Chûshin & Chôwa

Even though the theme for the year is “ken”, sensei speaks a lot about kaname, 要 (essential point, pivot) in his classes. Since the beginning of the year you can see on the right side of the shinden a calligraphy reading “jinryû no kaname wo mamoru”  which can be approximately translated as “the main point of the heavenly dragon is protection”.
But maybe it makes more sense when you know how Fudô myô is represented symbolically: a chinese double edge sword with a vajra as a handle with a dragon wrapped around it. In  the martial arts Fudô myô is a major deity protecting those walking on the path and bringing back on track those who are lost. Fudô is a protector, this is his kaname. The bujinkan teaches us to protect ourselves and the others. Last Sunday, sensei half joking said that the technique he was doing was coming directly from heaven and that there was nothing to do, only to let it flow through the body. This illustrates this concept of jinryû (神竜).

During his last class, Senô sensei’s  spoke a lot about the chûshin principle, 中心 (pivot) which is another translation for kaname. In a technique, he said, you have to include those pivots in your actions. By not grabbing the opponent but simply – and softly- guiding him you create pivoting points from which uke’s balance can be broken. Chûshin also has the meaning of “balance” or “focus”. Therefore by directing your “chûshin” (focus) on these “chûshin” (pivots), you break uke’s “chûshin” (balance).
To use these pivots efficiently find them and rotate from the contact points without using any strength. It is as like dancing with your partner. When you dance you are in “chôwa”,  調和 (harmony), with uke. This harmonious way of moving is what seems to be the main aspect of today’s classes with sensei and the shihan in Japan. Being in harmony with uke you can resolve any situation.
Going deeper in the harmony concept, Senô sensei said there are no techniques but only a permanent adaptation to the various tensions of uke, and this is the reason why not grabbing is important. When you grab uke with force, your grip prevents you from feeling uke’s tensions. For example when uke throws a punch, receive his attacking hand in a sort of berth (thumb inside, extended fingers outside) and pivot your hand with your body to open new angles. By pivoting with the whole body you create leverage (teko). Your thumb is the center (fulcrum) and the extended fingers the lever. If you try that you will find out that uke’s body not being stressed by strength (you are only receiving his hand in your hand) will follow the movement and open up.
As you all know, “teko shiten” is one of the key principle of the Takagi Yôshin Ryû. Once uke’s balance is taken by this chûshin, you can bring him to the ground “harmoniously” with a simple sha ha ashi action of your leg. This off balancing by the leg is done with no strength at all and with the whole body. During this ovement, Senô sensei said “chikara janai” many times: “don’t use any force”.
On the technical side, an efficient sha ha ashi, 斜八足, is done by pivoting on the toes of the foot, not the ball or the heel.* This toe pivot gives your body the proper distance needed. Because each uke moves differently you must adapt the distance and the technique. To be succesfull your actions have to be chiseled to the opponent’s body reactions. There is no shortcut to get that, and only through experience and years of training will you learn when to increase the distance or when to decrease it. Chôwa (harmony) between you and the attacker is important. Work on it.
Often people ask how is it possible to do these techniques if no strength is used. Understand that strength can be used but only when the soft approach has failed. See this as a gear box in a car, as long as driving on fifth gear is fine it saves energy but if the traffic changes it might be necessary to retrograde your gears to have more power and control over your vehicle. Remember that the more energy you save, the longer you are able to survive. This goes for everything in life.
If you keep your balance and take uke’s by using these soft pivots; if you can move in harmony with your opponent at all time, then strength is not needed. The concept of chûshin goes very well with the idea of kûkan. When Senô sensei was speaking about it I remembered the “kûkan no kyûsho” of  the last daikomyô sai when sensei wanted us to find, or at least to be aware of, the weak point or the entry point of the empty space.
Maybe can we see here the chûshin as being the kaname of kûkan.
*reminder: the foot is divided into three sections Ten/toes, Chi/heel, Jin/ball
Posted in Thoughts on Budo | 1 Comment

Shinken, shinyû, shinri

Yesterday I had the chance to get a quick lunch with sensei after the “memorial day”. In the past these opportunities were not rare but today I consider it a luxury to be able to speak with him directly with only the two of us. 

During a recent class we trained some mutô dori technique and sensei explained that in this situation you have to move forward the cut with your guts. 

Courage is one thing we learn in the bujinkan. When you a re facing a naked blade, a 真剣 (shinken) one needs 大勇 real courage (taiyû) or 雄武 bravery (yûbu) to move forward. But as he said if you trust yourself then nothing will happen. It is the same thing we experience in taijutsu. If you are ready to get hit, somehow you will never be hit. The same happened against the sword, but you have to have good basics in order to survive. 
Sensei explained that when dashing forward bravely against the sword (yûshin 勇進), you should never watch or consider the blade itself but the position of the attacker’s hands. As I often tell my students concerning weapon traiing. A weapon has no intention so if you want the weapon to be harmless you have to deal with its brain i.e. the opponent. When you visualize the trajectory of the hands in the air you can determine where to go, the timing of your action, and the position of the body. But this is more a yûgen thinkg than a proper thinking process. You have to get the intuition and move with a yûshin attitude. Then nothing bad will happen.
Recently I read in some forum comments speaking about the sword techniques of the bujinkan ryûha. This surprised me as I thought that only the kukishin ryû and the togakure ryû had sword techniques in their densho, so I asked sensei over lunch. 

In life I believe that if you want to improve your knowledge and know the truth 真理 (shinri) you should always go to the source. The source concerning the bujinkan is Hatsumi sensei so the truth of the sword in the bujinkan comes from the sôke (my Japanese abilities being very “light” to say the least, the whole conversation was done in Japanese but mainly in English and was translated to me by Shiraishi sensei). 
So here is the shinri, the truth you have to know:
  • Shinri is, that there are no other densho about the sword in the bujinkan densho apart from those of the kukishin ryû and the togakure ryû.
  • Shinri is, that we train juppô sesshô since 2003 and that we must use any weapon with the feeling (kankaku) of any of t he nine bujinkan schools.
  • Shinri is, that whatever we do today it is always a mix of the nine schools. They add to one another in our body and mind and this is true also for the sword too.

Last year in 2011, the secondary theme for the year was the shinden fudô ryû sword. During my three stays in Japan, sensei taught many sword concepts related to the shinden fudô ryû. There were no techniques but the interpretation on how to use the sword with a shinden fudô feeling.

The internet is full of these wrong interpretations and instead of spreading them it is always better to ask directly to sensei. For many years this is what I have done and I invite you in the future to ask him before spreading any wrong or unverified information. 

As I wrote in another previous article, the bujinkan is shindô a true path. This shindô exists in every move we make in and out of the dôjô. In mutôdori training the shinken is dealt with shinyû in order to find the shinri.

Bujinkan is shindô, shinken, shinyû, shinri.

Remember that the internet is not shinri. The internet is shinshaku 新釈, a new interpretation often wrong by people not connected to the source. I invite you to spread this around you so that fake comments on the bujinkan sword are not believed anymore.
Shinri exists only in training.

Posted in Thoughts on Budo | 3 Comments

Shindô, The True Path


The recent days have brought their amount of new experiences. Yesterday going to the Takamatsu memorial with sensei was a nice moment that I always cherish, and it is was a true moment of budô shared with sensei, Oguri senei’s family and a group of shihan from all over the world. I am always thankful to sensei for these rare opportunties unveiling another true aspect of his budô.

This is the proof, if needed to, that the bujinkan is a Shindô – 真道, a true path of Life. 

We stayed in Tsukuba for a few hours and burnt incense sticks in memory of Takamatsu sensei and Oguri sensei. After we finished sensei asked us to rebuild a statue that fell and broke into pieces after a recent earthquake. Nagato sensei, Moti, Darren and a few others repaired it and put it back standing up on its piedestal. It is a statue of a woman pouring water like the zodiac symbol of the Aquarius.

For me, it was a symbolic lesson concerning life and hope. This “aquarius” woman lying on the ground and destroyed was suddenly raising again and standing up for a better future. In budô, we often fall (ego, illusions, self pity) but each time we rebuild ourselves and stand up again. This is what perseverance is about. The fact that we are at the end of the era of the Aquarius adds even more meaning to the scene as if telling us that untill the end there is always a need to be living in the present. Too many people are heading towards a potential future and do not take the time to enjoy the present moment. In the techniques this is obvious as uke is already moving in his future and is not able to react correctly in the present.

I began to see the links with sensei’s past teachings coming together in a single space and time.The concepts of nakaima (the center of now), henka (the begining and the end of change), and juppô sesshô were dancing together and melting in my brain. This was indeed a very special day. I understood suddenly that all the teachings I had received in the past 28 years were summing up into one single idea: being one with oneself to live happily in a permanent present.

Then, back to Noda I met with sensei at his home. Shiraishi sensei was struggling with the many orders received recently, and the floor was covered with enveloppes, papers, diplomas, patches and membership cards. The bujinkan has become a big organization today but as sensei wants to keep it human, it is not run like a business. I want to take this opportunity to thank Shiraishi sensei for his hard (and unrecognized work) in dealing with hundreds of orders during his free time. 

I also want the bujinkan community to understand the huge amount of work it requires from both Hatsumi sensei and Shiraishi sensei. The bujinkan office receives about 15000 orders per year (my guess). These orders concerns: membership cards, patches, shidôshi hô menkyô, shidôshi menkyô, kyû ranks, dan ranks up to 4th dan, and shidôshi ranks from 5th dan to 15th dan. Shiraishi sensei has to control every order in the bujinkan logs and prepare the various orders until fourth dan. All menkyô diplomas and shidôshi ranks are done by sensei. Sensei told us last week that there were now over 3200 shidôshi in the bujinkan!

If you consider that an average order takes 5 minutes you get an impressive total of 1250 hours of work.

Shiraishi sensei is helping sensei around 20 hours per week to do this, so I hope that you now understand why it takes so long between the day you send your order and the day you receive it. An average of 8 to10 months is therefore logical. Even though those “papers” might have some importance, remember that what you are learning is not on this piece of paper with your rank on it, it is on what you do with yourself and that will take more then 8 to 10 months to achieve your mission in budô.

Time is an illusion and the path is long, and this shindô will transform you more than you think. But you will understand this only after training 30 or 40 years of real training.


Posted in Thoughts on Budo | 1 Comment

Confused? Not Anymore!

I am not confused anymore as today, I finally got my answer. I am happy to share it with you as I guess you were all totally confused after my previous post. 

Friday night, Hatsumi sensei was speaking of the necessary adaptation to take into account when using fighting techniques of the past.

His point was that applying techniques that belong to a period of time from the past, might result dangerous in another time.

I remember reading one day a book of strategy for samurai (Heiho Okugi Sho) were it was said that the best side to attack a sleeping samurai was to arrive by the top of the body (head) because he wouldn’t be able to draw his sword in this configuration; and a few pages later , they said to always protect the left side (this is why the Japanese still drive on the left side of the road) in order to protect the sword. These two examples show how wrong a good tactic can become a few centuries later. Today any soldier can shoot reverse above his head, so the first tactic is wrong. Guns being on the right side of the body today is the total ooposite, therefore this is the right side that must be protected (this is why the americans drive on the right side of the road)*. Wrong again. 

Sensei used the image of the change from Chinese based beliefs to Buddhism around the Heian period. He spoke about jukyô (儒教 – confucianism) and of bukkyô (仏教 – buddhism) that replaced it. Acccepting changes is often difficult bur is alays necessary if you want to survive in your present.
This permanent change is what we learn in the Bujinkan, it is always better  not to resist. Change is not good or bad, it is simply necesssary to survive. This is the original image of  the in/yo concept. In/Yo (陰陽) symbolizes the alternative between sun and rain.
Like the nami (the wave) of yesterday, being able to interchange the in/yo every time needed is the best way to ensure victory.
* For Europe it is a change of sides decided by Napoleon in all the countries he invaded in order to protect the supplies for his troops. They were using big chariots with six horses and needed a young man on the first horse to help moving to the left or to the right the first horses so that the others horses would follow the proper direction. Now riding horses was always on the left side of the horse** and driving on the left side of the road created a big blind spot that prevented full visibility. This caused many accidents with walls, trees, other chariots. By changing the side of driving this problem was solved.
** the Europeans including the British*** were all driving on the left side because before the crusades the swords of the knigts were straight***** and being worn on the left hip prevented them from riding the horse on the right side.  
*** The British were never invaded by Napoleon and so they are still driving on the “good side”, the left one even in New Zealand****
**** In the movie “the last Samurai”, they ride their horses on the left side. One of my friend being a stuntman on this movie, I asked him why they were riding their horses on the wrong side. His answer was: “we tried to ride them the Japanese way but the horses refused to let us ride them on the right side as Samurai would.” Why? “because the movie was recorded in New Zealand!”.
***** Japanese Samurai began to use curved swrod hanging lose on the hip, bbut as they were holding a long weapon in the right hand (yumi, yari, naginata) they would grab the pommel of the saddle with the right hand, and ride from the right side. te sword moving freely would follow the movement.
Posted in Thoughts on Budo | 2 Comments


Being wrong is good
The first class with sensei is always a fantastic moment that I enjoy pretty much. And this one was not different. It was rich and full of new feelings that will brew in my brain and body to create a new flavored taijutsu.

As often when I arrive in Japan for my first class, Hatsumi sensei asked to open the class and as I have recorded recently the Takagi Yôshin Ryû with my Indian Buyu, this is a Takagi like movement that came out. When you are asked to show it is always better to have nothing “ready” so that what you are doing reflects your own personal evolution since your last trip and not a fake movement repeated over and over to “look good” in front of the Sôke. Over the years I noticed that often the simplest movements are the best to trigger his creativity and in that way everyone in the class whatever rank he or she is wearing is able to get something out of it.

Uke is attacking with his right fist and you ura jodan uke his attack with the left elbow then grab his left hand softly, extend his left arm and bring him to the ground in a kind of musô dori. At least this is what I remembered showing but when, five minutes later, sensei asked to repeat it again he watched and said: “no Arnaud do the first one you did”. I am sure I looked confused and lost because I honestly thought that this was the one I did. I will not take any responsability here, I will blame the jet lag.

We found out later that the first technique ended with a jûji dori on uke’s arms using the right one under the left to add some leverage and ease the throw. This “leverage thing” is one of the basic concepts used in theTakagi Yôshin and the Kukishin and is called teko (梃 – lever) shiten (支点 – fulcrum) it uses also the second main principle of these two fighting systems the jûjiron (十字路 – crossroad), the principle of always using a perpendicular control whatever you do.

Confusion (1)
The interesting thing (apart form the techniques) is the state of confusion I experienced when sensei stopped me in the demonstration. Funnily this was one of the very interesting development he taught during the class. Confusing your opponent is the best way to create openings in his attacks; it changes distances and overall it modifies his perceptions of reality in front. Actually uke is sure to make the good choices where in fact he is living in an illusion. Remember that ninjutsu is genjutsu (幻術 – magic). This holistic attitude (body and mind) creates a fake reality for him and triggers his actions. The distance he sees is wrong, the timing he perceives is wrong, his whole world of certitudes is off balanced. Off balancing uke’s brain, is always the key and your movements should always allow you to react instantaneously to the changes he is creating.
As always Sensei did many applications with weapons, manly daisho sabaki ones and insisted a lot on not grabbing. If you grab, he said, you are locking yourself and become unable to adapt to uke’s changes. Since he redefined for us at dkms the meaning of henka (beginning and end of change) I see it everywhere. But here it was making a lot of sense. Every minor change in uke’s intentions and actions is addressed immediately because we are not grabbing. Uke is the one grabbing himself. To me it looks like if we grab uke we shut down our ability to read the next step: grabbing reders you totally blind. Controlling uke with the body on the contrary gives you the eyes of the hawk. As hawk is taka (鷹) and gi (or waza – 技) is technique; the Takagi becomes a technique of a hawk.

Sword and daisho sabaki
The Daisho sabaki (大小捌き) forms add an infinite set of new possibilities. Sensei explained that the goal here is not to draw uke’s blade but to use it to trap his mind and apply basic controls with the body as if you would be using a simple stick. The blade still sheathed there is no risk for you, but in uke’s mind you are going to cut him soon and he freezes. This freezing created by his inability to read your intentions creates new opportunnities that you use to finish him. And this works also when more than one opponent is facing you. At one point, sensei applied the technique against three opponents. When weapons are flying in the air everyone tries not to be hit or cut and this creates another illusion for each uke. First they don’t want to injure one of their friends, and second they do not want to get injured themselves. At one point sensei was controlling effortlessly three opponents with swords on the ground. Each one trying not to die and having no understanding on where he was and what he was going to do. In this situation, the group disappears and each one thinks individually to escape from the situation. Everyone was confused… except for sensei.

Jin is Hanpirei
Another interesting point sensei developed was that we must learn how to do the technique as tori and how to avoid the technique when being uke. Only when you are able to do this are you really in control of the technique. To illustrate this sensei played with the kanji for man, 人 jin, and he said that in this kanji there is one line splitting in two lines like the ura/omote or the yin/yang. This is to symbolize the ability to reverse any action and to transform defeat into victory. Everything comes in a flow and you keep reversing the situation by surfing on uke’s intention.This is why grabbing is out of the question (tsukamidori to grab – 掴み取り). Sensei’s movements were “hanpirei”, inversely proportional to mine. Grabbing the opponent would be stopping the flow of things and locking the brain; and leading to defeat.

It felt like a wave
During the class I went to sensei to feel the technique as I didn’t get it. It was amazing. While receiving the technique I got the feeling I was caught by a wave. I told him and he confirmed it to me. This nami (波 – wave) sensation was soft but there was nothing I could do to avoid being drawn. It seems that letting go was the best thing to do. It was amazing because sensei was not using any strength at all, he was only playing subtly with my body reactions. I was the stupid witness of my downfall, and it seemed logical. In fact his relaxed movements were creating tension in my brain and body and my automatic reactions were opening a kûkan. Once a new kûkan would open, sensei would reverse it proportionally to his own benefit. To understand it better, it was like supporting yourself on a collapsing wall. Suddenly, there is nothing and there was no warning nd no violence.

Shuko and Kaname
In every technique we did, sensei insisted how much easier it would be if we would have worn a pair of Shuko or a pair of ashiko. The Bujinkan is a martial art where everything is used and we have to keep an open mind on what is possible…even if it is not in the book. The kaname (要) of this year, the “essential point” is exactly this. Actually we can define two types of kaname, one addressing the body/technique; the other one the brain. After some point you will figure out that those two are one but for today seeing these two aspects can help you improve your taijutsu.

Confusion (2)
So during the class sensei apparently spoke about confusion. At least this is what I thought until I checked in the dictionary… During the class sensei used a specific term but then I am not sure of what I heard exactly. Once again our senses are the one creating our off balancing. I thought he spoke about “confusion” when he used the word “jûkyo”, and speaking after the class with some resident on the platform at the train station, he confirmed it to me.
Now back in my hotel room I went through my dictionary and found that jûkyo meant house, residence. So I thought that my Romaji transcription or my hearing were not good so I tried every close possibility:

  • chûkyô: Communist Chinajûkyo: house, or residence
  • jukyô: Confucianism
  • jikyo: retiring leaving
  • jikyou: confession
  • shukyô: primary mirror of a telescope (the telescope again!) or main mirror
  • shûkyô: state boundary, or religion
  • shûkyo: removal, or religion

Now was there any “confusion” in the translation between the sound “confusion” and “Confucian” pronounced by a Japanese? I don’t know but I will ask him tomorrow; but one thing I do know is that the class was confusing and let me with even more questions.

At the end of the class sensei said that he was teaching exclusively for the fifteenth dan. I wish I was only fourteenth to have an excuse to be so lost.


Posted in Thoughts on Budo | 3 Comments

Hanpirei: inverse proportion


I had my first class of the trip tonight and I must say that I was a little lost. It will take me some time (and sleep) to be able to tell you exactly what we did. So to feed you with something I will explain a new concept taught by sensei before I arrived.

On arrival in the lobby yesterday, I met friends commenting a recent class with Sôke who spoke about “hanpirei”and I thought I could share it with you. This concept reminded me of the famous drawing (see picture) by M.C. ESCHER a Dutch graphist of the end of the 19th century.

Last week sensei spoke about “hanpirei” 反比例 or “inverse proportion”. Why? and for what? I do not know yet. I guess that I will learn it in my next classes with him. But thinking about it, it reminded me about an image he used recently and about which I wrote recently (the article can be found here:

Last November after one training with sensei I wrote the following: “To summarize the whole training that day sensei used a nice image. He said: “don’t be strong, don’t be weak, be zero and through this zero you can see the solution”. Saying that he put his hands in a circle and looked through them as if using a telescope. Once again everything is linked. Telescopes are used to see through sideral space and the stronger they are, the further back in time they can see. You should become a powerful telescope and see through time and space in order to be aware of what is coming next even before Uke knows about it.

It goes quite well together with this “hanpirei” concept. “Hanpirei” 反比例, this « inverse proportion » can be understood as watching through the other end of the telescope. Therefore instead of going in the past through time and space you become able to foresee the future and solve the problem before it is created.

Still going through time and space, but this time in the other direction you will be where uke will be and counter his moves even before he is moving.

Strangely, if you look into it from any end you will be able to « react » before the « action ». If you are seing through the past, then you are aware of the origin of his movements. But if you are watching into the future, you will see where he will be and what he will do.

And this is also the meaning of the « koteki ryûda juppô sesshô » of 2003. As you are the tiger and the dragon at the same time, you let uke in his past and projected in his future; and you move in a present that he is not able to see because he is never there. Everything is linked.

Through the kaname 要of your present, you are seeing through the past and into the future of uke. Present is nurtured by both the past and the future. It is a self-creation like the hands by Escher. This is the « henka » principle. Being aware of hen (the beginning of the change) and ka (the end of the change) you are in the « kû » state of mind (the completion). Zero.

You are « zero » because you are everywhere at any time and in any space.

Posted in Thoughts on Budo | 2 Comments

Shakaiteki no Budô?

In the plane to Tokyo I thought a lot about our motivation as budo practitioners. I have been travelling to Japan many times and I did some math and figured out that I spent over 1000 hours to fly there!

These 1000 hours represent 44 days of my life, a month and a half in a tin can. And this is only the travelling to Japan. Every week since 1984 I train/teach for an average of 10 hours a week. This is nearly 15000 hours of training (or about 600 days, 20 months) and this doesn’t include my 17 years doing Jûdô…

So why are we doing that?  We know that the knowledge acquired during those numerous hours of training will never be used in a real life and death situation; but still we keep spending money and time for it. Why?

Honestly I do not have the correct answer or conversely I have many. So even if I see it as some kind of addiction, I trust that this is the best way to develop ourselves and become better humans.

Addictions are bad except if they reveal something extraordinary and this is the case for the Bujinkan arts. This is why I am worried to see that modern practitioners do not seem to have the same commitment I have put in my training. There is nothing wrong about it but then why do they train if they don’t commit fully?

With the spread of those virtual tools such as facebook, tweeter, etc we get more virtual and less real. Maybe is it a trend of our society but if people are more into virtual action why do they come to the dôjô. I have been wondering a lot recently about it. In some dôjô, training is not the main thing, the real thing is the social gathering. Social gathering is always fun and I enjoy it once in a while but never during classes as in the dôjô, training should be the only motivation together with learning an old philosophy of life.

The Bujinkan is not a  “shakaiteki no budô”  社会的の武道 i.e. a “social budô”, it is a “seimei no budô”  生命の武道 i.e. a “budô of Life”.

In Japanese “shakaiteki” means “social”. It is a mix of “shaka” (public) and “iteki” (barbarians). For the Japanese a “barbarian” is an uncivilized person (cf. gaijin). Therefore and playing with the japanese sounds, I invite you to transform this “shakaiteki” 社会的 into “sha ka iteki” 汝貝夷狄 where sha is “you”; kai is “shell, protection”; and iteki is “barbarian”.

Discard the social budô and train a Sha Kai Teki no Budô, a “budô protecting you from losing your civilized education”.

A “seimei no budô” like the Bujinkan is something that gives more values and more meaning, not less. And this require a true commitment and a lot of efforts (sei is “the nature of a person”; Mei is “clarity”). Recently in a class, speaking about the theme for 2012, Hatsumi sensei said we were learning “jinryû no kaname wo mamoru” which can be understood as “protection is the essential point of human spirit”. So protect yourself and others (kai) and become the man you really are. Through the practice of Bujinkan martial arts unveil your “sei mei” 性明 your “true clear nature” and become able to walk proudly as a human being controlling his destiny (sei, 制 – control; mei, 命 – destiny).

Don’t miss this chance, and train when you are on the mats because if not, everything you have done so far would have been in vain.

PS: Concerning the hours in the “flying tin can”, never forget that time is an illusion and that only the path matters! And it gives me a lot of time to think… ;-)

Posted in Thoughts on Budo | Tagged | 1 Comment