Yashima Martial Arts and Japanese Culture Publication July 2020 by LÉO TAMAKI
Translation notes: I translated this, I am not a professional nor am I a native speaker of French or Japanese let alone an expert on either culture or martial arts. Any mistakes or misunderstandings in the translation are my own, and do not represent the publication, the interviewer or interviewee. So some things may be lost in translation, you want the direct message, then read it in French or speak to Kacem yourself.
Some things are very hard to translate especially when working between 2-3 different languages and cultures. I have added what I believe are alternative translations in brackets, the only time the brackets are not my added 2 cents are when it says (Laughs). I did this to help with understanding, but I might be wrong with my choice of words.
I have left the Japanese without explanation, if you dont know what it means ask your teacher. As for some of the English/French translation its difficult. For example, Adepte in French is Follower in English, I think practitioner or disciple etc might be a better translation, but I left it as follower. Martial Traditions might be better translated as Traditional/Classical Martial arts to distinguish it from modern sports styles for context, but I left it as Martial traditions. Why? because I dont want to lose the speakers voice. I could have changed some of the simple and often used words in this article to their Japanese equivalent that I know my teacher would use, but I left them as is to keep the article as authentic as possible.
Any questions please ask me at www.facebook.com/seichusendojo via Private Message.
Lastly, any mistakes are my own, there are probably a couple and not the publishers or people involved.
(Researcher and follower).
Few experts in the martial world have reached the highest level of both sides of bugei. Kacem Zoughari is one of them. Known throughout the world, he can be found teaching in a Japanese university as well as training special forces. He gives himself up as never before for Yashima and demystifies many urban legends of the martial microcosm. The secrets of Japanese martial traditions, with Kacem Zoughari.
-Today, the effectiveness of martial traditions is regularly questioned. What is your position on this issue?
I understand it. It is often the disappointed the koryū and budō people who are the most vocal. They have a right to be disappointed when you see the general level. I am a lover of martial traditions, but I often prefer to see the vestiges of them rather than their actual manifestations. However, to say that these practices are not effective is a sign that this world is only partially known. For there is no ineffective tradition, there are ineffective practitioners. We cannot make generalities because it depends on the master, the lineage, etc. People often form an opinion on a discipline according to the appreciation they have of a follower (practitioner or martial artist). This is a mistake because each one can only present his version, his understanding, his level.
-So you think that martial traditions can be effective today?
Absolutely. But for that, learning the curriculum is not enough. It is also necessary to understand it, interpret it, and discover its secrets. If this is done correctly, a tradition dating back several centuries will allow us to face the situations of the present. Their essence is flexible enough to adapt to face a boxer or a wrestler. If the adept (follower) can only demonstrate effectiveness in a particular context where he must be attacked in a specific way, he has not touched the foundation of martial practice. Of course, one must study current ways of doing things, understand what the parameters of attack of a boxer are, a karateka, etc., but one must be able to bring one's discipline (practice) to life today.
-There is a tendency (trend) today between those who believe in an efficient martial practice and those who prefer its educational aspect. What is your position on the subject?
This debate, like so many others, is not new. In 1730, observing training in a Yagyū dōjō, the famous Ogyū Sorai (荻生 徂徠) asked if it was a dance! He asked, where is the art of the Yagyū forged on the battlefields? But at the same time, some criticized followers who killed their opponent in one blow, saying that we are no longer in the 15th century. It is clear that the most pragmatic tendencies have always coexisted with the idealists, and so it is. Not to mention that nothing is exclusive, and that incredible followers such as Yagyū, Musashi or Yamaoka Tesshū are as famous for their prowess as for their spirituality. So, there is no reason to oppose anything.
-Can you give us a brief history of Japanese martial arts?
Japanese martial traditions have a very long history, and above all have been very well documented thanks to the many writings, vestiges and practices that have come down to us. Let's just go back to the 14th century. The heiho, the warrior way of this period, is the bugei jūhappan. The bugei jūhappan, these are 18 warrior arts that the samurai must know. We also talk about hachi gei or hakkei, the 8 arts. These are generic terms which do not correspond to a precise list, but which underline the fact that at this time the warrior must have a complete training. He must know how to swim, ride a horse, fight with a spear, a sword, draw a bow, but also how to read a terrain, and so on. The schools (ryu) that have their origins in the battlefields of this era are called classical. Then comes the Edo era, which is sometimes subdivided into Bakumatsu and Meiji. During these centuries, certain traditions will endure, and new ones will be born. Each of these schools will live a unique destiny! Some will become fixed, some will evolve, and others will present a showcase adapted to their time while preserving their original heart. Japan has changed enormously over the last six centuries. It is obvious that the practice of a warrior in 15th century armour cannot be the same as that of the samurai in 18th century kimono, and the soldier armed with a gun and bayonet of the 20th century. During this long history, at certain times the power has oriented martial practice towards education. But we must not forget that, until 1945, war and violence were concrete realities. That the initial motivation of the practitioners was martial efficiency.
-What do you think of the current evolution of martial traditions?
It's in the order of things. Times are changing and Japan yesterday and today are as different as the sun and the moon. If we add to that the transfer to another geographical and cultural context, we immediately understand that changes are inevitable, and even necessary. Here, things are often Francized (For English speakers anglicized/americanized/westernized) . This is natural. It's like the Japanese make tiramisu with matcha (green tea), which is very popular. You can change things, make them evolve, but it has to be done with humility. It's a long process that starts with a deep study. We must receive and work. And if one day the master recognises himself in us, then the time of interpretation begins... It is a very difficult task to build a bridge between yesterday's warriors, our masters, today's world and the expectations of the public. Unfortunately, many of the changes are incoherent and betray the original practice.
-Do you have an example?
Unfortunately, there are many. Let us take the case of Seiza. Today, in Japan itself, it corresponds to sitting on one's knees on the heels. Seiza can be written with different kanji. There is tadashiku suwaru, sitting correctly, and shizuka ni suwaru, sitting calmly. Both will be pronounced seiza. But none of these expressions imply that we are sitting on our knees! In feudal times, in general, a warrior would sit in agura (anza) or cross-legged, or hanza, with one knee raised. What is known today as seiza was most common among religious people and women. The master of the house rarely put himself in this position, for example only when there was a dignitary who was superior to him. And again, this developed especially in the Edo period. However, in Iaidō or Aikidō, it became a foundation of practice. At the expense of tradition, health... and logic.
Let's take the example of Iaidō. In the past we could sometimes find forms where we kneel with our toes raised. This reproduces situations where you take your shoes off, for example. But we were not in seiza, these were not fixed situations. These were in-between moments of vulnerability. The old schools teaching the samurai to be ready in all circumstances made sense. But a situation where one is in modern seiza with the sword at the belt did not correspond to any reality, it is the mark of a recent discipline where education has taken precedence over martiality. In the same way, whether one is sitting or standing, basing teaching on forms where one is already ready to draw did not make sense in the past. All the sophistication on the position of fingers, thumb, etc., is just a means of artificially creating a group of knowledge. A circle (group) of insider information that, in the context of the time, had no logic. Famous traditions are no stranger to this.
-To what extent?
It varies, of course, according to the situation of each school, but, on the one hand, in feudal times, challenges were a concrete possibility, and revealing one's secrets to the first person, even as a pupil, was not prudent. The schools therefore often introduced unnecessary detail and sophistication into the realization of the movements. The real secret then lies in their absence. At the same time, especially in the urban dōjōs that depended on outside students, this abundance of details kept practitioners motivated to collect these secrets. The result is that many of the hand movements that are the norm today are impossible when facing an experienced opponent. Often the sword is not even positioned correctly in the obi. This generates hip movements that are useless (Unnecessary) with (against) a correct position. The sageo was not the same, because a long sageo clearly betrayed a warrior's objective. In everyday life, it was a decoration that was not attached as it is practiced in modern styles. The real point of Iai is quite simple. It is the ability to draw when one is attacked by surprise, when one is not in an ideal position for combat.
-You specialize in ninjutsu. What does that term mean?
Ninjutsu refers to anything related to information, espionage, infiltration, exfiltration and assassination. It's a very broad field.
-When did we start talking about ninja?
(When and how did the word Ninja originate?)
The term ninja dates back to Edo. Before that, we used to talk about onmitsu, kage no mono, kage gatari, etc. These names often referred to a particular type of action. The first mention of a group specializing in infiltration dates back to the Nochi kagami, a chronicle of the bakufu of 1430, which mentions the Iga-shu, who were called to set fire to, sow discord among the troops, etc. The term ninja dates back to Edo period. Throughout history, more than sixty terms will be used to designate these specialized warriors present throughout Japan. Some will be free, as in Iga and Koga, whose clans sold themselves to the highest bidders as mercenaries, while others will be special contingents of regular armies. Among the latter, the most famous are the seppa, rappa and toppa of Takeda Shingen.
-How were the ninja clans born?
Ninja were often groups born of warriors who had experienced defeat. Knowing the vicissitudes (trials and tribulations) of war, these families fiercely defended their independence and favoured discretion over honours to survive the inevitable reversals of fortune.
-What motivated you to practice martial arts?
Like all children of the 70s, Bruce Lee of course, but also American comics. Back then there was Strange, Nova, Titan, etc. And there were always little Karate, Kung Fu. Most of all... there was Zorro! Zorro with his cape, mask and cave, he's the ancestor of Batman. But to the little boy I was, he was also the precocious ninja. So in a way, it is Guy Williams (the actor who played Zorro), protector of the widow and the orphan, who is at the origin of my journey. (Laughs) For me, as for many other children I think, there was both the dream of becoming someone else, and the desire to be strong. These are simple motivations but which I look back at with affection today. This desire to become a hero, to become stronger, is a builder (motivating factor).
-What has been your martial journey?
My father had done Karate with Master Kaze. As he was a worker, he was short of time, but he loved martial arts. So I started with Karate Shōtōkan when I was 7 years old, then I went through Full Contact with Daniel Renesson (Famous French full contact kickboxer). And that's when the ninja boom came. I had seen Shō Kosugi and I wanted to become a ninja! But they told me: "It's not possible, you have to be Japanese (laughs)! "In the Karate magazine, there were ads for dōjō. And there, ninjutsu at the Yamatsuki club in Charonne. I call and my questions are extremely simple. "Do we wear the hood? -Yes", "Do we use shuriken? -Yes", "Okay, I'm coming! " I was fourteen years old, and my life had just changed forever.
-How did your early days go?
Classes were from 8 to 10 pm and there were no young people, but I went to all the trainings, I came early, I went to seminars. So much so that I dropped out of school. My parents were going crazy and wondered if I was in some kind of cult. But, as a symbolic first step, at 16 I was awarded a black belt. However, as time went by, doubts had built up. The answers to my many questions were sometimes strange. And after getting Hatsumi's books, seeing videos of him in action, I saw important differences with the teaching I was receiving. It's normal, it's always like that at the beginning of a discipline. In the beginning, Henry Plée himself had learned Karate from books! Like many, the pioneers of ninjutsu simply presented the results of incomplete research. But I felt dissatisfaction.
-How did you react to these discoveries?
I had a crazy dream of going to Japan. But to spend two months there was something like 10 times my father's salary! But my parents supported me. They took out a loan, and at the same time I'm working at McDonald's. It took me three years to pay them back.
-How was your first contact with Japan?
When I get there, I think I'm good. I represented the discipline at Bercy (An entertainment district in Paris) and on TV and I'm a black belt. But at the first class of Ishizuka sensei, I'm taken back. I'm taken back nicely, but I feel like I'm being slapped! I feel like I've been cheated. There, forgetting all the ceremony, I take my black belt and throw it in the dōjō. But Ishizuka tells me: "If you concentrate on tsuki, uke and keri, you’ll be fine." I then spend two months to train daily with local students. I don't understand a word, but I remain silent, I listen. And that's when I decided to learn Japanese.
-How was your return to France?
There was a mixture of what had been studied during the early adopters /trail blazers stays, seen in books and videos, and of each person's past. There is no denying the good will (intent), but you have to admit that the result was... "personal" (not what he desired). After my stay in Japan, I therefore decided to continue practicing alone. In the end, I only knew two or three things. But it was of no importance. I was determined to work on them to the point where they would work regardless of the opponent.
-Is that when you learned Japanese?
Yes. First on my own with the Assimil method, then at the O-languages where I entered in 1993.
-When did you go back to Japan after that?
It was in 1994. Since my first trip, I had trained a lot, especially with a group that had formed around me, and I had invested myself in the study of the language. I arrived fully inflated. So I went back to the school (Ishizuka dojo), but nothing. Not a word about what I needed to improve, or what I had corrected. So I'm in doubt. Am I on the right track? Am I wrong? I knew I had made an effort, but was it in the right direction? Then I decide on the third evening that, since I am transparent, this would be my last lesson. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had become Ishizuka's partner to demonstrate the techniques, and I was detached, liberated by my decision. Long weapons are my favourite, and we worked on spear. At the end of the course, Ogawa, one of the seniors from the dōjō, said, "Kacem's movements have changed a lot. Sensei (Ishizuka) talked about it with me. "Shaken, I am a little later with Aida-san, one of Hatsumi and Ishizuka's closest (student), who helped me a lot during my first stay. I ask him then: "Am I worthy of the level of the dōjō?" He looked at me and nodded in a guttural tone. What a relief! It all sounds a bit melodramatic, but I was 23 years old, and it had been 10 years since I had invested my life in practice. I was waiting for validation, or at least a correction, and I'm glad I had the courage to ask for it when I needed it.
-How was your daily life in Japan?
Over the years, I got closer to Ishizuka sensei. He travelled a lot for his work and I met him every time he came to France. He would also generously come to teach my group of students. So I lived at his house in Noda and slept in his dōjō. It was unexpected, even if, without air conditioning, summer nights were difficult. Every morning I got up, cleaned the dōjō, did laundry, and then went to practice in the forest. Afterwards, I cleared the land that would be the site of the new dōjō. Then I went to attend classes with Master Hatsumi and Ishizuka Sensei, Noguchi and Someya. I followed them everywhere, in Tōkyō, etc. And when I managed to be free for a moment I would look for books on martial arts. Finally, in the evening, I accompanied Hatsumi sensei when he walked his dogs. Sometimes he spoke, sometimes he remained silent. But what was incomprehensible to me was that while he was walking... I had to run to keep up with him!
-How was Hatsumi Sensei?
Soft, poised, supple. At that time, he was about 65 years old, but he could easily do the splits. And when he moved, I couldn't understand. I couldn't discern, read his gestures, even though he moved quietly even when he was attacked with all our strength. And humanely, he has a great nobility of character. For example, I have never heard him speak ill of anyone. We all know that sometimes there is something to be said, but the worst I have heard Ishizuka or Hatsumi sensei say is: "Ah shiranai, kawaiskawaisōu, ah the unfortunate one, he doesn't know", and this is not a roundabout way of criticizing. One can sense that they sincerely pity ignorance. There is a great benevolence, a true nobility of character in them.
-What was Hatsumi Masaaki's background?
Hatsumi sensei started very early with Jūdō, and by the age of 20 he was 5th dan. He also did Karate and reached 6th or 7th dan. At the same time, he did Kendō, English boxing etc he even won a few titles and so on. So he very quickly gained a vast experience and an incredible physique. However, despite all this, while he was teaching Jūdō in an American military base, one day a soldier returning from the front line managed to throw him. And it deeply shocked him that the physical (strength/Body size) occupies such a place in the disciplines (arts) to which he devotes himself, that a less experienced practitioner can prevail with that (strength/size). He then meets Ueno Takashi, a martial researcher linked to famous adepts such as Satō Kinbei, Fujita Seiko, Nawa Yumio, etc., who were more or less at the origin of the Nihon Kobudō Kyokai. After having worked with him (Takashi) for a while, in comes Takamatsu Toshitsugu finally, one of the greatest adepts of the 20th century, that he will meet. Takamatsu, holder of nine martial traditions, is a legend.
-Can you introduce us to Takamatsu Sensei?
Takamatsu Toshitsugu is one of the generation of masters whose life was a thrilling adventure. Born into a well-to-do family, he was raised by his grandfather, who passed on the traditions of five schools to him, plus four more that he studied with two other masters. Living an adventurous life in tumultuous times, he had to fight on several occasions, many times risking his own life. Although he always sought to live discreetly, he was recognized by his peers as a major expert with encyclopedic knowledge.
- How did they meet for the first time?
(How was the meeting the first time?)
Hatsumi introduced himself, described his background, and Takamatsu said, "Attack me. "Hatsumi sensei does, and he's easily subdued. He's stunned. He describes that first encounter by saying when sitting in front of him (Takamatsu), he felt paralyzed. What he feels is what people who have had to kill can project... From then on, Hatsumi thanks his former teachers and devotes himself exclusively to the teachings of Takamatsu sensei. For fifteen years, he will devote all his time and energy to follow him and become his successor upon his death.
-in your meeting with Hatsumi sensei, or Hatsumi sensei with Takamatsu sensei, there is the notion not to understand what is passed...
This is at the heart of martial practice. There is a famous anecdote. Tokugawa Ieyasu, who unified Japan, was reputed to be the only daimyō to fight on the front lines. He was a true warrior, and that made him very popular with his men. Ten years before he became shōgun, he turned 50 and stayed in Kyōto. At the time, he had already practiced Shinkage-ryū, but never met its most famous master, Yagyū Sekishusai, and had him sent for. Sekishusai is 76 years old and comes accompanied by his son Munenori who is just 24 years old. The meeting is private, comprising only Tokugawa, a dozen of his warriors, and both Yagyū. After formal greetings, Ieyasu asks Sekishusai to kindly demonstrate his art. He performs it with his son. When he has finished, the future strongman (leader) of Japan declares: "This is a beautiful demonstration of filial piety (the younger Yagyu’s respect for his father). But what about the authentic (real) Practice? "To which Sekishusai replies with panache: "With you, it will be a great honour" (coaxing a personal experience/challenge) Tokugawa, delighted, answers that he didn't dare ask him. As he is about to take a bokuto, Sekishusai invites him to use a real sword. Once again, Ieyasu thanked him, saying that he did not dare propose it. And there the story goes: The old man, bending his knees, mutates like a monkey. When he was disarmed (Tokugawa), the lord collapsed, and taking the hand of Yagyū, declared himself defeated. Tokugawa's entourage then prepared to descend on Yagyū when the daimyō asked them to step back. Bowing to the old man, he apologized for not having had the mikiri (sharpness of perception) to detect his level behind his age (advanced). Recognizing his exceptional level, he asks to be accepted as a disciple and gives him a blade of the greatest value and a substantial sum. Sekishusai, invoking his age, apologized and asked Ieyasu to accept his son in his place. Neither here, nor in accounts of larger duels, is there a precise description (of what happened). For what is effective is not visible, demonstrable (not clearly seen or apparent).
-Yagyū Munenori became an instructor for the shōgun before the age of thirty. Likewise, many followers became famous at what appears to us to be a young age?
That's true. But it's hard to count that in years, because they didn't train an hour an a half, twice a week. If we consider that they practiced daily for several hours, it becomes immediately more understandable. Not to mention the context. Hatsumi sensei sometimes says, "You want to be good, shuraba ni ike. "Go where the carnage takes place..." Moreover, we can see that, without having to go to a battlefield, practitioners in less industrialized countries, where life is more difficult, are often harder to harm. Physical altercations are not uncommon there either, and the reality of violence is quite different. In France, even if there is a difference between neighbourhoods and beautiful areas, we are in a privileged environment.
-When do we consider these followers have reached their peak, in their youth or their maturity?
As shown by the example of Takamatsu sensei, who receives his first menkyo kaiden at the age of thirteen, the apprenticeship only takes a few years. In the early stages, physical qualities and aggressiveness can supplement experience. But true skill, deep understanding, takes time. There are degrees of mastery that can only be attained over the years. Ishizuka used to tell me all the time "Don't be in a hurry", and Hatsumi "Going slowly is good" (laughs) But when you're young you can't understand that. Slowness and gentleness are good things. You have to be fluid more than fast. Speed wastes physical energy. Fluid movement is thrifty. Finally, over time, the perception of the mind changes. This makes it possible to achieve victories very different from those of the younger years. This is why founders often reach the peak of their fame at around sixty years of age and carry out the fights that make them famous after sixty.
-How did your studies in Asian languages go?
I had great ambitions! I imagined that one day I could create a martial arts department (laughs). Everyone looked at me strangely when I talked about ninjutsu, but there was also a lot of goodwill and I persevered until I got a PhD. Above all, it was very helpful for me to correspond with Master Hatsumi. During those years, I exchanged more than 250 letters with him. I asked him questions about technique, spirit, etc., and he answered them. Hatsumi sensei collected denshō and was an inexhaustible well of knowledge. Every question had an answer and he always answered me patiently and in detail. But I often had to call upon the knowledge of my professors, some of whom were 5th or 6th dan from Kendō, Jūdō, etc. Even though I had learned to read cursive (Japanese handwriting), I was 20 years old and he was 60, and there were so many puns and references that escaped me! Books that I had read but that I was unable to understand on the same level as him. All this pushed me to work even harder, to read more, to take everything the university offered me, but to go even further.
-Is that when you started writing?
Yes. Of course, there was everything I needed to continue my studies, but I also started writing for magazines such as Traditional Martial Arts, directed by the late André Louka. He asked me to write about ninjutsu, but also any subject that interested me. It was a great opportunity, and since I love martial arts in its entirety, I talked about all schools and disciplines.
-What was the subject of your thesis?
The title is Tradition of Movement in Classical Schools of Japan. It's an 800-page thesis (laughs). It was a gigantic work in which I based myself on the study of original makimono, but it was fascinating. All that then led me to get the Lavoisier scholarship which allowed me to continue my research in Japan, and then to become a guest teacher at the Nichibunken of Kyōto. The thesis will now be published in English. If the facts don't change and the background remains the same, I've reworked it a bit to take away its cold, academic, academic side.
-In the end, does a department related to martial arts exist today in the languages ?
No. Like others, including Kenji Tokitsu before me, I came up against a wall and too many constraints when it came to integrating martial arts into a university curriculum. At the Nichibunken of Kyōto, I was asked if I was a jissensha, or a kenkyusha. A practitioner or a researcher. I said I was one or the other depending on the need. That these roles were not opposing but complementary. But it is this kind of absurd opposition that makes the creation of a martial arts curriculum difficult.
-What vision do academics have of martial arts practice?
Many were not practicing, of course, but everyone knew what budō was, and its place in Japanese culture. But, even if they knew that martial arts had been used in the Japanese nationalist apparatus, that these practices are not very well seen today, that not all warriors were literate, etc., there is among academics, in France as in Japan, a watered-down image of martial arts.
-To what do you attribute this fragmented view?
In Japan itself, research on this subject is recent and not very numerous. The views were thus built on popular culture, and that explains the incredible legends that exist with the ninja and the samurai. Average Japanese do not understand this side of their culture. But many Japanese masters themselves have simply developed a skill in their style, and have no martial culture! For example, when I was talking to a sword master who is well known in the martial community, he mentioned Yagyū Jubei. I then ask him what he thought of his treatise Tsuki no sho. He hadn't read the book. So I did some digging, and he hadn't read ANY of the classics of Japanese martial traditions. He told me embarrassed, that he had read Dostoyevsky (laughter) (Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist and journalist). The extent of his martial reading stopped at Bushido by Nitobe. A book written in English by a Japanese Christian who does not practice martial arts, intended for the West...
-What is the origin of the term Budō ?
The first use that comes to mind of the term budō was made by a Chinese poet, who wrote about the notion of bunbu ryōdō, the fact that martial traditions and literature are one. The term budō then arrives around the 7th century in Japan, but during the Kamakura, Muromachi, and even Edo eras, it is not used. I believe it is found once in the Genji Monogatari written by a nobleman, Murasaki Shikibu, and then it disappears, so to speak, before flourishing in the Meiji Era.
-What prompted its dissemination?
There are two problems in the Meiji Era, for the samurai and for the nation. On the one hand, the samurai no longer has any income. So those who have martial skill try to make a living teaching it. At the same time, the country has to forge a strong identity to face the Western powers and the threat of acculturation (assimilation to a different culture, typically the dominant one). The modification of the terms designating martial practice then brings elements of solution to the samurai as well as to the nation. It was at this time, before the invention of the discipline, that the term Kendō became popular. Until then, we didn't even talk about kenjutsu, but we used terms such as tōjutsu. The change from tōjutsu to kenjutsu or Kendō is not insignificant. The Ken is a two-edged sword, while To, katana, is a curved sword. What is actually used by the samurai is the katana (To), but the gods use a ken. By this change of term, one creates a link with the gods, one becomes attached to something noble and mysterious. At the individual level, it allows us to seduce new students so that the school and the teacher survive. At the country level, it strengthens the national feeling. It is in this context that budō makes its reappearance, and within a few years is found in a multitude of denshō. Previously, the transmission documents used the terms heihō, jutsu. But the dō is the addition of an ethic to a technique. While jutsu is of course self-sufficient in itself, it was not enough to seduce crowds.
-Has this change of term been accompanied by an ethical, technical evolution?
Initially, the majority of samurai had little education and the evolution of the bloodthirsty warrior into a scholarly practitioner took several centuries. It was under Oda Nobunaga, who popularized the tea ceremony, that the samurai began to polish their behaviour. A process of pacification that established the power in place, which continued under Hideyoshi, and reached its peak under the Tokugawa. But during all this time, the terms that designated martial practices were heihō or hyōhō, the military method, heijutsu, the military technique, and a little bujutsu, the warrior technique. The introduction of an ethic in martial practice therefore predates the name change. There is a myth of the passage of jutsu to dō. I understand it, because the idea is seductive to see a method sublimate (divert or modify (an instinctual impulse) into a culturally higher or socially more acceptable activity.) over time, in the same way that a man can evolve in his life, but it is a rationalization and a generalization. The truth is that there has never been a single vision. That at the time Musashi invested his life in martial arts, some people had already made a hobby of it. But the truth is also that our world gives birth to adepts such as Takamatsu or Hatsumi... If we magnify the line by summarizing jutsu to warrior efficiency, and dō to ethics, the preponderance of these elements in martial practices varies over time, but we cannot simplify things at the risk of being in error and denial. The koryū have evolved over time, more or less according to the schools, and have survived by integrating Buddhism, Neoconfucianism and Taoism. More seductive terms have been used to evoke them, including budō, the invention of a poet. But it should not be forgotten that even if they are used for education, all martial traditions are in essence bujutsu, heihō.
-What term do you use to talk about your practice?
It varies, but generally I avoid budō. I sometimes use bujutsu, but I prefer heiho. I also avoid ninjutsu because the term is overused, and martial art because it's too generic. Above all, I speak about Togakure-ryū, Gyokko-ryū, etc.
-What differences do you observe between budō and koryu?
If we talk about efficiency, the difference is clearly at the level of individuals, not what they practice. In fact, each tradition has its limitations. On the one hand, budō has often developed around a man's vision and has not had time to be refined. They have also often been marked by western traditions, both in the way they use the body and in the way they teach. On the other hand, the koryū have often been frozen, forgetting the adaptability that has allowed them to survive over the past centuries. In my opinion, budō and bujutsu feed off each other. Look, take the best and don't forget to look around. This openness is essential. I love everything and disdain nothing, but question everything. Now, there are still major differences in the technical repertoire.
- Can you elaborate on this point?
It is for example frequent in various budō, and in particular Aikidō, to come and grab the wrists. It's an exercise, it's interesting and some koryū use it, but in no way should it become preponderant (dominant part) in practice. In the koryū, even in jūjutsu, everything is related to the weapon. Being unarmed was a rare combat hazard, and the systems are clear on this point. Martially, seizures, if they were present, lasted only a fraction of a second to allow you to plant (stab), cut your opponent. Wrist attacks developed for female self-defense in the early 20th century. To be able to give women the basics and to respond to situations they might encounter in front of an aggressor. This is a far cry from an encounter between two seasoned warriors on a battlefield in the 16th century. Wrist seizures have become trademarks of jūjutsu that modernized less than a hundred years ago.
-Seizures are nevertheless at the heart of Daito-ryū, some branches of which claim to date back centuries?
This is obviously false. There are no documents attesting to the existence of the discipline before Takeda Sokaku, and it is unimaginable that fourteen centuries of a school's public or secret documents should have vanished into thin air. One school awarded documents that samurai presented to the lord in order to obtain a higher salary or status. The Yagyū school is a perfect example of this, being both the most secret and the most famous.
-So the tradition would not have been transmitted under the name of oshikiuchi either?
No. The oshikiuchi is just etiquette. The ban on getting up in case of an attack doesn't make sense. It's all a hoax.
- Can Daito ryu be considered koryu?
Absolutely not. First of all, because of its creation at the dawn of the 20th century. While the definition of koryū has a few variables, it is agreed that disciplines dating from the Meiji and later eras are not considered. Moreover, the ancient schools used to name techniques in a symbolic, rather than descriptive, manner. Often the name was only revealed at an advanced stage, and contained a higher level of interpretation of the technique. There could be Buddhist references, etc. Then the technical catalogue of a koryū is restricted. There are never 2 or 3,000 techniques (laughs) (Daito ryu has been said to have between 2000 to 3000 techniques in its curriculum). If its mastery lasts a lifetime, a koryū is meant to be studied quickly by warriors for whom the battlefield did not wait. Finally, there is a great transversality in the techniques. Thus a movement of the kote gaeshi (wrist lock) type is found in all martial traditions, through time and countries. But nowhere do we find fantasies with a practitioner having his hands under his buttocks or his foot behind his ear.
-How do you explain that the Daito-ryū is present at the Nihon Kobudō Kyokai?
This association was created by acquaintances of Hatsumi sensei. It is a group that, with a financial contribution, and on fairly flexible criteria, groups together a number of schools. Being a member doesn't give any legitimacy, and doesn't change the facts (laughs). Master Hatsumi, who participated in the first demonstration, is not a member, as are many schools. But in the eyes of a neophyte, it gives prestige and credibility. Several schools have thus been revived on the basis of denshō or a partial transmission, and are considered authentic by amateurs. It is a way to buy legitimacy.
-Was Takeda Sokaku a samurai?
The latest research seems to indicate that he wasn't. First of all, it is totally unlikely that a member of a samurai family could neither read nor write, in a country that already has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. He or she would also have learned Otome-ryū-( this is a term not a name) the martial tradition linked to his or her clan. Moreover, a son of a samurai would not have done Sumō. While it is true that some champions sometimes obtained a title, it was a practice considered vulgar and reserved for the strongest peasants. The confusion arose from the fact that at one time, these same peasants were used as substitutes during wars. But that era had ended three centuries before Takeda was born.
-What do you think is the origin of Daito-Ryu?
Unfortunately, we can only speculate on that. First of all, it turns out that Takeda had a warlike temperament. He loves to fight, and he's good at it. He's good at what he studies, but he's also good at what he sees. As for his background, he's going to learn Jiki Shinkage-ryū. And interestingly, close to his school is a dōjō of Araki-ryū kempo where they also teach Toda-ryū. And the fundamental techniques of Araki-ryū and Toda-ryū have many similarities with ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, etc. It's a lead.
-How do you explain that Takeda is at the origin of such a vast array of contemporary martial practices, from Daito-ryu to aikidō and hapkido?
It is obvious that Takeda Sokaku had a very good level. But like many others, probably not enough to be considered a giant. If (but) he also followed the teaching of the famous Sakakibara Kenkichi (14th soke of Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryū), no high level expert maintained links with him as it was however customary between great adepts, and no great one came to exchange or seek his teaching. Takeda is the prototype of the itinerant master, teaching the minimum, and moving constantly, mostly to remote places without competition. psychologist (not a therapist in this sense, but someone great at understanding the mindset and intention of others), he knew how to read his interlocutors, and played them, teaching little and changing places constantly. But without Ueshiba, the system he created would probably have disappeared as quickly as it was born. It was the efforts of researchers such as Stanley Pranin that allowed the Daito-ryū to survive.
-Do you have other examples of major differences between koryū and budō?
There are many. For example, there are no falls in koryū. On the one hand, the techniques are designed to prevent the opponent from running away. On the other hand, hanging out in the air as we often see for example in Aikidō is very long and makes us vulnerable. In a martial practice, we pick ourselves up, we slide, but we do not spread out and we do not hit the ground. There is also ground work. In the past, being on the ground was almost synonymous with being dead, it's as simple as that. So the warriors had not developed a set of techniques to fight like that. Again, in a fight to the death, especially if there is a weapon, it doesn't make sense. There are a few techniques from jūjutsu to control the time to deliver the coup de grâce, but no newaza. Neru is sleeping, lying down, and in Edo times, newaza refers to alcove techniques (laughs).
-Was the term aiki used by the samurai?
No. Aiki is a recent term that appears in Aiki no jutsu, Saki no jutsu. Its author, who did not practice martial arts, explains there, using the examples of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, that both had understood saki jutsu, the ability to feel, to foresee, and that this skill depended on aiki, the meeting of the two intentions. But in the past the terms aiki, haike, to utter, were more popular. Based on this interpretation, all martial traditions include aiki, from the moment the intentions meet to the moment the blades or hands cross.
-Here, ki is used to designate intention. Is this still the case in martial traditions?
The first mention of ki that I remember is in Heihō Kadensho, and it is always in the sense of intention, not energy, even though intention is a form of energy. On the other hand, all the ancient medical treatises speak of ki in the sense of vital energy. But in the field of combat, it is intention that is at issue.
-Like Master Hatsumi, you have been collecting denshō for many years. What do these documents bring you?
The scrolls contain technical and spiritual teachings. For martial traditions are not merely fighting techniques. Beyond their effectiveness, they also teach how to live, the attitude to adopt in the face of certain events. But the denshō, like any ancient text, must be contextualized, interpreted. A master will know how to understand their timeless message. In this sense, a valuable denshō also answers contemporary technical and spiritual questions, and its teachings are invaluable.
-How did you start teaching?
At first, I wasn't really interested in teaching and I just wanted to practice. As the eldest of a large family, I had to help, to be there, to set an example. I did my best, but I was in no hurry to do it again (laughs). But one day Ishizuka sensei told me: "Open a dōjō. "I then formalized things with the group of people who had gathered informally around me. Technically, I started by focusing on applicability and we worked on fundamental and practical things. But I found myself confronted with much broader issues. How do you teach something you don't master? What is the purpose of practice? What can it bring to people? To teach a foreign tradition, you have to understand the cultural specificities of its origin and adapt to the target audience. All this without simplifying or adding to it. It is necessary to understand the purpose of everything.
-How do you position yourself in relation to the impression (Example) of the (your) master?
It's a subtle balance. Finding it by yourself is important, and doing it according to your body is necessary. But you need a model at the base. Beyond this balance to be found, there is also the pitfall of the particularity of the model. An expert once told me that his master had asked them not to copy him. The latter had damaged his knee and had had to adapt his practice, but he did not want these adaptations to become the reference of the school. Some students copy the master even in his deformities of back, knee, etc. Beyond the caricatural aspect, it is even harmful to their health! This type of fundamentalist practitioner often also refuse to see what is being done elsewhere so as not to corrupt the image they have of their master. This is a serious mistake. It is a difficult path because many obstacles stand in the way of a follower. First there are the disappointments. The martial world, like any microcosm, contains many people of dubious morality. One must then have faith in the benefits of the practice to find the hindsight to tell oneself that the acts of an individual do not define the value of a discipline. There is also loneliness. The Way essentially follows itself alone. Of course, there are our fellow students, our masters, and we need others. But fundamentally a shugyōsha is alone. The paths separate, the masters die, and then only the memories remain. In these moments of loneliness, it is still trust in the value of practice that allows us to move forward.
-You teach a lot in workshops around the world. What are the difficulties you are facing?
There are students who don't attack, or who present a situation that doesn't correspond to the technique being studied. Those who idolize, those who seek to understand more than to do. For the latter, theory is everything, but they will remain forever limited. They don't understand that in martial practice, you have to do before you can understand... There are also those who come to support their opinion, those who come to test you while you teach. But fortunately, there are also those who come with open hearts and sincere minds. You have to face, with the same means, a very varied audience and reach everyone. It requires great humanity, but Ishizuka and Hatsumi sensei have been precious examples.
-It's nearly a priesthood?
Yes. Because when we teach we must be present, available. Because one must overcome one's particular affinities with this or that student. Here too, Hatsumi and Ishizuka sensei are models of integrity. Even tired, sick, I have always seen them present. Even in front of innumerable requests for calligraphy, sometimes inappropriate questions, an absence of propriety or even politeness, I have always seen them generous and even-tempered. They taught me by example that I must be present, available, and not let anything show. A follower, and even more so a teacher, works on their development to be at the service of others. Our actions are only valuable when they are useful to someone or to society. What could be more beautiful than giving someone the tools to become a better husband, a better son, a better friend? Above all, teaching also allows us to put ourselves in a broader perspective than just our own lives. The first key to the character ryū, found in Togakure-ryū, Shōtōkan-ryū, Katori Shintō-ryū, is that of water. It is the notion of continuity. And above it is the symbol of speech. The word that continues is transmission. The character that can also be read as nagare is the principle of flow, of continuity. The use of the term ryū places us in a broad perspective that goes beyond the individual. For if we know that our existence is limited, the objective of a ryū is to be a tool of transformation that crosses time.
I was just sent an article to read written by a Bujinkan member, it was called “Why do you train?”, now without getting into the semantics of the difference between training and practicing, as it would take too much space to write. I have to say I was completely disappointed and appalled at the attitude of the author of the blog.
The first paragraph was a throw back to the “good old days” of the 90’s when they would have 60-70 students per class, and this was good thing! WTF, who wants to grow a dojo fast? Who wants to go to a class that has 60-70 students in it? I want to go to a dojo to learn, to improve, not to participate and get lost in the crowd. I am assuming it had a high turn over of students, because you just couldn’t maintain any quality while growing fast. The teacher must have struggled to remember everyone’s names. Then the excuses started, “ in the 90’s it was trendy to do Ninjutsu”, because of the movies/pop culture. But today its not so trendy… Well, one only has to search YouTube for 2 mins to see what so called “high level” instructors teach as Taijutsu today, and what a simple BJJ class looks like in comparison (Organised, professional coaching, with a clear goals of progression & standards and a curriculum).
Then it starts with a pretty negative mind set. If I was a member of this dojo, I would be very disappointed if I read it, and in my opinion, if you don’t think it’s a good idea to “run a dojo” then quit. Who would want to practice with someone who doesn’t want to be there? How much passion is in a dojo like this? How would you feel, as both a student and a customer (I am assuming money is being exchanged for lessons), that your “teacher” is disappointed that you come to the dojo, loyally week in and week out, only to find that, because 20, 30 or 60 people are not practicing they want to quit? It would make you feel like you are not worth their time, right? I could understand not practicing indoors in a rented facility if the “Rent” wasn’t being met and it became a burden for you financially, and you choose to move practice outdoors etc, but the purpose of the Dojo is not to teach, it is to learn, not profit from, not be disappointed that 6 or 10 people came instead of 20,40, 60. Be grateful for those who do come, do your best as a teacher to express the art to them, in a way that inspires them to practice more, and perhaps even encourage their friends and family to attend the dojo too.
The blogger then goes on to describe the “training” as some sort of life cleansing act, and finishes it with asking why his students continue to train. At no stage has the blogger discussed his “training” at all, only how he feels as a teacher, and without it something would be missing. Well its simple to see the blogger is just playing the victim card of not having enough students anymore to please his ego, which is the reason he feels like quitting the dojo. Looking to your students for “why” doesn’t serve any purpose for you, unless its monetary gain from having more of them. As a teacher, your purpose must be to inspire, educate, motivate, be humble etc, not whine about the good old days. As a teacher you are not there for you, but for them. I can’t comment on the bloggers views as a student as he never gives them, which makes me wonder do they actually practice at all themselves? Or only teach and run a business?
He goes onto alienate the “next generation” of students, by saying they have ADD and a “me, me, me, now, now, now” attitude, and that the Bujinkan learning process is slow… Firstly, I didn’t realise there was a learning process in the Bujinkan? There is no standard…. So I don’t know why you would pigeon hole all Dojo this way, secondly in all descriptions of previous generations by older ones, whether it was the 1960’s or the 1760’s the older generation always complains about the younger generation, its always the same complaints too, they don’t think, they want it now, they demand respect now, I had to earn my place over …. Years of practice or experience.
What this tells me is that this particular member of the older generation is out of touch or doesn’t know how to teach to the different needs of the students coming to them. Dojo’s are not drone factories turning out the same product day after day. They are a wonderful mix of people from all walks of life, who have different needs from Budo and their dojo, and from a teacher if they are to succeed in the dojo. It is a teacher’s responsibility to grab hold of the student’s mind, and inspire them, to be the role model!! The master to copy from. It’s funny then when you look at the following Kanji 師範, It Brings the meaning back to reality.
It is also the teachers responsibility to continue to develop your skill in not what you teach, but how you teach it. If the students does not understand, or are slow to pick up on it, it’s the teachers fault, the teacher has the responsibility here. And within reason, as Michel Thomas the world famous language teacher would say “There is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher”. If your students are not growing in the dojo, then you need to change not only what you teach, but how you teach.
As for trying to “seduce” (I will forgive that word, as I am sure it is a lost in translation moment), lets replace it with “entice” new students with free classes and that they are not receptive to these.
You have to ask why are they not receptive to them? Is it truly a case of people not seeing the value because you give it away for free? Or is there nothing worth staying for in the dojo for them? One has to ask…
What came next was perhaps the most pompous and arrogant statement I have read in quite some time with regards to budo, “I analyzed this. I discarded the fact that teacher’s skills were not in cause.” Really, it’s your dojo! That you lead! You are responsible for everything that happens inside it. In Australia we have an expression when people act this way and have such a precious belief of themselves such as this, we say “Pull your head out of your arse.”
He then goes on to list 7 excuses as to why he believes no one is coming to “train” anymore.
My rebuttal to each point will be in brackets underneath due to not be able to change colours of text on Social Media
If you are a teacher, it’s time to stop teaching, come down off your pedestal, its time to start practicing, to become the inspiration for your students, to be the “master example”, to be a role model who can show them the way, because you are living it.
1) They are not used to pay for things, they want everything for free. This is what I call the “app syndrome”.
(This is not true, people work very hard for their money and free time, they only want to pay for things that bring value to their lives, if they don’t see value, they won’t pay.)
2) They are so used to zap from one thing to another that they are unable to focus. Young people are looking for instant gratification.
(How is this different from people rushing home from Japan selling seminars & dvd’s of stuff they saw once or twice… Unless said people are amazingly fast learners, and if that is the case, then why don’t they teach their methodology of “Fast Learning” to their students? Also, if you have any charisma, good taijutsu and ability to publicly speak, then gaining and keeping the attention of the intended audience is not difficult. If your Taijutsu sucks, you are boring, or you have a bad attitude and complain you have no students while bashing any future potential students, and that you don’t want to be in the dojo yourself because numbers are low, implying that you don’t respect who is practicing with you now and their hard work, then you cannot blame people for not wanting to stay.)
3) They “try” many arts to finally stay at home and play with their phones. That is because they are not used to being in charge of their lives.
(They are in charge of their lives, that’s why they “tried” many dojo and arts, and didn’t find any inspiration in them. They probably have gone home to try and find another dojo to try, or to escape a sales pitch from a depressing teacher. They made their own minds up, they don’t need a teacher making it for them.)
4) They come to us because of video games where pain doesn’t exist, where you can revive yourself with a magic potion. And if you die, you start another game. There are no consequences for the actions they take.
(really, WTF does this have to do with anything?
This is just stupid to read… In reality, when people disrespect their future potential students, the consequences are, people won’t come and practice with you. When you let them down, they won’t practice with you. When your focus is on quantity over quality they won’t practice with you. If you sell ranks, they won’t practice with you. If you act entitled and ungrateful and don’t provide 20x value for your students, they won’t practice with you.)
5) If it is a movie that brings them in, then they are surprised not to learn how to fly or to become invisible!
(Really!!!….Only small children would believe this.)
6) The image of the ninja transmitted by the media is wrong. And this image breaks into a thousand pieces once they enter the Dōjō. They discover that to be good, you have to train a lot. And that goes against their ADD (2)
(Firstly stop talking about ADD unless you are a Medical Doctor who specialises in this sort of diagnosis. You cannot diagnose a whole generation of young people with ADD just because they don’t stay and enjoy your class… Secondly, the reality of what Ninja were, and what a dojo is today is not the problem, they are probably just disappointed with what they see. With Social Media providing access to content, people can make comparisons with many different dojo around the world to assess teacher style, personality traits and abilities. Maybe your Taijutsu just sucks and leaves them wanting for a more qualified or passionate instructor. - Also, young people do work hard! In fact the hardest worker I know is a young man of 20 from Mexico, he left home at 15 and moved to the USA, he couldn’t even speak English and had no money or family when he came. He put himself through High School, learned English so well he sounds American and worked a fulltime job as a ranch hand and horse trainer and entered University at 18, he is doing so well, he is in his last year of Pre-med and is near the top of his class, while still working a full time job and he has not been home or seen any family member in 5 years. You shouldn’t write off an entire generation, it just makes you look sad, foolish and bitter because you don’t know how to connect with people.)
7) And finally, they find out that pain exists. What a surprise!
(wow, call them pussies too. That will inspire people to practice with you. Why the hell are you hurting your students? Why cause pain? My teacher taught me many years ago, and I am paraphrasing, that if you have to hurt and beat your students, to prove that you are good, that you are strong. Then you are weak and have an ego problem. If a student comes to you who has experienced domestic violence, or assault, and they are already physically weak or small, coupled with mental trauma from the events, I am sure beating them and leaving them with painful reminders of class and a revisit to their traumatic events will inspire them to come back! (not). Budo is about enriching peoples lives, not punishing them for needing help and guidance.)
If you are a teacher, “sensei” or “Shihan” reading this. I would like to leave the following commentary.
Be a role model, be an inspiration, don’t write off our youth (they are our future whether you like it or not, if you write them off, seriously just quit practice altogether now, there is no hope for you as a teacher), don’t go for quantity over quality. Don’t chase money. Be appreciative of those you have around you in your dojo. Learn to be a better teacher, use technology its our friend!! We don’t need the yellow pages anymore to find a university or college to learn how to improve our teaching skills. We can learn from our phones and apps, about teaching methodologies/pedagogies almost instantaneously, and learn to fill in the gaps, where our lack of skills and abilities might be holding us back in reaching our intended audience effectively. Where we can quickly find the tools, we need to have in our “teaching tool belts” to help us improve the quality of our classes to enrich our students. In how we reach out and attract, retain, provide 20x value, and build Budoka of the highest quality. Where we can watch other classes from other dojo’s and arts, and perhaps find inspiration from them to help us “teach” better. Where we can also find people to help keep us humble (If you are a Bujinkan member of any level, and you think you can fight, I implore you to go try an MMA or a BJJ class and stay and spar too).
21st century technology certainly comes with its social challenges, but to write off an entire generation as “spoilt” is stupid and dangerous. I have hope for the next generation, I must have it because I am part of the next generation, I have seen first hand all the hard work my fellow buyu are doing to keep our art alive, to try and make the master happy. To be smart and use modern technology as an aid for learning and growing and not a hindrance.
If you are a Budoka, stop trying to squeeze money from the art, teach from the heart, learn from your students, broaden your horizons, learn to be humble or get humbled. Embrace change, always put your students first. But most of all, practice budo! Practice it from the heart! You cannot be the role model/teacher 師範 that your dojo needs if you don’t practice.
15 min read.
Are you stuck in the stone age when it comes to your stretching and flexibility? Not getting the results you want? Or keep getting injured while trying to improve? Well hopefully this will get you to reconsider stretching altogether, as its not only inefficient, but counterproductive and potentially dangerous.
Why do you stretch?
If the answer is to make your muscles longer, well I am sorry that won’t work, and you are most likely hurting yourself while trying to do so. If your answer is to be more flexible, then I have to ask you why would you stretch to become more flexible? Especially as it leaves you weak at your end range of motion.
Before getting into it further, I would like to cover quickly some stretching and flexibility methods people use, then I will discuss why stretching is a waste of time, dangerous and what you should be doing instead.
There are generally two main types of methods that people in martial arts today follow, Forced Stretching Techniques (FST) and Passive Stretching techniques (PST). There are many variants of each, but basically, they are the same. One is trying to passively wait out the tension, the other is trying to force you through it. The problem they both share is, they make you weak at your end range of motion, but more on that later. PST are much more common today than FST, but FST are making a come back.
My problem with Forced Stretching Techniques FST, is they are dangerous, while you may find you get results fast, it comes with a high price, of constant pain, muscle soreness and injury through tearing and sometimes ligament and joint capsule damage which could put you out of practice for a long time, or even permanently. And if you happen to stay injury free, you still end up weak in your new-found range, which means you cannot use it in a functional movement. If you practice or your teacher instructs you in the manner of the following … I would recommend finding a new teacher or method immediately. The “why” should be obvious right? Health first!!!
This is insane! If you are doing any type of stretching like this stop!
The opposite of FST are Passive Stretching Techniques PST.
PST are not efficient and have no carry over to athletic improvement whatsoever. These are your typical “Static stretches” that you may already do in class, such as holding stretches or poses from 30 secs to a couple of minutes, in the hope of somehow “elongating” your muscles or trying to wait out the tension… why??. Both methods don’t work efficiently, or safely and go against common principles of both physiology and exercise Science. Namely you cannot make a muscle longer by stretching it, without resulting in injury and loss of elasticity and both methods leave you weak in your new range of motion. Some alternative methods attempt to bypass your stretch reflex by using shutdown techniques (ex.ballistic stretching) or bypassing it altogether by prying in and out of a harder leverage point. Still, these leave you weak at the end range of movement.
Why is weakness a problem?
Because if you are weak, you cannot move. I know you all have at some stage experienced taking a deep Kamae like Ichimoni, only to find yourself wedged into the ground, overwhelmed by your training partner and unable to move effectively from it. You got stuck, because although you were flexible enough to get into the position, you were not strong enough to control it and move out of it, you lacked mobility. Strength controls mobility, you cannot move well without it and any method you follow or instruction you receive from a teacher that recommends stretching to increase your flexibility over End Range Strength to develop mobility is ignorant and you should really consider finding a new method or teacher. Sounds harsh but its true, they don’t know what they are doing, and its getting you nowhere fast!
With the exception of specific joint health ailments, for example FAI, there is no reason a healthy individual cannot develop full range of motion. Age is not an excuse either, if you think it is, because you have have tried to stretch before, try getting strong in your end range instead! 30's, 40's 50's 60's it doesn't matter, you can't move because you lacking end range strength.
After following a typical “Stretching” program, you will most likely be instructed to then go and develop your strength separately from the main stretching program, as a separate skill with nonspecific exercises (Strength is specific, therefore mobility is, but more on that later). Who has the time to stretch for an hour, then go do a strength workout to enhance your stretching program, then go and do your own martial arts practice on top of that?
So, you become stuck in a loop of either doing the same ineffective stretches getting little to no results, using methods that leave you too sore or injured to do anything else or you feel aimless and struggle with motivation because your results come slowly and there is no real way to measure your progress without maxing out. Rinse and repeat…
Now we are talking about training adults, not children. The methods used to develop flexibility in children should not be used for adults, they are not effective. Everyone understands that children physiologically are different to adults, and both groups have different needs to each other, and need to practice differently, so this shouldn’t be a problem. Further reading on why see Children and Flexibility training by Thomas Kurz, in Stretching Scientifically.
If you practice yoga, this is not a dig at your personal practice, we are talking about developing functional movement by training your End Range Strength to gain mobility for martial arts practice. If you wish to practice yoga for other reasons or health benefits (Breathing, meditation, community or you just like it etc) go for it. But for functional movement or use in martial arts, End Range Strength is more effective.
In case you didn’t know, your muscles are already long enough to display any levels of flexibility required of them, your nervous system just prevents you from displaying it due to fear, so your stretch reflex kicks in as a natural defense mechanism to prevent harm, injury or just plain getting stuck. Stretching or attempting to stretch against this tension is inefficient, performance decreasing and potentially harmful given the type and timing of the “stretch” you perform. You cannot elongate or lengthen your muscles, not without damaging your tissue and losing elasticity anyway. That “stretch” you feel is your body contracting your muscle, to stop you from hurting yourself. Why would you fight that by stretching it? It makes no sense….
Your body does not allow you to move in a manner which it cannot control, so developing “flexibility” without strength is useless, because you will not be able to apply it when you need it as a martial artist. By stretching and attempting to improve your “flexibility”, you are actually making yourself weaker and less mobile. Yes, you may gain a new range, but if you can’t move from it, what is the point? And if you must do separate strength sessions to compensate for this, why would you? If you didn’t have to? It’s time to get more effective and efficient.
We need to get a handle on some terminology before we continue that is often misunderstood.
Flexibility: The ability of a muscle or muscle groups and associated connective tissue to lengthen passively through a range of motion. More simply, in a relaxed, gentle or passive manner, how far can you lengthen a muscle in a Range of Motion (ROM). For example, how far you can go into a stretch or pose.
Mobility: The ability of a joint to Actively move through its intended range of motion. More simply, using strength to move into and out of your intended ROM, under control and choosing the speed at which you perform it. For example, taking low kamae, but still being able to kick and move without making inefficient and superfluous movements (Errors) that are prevalent in our community (more to come about these errors in the future) is of prime importance for us. Mobility is what you want to train for, flexibility then becomes a natural by-product of high quality mobility practice.
Why is this important?
Your ability to display a passive position/pose/stretch (Flexibility) does not reflect your ability to be able to move into and out of it in a dynamic fashion (Mobility), being dynamic and moving with control is a key attribute of being a good martial artist. When you do not develop the strength required to move at your end range of motion, you become weak and inefficient and cannon fodder for those who can move unrestricted, with power and speed. For us as martial artists, weakness at your end range of motion is bad. Sure, you may be flexible and can display a static position, but if you can’t move from it, you are about as useful as a frozen soup sandwich.
So where does this leave us now?
In general, that stretching is a waste of time, inefficient, can be counterproductive or potentially harmful (Depending on type and timing). Training to also only increase your flexibility is a waste of time if it does not increase your movement potential or mobility.
Training for mobility on the other hand, increases your athleticism, protects your joints, allows dynamic control, provides joint stability and increases your flexibility without having to train for it. Quality mobility training will allow you to simultaneously develop your strength, control, stability, power, speed and flexibility all via training your Strength at the End Ranges of motion. We call this type of practice End Range Strength or ERS.
Ok time for a little bit of nerdy stuff, stick with me here.
From the Law of Specificity we know that, what we practice is what we can do. Strength is specific and following the SAID principle (Specific Adaption to Imposed Demands) we know that if we practice passively and in a static way, that is what we will be good at (flexibility), and if we practice moving in and out of end range of movement, using strength and under full control (mobility) that is what we will be good at. Therefore, mobility practice is superior to flexibility practice for Martial Artists, it’s as simple as that. Good flexibility does not guarantee mobility, but good mobility guarantees flexibility and unrestricted movements, in a dynamic action as required for martial arts and all sports.
For us flexibility is a by-product of quality mobility training, that being strength training at the end ranges ERS. Whereas the same cannot be said for “stretching” or “Flexibility” training regarding strength.
Remember strength gains are joint-angle specific: if you train in mid-ranges, you make gains in your mid-ranges. If you train at your end-ranges, you make gains at your end-ranges, the mid-range becomes redundant. If you make gains at your end-ranges, you make gains on your mobility. Remember that there is little to no transfer from passive flexibility to mobility, but passive flexibility is a by-product of your high quality mobility practice. Which is why proper strength training at the end range is so important. No strength, no movement. No movement, no mobility.
Ok, so where are we up to now?
We need to stop stretching and trying to get flexible and start focussing on Mobility by getting strong in your end range.
Exercise and Sport Scientists have known for more than 40 years the benefits of developing your strength at the end ranges of motion to enhance your mobility. So why then isn’t everybody flexible and mobile then? Well there has been a disconnect between theory and practice. To fix this is simple, we just need to get strong, in a specific fashion, that has carry over across all ranges. Training for strength at the end range of motion benefits all ranges, but the same is not true for training the mid-range. Train the end range, gain in all ranges. Train in the middle, stay in middle. Simple really. Note, we are not talking about lifting Barbells (Squats, Bench, Deads), but specific, unique and targeted exercises that develop strength at your end range.
What is End Range Strength
ERS is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to generate maximal force or torque at available end ranges of motion at a specified or determined velocity. ERS creates usable ranges of motion by increasing muscular capacity at available end ranges of motion instead of overcoming the stretch reflex passively or by using harmful or forced shutdown techniques. By getting strong, you don’t need to bypass or shutdown anything, you don’t need to trick your stretch reflex, because your body knows it’s able to move safely and efficiently and under load. Due to the improvements in strength & power across the joint you not only enhance your mobility & joint health, you very likely will reduce your risk of injury too.
Increased end range strength = increased active ranges of motion.
End range strength will still help you better than any other method drop into forward fold with your palms flat, perform butterfly with your knees on the ground, do the splits etc and display your flexibility as a natural by-product of the ERS practice, but its primary purpose will dramatically help you run, jump, punch, kick, balance and perform kamae and taijutsu better. End range strength training truly is the king of all mobility practices you can undertake.
Remember flexibility is not mobility, we need strength to have control. Strength is good, we cannot move without using our muscles, and we cannot be good martial artists without strength. Strength allows us to have stability and control, move at speed and with power, but also to relax. All of which are key attributes for a martial artist.
More nerdy stuff
Quick rundown on Muscle fibres and motor units (Stick with me on this)
Motor unit recruitment refers to the activation of additional motor units to accomplish an increase in contractile strength... no motor unit activation, no strength at mid & end ranges of motion... it's the very foundation of movement.
A motor unit is made up of a motor neuron and the skeletal muscle fibres innervated by that motor neuron's axonal terminals... all muscle fibres in a motor unit are of the same fibre type... muscle fibres are the individual contractile units within a muscle... basically there are three types of fibres: Type one (I), Type two A (IIa) and Type two B (IIb)... each fibre type has different qualities in the way they perform and how quickly they fatigue.
Motor unit recruitment depends on the load (force/resistance)... with light intensity the Type I (slow twitch, low-force) motor units are recruited first... when the load is increased, the Type IIa (fast twitch, high-force) will be recruited with the help of the Type I fibres... when the load becomes even greater, the Type IIb (fast twitch, max-force) will be recruited with the help of the Type IIa and Type I motor units (Hennemann's size principle).
The Type I fibre is important for endurance in general and designed for sustained low levels of activity... it serves an anti-gravity function and performs most of the weight-bearing movements of the body. The Type II fibres are built for explosive, very short duration activity, therefore they serve an injury prevention function... they are designed for short to moderate time periods, consisting of moderate to high intensity. The Type IIb fibres are the most important to the athlete’s force transmission capabilities because they generate the largest and fastest muscle fibre found in the body.
Now think about your practice, do you recruit Type I or Type II fibres? Which do you think you will need more as a martial artist who moves in a dynamic way? Do you think only working on your type I fibres will help you move, especially in the way a martial artist requires it? ERS has a focus on developing your Type II fibres activation at end ranges of motion. Which is why it works more effectively than other methods. By practicing ERS you not only get the mobility, but you get the flexibility too, the same cannot be said for just practicing flexibility. Being strong at the end range teaches your body it is safe and in control of your movements and your stretch reflex won’t kick in any more, allowing you to move freely, with power & speed and with full control of where and how you choose to move.
“For human adults stretching (static, passive, PNF, kinetic, loaded) is the most ineffective way to create a long-lasting change in ranges of motion across a joint. Strength training at end ranges of motion, makes stretching obsolete. He who makes a differentiation between mobility and strength training lives in the shadow of scientific dogmatism... a leopard is supple not because of its ability to stretch but rather of its capability to produce explosive strength & speed.” -Andre Irbach
Strength is king, with strength comes stability, with stability comes mobility.
At no stage in a fight or during practice will your ability to hold a stretch or pose for 2 mins help you. Your ability to produce power, speed and use your strength will because strength gives you access to your full ROM and full movement potential.
Remember your muscles are long enough, attempting to stretch and elongate them is dangerous and ineffective. Your stretch reflex kicks in to protect you from harm, it’s your bodies solution to the problem it is facing, which is its inability to generate power across your joints, which automatically leads to stiffness out of protective reasons. Being stiff and tight isn’t a problem for your body, it’s the solution to the problem it has. By removing the weakness by getting strong in your end ranges of motion, you eliminate the problem of tightness and can move unrestricted and free, fast and powerful all while protecting your joint health.
Remember that our bodies require reciprocal tension in order to function and stay balanced (bio-tensegrity), so when a muscle group is not doing its job well, due to dysfunction, it can be come tight. So, your muscles are not tight due to shortness, they are tight because they don’t work correctly. You need to learn how to activate them again, in the right way. One of the main causes of tightness is a lack of end range strength, which leads to a lack of stability across your joint, which your body interprets as potentially harmful, so to counter this it activates your muscles to provide tension to create stability, it just so happens to be done in a way that leads to uncomfortable tightness/stiffness or pain, to prevent a worse motor pattern taking over or injury from happening. Excessive muscular tightness is the body’s attempt to stabilise the joints (protection). If you try to stretch to get "relief" things just go from bad to worse. Instead work on building stability with end range strength training. In other words, by utilising ERS, we are treating the source not the symptom. Mobility is an expression of ERS. Practice that and ditch the latest fad “stretching and mobilisation” exercises you read about online, all you are doing is patching a symptom and not eliminating it at the source like you should be doing.
“Stretching a dysfunctional muscle is like pulling on a frozen rubber band... which is not really a good idea... most athlete’s muscles are dysfunctional at end ranges b/c they mainly train at mid ranges... according to the law of specificity you get what you do: mid-range training = mid-range stretchability, end range training = end range stretchability... it’s really that simple. It’s time to raise your standards” -Andre Irbach
There are a number of ways we utilise ERS, but the general idea is you need to learn how to activate your muscles first in the correct functional pattern, then learn how to control it with a lift, then learn how to move in and out of range under load. Then we look for speed via a ballistic movement (not to be confused with Ballistic stretching).
Remember the ability to control your movement, at your end range of motion, is more important than displaying a stretch or passive pose. End range strength is your force multiplier when it comes to Mobility training. You increase your strength, active range of motion, protect your joints, increase your flexibility all while being able to track your progress more effectively by being able to measure not only your flexibility increases, but the load, sets, reps and time under tension too. The more you measure, the more you have to track, which means you can see your gains in mobility coming each training session.
So how do I know if I am weak?
Pretty easy, just test your movement potential. Try some of these exercises out below, remember these are just small example of some movements and not a comprehensive assessment or the method, but they can show you where you are lacking in mobility.
If you need an in-depth analysis of your mobility, then you need a full body assessment and review by a competent coach or instructor. Followed by a closely monitored and tailored mobility program just for you, that is constantly adjusted & enhanced to keep up with your progress.
There will be videos on Facebook and Instagram.
Can you perform butterfly all the way to the floor? No… you lack ERS. If you can, can move under load from that position? No, you don’t own it yet, and need to learn how to get strong in it.
Can you walk or squat on your feet in pointe mobility position? No, you lack End Range Strength.
Can you do hero? How about actively?
How is your internal rotation?
Hatsumi Soke, Ishizuka Dai- Shihan and Dr Kacem Zoughari all understand mobility and all move in such a graceful and efficient manner, while being able to display flexibility when they need to. If they made the time to develop it, shouldnt you? BTW these might be some nice retro photo's, but they can still do it all today. I truly believe mobility its the No1 thing you can do, that will greatly enhance not only your taijutsu, but your health too. Its not only benefitting myself, but all of training partners and friends in Australia, and all around the world.
These are just some small basic examples, any questions feel free to comment or message me.
If you don’t know how to begin, ask your instructor for help!
If they don’t know how to help you increase your mobility and improve your body control & taijutsu then contact me, I offer online coaching in 3 and 6 month training blocks.
For some common mobility mistakes and some more info on how to get started with mobility coaching read the link below, or sign up today via paypal to get started.
"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering"- Master Yoda
I am sorry to say, but Yoda was wrong. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to a whinging post on social Media. Whinging post leads to more awareness for my dojo online. It’s a good win for me.
It’s true, hate is good for my dojo. The best part though, I don’t have to do anything to get it.
There is a really strange phenomenon that happens online within the Bujinkan community. Where a small group of self-appointed "Shihan" and "experts" keep trying to spread disinformation, or behave in a way resembling bickering school children. Or in some sort of voyeuristic manner, creepily hate-stalk people online.
In group dynamics we see quite often the stance of opposition for opposition sake. We see this in school as children, in hostile work environments and in sports and social clubs. For example in the world of politics, I don’t like that politician, so I will oppose anything they suggest for the better or the worse. You see it’s much easier to oppose something whether warranted or not, then to propose something better.
You have to look quite closely, and as neutrally as possible at some of the posts online regarding certain individuals in our small community online, especially when they are talking about other people. You need to ask yourself some questions and answer them honestly.
Why does this person speak ill of another like this online? Especially when the target of the posts has no social media presence? So if they are attempting to confront the person, are they just too stupid to realise that no one in their right mind, will join a social media platform to defend themselves from baseless accusations from people they do not know?
Would real “Shihan’s” lower themselves to such a level as to gossip about another person online…They offer no insight, real critique or constructive criticisms… and they resort to insults and name calling very quickly and then try to back track on what they say. They encourage the behavior on their self-administrated pages and platforms by getting their students and friends to participate as well, because it is not hard to herd sheep.
Seriously though, being a master, teacher or instructor is about discovery and helping others rise above and grow. If what these people do is so much better, why do they not offer help to the person? Why don’t they demonstrate that what they do is better and more useful? Why don’t they extend the olive branch and try and make the community as a whole stronger? After all, according to the self-appointed “shihan”, what they do is so much more remarkable, it should be rather easy for them to demonstrate their adeptness in our art, then everyone would want to practice with them right? Or do they instead offer snide remarks and insults and lead sheep to behave in the same way? Without offering a better alternative. Would a real shihan behave like this?
The most humorous part of all is that occasionally these people share videos online or comment on other members pages praising certain BBT practitioners for having superb Taijutsu, and all the comments that follow also praise the video/posts/comments/blogs. But these people do not realise, that the person is actually a student of the one they drip about the most.
So if you are not offering something helpful or better, and you are just gossiping or joining in on the gossiping, or you follow someone who gossips like we see on social media, ask yourself, is any of this making you a better martial artist? A better person? Is this helping me at all? Or do you/they come across behaving like a spoiled school child?
For me personally, when these people pop up and spread their “hate”, it’s good for me. You know why? Because people go and check out those who have said things and those who they spoke ill of via Youtube and other Social Media Platforms, and you know what happens when they do, they see the difference for themselves and then come and practice Ninjutsu with us here in Brisbane and make their own minds up, or with my teacher or with my friends from around the world. These people don’t behave like sheep, they make their own decisions. They are going to see healthy, flexible and dynamic movers, who are extremely passionate and enthusiastic, who don’t chase ranks, titles or medals and who don’t go around slandering people on public forums, who encourage debate and dialog vs people who… I’ll let you decide.
It is also quite funny that these same people who disparage others are always happy to have the person they dislike translate for them in Hombu, act as intermediary between them and Soke etc. They still buy his books, subscribe to VOD services offered, or get their students to. They watch any YouTube content with him, makes you wonder if they actually hate him, or are they just extremely envious of what he has to offer, because they cannot do it themselves.
As you know, people like to talk, but they don’t always speak the truth, and their eyes can sometimes deceive them, they may be pressured socially to think or behave in a certain way (Master/Slave relationship not Master/Student), so you have to ask yourself, do I know this person someone is speaking poorly of? Have I practiced with him? Have you firsthand experience with them face to face? Why am I so offended by this person, someone I do not know personally, that as an adult I will go online and have a cry about them? Will this solve my issues? Why do I or my friend/student/teacher behave like this online about someone they dislike and do not know? Is it because you/they are actually insecure about your/their own abilities? If it is, maybe you should spend less time on the internet and more time practicing instead. Unless you prefer mindlessly following others and not thinking for yourself?
As for me, I say keep on hating, you are raising more awareness for our Brisbane dojo and our online community, and when people come and experience it first hand, they will see what we have to offer. Hard work, honesty, integrity, precision, open dialog, friendship, debate, culture, history, more hard work etc…
My teacher and his master gave me this piece of advice after practicing in the Bujinkan already for 12 years when I first met them. Practice with everyone and then make your own mind up. You are an adult. You alone are responsible for your own choices. Which means if you chose correctly, good for you. If you chose poorly, I am sorry you made a mistake. But instead of having a cry, why don’t you fix the problem yourself.
Remember, your teacher is not there to be worshiped, you are not their slave. You don’t owe them anything but your best effort. Question everything they say or do in practice, then question everything you say or do in practice as well. Learn to think for yourself, honestly it won’t hurt as much as you think it will.
Bujinkan Seichusen Dojo Brisbane
This photo of the old Bujinkan Honbu Dojo just came up in my FB history from Oct 2012.
What is interesting about it from my point of view is this. It made me reflect back instantly to Oct 2012.
I took the photo in the middle of a rain storm, at what I thought was pretty much the end of my Bujinkan Journey. I was very disillusioned and disappointed in my journey so far after 12 years and I had all but decided to give up on my Bujinkan Practice when I would return home to Australia from Japan after being there for a couple months...
As I was still in Japan for a another couple weeks (I was returning home on the 1st of November) I said to myself, well you are still in Japan for another 4 weeks or so, you may as well keep practicing as you don't like walking around doing touristy stuff.
About 3 weeks later at Ayase Budokan, I met Kacem, and the next morning after that, I met Ishizuka Shihan and as they say, the rest is history.
The pouring rain and the dark and stormy night were representative of how I was feeling at the time in my budo journey. Lost, confused, disillusioned and disappointed in myself and my practice and with who I practiced (yes I judge others, its natural, and if you say you don't you are full of shit).
Meeting Kacem and experiencing what he had to offer was horrible... My ego couldn't take it, I didn't realize I was that bad, and every teacher that I had before sucked. Yeah they were nice, and I am still friends with many of them today, but they sucked at budo. Most of them made up what they were doing, the others, couldn't beat an egg.... I was in denial, but the most pathetic thing of all... I knew Kacem was right, I had doubts about my own practice long before I met Kacem, I tried to do what everyone else seems to do, and that is patch up the missing holes in my game from other arts or just make it up.... I felt like a fraud. But actually admitting to myself that I had to start over, and then committing to that was hard. But once I did take the first step, it was like a huge burden of shit was lifted off my shoulders to be replaced by a ton of hard work, yes it was still stress, but it was the good kind of stress that stimulates, not the bad kind that pollutes. The worse part is, Kacem never said a bad word to me, or about anyone else. His amazing skill level made me instantly recognize all the doubts and feelings I just described above. He never said anything for me to agree with him, or for me to say he was right. What I mean is this, I knew by the way Kacem moved he was right and what I had been doing before was wrong, I knew it to my core.
I still remember the first technique I practiced with Kacem, it was in a Ishizuka Shihan class and it was Ganseki Nage. I remember Ishizuka and Kacem, just laughing and smiling the whole time, nice and relaxed and no matter how fast and how hard I went, and if I tried to mix up the attacks, be dirty or try and disengaged, they always got Ganseki Nage on me, without hitting me or hurting me, but I couldn't stop them. It was truly humiliating being that outclassed... No matter what you did or tried to do to them, they laughed and smiled and were not even concerned by me... It was truly eye opening, and my first time experiencing real Masters. The fact that they made it look so easy, and never changed to henka, regardless of what I tried was truly awe inspiring.
Its funny that the best day for many people in the Bujinkan is the day they pass their godan test. For me it was the worse. It was the day I found out what I really was, and where I was going.... nothing and nowhere. Something needed to change, and like a divine wind, Kacem and Ishizuka Shihan appeared at the right moment.
I honestly believe meeting Kacem has changed my entire life. Not just my budo, but my entire life for the better.
He encouraged me to pursue further education, to get my Masters Degree, to regain my health and look after myself after suffering a life altering back injury from the Marines, which I am still recovering from 7 years later. He pushes me to be a better student and to never rest on my laurels about what I used to be able to do. Inspires me to learn foreign languages, study history and become well read across a vast range of topics.
I cannot think of a single teacher, athlete, coach or mentor in my life who has inspired me as much as he has. I don't think the next 5 people on the list added up would even get close to matching the level of inspiration he has provided me. Always leading by example and from the front, and demanding your utmost excellence and effort in everything you undertake. Always pushing you to do better than before.
I never thought when I took this photo, that I would be writing this now, but it is great to reflect back on it, and know that the future looks bright.
I'll leave this quote here to finish.
"If you discover along the way that something isn’t right either with your master, with your art or with you, don’t hesitate to admit it and to change it at once, even if the price for that would be to start over from the beginning."- Dr Kacem Zoughari
Kacem Brisbane Seminar Dec 2017
Well firstly let me say thank you very much for the interest you have all shown in our (Chris, Craig and Gray) trip, the influx of questions and feedback to my inbox has been overwhelming to say the least.