It was the normal chaos at the Bujinkan Honbu dojo. The training had just ended, and everyone rushed to get their photos with Hatsumi Sensei. I rushed to my notebook.
I did this because Soke finished the class with a huge surprise for his teaching of 無刀捕 mutōdori. He showed us 空間を作る kūkan o tsukuru, or how to create space. So I scribbled a note about the hidden location for this opening before that secret disappeared in the night.
Earlier that day, I had gone into Tokyo to visit Norio Yamada-san. He makes 江戸手描提灯 Edo Tegaki Chōchin, Edo style hand painted paper lanterns. He called to say my order was ready to pick up.
It never occurred to me that there could be a connection to Soke’s teaching later that night. Hatsumi Sensei said,
“You’re not evading, 空間 浮かす Kūkan ukasu, you’re floating the opponent in the space.”
If you’ve ever held one of these paper lanterns, they feel like you’ve caught light and air itself as it glows softly in the night.
Hatsumi Sensei catches swords like that. My training partner, Tezuka-san swung a metal blade at Soke. And this is when my surprise arrived. Soke told us,
“Don’t do this with 刀意識 Tō ishiki.”
This means don’t put your mind or consciousness with the sword. Remember this is 無刀 mutō and the sword is nothingness. Instead create or open up the kūkan and float your opponent in it.
But where is this kūkan? It's the space in the opponent’s mind or consciousness. The physical space is only so big, but the kūkan in the mind is infinite. Control that space and you have already won. Tezuka-san said it felt like Hatsumi Sensei catches him in between thoughts.
Soke nodded and said,
“You have to know those spaces, those openings, those little cracks…”
When Hatsumi Sensei creates kūkan between your own thoughts and floats you in that empty space, you are very exposed. Anyone who has attacked Hatsumi Sensei might relate to that blanked out feeling. Whenever he asks me to describe it to the other students in the Honbu dojo, I fold up like a paper lantern.
Bujinkan 提灯 Chouchin, Hatsumi and Takamatsu Sensei's 位牌. photo by Michael Glenn
The Bujinkan theme for our Spring training is set. Please study the idea 千変万化 Senpen Banka. This theme of innumerable changes is what Hatsumi Sensei gave us earlier this month.
When I returned from Japan, we held the annual 春修業 Haru Shūgyō All of the students were focused and trained hard to grow from this season’s theme. Here is a bit of what we studied.
We warmed up with 初心五型 Shoshin Gokei. Hatsumi Sensei has had a multi-year focus on 無刀捕 mutōdori, so we next did 五行の型 Gogyō no kata as mutōdori! If you’ve never studied this, it will really surprise you.
Hatsumi Sensei gave us perspective on this kind of 三心 sanshin. In the Hagakure, a famous quote says,
武士道といふは死ぬことと見つけたり The way of Bushido is found in death.
But Hatsumi Sensei told us this idea is often misunderstood. He said that in the Bujinkan we study the way of living, and to protect life. Soke said,
“武士道は生死生よう Bushido wa seishi seiyō”
This is similar to 生死一如 seishi'ichinyo which means that life and death are the same. But Soke added the third idea of rebirth. He said humans are born, then die and are reborn. This is Sanshin.
Every practice of mutōdori should be like this. Especially the Godan test! You must die under the blade to do proper mutōdori, but then you are reborn when you survive the attack.
We explored these ideas further with the kata 奏者 Sōsha and 引脇差 Hikiwkizashi. And we even did some basic 歩き方 arukikata and 足運び ashihakobi with the katana. This led to weapon retention henka.
All of this was to come at one idea from different angles. Because Soke told us,
We took a small break to have tea and springtime mochi (ひとくちすあま和生菓子). There was lots of silliness and dojo humor which I cannot share here! But this seemed to energize everyone for more training.
The students went hard with the kata 虎倒 Kotō. Everyone really got the spirit of what Hatsumi Sensei called 気合わせ kiawase. This is a matching or meeting of the attacker’s energy.
I shared my experience of attacking Hatsumi Sensei in Japan. He used the principle of 意識出す ishiki dasu. You remove your own intention from doing any technique. This is when the students said it felt like I disappeared!
Yep, that is how it feels to attack Soke.
Please study with us or go to Japan to keep your training fresh and up to date. If you are part of our dojo, or connected to us through Rojodojo, I think spending time with these Bujinkan themes during your Spring and early summer training will make you a better Budoka! RSVP: the 夏修業 Natsu Shūgyō will be July 28, 2019
I have had the fortune of training with Hatsumi Sensei outdoors on a number of occasions. Each time it was unique, but on this day Soke waved his hand toward the students and told us today would be a test for the Jugodans.
It was a cool morning under the Japanese maples, so Hatsumi Sensei wore a quilted 羽織 haori which was the color of pearl. I don’t know if anyone else heard him, but he muttered the phrase “open sesame!” Because we were about to open a gate to hidden treasures.
One of those treasures arrived when Soke broke the attack of his opponent, causing his spine to arch back. Sensei hooked into his eyes with one finger. Then he dropped away to release the tension.
At this moment, he caught the fall of his uke with the position of his body. This had the effect of completely twisting the limbs and spine. And crushing like a trash compactor.
Hatsumi Sensei looked at all of us and said,
“全体駄目 zentai dame, or when everything is hopeless, there is that one point, 点眼 tengan, which is the kyūsho of taijutsu.”
I had never heard of tengan, but lucky for me, Soke explained by gesturing with his finger. Tengan is like when you use an eyedropper. It's like dropping a spot in the middle of an eye.
But tengan is a play on words. Change the kanji to 天眼, and it means the eyes of heaven, or divine eye. This is a Buddhist concept that suggests you can see in the darkness, or are clairvoyant. Harness perception that is almost supernatural.
The eye of heaven can see everything. The future, the past. It can see into your enemy’s mind. Now it is easy to predict his strategy or find his weakness.
Hatsumi Sensei drew a circle around that point in the air. He continued to explain,
“It’s not a point on the body. This is 急所丸 kyūsho maru. This is not something written in a scroll anywhere. This is for the jugodans. Please discover (発見 hakken) the kyūsho within the movement. You need to discover that for yourself.”
Since that day, I have been working to study kyūsho maru. It is an idea that ripples across all of my training like a drop in a pond. Here are a few of the ripples to consider.
The kanji for 急所丸 kyūsho maru can start us off. Kyūsho means a vital point, or an essential point. Maru means round, but like a true circle, it implies perfection. The kanji itself is 9 (九) plus one stroke. As Hatsumi Sensei is fond of saying, this equals 10 which is perfect in Japanese numerology.
So kyūsho maru is the “perfect kyūsho” for the moment. This kyūsho might be on the opponent’s body. But it can be anywhere in the kukan. When you consider that possibility, the implications for your training grow from that point.
Later that afternoon, as the sun broke through the gray clouds, Hatsumi Sensei described capturing these points,
“Within the flow of the kukan (kukan no nagare), you want to control these very small points such as the fingers, the eyes, or the breath. You’re taking those points, but in a way that it is difficult for the opponent to perceive what’s happening in that flow. This is what we’re studying.”
What was the test for us Jugodans? There is no easy answer to that. I am still testing.
Hatsumi Sensei had us all face the sun and bow to wrap up the day of training. I felt the warmth on my face. But the sun is just a bright point in infinity, hanging in emptiness.
Advanced Bujinkan training is a mysterious path. It’s not often that Hatsumi Sensei reveals what he himself is studying, or even that he tells us directly what to study. So when he does, we should listen.
In a recent Friday night class at the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo, Soke told us we were continuing to study 真剣白刃捕 shinken shiraha dori. This is catching a live blade. He demonstrated this against various swords, knives, and even the rokushakubo.
But what happened next was a surprise to all of us. Nagase-san stabbed at Hatsumi Sensei with a knife. Without touching him, Soke waved his hand through the air and the knife fell to the floor. Nagase next lost his balance, stumbled, and dropped one hand to the mat to catch himself.
Soke told us, “全体くる意気 zentai kuru iki,” or, that we should take his whole spirit like this. Easy for him to say! But how do we begin to understand this type of training?
From the outside it appears fake. I completely understand someone who watches this thinking that it would never happen to them if they stabbed. But from my own experience, when you attack Soke, he takes away your will along with your weapon.
Hatsumi Sensei knows how critical this is. He told us,
“This moment is important. Because in just one moment you die. It’s kukan. It’s 自然力 shizenryoku."
Shizenryoku is the power of nature itself. What force of nature can we use? What can we draw on inside the dojo or out?
We have the empty space, the 空気 kūki, the mood in the moment, or just the air itself. Hatsumi Sensei uses that in every movement. And the results are always surprising. I wrote before about how to fill that empty space with 空き Aki
After I watched Nagase-san get disarmed without being touched, I assumed this was a one time thing. I felt lucky to witness it. But Hatsumi Sensei did it again in the Sunday class!
He once told us teachers not to teach, and I think he follows that rule himself. But he is working on his own training in every class. So when he told us what to study I was listening closely,
“Wrap him up in the 空気 kūki. That’s everyone’s study from now on. That’s good enough right there. 全体まあね空間でら Zentai mā ne kūkan de ra. The whole has to be in the space. Practice that.”
I think that should give me a lot of homework when I get home to my own dojo. I expect to surprise my students with this. And my own surprise will be in the discovery. I will do my best to follow Hatsumi Sensei’s example.
This is some advice for Jūgodans. I say that because Hatsumi Sensei said it. But also because people with less than 20 years of training are not ready for this. We all must learn that, 秘伝 hiden, or the secret teachings of budo are hidden in your blind spot.
Takamatsu Sensei told us one reason that this blind spot exists is because teachers tend to make 得意 tokui - their own strong points, into 極意 gokui - the main points, of their art or teaching. You’ve probably met a teacher that only teaches their strengths. And you’ve also been that teacher without realizing it.
During one Friday night class at the old Bujinkan Honbu Dojo, Hatsumi Sensei was teaching some 秘剣 hiken, or secret sword methods from 八相 hassō. This particular secret is not written down anywhere. It is a way of powering the sword cut and steering it that I have never seen in any other sword school.
Among the thirty or so students who were there that night, maybe a few understood what he taught. But there was a bigger secret he demonstrated on the spot. Maybe no one noticed.
Hatsumi Sensei demonstrated how to overcome our 盲点 mōten, or blind spot. He did this with henka forged in discovery. But these henka were not of his own creation. They arise from 自然 shizen. Many secrets are hidden there. He told us that we cannot learn these 秘伝 hiden until we let go of the past and what we already know.
When you forget the techniques you’ve worked to master, nature will allow you to grow. Soke said 自然的に許可者 shizen-teki ni kyoka-sha. When you understand it’s not about form, your henka will get better and better. But these henka are not created by you!
A year before Takamatsu Sensei passed away, he told Hatsumi Sensei that he’d taught him everything. But Soke didn’t think that was correct. So he told us that, “From when I started training, until now, I keep learning and showing new things.” How can this be?
Hatsumi Sensei continued, “It’s important to keep training even though the art keeps changing. If you don’t keep walking with it, then you’ll get left behind. This is 武風一貫 bufū ikkan.” The warrior winds of bufū will carry you when you persevere this way.
No matter how good you are right now, if you follow the warrior winds you can become a master. It will not happen overnight. It happens with a natural timing just like growing up. Soke told us that being a Jūgodan is about 成人しん seijin shin, becoming adults.