Yoroi Kumi Uchi

Today we had an amazing demonstration of yoroi kumi uchi by the Sensei , the Japanese shihan and Duncan and Holger. Yoroi kumi uchi is not about doing a technique it is about seizing the opportunities arising in the middle of the fight. At one point today, Duncan lost his helmet and immediately used it as a weapon against his opponent.

Sensei congratulated him and explained that in a fight everything should be used to stay alive. Often martial art practitioners are more interested in looking good in their techniques rather than being in a position of staying alive. This is during the Muromachi period that Japan has developed what has become the martial arts of today. But in that time it was not about being precise, it was about not dying on the balltefield. Too often people think of the Edo period (beginning in 1603) as the best period of Japanese Budô. This is wrong!

Everything has been discovered much earlier during the Muromachi period. Muromachi began in 1333 so the Japanese had nearly 3 centuries to develop the arts of war. Sensei insisted once again today on the goshin (ken, tachi, juo, katana, nukes) being the real “gorin no sho”. If I understood well he will speak about that extensively in his new book due in a few months. Tachi waza is the weapon of the Muromachi together with the use of the yoroi.

Japanese budô and the culture of the katana came shorlty after the peace time of the Edo period. Japan being unified, there were not so many battles anymore and the Japanese warriors stopped wearing the yoroi rendered unnecessary. This is when they developed the blade to be cutting like razor blades as it was possible (without the protection of the yoroi) to cut the opponent instead of stabbing him. Tachi waza doesn’t include cutting only stabbing.

In the yoroi kumi uchi it is obvious. The body can take any blow at short distance (less momentum) the objective being to open uke in order to find a hole in the protection and to stab him in one of the openings created in the action. Therefore our movements do not have to be perfect they have to be created “on the spot” and adapted to what is possible. Sensei insisted a lot today on this aspect of fighting, we do not try to apply a waza we “read” the openings, take the balance and do what we can to stay alive. Once again we are learning survival not kata.

Furthermore, yoroi kumi uchi makes it obvious that speed is not  the priority as our movements are limited by the weight and encumbrance of the yoroi. We move to keep our balance and to take uke’s balance. Whether we a re doing mutô dori, tachi waza or yari waza is just an add-on to our body movements. The dvd on the dkms will be an eye opener for many bujinkan members as it was one for those who were lucky enough to watch it today.

Train with a yoroi in mind and a tachi in your hand and adapt your good looking movements so that they can be of any use in a real fight.

Jin no Budô

Sensei with Peter King

From today’s training at the dkms I really enjoyed one sentence from sôke: “we are not training Japanese budô but  jin no budô, the budô of mankind”. As humans we are all equal and there is no one better than any other one. The kumite of the bujinkan is not only Japanese and it is obvious when you see so many people (around 400 today!) coming from all over the world and joining to train together here in Tokyo. Sensei’s budô is beyond borders and by spreading it in our countries we are actually working to better humanity. Jin budô is the same in every country and the techniques developed in Japan are no different from the ones that developed in the other cultures. This is why the bujinkan is a world budô. When sensei demonstrated the yoroi kumi uchi today he was taking anything that would be possible: helmet, sode, ropes hanging, belt, weapons. And with this in hand he would take the balance of his uke. At the end of the session, Duncan’s yoroi was a wreck. Efficiency is not in the techniquess but in the attitude one has when facing an opponent. As Nagato sensei said once: “it does not have to look good it has to be efficient”. Our budô is beyond the forms. We have to learn the basics and the schools and the weapons in order to create this space where everything is possible. By not finishing the techniques (hanpa) and by using the josei no goshin jutsu, we can adapt our movements without putting any thought within them. Uke attacks and we simply react, taking his balance and crushing him. In sannin dori this ability is necessary and hanpa gives us the possiblity to overcome the intentions of the attacker. In traditional budô everything follow a predefined pattern and creativity disappears behind the veil of the form.

In real fight, this cannot be as we have to be aware of the dangers of the situation. By not finishing a particular technique, we are free to move and deal with a second attacker. In sport there is only one opponent in real fight there are often more than one. Dwelling only on a “Japanese form” is not possible for those who want to survive. The only way to survive is to open up and become creative, by sensing the changes occurring in our environment and by reacting to these influences. Jin no budô is the ultimate level of fighting because it implies our whole being and not a set of technical forms. Jin no budô is freedom and when we can manifest that in the dôjô it changes our perception of reality and allows us to apply it in our daily lives. Bujinkan practitioners for their majority still consider the bujinkan to be another martial art and they only focus on the “martial” and not enough on the “art” part.

Sensei wants us to become creative like an artist not to become a budôka. And this is the objective of such a seminar.

Tomorrow will be another interesting day!

Kihon Happô of 2011

Daikomyo Sai apart from being sensei’s birthday is always a very particular moment in the life of the bujinkan. People from all over the world gather here in Noda and Tokyo for this occasion and this year more than ever. I spoke with some residents who told me that they were expecting between 300 and 400 participants this year! Friday night we were almost 200 in the Honbu and 230 on Sunday!

This moment is also special as sensei concludes the theme of the year and introduces the new theme for the next year. On Friday he told us that “kihon happô” will be the theme for 2011 and added: “same sounds but not same writing…”. As sensei invited a few of us for lunch on Sunday, I took this opportunity to ask him about the meaning of this new “kihon happô”. Hatsumi sensei said that “ki” was “season” and “hon” was “reverse”. He didn’t explain about “happô” but I will give you my interpretation.

Before that I would like to share with you a few concepts he detailed last week during the previous classes.. Tuesday he demonstrated a few techniques where instead of hitting uke he would hit the space on the side of uke creating a moment of total fear in his opponent and opening endless possibilities of action. He said that we should “hit the kukan” to influence uke’s reactions. On Friday he defined our movements as being “chûto hanpa” or “half way half finished”. To illustrate this he spoke again of the goshin (ken, tachi, juo, katana, modern weapons). Modern weapons were compared by him to “robots”. Your actions cannot influence a computer or a machine following a program. And if you train budô in a “robotic” way your actions can be interpreted and deciphered by your opponents. On the opposite if your budô is artistic and does not follow a “beginning-end”; if your techniques are not finished then the opponent is not able to counter your actions. In the fight, he added, you have to feel the “fun iki” i.e. “the atmosphere, the ambiance” of the situation and to move accordingly. All the information you need is available to you if you have no intention of doing anything in particular. Your movements are natural ( i.e. not created) and participate of the feeling you get from the situation at hand.

Our footwork is the key to adapt our movements to the situation. Hatsumi sensei said that until recently he didn’t understand why Takamatsu sensei had taught him the “josei no goshin jutsu” (woman self defense). With the small footwork of a woman trapped by the limited amplitude of her kimono (traditional kimono are very narrow at the legs) you can, with tiny movements of your feet, take the balance of the opponent in close-combat (remember that we were around 200 in the dôjô that night and that moving was difficult).

In a situation like that using “josei no goshin jutsu” is the only solution. Instead of doing a technique we move in an artistic manner invisible to uke’s analysis. In the name “martial art” this is where the “art” is to be found. Art is not about applying a technique. This is not the answer. Sensei added that the new mission of the jûgodan was to transform their mechanical robotic budô movements into artistic ones. Through Art one can feel the atmosphere and respond with natural and unfinished movements.

This vision of taijutsu was repeated on Sunday when he insisted on the flow of our movements coming from the feet: “Nagare comes from the legs” he said. In fact uke thinks and then acts (ten-chi process) and tori should do the exact opposite (chi-ten process). It reminds me of Dr. Paul Watlawicz explaining that action should always precede reflection in human relations, and fighting is part of human relations. Too bad for Descartes and his “cogito ergo sum!”.

How come all of the above can be linked with the kihon happô of 2011?

When sensei spoke of kihon on Sunday during our lunch and said that “kihon” is “season reverse” he didn’t explain the new meaning of happô.

When you look in a dictionary happô (hachi hô) has many meanings. My interpretation (possibly wrong) is that hachi is the recipient (bowl, basin), a little similar to the “ki, utsuwa” of 2009 (sainô konki) and “hô” is information. Happô becomes the recipient of all the possible information of a situation. As we understood it in the sainô konki year, the bigger the utsuwa, the bigger the kûkan.

Therefore if “kihon” is the beginning of a new cycle (season reverse) and “happô” as the sum of information in the kûkan, then the “kihon happô” of 2011 could be interpreted as follow: By feeling the atmosphere (fun iki) of the situation i.e. reading the information of our environment (happô) we can change the cycle of action (kihon) and turn it to our own advantage by reacting without any preconceived ideas to the definite actions of uke.

Moving softly with the “josei no goshin jutsu” attitude, uke has no possibility to read our actions because we do not know ourselves what we are going to do next. Each one of our movements having no end we only do things half-way,  “chûto”, and never finish them, “hanpa”. Hitting the kûkan will send false information to uke and gives the ability to overcome his intentions.

Everything above is my own interpretation and can be totally wrong. :)

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.

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

(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.

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

(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

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!

Ki is Natural not Magic!

  • (version française)
  • In the Abidharma sutra the Buddha (5th century BCE) says that “nothing is created, all is energy”.
  • At about the same period Anaxagoras, a Greek philosopher said that: “Nothing is born nor perishes, but things already existing combine and then separate again”.
  • Much later in 1789 Antoine Lavoisier, the “ father” of modern chemistry, said that “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”. He was beheaded (transformed?) during the Révolution Française in 1794.
  • This will lead in the 20th century to Einstein and his Theory of relativity.

But to us, martial art practitioners this is the best definition of what energy really is. It is the “thusness” of Buddhism.

Buddhists, pre socratic philosophers and scientists all agree about the endlessly recombination of everything . There is no magic here nor mysticism, only facts brought by pure observation. This “ever existent thing” is what the universe is made of. This is the “matter-energy” or “vital energy” of the universe of science and of Taoism.

is what we call “ki” or “Ch’i”; and it is “simply” the primordial emptiness or primordial existence of all things that flows infinitely and pulsates in everything. Ki is not esoteric at all and through long training we develop the eyes to see how it transforms itself and flows in order to adapt to it. I am sure that this is what sensei means when he spokes that we have to understand (or to get?) the “shinshin shingan”, the “mind and the eyes of the gods”. When the opponent attacks, our reaction must be attuned with the flow of the moment and this is why no preconceived idea must exist. The natural movement is there when the practitioner has the intuition of what to do next. Intuition or intuitus in latin means “to watch thoroughly, contemplation” it is the subtle observation of the situation that brings your body to move correctly.

There is no thinking because there is not time to think.

There is no time to think because time is relative.

During your next class try to react without thinking, you might discover a new world of possiblities.

Be happy!