in the middle. That middle place is the key to ninjutsu.
On a very hot day in June, I learned about this. The air was loud with the harmonic drone of 蝉 semi (cicadas). But we were training anyway. Hatsumi Sensei told us to train in accordance with the temperature.
Two opponents attacked and Soke slipped behind the first attacker. He did this while trapping the second guy in his own attack. Then Hatsumi asked the uke to give his impression of what just happened. The confused student described his inability to get a fix on Hatsumi Sensei as a target.
Soke replied that this is not the movement of sports or the “so called” martial arts. This is something far above that. This is true ninjutsu. Make your techniques transparent. Make them see through.
Hatsumi Sensei told us not to just punch on the surface, but to strike through the body. He said when your arm goes through their spine it makes the sign of the cross.
Soke gave us a warning
「九字を許すも十字を許すな」kuji are permitted but not juji.
If you go beyond kuji and allow juji then you have “crossed the line.” Maybe you cross the line of life and death. You could end up facing 十王 Jū-ō the ten judges of the dead.
In Buddhism, there are nine states from Hell to Bodhisattva. The highest level, the tenth level, is becoming Buddha. But the 仏 hotoke (Boddhisatvas) are the souls of the dead, to be commemorated by their descendants.
I toweled the sweat away and scribbled my notes after training. What did I learn that day?
Make yourself and your technique transparent;
Go to the line but don’t cross it;
Remain unmoved by life or death in that spot.
This is the secret to 心中を突く也 Shinjū o tsuku nari, piercing the heart of the enemy.
Several people got caught up on the fact that the individual who is leaping over the wall in the illustration is wearing some sort of animal costume. This had been speculated to be inferring a connection to the Katō Danzō (加藤 段蔵, c. 1503 – 1569), a shinobi who was said in folk myth to be able to transform into a rat. One source (currently unavailable for reference) states that he was a rat breeder as his main daily occupation.
Most concluded that it was some form of canine costume, however, when looking at the ears, shape of the head, and tail, it as quite evident that it is a rat, particularly a spotted rat, which was considered special or lucky in the 17th century.
Existence of Spotted Rats
There was some dispute about spotted rats in Japan at that time, as one individual claimed that the spotted pattern came form a popular breeding practice in Europe in the 19th century. However, this was easily disputed with a quick google search, where I found two manuscripts regarding rat breeding. the first, Yosotama no kakehashi (養鼠玉のかけはし), was from 1775, and the second, Chingan Sōdate Gusa (珍玩鼠育草), was from 1787. Both documents provided illustrations of spotted rats. At this point all three documents in regard to this investigation was from the 18th century.
The Wakan Sansai Zue also has a section focused on rats, in which we can see a spotted rat in the first volume as well. it has been speculated that the previous two texts drew some inspiration from this text.
Nomenclature of “Shinobi”
An interesting note regarding the term used to refer to the shinobi here has the kanji 游偵 (Yūtei), while there’s hiragana next to it saying しのびのもの (shinobi no mono). This name appears in the Bansenshūkaias one of the names the Chinese had referred to spies by. In the Bansenshūkai, however, it is written as 遊偵 (found in the Q/A section of the preface, still read as “yūtei”), but then written as 游貞 in the first volume of Seishin.
In other sources (citation unavailable at the moment), yūtei has been shown to have several variants of the first kanji, such as 斿, 游, 浮, 遊. All of which expresses a sense of floating, drifting, or roaming. And Tei (偵) means to investigate, spy or acquire protected information. Thus, yūtei means to travel or roam around gathering information.
Note: ukitei (浮偵) also suggests a principle of movement called ukimi (浮身) found in the classical martial arts, that can also be seen in the judo movements of the late Kyuzo Mifune.
Under the heading for shinobi in the Wakan Sansai Zue, there is listed a few other terms:
Wakan Sansai Zue 和漢三才図会 (1712)
The first of these terms is kasha (課者), which was an interesting one to dig into. Dictionaries generally define this first character as “chapter; lesson; section; department; division; counter for chapters (of a book).” But when we break it down, we have “[to get] results (果) with words (言) [in order to obtain results]”; investigation. and with the second character (者), it becomes “those who investigate“.
The first ideogram can be read as hosoi (細) which means, “work meticulous, fine, delicate, precise,” The second ideogram, (作), means: “to manufacture, make, build, work, or harvest.” One can translate saisaku as, “One who manufactures [creates] with meticulousness [a plan]” or “One who collects what is fine, delicate [quietly perceives essential information].”
Some very old characters here, and digging did not get me to far; apparently this is connected to Edo period police investigations but I don’t have a reliable source for this at this moment. the first character can be broken down quite far, but for this well only divide it into 辵 “to walk or move” and 羅 “to surround like a net. This I understand to grow to refer “patrolling”, though one dictionary also suggests a borrowed definition of “concealment”. The second character, (候), means: “expectancy, make an attempt, sign, season, or time.” Breaking it apart however starts to suggest something conspicuous or clue-like. in medicine it has been used to refer to “symptoms”. Thus I understand this to mean something like “one who waits and watches clues to grasp the truth like a net.“
The first ideogram (探) means: “grasp, grope; deep, intense, to deepen.” the second character is made up of a “person (人) who peers through a hole (司).” Though nowadays 司 is defined as as sort of government administrator, but we can understand that to be someone who oversees things. Thus tanshi means “one who perceives deeply.“
One of the earliest names for a spy, the first character means a space between things, and the second character means something “flat” (葉) like a leaf, and words (言); spy ended up being a borrowed definition that has endured to today. Thus, kanchō can be understood to mean “one who acquires words by going between people.” though it also gives the image of being able to slip through small or impenetrable spaces.
It should also be noted that the “San”(of Togakure-ryū’s Santō Tonkō Gata (鼠逃遁甲型) can be read as “nezumi” and means rat. This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard of ninja being referred to as rats, in 2008, I was looking into how these kata could be expressed in a “squirmy” way like a fleeing rat. And then Takamatsu Toshitsugu’s favorite story was said (by Masaaki Hatsumi) to be “Neko no Myōjutsu” (猫之妙術), a story about a rat that fought off all cats except an old cat that had nothing left to live for.
The Santō Tonkō gata consists of twelve techniques in response to being grabbed by the arms, back of the neck, and when your cornered or surrounded by enemy (picture a rat being cornered by a cat, and just the same this is depicted in Neko no Myōjutsu). Each of these techniques finish with the statements of using one of the goton (五遁) of escaping using fire, earth, water, wood, or metal, as well as that of blinding powder, throwing blades and so on. True to the teachings of the tradition, they strive to avoid killing, aiming to only distract, escape and hide. As such none of these techniques describe lethal techniques – though they can certainly be made to be.
Yet another interesting connection is the depiction of a falconer just before (to the right) of the entry for shinobi. It has been established rather thoroughly by Sean Askew that the Toda family that had been the head of the Togakure-ryū tradition of ninjutsu for generations, were also well known for their falconry. So within this text we can see three correlations to the same tradition of ninjutsu: 1) Falconry – the trade of the Toda family 2) Connecting rats and ninjutsu 3) Reference to the Goton used by this tradition (see next section).
The above entry about Yūtei, describes another text called Wǔ zá zǔ (五雜組), written sometime between 1567‐1624 by Xie Zhaozhe, with an additional preface added in 1616, that talks about Tonkeijutsu (遁形术), methods of hiding the form, just like we see in books such as Ito Gingetsu’s Ninjutsu no Gokui. Both these writings describe Tonkei/Tonko (遁形/遁甲) as using the five phases of wood, water, metal, earth, and fire (Ch: Wu Xing, Ja: Gogyo; 五行).
What has been presented here is my own collective knowledge on this subject based on historic primary sources. We can see that the depiction in the Wakan Sansai Zue is quite evidently that of a man in a rat costume (for what reason, I’m not at all sure), the existence of spotted rats and specialized breeding methods go back at least as far as the 16th century (and the same document hints at “ancient times”). w can also see that the author of the same document had a comprehensive grasp of obscure names for spies. We can also see clear correlation to the Togakure-ryū tradition of ninjutsu, and even its hints at a relationship with falconry. And the connection to Goton no jutsu was traced at least as far back as the early 16th century, and surely traces further back.
Sources referenced (chronological)
Wǔ zá zǔ 五雜組 (1616~), by Xie Zhaozhe
Bansenshūkai 萬川集海 (1676), by Fujibayashi Sabuji
Wakan Sansai Zue 和漢三才図会 (1712), by Terajima Ryōan
Neko no Myōjutsu 猫之妙術 (1727), by Niwa Jurozaemon Tadaaki
Yosotama no kakehasi 養鼠玉のかけはし (1775 ), unknown author
Chingan Sōdate Gusa 珍玩鼠育草 (1787), susposedly by “Tei-en-shi”
Ninjutsu no Gokui 忍術の極意 (early 1900~), by Ito Gingetsu
Togakure-ryū Shinjin Ichinyo no Maki 戸隠流神人一如の巻 (mid 1900~), by Masaaki Hatsumi
Yes, I have read Turnbull and know his version but I have spent 15 years by Soke’s side hearing the wisdom that our art has brought us.
It reverberates deeply. It is not academic.
We are not looking to prove a direct lineage. At least I am not.
I am trying to explore the origin story of the Toda family’s art. I don’t care how old it really is. If the art was created in the Edo period by a bunch of Onmitsu and Oniwaban agents, then so be it.
To me, it is like the Masons picking up where the Templars left off. The Toda family were no doubt Takasho which have a strong connection to the Onmitsu and Oniwaban. I have continuously found records that prove the Toda family have worked as Torimi/Onmitsu agents and can prove that they came from the Iga-Shu sharpshooters.
The evidence is mounting high very quickly. It is just a matter of putting a label on it. Toda Sensei felt it should be called Togakure Ryu. Maybe it is just a remnant of the Iga Ryu giving credit to the story of Togakushi. Whatever, I am just interested in the ride through history that this origin story has provided us because without it I never would have had this personal adventure of discovery and excitement.
Seriously, every day I find more and more than just line up with Takamatsu’s story. I think we are just still stuck on what we do and do not call ninja and ninjutsu.
And I for one still prefer my Japanese resources. As great as a researcher as he is, I do not think he is the one to draw the line as to what is and what is not the truth about a very secretive Japanese art.