The 虚実 Kyojitsu of Control: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 3

渡月橋 togetsukyō at 六義園 rikugien. photo by Michael Glenn
Hatsumi Sensei puffed out his chest. His attacker went to grab with both hands, but then Soke collapsed the target. It was like he shrugged the attack away, tossing his opponent aside.

If you have been following my training notes, then you know that this kyojitsu of offering a target is one of the Bujinkan strategies of control that I have been writing about since my recent training with Hatsumi Sensei. He explained that he was teaching control to the Jugodans. He said he wasn’t teaching technique.

I managed to get a few pictures of the snow around the Bujinkan Hombu dojo that morning before class. A few days later it had all melted away. If you are not careful as a Bujinkan teacher, your own days as a student will melt away too.

Soke said that people in sports do technique, but we are trying to have a flow that can’t be copied. Flow is the most important thing in a fight.. This is why he teaches this way. He told us,
“You have to become the kind of person who cannot be copied.”
When Soke puffed out his chest this way, he was offering his opponent an illusion. The target was not real. He used the word 的 mato and told us to control by creating a target.

The way he moved his shoulders was very loose. And next, he made us all laugh by wiggling his ears. He did this to show how you control the opponent by having this very precise control over your own body first.

When he asked me to grab him, he did this with his shoulder and then I went flying through the air. He said,
“I’m lifting the shoulder with this kind of kyojitsu. You have to be able to move every part of your body.”
You offer the target as the 虚 kyo, or illusion. Then hit him with the 実 jistu or the truth. Another time Soke did this with a sword. He blocked the cut with his own sword. But he left his face right in front of his opponent’s blade. It did not look safe!

But this target was an illusion. As soon as the opponent tried to cut, Soke pivoted and hit him hard with the tsuba in the ribs. He looked around the dojo at our confused faces and said,
“Everyone tries to use the sword and that's why you're missing the kyojitsu. Kyo comes first and then jitsu.”
When you control your opponent with illusion, you don’t even have to fight at all. In fact, you never have to touch him. Hatsumi Sensei said we could feel it in the air. He used the phrase 空気で殺気 kuuki de sakki.

This can be thought of as sensing the intent of the enemy in the air. But it is also projecting your own threat into the air. It is like you strike with the air or the kukan itself! How does that work?

Many of us have felt this from Hatsumi Sensei. He did this to my friend Yabunaka-san. I watched when Yabu hesitated and then froze up. Next he stumbled right before Soke would have broke his arm. Hatsumi Sensei asked Yabunaka to describe this feeling. Yabunaka said that you feel like he is striking you even when he is not.

This is the opposite of presenting a target as an illusion. You strike with illusion! In fact, Hatsumi Sensei told us that this was 遠当之術 tōate no jutsu (or even 遠當之術). This is striking from a distance.

But Soke said he was not using tōate for striking, he was using it for control. For me, that moment was a big key to my whole trip and my efforts to understand Hatsumi Sensei’s current teachings.

I was lucky to be invited to uke for Soke in almost every class. And these experiences were like a gift. Every day that I train in Japan or in my own classes, I feel humbled by the generosity of my teachers and students. I hope you can have that in your training as well.

勝負いなく Shōbu Inaku: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 2

Hatsumi Sensei's dynamic kamae. Photo by Michael Glenn
In the first article on Bujinkan Strategies of Control, I described one of the times I attacked Hatsumi Sensei. Anyone who has been Soke’s uke can tell you the same thing. What it looks like and what it feels like are very different!

One common thing we all feel from him is that he disappears. I know that sounds odd, but it’s like he’s there in front of you, then he’s not. In fact, last week he explained how this is one of his strategies for control. He told us to,
“Move naturally like this as they're coming in. Move naturally without making a fight of it.”
That was the English translation but Soke used the the words 勝負いなく shōbu inaku meaning that there is no fight or the fight disappears. Shōbu implies a contest or a match where victory or defeat is decided. Since we don’t study sports martial arts, we are not attached to either of these outcomes.

いなくなる inakunaru means to disappear. Or, in a definition that will help us understand this strategy, it means “to stop being". Any fight, match, or contest requires at least two combatants. What happens if one disappears?

This starts internally. You have to remove yourself from the idea of winning or losing. Or even that there is any fight to win or lose. When you step outside of that small world where the fight exists, you will find it very easy to control the situation.

Hatsumi Sensei watched all of us trying to do that. He likes to stand in the back of the dojo on the wood floor and observe us. Sometimes I will even see him stand right in the middle of the room watching. He saw that many of us were still trying to fight, so he said we should leave that attitude at home…
“In your own training it’s ok to punch and fight like this, but here we’re studying control.”
He told us we are not learning to exchange blows. That is what happens in sports martial arts, people exchange blows until victory or defeat is decided. Sometimes by judges! But there are no judges in real combat.

Instead Hatsumi Sensei told us to play in the space. It’s not fighting. This is how we learn how to control in the space.

When you understand this at a deep level, two critical changes happen in your training:

First, by not showing that you're fighting, you disappear from the fight. This is not just a psychological trick. You can learn to physically disappear from the fight.

I felt this when I tried to grab Hatsumi Sensei’s arm. He was teaching tehodoki. When I went to grab he just disappeared. He reappeared after I flew through the air and landed on my back.

And second, you make the fight itself disappear. This causes the opponent to lose strength and ability to fight. Hatsumi Sensei showed me this aspect another time when I stabbed at him. The way he smiled at me, and his kiai in that moment, caused my attack to just deflate because he was not fighting me.

Hatsumi Sensei said again and again that コントロール kontorooru is this year’s theme. Not fighting... just controlling. It’s not a waza or technique that can be taught.

In fact there is only one clear way to learn it. That is through direct experience with Hatsumi Sensei or with a teacher who has had that experience. Then you can learn what Soke means when he tells us that he is not fighting. He says he is just following the path of kami (神の道 kami no michi). We would be smart to follow his lead.

UP NEXT: The 虚実 Kyojitsu of Control: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 3

Bujinkan Strategies of Control

雪吊り yuki zuri at 六義園 Rikugi-en. photo by Michael Glenn
The train rattled by the Bujinkan Honbu dojo. I looked down at the knife in my hand. I looked up at Hatsumi Sensei who called me to stab at him. I plunged the knife toward him. He made a kiai that came out like the creaking, groaning sound of an old iron gate.

It was not a human sound. And he was in my face, laughing. I fell to the floor. He asked me to speak and share what I just felt with all of the students in the dojo. All I could say was that his smile made me drop.

It has been difficult to write about my training with Soke during this trip. Not because I don't have anything to share. But because writing or talking about it is a distraction from the experience itself.

I didn't want my own thoughts or preconceptions to intrude on the direct transmission of the teaching that Soke is giving us. So I waited. Just absorbing as much as I can. And now I feel I can begin to share.

In every single class, Hatsumi Sensei tells us not to fight, but to control. In fact, he says that this is the theme that he is teaching from. He uses the 外来語 gairaigo (borrowed from English) pronunciation of the word control. In the Japanese pronunciation this becomes コントロール kontorooru.

He tells us that what he is showing us cannot be taught. He says,
"I'm not teaching how to fight. I'm showing control. If you try to fight then it's a very low level of budo. Please learn to control."
Why can't this be taught? Because it's control, not waza. Waza (techniques) can be taught. But this is not waza. It's control.

Soke says he's not teaching technique anymore. He told us to have this control of あも一寸の玉 虫 amo issun no tama mushi.  In a real confrontation, this "amo" is very important.

Hatsumi Sensei's classes are all about control. But first you have to control yourself, only then can you control the opponent. He demonstrated this over and over by controlling his opponents without even touching them. It happened to me every time I faced him. He explained it like this:
"You have to be able to not do a technique yet have it happen anyway. This is the theme for the 15 dans this year."
One of the ways he does this is kukan no コントロール kontorooru… to control the kukan or use the kukan to control. But here is a warning: Any method you use to try to do that will probably not work! That is the mystery of this strategy.

Since I cannot possibly share everything I am experiencing here in Japan in just one article, I will write a series of articles. Maybe I will call them Bujinkan strategies of control. If you want to receive all of them, make sure to subscribe here.

When I attacked Hatsumi Sensei with the knife, he asked me to share the feeling I got from him. In that moment it was overwhelming, so I couldn't say much except that his smile made me drop to the mat. But now that I've had some days to consider what happened, my feeling is that he used one of the strategies I will write about next. 次次次… The next one is the best one!
UPDATE and here it is: 勝負いなく Shōbu Inaku: Bujinkan Strategies of Control Part 2

Snow on the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo

Snow on the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo
Last week when I arrived in Tokyo, it was cold and dark. Much colder than anyone expected. Tokyo hasn't had its first snowfall in November for 54 years. And breaking an even older record, this was the first accumulation of snow in the city center since records began in 1875.

It was dark when I arrived, but I pressed my face to the cold glass of the train to get a look at it. I knew it would melt quickly. So I made a video and you can just see it outside the train: Ninja True: How to get to the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo.

When I arrived at the dojo, a man doing construction near the train tracks called it a November surprise. He thought I was funny because I was poking at the snow and taking pictures. I told him I live in Santa Monica and we never have snow.

Even though it was cold on my arrival, the reception I got from my friends here in Japan has been very warm. The Bujinkan is truly international. I got warm greetings from Spain, Australia, Florida, Canada, Estonia, Colombia, France… and more!

The Japanese teachers always have a smile for me! They always tell me, "welcome back" before hurting me in class. And the classes have been great.

Senou Sensei seemed to be carving up his opponents with his fingers. With almost every technique, he manipulates his fingers to change the opponent's balance and attack. In fact, he started one class by intertwining his fingers like you would for 暗黒透視術 Ankoku tōshijutsu.

Then he used that grip to receive the attack. The fingers became pivot points as they interlaced (かわす kawasu) with the opponent's body. It seems impossible to move someone with one finger, yet he did this to me and I moved!

Hatsumi Sensei has also been carving things up. He did this with a ninja-to, but he also seems to carve up the space itself. I tried to attack him, but he changed the space, and I was moved again!

Hatsumi Sensei told us that for 42 years since Takamatsu Sensei's death, he's changed the Bujinkan theme every year. In these yearly themes he taught us techniques. But this year he's teaching something that goes beyond or transcends that.

He began to demo this feeling or "mood." He showed the connections between being punched, a double lapel grab, tehodoki… and even sword. He said you have to have this "mood" to be able to use any weapon. This word "mood" was both English and Japanese. He said ムード muudo but also in Japanese 無道 mudō or 武道 budō.

Soke said this means you are being led by the martial arts into zero. You think it's there but it's not. You don't think it's there but it is.

He told us that the Bujinkan has come to this high level, so he thinks things will be very interesting from now on (此から先 korekarasaki). Since this was just the beginning of my training here in Japan, I have no doubt things will be very interesting in the coming days.

This will be the first of several articles about the training I am currently doing in Japan, to receive all of them, please subscribe here: Bujinkan updates  

Bujinkan Kuden: 自然行雲流水 Shizen kōunryūsui

根津美術館 庭園 photo by Michael Glenn
We have a Bujinkan kuden, 自然行雲流水 Shizen kōunryūsui.  This is sometimes translated as going with the flow. It originates from an old Chinese poem. But in Japan it became an essential mindset for zen.

It is having a mind that is light and carefree like the journey of the clouds through the sky. No matter what wars are being fought on earth, or what pain and emotion is being expressed, the clouds just float by. What if your mind could be light like that?

But this saying also suggests we can flow along like the water in a river. No matter what obstacle it encounters, it just keeps going. It is ever changing and persistent. What if your mind could run deep like a river?

The river and the clouds are connected of course. The clouds drop rain and snow which feeds the river. Then the water might evaporate and rise back into the sky to become a cloud again.

In Bujinkan taijutsu, this mindset is expressed as natural and smooth movement. This kind of taijutsu is not an attack or a defense. When we are unattached to results, victory appears.

The Yari Kuri of Bujinkan 槍術 Sōjutsu

Michael Glenn thrusts into emptiness with the Yari, from a recent video on rojodojo.com
In a recent class we were training 四方技 shihō waza. This form has an important secret for all of Bujinkan 槍術 sōjutsu. Soke calls it 槍繰り yarikuri. This can be translated in various ways, like repetitive thrusting.

But we must consider why Hatsumi Sensei explains it this way. What he tells us about yari kuri is that,
“the thrust is kyo, the kuri is the jitsu.”
This means we should employ 虚実 kyojitsu in our thrusting with the yari. Where the thrust is the illusion or falsehood, and the repetition is the truth.

This means that each thrust with the yari can be either true or false. So how do you decide which is true and which is false? Hatsumi Sensei described this moment in terms of our bojutsu gokui, when he says
“realize the moment of truth, thrust in, and only after you feel a connection with something does the force naturally flow into it (the thrust).”

I recently made a video about this Bujinkan gokui


In this shihō waza, our first thrusts are probing. Then as we step out to the right we probe further. This second thrust drives in deeper. And there we make a grip change that is unique as the left hand draws the spear back to the right hand.

This creates the distance for striking with the ishizuki. But the deception continues because you quickly flip into another thrust. If he manages to block that one, you finish with a rising strike to the groin.

This is how the yari can play in the field of time (遊ぶ光陰). And time is nothing but the play of light and shadow. Learning to thrust with the yari this way is a revelation for your study of Bujinkan sojutsu.

Bujinkan Kyūsho: 呼吸 Kokyuu, 指 Yubi, and 目 Me

柴又八幡神社 Shibamata Hachiman Jinja, photo Michael Glenn
In the past few years, Hatsumi Sensei has been exploring more than one theme every year. And some of the Bujinkan yearly themes have actually stretched across more than one year. For example, one Bujinkan theme this year of “skipping stones” I first heard from Hatsumi Sensei during one class back in September of 2014: The 間 Aida of Skipping a Stone Across Water

Another Bujinkan theme that Hatsumi Sensei has been expressing the last few years is the use of 呼吸 kokyuu (the breath), 指 yubi (the fingers), and 目 me (the eyes). These three are not to be taken individually. They must be connected in the same way that the ripples on a pond are connected by the stone that skipped across it.

In one cold December class Hatsumi Sensei described this for us,
"(the eyes and the breath are) connected like skipping a stone. It’s connected together but really you disappear. Take the eyes and the fingers for jissen. In a real situation you don’t want to just go for them, you just kind of let them happen along the way. Take the eyes, the fingers, and stop the breathing."
These three things can be thought of as kyūsho. They are weak points on even the strongest opponent. If you attack the eyes, you destroy his ability to fight. The fingers are very sensitive to pain and break easily. And if you stop or interrupt the breath, the entire body and mind stops with it.

As always, Hatsumi Sensei embeds layers of meaning and wordplay into the things he shares with us. The word 呼吸 kokyuu means breath, but it also can be translated as a knack, a  trick,  or a secret for doing something. Hatsumi Sensei described one of these secrets in another class I went to,
"Don’t grab and hold, just move like this with the body.  The finger hooks on here. With this timing, with this rhythm."
Even though it wasn’t translated directly, Soke actually said 呼吸から愛人 kokyuu kara ai jin, this is the harmony of the breath between lovers. This means you match your movements or your breath to the same rhythm as the breath of your opponent. You harmonize and become one with him. Then when you break that rhythm, it shatters him like a wine glass.

In case you haven’t seen that happen, a wine glass can be shattered by sound (the breath or voice of a singer). This happens because the glass has a natural frequency at which it vibrates. The singer first resonates with this frequency, then breaks that by going beyond it.

Hatsumi Sensei said we can use the finger to attack the rib cage in a way that interrupts the breath. I witnessed this, but since it is a kuden, I would have to show you in person. Don’t be afraid to ask me to hurt you next time you see me!

Hatsumi Sensei added that this is why we don’t have to avoid a strike. Instead we interrupt the opponent's breathing. This becomes like sutemi. Here we find the feeling of being able to control with just one finger.

The word for eyes or eyesight in Japanese can use different kanji as well. One of them is 目 me which can be translated as insight. Another is 明 mei which is a brightness or clarity of vision.

And the finger indicates the connection or link between these things. We must open up to these connections when we train on the Bujinkan themes. Remember the real training happens in your own breath and your own insight.

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