Releasing the Power of 力を抜くChikara o Nuku

川蝉 Common Kingfisher photo by yamatsu
I was at a recent class at the Bujinkan Hombu dojo where Hatsumi sensei threw his opponents around all night. But mostly they were thrown. He emphasized, that he was not doing the techniques. How might this be possible?

He used a phrase "刀を抜くkatana o nuku, 力を抜くchikara o nuku." This has many layers but by dropping the power or the intention out of your technique it becomes effective. Even dropping the technique from technique. But there is a trick to this that many students of Sensei apparently neglect to understand.

Many people think they know what Soke means when he speaks. That night in class, one of Sensei's frequent translators came up to me and told me, "That's not what he said!" Meaning that the current translator had gotten it wrong. So then he explained to me what he thought Sensei meant.

I just listened to his explanation and didn't agree or disagree. I brushed this off as a personality conflict between translators. Or maybe it was due to the extreme difficulty of concise translation of Japanese in the dynamic environment of the Hombu. But when more people complained to me about the translation, I figured there might be more to this.

So in order to participate in the confusion, I will offer my own thoughts about what we were witnessing in that class. I haven't yet seen anyone offer the explanation I will make below. But maybe you all know this stuff already.

You cannot have 力を抜くchikara o nuku if you don't first have chikara. Otherwise there is no power to take out of the technique. One common way that I have witnessed Hatsumi Sensei and the other Japanese instructors do this is by going from  力を入れる chikara o ireru (using force, strength or exerting effort) to 力を抜くchikara o nuku.

I myself have had great results using this in my taijutsu. For a simple example, it is like the children's game of tug o' war. Two teams pull on a rope in the opposite direction. Whichever team is stronger pulls the other towards their side and wins. But when I was a kid, we thought it was great fun to 力を入れる chikara o ireru and pull with all our might, then quickly release the rope for 力を抜くchikara o nuku. Relaxing suddenly and letting go of the rope made the other team fall on their asses.

You will see this concept everyday in the Hombu as the uke seem to throw themselves.

So 刀を抜くkatana o nuku is something I have been practicing for quite a few years. I have a visualization that I use to explain the principle. To get the tip of the sword to the target in an effortless and quick motion, it is like releasing a bird from your hand and the bird flies directly to the target as if it is spearing a fish. But first you must be able to capture or hold the bird.

Hatsumi Sensei described this method of drawing to us that night. He said that with katana o nuku, you are not drawing the sword, you are letting it free from the saya (like my idea of releasing a bird). It is very dangerous, with this motion the sword will kill with no effort at all. The blade finds its target.

This is what I understood from Sensei's class that night. Other people who were there may have different ideas that are valid. I hope that sharing my thoughts helps you to discover your own understanding about our art.

過去現在未来之術 Kako Genzai Mirai no Jutsu

Bujinkan Hombu 畳 Tatami photo by Michael Glenn
In one Friday night class at Hombu, Hatsumi Sensei suggested a mode of perception that is at the heart of our training. Sensei used the words 過去 kako, 現在 genzai, and 未来 mirai. This loosely refers to the past, present, and future.

That night on the tatami of the Honbu, Soke was giving us a deep lesson. He said that we should keep the past, present, and future connected. Allowing one to drive the next. This happens with or without our participation.

If you can get with the flow of this connection, then you may ride it to victory. But in order to flow and connect with it, you must be able to see it. What does it look like?

Maybe you've had the experience of looking at a newborn child. You see your parents and grandparents in his or her fresh face. You see yourself and your partner reflected there too. And you also see a newness that is in the process of becoming. A new person with a future life stretched out ahead. Of course you see how these are all connected. Maybe you think about how your parents must have studied your own baby face with the same wonder.

Some people would rather forget the past. They may propose a toast to say, 過去を忘れるために乾杯 Kako wo wasureru tameni kampai, Here's to forgetting the past! Or even something like, The past is vile, the present is barely tolerable, but there's hope for the future.

When Hatsumi Sensei teaches, each technique is like a newborn child. He teaches based on a kata or concept that has been passed down through the ages in a lineage he inherited. If you look carefully, you will see the imprints or DNA of this 過去 kako or past encoded in the movement. All of the Bujin, the past Soke, and the warriors who lived and died with our art are contained there. Hatsumi Sensei has told us this directly.

But you also may see Hatsumi Sensei's living expression of the art in the present. This 現在 genzai is vital. It is what allows the art to stay relevant. Truthfully, it is the only thing protecting you should you need to use the art in combat. Hatsumi Sensei has clearly stated that the way he teaches now is what matters. If you are not connected to this current training, you are studying a dead art.

If you are really connected and observe carefully, you may even bear witness to where the art is leading us. As you watch Hatsumi Sensei teach, there is a palpable experience that anything can happen. And it often does. As he follows the unbroken connection in each moment, you begin to glimpse the path ahead or the 未来 mirai in our training. The sense of wonder this gives me as a student is indescribable.

This explains why nothing Hatsumi Sensei teaches is ever the same way twice. You may have seen him do the same kata years ago and thought what he did was a definitive rendition of this kata. But then he will do it again, entirely different, and this version will feel like the definitive version. If you try to hold onto either technique, you will miss the point and be left behind.

That night in Hombu, some people debated what Soke meant by his statements. But I just took in the spectacle with enjoyment. Because Soke did not care.

He simply told us to take ample space. With the proper use of space the attacker is defeated. But you aren't using the space! You just allow for it, and many wonderful techniques are born.

So when you are in actual combat, if you can connect to the three aspects of 過去 kako, 現在 genzai and 未来 mirai, you may enter the world of 幽玄 yugen. Your opponent will be operating in the fog and you may float outside of his influence.

VIDEO: Michael Glenn from Japan





I'm having a great time in Japan. Hatsumi Sensei is fantastic and the training is great. I thought I would put out a quick video for my Bujinkan blog. 

It's already been a few days since I shot the video and much more has happened. I have a ton of notes and experiences to share. But I have found I don't have time to sit in front of a computer and put out videos!

So this one is very simple. Hope you enjoy.

Jintsu 神通: Mystical Power From Sudden Change

毘沙門天 Bishamonten photo by Satoshi Kobayashi
Some people talk about 要 kaname, one aspect of this year's theme,  like simply translating the Japanese to English explains its meaning. This is a bit shallow. Hatsumi Sensei would probably encourage us to look deeper than that.

My take on kaname is a bit different than other's I have spoken with. For me, one important aspect of kaname is being connected with 神通 jintsu and 神通力 jintsuuriki. These are mystical powers of heaven and earth that are connected to and pivoting through you.
In Buddhism, Jintsu is known as "direct knowledge" or even "supernatural knowledge." This leads to some interesting super powers like: 天眼通 tengentsuu divine eye or clairvoyance; 神足通 jinsokutsuu unimpeded bodily function like walking on water or walking through walls; 天耳通 tennitsuu clairaudience or divine ear; 他心通 tashintsuu or telepathy; 宿命通 shukumyoutsuu remembering past lives; and 漏尽通 rojintsuu which is the extinction of contamination, or a divine clarity of mind.
While these ideas seem impossible, if you broaden your experience to include this type of connection in your training you will experience some interesting results. I cannot teach anyone how to do this. But as an example, the connection we use in both taking AND giving the Godan test must not be severed. If you have experienced this connection, ask yourself, where does it originate? And how do you embody it in training?

Hatsumi Sensei suggests that one way to connect to this power is to repeat one technique a thousand times. The idea here is to cultivate mindlessness. You get the self out of the way and enter a state of 無心 mushin. What happens next is 神運に任せ jiuni makase. Your fate or luck is connected to kami or the divine.  

The resulting power of this connection leads to  変化必然 henka hitsuzen. These inevitable changes have immense power. In the 天津鞴韜馗神之秘文 amatsu tatara kishin no hibun, a secret teaching of ancient war strategies that informs several ryuuha in the Bujinkan, one very important principle is:
豹変して必ず勝つ hyohen-shite kanarazu katsu. Sudden change will always prevail.
This is what I think about with the idea of kaname. But my experience so far this year has also shown me that kaname is a reflection of one's heart.  If you have ever felt the power of this kind of change, ask yourself, where does it originate? How might you embody that in training?

鬼ごっこ Onigokko: Let's Pretend We Are Demons

鬼ピキ photo by w00kie
One summer day we were having our normal class in the park when something interesting happened. As we were stretching, we watched a team building exercise that some company was doing in the same park as us. There were a lot of pretty women working for this company, so most of my students were riveted.

They began a game of tag. They used the entire park. Most of them were athletic, so it was a very aggressive and and fast paced game. At one point one guy came to stand next to us. We were all lined up on the periphery of the field watching this game. I realized immediately what he was doing.

Hatsumi Sensei tells us that "a person who understands play has life's greatest treasure." He says that in Kukishin-ryu this idea is taught as 鬼ごっこ onigokko (demon play) which is a children's game of tag. In this game the "oni" chases down the other children. As they are caught, they are "infected" and turn into oni. Until they all become little demons!

In 2011, there was a world record setting onigokko game played in a Toyama stadium. There were 1566 participants. It only took 7 minutes for all of them to be caught and turned into oni!

I said hello to the guy standing next to me. I asked him what company he worked for. He said TOMS shoes. I knew this company because my wife likes them and they are popular in the U.S.. I said, so are you hiding over here with us? He smiled and said he was just resting.

We watched as all the workers  ran around the park and got caught. Turning each into another demon. This guy had a great strategy. No one was even looking for him among our group as we stood there watching.

Finally the demons ran out of victims. As they searched the park their attention turned to us. The guy said to me, "I better run!" He took off and sprinted around the park. He dashed between his pursuers until they finally caught him.

Later when I got home, I looked up TOMS Shoes to see where their offices were, since I knew they must be nearby. It turns out that this guy with the great strategy of hiding out with us was the founder of the company, Blake Mycoskie. That day he definitely showed a good understanding of "play."

The Gift of 神輿 Mikoshi

東松山のまつり photo by w00kie
How can I ever support this heavy beam on my shoulder? That's what I remember thinking when I looked at the 神輿 Mikoshi. I was intimidated by the size of it. Of course I was only 10 years old.

When I was growing up, my best friend was Japanese. His mother invited me to go with his family to a festival. Suddenly I was being conscripted to be one of the 担ぎ katsugi or Mikoshi bearers! I didn't understand at the time what an honor that was.

In Japan, not only is it an honor, it is somewhat of a civic duty to carry the Mikoshi. Hatsumi Sensei inherited the 34th Soke of 戸隠流 Togakure Ryū in 1958. He says that in that same month he carried the Mikoshi along the street.

Someone found a Happi coat for me and helped me put it on. My friend's mother also found a karate kid looking head wrap that she tied around my head. Then they lead me over to the Mikoshi where it sat on the saw horses...


I looked around awkwardly at all the strong men who were doing calisthenics, preparing to lift this small house and carry it through the streets. They were all strong looking and Japanese. I was a skinny red headed white boy. I had no idea what I was going to contribute to this effort, but I thought I would try my best.

Even though I felt out of place and had no idea what was going on, the men were very welcoming. Suddenly, they all crouched underneath the beams. I found a gap and pressed my shoulder into the wood. I was preparing to grunt and heave when the whole thing seemed to fly into the air with a shout.

I was left nearly hanging from the beam! The men were all taller than me, so they hoisted the mikoshi onto their shoulders and far above my own shoulder. I looked around confused about what to do. They all encouraged me to stay in my spot. I pushed up as hard as I could with my palms.

Next thing I know we are lurching down the street to the trill of a whistle from our guide. He would give long notes to start or stop us from moving and short beeps to keep us in rhythm. We round a corner and and into the large crowds gathered along the parade route. I had no idea we would have this large audience.

Suddenly I felt so proud. I felt proud of my friend's Japanese heritage. I felt proud to be included. No one I knew in my community had ever even heard of sushi back in those days, even less Mikoshi.

Japanese people were thought of differently back then in my hometown. My Grandfather fought against the Japanese in WWII. His brother died on Iwo Jima. I could say more, but those times have past. I personally felt like a bridge between these two worlds in that moment.

That was truly a gift from the kami inside of the Mikoshi.


How to Read the 徴  Shirushi Taught in 口伝 Kuden

Hachiōji, Tokyo photo by LaPrimaDonna
One morning during training, Hatsumi Sensei gave us an interesting 口伝 kuden, explaining to us the nature of the footwork we were using. He told us,
"There's a reason for this movement of the feet. You're leaving footprints. And it's actually an indication (徴  shirushi sign;  indication;  omen) You're leaving a warning or an indication."
Sensei wasn't just telling us about footwork. He was talking about a larger idea. And this idea is that there are subtle signs and hints everywhere for those who are awake, aware, or sensitive to them.

You could take this at the surface meaning. For example, a hunter can see signs of his prey as he tracks it. So he follows the tracks to catch dinner. Yet someone who is not a hunter would never notice these hints. Or if you were thirsty, the signs would mean something different. You might follow the animal trails that lead to a stream.

But the meaning Sensei was leading us to, was that there are signs left for us by those who have gone before. These are everywhere in the Bujinkan. You find them in what is taught and not taught. They are in the kata. In the kuden. In the densho.

Here is an interesting example: In 九鬼神流打拳体術 Kukishin Ryū Dakentaijutsu there is a kuden:
切紙  急所説明 48穴当込みの場所 , 口伝
Basically it explains the 48 openings for kyusho when striking. But the hint that it leaves us is obscure. It calls this 切り紙 kirigami which is the art of paper cutting.

If you aren't familiar with this art, it is a very advanced craft similar to origami where paper is cut to create artistic expression of nature and life. But the method and rhythm of it is uniquely Japanese. This is a hint.

Another hint or meaning for kirigami is the esoteric notes and oral teachings transmitted from teacher to student. Here the text itself is being cut so that its meaning shifts and is shaped by the teacher. Anyone who has trained with Hatsumi Sensei can attest to this feeling.

Sensei will never just give you the surface meaning of a text. The meaning becomes fluid and dynamic in the moment much like the changing image of paper as it is transformed by kirigami. As Hatsumi Sensei teaches, the 要 kaname of his teaching transforms to suit the moment.

That morning, as we shuffled around trying to emulate Sensei's footwork, we were following in the footsteps of Bujin and the warrior spirit of our ancestors.

The Kaname of Ninja Biken with Peter Crocoll

Peter Crocoll Opening a Door
Friday

I went to Coconino National forest for Peter Crocoll's annual campout. We were up at 7500-8500 feet in elevation in the mountains and the forest was beautiful. After our long drive from Los Angeles, I set up my tent quickly so that I could enjoy the wonderful mountain air and scenery.

After a chilly night under the stars, I took a hike early in the morning. I lived in Arizona for most of my life and spent a lot of time hiking and camping all over the state. Returning to this air, this sunlight, this open sky… always feels like coming home and speaks to my body and spirit on a deep level.

Saturday

Peter's training topic for this event was "The Kaname of Ninja Biken." Training in this mountain terrain connected us to the origins of Togakure ryu in the mountains of Japan. I cannot convey all the details here in these notes. But I will present some impressions.

In the morning, we filled the air and kukan with a swarm of shuriken. The use of shuriken and 目潰し metsubushi is a tactic closely linked to ninja biken. This serves to more than compensate for the length of the 忍者刀 ninja-to by filling gaps in perception and rythm of the opponent. He will never know where to defend and the tip of your 忍者刀 ninja-to becomes just another stinger in the swarm he cannot possibly escape.

Peter then connected the shuriken with sword kamae from Togakure ryu. After a review of the basic kamae, we used these kamae to cut and launch shuriken at our opponent's. Very difficult to do this without gaps in your own movement as you search for shuriken on your body. For me the trick was not to go fumbling for them, not to search. But rather to find them or discover them in the movement. They just appear in your hand as you move.

Peter then focused on kamae no waza with 一之構 ichi no kamae. I discovered early on that it was crucial to control the space with the tip of your sword. If you know how to achieve this, from the initial kamae you have already won. Then as you pressure the uke's arms with your blade, the tip presses into his center.

Peter spoke about the important goal in Togakure ryu is not killing or winning, but survival. That may be why it is still with us today, whilst other ninja schools have been lost to history. One tactic of this survival is finding the "hidden door." This can be the hidden opening on an opponent or in a troop formation, but it is also the hidden door of your escape route. Even if you know where this "door" is, you still have to be able to open it!

Next we looked at 正眼之構 seigan no kamae and 中段之構 chūdan no kamae. For me, the kaname of these all involved the control of space, or rather, connecting in the space so that you may live. As Hatsumi Sensei has said, 中段之構 chūdan no kamae is like kukan no kamae, where the mind and body  "are" the space and the space protects you.  This feeling has interesting connotations that led into our night training.

Saturday Night training

Nighttime in the wilderness of these mountains is exhilirating. We had a bright, nearly full moon, and I could deeply appreciate this idea from Hatsumi Sensei: "There is no village on which the moon does not shine, the moon lives in the mind of the gazer." - from Ninpo and Mu: Waxing and Waning Like the Moon

After some quiet and meditative stealth walking through a moonlit meadow, Peter helped us explore our "other" senses by connecting to threats from our periphery and from behind. At first, I fell into the trap of relying on mechanics.

I used tricks that I know to extend my peripheral vision and relied on sound as a warning device. I also focused on the sensation of absence or presence. This is like when you sense that you are alone, or that someone else is near. The problem with these methods is that they are often too slow. By the time you react, the threat is upon you!

I decided that this was a poor way to use the richness hidden in the dark forest surrounding me, and opened myself up to a larger experience. I cannot explain in words how to achieve this, but it is directly related to the experience of the godan test. Once I connected to the space in this way, I had wonderful results.

After this we had a wonderful campfire courtesy of my friend and twisted firestarter Brian. Brian is well aware of current geopolitical dynamics, and he will never be obsequious. We laughed and told stories late into the night.

Sunday

I crawled out of the coziness of my tent into the chill morning air. I went for a quiet hike to watch the birds and do some light rock climbing. I had a enjoyable breakfast with my friends. Normally the mountain air drives my appetite, but this trip all of my meals were light for some reason.

Peter began training this morning with a quick review of the sword kamae. Then he went further into kamae no waza with 下段之構 gedan no kamae. I was reminded of something that Paul Masse and I discussed recently about the idea that "enlightenment is at your feet." Hatsumi Sensei says to assume this kamae with that feeling. Then the kick in this waza is like kicking open a door for your escape. But that door was always there at your feet.

Peter  transitioned to 八方秘剣 happo biken with 飛龍之剣 hiryu no ken and 霞之剣 kasumi no ken. With both he really emphasized this idea of escaping and highlited this necessity by having us face multiple attackers. The flow of these two kata naturally encircle the opponents in the space in a way that they become entangled. If you disappear into the mist of kasumi, they will be fighting each other or only emptiness.

Now, as I begin my week back in civilization, I have that good exhaustion that leaves me refreshed in spirit. I want to thank Peter and all my friends in Arizona, as well as my own students for sharing this experience in the mountains. We are so lucky to have this ninja heritage that connects us back through the mists of history and place, to the mountains of Japan. Hatsumi Sensei's generosity in sharing this gift with the world is really humbling.

Of Note: Shout out to Eight legged Sal, my Aphonopelma chalcodes tentmate.


Secrets of 歩き Aruki

Takayuki Ishihara photo By CobraVerde
A big "secret" in our training is so basic that it is hidden in plain sight. I can tell you what it is and you will very likely ignore it. People always nod their heads when it is explained to them, as if it were old news, and then begin training on something else. This secret is 歩き aruki or walking.

After typing this I already sense people clicking some other link. Looking for the next flashy blog post or training video. Or worse, being convinced they already understand this "secret." Sensei often reminds us that enlightenment is under our feet. This is like 脚下照顧 kyakkashouko, where the best way to begin to know yourself is to look where your own footsteps fall. So let's start walking.

We have many types of walking in the Bujinkan to consider. Some of these skills are called ashi. I've written about many of these types of walking before: Like a Walk Through Yūgen 幽玄
 
But today I want to explore some ways to make your footwork more dynamic. If you are ready to really learn, here are some drills you can begin with:

  • Use yoko aruki to lead into or out of sanshin striking. This will strengthen both your footwork and give you new insight into sanshin. Now do it in eight directions. 

  • Then yoko aruki evasions (with an attacker!) in eight directions transitioning into all varieties of kaiten, nagare and taihenjustsu. 

  • Then yoko aruki evade and strike before taking evasive ukemi. Striking after the aruki creates interesting distance and angling puzzles. Use many different fists and kicks to target specific kyusho. 

  • Do some 足馴らし ashinarashi walking practice. Focus on ukemi with 膝行 shikko transitions between each roll. I have found nothing as powerful as this to improve your kamae and overall ukemi ability. 

  • To really know how to move effectively, one should practice 膝行 shikko in all directions. Work on forward, backward, and sideways. Do ukemi from shikko with shikko transitions. 

  • Do shoshin gokei from shikko. Prepare for some sore and raw knees, especially with the pivoting required. 

  • Do taijhenjutsu and ukemi using yoko aruki footwork. Practice 3 timings: aruki before the roll, during, and after. Otens are particularly challenging depending on when you yoko aruki. 

  • 骨指基本三法 Kosshi Kihon Sanpō using yoko aruki. Look at the inside cross, then the back cross. And eight directions! Both of these have unique considerations for our kamae and structure in the kukan. 

All of these footwork drills can also be done with happo tenchi tobi. Leaping skills are a unique and fun type of footwork. They come from the basic footwork ability but with increased distance and energy.

  • Next add a grappling component starting with a drill called the Jūtaijutsu shuffle. Starting from kumiuchi, you may begin with a three step variation. for example, right foot forward, left to the side, and right foot back. There are many variations depending on the foot or direction of the steps. Each step breaks the uke's structure a little more till he is thrown. This drill is about setting the footwork to take the uke's balance for the throw. 

All of these drills should also be done with weapons. As Soke often says, it is all based on walking. You can learn the most elaborate sword technique or have the quickest iai, but if you don't know how to walk it will be useless.

  • Train on basic sword kamae kihon. Do walking and drawing drills connected to each sword kamae. You must develop the proper rhythm to draw effectively while walking.

  • Practice all the different types of sword draws while walking in 膝行 shikko. When you have mastered these (:o) move on to aruki variations. Then combine aruki rolling and drawing.

This brief review of some basic walking drills should get you started. Many people walk in a stilted robotic fashion where they pose in the beginning, middle, and end positions of any technique. This is what happens when learned from a book or video or poor teaching. But if your teacher understands the nature of these aruki, then you can be more dynamic.

VIDEO: Paul Masse 書道 Shodo and 水墨 Suiboku


Besides training in the Bujinkan with Paul, I have had the privilege of many great discussions with him as an artist. I am an artist myself, so we connect easily on that level. We got together one afternoon during his visit to Santa Monica to discuss his artwork. If you can't view the video above, here is the link: Paul Masse 書道 Shodo and 水墨 Suiboku

If you didn't already know, Paul has studied Japanese Calligraphy or 書道 Shodo, Japanese Ink Painting or 水墨 Suiboku, and Japanese Pottery. He has even been reviewed by Hatsumi Sensei! Wait till you hear what Sensei said about his work…

He was kind enough to share some of the feeling behind his work as well as some tips for beginners at this style of art. If you train in the Bujinkan, or are an artist yourself, I know you will find a lot to be enthusiastic about in our video.

Paul Masse, kickin' it in Santa Monica

Paul Masse puts Dante in some weird Yoga Bondage
I was lucky to organize some last minute training when Paul Masse called me a few days ago to say he was going to be in Santa Monica.

Paul has traveled to India recently and studied yoga in Rishikesh. He was overflowing with an abundant need to share (or torment) us with some of his unique yoga experiences. So we began with Paul's 柔軟体操 Juunantaisou by way of India.

In between our normal taijutsu study, Paul would insert yoga experiences throughout the day. At one point when I looked around at everyone who was groaning as they tried to get into a pretzel, I raised my fist and said, "damn you Paul! Why did you have to go to India?" Even though these yoga poses were difficult for me, I gained a lot from Paul's enthusiasm.

As far as the taijutsu went, it was fantastic. Paul moved very quickly through concepts and henka to present the feeling he wanted to convey. If I had to pinpoint a theme for the day, it would be that kyusho are everywhere in the kukan and we attack them with kyojitsu..

If you know the meaning of these words, then you may realize what a deep idea this becomes. Someone asked Paul what kyojitsu means, and he worked hard not to fall down an ontological rabbit hole as he tried to explain. Simply put it means the interplay of real and unreal, or true and false in the moment. But the hard part to get your head around is that the real and unreal exist simultaneously, all the time, and everywhere.

After a yoga break, or was it the neti break, or maybe the handstands break? Paul focused on using the hanbo. Or rather, not using the hanbo. He and I spoke in some detail about our experiences in "not using" weapons and he riffed on that for the rest of the day.

He described one end of the hanbo could be the kyo, and the other could be the jitsu. His uke's might get hit with either. He shared the concepts of 中途半端 chuuto hanpa, and 決まってない kimatenai with everyone as a way of "not using" the hanbo.

At the end Paul did some calligraphy for us. He brushed out kamiwaza for me and did a variety of others for everyone there. He shared some of his new artwork with us. To my eye it was more refined than ever. Some of it was based on gokui. This matched up with the whole day as Paul was dropping the gokui on us with gusto!

Thanks for your visit my friend...

The Kaname of 神眼 Shingan

真是厲害的鏡頭 photo By *嘟嘟嘟*
Hatsumi Sensei has suggested that another reading of 神眼 shingan is kaname. As we study this years feeling it might become important to see with the divine eyes of shingan. To truly comprehend this principle requires we understand how to connect to the divine.

In my recent video about 不動座 fudouza, I suggested some symbolism that connected the heavens, down through the conduit of our physical bodies, and into the earth. The way Hatsumi Sensei describes this connection, it's not him doing the techniques, but they are being created through this connection. No matter your beliefs or religion, it is crucial to understand the foundations of Japanese symbolism to get the feelings behind our art.

Hatsumi Sensei says that one way to learn this is through Sanshin no kata that is connected to the heavens. It is connected through heaven, earth, and man (tenchijin). He further describes this as  天動説 tendousetsu, 地動説 chidousetsu, and 人動説 jindousetsu.

天動説 tendousetsu is a word that describes Ptolemaic theory in Japanese. This is what we also call geocentric. An old theory where the earth is the center of the universe. Everything is connected to this axis and everything revolves around it. In my video I described this as the axis mundi.

地動説 chidousetsu is the Copernican theory which is heliocentric. Here the sun is the center of everything where we and the universe are connected to revolve around that axis. This idea of revolving or pivoting is crucial for our understanding of kaname.

人動説 jindousetsu is a theory of dynamic human change and movement. In the esoteric varieties of this theory, the stars are directly connected to the human spirit and move as we move. They shine brighter or may even blink out in connection to our lives. This theory seems to stem from the Chinese Xuanye shuo 宣夜說 Firmament hypothesis. Here the tian (天 ten or even kukan) is an infinite space. Celestial bodies are light matter floating on it and move by Qi.

Modern science has made these theories obsolete. But the cosmology and symbolism may still have resonance for us. Jindousetsu becomes connected to ideas of relativity in science and futurism in art. As we move through the kukan, our frame of reference constantly shifts and the world is in dynamic change from our perspective.

Soke says this is connected to the body language of fighting. Being able to read your opponent's ability, temperament, defenses and attacks tells you which frame of reference he is operating from. So if you adopt a larger frame of reference (possibly even one that is connected to the heavens), you can easily manage his attacks. In effect he becomes unable to harm you because you are operating above and outside of his ability.

This is like taking the high ground in military strategy. A drone operator has no need for body armour because his enemy's bullets can never hit him. The drone pilot is operating from a different frame of reference.

If we connect to this type of dynamic change in our training, the waza become alive. Sensei says that because this is a living thing it changes. It's varying within its existence. In this way it is connected to everything else.

Don't be static, have 人動説 jindousetsu!

VIDEO: 不動座 Fudouza



Here is a quick video for all my readers about 不動座 fudouza.

If you can't see it above here is a link to the video:  不動座 fudouza

This is not a description about technical details of sitting in this kamae, but rather more about the feeling and symbolism associated with the "immovable seat."

 I describe fudouza's connection to the symbolism of axis mundi, which is the central point around which the world revolves. I then tell a story about the Buddha and his battle with mara while seated under the bodhi tree. What happened when he got up after reaching enlightenment?

I detail a bit about 坐り型 suwari gata in the Bujinkan, and how Hatsumi Sensei sometimes approaches this with the feeling of Daruma.

Oh, I forgot, I also caught my first clumsy writing of the kanji for 不動座 fudouza on camera!

And lastly I suggest a tricky way to leave Fudouza. Be careful if you try it!

The Rise of 生物奇怪 Seibutsu Kikai

When Stunts Go Wrong, photo by Loco Steve
In our modern world, combat has evolved to an industrial and mechanical affair. Machines (機械  kikai) do the killing at a distance. For martial artists this can feel overwhelming or outside the scope of our training at a very human scale. But the Bujinkan also evolves with the times. Even though we study ancient weapons and arts, we must also keep our training alive to address modern concerns.

I was reading this humorous article about not being afraid of the robot apocalypse or of being destroyed by terminator robots: What if there was a robot apocalypse?

In this article the author explains how difficult it is for robots or computers to adapt. How easily they can be defeated by simple, and often natural methods or elements. For example, a fire hose turned on most robots will quickly end their rampage. Or a simple fishing net thrown over a robot would easily entangle its mechanics. Anything messy, really. Tar, mud, water, rubble, contaminated fuel… robots and computers are easily overwhelmed by the natural world.

The main reason drones have been so effective in combat is because they have human pilots, and they fly high above, and away from obstacles.

Reading about this reminded me of something Hatsumi Sensei has encouraged in our training. How may we address these types of warfare in the Bujinkan? I will not post any direct methods here, but Hatsumi Sensei has suggested a strategy for the future.

He suggests we should adopt a philosophy of seibutsu kikai (生物奇怪論に立って). A "living mysterious being theory." This is similar to hijoushiki 非常識. An irrational absurdity. It is like something supernatural, but as an extension and connected to the natural.

Seibutsu kikai is also cryptozoology. In Japan there are tales of Hibagon, Tsuchinoko, Kusshii, Isshii, Kappa, various Yokai, Mikoshi-nyūdō, Nue, Kasha,  Noderabō, Yamao, Buruburu, Nekomata, Shuten Dōji, Yūrei, Shiryō, Yanari, and Tengu, These mythical creatures and spirits exist in our dreams and nightmares throughout human history. They all have special traits, powers, or abilities. But they are difficult to find or hunt down. Do they exist? Did ninja? How would you go about finding one?

You cannot. And therein lies an important strategy. As Soke suggests in a play on words, this is 機会 kikai, or a time of opportunity. Drones, robots, and computers rely heavily on sensors and digital information, but how does one digitize a ghost? How can a robot fight a mystery?

Keeping this mysterious connection alive in our training is essential for those who have progressed beyond Godan, but also essential for the survival of our art as machines move beyond service to being replacements for us in life and combat. A machine could pass the Godan test with the proper sensors, but it could never properly give the Godan test. It will never have that connection. And there it will always be weak.

Shot to the Heart of Kaname 要

Yabusame 流鏑馬, Kumamoto-shi, JP. photo by malfet_
We are more than halfway through 2012 and training has been great! Back in December, I wrote about a class where Hatsumi Sensei suggested some possibilities of a theme for 2012. As often happens the theme has evolved to express other ideas than those Hatsumi Sensei shared in December. One idea that has emerged has been an exploration of the idea of kaname 要.

Kaname 要 can be described as the essential or vital point of a technique, of a moment, or of strategy. It is essential because victory or defeat can pivot at this point. Everything hinges on grasping this moment. But this is not a new idea from Hatsumi Sensei.

At last year's Daikomyosai, Soke gave us a lot of focus on the concept of Kukan no kyusho. At the time, besides having my eyes opened, this concept felt pivotal to everything we are currently studying in the Bujinkan. And, it turns out that kaname and kukan no kyusho are getting at the same feeling. In years past, Soke has also used the terms koshi or koppo to get at this idea of a key point that controls things.

This kaname, or kyusho in the kukan, is very dynamic. So when you connect to it and affect the situation, change the uke's balance, strike a kyusho, or win the fight… The situation changes. And you must change with it to connect to the new vital point of the moment. What is fascinating is that through this process you will discover pivotal points that were hidden from your normal level of awareness and ability.

There is a secret here that I cannot describe or even teach. Soke hints at it in the scroll he painted for this year: shinryuyogo 神龍要護. You will notice the character for "yo" is the same as kaname. And "go" is the same as mamoru which means to safeguard or protect. But another secret here has to do with shinryu or the divine dragon.

Here is an excerpt from my recent training notes on this:
"With both ideas you can use these essential points as pivot points. But what is being pivoted? Certainly you can pivot your body around a point in space that you feel is essential to the execution of the technique. But that is a very flat or two dimensional understanding of kaname.

To expand the concept what is really pivoting is your shin 心 (heart, mind, or spirit) or shin 神 (spirit or kami). Both you and your opponent's "shin" are pivoting around in the kukan. This allows for the spontaneous creation and use of any henka, but also kyojitsu, rokkon shoujou, juppo sessho, roppo kuji, kuki taisho… or any number of principles that respond to the dynamics of the instant!

And our shin 神 are pivoting around each other as well as the real essential point which is the connection to heaven  or: chance; fate; destiny; karma. We can stay connected with 因縁 innen which is the underlying source of all actions or the origin. This is the true shinzui 神髄  of kaname that can lead us to the expression of kamiwaza 神業 ."
What I wrote above is a sample of what I send out 3 times a week to subscribers. If you haven't subscribed to my training notes you can get them here: 稽古記録 Keiko Kiroku

Last year Hatsumi Sensei shared a story that gets at the depth of feeling behind kaname. It comes from a famous moment in the epic tale of Heike (平家物語), During the Battle of Nashima in 1184, the enemy retreated to their ships. They placed a fan on top one of their masts claiming that it protected them from archers on the shore and they dared the Minamoto to shoot it off.

An archer, Nasu no Yoichi 那須 与一 who was known for his accuracy but not his strength, rode out into the sea on horseback to get close enough. With the waves splashing around the horse's neck, and rolling the ship around in the surf, somehow he loosed his arrow and split the fan in two!

Soke explains that this moment had such power that "it pierced the heart (kaname 要)" of the Taira army and the Minamoto were victorious. It was also a pivot point or turning point in the entire war. This moment has power in our imaginations to this day as it is retold and represented by artists with great reverence.

So in my own training for the first half of 2012, I have been exploring Kaname in our training as the essential, or vital point around which the technique, fight, or taijutsu derives its' power. The results have been spectacular for me and I can't wait to study it more and train even harder.

Bujinkan Jūdan 拾段: In The World

In The World, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seeker's journey to enlightenment.

If you haven't read my other posts in this series, please check them out. You may find them useful no matter what your rank is:

Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull
Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints
Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull
Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull
Bujinkan Godan 五段: Taming the Bull
Bujinkan Rokudan 六段: Riding the Bull Home
Bujinkan Nanadan 七段: The Bull Transcended
Bujinkan Hachidan 八段: Both Bull and Self Transcended
Bujinkan Kyūdan 九段: Reaching the Source

Now as a Jūdan, you may stroll casually through the dojo, yet your steps are not misplaced.
Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō
 入鄽垂手 In the World
Barefooted and naked of breast,

I mingle with the people

of the world.

My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,

and I am ever blissful.

I use no magic to extend my life;

Now, before me, the dead trees

become alive.

I have abandoned the whip and ropes

All ideas of shuhari 守破離 have been swept away. Anyone still in the cycle of shuhari will not see the source of your freedom. Simply,
"You destroy whatever needs to be destroyed, you subdue whatever needs to to subdued, and you care for whatever needs your care." - Chögyam Trungpa
As one who has reached the peak of our Bujinkan training experience or found enlightenment as in the Oxherding poems, you appear remarkably unaffected. You have internalized our art and this is reflected purely in everyone you meet. In this reflection you see wonderful taijutsu expressed by any student of the art.

This stage is one of freedom. You don't consciously show any signs of ability or seniority. Nor do you adhere to any rules, forms, or training regimen. Yet simply and without striving, you express mastery.

Hatsumi Sensei quotes Confucius, "Those that understand play have life's greatest treasure."

It is strange to no longer show any skill. Skill is too limiting and you have slipped free of that trap. Yet you are a great help to others who may be seeking skill. Students grow just by being around you. This is Shinden 神伝.

Some may turn away from you or critique your abilities. You reply with a smile. Tenkataihei 天下泰平, all is peaceful under the heavens.

People expect that someone of your level will have incredible skill and almost supernatural technique. You know those skills are there but realize they are actually ordinary illusions and even unnecessary.

Your pure state is reflected in everyone. As you shine forth, anyone may collect some of your light. You simply help anyone you meet to grow and learn. This happens naturally without concern for compensation or worry about who accepts your help.

Hatsumi Sensei says that Shōsan had the feeling of "The heart that thinks of oneself, suffers. The heart that thinks of others, is free."

This journey through Jūdan and the ten Oxherding poems and pictures was inspired by Hatsumi Sensei's teacup that has these ten drawings. He says as he sips from this cup, "It is the moment when tea and Zen are one."

And you are there like the moonlight reflecting in a hundred cups of tea. Each reflection is whole, yet nothing takes away from the moon itself.

Bujinkan Kyūdan 九段: Reaching the Source

Reaching the Source, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seeker's journey to enlightenment.

If you haven't read my other posts in this series, please check them out. You may find them useful no matter what your rank is:

Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull
Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints
Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull
Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull
Bujinkan Godan 五段: Taming the Bull
Bujinkan Rokudan 六段: Riding the Bull Home
Bujinkan Nanadan 七段: The Bull Transcended
Bujinkan Hachidan 八段: Both Bull and Self Transcended

Now that we are at kyūdan, we have not only reached the source, we have returned to it:
Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō
返本还源 Reaching the Source

Too many steps have been taken
returning to the root and the source.

Better to have been blind and deaf
from the beginning!
Dwelling in one's true abode,

unconcerned with and without -

The river flows tranquilly on
and the flowers are red.

I have abandoned the whip and ropes

From the outside looking in at this stage of training is confusing. From the outside it makes your entire training regimen seem pointless. From the outside it appears the destination of training is to return to where you started.

Your black belt has frayed and worn so much that it is a white belt again. Maybe you should have just kept the white belt in the first place! There have been many temptations to give up training altogether.

Good technique, bad technique are exactly the same. Winning or losing are no different. Attacker and defender are exactly the same. So you may never have trained at all, and you will be at the same place.

From the outside, students see teachers at this stage sometimes acting like unskilled white belts, and the students may lose faith in their teachers or in their own path.

The truth is, this way of understanding taijutsu starts long before kyūdan. It starts as soon as we begin to develop natural henka. It can be found in the expression of 梧心の型 Goshin no Kata. The difference is that by this level, you no longer simply perform henka, you embody 変化 henka.

Henka exists as not only variations on technique, but as a continual metamorphosis.

We are no longer concerned with being or non being. We don't distinguish between technique and henka. Being is non-being. Technique is henka.

We might then say, "ただこれこれ tada korekore," which translates to "only this, this," or might suggest that everything is just as it is.

You stand in the middle of the dojo and see black gi and students doing keiko. In an airport are travellers and luggage. Does it matter where they go or only that they travel? In a field, red flowers and green grass are growing.

You put on your obi.

Shikin haramitsu daikomyo!

Our final step in this series will be: Bujinkan Jūdan 拾段: In The World

Bujinkan Hachidan 八段: Both Bull and Self Transcended

Both Ox and Self Transcended, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seeker's journey to enlightenment.

If you haven't read my other posts in this series, please check them out. You may find them useful no matter what your rank is:

Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull
Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints
Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull
Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull
Bujinkan Godan 五段: Taming the Bull
Bujinkan Rokudan 六段: Riding the Bull Home
Bujinkan Nanadan 七段: The Bull Transcended
So what kind of training do we do for Hachidan?

Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō
人牛俱忘 Both Bull and Self Transcended

Whip, rope, person, and bull -
all merge in No Thing.

This heaven is so vast,

no message can stain it.

How may a snowflake exist
in a raging fire?
Here are the footprints of
the Ancestors.

I have abandoned the whip and ropes

At this stage of our training we have reached the state of zero Hatsumi Sensei often speaks about. In the dojo we neither train nor not train. We neither attack nor not attack. We neither defend nor not defend.

By being in neither position we become invisible. This is an aspect of ninjutsu and disappearing in plain sight. It is difficult for students because they will never see what the teacher is doing or not doing. Teachers cannot really explain it to students because they neither teach nor not teach.

In the original oxherding pictures from India and China, this was the last stage. Kakuan fleshed these ideas out from his 12th century Zen perspective so that the emptiness of the circle would not be the final goal of zen. But what is the quality of this emptiness in our training?

We can borrow a Buddhist phrase and parody it here: We do not linger where there is technique and we pass quickly through where there is no technique. Stopping to admire technique or no technique is the same trap as being tied to the Ox or the self.

We become a person who is nowhere. Hatsumi Sensei describes this in what it means to be Soke:
"Soke" signifies nothingness, zero, emptiness, void. Something that exists, and yet does not. The Soke is just an ordinary person, and yet, somehow, he is someone who is living his life according to some invisible divine command. You see, I do not live by my conscious mind, not at all, so that whatever I have thought up till now can just suddenly change in my mind, though it is not a consciously engineered change."
And here is the same idea from Zen:
"A distinguished Zen teacher, questioned as to how he disciplined himself in the truth, simply said: 'When I am hungry I eat; when tired I sleep.' The questioner remarked that this was what everybody did and asked whether they could be considered as practising the discipline as he did. The teacher replied: 'No; because when they eat they do not eat, but are thinking of various other things thereby allowing themselves to be disturbed; when they sleep they do not sleep, but dream of a thousand and one things. This is why they are not like myself."
The emptiness of this stage burns away every thought of technique or no technique. It burns away any thought of attacker or no attacker. Defender or no defender. As the poem above states, dualistic and discriminating thoughts are burned away like a snowflake in a raging fire…

This is at the heart of 万変不驚 Banpen Fugyo, as Hatsumi Sensei describes, "It's where you're not expecting anything, but you're ready for anything. You're all potential."

At this stage we are connected to our ancestors and the Bujin.

From this place we will explore Bujinkan Kyūdan 九段: Reaching the Source

Bujinkan Nanadan 七段: The Bull Transcended

The Ox Transcended, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seekers journey to enlightenment.

If you haven't read my other posts in this series, please check them out. You may find them useful no matter what your rank is:

Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull
Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints
Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull
Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull
Bujinkan Godan 五段: Taming the Bull
Bujinkan Rokudan 六段: Riding the Bull Home

On reaching seventh dan we may find that we have forgotten the ox. What does it mean to forget the Ox?


Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō

忘牛存人 The Bull Transcended
Astride the bull, I reach home.

I am serene. The bull too can rest.

The dawn has come. In blissful repose,

Within my thatched dwelling

I have abandoned the whip and ropes

We made it home. Comfortable in our own taijutsu and in our dojo, whatever ambitions we had attached to training or rank are abandoned. We no longer attempt to manipulate training to serve the purpose of our ego.

Through all the stages of finding, following, catching, taming, and riding the ox, we have been seeking the true essential nature of training and of ourselves. If this process was pursued with pure intent, the self that was doing the seeking falls away. It disappears little by little until it is gone. What you are left with is only the essential, true training.

Even better than this, you may enter into another dimension of training where the true self doesn't even make an appearance at all. This is often symbolized in Japanese art and poetry as the pure white moonlight moving apart the clouds until there are no longer clouds and the whole world is bathed in this purity. This aspect of training becomes pure experience and is beyond words. Only direct experience remains.

And, your consciousness remains, observing. The bull is gone but through your direct experience all that is left is you observing and feeling. There clouds may gather again.

At this point in training we may start to wonder at how pointless all of the work we did up till now has been. All of the exercises, all of the kata, all of the drills… they feel like useless effort in the face of the pure moonlight. With this direct experience of the essence of training, everything else is a distraction.

People sometimes find themselves in the dojo going through the motions. Observing their movement and the movement of others and feeling like it is wasted effort. It is amusing to find your body repeating whatever the class is working on, while your heart is not in it. Or it feels pointless.

It feels like once you have grasped the essential nature of training, there is nothing left to do. You realize that what you were seeking in training is within you already, but also without. You stop looking and it is everywhere. All the secrets are made known.

So with nothing left to do, what is the point of training?

The fabric of training itself is the students and the art. Just like the stream is also water, or stars are also night sky- so students are their study. You observe this relationship: uke and tori; teacher and student; training and dojo; body and gi; hands and bokken. As you notice these things, you realize you are not them and they are not you. But you are part of this fabric.

This dreamlike quality of training can carry you for a long time. Even though you no longer need the whip and the halter, or the tools and exercises of the dojo, you are left observing these. In your reverie, you are still tied to those experiences.

Next we go even further to Bujinkan Hachidan 八段: Both Bull and Self Transcended

Bujinkan Rokudan 六段: Riding the Bull Home

Riding the Ox Home, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seekers journey to enlightenment.

If you haven't read my other posts in this series, please check them out. You may find them useful no matter what your rank is:

Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull
Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints
Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull
Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull
Bujinkan Godan 五段: Taming the Bull

Passing beyond Godan brings us to a place of creative play. The Bull (mind) obeys without searching about and we don't need to work to constrain it anymore.
Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō

骑牛归家 Riding the Bull Home
Mounting the bull, slowly
I return homeward.

The voice of my flute intones
through the evening.
Measuring with hand-beats
the pulsating harmony,
I direct the endless rhythm.

Whoever hears this melody
will join me.

Sensei says that "When you pass the Godan test, then you realize 無意識 muishiki." This is moving from the unconscious. Once this seed is planted there is nothing to do except allow this state of muishiki to grow. There is no longer any question of trying to prove anything in relation to your rank.

When people first pass Godan, sometimes they continue searching for something in themselves. Some kind of change in ability or looking for more in training and wondering, is this all? At this stage the search comes to rest. The wall between unenlightened/enlightened, strong/weak, soft/hard, good/bad, and win/loss disappears so training follows its own course.

Unhindered, free taijutsu without any blocks.

Here is a trap. You become so free and comfortable and relaxed with training that improvement stops. This is like the middle age of training. People just settle in and enjoy, comfortable in rank and ability. But the real, true polishing of the heart is yet to occur.

Hatsumi Sensei says,
"Just because someone has been training for 40 or 50 years, it doesn't mean anything. Even for myself, no matter how long I've been training.. it's nothing special. I'm still walking along behind Takamatsu Sensei. That's what the tradition means."
Riding the ox home. Where is this home? And why are we not there yet? One experience of home is to be back where it all started, as a beginner. Beginner's mind as they say. Going full circle. We are not there yet because our self is still busy admiring it's own reflection in training or technique. We are not yet able to do taijutsu without observing ourselves in the experience.

Sometimes, like watching the sunset, or listening to the flute, we become nostalgic for the "old" days of training. We tell many stories to junior students about how training used to be. We miss those times.

But every note resonates with us, calling us back to pure training without thought or technique. We can experience the muishiki of the moment of godan anytime in the dojo. And this is like our compass, marking the path ahead.

Here whether we are teaching others, or being taught, we move beyond words and concepts. We can learn so much from a glance of our instructor. Or, a lesson becomes self evident so that when we show a technique, nothing needs to be said.

Hatsumi Sensei uses the word 暗黙的 anmokuteki, which is an implicit teaching. This is a silent, sometimes secret teaching that arises from a natural understanding between teacher and student. The only reason this teaching stays a secret is because the communication is on a level that not everyone is prepared to observe.

We should also teach ourselves in this manner. Then the Ox doesn't need to be led. He knows the way.

Next in this series: Bujinkan Nanadan 七段: The Bull Transcended


Bujinkan Godan 五段: Taming the Bull

Taming the Ox, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seekers journey to enlightenment.

If you haven't read my other posts in this series, please check them out. You may find them useful no matter what your rank is:
Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull
Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints
Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull
Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull

In the Bujinkan, Godan is marked by the Godan test. You must be free of doubt to pass through this gate. How do we become free of doubt?


Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō
牧牛 Taming the Bull
The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down
some dusty road.
Being well-trained, he becomes

naturally gentle.

Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.

Once you have caught hold of the bull, rather than simply hanging on desperately as he bucks and runs around, it is necessary to tame the bull. The Ox or bull in these parables is the mind. In our Bujinkan training, it is the mind, spirit, and body.

Most of us begin training to develop physical skills and abilities. As we search for that elusive quality that our teachers have and seem to create at will, we start to realize we need to develop our minds and spirits equally.

In catching hold of our true nature- our true mind, body, and spirit… we discover where the heart of our training lies. While this is a nice feeling and helpful in the dojo, we may wonder, can we call this essence up at will?

To tame the ox, you must notice, it is not you doing anything. You are not performing techniques. You are not passing the Godan test. You are just sitting.

Having this realization is wonderful. But it is still far from being able to create this and connect to it when needed. The Godan test marks a chance for you to do that. If you pass, there may be a curious sensation of having done something, but not having done anything at the same time.

This is a vital feeling!

A feeling at the root of 虚実 kyojitsu. Truth and Falsehood. In taming the Bull, when you show truth, your taijutsu will be good. When you are mislead by falsehood, the Ox runs away with you dragging behind. To master these two is to understand one is the other. Truth is Falsehood, and Falsehoods are truth. When you can present either one purely the Ox is tamed.

To keep this feeling awake in the dojo requires a renewed focus and disciplined training (whipping the ox). With sincere training that is connected to your true nature, the pure essence of training will be reflected in your heart. This is the polishing of the mirror of our hearts.

The more pure your taijutsu becomes, the less whipping is needed. This will be reflected in your uke's response to your efforts, in your relationships in or out of the dojo, and the naturalness of your taijutsu.

Eventually the Ox is so tame, that you can let him go and he will follow you anywhere. In the dojo, with any uke, on the streets, at work, home, with your family… Your kamae expands to be always present.

When sitting for the Godan test, you should have no doubt about passing. The person giving the test also has no doubt. Their cut is a connection from the heavens down through you into the earth. As Soke often tells us, Don't sever this connection.

We'll see where this leads us with Bujinkan Rokudan 六段: Riding the Bull Home.

Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull

Catching the Ox, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seekers journey to enlightenment.

If you haven't read my other posts in this series, please check them out. You may find them useful no matter what your rank is:
Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull
Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints
Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull
So now you've made it to Yondan. For many people in the Bujinkan this is a pivotal moment. This is a moment of getting a hold of yourself… and finding the form of the self is empty.
Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō
得牛 Catching the Bull
I seize him with a terrific struggle.

His great will and power

are inexhaustible.
He charges to the high plateau

far above the cloud-mists,

Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes
After some years of training, you go from thinking you know something, to realizing you know very little. Then you might chase various threads and ideas or teachers to see where they lead. At some point you caught hold of something real. But you don't know what to do with it. You've caught the Ox, but you can barely hang on as he stampedes around.

Occasionally you can perform techniques that surprise even you. You feel like, with a little luck you could defeat anyone, no matter their skill level or rank. But this new found ability is uncontrollable. If you reach the point where you can hang onto this feeling, you get taken for a ride. It drags you here and there. But you will not let go.

A large hurdle for martial artists at this stage is being able to transcend aggression. Aggression may have served you in the past. It may have brought victory in certain arenas. For many who don't understand Budo, it is the heart of their study.

But you have caught a hold of something better. And to stay with it requires finesse, precision, and the ability to see. Aggression blinds you from seeing what it is you are holding onto.

Keep your form empty, and empty the self, and you will not lose the Ox.

It is awkward to let go of technique and form that you have trained many years to perfect. This feels like throwing away something valuable. You will still be fascinated by technique and encounter students or teachers that have wonderful technical details to share.

Just because you understand emptiness, doesn't mean you will lose all your habits you have built over years of training. You will still think "you" can discern good and bad technique, good and bad teachers or students, or, the true Bujinkan that you think you are studying. You will put yourself and your ideas forward any chance you get.

The surprising lesson is that all of this is a reflection of the self. If you get mired in form, you will never reach a true understanding of Godan, whether you pass the test or not.
Hatsumi Sensei describes this process:
 "The longer you train you need to be able to ignore things that you don't need.  Things that are unnecessary. And set them aside. 

As you do this, you start to see the bad parts of your own self. And you have to be able to toss those things aside as well. 

Because if you have one bad part of yourself still within you, everything will collapse later.

 So part of what Shugyo is, what training is... is discovering the bad parts of yourself and tossing them aside.

 That's what life is. Not just in the dojo."
A curious thing may happen to you here: you can be trapped in form, but also in no-form.
The opposite of being mired in form is getting lost in emptiness and inaction. As a warrior, if you dwell in the world of formlessness, you cannot fight for anyone including yourself. This is just a flip side of the trap of dualism. But still a trap.

A healthy sign of passing through this stage of "Catching the Bull," is growing humility. There are many Bujinkan teachers and students who have not found humility. Be humble. Release yourself from needing to be good or from feeling inadequate. Throw away form, but also no-form. Have this 生命反射 seimei hansha, or reflection of life as Soke describes it.

From here we will work on, Bujinkan Godan 五段: Taming the Bull



Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull

Perceiving the Ox, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seekers journey to enlightenment.

In the first post of this series, Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull, we felt the first inspiration to begin training even though we had no idea where this may lead. In the second post, Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints, we enjoyed getting lost in form and in henka.

Now that we've made our way to Sandan, what are we to make of it?

见牛 Perceiving the Bull
Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō

I hear the song of the nightingale.

The sun is warm, the wind is mild,

willows are green along the shore -

Here no bull can hide!

What artist can draw that massive head,

those majestic horns?

Sandan brings us through a phase of hard work and study when suddenly, through no effort of our own, the bull appears! It is there then gone again. It has an ephemeral quality that makes us wonder if it even really exists.

This is discovering the self in taijutsu. All your efforts and senses come together and you open up into a new world where the bull is everywhere. And you find yourself reflected in all of your training.

We are purifying of the senses through 六根清浄 rokkon shoujou. The roku in rokkon are the six senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind.There are also six consciousnesses found in shiki. Any one of theses six contains the whole and is not separate. In this you may find the reward of 禄魂笑淨 rokkon shou jou as Hatsumi Sensei writes it, which suggests the purification of the senses through laughter.

All movement is an expression of the true self. The ox appears openly.

When you come to accept the non-duality of yourself and taijutsu, you relax and just begin to enjoy training. You come to class not for any purpose other than it is fun!
You may find yourself becoming a guide for other students. You don't try to teach, they naturally seek you out for guidance. And you love sharing the enjoyment of training, so the sharing is abundant.

A warning here, some dangers will appear in this stage of training. One is the tendency to boast to others of what you have seen. Another is neglecting your training and chasing the ox everywhere but in the dojo. And a third danger is ignoring or disregarding your teacher because you feel he is no longer necessary to you.

"Each thing in heaven and on earth is itself an expression of 無 Mu," while this is a nice thought it is not real training. What is the essence found in training? Unless you experience training directly you will over think it.

You have clearly seen your real self and you realize its projections are everywhere. It infuses every training experience and interaction. Once you see this, it is almost funny when you discover it in unexpected corners of your experience in the dojo.

The entire way you have been understanding taijutsu now changes completely. It is like a new beginning. You go from the empty self of 忍苦 ninku to also knowing the emptiness of the world in 法句 hokku.

Next we will move into Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull

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