Disciple or Technician?

(version française)

I just read a nice article by my brother Pedro Fleitas and I would like to dig deeper in its direction.

When we began training in the Bujinkan martial arts we couldn’t fathom how much it would bring to us as a human being; how much it would transform us. We were more interested in learning a “martial art”. Through the last 26 years we learnt the martial art but  we also learnt to become true human beings.

Too many practitioners today are training for the wrong reason as muscle power is limited in time so it shouldn’t be our main objective while training. What is definitely more important is to develop our own potential, our own abilities. All through these years people have been focusing too much on the omote where in fact only the ura matters. Knowing thetechniques can be interesting for a while but knowing yourself is more vital to live a happy life.

How many teachers in the bujinkan are only teaching “forms” and do not get the essence of the bujinkan? A lot! I remember once speaking with sôke who told me that the important thing he has been teaching in the last years were not the schools but the concepts they conveyed. These concepts of san jigen no sekai, yûgen no sekai, kasumi no hô, shizen, etc have taught us more on how to live our lives than fighting techniques. Even though this apprenticeship has been the key to learn to defend ourselves efficiently. By understanding the ura side of things, the omote becomes obvious.

In 2010 we have entered a new era in the bujinkan with the arrival of many high ranks. Things are changing as always and now is the time to ask yourself the good questions. Long time ago I have decided to put aside the “ninja” stuff and to follow the teachings of a man, Hatsumi Sensei; I decided to become a disciple and not only a good technical martial artist.

Is it what you are doing? And if it is not, do you think it is worth spending your free time collecting forms instead of developing the fantastic human being hidden within you?

Hatsumi sensei might be the last true budô master of Japan and his teachings go far beyond simple body mechanics. Maybe it is time to think about it.

benkei & yoshitsune

Bufû Ikkan

(version Française)

Sensei said that “the secret of budô is 武風一貫 bufû ikkan (translated in “unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai” p.51, by the way of war is survival*). This is the yang secret. In a fight the opponent is often aggressive (i.e. yin) therefore by opposing softness to hardness you can defeat the enemy. When facing a strong and violent opponent you have two options: be more aggressive and violent than him or be so soft that his own intentions and actions will defeat him. This is the secret of fighting.

It reminds me of the encounter between the yamabushi monk Benkei and the young Minamoto no Yoshitsune during the Hôgen disturbance (保元の乱, Hōgen-no-ran1156). Benkei was a fierce warrior monk who defeated 99 samurai crossing a bridge he was standing on. Benkei had made the wish to take a 100 swords from samurai and to give them to the Buddha. When the young Yoshitsune arrived at the bridge, Benkei had already won 99 swords. Yoshitsune, defending himself with a simple flute overcame the big giant who then became his disciple.
This is the typical example of how yin can defeat yang. In the bujinkan this technique is called goja dori and sensei details it in his book: “Togakure ryu ninpô taijutsu” (p.237).

Sensei insists also on developing 五心術 goshin jutsu instead of 護身術 goshin jutsu. We should develop the heart/spirit if we want to ensure a true self-protection for ourselves.

Brutal force is nothing compared to mental strength. In order to survive learn to use the yin within you.

* 武風一貫 means “the martial winds blow every day” but when written 武風一管 it means “martial wind (tone) of one flute” thus the connection with Yoshitsune. ;)

control is attitude


control is attitude

(version française)

Last Sunday at the Hombu, Hatsumi sensei said that “if you cannot control yourself, you cannot control others”.

This is the secret of every learning process as we must understand our own behavior before trying to understand the one of others. The quickest path to achieve that is to master our basics.

When you learn the basics, you force your self  (body & mind) into unusual forms and reactions. This is the first step. Here the opponent is not somebody else, it is only yourself. This is the kihon level. Many martial artists stopped their understanding of fighting at this level.

The second step is to learn how your movements can interact with formal ways of attacks. Here uke appears and follow a given set of movements and you apply the kihon that you learned, and you adjust them to a different reality. This is the kata or waza level and this is the main objective when you train in a dôjô with fellow practitioner. There is no surprise here as everything is predetermined, and there is no violence either. Few martial artists get to this level.

The third level is the one of shizen, here the attack is unknown and your personal ability (sainô, 才能) flows naturally and will save your life or get you killed if you did not achieve the personal control at the first two  levels. This is the level of training that is given by sensei to the bujinkan practitioners.

To master and control these three levels of: kihon, waza, and shizen take a long time and only a very small number of practitioners will succeed. This is why it is said that budô is a life-time commitment. Even well polished, a mirror can always be polished a little more. Perfection is an attitude in life, not a manifested reality.

  • 基本 kihon: you learn to control yourself
  • waza: you learn to apply this control of yourself to known attacks
  • 自然 shizen: you are in control of yourself and any attack is controlled naturally through your ability to flow into your environment. There is no surprise.

This is a  三心 sanshin.

Therefore the dôjô 道場 is not only the place where you learn the way, it becomes the place where you learn to ride with others 同乗 (dôjô). Learn to control yourself through this sanshin and you will be able to control the others.

Banpen fûgyô, 10000 attacks, no surprise.

Bujinkan Gold Medal for Hugues

Tuesday hugues

Our friend and colleague jûgodan Hughes was awarded the gold medal of the Bujinkan last Tuesday at the Ayase Budôkan.

The Bujinkan gold medal is an award given by Hatsumi sensei to students of quality. In the past it was often awarded for organizing a taikai; today it is a way for sensei to thank his most committed students for their hard work and improvement and is often given to the jûgodan.

With mine received last century ( :( ), this is the third medal awarded by Sensei to a Frenchman.  Four other received the gold medal on the same day, including my friend Darren (the Australian Bruno).

Congratulations and thank you Hugues to deserve it!




Inyo: the Power of Change



(version française)

In a recent post we established that “ki” was not magic but only natural.

Q: But what manifests this natural state of things where no preconceived idea can exist?
A: The natural flow and interaction of inyo (yinyang).

The I Ching, the book of changes (ekigyô 易経 in Japanese) says that:

“the only thing that will never change is that everything is changing permanently”.

In this sentence lies the truth about the ki, inyo, life, death (i.e. a fight); everything can be reduced to this equilibrium between in and yo. The inyo concept is based on the eastern understanding of eki 易 i.e. change.

In modern Japanese the word “eki” is used for “divination” (or “easy” when pronounced yasashii). When we study the kanji, eki we discover that it is made of two kanji: the sun 日 on top; and the old writing for rain 勿 under (today this kanji is used for “be not, must not”).

The original meaning was then “weather change” from rain to sun to rain and the only thing to do was to watch those changes and to adapt to them. This is the same in the dôjô. The opponent’s actions are to be watched carefully and “naturally” answered by going with the flow of the inyo interactions. And this is why we should never separate in and yo as it would create a duality; as it is from this duality that things get confused. Unity with uke is the path to the natural flow.

To define this permanent change in the flow of life, the chinese took two old kanji and showing this alternate state in all things. Those two kanji are one in two (in cannot be separated from yo), historically this ishow the Chinese called the two sides of the mountain. The north-facing side, dark and humid (in) and the south-facing side, bright and sunny (yo). You cannot separate them, this is the same with inyo.

Yo 陽 is composed of eki (sun and rain) but separated by a horizontal line (check by yourself). This extra line emphasizes the idea of differentiation compared to a natural change as in eki. It defines a moment in the flow where change will occur, where rain will let the sun shining. This is the end of the rain, an instant of change, a kokû 虚空. A space between two moments.

The right part (after the “B” shape kanji) of in 陰 is composed of gathering, accumulation 亼 and cloud 云 it gives the idea of an accumulation of tension like before the rain comes. Here also we have a kokû, another space between two moments. Change is everywhere and in the encounter only the one who is able to adapt to the permanent switch happening in the instant is able to manifest the ki and use it within the flow of things.

Inyo are (is?) the manifested components of this flow of permanent change that we call the ki. Eki is the essence of the ki and our movements should use this energy to move naturally. In a way we can say that with the use of change eki 易 offered by inyo, we gather 会 the ki 気 so that our actions become easy 易(yasashii).

易会気易 (eki e ki eki): natural change gather the ki to make things easy. ;)

nb: some of the explanations are taken from C. Javary “le discours de la tortue”, ed. Albin Michel

golden ratio


golden ratio

(version Française)

The last post on “3=5” generated a lot of comments towards the possible misinterpretation of numerology. Two friends added their comments, Jan from Belgium on this blog and Jean, one of my students committed a nice text on his dôjô blog (in French).

Their general idea is that: “you can say anything with numbers and find esoteric significations for everything”. The same idea is very well demonstrated by Umberto Eco in his book: “Foucault’s pendulum” where three friends play with numbers to prove that some Machiavellian plan to rule the world is going on.

But to illustrate that, read the following:

  • I am getting close to being 51 years old. To this day I lived exactly a total of 18,608 days,
  • My size is 175,5 cm,
  • I trained martial arts more than 40 years (exactly 40.309 years),
  • I discovered the bujinkan after turning 25,exactly at the age of 25.220.

When I add 40.309 + 25.220 I find: 65.529, I multiply this by my size in cm 65.529 x 175.5 the result is 11500.3395.

Now when I divide the number of days I have been living by this result i.e. 18608 / 11500.3395  the new result I find is the golden ratio of 1.61803 famous in geometry and esoterism!  After all maybe am I the reincarnation of the emperor Jimmu (神武天皇)? :)
(more on the golden ratio HERE).

My point when I wrote the “3=5″ was simply to help the bujinkan practitioner to solve an apparent contradiction in the names of the techniques used daily in our classes. But remember that sensei is often playing with numerology.

As always with him this is not WYSIWYG but WYSIRWYG (what you see is rarely what you get).

Kyojitsu tenkan hô 虚実転換法

no comment!

Does 3 = 5?

(version française)


no comment!


During one of my recent classes dedicated to beginners, one of them after listening very carefully came to me and asked me why sanshin = 3 spirits/hearts when we have the gogyô = 5 elements? Or to make it simple why does 3 = 5?

What I like with beginners is that they are so eager to understand that they come and ask things that a higher rank or older student would not dare to ask. And what I like is that it is often much deeper as a question than what it appears at first glance.

So why does 3 = 5?

The forms of the five elements was originally called shoshin gôkei gogyô no kata and was later called by sensei the sanshin no kata. Today in the bujinkan we call them either “sanshin no kata” or “gogyô no kata”.

Sanshin written 三身 are the three jewels of Buddhism but in the bujinkan it is written   三心 it means the 3 spirits/hearts. We will see later what it covers.

Gogyô are the five (japanese) elements 五行. Here gyô 行 has the meaning of practice, training, or exercise (as in shugyô 執行, ascetic practice). The gogyô are also often called “godai” 五大 or gotai 五体to show the importance of the five elements chi 地, sui 水, ka 火, fû 風, kû  空 they are the basic bricks constituting the fabric of time and space leading to the 6th element shiki 識, consciousness, wisdom (sanskrit “vijJaana”, विज्ञान).

Now if we look at the name gôkei the only thing I found is 合計 and means “total sum”. Knowing that shoshin here 初審, means “initial, original”; the name can be understood as the “five training forms to develop the initial unity (body and mind)”. To put it simply these five exercises are the root to understand the whole, the multiplicity of possibilities leading to unicity; or how to move naturally.

Then, why 3 = 5? Because both terminologies define different aspects of the same things.
Sanshin refers to past, present and future. You learn through the five forms to move before the attack, during the attack, after the attack. With this you develop your understanding of timing and rhythm.
Sanshin refers to the three levels of ten chi and jin. You apply the 5 forms and focus either on the arms (ten level), on the legs (chi level) or on the whole body (jin level).
Sanshin also refers to the 3 moments in each one of theses forms: kamae, ukemi, kaeshi. Attitude, reception, counter.
Sanshin refers also to beginners, intermediate, and advanced as anyone can find something new depending on his or her level of proficiency. This last explanation also tells you why there can be different “truths” in how to do these movements.
Sanshin is behaving with the mind of a three year old kid. If you can keep this at any time you will find the natural movement.

Gogyô refers to the five elements that we perceive. Please note that we refer here to the Japanese (or Tibetan) elements and not to the Chinese. The godai or gogyô are always centered on chi, earth. Sensei explained once that unlike the Chinese, the Japanese understanding of the elements always went through chi. We have chi, chisui, chika, chifû, chikû. When you make it in a drawing it draws some kind of cross with chi in the center.
Gogyô refers to the five senses leading to the 6th sense. We saw that shiki, consciousness is achieved through the mastership of the five elements.
Gogyô also refers to the five directions (forward, backward, left, right, middle). The naname 斜め  (diagonal, obliqueness) are variations of the previous ones.

Those five exercises are excuses to master the five manifestations through footwork and movements in order to find the natural flow to achieve consciousness with the help of these three hearts. So 3 = 5 and this also why in certain schools like gyokushin ryû, sensei calls the sanshin no kata, the kihon happô! “In the Bujinkan dôjô the rank of 15th dan, (…) expresses the idea of 3 hearts x 5 elements = 15 austerities” (“unarmed fighting techniques of the samurai” Hatsumi sensei, p. 34).

The sanshin no kata or gogyô no kata is the essence of the bujinkan arts and this is why we have to train these series at each class. As sensei wrote in the TRNT (page 69): “I look for a warrior who has, shall we say, the cardinal point of consistently embodying the warrior way with the spirit of a three year old even as he reaches one hundred, the soul of sanshin, a talent of imperfection”.

Shut up and train!

  • nb1: did you notice that there are 5 explanations for sanshin and 3 for gogyô?
  • nb2: did you notice that the explanation for sanshin in the TRNT book is given p. 69?
  • nb3: do not trust your senses, develop the 6th one!