Shiro Kuma's Blog

Arnaud Cousergue Bujinkan Dai Shihan


There is a new trend recently that is developing amongst the high ranks of the Bujinkan.
Searching for the true and original Bujinkan they are unearthing the past and reactivate unfinished programs discarded by Sôke.
Maybe because of our Christian origin, we think that “printed matter” is truth, and that the oldest the material is, the more we can trust it.
But concerning the Bujinkan program this is not the case.
Hatsumi sensei developed a syllabus called the Tenchijin basic program (aka bushinkan shinden kihon gata) and that it took him many years to come up with a (nearly) finished set of techniques.
Here is the genealogy of the Tenchijin program (the way I see it):
  1. In the sixties, Hatsumi sensei tells Takamatsu sensei that he wants to create a program regrouping the nine ryûha into one single one. Takamatsu sensei rejected the idea adding something like: “each system is important and they are all different, this is why they should be taught separately”.
  2. Fourty years ago, in April 1972, Takamatsu sensei leaves us. Hatsumi sensei is now alone, he begins to develop the Bujinkan system.
  3. Having had time to think it over, Hatsumi sensei abandoned the idea of a common program for the nine ryûha but takes the decision instead of regrouping all the basics of the ryûha into one set of techniques: this is the Tenchijin Ryaku no Maki  天地人 略 の 巻. The title says it all as 略 (ryaku) means shorten, abbreviation, outline. His idea, therefore is to create a simplified program to prepare for the study of the nine Ryûha.
  4. At the end of the 70s, Hatsumi sensei creates his first Tenchijin program. It is presented in the form of 3 stencil like booklets and is only in japanese, no pictures.
  5. In1983, Hatsumi sensei publishes, in Japanese only, the evolution of the first paper version. He calls it: “Togakure Ryû Ninpô Taijutsu”. It follows the tenchijin structure. This published version of the Tenchijin contains 267 pages and presents three parts: Ten ryaku no Maki, Chi ryaku no Maki, and Jin ryaku no Maki. Shuriken and kakushi buki are added in the Jin Ryaku.
  6. In 1987, some western students receive from Japan a photocopied booklet written on a typewriter and entitled: “Bujinkan Shinden Kihon Gata”. The subtitle is Tenchijin Ryaku no Maki. It contains many changes to the 1983 version. The Kyûsho are gone, the weapons are gone, and the techniques are reshuffled and simplified.
  7. In the “official” Kihon Happô, Ganseki Nage is replaced by Musô Dori.
Since then the tenchijin of 1987 became the basic programme of the Bujinkan to teach the basics. It is the third and final evolution of the first tenchijin amended by Soke and this is the more developed programme of the three versions.

As you know to put out a comprehensive program is not an easy task and it took Sensei nearly 20 years to come up with a final tool. We can see the creation of this program as a famous painting like “Mona Lisa la Gioconda” by Leonardo Da Vinci, who spent 4 years to paint it. According to Leonardo’s contemporary: “after he had lingered over it four years, (he) left it unfinished”. Leonardo, later in his life, is said to have regretted “never having completed a single work”*.
This is the same with the Tenchijin.

The first version (tcj1) was a sketch.
The second version of 1983 (tcj2) a prototype. A beta version.
The third version of 1987(tcj3), the Tenchijin 1.0. Unfinished but good enough.

Today in 2013, some 30 years after the Beta version (tcj2), I am surprised to see many high ranks trying to discover a new hidden truth by basing their teaching on the first tries by sensei.

Unable to exist by themselves they try to create some kind of “competitive advantage” by putting back to light the first unstable versions created by sensei. Many base their syllabus on version tcj2 or even worse on version tcj1. This is why we see many old terms unearthed from these pre versions of the tcj reappearing today.

But I wonder how can these high ranks be so wrong in their analysis?

Do they think that created first the perfect programme and that he destroyed it version after version?
Do they think he is stupid?

The tenchijin was an attempt to summarize all the basics of the nine schools into a single tool to make it easier to enter the specific study of the Bujinkan Ryûha.

Please keep in mind that:

  1. The terms used in the tenchijin are generic (or became generic).
  2. Similar techniques in various Ryû can be named differently.
  3. A technique is a mix of several basic generic moves
  4. Techniques “look like” some basic techniques but are not to be done fully to the end.
  5. Some concepts, some techniques are missing from one version to the other.
  6. Some concepts, some techniques are added from one version to the other.
  7. The structure if the tenchijin is evolving from one version to the other.
  8. Some techniques from the Chi enter the Jin.
  9. Some techniques from the Jin are now into the Ten, etc.
To me it is as if Sensei through trial and error had been tuning and adjusting his first programs (tcj1 the tcj2) in order to make a common platform for learning the schools. The Tenchijin is only a tool designed to help the practitioner to undda erstand the Bujinkan. The last version tcj3 (1987) is the best one to do that.
But like Leonardo Da Vinci’s  “Gioconda”, please keep in mind that the Tenchijin of 87 is still unfinished so it is correct to mix with the tcj3 some of the concepts and techniques from tcj2 (the Kyûsho for example). Like in the Pareto distribution it should still respect the 80-20 ratio no more. Remember Sensei tried to make it simple.

With all that in mind, please see the overall logic followed by sensei since the death of his mentor:

  • Ninjutsu: Hatsumi Sensei develops the Bujinkan through 20 years of Tenchijin practice (1973-1992)
  • 1993-1997 – Budô Taijutsu Omote: He teaches the weapons, to emphasize knowledge of angles and distances (5 years),
  • 1998-2002 – Budô Taijutsu Ura: The five aspects of Taijutsu and body movement through five ryûha (5 years),
  • 2003-2012 – Juppô Sesshô: and then sensei continued with Ninpô Taijutsu: 5 years of Juppô Sesshô Omote and 5 years of Juppô Sesshô Ura.
  • 2013: This is where we are today with a Tsurugi in the hand.
When I look at it globally it seems to me that Sensei has been following some kind of very smart plan to bring us to his level of understanding. After all this is exactly what the word sensei means, no?
So please trust him, he knows what he is doing and he is the Tamashii (soul) of the Bujinkan.
If some high ranks in the West think they are smarter than Sensei, this is strange but after all they are adults.
If they decide not to follow Hatsumi Sensei’s vision and prefer to replace the Tenchijin programme 1987 (tcj3) by its former beta versions, let them continue. Everyone is responsible for his choices.
But if you are a dedicated Bujinkan instructor and if you want your students to grasp the essence of Hatsumi Sensei’s Budô, and to get a better chance to survive, then I urge you to think about it and to follow the only true and logical path: The one Budô path defined by Hatsumi Sensei!

Sensei can be called many names but “stupid” is definitely not the appropriate one!

This man is a fantastic human being who has been guiding us on the path for the last 40 years.
Choosing another path is like leaving the Bujinkan and his creator.
So, who is stupid now?

Paris Taikai 2013

Memories: picture taken during one of the first Shi Tennô seminar organized by Steve Byrne in 2001 in Trinity College in Dublin.
Memories: picture taken during one of the first Shi Tennô seminar organized by Steve Byrne in 2001 in Trinity College in Dublin.

Watching the nice blue sky through the window, I began to think about the next Yûro Shitennô Paris Taikai next July in Paris.

This seminar have been going on for more than ten years and it has always been a pleasure to welcome you all in our dôjô.

Many of you are already familiar with this extraordinary seminar but I think it is time to explain its origin once again for those of you who aren’t.

Around the year 2003, I was on the phone with Pedro and we were speaking of the “good old days” when the Shi Tennô could meet twice a year for a joint seminar called “Shi Tennô Seminar” (see picture above). But at the turn of the century, these seminars were not organized anymore. Many reasons for that.

First of all, the financial risk of having the 4 Shi tennô for a two days seminar was too big. Second, since our beginning (the first Shi Tennô took place in 1993), many new high rank instructors arrived on the market and there were more seminars available. Today each weekend in a 500km radius, there are at least two or three seminars organized.

Also our personal seminars schedule being so full we had some difficulty putting up a common date together.

Over the phone, we decided to organize it ourselves and this is how the first Paris Taikai was created in 2003. It was such a success that I decided to continue organizing it year after year. This year is the 10th one!

But what is a Paris Taikai?

Until the year 2002, Hatsumi would come to Europe to give three days seminars, they were called Taikai. I attended over 30 Taikai since the first one organized by my friend Peter King. The Paris Taikai was meant to replace the absence of sensei in our countries.

When we decided to organize the Paris Taikai, Sensei approved the idea and called it: “Yûro Shi Tennô Taikai”. Yûro 融朗 means “brightness”but is also a pun with “europa” pronounced by Japanese “yuropa”. Basically this is the Taikai organized by the European Shi Tennô: Peter, Sven, Pedro, and me.

The Paris Taikai follows the same structure as the Taikai of the past where we used to train during three days. But this one is also different as we train in three different dôjô at the same time. Also the group of participants is divided into 4 groups: beginners, intermediates, advanced, shidôshi. We make sure that each group is about the same size.

The Bujinkan France teached in a facility that is made of three dôjô: 1 big dôjô (150 to 200 people) with mats and two smaller ones (around 60-80 m2), one with mats and one with wooden floor. Trainings are conducted in the three dôjô at the same time and each hour teachers and students are changing location.

Each hour one group is taught by one Shi Tennô in the two small dôjô, and two groups (always beginner-intermediate; or advanced-shidôshi) are taught by 2 Shi Tennô in the big dôjô. This is why whatever your technical level you will receive the teaching that you can understand. Many times when you are attending a seminar, the teacher has to teach a certain level. When he is teaching high level, beginners are lost, and conversely when he is teaching basics, the advanced practitioners are bored! This is not happening at the Paris Taikai.

This Taikai is also the chance to meet people from all over the world (there are around 15 to 20 countries attending) and to connect or reconnect with friends from everywhere.

When you register for the Taikai (which is limited to 150 participants) you get:

  • 3 full days of training (10am-5pm)
  • 3 meals regular or veggie (lunch time only)
  • Paris Taikai tee-shirt
  • Certificate of attendance
  • Goodbye drink on the last day
  • Free sleeping (Thursday to Monday) at the dôjô

Also do not forget that this event takes place right during the weekend of the French National day, and Paris is full of laughter, fireworks, drinking, dancing; and the weather is around 30° Celsius.

But if Paris is a nice city to visit in summer; if the techniques demonstrated are done by 4 of the more advanced students of Sensei; above all what you are getting out of such an event is hours of happiness and friendship, and for me this is the most important part of a Taikai. The techniques are always nice but the feeling of belonging to a community is even better. This seminar is Bujinkan at its best!

Places are limited and pre-booking is going very fast this year so if you are interested to join us, please follow the link below:

And if you do not come some other Bujinkan member will be happy.

Rokkon Shojo!

Birthday Cake in Budapest: The Bujinkan Legacy

When Balázs and Laszlo asked me to give a seminar covering the Bujinkan themes of the last twenty years (1993-2012) I accepted but I didn’t immediately understand the “why?”, and I must admit that I didn’t see who would be interested.
The day before traveling to Budapest I began to be concerned about the “how?”, and in a short mail, I told Balázs that I didn’t know if I could do it as suddenly Iunderstood the vast task it was. But eventually everything went fine and this is a seminar that I would like to repeat anytime. At first covering twenty different themes in two days made the seminar looking like some kind of food buffet where you are tasting many different dishes.
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But those themes have been chosen wisely by sensei, and the benefits from previous themes are reused after. Each year adding its particularity, was nurturing the next one.
If we follow the themes chronologically we rapidly see a logic in the system. Bô calls for Yari and Yari for Naginata. This “Sanshin of long weapons” as Hatsumi sensei called them once, is the best introduction possible to enter Biken jutsu, and Biken to understand Jô jutsu. In fact before the Tsurugi and the Tachi I thought that Jô was the ultimate weapon!
This five year cycle (1993-1997) was followed by another five year cycle (1998-2002) focusing on the five different types of Taijutsu: Taihen jutsu, Daken Taijutsu, Koppô jutsu, Kosshi jutsu, Jû Taijutsu. During this period in order to illustrate these different Taijutsu, sensei used respectively the following schools: Shinden Fudô Ryû, Kukishin Ryû, Koto Ryû, Gyokko Ryû, Takagi Yôshin Ryû. Unfortunately very few people understood that the ryû that was taught was the omote and that the type of taijutsu taught through the school was the main thing.
These first ten themes (1993-2002) taught us the various sides if what sensei called “Budô Taijutsu”.
Once the foundation of Budô clearly established, sensei put “Ninpô Taijutsu” on top of it. This was the beginning of Juppô Sesshô. As he said to me once: “the five different styles of Taijutsu are the expression of Budô Taijutsu; but Juppô Sesshô is the expression of Ninpô Taijutsu”.
The next ten years (2003-2012) have been dedicated to Juppô Sesshô.  We began with five years of “Omote” Juppô Sesshô (2003-2007), they were then followed by five years of “Ura” Juppô Sesshô (2008-2012). The Omote Juppô Sesshô was based on the body, the themes were: Sanjigen no Sekai, Yûgen no sekai, Kasumi no hô, Shizen, Kuki Taishô. We studied various weapons and schools during this cycle but only to put into evidence the concepts brought by sensei (kunai, shotô, biken, bô, yoroi etc).
The Ura Juppô Sesshô is more about the soul, the mental side of the movements: Menkyo Kaiden, Saino konki, Rokkon shojo, Kihon Happô, Kaname. Once again we had to “listen” to sensei and understand the movement from the level of perception and not with our analytical mind and mechanical movements.
In fact it looks like a birthday cake with several levels. And in 2013, the Tachi hôken illustrated by the Tsurugi is like the candle on top of the cake. At the birthday party the cake is always good but what really matters in a birthday party, what is the most important thing is not the cake but the reason why people are gathered to eat it!
Thank you Balázs for giving me this opportunity, I learnt a lot and I hope that the participants felt richer after these two exhausting days*
*we had training from 10am to 6pm on both  days which left more or less 40 minutes per year of training… that was intensive.


Paris taikai registration opened

IMG_20120420_142351Registration for the Paris taikai 2013 is open.

Since 2002 the Bujinkan France invites you to share 3 days of training in Paris with the Shi Tennô: Pedro Fleitas, Sveneric Bogsater, Peter King, and Arnaud Cousergue in our three Dôjô located in the city of Vincennes.
Each year around 150 Bujinkan participants gather there to share training and insights with the Shi Tenno under the Parisian summer sun.
As always lunches are included, tshirts are included, and free sleeping at the Dôjô.

Come to Paris and enjoy some memorable moments on the mats and outside and discover the French Capital.
This taikai happens around the French National Day (July14th), which means:

  • many fireworks,
  • a lot of dancing,
  • good time.

Places are limited so don’t wait too long!

Registration is mandatory to participate:

Tsurugi: The Divine Sword

Sensei taught a lot of things related to the Chinese sword during the last day of the Taikai.
This sword that we call Jian or Ken is in fact Tsurugi.
This is the weapon of the high level warriors.
Even though the Chinese jian / ken does not carry any “social meaning” the Japanese when referring to Tsurugi include their myth of creation in it. As you all know this is Kusanagi no Tsurugi * given by Susanô to his sister, the sun goddess Amateratsu. She later gave it to Ninigi no Mikoto** the grandfather of the famous emperor Jimmu as a proof of his divine origin.
Kusanagi no Tsurugi is one of the three regalia of the Japanese Emperors.***
So where “ken” is a simple sword, Tsurugi is linked to the divine.
Sensei introduced the day by insisting on the fact that it is impossible to understand Japanese warfare if one doesn’t study the three types of sword that created Japanese warfare expertise: Tsurugi, Tachi, Katana. Each refers to a specific period of development of Japan.
The use of the Tsurugi is so old that no written techniques have survived. They were recorded on animal skin or bamboo slivers (thin blades) and didn’t resist the passage of time. These times were chaotic times and Japan was not one country but a group of multiple little clans run by warlords.
The Tachi was the weapon of choice of the Bushi cast he said when permanent fighting was happening. The Katana became popular with the forced peace time set by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1603) and therefore was the weapon of the Samurai.
To make it clear only the Tsurugi and the Tachi were used in fight and Japanese martial arts are the result of using these weapons.
Sensei opened the morning session by asking a few Jûgodan to demonstrate their vision of Chi no Kata; and from there we moved to the Tsurugi. I must say that the Tsurugi is really a fantastic weapon that renders alive our taijutsu. Nagato sensei said in his class that if you don’t have a good taijutsu the Tsurugi cannot be used properly.
To begin sensei explained that the Tsurugi is stuck at the hip level ad that the footwork puts it naturally into the opponent attack. There is no thinking process. The sword pivots from this contact point right into uke’s attack. Deflecting the attack the tip of the blade is immediately pointing to uke’s body. The Sanshin motion of Chi no Kata becomes a natural reaction and no intention can be deciphered by the opponent.
Once again sensei said that this was mutô dori. We all know that mutô dori is a technique where you are unarmed facing an armed attacker. So it took me some point to figure out exactly what sensei was trying to say. I understood that the weapon was simply an added extension of the body. As you don’t think the word and as the sword moves with the body movements, you are moving naturally as if you had no weapon. And that is exactly what I meant earlier when saying that the Tsurugi was making your taijutsu alive. I honestly don’t know what people who didn’t attend the class can understand from what I’m writing here. But if you simply stick the Tsurugi to your hip and use your taijutsu, I’m sure that the majority will get what I’m trying to say here.
During the morning break, my friend Elias who like me had been used by sôke as uke came to me to share what he experienced. The situation we had to face were the same. Sensei asked us to attack and we stopped immediately because the tsurugi was aiming (on its own) towards our face. What Elias said to me was that the way sensei moved the tsurugi from the pivoting point at the hip made it impossible foe him to see it coming. And the reason was that sensei was keeping his elbow low so that no shoulder movement was being perceived. And when you did, it was too late. When hee asked me to attack him sensei modified his movement slightly. Instead og being completely invisible, he did some kind of seigan no kamae and got my attention on the tip of the blade a few centimeters away from y face. Then in both cases, sensei moved his forward foot a little more and stabbed us in the throat.
These two examples are quite interesting because they summarize the essence of fighting with the tsurugi. Elias didn’t see the second step forward because he couldn’t see the blade. I couldn’t perceive it either because my focus being on the blade the foot was hidden by it. Both examples demonstrate a high level of 見えない 技 mienai waza, techniques you cannot possibly see. But in both cases the end was the same, death.
To summarize this sensei said that tsurugi waza followed a specific sanshin: foot, spine, fingers. We already explained in various posts here the importance of the fingers. The fingers are the extension of your leg movement relayed by the spine. You must be able to change your fingers positioning while moving the body so that the blade is arriving straight to the 隙 suki (gap, space, weakness) in uke’s defense.
Another point that was important is distance. Sensei said that the difference between life and death in a fight often resumes itself to the thickness of a sheet of paper. When you master taijutsu the body moves at the exact distance of uke, not too far, not too close. And when you add the tsurugi your body must find the new perfect distance to be far and close enough of uke. A wrong distance will create new opportunities for uke. A correct distancee will stop uke in between two movements.
After thinking a lot about the tsurugi and thanks to this fantastic day I want to share here now two things that make it easier for me to use this sword:
1. You only have to do taijutsu, the blade moves by itself. Forget the blade. For example if you do a basic uke nagashi, do it with the tsurugi in your hand and see what is happening. Do not try to do anything with the sword, let it react on its own (mutô dori principle).
2. I spoke with sensei last Tuesday during training and he confirmed that I was right to think “hanbô jutsu” when training with the tsurugi. So next time you train use a hanbô. When you have the movement correct, replacce the hanbô by the tsurugi and see how similar they move. The tsurugi is not sharp on the major part of the blade so there is no risk for you.
Next week, I will record the basics of tsurugi for Budomart and koimartialart, and I will use all the knowledge I got this time to make it easy for all of us to learn this fantastic weapon.

Inryoku: Attraction

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Attending a class by Noguchi sensei is always a good moment. To me it is similar in many ways in having a very nice dinner at a grand restaurant in Paris.
His taijutsu is full of flavors, very refined, elegant and classy; and I always feel sad when it is over. I am a student like any other and sometimes, even in Japan, I don’t feel like going to training. I do it but sometimes reluctantly. But when his class begins, suddenly you feel happy as his joy is visible. After the class you feel more rested than before.
His Bujinkan interpretation expresses itself through feeling, and the class tonight was deep, innovative and will change (again) my understanding of Budô. But if you have already attended one of his classes, you know exactly what I mean.
Tonight a TV crew was there and that added some rhythm to a class that usually is not missing it. In 90 minutes, Noguchi sensei creates a world of possibility and an infinite number of variations. He doesn’t do a technique, He is the technique.
We covered some of the Takagi Yôshin ryû techniques during the class. None of these techniques of the Shoden no kata were new to us: kasumi dori, dô gaeshi, karame dori, kyoto, katamune dori, oikage dori, iki chigae, ransho, kobushi nagashi. But what was new was the way Noguchi did them using more than ever the 引力 inryoku (principle of attraction). Each technique was done in such a way that uke was “sucked into” the worst possible situation. Every action he was taking was leading him into a trap.
This concept of inryoku together with the concepts of 重力 jûryoku (gravity) and 磁力 jiryoku (magnetism) are three keys to understand the Gyokko ryû Kosshijutsu and were taught extensively back in 2001 during the Gyokko Ryû year.
But is is one thing to discover some concepts one day and to see their evolution 12 years later. And this is exactly what we witnessed tonight. The way Noguchi sensei is trapping his opponent is simply amazing. As usual there is no hits, no inflicted pain. Uke is down not by using strong movements but by creating the illusion of these strong movements. Uke reacts to the pain he “feels” is coming and the consecutive tensions create a kûkan in which he falls every time. From the outside it looks that uke is swallowed into a black hole.
This inryoku turns any movement into a death trap for uke. Noguchi sensei by alternating the fake tensions with a total relaxed body attitude, creates a situation where uke does not understand what is happening and rushes into the trap.
To be able to attract uke is not easy at first, but after many years of repeating these movements with him, one becomes capable of expressing it. This is real 虚実 kyojitsu, alternating falsehood and truth and the essence of Hatsumi sensei’s ninpô.
Attraction is created by moving the body lightly at a slow speed that cannot be perceived in time by uke’s brain and by emitting fake intentions so strong that uke cannot avoid to react to them. This is the practical application of proprioception* as defined by scientists.
But Noguchi sensei is not only using attraction in Budô. He is a shining and attractive human being full of joy and light. Attending his classes is the best remedy I know to feel better when life is tough.
Thank you sensei for your magnetism and for sharing with us your budô vision.

Kantan Desu!


Today during his class at the honbu, Nagato sensei kept repeating that everything he was doing was 簡単 kantan (easy, simple). He repeated it many times during training.

But watching the many practitioners in the honbu I got the impression that these “easy and simple” techniques were quite difficult to reproduce for those of us who were not used to Nagato sensei’s taijutsu.
It reminded me of Kary Mullis (Nobel prize of Chemistry 1993)*, who said in his book “Dancing naked in the mind field” that to make things look simple, it is very difficult. This simplicity we are striving to get is the result of a long and difficult process.
During the break I was exchanging on that subject with my friend Joe Maurantonio and we finally agreed that this “simplicity” in sensei’s budô was indeed the real secret to be found in the Bujinkan. And we also agreed that only those who could develop the proper vision could see it. It reminded me of a discussion I had in the 90s with Mark Lithgow after a dinner we had with Sôke in Noda.
Mark said something that I will always remember: “Sensei is not teaching 体術 taijutsu (body techniques) but 目術, mejutsu, (the art of seeing reality).
The magic about Hatsumi sensei’s philosophy of budô and that it is so simple and obvious that very few students are able to understand it. Speaking about that we agreed, Joe and I that sensei’s vision had had a strong impact on the way we developed our lives as adults.
The real secret about Sôke’s ninjutsu is that there is no secret when you finally understand. Everything is hidden in plain sight!
But it takes many years to discover that and not everyone will find it. Joe told me that it reminded him of some sentences of  “Ninpô: Wisdom of life”** one of the first book written by Sôke translated into English.
With Joe’s permission (he is the publisher of the book) I reproduce here a few sentences taken from this great book on Life and budô that each Bujinkan practitioner should have in his library.
About the secret, Hatsumi sensei wrote: “I believe secret teachings should only be given to those students who can find and create new lessons for themselves. This is because the secret teachings are not about how many techniques one knows, but rather about a person’s insight and preparedness.”
When you develop the “eyes of the heart” nothing is complex anymore, as you are in symbiosis with nature.
Sensei adds that: “if you are a martial artist and master budô and practice ninjutsu, you wil gain the most essential secret of all methods. This secret is called 心心 心 眼, shinshin shingan, (the mind and eyes of god). This knowledge is to know Tendô, the “path of heaven”. The truth of heaven is the correct way, without evil intent.”
Today was another great day for learning. Thank you Nagato sensei’s, thank you Sensei.
** Ninpô: Wisdom of Life:


Mutô Dori or Mu To Dori

hsac21Yesterday’s class in Ayase was amazing, Sensei was in a very good mood and was smiling the whole time from ear to ear.
Sensei did so many variations that I have to admit that I had a hard time remembering anything. But I will try here to explain some of the few technical points I remember.  But as I was largely unable to do the technique demonstrated yesterday please do not see this post as a 伝承, denshô (transmission). See it merely as a message brought to you by a 伝書鳩, denshobato (carrier pigeon).
Sensei was alternating taijutsu and Ken jutsu and was demonstrating one signle principle: how to use kûkan. as we know since 2003 and the beginning of the Juppô Sesshô cycle of study, Kûkan (space) lies between uke and tori and also around them both and the body movements carried by the legs create the opportunities of action.
Luckily he said a few times that it was correct not to remember anything. Watching around me I was happy to see that I was not the only one totally lost and obeying to his advice.
By not using any strength (力じゃない, Chikara janai, no physical strength) we do not create the body counter reactions generated usually in uke’s body. Therefore we are virtaully invisible and free to move towards the opponent because he cannot figure out where the next attack will be coming from. Uke doesn’t perceive your movements as being a danger for him. When you move softly like that, uke creates the tensions and destroys himself into the kûkan. Kûkan is not empty there is a density to it. Sensei asked us to use it in order to defeat the opponent. By extending and shrinking the space like a 水母, kurage (jellyfish), uke is lost and his reactions are always out of tempo.
Sensei’s movementswe always coming from 体, Tai (body). He said that we should not use the legs nor the arms but the body only. When uke thinks the danger is coming from the legs, the arms are taking his balance and conversely. In other words, you are “jin” at all times and when uke reacts to “ten” he is defeated by “chi”; and when uke reacts to “chi” he is defeated by “ten”. You don’t anything. As the Tao te king puts it: “don’t do anything and nothing will be left undone”. By not showing intention but creating the illusion of movement, uke is fighting against himself. Last night it seemed that uke was being suicidal.
The 肘 hiji (elbows) were playing a big part in this mind trapping of uke. The arms, at the elbow level, were either stuck to the body or fully overextended. Sometimes at the same time, sometimes one extended one stuck. Sensei was using his spine and shoulder to redirect uke’s body during the attack. When moving sensei looked like he was boneless and his moves were all soft and non aggressive, nearly feminine. Sometimes he looked like someone who had lost his mind.
The 攫むじゃない, Tsukamu janai (don’t grab) also played a large part. Sensei’s hands were often open and grabbing not possible. The action was carried out by the body, the arms, the legs, the hips, the spine. When you don’t grab uke, you don’t inform him on your intention, not being able to guess your next move, he is lost in the kûkan and whatever he does is wrong and out of rhythm.
Action on the 指, Yubi (finger) with the fingers or the hand was paramount during the whole class. Sensei was not holding uke but inevitably uke’s fingers were trapped in sensei’s palm, softly but firmly.
Sensei showed also how to pin uke down with only one finger, by softly rolling uke’s eyeball with the tip of one finger. I had the chance (sic) to experience it and surprisingly it stops
immediately all your reactions. Sensei rolled my eyeball softly through the eyelid protecting the eyeball, there was no pain at all and no danger for the eye but somehow your brain orders the body not to move. The only option is to wait, hoping you still have two eyes at the end.
We did a lot of kaeshi waza where sensei was attacking and using uke’s blocks or grabs, as a starting points for countering. One important point he explained was to immediately open and stretch the fingers after being intercepted by uke. Extending the fingers changes the 梃,  teko (lever) and creates a natural off balancing.
Also when receiving the attack, or countering the blocking, sensei used a few times some strange kind of hira ichimonji no kamae, expanding and/or decreasing the space. Once again the image of the kurage comes to mind.
He also demonstrated 陰陽, Inyô (playing hard and soft): Often when in contact with uke, what was hard became soft and conversely. These alternative tensions in sensei’s body sent wrong imformation to the body of uke who, by overreacting was losing his balance and the control he thought he had over sensei. I was sensei’s uke and had the chance to feel and experience it, it was really strange as if your body is drunk. Suddenly you find yourself only supported by nothingness. He added that it was like juggling with uke. By alternating hardness and softness your body and mind are trapped.
But the worse is coming now!
All these points we covered above were done altogether at all time! No wonder why we felt lost during this class. And he used the exact  same techniques with the Ken. Only distance changed but these points were applied seamlessly with the Ken.
He referred many times to his movement as being “Mutô Dori”, even when both uke and tori had the sword in hand! That was 無刀執り, mutô dori in the sense that he was “juggling” the sword around without hitting uke at all. The sword held in many different ways (kata yubi, ryô yubi, ôya yubi, etc) was simply landing softly on uke’s body creating from uke’s behalf a useless counter reaction. Then with simple walking motions sensei would end up putting one edge of the blade on the open spots of uke’s body. Let me insist again: all the points detailed above were applied also with the Ken.
At one point he slammed down uke’s weapon with the flat side of the Ken held in Ôya yubi and added the second hand to increase the force of the control. Shiraishi who was uke lost his weapon repeatedly. The slapping movement was swift, not violent but powerful.
Sensei also spoke of 実戦の空間, Jissen no kûkan to summarize the movements of the class. This way of real fighting is based on the density of empty space. By using what he called  気の流れ, Ki no nagare, the flow of energy (i.e. kurage) you trap uke in a dimension beyond his level of perception. Time doesn’t exist anymore and your space is definitely not uke’s space. Having no time nor space to refer to, uke explodes by himself and offers his body to be slaughtered.
Maybe I got it wrong and when Spoke spoke of 無刀執り, mutô dori I should have understood 無人執り, mu to dori, no one is grabbed. I hope that some of these explanations will help you to understand that yesterday night was really like being caught into the twilight zone. But the most surprising was to see Sensei’s permanent large smile.
I loved this class.
As a side note there were a few rewards distributed by Sôke during the class:
My friends Betsy Lomax (USA) received the gold medal of the Bujinkan,
and Gustavo Sanchez (Mexico) received the Shingitai diploma.
Congratulations to them both!


Rank Is Not Competence


I have been traveling to train in Japan over 50 times over the last 23 years. I’m what you can call a “Jurassic ninja”. 

But yesterday for the first time I forgot my belt on the mats. I left it right after Nagato sensei’s class and it made me think on the value one attaches to this piece of fabric and what does rank really means.

Luckily for my ego, my friend Joe Maurantonio message me that he found it and put it on the big koi at the entrance of the dôjô. And luckily I didn’t forget my key of the dôjô so I got it back.

To see my belt lying on top of this huge koi fish* was quite symbolic. As you know we have created with my friend Shiva from India a Bujinkan website** for online streaming and in the past three years we have recorded all the training themes (weapons, ryûha) from the end of the 80’s until the beginning of the Juppô Sesshô cycle (2003).
For that I see myself as being quite competent. But is it true?
Theoretical 応答能, ôtônô, (competence) is shown by the belt. On the mats it is easy to look good as everyone expect you to be good: “he is Jûgodan, so he must be good”. This is an illusion, a twisted appreciation of reality, and a true cognitive dissonance*** because they judge you on the omote (what people think you are) and do not see the ura (what you really are).
Outside of the dôjô the attacker has no clue about who you are in your “dôjô cocoon” and when he comes at you he has no doubt about the outcome of his attack. Unlike what we often see on the mats, he is 200% Tori and sees you as a full Uke. No belt, no rank. There is only reality.
Forget the Matrix; there is no blue or red pill, or any plug to download competence in your brain; there are only many years of hard training. Rank is not competence and a belt doesn’t do the training for you. If we witness that everyday in our lives and in the dôjô, the majority tends to forget it. Whoever we are, whenever you are in Japan you are only a student and not a teacher. My brother Pedro explained it nicely in a recent FB post, please read it****. Pedro explains that there is only one sensei, Hatsumi sensei. If you believe yourself to be a 先生 sensei maybe what you call sensei is only 浅才 sensai (a lack of ability).
In each class you can see those “sensai teachers” teaching their lack of understanding to their partner instaed of training. They often train with a kyû belt or a young black belt. These “buyû” have no 武勇 buyuu martial prowess, they are simply 不優 buyuu badly skilled!
Their 自信 jishin (self-confidence) is 児真 jishin (childish reality).
These sensai teachers are the perfect illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect*****:
“The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes. The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self.”
The more unskilled they are and the more they believe in their own value. They train fast in order to hide their incompetence. They inflict pain to their partner thinking that the more pain they give, the more skilled they are. Don’t get me wrong, to inflict pain is ok but why doing it when it is unnecessary? They hide in the back of the dôjô (far from sensei) to teach their own 無能, munô (inefficiency) to their victim of the day.
Over the years I have tried to tell them not to do it, but it proved to be useless as they are only listening to themselves and do think they are good. Maybe this is why I have so many high ranks teachers disliking me. A few years ago two guys came to Nagato sensei and said: “sensei we don’t understand” and Nagato sensei answered: “you don’t understand? then go back home!”. They still come to Japan and train with him regularly. But if he can say that, as I am not Japanese people consider me wrong, arrogant or incompetent.
But how can it be different?
Each time they come to Japan they are promoted. This persuades them of their own value. They have no doubt. When they return home to their worshipers (no one forces the students to pay the training fee) believe their teacher is good because the “Japanese Shihan” give him a higher rank. This is a vicious circle.
Another reason for their wrong behavior is that the “ranking race” stops at the Jûgodan level. So these “unskilled individuals” will eventually get to this rank. And having the same rank will consider themselves equal to you. I recently experienced it as a freshly promoted Jûgodan corrected me on a waza I have been training when he was still wearing pampers!
There is no shortcut to experience! 応答能 ôtônô, (competence) is acquired through time and the belt you wear is only a piece of fabric. Rank is not competence it is a trap for your ego.
So please enjoy your next training as a true 学生 gakusei (student) and don’t forget that being a gakusei means to 学 (learn) 生 (life) and that it is the chance that Hatsumi sensei is offering us.
* koi fish: the Japanese bass. For some reason there is a huge stuffed koi in a glass box at the entrance of the dôjô. Maybe a ninja bass, who knows.
** gets about 1500 visits per week. All the dvds from are available in online streaming. We did that to serve as a “Bujinkan library” of all the waza in order to help the teachers and the community to remember the general forms. A video is always better than a written text as simultaneity is visible. This is not the case in a book where everything is linear. Disclaimer: these are my interpretations and they are not “official bujinkan” material.
*** cognitive dissonance:
**** Pedro’s post: “Gisei” you can find it  here:
***** Dunning-Kruger effect:

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