2 day Pistol and movement course.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to North Carolina and train with special operations legend, John ‘Shrek’ McPhee, the Sheriff of Baghdad, a retired Army Sgt Major and operator at all levels of special operations, from Rangers, SF, CIF and the Army’s premier SMU the ‘Unit’ (I am just gonna say it, Delta Force).
To say I was looking forward to it or that I was excited would be an understatement. I had waited 8 long years for this opportunity, and I took it the first chance I got after moving stateside and recovering from 8 operations in less than a year.
I started the course with a huge smile from ear to ear, and finished with one.
I don't know how many times I caught myself smiling throughout the course with a huge grin on my face, I couldn't believe that I was there, finally being coached by John, it was very surreal.
So how was the training?
Honestly, it was amazing, mind blowing and life changing!
Let me explain…
Meeting John, I wasn't sure what to expect, on video he comes across as a really jovial type of guy, and his reputation as a 'Unit' legend conjures up images of some absolute skull crusher, so what was my initial impression? Well, he was exactly like he is on video, friendly, always smiling, quick with a joke. He was super humble, very polite and has the patience of a zen monk or a Jedi knight.
Not once during the course did he ever flash (get upset), yell, ridicule, insult, intimidate or try and mad dog or show off at all. Matter of fact he was rather soft spoken, which made you want to listen twice as much!! As for his size, given that his moniker is Shrek, well he lives up to it, we were both around the same height (183cm or 6ft), but John is a solid guy probably close to 100kg or 215-220 in American. With forearms the size of bowling pins. His build wouldn't look out of place on any Rugby field or at ADCC. If he got a hold of you, you would regret it fast!!
After a safety and medical brief, We got straight into the layout of what to expect, then we got started.
John took us over to the range, and filmed us all. I should mention, he keeps his classes small! This ensures everyone gets plenty of one-on-one coaching, and I mean plenty of it!! No one is left behind!!. John filmed us doing 2 drills, one stationary, one moving.
Then we went back to the classroom, and John analyzed and broke down every good and bad thing we did, in slow motion and recorded all the coaching points for us. It was really amazing to see how similar we all were, but also how different we were.
John also did something that my martial arts teacher Kacem Zoughari does, to help us justify and understand the process ahead, he started busting myths, from trigger jerk to the pie chart and everything in between, he explained why it was all BS, and then brought us out to the range to prove it.
Out on the range again, (it was only a 15m walk), he then proceeded to coach us through our deficiencies one on one. This is really the bread and butter of the course.
I just want to point out here that I have a lot of experience teaching and being taught, from people all over the world, from Commandos to 70+ yr old Japanese Jujutsu Masters, from Graduate University education, and world Champion BJJ players etc. I can count on one hand the number of good teachers I have met in my life, who actually care about their students and know how to teach, break everything down and make sure you understand what is happening. I mean really understand how to teach or coach. Kacem Zoughari, Ishizuka Tetsuji, Dan Van Zandt and now John McPhee.
John doesn’t have you shoot 1000 rounds a day, and maybe you will figure it all out at some point. It's the complete opposite. You start not even firing a shot. First he fixes your grip, no matter your experience, you probably have been holding a pistol incorrectly your entire life or police/military career, then he fixes your stance/posture. This is where the real gold lies, if you do stance and grip right, everything else falls into place. For me this took him around 5 mins, he filmed the entire procedure, and he even drew on my hands with a marker to ensure I understood what he was showing me and how to duplicate it later.
I cannot emphasize enough how quickly John diagnosed everyone, and then had everyone reshoot once he fixed grip and stance (to include eye management). Within 5 minutes everyone pretty much went from a random A-C zone or even a miss or two for 3 shots, to shooting 15 rounds rapid fire into a 3 inch box. Just by fixing eyes, grip and stance.
There was no guesswork, no voodoo, no shoot more and work it out. It was pure one on one coaching, solid verbal and physical cues and within 5 minutes, he fixed 95% of your problems. It was insane to watch. I am still astounded by it all now, and it would have to be one of the most impressive things I have ever seen, seriously.
In terms of practical application I don't know if i have ever seen better coaching/teaching than Kacem Zoughari, the level of detail and understanding of biomechanics, kinesiology etc, nothing gets by Kacem, well I have added John to that list, As someone who has been involved in and earns his living from teaching movement and flexibility and has been studying Exercise, Flexibility and Biomechanics just on 20 years now, I feel it safe to say that John knows, understands and see’s more than I do. I learned so much from him and how to observe and see more than I thought I would, and better still, he taught me how to see it.
At the end of day 1, I fired less than 40 rounds, but left a much better shooter, with much better understanding of what is right and what is wrong and how to coach and fix myself, I left the range with a huge smile, I couldn't contain my happiness and I overwhelmed my partner with my new found energy and enthusiasm. It was solid advice after solid advice all day long.
We all went out for dinner and had a great evening talking and learning more about each other, and telling stories and jokes and having a good time. We all had a good laugh.
Day 2 started the moving phase of the pistol course.
John started with a small recap of day 1 then moved onto the movement phase, he once again debunked the myths about moving and shooting, then showed us a better way doing it, it worked pretty much instantly. On day 1 we did a moving test, on day 2 during our first drill, I was already shooting better than day 1 moving. John teaches in a step by step, layer by layer fashion like my martial arts teacher does, so I really enjoyed this format, it suits my learning style well, and from what I could tell, it suited everybody else too given their results.
He misses nothing, “hey, your left leg your gait is off, try it like this”, “don't push your hips back”, “turn your head 5 degrees”, “your thumb is breaking your grip”. Are some of the bigger things he sees, the smaller things I kid you not, he is looking at for example your upper and lower eyelids for muscle activation, this is where the video doesn't lie and you can see it in slow motion.
My final moving shooting video at the end of the day I messed up, it was on me, I shot 3 rounds, but 1 round about 2cm outside our 5 inch circle. I knew exactly what I did wrong, how to fix it, and when it happened, it was my gait. I had shot it correctly many times during the day, just goes to show that old habits creep in when you least expect it. I think after a solid few months of practice, I will have ingrained the new patterns and forgotten the old ones. But I have an entire toolbox now and know how to fix 95% of my problems on my own, and have plenty of drills to work on over the next few months and years.
We ended the day with 45 degree angles and sideways angles while moving. It was great to see how everyone managed to do so well.
My only disappointment during the whole course was, it was too windy on day 2 for John to bust out his flameflower that he brought. There is always next time I suppose.
Final thoughts, it was one of the best few days of my life, I love learning and being pushed. John was humble, patient, funny and extremely talented as a teacher/coach. I cannot recommend him highly enough, I encourage anyone from a complete beginner to a steely eyed commando to go get coaching and training from him. I cannot wait until I get the chance to train with him again.
Lastly I should mention, he took everyone from large shot groups, to smaller than fist size groups (and for some smaller) while on the move and stationary, with just verbal and physical cues, John never fired a shot or held a live firearm all weekend. How impressive is that!!
Shooting with John 'Shrek' McPhee was amazing, inspirational, motivating and life changing, the positivity, hope and technique is second to no bastard.
Go to https://sobtactical.com/classes/ when it comes to shooting, you cannot do better and it is one of the best investments I have ever made!!
Thank you John!
“In all these years, I have never taught the same thing twice.” Hatsumi Masaaki
Almost 100 years ago in Moscow, Nikolai Bernstein started investigating human movement, and would go on to coin the term Biomechanics (the study of movement through the application of mechanical principles). Berstein’s work did not make it out of the USSR until the 60’s, and heavily influenced modern day kinesiology.
Something Bernstein discovered early on was, the difference between a novice and an expert was not mindless repetition, but instead “repetition without repetition”. Which is repeating an action outcome, without repeating the movement that produced it.
What does that mean? Gray 2021 (not me, a different Gray) nails it perfectly, he states that skilled performance did not involve one correct movement technique, but instead it involved using a slightly different technique with every execution. And that the key to becoming skillful was not just more strict repetition, but instead repetition without repetition- Learning to produce the same outcome by using different movements.
So when we look at Hatsumi Sensei for example, demonstrating a movement on 3 different people, who all have different body sizes and shapes, he isn't lying when he says he doesn't do the same technique twice. It would be next to impossible. But he can still reproduce the same outcome.
For Ninjutsu practice, this is why flexibility, the ability to move our joints is so important. The more freedom and control we can display, the more variability we can have for movement outcomes. Which means any little obstacles we come across, different heights of opponents, strength or speed etc, our bodies can make adaptations/adjustments (micro movements) to enhance one's form and get ahead of the curve before we pay the price (getting put down by the enemy). These account for how we can practice one kata against different opponents but still achieve the same outcome. A small shift of body weight here, relaxing there, lowering here, pressing your feet there etc… Having a body that is ready to receive feedback (Self and from an opponent/environment), but also a body that is physically capable of being free to move, so it can calculate and articulate and make these changes intuitively is key.
Understanding this gives you a glimpse into understanding words like 体術 (taijutsu) and 柔体術 (jutaijutsu). Understanding that searching for one ultimate repeatable technique is impossible. But having the ability to produce variations which might be imperceptible to the eye, to achieve the same outcome over and over again is key.
This is not saying it's ok to do things your own way 自己流 (jikoryu), and to introduce random movements for no apparent reason in your practice. But rather to say that there is no such thing as perfect technique, or a level or standard to achieve, as its always a moving goal post, and the best way to improve our skill is to ensure our bodies have the capability to adapt to any situation, and if need be still repeat the same outcome.
The pursuit of perfection, efficiency and correct form should always be kept in your heart, but know that its pursuit is 無限 (without limits) and we must strive everyday to keep “levelling up” as my teacher Kacem would say. If you were to practice a technique to a standard that was considered good or even skillful, if we were to film it and break it down, we could measure the technique for places where we could make improvements, and we could do this every time you thought it was perfectly executed too. So this would prove there is no such thing as a perfect technique or a repeatable technique. And that we must never rest on our laurels, but endeavor to keep going always with the image of the master in one’s heart.
So think twice before you say kata practice is boring and repetitive. It isn't true, you are not reproducing the same movement twice. But instead are learning to adapt to small variations dynamically and on the spot to produce the same outcome, and if you are absent from the practice and just check out, you are missing a massive piece of the puzzle.
PS- Our annual Black Friday flexibility sale is only a couple weeks away, this is the only discount we offer. So keep an eye out for it.
Editors note: This interview was conducted in April 2015, this is the full, never been published unabridged version of the interview I did with Dr Zoughari, its super long, any mistakes in it are my own as the Editor, and do not reflect on Dr Zoughari. Please enjoy, Gray Anderson.
Hatsumi Masaaki, the Soke of the Bujinkan, is very unlike other Japanese heads of Budo, with his purple hair and the like. Would you say this is the case? How would you describe him as a researcher?
Well this is an interesting question, honestly to tell you the truth I do not really care what the colour of his hair is or other things of this nature. The most important thing to remember is the “message in the bottle, not the bottle itself”, what I mean here is, how the man is, the way he lives the art, how he goes with, by, for and in the art, or how he carries the art and becomes one with it. I have met many Masters (Soke, Shihan) in classical Bujutsu, modern Budô and sports styles. All have great things to display, to sell, to show, to pretend. Some love to believe that they are the only one, the last one, The One….That their art is better; the most famous ryû-ha with the most prestige. I have talked directly and asked many questions to the Masters of many Ryû-ha, Masters who even told me directly that they never look at other arts or ryû-ha which I understand it to be, because they feel that it might corrupt the movement of their ryû-ha... Some even said that they should not copy the Master because if the master has bad habits, well the disciple will copy them too…. All of them are interesting to a point, all of them have something “to offer”, “share”, but after all, it is what you’ll do with everything you received from them and how far you’ll go, for what purpose…..so they are all special, each in their own way. The difference with Hatsumi sensei is clear: he will let you do what you want! Whether you are right or wrong, he will not judge you. This is quite hard for us westerners because we are used to being “lead”, to believe that the master is a teacher….in the classical Bujutsu and Heihô , the classical art of combat and war strategies and tactics, the master does not teach, he transmits. This means that the disciple is already a warrior, a grown man, not a child, there is no reason to tell him what he should do or choose, because if he cannot find it by himself, he will die during combat….In the time of feudal war, to transmit a science of combat, to find and choose the right disciple, was a very heavy task. Everything was based on a deep trust; in primary sources such as the Ichi Nin Ikkoku Inka (一人一国印可), written in 1565 by Kamizumi Ise No Kami, we find the phrase Seijitsu No Jin (誠実の仁), which shows the character, the disciple’s heart of nature, that it should be deeply honest and sincere, benevolent….so obviously finding a true disciple to show is not easy, especially when you are aware of the fact that all the classical Bujutsu as well as all the art and disciplines of Japan are based on the concept of ishin den shin (以心伝心) transmission from heart to heart, which goes beyond words, it means that everything is direct and that there is no need for words. Both, the master and the disciple understand each other, the two hearts are in sync. This is how Takamatsu Sôke formed his relationship and transmitted the Arts to Hatsumi Sôke. If you start to judge someone on his appearance or from an aesthetic aspect, the way he is, you judge from what you think you know according to your own value system and morals, and you cannot see beyond them. For a master like Hatsumi Sensei, this is a very good test in order to know someone’s heart and intention. Like many masters with their art and ryû-ha, Hatsumi sensei is the complete reflection of the essence of Ninjutsu, the reflection of the nine ryû-ha that he received from Takamatsu sensei. The way he is, represents the deep expression of a essence which is about no form, no trace, no intention, complete and deep, always in flow, between weakness and strength, flexibility and force, light and shadow, but always in the shadow of the art’s heart…it is very difficult to measure someone who, gives without wanting anything in return, who is and must stay the example to reach, to copy, and never let go, always on the top at even 84 years old, always taking the class, always flexible, always with a light smile and still enjoys the art and keeps a deep respect for his Master Takamatsu sensei. He gives to people what they want because he knows how the Shugyô , the deep and constant practice of this art is not easy, it is not for everyone, he knows the difficulty and understands more than anyone the weight of the transmission as well as the legacy. This is the reason why, he is light and open to everyone, whatever the style, the man, the religion, the country, the language, and most importantly in his capacity to say ‘’I do not know…..” His incredible interest in any art, any ryû, whatever the style, this openness, to study everything and not be limited or to stop at any level, vision, state of mind… In this case as you can see the purple hair is just a colour….I prefer to see the heart of the man, long term and I have not been disappointed once, and be sure that as a scholar I know how to stay neutral, in this case I do not play the slave or the “yes-yes student”, I speak my mind freely and according to my heart, this is the reason why I have learned Japanese too.
Here in the few lines above, I have tried to give you some information about the history and the master/disciple relationship based on a science of combat born between life and death, because Ninjutsu is about that, among everything that deals with information, spying, etc. Because if you are not aware of the history, the context and facts that makes classical Bujutsu, Heihô’s history, describing Hatsumi sensei is simply impossible! After all, the man is complicatedly simple. Too simple and too normal that it is too complicated to understand, because we try to understand a man that no one knows or can even measure…because no one has the background and the experience of the practice in the art as well as the same devotion.
Under Hatsumi Sensei, who is your teacher, and how does his approach differ to the Grandmaster and other Bujinkan seniors?
My teacher is right now the oldest student of Hatsumi sensei (after 4 students, Mr Fukumoto (died), Mr Yonekawa (quit in the early days) Mr Manaka (creator of the Jinenkan) Mr Tanemura (creator of the Genbukan). His name is Tetsuji Ishizuka, he is well known by everyone, even the ones who badmouth him. No one has such a close relationship with Hatsumi Sôke like Ishizuka Shihan does, no one shares the same history with Hatsumi Sensei, with the creation of the Bujinkan, as he does! Most of the westerners use to come to his dôjô, he use to translate for Hatsumi Sôke a long time ago. He was involved in everything until he had to step back from the organization in order to support his family and because he had a very important job, he was the Deputy Chief of the Fire Department of Noda in charge of the entire budget of all the fire department of the Chiba prefecture, he had to deal with SAMU, Police and the city hall, he had a very important job and had to be in the field and station constantly, and every night kept his dojo, by running his class. I have witnessed this since 1989. Ishizuka Shihan started at Hatsumi sensei’s dojo when he was 16 years old. He was from Noda and he has never left Hatsumi Sensei and has always stayed by his side. Like I said most of the people, Japanese and westerners who badmouth him, know the true relationship between him and Hatsumi Sôke as well as his high class technique and skills. He is the Senior of all the other Shihan such as Seno, Noguchi, Nagato, Someya, Shiraishi, etc…
He sticks to what Hatsumi Sôke taught him at the beginning, the densho, the Art, no compromise, no ranks for nothing, no trading the art, no prostituting the art, no teaching to earn a living or for the money, no lies. With him its practice and practice, study and study, and respect the art and each technique, no self-promotion or self-development. He is not after the money, he does not teach for the money, his job has provided him with a pretty comfortable life now. He has a passion for Hawaiian music, and is a singer and a bass player of Hawaiian music in a band that plays all over Tokyo professionally now that he has retired from the Fire department after 30 years. He practices the Art because he loves martial arts, he teaches because he believes and has a strong ethic and duty toward Hatsumi sensei, the art and the nine ryû-ha in the way Hatsumi Sôke taught him since the beginning. He received the Menkyo Kaiden (full transmission) in the nine ryû-ha. This year marks his 50th year of training with Hatsumi Soke!
His approach is simple: he does not lie to you, nor does he do it for the money, he does not care about the number of the people who come to practice or not, he is the same, always smiling, always laughing, and is the most sincere and honest man. If what you do does not work he is strict but fair. But the best way to find out is to come and visit him, to experience him and see with your own heart and eyes. This is the best way to know someone isn’t it? True practice like everything in life, is about direct experience and to go and meet reality which is a reflection, an expression of the truth…you might like it or not, maybe someone prefers to just be a high rank and to have huge following or be famous, or whatever...everyone chooses according to his own appetite and what he looks for. But one should not forget that every choice includes consequences…and the street, the real fight, the life problems are here to test your practice which is an extension of the relationship with the master, the relationship with the art, and the practice of this art as well.
Bujinkan appears as one lineage or branch of Ninjutsu — that of Masaaki Hatsumi. Is this the case, or are there are other schools that have come from his lineage…and if so, what are their differences?
First it is important to be precise on the word you use. Please forgive me, but Bujinkan is not at all a lineage or a branch of Ninjutsu. It is just the name of an organization, the name of the dojo, many like it exist in Japan and have done so since the Edo period. Now for many people, it became a name of a strange style where everyone created his own way based on the very subjective word and state of mind called “feeling”. Honestly and sincerely speaking, I do not care for the organization and the way it goes as well, with all of the “childish politics”, “two faces”, “nonsense movement and impossible techniques” it uses as the main stream. My only concern stays with the nine-ryû ha, the master/disciple relationship and everything that goes with it: deep and wide knowledge, respect of each detail and technique without forgetting anyone or the history, the respect of the biomechanics as well as all the art and style, and of course the respect of the student’s body, mind and integrity.
Now to answer to your questions, the nine Ryû -ha received by Hatsumi Sôke from Takamatsu Sôke, can be divided like this (some will say the opposite, but I can argue with anyone on that and I invite anyone to do so) 7 Ryû-ha received from Toda Sensei, 1 from Ishitani sensei (Kukishinden ryû) and 1 from Mizutani sensei (Takagi Yôshin ryû). The seven ryû-ha from Toda Sensei are the ones that are simply based on Ninjutsu practice, mind, strategy and combat. The one from Ishitani Sensei is also considered as Ninjutsu, because of the history of the Kuki family and his relationship with the Iga and Kôga area. Finally the last one from Mizutani Sensei is a Sôgô-bujutsu (総合武術) a composite system of combat that includes different disciplines based on the art of Jû-taijutsu. The founder of the Takagi Yôshin-ryû was a top student of the Takeuchi-ryû Koshi No Mawari, one of the very first ryû-ha of Jûjutsu in Japan which is a Sôgô-bujutsu that deals with the Bugei jûhappan (武芸十八般) or the 18 disciplines of combat that any Ryû-ha before Edo period used, taught and where all the past Sôke developed high level skills.
But this is the history before Takamatsu sensei, according to the autobiography of Takamatsu Sensei, Meiji Moroku Otoko (only Hatsumi Soke has it, Takamatsu explained everything inside, his practice and relationship with the art, the difference between his masters, the way they taught him, his life in China etc.) we need to understand that Takamatsu sensei was deeply influenced by his grandfather (some say his uncle, but this is a misreading of the kanji used to write grandfather), Toda sensei who was from Iga and taught him the way to move as well as the science of combat of Ninjutsu. So before Takamatsu sensei started under Ishitani sensei and Mizutani, he was deeply influenced by the Ninjutsu form and spirit taught by Toda sensei, so it’s easy to understand that when he learned the techniques from the other two masters (Ishitani and Mizutani), he applied the main principle of Ninjutsu which is known as a Gokui called Suieishin (水影心), “the heart (mind) reflects the water or the shade of the water”, this is the capacity to copy any kind of technique, style, and make them better. It’s something that every high class bushi (warrior) or founder of Ryû-ha, no matter what the style, could do more or less, and in the case of Ninjutsu, this state was pushed to the extreme. This ability is also connected to the Musô tensei (無想転生), which is, only the one who will become the Sôke could do it. So for me, based on the writing of Takamatsu sensei, the nine ryû-ha are shaped in Ninjutsu’s mind and form. There is of course differences between the Ryû-ha, techniques, weapons etc. but the goal is the same, to kill and prevent danger and survive. Some are more direct, more pragmatic, some have more details, some less… you must study and practice all of them with no differences. By that I mean to practice, and study and work hard on the common points of each in order to make sense and measure the depth of the knowledge accumulated by each generation behind each technique.
But to tell you the truth, it’s not the lineage or the difference that matters here. It is what you can do against anyone and how you can explain, present, prove to, no matter the master, the Shihan, the fighter or the style you have in the front you!!
Most Japanese martial arts senior grades go up to either 10th Dan or 9th Dan, the latter being in recognition that one can never achieve the perfection and must always strive for the next level. Why are there so many Dan grades in the Bujinkan? And what is more important, Menkyo Kaiden or 15th Dan?
Well, your question is in relation with the rank system and the way ranks are given in the Bujinkan more than anything else. I agree that this is an interesting topic among many, but as I previously pointed out I do not care for the organization, so I do not care about the rank system; First of all I must be honest about that, like I have been in front of many people, whether they are from the Bujinkan or other organizations, Ryû-ha, style etc. I have also presented this in Japan in many universities and in front of many high ranks of many styles: I do not believe in rank, the system of rank in classical martial arts and modern arts in general.
Why? The reason is simple, in the history of any Ryû –ha before Edo period shows that ranks did not exist!! The only thing that existed was the Inka (印可), attestation of transmission, which means that the disciple who received it has been taught to a certain level, but it doesn’t mean necessarily that he understood it or that he could do it at the moment he received it!!! Phrases like “now you must practice even more” at the beginning of the attestation, and “disciples who study the art must always keep on practicing hard and deep” at the end of the attestation, is proof that it’s just the beginning! Because before Edo Period, the true rank was how many heads you took on the battle field? How many great warriors you fought and killed? What your behaviour and actions were during war and combat whilst fighting with the enemy etc. A man, a disciple was measured according to his actions, not according to the number of techniques and how much he paid for his rank. And, with time, the attestation or any kind of rank, paper and ink, could be bought, or sold. The need for money for living, providing for and supporting a family, created a need for people to reach a certain position or status etc. were good enough reasons for someone to run a dojo as a profession. And in the Meiji period, the attestation becomes a rank, Dan and Kyu system, with Jigoro Kano the founder of Jûdô. But in this case it’s based more on school education, like examinations in the university, it’s not on the long term but the short term. The rank you could have passed yesterday, the way you could do a technique yesterday or performed a week later, will be very different tomorrow. Maybe worse or better….who really knows….this is the reason I do not believe in rank, I believe in true and long term practice, action, deep knowledge….I think the way someone moves, acts, and behaves, deeply reflects the true value of his practice and the purpose of his practice as well….But if someone who pretends to be a high rank, who wants to be recognised and respected because of the paper he received, who is arrogant, hurts the student in order to show how great he is, behaves like a master, has no knowledge, and always refuses the direct confrontation, well this type of person is just a ……..
It is not easy to measure someone…humbleness is very important in that case; and it is easy to see how ranks, prizes and reward are high and even more so the ego is huge, so is the arrogance … that’s how I feel. In Ninjutsu there is no rank, only action, application, skills…and please note that in “skills”, there is the word “kill”…I think that the nature of the word here, shows that everything should be a reflection or an expression of the reality, and everyone knows that reality is cruel, hard, direct and there is no compromise; Can you knock down your opponent or not? That is the question. Then the second question is can do you it with class and style and without bad intentions?
So I do not believe in rank, but I understand the purpose, in a social way, in an education system or for sports according to its rules and scales. But the problem is that sooner or later there is a limit and the reality of the street and the true confrontation is always there to show and mark the difference with rank.
“Rank is just paper, and its only good for the toilet”, Takamatsu Sensei used to say to Hatsumi Sensei… I deeply believe that to be true as well. Unfortunately, the world is made in such a way that the name, the university, the paper is more important, rather than the human, the one who should carry the rank… everyone should re-think that the name, fame, university’s name, rank, paper etc. cannot exist without the one who created it first….. That is man himself.
Of course I respect hard work and dedication, even if it’s limited in a certain way, behind the rank. Someone who has worked hard for his black belt etc. the hard work in Judo, Karate, Kendo, and BJJ is really present and must be respected. Now it’s important to keep in mind that it reflects just a moment in life, not all of life, and not even the meaning of Shugyô or Keiko (used in classical Bujutsu and Ninjutsu. Those words include the aspects of the path and deep reflection of the past, of all of your life, so it is difficult to measure…
Now in the case of the Bujinkan… well I do not care. Ranks are given for many reason: supporting the organization, by promoting and ranking other people, helping to organise Taikai etc. Do not forget practice as well, but what is the nature of this practice? Does the rank received in the Bujinkan really and deeply reflect the relationship with the art and the master or just the fact that you came to Japan and sacrificed your money for the promotion etc.? Honestly, like I said, the way people move, act, behave, sell themselves, promote themselves, the way they walk, is enough proof to show what they want and who they really are. In that case, I much prefer people from MMA, BJJ, Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Judo etc. because even if it is a sport and no one died/dies during the creation and application of their techniques, they are true in a certain way, their results and actions speak for themselves. They are dedicated and very tough and disciplined and it shows in their practice. But in the Bujinkan? Well I have no comment and I do not really care.
The last thing I can say is this, as I have translated many times for Hatsumi sensei during class, like a few others who have lived in Japan for a long time (Mark Lithgow, Mark O’Brien, Andrew Young, Shawn Grey, Bruce, Doug, Larry, Paul, etc.) and who keep translating for him now, they have to hear the same phrase all the time: Hatsumi sensei said that the 15th Dan means that it’s the start for everyone. So it’s a direct reference to the historical aspect of Ujin, which was the age, 15 years old, of a young boy to go to war after he had passed certain tests. So the rank does not really express anything, only something to help, to push, to go more deeply, to keep on practicing. But we will be able to see the value of their rank after Hatsumi sensei stops teaching…here again the rank does not show the future, but just the moment when you received it… and everyone knows how humans can change, for the better or the worse.
Now the high ranks in other organizations are also based on politics, actions done for the organisation, not just the skill anymore. For me the best rank is what you could do, when you are old and must face any style, if you can keep the flexibility required at the highest level and still practice.
As a conclusion to this question, I do not care for, or of the rank, but the person. Rank means nothing to me.
Perhaps because it was such a secretive discipline, there is often much doubt cast upon the validity of the remaining Ninjutsu systems and conjecture about their true origins. How many unbroken lineages of the ninja arts still exist today, to your knowledge, and what proof is there of this?
Well, you need to understand that even the validity of the most famous Ryû-ha of Japan, is not really clear. If you want to believe that a Kami gave the art, or a Tengu, or that inspiration and teachings came from dream, and that allowed you to open a Ryû-ha and find inside it the highest subtle techniques etc. and if you present this in a front of academic, scholars, professor, you will not be respected. You need to explain all the mythology and the context as well, being aware of the history and the different influences. It is not that easy and its very complicated, because history is complicated, facts can help, but they must be able to be interpreted from a neutral base, and this, I am sorry to tell you, in the world of Bujutsu and Budô, nowadays the way the student believes blindly all the words from their master, who sometimes just repeats what they heard from their master with no historical proof or fact, it is really sad and will not change…it is like that.
What you need to understand is, as long as there is someone who has the capacity to answer, physically and intellectually to any questions, someone who has the information and can demonstrate the application of the art with the highest level and most subtle skills, it is a proof of a certain continuity. I do not know how many unbroken lineages still exist today, there are a lot of scrolls and records that explain and present different information, some are interesting but do not deal with a certain Ryû-ha in particular. Some just mention a list of Ryû-ha or a name from a Ryû-ha with nothing further and sometimes it is enough to prove their existence etc. After that it depends of the practice, the way it is done, the movement, the form, the quality of the movement and the evolution of it…because Ryû mean flow, to keep on moving… it’s not fixed… so it’s not unbroken… if it is broken, the Ryû-ha will cease to function and will disappear.
How far back can we trace the schools other than Kukishinden ryu and Takagi Yoshin ryu?
This is very easy: first you need to know the history of Japan, the history of bushi (warrior), military history, and then the history of Bujutsu, Heihô. You must also study the history of all the various Ryû-ha, to understand the context and analyse the movement and the form of combat as well as the evolution of the weapon. To that you must add the etymology of the words, the study of the language and writing. Finally you must be very concerned with the human relationships in all the aspects of the transmission as well as in the master-disciple’s relationship. Once you are aware of all the various complicated and subtle details, and have not just done “research” e.g. copy and paste directly from Internet or Wikipedia, work which was translated by someone who does not have any background in Japanese studies at the PHD level in the field of bushi (warrior) history, or uses phrases and statements like “my teacher said to me…” or “I heard someone say…” etc. you can evaluate and measure how far back a ryû-ha goes and trace its movements.
Now to answer to your question, after I have had the chance to have access to the densho written by Takamatsu Sensei, then analysing the history and techniques, the biomechanics and the form of each technique, the lexical analysis (relating to the words or vocabulary of a language) etc. I can easily state that most of them stretch back to the period Momoyama-Azuchi (1568-1603) at the end Sengoku Jidai (warring states period). Some of the techniques and words are from the end of the Muromachi period (1337 to 1573).
But again, all of this means nothing if you cannot face anyone, from any style, technically (physically) and intellectually. Because after all what makes the flow is the capacity, faith, heart and intelligence of the one who dedicates and devotes his life and heart to it.
Could you please describe what Kata and Waza are and the difference between the two?
What you asked me will take too much time to answer, and I do not think that it is possible. Let me just give you an example of how deep the history of the kanji, or words, you ask for.
What is the link between the tea ceremony, or Sadô, and the Japanese classical martial arts? What is the common point between the Ikebana (flower arrangement) and death by committing Seppuku (ritual suicide)? The Kata’s notion brings all the answers to all questions. In Japan the word Kata can be written with the two following ideograms (型) or (形). Both reflect various aspects, such as philosophy, technique, teaching, transmission, way and goal, all dedicated to the idea of perfection. Even if some claim that the Kata comes from a very long tradition, it was created mainly during the Edo period (1603-1867) and is still present in various fields nowadays. During the preceding centuries, many cultural elements were added to the Kata in order to create a structure where various specialisations of Japan found their base. You can translate the first one (型) by form, shape, and the second (形) the structure. Most of the primary records and sources that deal with Heihô, Bujutsu and Ryû-ha history and techniques, we do not find in them either of these two kanji. Which means that the primary way of using the body was something more difficult to describe by words, and was very difficult to show a form, even if it (using the body) started by using a form or a certain body structure. The main reason was that most of densho (transmission documents) never describe the most important things, because it was passed down through direct practice and direct transmission, not by words or writing. The best example of Kata is in Karaté, where you have just like in Chinese Wushu different forms that you can perform either solo or together. Now for Waza translated often as technique, you find two kanji (業) and (技). Both give the idea of technique, technical, like engineering, art-craft etc. But the first also includes the aspect of it not being easy or being difficult to grasp or reach. It is used also for the word Shugyô that can be written in two ways (修行) and (修業). The first one includes the reference of the way, path, effectuate, go etc., and comes from the esoteric Buddhism’s lexical. Both words include the meaning of path, hard and deep practice, never ending etc.
In any discipline in japan, in order to explain something, a movement, a form, everything starts with a succession of form, a position connected between them by a link, the way you shift the weight of your body from one leg to the other for example. From this beginning, the essential aspect of “centre” or chûshin (中心) in Japanese appears clearly in the form. We can say that Kata include all the aspects that help to shape and build the structure that allows one to follow the image of the master, which shows the way to go, the goal to reach, the state of mind to cultivate, but the Kata is not stiff, not frozen, it is in motion, always in motion. The Waza or techniques are the application of the form, the actual use of the form.
The Waza depends on the Kata’s quality, the quality of the internal structure (bones, inner muscles, spine, direction of the bones, the way you hold a weapon, the way you kick, strikes, use your fingers, grab and hold etc.), then the quality of the outside shape (perfect alignment, the right phase and the reflection of the master’s image, precision, sharpness, speed, balance, noble, direction and orientation, grace and beauty, and of course the expression of the heart’s state…in other words there are three very important aspects which are common to all the arts, sports, disciplines. In classical Bujutsu they are called the Maai (間合い), Hyôshi (拍子), Yomi (読み). The first one is often incorrectly translated as timing, a word that reduces too much all the aspects and dimensions concealed in the kanji Ma (間), found in various words in Japan like Kyakuma, Hiruma etc. Maai, represent the capacity to coordinate at the right point, according to the correct and perfect distance, timing, breathing, movement, delivered or exchanged between two opponents. It includes the measure of the distance, of calculating the angle and direction, space and distance, time and atmosphere of the moment, ground quality, heartbeat etc. and all of these should match at the right point with the correct synchronization. When you have this, you call this Maai. I forgot to add that in this case, it is not something you can do with a slave student or someone who falls over at any time, for no reason, like you find in the Bujinkan and many other styles, you must be able to do it and use it against anyone and practice hard to reach this point. This is Maai. It is more than just timing.
Hyôshi (拍子), is the rhythm, the cadence, everything that deals with movement cadence and rhythm, the way you breathe, the way you move, the way you shift your weight of body, the way you will match it with your enemy’s movements etc. Finally, Yomi (読み), is the capacity to read the movement of someone, then read how he will move or use his technique. As you can see, Kata and Waza are deeply connected together. Of course you will read and hear people say things like have no form, no technique etc. but most of them “fight” or “dance” and play only with their own student-slave. I am talking here about historical and biomechanical aspects and dimensions that come from the reality of combat. In other words, technique and form, tactics, strategy and state of mind that are cultivated, polished and conditioned in order to prevent danger and annihilate it by any and all means necessary. Not to dance and use other fake mystical things used in order to cover the lack of knowledge, practice, experience and heart.
To finish and in order to open a dimension that I hope will show you how the art of copying a master, a high class master, to practice true, is not easy and very deep, let me analyse for you the Kanji Waza, the one used today by most. This Kanji (技) is constituted by two Kanji: the first is (手) and the second (枝). The first one means the hand, the physical hand. The second one, means to support, the help, it’s also the part found in the Kanji for “branch” of a tree. A deep analysis based on the master disciple’s relationship, as well as the true experience of the practice and of human behaviour, allows one to interpret the Kanji Waza (技) as the hand that supports, the hand that helps. This can also be interpreted as, what supports the hand? What helps the hand? Helps and supports what? The art, the master, to support the duty, to help everyone… or the master to support and help the disciple, the stranger, the loser, no matter what….and for that you need a pure Waza, a pure Kata that reflect the purest intention.
How are Kata different in Classical Ryu like Tenshinsho Katori Shinto-ryu or Kashima Shin-ryu or Shinkage-ryu, compared to the Kata in the 9 ryu that make up the Bujinkan?
No the kata are not different at all, they share the same nature, the same goal, the only difference is the quality and the nature of the master, his purpose, the capacity to always be ready to face the changes required and to fit the time and the period where you live. So there is no difference. After that, it depends on the application and the vision of the reality you have; if you want to live in a period of weapons like katana, spears and other weapons that are anachronisms in real fighting or combat today, or use all the methods, strategies, tactics, body and mind knowledge, deep body biomechanics in order to respond and fit the reality and the time where you live today.
Is the word and concept of Kata different in Gendai Martial arts (modern) then Classical Martial Arts?
Like I said, the words or kata did not exist in primary Ryû-ha, the idea or the concept as you said, maybe, but in reality, I can say no. You must also keep in mind that what we call Gendai Budô, is made for sports education, competition, etc. and is very far away from an art of combat used for killing, to prevent danger, used during large scale combat or war, which was the purpose of all the classical Bujutsu and their respective Ryû-ha. This of course, depends on the history of each Ryû-ha, but mainly what we refer to as classical Bujutsu, Heihô it’s all about war, in other words, military, combat, spying, information, assassination etc. It is not for fun, or sport, to win medals or attain ranks, but to stay alive and protect your family, the lord, the clan, the country etc. you do not go to war with sports techniques, you do not face terrorists or any kind of threat with sports techniques, no matter whether they keep you in shape or not! It is important to be pragmatic and realistic, or at least to have a bit of honesty. Because the technical aspects and the mindset as well as the goal is different between Gendai Budô and classical Bujutsu, it is logical that even if they share common ground based on the use of the body, their purpose and intention is different.
A popular belief in Japanese Martial Arts today is "No left hand". So we see lots of Japanese weapons based arts teaching sword work for example with only the right side being practiced. You on the other hand put great emphasis on being ambidextrous with all weapons and body movements. Is practicing both sides common in Classical martial Arts or just in the 9 ryu of the Bujinkan?
It’s important here again to be a little bit honest and realistic. On the battlefield, during combat, during the chaos you use any weapon or anything you can grasp or hold onto as a weapon. It is logical that you will use your both of your hands and both legs. Do you run just with the right leg when you must escape? Do you climb with just with your right arm when you need to evade? Does a boxer fight only from the right arm? Of course not, you need everything in case of an imminent threat or danger. There is no proof that masters of the past, professional killers and warriors used only the right arm or hand, and this will be not logical in the case of deadly fighting. It is logical in true combat and war to use, to condition, to polish skills from and with both hands. Because what if your right hand is wounded, what do you do? Would you stop the fight? Seriously? Same as with weapons, you must be able to use both sides in the same way, to the same level of perfection, this is the perfect balance and this is also connected deeply with neuroscience, the body and mind’s health…in my case I always practice both sides and all the densho written by Takamatsu Sensei on the techniques of the nine Ryû-ha mention after each technique to practice and apply them from both sides the same way. I also suggest to everyone to always practice their weakest part, which can be in many cases the left side if you are a right handed. But everyone is free to do as he wants.
What is the difference between To and Ken, and then Tojutsu and Kenjutsu?
I have already explained this in various seminars and conferences as well as in my thesis. Tô (刀) refers to the Sabre, in can be read as katana, there exist many different kinds of katana, lengths, shape etc. The first Nihon-Tô (日本刀) or Japanese Sabre, was created in Kamakura period. Before that what was used was the Ken or Tsurugi (剣) the straight sword which was influenced by weapons from China. Until the end of Edo period, most Ryû-ha never used the word for Kenjutsu, but mainly Tohô (刀法methods of using the katana whatever the length or the shape) or Tôjutsu (刀術) techniques and direct applications of the Sabre methods). The use of the word Kenjutsu, like in Kendo at the end of Edo period was more as symbol. In most of the scrolls, in order to legitimise the use of the weapon, especially the Sabre, during a period where the use of the weapon was severely governed by the Tokugawa government as well as the warriors behaviour and actions, it was said that the science of Heihô and Tôjutsu was a gift from the Kami (spirit) of Japan who used a straight tree branch or perhaps some type straight sword. The influence of the mythology of Japan, in books like Kojiki, where it explains the history of the foundation of Japan by Kami and their actions it is really important to study here and see how many bushi used it in order to legitimise their practice and actions or to give a symbol, a noble purpose to their art and action, a throwback to times gone by. It’s also a way to try to show the difference with more violent way of using and teaching the art of weapons.
In conclusion the use of Kenjutsu, techniques of the Tsurugi- the straight blade, came as a logical answer to the time and place of the period where bushi wanted to give a new orientation to their art and practice. But if you observe deeply, you will see that all the people who use the word Kenjutsu, in fact, in reality, the weapon they actually use is still a katana, a sabre and not a straight blade Tsurugi like in Chinese Bujutsu or European fencing. I could of course explain more in detail and argue the point with scrolls, records and examples, but I think it’s enough for everyone who will read this article; like for everything I said until now, I am always open to answer directly to anyone who will ask me directly, not by the internet, but face to face.
In Australia there are still Bujinkan schools teaching things like the Godai during class in relation to feelings during techniques they teach. For example Fu (wind Technique) being light and circular or Ka (fire) being aggressive or Chi (earth) holding your ground against the enemy. This has nothing to do with teachings from Hatsumi Soke does it? These are ideas brought in by foreign students to basically sound more mysterious and interesting? The truth is the Godai are found in other parts of Japanese culture and are used as a method of counting?
Well what you just said about the Godai, or Gogyô Inyô no Setsu for the full word, is true. It is a science that came from China. It is connected with the practice called Onmyô-dô that deals with divination, geomancy, calculating, ready the sky etc. There is a lot research done in this field in Japan and many other universities all the around the world who have a Japanese studies department that is advanced enough to research it. The level required to study this field is quite high. You must know Kanbun (Chinese writing), be able to read and write it, as well as know other aspects of the Japanese culture, civilization, history and language. Now about your question, let me be clear, the nine Ryû-ha from Takamatsu sensei, passed down to Hatsumi sensei do not deal with this at all!!! Even Hatsumi sensei does not talk too much about this, because it doesn’t help you to be more accurate, more precise, sharper or more effective. It only helps you to lie, to cover the lack of knowledge, to attract the students who look for weird mystical experiences and to overpower the ignorant! These ideas started with books written by Stephen K. Hayes and everyone copied him. This is connected to what I said before, the capacity to copy, leads to the Art of Copy, you must have the right to copy and to copy right (the right master, the right model, the right example), otherwise, excuse me for being rude, if you copy shit, you reproduce shit and then what happens, you end up in the shit so deep that you cannot even get out of it, the truth it hurts…but the truth is this, like attracts like, so shit attracts shit , it seems this is how it has gone since the beginning of human kind. I do not know why people use it, but honestly the use of the Godai or Gogyô its more to separate or classify things, like chapters in a book for example, just like the idea of Tenchijin (heaven, earth and man) that everyone takes as a bible, but was just used to classify and catalogue a list of different things in one book; what is more funny and sad is that all the people who use those concepts (which they do not understand at all), when you look at the way they move or apply any technique or use any weapon etc. they do not move like the wind! (Fu) They have no class, no style, nothing, in their classes or seminars they spend more time talking and brainwashing people than practicing, they never sweat!!
Only the blind and the people attracted to what is not effective, not logical, are involved in this. Keep in mind that at the origin of any kind of Ryû-ha that when you start talking about the use of the Godai or similar things, that you have professional killers and warriors who did not care about the Godai and other things like that. Why? Because it doesn’t help you to survive in battle, let alone to go out and face a professional MMA or Muay Thai Fighter!! Please be serious, open your mind, only the right and correct practice can help you. You know I like Star wars, Marvel, and other things like that, Manga, movies, but I know the difference between reality and fiction, and reality it hurts! Just like stupidity does too.
What are the main differences in learning and studying the nine Ryu of the Bujinkan, compared to other Koryu in Japan?
There is no difference, what will change is the ambiance, the dress, the code, more etiquette or less. But the essence always stays the same. Then everything will depend on the character, the nature and knowledge of the master who teaches and the disciple who receives. But there is no difference. Here it is important to explain first what a Koryû is. The main translation known and used for Koryû (古流) by a lot of martial arts’ lovers and adepts, whatever the school or the style, is “old school”, or “traditional school”, “classical school”, etc. in the origin of the Koryû there is a master-founder, mainly a warrior or bushi, who after deep practice and various battlefield experiences, he finds a deep subtlety of using the body and the weapon (in other words, to kill faster so he can stay alive). During the Meiji period, those master-founder’s will come to be called Sôke or Iemoto (家元). In Koryû the masters use different modes of transmission such as Shinden, Taiden, Kuden, as well as different writing calls Mokuroku, Densho, Shuki, Hiden-sho, Kuden-sho, Hibun-sho (or Himon-sho), etc.
In order that the master accepts a disciple (who is also a warrior) (there are also fee’s and gifts from the disciple attested by various records), the disciple must have a recommendation letter (suisen-jô) from well-known warriors or from the warriors of the same sphere as the master, and write an oath call the Kissho-mon, where the disciple swears to never betray the master or the secrets of the Ryû. After a certain time and practice, trust is established and the disciple receives an attestation of transmission called the Inka-jô which originally came from esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyô)’s transmission mode call Injin Koka no ryaku. The Inka-jô was use in the Zen’s transmission.
Most of the sources show that according to the nature of the relationship between the master and the disciple, the content of the Inka-jô, as well as the techniques transmitted, change. According to the period, the position of the master in the warrior class, his name, his skill, his motivation, there are also many cases where the Inka-jô was sold. This presentation gives the general idea of what is a Koryû.
But to be honest, I don’t really think that the translation “Classical school” or “Old school” really covers the deep meaning and all the different aspects (historical, philosophical, practical, ideological, sociological, as well as the human side) included in the word Koryû. In Japan, in both the scholarly and martial arts world, most of the people, masters (sometimes very high ranking instructors, Sôke, Menkyo Kaiden (免許皆伝 Full Transmission) holders, practitioners, scholars, etc. often confuse the actual facts with their own views, wishes, their own practice and experience, and cannot really give a clear answer, as well as explain this word exactly.
Even if there are many factors in this confusion, it is very important to know that there are different types of Koryû. According to different studies and researches on various scrolls and chronicles, it’s easy to see that there are various Koryû created in different periods of Japan’s history. Some were created before, during and after Sengoku Jidai (warring states period circa 1467-1603); others were created during the three parts of Edo period (1603-1867 Zenki, Kôki and Bakumatsu) and finally, a scholar must also consider the different Koryû created during the beginning of Meiji restoration period (1868-1912). Because of all those aspects I personally think that translating Koryû literally as “old or classical school” is not enough when someone makes claims about himself being a scholar or a serious researcher in that field of study.
I can also say that whichever Koryû someone practices, he should be aware of the historical context, the reason for its creation, the different changes it underwent for various reasons (technical, theoretical, ideological). Not being aware of all those aspects is, in my personal point of view, a kind of blaspheme or disrespectful attitude, as well as a sign of ignorance towards the art and the various generations who created each technique.
But let us come back to the topic of Koryû and try to explain or give a different point of view. The word, Koryû (古流) is made of two kanji: 古 (ko) and 流 (ryû). Anyone can take a Japanese dictionary or a kanji dictionary and see that the first kanji (can be read also: furui) meaning: old, out of date, old fashioned, outdated, archaic etc. same for the second one (can be read also: nagare, nagareru, nagasu, nagashi) meaning: flow, run, rush, shed, flush, current, stream etc. It is very interesting to notice, even eloquent, that the second kanji does not mean or refer to at all, the English word “School”, or even in French, “Ecole”. In Japan the word used for school is Gakkô (学校), and the first mention we have about the use of the word Gakkô (学校), stretches back to the Ashikaga family, a famous family of Shôgun from the Kamakura and Muromachi’s periods. There are many theories about the creation of this school, the two mains theories are, it was created by Ono no Tamura during the Heian period (11 century) or created by Ashikaga Yoshikane during the Kamakura Period (12th-14th century). This school is considered as the oldest in Japan, and is located in Ashikaga city, Tochigi prefecture. It was established to educate members of Shogun’s family. High class monks use to teach mainly Confucius studies and Yi-Jin science, but military science and medicine were also taught etc.
You do not need to be a PHD in Japanese studies, to see that there a huge difference between the Kanji Ryû (流) of Koryû and (学校) of Gakkô! So in Japan, the historical chronicles and diary’s mention the word school, Gakkô (学校), which refers to an established place and was used for young boys from high class warrior families to come and learn different disciplines (nothing connecting to Koryû) under professors (mainly monks), it’s easy to understand that there is a difference between Gakkô and the Koryû.
I think that we can easily advance to the idea that Koryû does not mean “old or classical school”, because in the history of the first Koryû of Japan, there is no indication of such a centre or place established, with the name of Ryû outside the house or dôjô, administration, various teachers, fees, etc. We must wait until the Edo period and especially to the midway point of the second half of Edo period in order to see warriors settling down with places such as dôjô dedicated to the teaching of different types of Koryû.
It is important to search where the first mention of the word Koryû came from, in order to have an idea of what it means and how it has change, it’s the same for words like Heihô, Heigaku, Budô, Bujutsu, etc. Since Meiji until the present day, in most the cases, the use of the Word Koryû is use to mark the difference with the Gendai Budô (Modern Budo-Jûdô, Aikidô, Kendô, Karate- whichever the different ryû of Karate etc.) created since the Meiji period.
Moreover, the first mention of the word Koryû can be found in different scrolls like in the Kage-mokuroku (影目録), written in 1566 by Kamiizumi Ise No Kami (1508-1582), founder of the Shinkage-ryû (新影流), as well in one of the oldest densho on Heihô or Hyôhô (兵法 Strategy) written during the Muromachi period, the Kinetsu-shû (訓閲集). In both, we can find the following words, Jôko-ryû (上古流) and Chûko-ryû (中古流). Those words are also used by Kamiizumi Ise No Kami in all his writings.
Those two words refers to two kinds of Ryû: the Jôko-ryû represents the primary Ryû of Japan, from the end of Heian period to Kamakura period. And Chûko-ryû represent the Ryû from the Muromachi period like Nen-ryû, Katori Shintô ryû, Kashima Shintô ryû, Kashima Shinkage-ryû, Kage-ryû, Chûjô-ryû, Shôsho-ryû, and certain Ninjutsu ryû etc.
Accordingly the explanation we find in those two scrolls, we can say that Koryû cannot be expressed by the word “School”, but more by the word “”circle” (like a private sphere of transmission and practice), “a private flow of tactics, strategies and combat”, “way or vision of life based on battle field and combat experience”, “current of thought and use of the body” etc. This indescribable flow of using all kinds of weapons and to be able to apply any kind of technique to kill and survive, was created by professional warriors (killers, assassin, survivors etc.) who, for various reasons, dedicated their lives to the Art of Combat.
In order to have access to those warriors, to meet with them, to receive their knowledge, most of the records show that they did not have any place known to be like a fixed “School” where they taught and received money. So in order to meet with them, one must be introduced by someone, mainly a warrior (Bushi) who has the right connections and relationships, a kind of warrior only network, exclusive to the art of Heihô (using weapon and body technic on battle filed, leading troops on the field, strategies, tactic, spying, etc.).
To be introduced, you must have deep connections, and in order to have those connections, you must have a special position in the Bushi (Warrior) class. It’s important to know that, the one who had access to those masters, professional killers and warriors, was already a warrior himself, which meant they already had fighting and battlefield experience. For certain reasons most of those masters did not accept service to any kind of Lord or Daimyô. (Certain chronicles and records do mention that certain masters did accept to transmit or present their techniques to a few Shogun, Daimyô and Kuge).
They were free, their way of practice was free, so they could not have any fixed or established place, because in the art of war, it’s important to never fix things in place, and this aspect is directly connected with the Kanji Ryû, the flow, the art, the technique must never stop, it always adapts itself to the situation and period where the master lives.
This is natural, because the vision and the art they cultivated and practiced deeply was done everywhere, at any time, in daily life. Also it’s really important to know that they did not have any kind of methodology of teaching, transmission etc. they just shared it, because it’s very difficult to cut the flow…very difficult…
As you can see, historically the first Ryû did not have a place known in a fixed location of course there are famous temples, sanctuaries where the founders may have learned some things, but nothing specific. Heihô, Bujutsu, were not taught in a public way. It was always private, deeply private. From that context it is very clear to understand the importance of different transmission modes such as Ishin den shin, jitsuden, jikiden, naiden, gaiden, shitsuden, etc.
One important aspect to not forget at all about the word Koryû is that it will evolve and follow the needs of time and history. When dôjô started to be established, the transmissions opened to the public, this created different levels, methodologies of teaching, selling ranks and Menkyo (licences) as well as scrolls, technical developments, weapon and tool evolution during practice, etc…the flow of the art will change in order to satisfied the demand and needs of the period…Sometimes the flow will stop or crystalize itself…so it must wait for a new generations Soke or Iemoto, who can connect the bridge between two periods and explain what previous people or current students could not express or understand.
But the main and crucial point is to always keep in mind that this is in a warrior’s sphere of influence, a Bushi’s world, where the only question is “who can stand at the end of the combat?”, “who has the capacity to fight, and to apply the technique and adapt it against any kind of style, man and technique, whatever the situation and the context?”.
By presenting all of those explanations, someone might think I did not answer the question directly “what is a Koryû?” First of all, I think it’s really important to give a large vision, some historical aspects about Koryû. The word Koryû cannot be just translated as “classical or old school” where, nowadays, one master who never challenges himself and presents himself like an old traditional guy that follows the real samurai spirit, who brainwashes his student with movement and techniques that do not work at all. Whose goal is mainly for money and self-promotion.
Most of the time someone who practices deeply his art (Koryû, Gendai Budô, whatever the art or the discipline), he always looks through his master’s eyes. If the master has a very stiff, limited, fixed vision and looks down on other arts as shit or if he underestimates others, well, you can be sure that the student will recreate this attitude as well, and perhaps even go deeper into this limited vision… such is life. As a conclusion, what I can say about Koryû is, the following two ideas represent what we can find today in Japan among most of the masters:
“Classical or old school that teaches an old way of using the body and weapons according to a certain historical context and or a famous warrior’s knowledge. This knowledge or technique can become fixed and stiff with the time and completely not adapted for the real/present world and time anymore, but is still interesting for various reasons. In many cases the body motion and the techniques are not good for the body’s health and do not respect natural healthy biomechanics.”
“Classical or old way of using the body and weapons that shows a very deep flow in order to evolve and understand the human body and psyche through the experiences of various warriors (famous or not). Those experiences allow one to keep an open heart and mind in order to always keep the flow running, so you can face any kind of situation, weapon, man, fighter, warrior, killers, style.”
Finally, for me, not being able to face any kind of style, man, weapon, situation at any time etc. with the techniques and knowledge based on the flow (The basic techniques of the Koryû you study), is not a direct representation of what Koryû means and also not what the founder of the Koryû had in mind when he founded the subtle techniques and way of moving at the time of origin and creation of his Koryû. In this way, Koryû becomes an old style, stiff, fixed, unrealistic. So it’s not really good for the body’s health in a certain way. But like everything in life, everyone chooses what he wants, but one should never forget the consequences...
How effective are Koryu (Japanese martial arts, the Bujinkan, or Ninjutsu) today, in comparison with MMA and other sports martial arts?
Here again it depends on the one who practices, how he practices, what does he practice, and what is the nature of the techniques he practices. From whom did he learn, what is the nature of the relationship he has with the master, the art, the practice itself? Etc.
In essence, Koryû techniques are made for killing, for survival, this conclusion is logical. But the capacity to adapt to show a deep level and scary effectiveness with a great sense of control of emotions towards pain, to be able to take and endure it, rather than get hurt, to understand deeply and to demonstrate the difference between speed and flow, effectiveness and precision, with that of violence and stupid strength. To be able to stay open, flexible and be ready to face anyone are the capacities needed. I also think that the highest level of effectiveness is to be able to make someone from a background of say, a high level of MMA etc. realise, feel and sense without hurting him, using violence or humiliating him in any way, the difference. Honestly I think it’s possible and this is what I aim for. I like MMA, just as much as all the other arts, whatever the style or the country. I respect hard work and logical strength, I like craziness too. Ninjutsu is the art to be able to face everything, everyone, no matter what, but for that you must practice and study more and more, more and more, and never stop in the “more” aspect the practice….there is always a higher level, always deeper meanings.. It is never ending. The effectiveness depends of the human, of his heart, of his knowledge, of his practice. Not about his rank or Godai, or his big talk on Internet…
How important is armed combat in the study of the nine ryu of the Bujinkan? Many see training with swords and spears etc. as antiquated in today’s world.
Well, it’s true that nearly all the weapons are now completely anachronistic and useless. This is what most people might think, even scholars. And if you look how the majority of the people in the Bujinkan use weapons, it is blasphemy, especially when used in the front of other Ryû-ha’s disciples. The use of the weapon reflects your body’s ability and your mind as well as your capacity to measure and apply the three dimensions of classical Bujutsu I mention earlier: Maai, Hyôshi and Yomi.
But it’s important to look at this according to a practical experience point of view. The use of the weapon as well as the weapon itself, teaches you the correct form, the right distance and measure, the right angle, the control, the accuracy and precision etc. because the use of weapon came directly from battlefield experience, where every movement cannot allow you to move the way you want or to act stupidly. In this case, it is easy to understand that one wrong movement, a wrong step, a wrong angle or incorrect form causes you to die or at the very least lose a part of your body.
If someone practices very deeply and correctly with weapons, from both sides of course (right and left in the same way in order to cultivate the correct balance requested in all the Koryû), without weapons he will know all the right angles, weak points, timing, distance, space etc... He will be able to move as sharp as a weapon. All those movements and techniques will be deadly, precise and accurate.
By learning the use of the weapon we learn to become one with the weapon, in other words we can materialize one of the Gokui (secret teachings) we find in different scrolls of Koryû “The form follows the function.” In this way the body, the movement, becomes a weapon. This allows one to find one of the highest levels in Koryû, which is the economy of movement and not use of excessive physical strength.
It’s not easy, but this is the process concealed in the history of various masters and founders of Koryû (according to historical sources, most of the founders were known on the battlefield for their skills with long weapons and the number of heads they had cut off and present). They started with long weapons, because on the battlefield, bow and arrow (are used from a long distance), polearms such as naginata, yari and nodachi (great or field swords) are very long weapons and are more accurate to kill the enemy and protect the body.
But once the distance or the long weapon is broken by the enemy’s weapon, in this situation you must be able to adapt and use what we have left around the belt, or in the hand or what is found on the field. From that experience, the disciple learns how to use any long weapons according to different situations that include various factors, and if he loses the long weapon, he must be able to adapt and use shorter weapons such as katana and other short blades or just their own body.
After all, the hand and the body are the engine that drive the tools and weapon, if the body is well forged and cultivated, it must be able to face anyone or any style, with or without a weapon with no difference between them. A lot of people always say “the weapon is the extension of the arm” but who can really show it, apply it correctly and effectively? Very few…
Actually the art of weapon should be done, step by step, centimetre by centimetre, millimetre by millimetre, in order to grasp every subtle detail, each aspect of the distance, the space between the weapon and the target aimed, the different timings, the different rhythms, the different breathing patterns, and the capacity to read the movement and measure all of the aspects of combat. With deep and correct practice based on the flow and the image of the master, step by step the distance and everything becomes shorter and shorter, in order to become very close to the enemy in order to kill or control him. Here again we can see the materialisation of the Gokui, “the Form follows the Function”.
It’s not easy to reach this high level way of using the body, like it’s not easy to reach the level where it’s possible to move like a living blade through the art of weapon. But the arts of Bujutsu, Heihô from the Koryû are not easy, because it’s made of the life, blood, sweat and tears and the sacrifice of many masters. Yes, it’s not really easy, because you must be able to see and realise deep inside the body the common points between the use the body and different weapons, to finally be able to face any kind of style and man. I am really sorry if my answer is too long. Be aware that it’s possible to explain more and present more historical fact and example about this topic.
How can one claim to study and hope to master nine different ryu at the same time?
Hope is free and open to everyone, it can help you and push you forward. But hope without capacity, skills, strong faith and intelligence, heart and benevolence, and especially the right and correct example from master e.g. the form, orientation and direction, honestly, it is impossible.
What you need to know is that the nine Ryû-ha are not different, they have the same goal or direction, plus they were taught by one master, Takamatsu Sensei, so he also taught to Hatsumi Sensei how to perceive the common point, the common link, the common essence between what looks to be very different from an outsiders point of view. It’s like the 5 fingers of the hand, they do not have the same length, the same use, some are stronger than others, and we do not use them in an equal ways, isn’t that true? But in order to grab or hold something, to help someone, to shake their hand, they’ll join all together and become one. Rather than just seeing the fingers, we must look at the part of the hand from the wrist as a whole…Here what I want to say is that everything comes from one unique movement, that allows you to copy and do everything. So in this case it is possible, but the work, the practice, the studies, the humbleness, the constant questioning, is endless…
What place does solo training have in the Bujinkan?
Like I said at the beginning of this interview, I separate the organization (Bujinkan) from the art (nine Ryû-ha). So really I do not know what it means- the place of solo practice in the Bujinkan! Because you just need to look at YouTube and you will see it is really….. I’ll let you decide.
Practice means results, look at MMA, Muay Thai, Boxing, Judo, Karate, BJJ and such, there is sparring, its fast and furious, so there is something there. You can say that solo practice is very important. But in the Bujinkan, honestly I do not know and I really do not care. I do not live by, for and with the Bujinkan, I hope I am clear enough here.
I live in Japan and I see and observe the “high class” Shihan, 15th Dan, whatever, coming from all over the world and practicing their way and vision, as well as the Japanese too. So really, I prefer to only look at Hatsumi Soke, and there I see what a true reflection of what solo practice is and how it is endless…
For me the examples to follow are Takamatsu Sôke, Hatsumi Sôke and Ishizuka Shihan. They are the example that will push me to have no limit, to not reach a roof or ceiling, but to keep on going forever, to push forever and ever. I reject at the same time anything that can corrupt me or pull me down. It’s an ethic I cultivate. Now to answer your question more precisely, yes solo practice is crucial, it is the only way, the only key, the true results and practice are discovered here. This is my point of view, In Japanese there are a few words to express the idea, the action of “Practice” such as Shugyô (修行), Keiko (稽古), Tanren (鍛錬), Renshû (練習), Gakushû (学習), Narau (習う) etc. The most famous one includes all the aspects of the Flow (which are to practice deeply, study, research, experiment, application, act, repeat, copy, polish, reinforce, conditioning, etc.) which is Shugyô (修行). With the second kanji (行) this refers to the way, the path, follow the path (the question will be what or who to follow?), the way where you accumulate various experiences. This word comes from the spirituality of Japan and is very old. I honestly think this is really difficult and an incomplete way to translate Shugyô by “practice”, “exercise”, “training” etc.
Actually it is too limited to only use those translations. But like in everything, it depends here again on what you have in your mind and how deep do you consider your practice. In order to consider oneself as a Shugyô-sha, it’s not about going to the dôjô for practice, doing seminars, selling a few DVD’s, ranking people, promoting oneself…its beyond that, those aspects I just mentioned are considered a good test to see if the one who has claimed to be devoted to the Shugyô did not corrupt his heart…
The Idea behind the word Shugyô, it’s close to the way hermits, saints, religious men, devout men, monks, ascetics etc. practice and apply their faith and pray. Every day, every minute, every action, talk, silence, breathe etc. are devoted to their God, Buddha, whatever they believe. So for the founder of Koryû, a master or Sôke, this is the way they live their art every day, because in the Kanji Gyô (行), which can be read Iku or Yuku (even Okonau), there is also the idea of Flow, something we must walk with and become one with.
Other words included with Shugyô and crucial to every person who practices Koryû, is the word Keiko (稽古). Here again these two Kanji do not express the action of practice. Many scrolls use this word, but the one who uses it in a broad meaning is the scroll from the Kitô-ryû jûjutsu. these two kanji can be read as “Inishie Wo Kangaeru”, which can be translated as “thinking about the past”, “reflecting about/on the past”, “meditating on the past, or history”, “Pondering about the history, the past”. In other words, this means that the disciple must, think, search, research how the master, founder of the Koryû in the past use to practice, use their body, the different reasons behind it, the concealed factors hidden behind each technique, movement and Kanji of the scrolls.
What I wanted to present here is that the common aspect of the word “practice”, is really more than just going to the dôjô, following a logical order of repeating over and over, the techniques or movements without having and knowing why the deep purpose or high spiritual attitude behind it. If you consider that most of the people in the Koryû world as well as in the Bujinkan looks at what he wants and see the way he wants and practices what he wants, then what can we say about the meaning of words like Shugyô and Keiko?
Like everything in life, there are degrees, levels. If someone is looking for the highest and deepest level of nine Ryû-ha’s science and knowledge, if he wants to have a subtle movement and understanding of the deepest aspect of the art and become one with his Master and the Flow, well the contract is simple, he must be ready to offer more than what is expected and more than what he thinks is deserved. And the more interesting thing is, is that there is no guarantee that you will be chosen or that you will even reach the highest level of the art. But at least, I honestly think that you will learn something incredible and priceless, the meaning of Patience and Humbleness, as well as the true Value of the Art, and this is already “Gold” by itself.
Do you have anything you would like to say or add to the interview?
Yes, first of all I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to visit Australia for the first time. To answer your questions, you must understand that everything that deals with Ninjutsu can be very difficult to understand, or not seen correctly or with much respect. As a researcher and scholar myself I understand this very well, and the main reason comes from a lack of knowledge and study, in aspects of the art, the practice and the intellectual side too. Of course there is also all of the people who claim to be personal students, show and collect rank, take lots of pictures with Hatsumi Sensei etc. claim to be the One or to understand etc. then there is all of the jealous people, who are not recognised, who betray etc. who want to badmouth Hatsumi Sensei and Takamatsu sensei. I also understand that. But the most important thing is to meet and talk with them, to share experiences with them, because all of Bujutsu is about that, to meet reality. Same goes for Ishizuka Shihan or myself, please experience what we have to offer first hand and do not rely on the thoughts and opinions of others. If you are an adult, you should make up your own mind and not be a slave to the opinions of others.
I want to apologize if my words have hurt anyone, I am very up front and direct, but I never try to hurt or humiliate anyone. Now if anyone has something to say about me, who wants to try me, I am open and I always say it and accept it. I will come back to Australia even though some tried to use the Immigration office in order to stop me from passing Immigration and enter into the country, I did not come to Australia, just like all of the countries where I have been invited, to take a job, a place, the dojo or the student of anyone, or to make any money (I do not get paid for being here), I only come to holiday and practice with my friends. I do not need to be doing any of those things. I am a Professor and Researcher at a prestigious University in Japan. And I have no interest in doing anything like that. But how are people supposed to know it, if you do not meet and talk with me and see me for how I am in person, face to face, man to man?
Also if anyone have something to say, well come and say it in the front of me. This is a mark of respect. And respect leads to the most honourable way. Martial arts and life starts with that, Respect and Honour. -Kacem Zoughari
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.
"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.
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