Category Archives: Bujinkan

Bujinkan martial arts

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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Lap Dog Syndrome

One of the things that I’ve been noticing in martial arts classes the last number of years is an increase of what I call “lap dog syndrome.” This is where a (ever-larger, it seems) number of people will hang around at the front of the class where Sensei watches people train between teaching techniques. When Sensei has stopped the class to teach, what you see behind him is a line of people standing there with their arms folded like a line of Stormtroopers. There is so much posing and posturing, people laughing at Sensei’s jokes before they are translated when their knowledge of Japanese is nowhere near close enough to understand what he just said. People “guarding the front of the line” when Sensei is doing calligraphy for people in the class. The new Vanguard. They don’t seem to realize that there never used to be one, so we can probably do without one now as well. But to be a conduit to Sensei is a position of power.

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The Rope Joint

The reason I can do the technique this way is that I’m using my spine as if it were a rope.
— Hatsumi Sensei

Last week Sensei spoke again of the importance of connection, using the examples of the joints in the body. The body has many joints which both connect all the parts together and allow it to move smoothly. The fewer joints, or connections, we have, the less smooth our movement will be. Demonstrating a technique, he said that he could do it this way because he was using all of the joints in his spine together, as if it were a rope.

The rope is an important tool in this years’ training theme as it demonstrates the connectedness of things. Sensei also mentioned that the rope is like one big joint working as a whole – it has no links or joints in it, such as a chain does for example, so it can be used in a supple and fluid manner. Perhaps another way of looking at it is viewing the rope as being composed of a billion tiny joints which have been amalgamated into one thing which works as a single unit. All of the separate parts have been united to create a new thing – and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, as they say.

The word for joint in Japanese is ‘kansetsu’ (関節), and it is also interesting that the word for ‘indirectness’ is also pronounced ‘kansetsu’ (官設). I certainly felt both aspects of this when he allowed me to feel the technique. He was controlling me so lightly that it felt like I was being held in place by a single sheet of paper. It was the indirect manner in which he responded to my punch that allowed him to do it.

Ayase Report (080422)

Class started out tonight with a demonstration of one of the first techniques of Togakure-ryu Ninjutsu by Noguchi Sensei. Soke then did his spin-off thing and soon had the full class in a state of confusion. Nothing unusual about tonight in that regard. :-)

We did a lot of work with “fist changing” tonight – using multiple strikes against the opponent, changing the strike from one form into another along the way. From a shishinken to a boshiken to a shutoken for example, 3 consecutive strikes with the same hand. It wasn’t as if we were just standing there hitting the other guy repeatedly with one hand though. Sensei stressed the necessity of *walking* through the technique. With every step, a strike would be applied. A step was used to power every strike. Sensei often uses the term “juppo sessho” (’10 ways of interacting’ is one rendering of that phrase) in relation to this “fist changing.” The number 10 represents infinity and circularity, continuous, never-ending change. The martial *artist* must be able to continually adapt his attacks and strategies to best fit continually-changing circumstances, “changing as change is necessary” to accomplish that which [s]he wills to do.

From the number 10, Sensei went on to talk about the “bugei juhappan”, 18 martial skills to be learnt by the common Japanese warrior (bushi). (“Ninjutsu practitioners also study Bugei Juhappan alongside with Ninja Juhakkei (the 18 Ninjutsu fighting art skills).”) Sensei said that by adding this extra dimension, we arrive at the number 36, which is a significant number in ‘fuusui’ (風水, pronounced ‘feng-shui’ in Chinese). He didn’t elaborate, leaving it up to the listener to figure out for themselves. (I could turn it into a ‘93′ by turning it around, but…) He did leave a hint though by stressing the *simplicity* of the concept, stating that its simply a continual circulation in two (or more) directions at the same time, much like the simultaneous circulation of blood through both the arteries and veins through the body. Once again we were left with the teaching that budo is simple, but its simple on a grand scale.