Author Archives: Shawn Gray

Path to the Heart of the Flower (II)

In Part I of this article, I wrote about how I became involved in Japanese martial arts and the reasons for my growing interest in all things Japanese. I arrived in Japan in August 1990, the 45th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. My 1st month in Hiroshima was a time of adjustment – and many social faux pas (which continue to this day!).  In time, I took over the majority of English classes offered by the small English school where I was working, which was run by an American Christian missionary and his family. In fact, I myself had come to Japan on a “religious activities” visa, sponsored by an American missionary organization and the small country Baptist church in which I spent most of my youth. The church had a history of almost 200 years–and I was its 1st ordained missionary. 🙂

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Path to the Heart of the Flower (I)

February 9th was the 20th anniversary of my first day of training in the Bujinkan. I mentioned it on Facebook, but was encouraged to write a series of blog articles about a bit of my martial arts history and how I found the Bujinkan and made my way to Japan to train with Hatsumi Sensei – to approach the heart of the flower that is Japanese martial arts, budo. I’ve always found it fascinating to hear stories of the adventures of my Sempai here (Mark Lithgow, Michael Pearce, Mark O’Brien, Andrew Young, and Mike L) and, now in my 17th year in Japan myself, I thought it would be fun to look back over the years, and in remembering, share some of that with the readers of my blog.

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One Year After the Quake

Exactly one year ago, the ground underneath my apartment in Abiko began to shake.

I was downstairs in my guest apartment doing some work when the trembling began. I stopped, as I often do when tremors occur, to see if it would get big enough for alarm. Most of the rumbles we get are small enough so that nothing falls over, and in a few seconds it’s back to life as normal. But this one was different. In 15 years of life in Japan at that point, I had experienced only one quake that had made anything fall off shelves. As I sat, paused and alert, in front of my laptop, the quake strengthened – and then, first one, and then one after another, things started to fall off of shelves – and then out of cupboards…
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Thoughts on Kaname

I was asked today to write something about Kaname in advance of a seminar I’ll be giving at Bujinkan Manitoba on May 26/27. The following are some thoughts I put down based on my experience of feeling and hearing what Sensei has been teaching on this subject this year.

Kaname (要) is a word that means “essence,” or “essential point.” It refers to that which is necessary for a thing to be what it is. For example, each technique from our Nine Schools has something about it that makes it unique. For Ganseki Nage to be Ganseki Nage, and not Omote Gyaku, there are things about it that make it distinct. Those things are the “Kaname” of Ganseki Nage, the things that make it what it is, distinct from other techniques, the things that comprise its essential character.
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Hitsumon Bujinden (必問・武神伝) – A New DVD from Hatsumi Sensei

I’d like to start this blog by thanking the readers who have expressed their appreciation for the posts I’ve made thus far. Thank you for your feedback and letting me know that you’ve found what I’ve written to be helpful to you. My intention was to make one entry per month, but last summer became very busy, and that continued right through the end of the year, so that whenever I would prepare to write an article, I’d think to myself, “Is this really the most productive thing that I could be doing right now?” The answer most often was, “No.” And so the blog went quiet for a few months – but in the meantime, I’ve kept an active list of interesting topics that I want to write about, so these will gradually be coming out in the next little while.

What I wanted to write about today is the latest DVD set from Hatsumi Sensei. Last summer, I received a handout at Hombu Dojo that asked Bujinkan instructors in Japan to speak with their students and see what questions they would like to ask Hatsumi Sensei. The questions could be about anything – directly related to training or not – and we were told that Sensei would discuss the questions received on a DVD. This DVD set (2 DVDs, 2 hours each) was released for sale at Daikomyosai 2011, and is entitled, “Hitsumon Bujinden (必問・武神伝): Wisdom Necessary for Quest.”
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The Demon Motif in Kukishin Ryu: Part II of II

I. Recap

In the first part of this article we looked at some early uses of the term “demon” in the West in order to help us more fully understand some of the things that Sensei refers to when he talks about the demon motif in connection with the Bujinkan martial arts tradition of Kukishin-ryū (九鬼神流). We also looked into some psychological principles derived from the demon idea and how those principles can be used to make our lives happier and more balanced. In this final part of the article, we will look at principles of Japanese geomancy (fuu-sui, 風水) related to the demon motif, and give some very brief hints as to some ideas for application of these principles to the Kukishin-ryū taijutsu techniques Kimon (鬼門) and Ura Kimon (裏鬼門).
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The Demon Motif in Kukishin Ryu: Part I of II

I. Intro

The Bujinkan martial arts training theme for 2007 was the Kukishin Ryu tradition. (There is some debate over which term is best to use, Kukishin Ryu or Kukishinden Ryu, and Hatsumi Sensei uses both of these seemingly at random.  I am going to use “Kukishin Ryu” in this article for the sake of convenience.)

The meaning of the term “Kukishin” is one that causes discomfort for some, as it involves a word usually translated into English as “demon,” – the term “Kukishin” being composed of the characters for “9 – Demon – Spirit[s] (九鬼神)”. Depending on your religious background and upbringing, this can be the source of a certain amount of trepidation. “See?” you’ll hear some say, “What further proof do we need that at the real heart of Japanese martial arts lurks all kinds of darkness and evil?” Unfortunately, the modern English term “demon” has taken on quite a different meaning from the way it was first used in past millennia, and it is this modern understanding of the word which causes some red flags to go up.

This article will first look at early uses of the term “demon” in the West in order to help us more fully understand some of the things that Sensei is referring to when he uses the corresponding Japanese term “oni” in training. We will next look into some psychological principles derived from the demon idea which we can use to make our lives happier and more balanced. (Yes, you read correctly.) In the final part of the article (Part II, separate post), we will look at principles of Japanese geomancy related to the demon motif, and some taijutsu ideas which can be interpreted in light of those principles.

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Receiving vs. Avoiding: “Blocking” in Martial Arts

As we all know (or at least, as anyone who has seen the worst kung-fu ninja movie ever knows), martial arts involve not only attacks, but also defenses. Not only kicks, strikes, punches, and throws, but also defensive maneuvers like blocks, evasions, sweeps, and the like. Probably the most common martial arts defense word that we hear is the word “block”. We hear things like “Block the punch” and “Her kick was blocked”, etc. This word “block” is the most common translation for the Japanese word “ukeru (受ける)”. Another common martial arts defense term that we hear is “avoid”. This is a common translation of the Japanese word “sakeru (避ける)”. When we think of blocking, we often think of hitting or clashing with an incoming weapon. Contact is made, and pain is usually a result, whereas when we think of avoiding we normally think of a graceful passing that is by far the preferred approach. One can imagine that if the interaction between attacker and defender is a course of energy, why would you want to “block” it? Would you want to block a pipe or a drain? Why would you want to block an opponent when you could let him just go right on by? The concept of avoiding has come to be viewed by some as superior to blocking.

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Sakura No Kaze II

The second annual Sakura No Kaze (“cherry-blossom wind”) seminar was held in Surrey, BC, just outside Vancouver, on May 14/15. Bill Brown and I team-taught for the two days, alternating back and forth, sharing lessons that we’ve learned from our time in Japan training under Hatsumi Sensei. This included both unarmed taijutsu techniques as well as variations with the sword and the 6-foot bo staff. We also taught techniques from both the perspective of a defender using the technique against an aggressor, and also from the perspective of having the technique applied to you by someone else, turning the technique back upon them (this is known as kaeshi-waza, 返し技).

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Back to Middle School

I shouldn’t say “Back”. I’ve never been to middle school. It used to be elementary, then junior high, then high school in Canada, but in the time that I’ve lived in Japan, things in Canada have changed. Now they have elementary right from kindergarten, and then Middle School is from Grade 5-8 and high school is from Grade 9-12. At least that’s what I think they changed it to – I can’t keep track. 🙂

Anyway, I’ve been back in Canada for week visiting family, and today I was invited to give a talk to my niece’s class about the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake. During the 45-minute session I talked about the Ring of Fire, Japan’s history of earthquakes, and some of the details of March 11th, including the tsunami and the nuclear problems it caused. This was followed by a Q&A, with students asking some good questions – one about HAARP, which I couldn’t really answer. Good food for thought though! The teacher wrapped up with some images/video from the quake that she’d taken from news sources. The class really seemed to connect with what had happened and to be experiencing as sense of empathy with the Japanese kids of their own age who had lost family members along with all of their worldly possessions.

It was only a short talk, and probably many of the kids were just happy to have someone in to talk so that they didn’t have to do any class work. But seeds have been sown, and hopefully this will trigger some thought processes about world events, and maybe even inspire some future philanthropists or aid workers.