Asobi, Enjoy!

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

Stone with Shintō kami in the garden in honor to Hatsumi Sensei, by Pedro Fleitas, Dai Shihan, Canary Island

On Change

Changes can be positive or negative, but that doesn’t matter. I generally enjoy changes when they happen in my life. I believe that each accepted change improves who we are. This is a chance to evolve. During those times of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have the opportunity to develop our way of life and to earn new lessons for happiness. I acknowledge that, right now, things are not easy for everyone. Still, this planetary trial will eventually turn us into better human beings through the steps we are forced to take in changing our society as a whole.

On Mr 19

Before “Mr 19’s” arrival, I had two lives. In my first life, I worked and taught Budō in France; in the second one, I travelled the world, giving seminars and meeting friends. (1) For the past twenty-three years, I sincerely enjoyed spreading Sensei’s art over Europe, Asia, North America, Meso America, and South America. I loved to go twice a month to a new place, discover our planet, and meet new people. I appreciated having the chance to understand the cultural differences making humans so rich. For more than twenty years, it gave me a privileged position. It made me more tolerant than I was and more open to others. But that was before the pandemic. 

Today, this life is gone. And I know it will never be back to the way it was. My Dōjō closed in March last year, my students are gone. Borders are closed, and we can’t go anywhere. This understanding of the situation is the reason to write this post today. If you hope that things will reverse soon, I think you are lying to yourself. We have to create a new environment for our practice. My wish is that this small text will help you to do the same. If I’m rethinking my life, you can do the same. But be assured that this new life will still be around Sensei’s Budō.

On The Black Swan

Some will tell you the Covid pandemic is a curse, and it is terrible for some. But I find this vast reshuffling quite interesting. Who could have thought that one day, it would be impossible to travel? That fact alone is a typical black swan in its own right. The black swan theory was expressed by Nicholas Taleb in his eponymous book. Here what it is:”The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist. The saying became reinterpreted after Europeans encountered black swans in Australia.” (2)

Who would have bet that one day, a “black swan” would ground the world population? It was unpredictable, but it happened. And we have only one choice to adapt. But luckily, this is what Budō is about: persevere, adapt, and be resilient. Take this opportunity and change your life with a new set of rules. “Change” differs from “chance” by only one letter. Give it a chance, learn the lesson, and change your life.

On changing, Takamatsu sensei wrote: “By opening his eyes and his mind, the Ninja can follow the subtle seasons and reasons for heaven. Changing just as change is necessary. Adapting always so that in the end, there is no such thing as a surprise for the Ninja.” (3)

On Adapting

The only possible survival path to follow is to adapt. There is no other left. Avoid surprises, be wise, and make a good choice. I notice a general tendency in the news and social media to be critical of governments, politicians, society, etc. But I don’t get it. By the way, it was the same reactions during the Spanish flu in 1918. The truth is that this is a black swan, so no one knows how to deal with the situation. It shouldn’t exist. But as it is happening, we have to accept it and keep a positive mind. Takamatsu sensei wrote that we have to be “changing just as change is necessary,” not too much, but enough to adapt our lives to the new reality.

By adjusting our expectations and our goals, we can embrace what cannot be avoided. Like in Budō, it is crucial to assume the correct Kamae. I wrote many times about Kamae, explaining that one meaning of this kanji is attitude. A positive attitude will welcome these changes with an open mind. This is the concept of the Asobi mind. People are often too serious or dramatic. Asobi means to put some playfulness in your life. (4)

On Playfulness

During Honbu classes, Hatsumi Sensei has been teaching this concept a lot. When you put Asobi in your actions, you live better and happier than before. I observe that people tend to be too serious. They are tensed and forget to look for happiness. So they become miserable. Unhappiness happens when people resist changes. Even when they are inevitable.

The pandemic created a paradigm shift on the whole planet. Adjusting to the new paradigm (5) might prove hard or maybe impossible. But it will happen. Develop the Asobi attitude if you want to survive, stop crying, stop complaining, live the moment. This is common in Asian philosophies. This is the “Here and now” of Zen Buddhism, or the “Nakaima” from Shintō. If I prefer Nakaima, which represents the center of the moment, both have the same value. Stop living the past; live the present. And be happy to have this possibility. (6) When you criticize and refuse changes, you are not walking a successful path, on the contrary. Success comes with adaptability. Takamatsu sensei wrote that by “always adapting (…) there is no such thing as a surprise for the Ninja.”

So don’t be surprised. Increase your Asobi in life and embrace those changes that cannot be avoided. Adapt your actions to the permanent chaos of life and enjoy the moment. Do that now, and there will be no surprise and no black swans.

Asobi. Enjoy!

Side Note to black swans: In Eastern France this year, 16 swans developed the Aviary flu (H5N8), another coronavirus. Surprise! To my black swans’ friends, be careful; you should adapt too.

________________________

1 People often tell me that I am lucky to travel the world and visit Sensei 3 times a year. That is not true. Back in 1997, leaving a well-paid managerial position in an IT company, I took a decision and made changes in my life to get the life I wanted. This is different today. The difference is forced on us and concerns everyone on the planet. But the outcome will be positive in many aspects. The change is already in place. We just have to let it mature enough to benefit from it. 

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

3 Those lines are from Takamatsu’s text on the “Essence of Ninjutsu.” The whole text is available online: https://archive.org/details/TakamatsuNinjutsuHiketsuBunEssenceOfNinjutsu

4 遊ぶ, asobi: to play (games, sports); to enjoy oneself; to have a good time​

5 Paradigm: a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model. A paradigm shift is when a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions is happening. Here this shift will change profoundly how we live our lives on Earth for many generations.

6 中今, Nakaima: the present (esp. as a privileged moment in eternity). It is made of two kanji, “middle” + “now.”

Is Your Life So Difficult?

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

Do you find your life so difficult during the pandemic? Not if you get the proper attitude. The other day I read, “When life gives you lemons, add tequila,” and I loved it. (1) I loved it for two reasons. First, it is funny, and second, this exemplifies the attitude you develop through the study of Budō. Let me explain.

Whoever you are, life is never easy. Whether you are young or old, male or female, rich or poor, life will give you many “lemons.” You will have to swallow them all. But the experience can be enriching if you know how to deal with your problem (the lemon). Everything in life is about having the correct attitude. Remember that attitude in Japanese is “Kamae.” So, depending on your kamae in fight or in life, you will meet success or not. Often it will not be a matter of losing or winning, but rather how not to lose? In life, things are never black and white. Life is a “camaieu” with many shades of grey. (2) 

If you develop a good kamae, lemons will teach you a lot. Failure and success; bitterness and sweetness; sadness and happiness. With each obstacle, each lemon you pass, you learn a lot and develop into a better human being. That is, if you do not let those negative events ruin your life and destroy your resilience! This is the real meaning of “Shikin Haramitsu Daikōmyō.” We repeat it at the beginning and at the end of each training session. It can mean that whatever the action you take, whether it is good or bad, there is always something to learn for you.

The Bujinkan teaches resilience, which is why I wrote many articles about not giving up. To be resilient, we should accept things the way they are and use these “lemons” to make us walk better on the path of Budō. Remember, you are here because you have chosen to be here.

Since last March and the Covid, some aspects of our freedom is gone. Some think this is a world conspiracy, others that are for the greater good. (3) Whatever you think, my point here is to observe if and how those changes impact our daily lives. I like changes, and I always welcome them. They always bring opportunities and renewal into our lives. These changes might actually be a fantastic chance for us. They will help us to become better beings. We all agree that Covid is not fun but changes our society in many ways. As Bujinkan members, we have to adapt to these variations instead of complaining.

Saint Exupery wrote, “Man discovers himself when he measures himself against the obstacle.” (4) The pandemic is an obstacle we have to go over. It gives everyone a chance to “discover” himself. In the process, failure is possible. But as I wrote many times, this is the best way to grow up in a good direction. It’s like when you learn a new waza on the mats. At first, your “creativity” is limited by the “1, 2, 3” steps when you learn to do it right. These “obstacles” are actually channelling your progress. They do not tame your freedom but teach new possibilities. Once you have ingested the steps, your freedom is not limited anymore and increases.

A few months ago, I wrote that 危機, kiki (crisis) is made of two kanji. The second “Ki,” 機, means “opportunity.” (5) In the West, a crisis is always negative; it is an opportunity for the Japanese!

Stop complaining and see this world crisis as positive. It is a fantastic opportunity for humans to grow up. So, deploring what you lost is counter-productive. Accept the things you cannot change and walk the path to improvement.

Stay positive and learn. Being negative does not help, be always constructive, my friends! Right after the Fukushima disaster, I called Sensei to know how he was. I asked how he was doing, and his answer was “Banpen Fugyō,” the Gyokko Ryū motto meaning “10000 changes, no surprise.”

Remember to always adapt and to welcome changes. That is how Hatsumi Sensei has been teaching the world of “henka.” (6) (7)

That is why “When life gives you lemons”, “add tequila, “… and salt. Embrace the path of henka; your life is not so difficult after all. 

__________________________

1 You can add vodka if you prefer
2 No kinky pun intended. I wrote “grey”, not “Gray.”
3 You can believe what you want about Covid. I am not judging if those limits of our freedom are positive or negative. I have no political agenda, and I’m not a doctor. So, keep your comments for you.
4 https://unquote.li/en/quotes/antoine-de-saint-exupery/man-discovers-himself-when-he-measures-himself-against-the-obstacle-v7qwnav348 In his book “Terre des Hommes”, sorry I don’t know the English title.
5 危機, kiki: crisis (made of dangerous + opportunity)
6 変化, Henka: hen = the beginning of change; ka = the end of change
7 You want more on henka, also read https://kumablog.org/2013/03/16/henka-a-poetic-strangeness/.

check our “lemons” products and shirts

Trust me, I’m a Ninja!

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

In “Advanced Stick Fighting, Hatsumi Sensei speaks of Shinnyō, “thusness.” (1) (2) Known as Tathātā in Sanskrit, it defines “merely the way things are, the truth of all things.” (3)

This is also the real definition of “Shizen.” Due to limited time, teachers do not explain the depth of Shizen to their students. Shizen is not only “natural,” it is what “is in its natural state when there is no conscience involved.” You can read the explanation of “thusness” in “The Demon’s Sermon on the martial arts” by Issai Chozanshi. (4)

When you develop a shizen attitude, you tune your actions with your environment. Your moves express trust and confidence. This is Shinrai. (5) (6)

We know that a pure Budōka is someone with a deep sense of responsibility, a man or a woman that people will always trust. Once you are one with the world of natural movement, people will follow you.

That is what the warrior’s creed by Robert L. Humphrey explains beautifully. Jack met Mr Humphrey, Iwo Jima veteran and MIT teacher, while being a graduate student in San Diego in 1981. Since then, Mr Humphrey has been a mentor and a guide to my friend. Read Jack’s account of their encounter. (7)

Here is the warrior’s creed: (8)

Wherever I go,
everyone is a little bit safer
because I am there.
Wherever I am,
anyone in need has a friend.
Whenever I return home,
everyone is happy I am there.

Jack Hoban introduced me to the warrior’s creed back in the 90s, and I often think about these words. (9) I see the creed as the essence of the Ninja warrior path. That is what we study with Hatsumi Sensei. He teaches the way to make our actions natural, to become true warrior.

If you reach this level, you are more than a Bushi, (10) you are a Yūshi, a courageous warrior, a hero.

Welcome to the Super Hero path.

Trust me, I’m a Ninja!

______________

1 真如, しんにょ Shinnyō, thusness, Tathātā (the ultimate nature of all things)
2 信用, Shinnyō: confidence; trust; faith; reputation
3 Tathātā: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tath%C4%81t%C4%81
4 https://www.amazon.com/Demons-Sermon-Martial-Arts-Warrior/dp/4770030185
5 信頼, Shinrai: reliance; trust; faith; confidence
6 I’m not speaking here of the monk Shimotsuma Shinrai,下間真頼, from the mid 16th century. More: https://www.japanese-wiki-corpus.org/Buddhism/Shinrai%20SHIMOTSUMA.html
7 http://www.lifevalues.com/
8 https://www.livingvalues.com/warrior_creed.html
9 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_L._Humphrey
10 武士, bushi: warrior; samurai
11 勇士, Yūshi: brave warrior; hero; a brave man

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Ninja Clan 2.0

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

Climate change is now accepted. As a consequence, polar bears are having increasing difficulties in feeding themselves. 

“Because of melting sea ice, it is likely that more polar bears will soon starve, warns a new study that discovered the large carnivores need to eat 60 per cent more than anyone had realized. Turns out they are high-energy beasts, burning through 12,325 calories a day—despite sitting around most of the time, according to a unique metabolic analysis of wild bears published Thursday in Science.” (…) “Climate change is heating up the Arctic faster than anywhere else, and sea ice is shrinking 14 per cent per decade.” (1) 

That means that by the end of the century, the Arctic will be nearly free of ice!

I am concerned because I am a polar bear. In 1987, Sensei saw my picture taken in the snow and nicknamed me “Shiro Kuma”, the polar bear. (2) 

I can easily view a lonely polar bear drifting on a shrinking iceberg. With the pandemic, Our Bujinkan lives turned into the ones of a polar bear. Since March 2019, we are in a world pandemic. For many students and teachers, it has been difficult, if not impossible, to train in a dōjō. And I’m not even considering training at the Honbu. It is forbidden to travel to Japan. 

The world of martial arts was huge, comprising millions of practitioners worldwide. It collapsed in a few months with the spreading of the virus. In this metaphor, martial art is the arctic ice bank melting down. And martial artists are the polar bears isolated on the melting icebergs. 

The recession in the martial arts world has and will continue to strike us. I see the majority of martial arts halls disappearing by lack of practitioners. This is sad but doesn’t mean the end of Budō. You can find the seeds of success in the midst of defeat. Hatsumi Sensei repeated in class that “it is ok to lose a battle, as long as you don’t lose the war in the end.” We lost this battle, but the war is not over yet!

To win the war, we have to change our understanding of what and how we train. Since our dōjō closed last March, I have been thinking a lot about our next Budō moves. With my students, we conducted some experiments with that and came up with a few rules:

  • Budō practitioners are still there, but training places are closed 
  • A lot of self-training can be implemented, but there are limits 
  • We can train alone, but we often need an external “eye” to improve
  • Budō training should be more adapted and teaching chiseled 

To get to that, we must accept that big dōjō or organizations might not survive the virus. As a result, “family size units” or small structures will be key elements to our rebirth. I am preparing a book on that. (3) 

These small training units will become the “ninja clans” of the 21st century. The virus forced us to recreate the ancient ninja clans of feudal times. This is why our future structures have to be limited in size. I call this new period of Bujinkan training “clanification 2.0.” (4)

Obviously, there are benefits and disadvantages to this “clanification.”

ProsCons
Better quality in teachingSkills limited by the size of the group 
Real student / sensei relationTechnical diversity limited to the abilities of the teacher
No hiding in class: better controlNo hiding in class: lesser skills
Bad teachers will self-disappearLess exchanges with other “clans”
The arts will surviveSome teachers will turn into half-gods
Hyper specialization of the groupHyper specialization of the group

When we reopen our Bujinkan training groups, we will have move from “Taijutsu” (5) to “Taijutsu.” (6) We will train like our Budō ancestors. Right now, we may be like drifting polar bears on a chunk of ice. But I am confident we will find land soon. And our ancient traditions will survive the harshness of history once more. 

After all, our only job is to survive.

———————

1 From National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/polar-bears-starve-melting-sea-ice-global-warming-study-beaufort-sea-environment
2 白熊: Shiro Kuma, white bear aka polar bear
3 publish it soon
4 clanification: I made-up this word by adding clan and the suffix “-ification.” The Oxford dictionary definition for the clan is “a group of people with a strong common interest.”
5 体術, Taijutsu: fighting technique done with the body
6 隊術, Taijutsu: fighting technique done by a military unit; or army squad

Watching Is Not Training!

From Shiro Kuma by kumablog

shoto no waza

The world health situation locked down many Dōjō. Since last April, people have asked me a lot about my thoughts on video training. As you know, my streaming website offers 160 Gb of Bujinkan videos. The platform covers all the aspects of our martial arts. (1) 

So, people expect me to be in favour of video learning. I’m sorry to disappoint them, I am not in favour of video learning. I am confident you will agree with me after reading this text.

As the title says it quite clearly, “watching is not training.” The learning process is not passive, it demands action. If you want to learn, you have to train. There is no magic shortcut. When I was younger, I loved to watch formula 1 races on tv. It didn’t improve my driving abilities in any way!

Watching is not training. A video only shows things in a 2-dimension system. In comparison, live techniques are always in 3-dimension. A screen shows only parts of the movement from one direction captured by the camera. It cannot “show” you what Uke “feels” when he receives the Waza. I organized a few Taikai in Paris for Sensei. It was always surprising to see the camera guys unable to capture the depth of Sensei’s moves. And they were still recording in the wrong direction.

Hatsumi Sensei advises us to watch his DVDs and read his books every day. But he doesn’t say that you will learn the techniques by doing so. He wants us to watch and listen to the things he does and says while moving. By watching the global movement, you begin to dive into the action. Watching and listening is not enough, though. Videos and speech give only an idea. But must be experienced at the physical level, in your body. A Waza is much more than a series of movements. The real knowledge about a Waza, a level, or a Ryū lies beyond the mechanical aspects. À video is only Omote, actual training with a teacher is the Ura.

There is one aspect of videos that I like. Videos are better than texts. Everything happens in one moment, unlike when you read a book because you have to read line by line. That is why many practitioners stay at the “1, 2, 3” level. Many never leave kindergarten, and that sadly includes many teachers.

You need a teacher to improve. Videos are reminders of things you know already, not stuff you want to learn. A good teacher helps you grow in the technique. He adapts his teaching to each individual. That allows you to understand the Waza for you, with your own body. Videos and texts cannot teach that. 

A teacher is much more than a video because he is a “sensei” (2)(3), i.e. “someone born into this path before you”. He made all the mistakes you do. That is why he can guide you through the proper motion and the right understanding. A good teacher will teach on a personal basis, one to one. Actually, this is what Sōke has been repeating for decades. The link between you, the student, and your Sensei is exceptional. Once you accept him, or her, as your teacher, you build indefectible trust. No arguing between master and disciple can take place. 

This precious binding between you and your teacher is why martial arts are nor sports. It happens the moment you decide to do whatever it takes to make it possible. 

Remember, you will never be the disciple of your video or DVD player. You are Human!

___________________

www.koimartialart.com
2 先生, teacher; instructor; master
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensei 
Sensei: “he who was born before another”