December 20, 2009

Bonenkai 2009

Okay, this will be my last post of 2009. It's just we had such a great time the other night at our Bonenkai, I wanted to share. We had several groups coming together, which only happens once or twice a year, due to distance. We trained and talked about what we learned over the last year, saw old friends (Shawn!), ate some of the best sushi in Chicago, drank Asahi (Super Dry!), opened presents, and all with our Buyu, some of the best folks I know.

I want to thank Shidoshi Jeff Patchin and his boys for coming in once again from Rockford (almost a two-hour commute). When I got Jeff's yearly nobody-knows-how-to-drive-in-Chicago call, I knew everything was coming together. And it did.

Thanks to everyone who came, hope you went home with a smile, a full belly, and a nice little gift. I got a copy of one of Soke's Kuden series from the gang, and 'stole' a copy during White Elephant of "Nine Deaths of the Ninja,"
which, looking back, might not have been the smartest of tactical decisions, after viewing the credit sequence where Sho Kosugi swings a Ninjato in the middle of three dancing babes to the vocal stylings of a woman who probably (and thankfully) sang herself into obscurity. Check it out here, but be warned:

For my gift, I brought a ham.

Let's do it all again next year!


Check out the pics here:

UPDATE 12/21/09 - "Nine Deaths of the Ninja" - Best bad Ninja movie ever ... ever. Do yourself a favor, watch this movie. Watch it with Buyu. And alcohol. Why?
1. Ninja vs Filipino midgets.
2. Screechy gay wheelchair Nazi guy doing his best Dr. Strangelove.
3. Hot "Foxy Brown" type doing her best Pam Grier.
4. You will learn more about attaching shurikens to a camouflaged jumpsuit than any other movie.
Complete your training - don't miss this!

December 17, 2009


We're back (again) from another 'Buyu-tiful' (I know, I'm a little tired) New Jersey weekend with Jack Hoban. This time, Tomo led a morning session of Makko Ho before Jack's end-of-the-year seminar. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Jack and his wife Yumiko's adverstising and local stomping paid off with plenty of folks, both those who train and those who don't. Check out our slick camera phone shot:

Huge thanks for their hard work and trust in allowing Tomo to teach. By the sound of it, we may be back sometime next year for another round. We'll look forward to it.

We also joined in the fun at the annual Buyu Christmas party, which had great food, an open bar, and plenty of laughs. Our thanks to Judd for setting it all up - great toast as well, sir! It always feels good to talk shop with Buyu over cocktails.

Our own SGTI dojo will be having its Bonenkai/Christmas party this week, a tradition we've enjoyed for many years now. Don't forget a wrapped gift for 'White Elephant!'

This will be my last post of 2009. But on New Year's Day, look for my annual "Under the Blade" that will outline our Bujinkan and SGTI dojo themes for 2010.

Have a very safe and wonderful Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

December 1, 2009

Why do we train?

Tomo and I just returned from our fifth trip to London, England, in three years. We had a terrific time of it. Everyone was enthusiastic and many have supported us from the beginning. Special thanks to Steve Kovalcik, without whom none of this would have been possible. He is my good friend and a dedicated student of Budo. If you're ever in London, I recommend training with him if you get the chance.

We had quite a good time at the seminar, concentrating on 'tactical space' - out maneuvering opponents safely and efficiently. But beyond the Kukan, beyond the sword, and 'nawa no kankaku,' the most fun and fulfilling part of the weekend was by far defending others. As one participant said with a big British grin, "it just makes you feel good." He's so right. And why? Simple: coming to the defense of others is what training is all about; there is just no better reason to train.

When folks tell me they're interested in "self-defense," my answer is usually short - join a nice gym, get into shape, and learn to run as fast as you can. Running away is mankind's oldest form of self-defense - all children should be masters of it. Sure, it makes for lame stories over beers, but it'll keep you safe.

For most of us, though, it's difficult to explain why we feel the need to train. We just do. And we're content to leave it at that. But if we were to explore why, we might just find, not a reason we can all agree on, but a truth none of us can deny; one that tells us, we are a person who chooses not to run away. If you are new to martial arts or deciding whether to begin, this realization alone can inspire the first steps onto the mat.

The truth here is common sense: martial arts began when early man couldn't run away, when he had to defend someone else who couldn't keep up, like a loved one, a spouse, a child. Is it really any different today?

In a previous post, I wrote that fear was the root motivation behind anyone choosing to train martial arts. I still believe that. Fear, in all its various forms, can be a powerful motivator for change, a challenge to surmount, so we can rise to our own personal image. But, the best reason to keep training, is to learn to defend others, for it points to the deeper moral imperative at the heart of training itself - the acceptance of our role to deliver security to loved ones as well as the rest of the tribe. In others words, warriorship.

I understand for many, training is a personal endeavor, one tied to their own wants and desires, and the need to overcome fears. But the simplest and best way to overcome fear in high-stress situations and life and death encounters is to dedicate oneself to protecting someone else, a loved one, a friend, even someone we don't know, someone who simply needs our help. Suddenly, we're not so afraid, we have a job to do and the skills to do it.

I am honestly unsure whether those training solely for themselves can ever really overcome their fears. Submersing oneself in the minutiae of the art (or any art for that matter), looking constantly inward, searching always to collect that next technique, can segregate us from the application to our daily lives, the part that compels us to live better than we did the day before. As I see it, this is the difference between practicing and training.

Of course, some degree of practice is necessary, I just don't rely on it to make up the bulk of my experience. Practicing techniques, memorizing and perfecting them, cannot calibrate their application, cannot teach us when it is right to use them, when we should stand down, and most importantly, when to stand up.

"Solo training" is practicing. Moving through Sanshin, Ukemi, swinging a sword and staff around is similar to staying at home to read the Bible, instead of going to Church for the religious - it supplements training, but it's not the same. It's not the same because it is the volunteering of our time, the sacrifice of it, to meet with like-minded others and experience the group ethic, when practicing becomes training.

Going to church doesn't make one good, but it does provide a time to learn how to apply the lessons of life - just like time spent at a dojo should. We choose to volunteer our time to learn a physical philosophy that challenges us to back it up with ethics (morals in action). There is power in the group ethic, for it's easy to cheat in the weighing of priorities on our own, but much harder within the group, which is why it can help coordinate us.

So, in your own dojo, try setting up scenarios to protect others. Make changes to the variables and placement of the 'good' and 'bad' guys and seek to apply Taijutsu's tactical efficiency. At the very least, you'll have fun. At most, you'll get 'activated' and realize there's something more to it. And, of course, there is. Marital arts wouldn't exist, if there were nothing worth fighting for.

Training is overcoming - overcoming the physical (technical), mental (tactical), and spiritual (ethical) odds that align against us everyday. Training is the way we acknowledge to ourselves and others, that the volunteering of our time, the sacrifice of our money and resources, the endurance of soreness and pain, the acceptance of infinite patience, the perseverance of bygone ideals, the preservation of universal values, and the belief - the simple belief, with childlike naivete - that merely because we live, we can make a difference ... are the means by which we accept the burden of knowing what is worth fighting for.

Don't just practice. Warriors train. Go train.

November 16, 2009

… that which each one of us could provide for himself

Recently in the World Times Newspaper:
As the Obama administration decides a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, several neighborhoods in Kabul have been plagued by death - 36 children in 2009, killed in the crossfire between rival Taliban clans as they battle over turf and control of drug running. In 2008, 27 kids were killed in rival fighting and 34 kids were gunned down in 2007.

American commanders and Coalition forces in the region are stumped as to how to stop the increasing violence in the community where year after year it has gotten worse. Major General Dunn, commanding the US army’s 2nd battalion, has said repeatedly parents in those violent neighborhoods should “step up.” He said he wants to see an increase in after school art, sports, and mentoring programs for the youngsters so they don’t become tomorrow’s Taliban fighters.

Some community activists are outraged and want an immediate increase in military presence to protect their families, but authorities in the military may be concerned about how that might look on the world stage, with cries for civil liberties if a heavy footprint were to occur. But activists are quick to point out that without adequate security, freedom becomes unnecessary. They are also upset because local gun laws prevent them for owning firearms to protect their family, when Taliban fighters are awash in illegal arms.

Colonel Wittick, commander of Special Forces and Operations which currently patrols all neighborhoods in Kabul, recently decried the community’s ‘code of silence’ that protects Taliban forces from being rooted out and brought to justice. In a recent press conference he said, “I don’t know what’s keeping kids from coming forward. I don’t know what’s keeping adults from coming forward."

But one activist, who wished to remain anonymous, pointed out the so called ‘code of silence’ was actually the only thing keeping families safe. The activist stated that everyone knows who the Taliban are, where they are, and what they’re doing, but could not report on them for fear of retaliation; they have families to protect. And until families trust authorities more than they fear the Taliban, the ‘code’ would remain.

American media outlets have reported on the children’s deaths, but have chosen not to focus on the violence for fear of highlighting the appalling lack of security and loss of freedom in already poor communities. Although the focus might fuel public outrage to spur a surge of military action to protect local families, the media is concerned some might view the reporting as ‘politically incorrect’ pointing out the “failure” of poor people, which could be labeled ‘racist ‘...
Except none of this is happening in Afghanistan. It’s happening right here in Chicago.

If you haven't heard, or seen the graphic video ( of 16-year-old Derrion Albert beaten to death, kids are being killed here in Chicago by gang violence. More children have been killed this year than last, or even the year before that. It's getting worse.

It is getting worse despite the fact a recent report by the Chicago Police Department said crime is actually dropping. In the same period a year ago, the CPD report shows crime and homicides dropped 11% - citywide. But the deaths of public schoolchildren have gone up nearly every year; 2009 is the worst yet and we’re not even through Fall.

2007 34 kids killed
2008 27 kids killed
2009 36 kids killed

For a little perspective, in the ’97-’98 school year, Sept to June, Chicago Public Schools lost seven students. And bear in mind, these numbers are not entirely accurate. Since killings began, yearly tallies may not have represented drop outs, or the “disappeared,” runaways, or kids who have simply vanished. Newspapers in the 1990s may have misreported those killed by gangs because their families couldn’t afford a death notice. So, these numbers could be or are almost certainly higher.

On October 7th, 2009, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, US Attorney General Eric Holder, and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley addressed the violence saying government alone could not solve the problem and “Parents need to step up.” “Every Chicagoan has a responsibility to help prevent and end the violence, so does every level of government, local, state, and federal,” Daley said. “We look forward to working more closely with the federal government to protect all of our children.”

Mayor Daley just spent $42 million on a failed bid for the 2016 Olympics. He also wants more after school programs.

What more are the parents supposed to do here? “Step up” against the gangs with AK-47s, the prolific drug dealers, and increased gang warfare? In fact, what are they supposed to do now, that they haven’t been doing for the last dozen years? There is general acceptance that this is “normal” for these poor communities; that they have “earned” these consequences and they alone can extricate themselves.

But have the people of Afghanistan or Iraq “earned” their lots of violence? I mean, what factors are at play in those foreign communities that are not in play in these troubled local ones? Low resources? Low opportunity? High income drug sales? Prolific illegal weapons? Warlordism – gangs. Intense violence? Frightened families caught in the middle? Tribalism – you’re from that neighborhood, I’m from this one. Generations of heartache? Meager hope?

How is it “normal” for any community in the US to lose this many children to this much violence?

I’m not writing this to discuss or explain away why the violence in these neighborhoods is happening, the origins of it, the reasons behind it. Does personal responsibility and behavior play a role? Absolutely. Just like it does in any war. But the question remains, at what point does personal responsibility end, and the inertia of this ever-growing violence take over? How much power do residents really have here? How are the people in these neighborhoods, beset by their own sets of problems, supposed to stop an industry of gang illegality and the violence that inevitably follows it? Trying to fix the roots of this problem is like shoring up the foundation of your house when the roof is caving in.

The majority of these folks are good decent people. And I submit, parents and families are already doing what they can to protect their families. It’s called the “code of silence.”

Jody Weis, Chicago Police Superintendent, decried the continued “code of silence,” in these neighborhoods. "I know there’s a strong force out there that’s keeping you from coming forward. But, please understand: today's victims will be tomorrow’s offenders," he said.

At a news conference November 6th, he said,
“I-I think it’s this code of silence. I think, for whatever reason, there, there has not been a sense of community, and civic, uh, urgency, and, and … to be part of the community, to come forward when they have information like this. I don’t know what’s keeping kids from coming forward. I don’t know what’s keeping adults from coming forward. Uhm, there’s a lot of theories and stuff on that, but I won’t speculate. But no, for whatever reason, there is a strong, strong wall … being built where kids will not come forward with information. And, you know, the Mayor refers to it as the “code of silence” and it literally is killing us.”

Witnesses did in fact come forward, but only after an innocent kid was accused of Albert’s murder. So, it does happen, just not often, and for a very simple reason: the folks living in those neighborhoods fear the gangsters more than they trust the authorities. And until that equation gets flipped around, the violence will continue.

The media has not been out in force screaming this story ‘from the rooftops.’ Some have said the sensational deaths of white children get over reported and poor children’s deaths under reported, labeling the major media as racist. But most major media in America are left leaning, liberal, and self-described friends and certainly “non racists” of poor communities. Does anyone actually think all these journalists believe a black or hispanic child’s life is not worth as much as a white child’s life? Of course they don’t. So, what’s the problem?

I think the media believes that by focusing on the deaths and violence, it only highlights the “failure” of those communities. In other words, political correctness is hamstringing their reporting and preventing them from urging solutions by reporting daily on the number of children lost this year and throughout the years. But they have the megahorn. They can change the stigma connected to these deaths and begin to offer some hope that these communities can be turned around, if only there was enough security.

This issue revolves around two sets of people: residents trapped in those neighborhoods and those not trapped, the rest of us. The people trapped are locked inside a virtual prison of small finances, shallow resources, and meager hope. They are locked inside with their families alongside gangsters, thieves, thugs, and murderers. And they cannot escape. The main reason nobody can seem to solve this problem or even keep it from getting any worse, is because the trapped folks and the untrapped folks do not understand this glaring point. If they did, it would be obvious what needed to be done: a surge; a surge of protection, to separate those who mean no harm, from those who do.

In 1954, the US Supreme Court ruled on Brown vs Topeka, judging school segregation to be unconstitutional. They stated, "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." A few years later, during some tumultuous integration of schools, the Governor of the state of Arkansas called out the state’s national guard to prevent nine black kids from attending their high school. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Mobs were controlling the streets in Little Rock and vowed not to let the kids enroll.

In the President’s speech on the matter to the nation he said,
“The very basis of our individual rights and freedoms is the certainty that the president and the executive branch of government will support and insure the carrying out of the decisions of the federal courts, even, when necessary with all the means at the president’s command. Unless the president did so, anarchy would result. There would be no security for any except that which each one of us could provide for himself.”
Eisenhower then called in 1000 soldiers of the 101st Airborne and ordered the Arkansas National Guard into federal service, stealing away the good governor’s army. The show of force helped Central High make a peaceful transition.

More and more money has been spent on after school programs, increased Police patrols, and school security. Parents have marched, prayed, and protested. And still these kids are dying. What’s worse, Chicago’s WFLD reported November 7th, that in 2010 CPD will sign a new contract making up to 1000 officers eligible for retirement. It is impossible to know how many will step down. Police Superintendent Weis says he is “extremely nervous.” Currently, the Police have 600 vacancies and is 2000 officers short of authorized strength. Although there are hundreds of people in the pipeline to become officers, it takes six months for a new hire to graduate from the academy and begin patrolling. Not to mention the fact that hundreds and hundreds of rookie officers will flood the streets.

The residents living in these besieged communities are at the mercy of armed gangs and low resources. They have been traumatized by years of life in a warzone. They are offsides to a government, media, and public that is not working with them to stop the violence, but is in fact working against them, believing only residents and a change in their individual behavior can stem the tide of violence. They have been beaten into submission by the continued deaths of their youth, and humiliated because they cannot/could not protect their children from dying violently, cannot/could not provide them with a normal violence-free life.

If government has a responsibility to do one thing, just one thing, it’s to protect its citizenry. Security is the job government is obligated to do. These trapped folks know who the bad guys are. They simply cannot say, because they know the police will leave. And when they do, the thugs come back out. And they have families to protect.

What could be done:
1. Install more Police cameras. If a physical surge cannot be done, perhaps a virtual one will help.

2. Build many small 3-4 man Police stations for officers to stay at and man 24/7, 365 days a year throughout problem areas.

3. Offer rewards for information leading to arrests and convictions – this may already occur. Rewards should be high enough that residents can buy their way out of their neighborhoods or reinvest in them.

4. Lift gun bans, which prevent families from owning firearms to protect themselves. The draconian ordinances here in Chicago ensure only the gangsters have access to guns and any sense of security.

5. Retrain Police to reinterpret the dynamic in these neighborhoods and conduct themselves accordingly. Cross-cultural problems are solved through a realization of our shared values to understand person-to-person equality, not ‘touch-feel’ politically correct rules that only make officers' jobs harder by making their decision making more complex.

6. Pressure the media to start reporting on the intolerable security in these communities and their loss of life daily. Journalists need to wake up and see the violence for what it is - endemic to an unstable security situation, much like Iraq or Afghanistan.

7. Create security jobs and opportunity in these neighborhoods to protect them, much like 'gated communities.' Train security officers in cross-cultural group conflict and martial arts. Arm them and empower them to protect and defend both themselves and others.

8. Legislate to cover gang violence under existing terrorism laws. Shooting up a neighborhood with AKs should be considered terrorism and those who do it terrorists.

9. Allow parents to have school vouchers so they can decide where their child gets educated. This puts the power of their children’s education in their hands and removes it from failing schools with low resources and teacher unions more interested in employing teachers than creating successful schools and students.
10. Train and teach others to train. Budo is much more than the sum of it parts, more than the strategic, tactical, and technical means to conduct combat and warfare, more than the esoteric martial lineages handed down generationally, more than cultural artifices so cherished in pristine form. The Bujinkan offers training in a living art, an art literally teaching the means to conduct oneself to live, "a better life." The art's strategies and techniques, learned through physical training, also provide intuitive lessons to those acute enough to discover their mental and spiritual applications. The art's inherent moral compass is calibrated when practitioners realize their responsibility to their fellow man through the "natural duties" to our families, friends, and by extension 'others,' embodied when we protect those who cannot defend themselves.

November 3, 2009

Gasshuku 2009 - 10 years on ...

I've buried myself in the ground, well, nearly. I'm only exposed slightly, at least I think so. And it's then I crack it - the orange glowstick SNAPS like a bone, igniting shadow and inviting those who seek it. I extend my arm, burying my hand beneath fallen leaves, yet allow the firey glow to protrude on an angle as if hastily placed there and left, discarded by we who are out seeking the players in the dead of this night. And the bait has worked. An apporach. I can hear their footfalls as they place them in the undergrowth, trying hard to silence them, but their energy and anticpation too much to contain. They're hurrying. Good. That's what I want them to do ...

What a weekend we just had! Two and a half beautiful days in the sun, out among the crisp air of the woods, next to a roaring campfire, with good friends, training a warrior's art. Doesn't get much better for me.

I want to thank everyone who participated in Gasshuku; you chose to spend your weekend with us and gain an experience few receive. I hope it was worth it for you and you're better for it. I also want to thank those who helped teach - Shidoshis Jeff Patchin, Jim Delorto, and Joe Bunales were all instrumental in leading and sharing with the good folks who came to participate. There were many years of experience in those sessions and I could not have done it without them. Thanks guys!

When I went back and checked my calendar, it turned out this was my 10 year anniversary hosting Gasshuku. How about that? My very first one was back in 2000 (if you don't count the two 'Outdoor Challenges' I held in college). If I remember right, there were only a few of us back then, but we had a great time. Nowadays, we're at a fancy camp and get to stay in a lodge and what not, but the feeling hasn't changed much. It's still about the training and comeraderie that accompanies it, the 'Buyu Ethic' if you will, the group learning that helps facilitate the individual - the universal and particular coming together.

Friday began with some nighttime Sanshin training under a nearly full moon. Saturday started early with breakfast and a few hours with me training our connection to the Kukan. Part of the training even involved moving in dense woods to ignite our creativity; small steps, coupled with the use of our environment to launch attacks and counters with saplings, tree stumps, and even poisonous mushrooms, gave us all plenty to work on.

Later we made our way through an expansion and contraction, a flexing of Taijutsu's space, using long weapons like bos and spears, down to knives. Good stuff.

Saturday evening saw our annual 'NIGHT GAMES,' our means of applying Taijutsu's positioning, leverage, and timing into the ever-moving, camouflaged world of stealth and stalking. It's always great fun. This year's "MVP," or sneakiest 'Ninja,' went to Kris McKinney, who was awarded the 'Shadow Ninja Flaming Katana.' Good Job, Kris. Hang that $8.00 bad boy on your wall or something.

On Sunday morning, the guys set up a huge backstop to throw shuriken and it did not disappoint. Everyone seemed to be reaching far back into their stockpiles to bring out handfuls of old and new iron. Joe brought out his Meifu Shinkage Ryu bo shuriken, which folks loved throwing and Joe is no slouch at. I even brought out my own stuff, a collection of years and years of old and modern, fabricated and authentic.

We also had folks tackling the ropes course, requiring strength, balance, and near gymnastic agility in some spots.

We ended the day with extending our protection to others. Some seem content to train martial arts for their own personal direction. But I find that direction to become somewhat ambivalent when only applying training to oneself. By physically learning to remove threats to others, we activate our own sense of martial responsibility and realize the natural duties we have in this ancient form of warriorship.

Let's do it again next year!


Check out the complete photostream:

Shidoshi Jeff Patchin

Shidoshi Jim Delorto

Shidoshi Joe Bunales

October 17, 2009

Gasshuku 2009 Schedule

Here is the schedule for this year's Gasshuku. We've quite a weekend planned. We'll have several instructors on hand as well as other folks offering their knowledge and skills in the small group sessions on Sunday morning. We'll also tackle the 40-foot climbing wall then.

I've been hosting Gasshuku for almost 10 years now, and every time is a new experience. It's a great chance to get outside and apply our training to skills we sometimes don't get to practice in the dojo, like stealth and stalking, camouflage, climbing, natural skills like firestarting, as well as taking Taijutsu off the mats and into the woods.

Each year, I try to keep the costs down - all training, meals on Saturday and Sunday, as well as lodging is included for $150. We only do Gasshuku once a year and it's a great time to come together with like-minded folks for an extended weekend of training and camaraderie in a beautiful setting, during what I think is the nicest time of year.

Please contact me if you plan on joining us.


SGTIDojo Gasshuku
October 30-Nov 1, 2009

Friday, October 30

Check in
16:00 – 18:00 Participants to grab bunks in Runge Lodge
18:00 – 20:00 Sanshin and Kihon Happo with all instructors
Dinner in East Troy on Friday night

Saturday, October 31

08:00 – 09:30 Micklewright Lodge dining hall
09:30 – 12:00 Taijutsu with James, “Nawa no kukan”
12:00 – 13:30 Micklewright Lodge dining hall
13:30 – 16:30 Instructor break-out sessions
17:00 – 18:30 Micklewright Lodge dining hall
19:00 – 20:30 Stealth, awareness, and camouflage
20:30 - ??:?? Night Games

Sunday, November 1

08:00 – 09:30 Micklewright Lodge dining hall
09:30 – 12:00 Small-group sessions & climbing wall
12:00 – 13:30 Micklewright Lodge dining hall
13:30 – 16:00 Instructor break-out sessions
16:00 – 17:00 Bodyguarding/defending others, all instructors

October 9, 2009

Buyu Camp East 2009

Tomo and I just returned from a trip into the heart of New Jersey (and no, New Jersey is not all about fat guys in jogging suits with six cell phones, who sit around in pizzerias answering those cell phones - paging Mr. Soprano). The "Garden State" is really nice. Tomo and I joined many others for Buyu Camp East and we loved it.

Buyu Camp is held at the Kateri Environmental Center, about a 40-minute drive south of Newark. Kateri was a Native American woman, baptised some 300 years ago into the Catholic religion.

Hosted by Jack Hoban, Buyu camps are a chance for folks to come together, train, and share ideas. This year's turnout was the biggest yet, with around 80 people showing up.

I haven't been to a Buyu Camp in some time, but I recognized a few faces including Mark Hodel, Ed Martin, Steffan Frohlich, and Joe Lau. Buyu East is also matched by its bigger brother, Buyu West, held annually just outside San Francisco.

Friday night began with Sanshin no kata and Jack's thoughts on three-dimensional movement, capturing the right "space," and his trifecta of sanshin: technique, tactic, and ethic, or body, mind, and spirit. Creating an opening (technique), we maneuvered into a better position than our opponent (tactic), and then let them decide whether the fight continued at their disadvantage (ethic). Very cool.

Saturday and Sunday saw extended sessions with Jack and break-out sessions with various teachers, including yours truly. Teachers offered instruction in groundfighting, Koto Ryu movement, Ukemi, defending others, and even primitive fire starting with Joe Lau, a former instructor at Tom Brown's world famous Tracker School. My session covered "connection" and connectivity, more or less the Bujinkan's theme of the year.

We met some great folks and had good fun with everybody. In fact, we're already planning a return trip.

October 2, 2009

Remember the time we accidentally climbed that mountain?

"Light hiking." That's what it was supposed to be. Light. I guess I was up for some "light" hiking. I was up for all kinds of light activity the day before leaving Japan: Light shopping. Light snacking. Light napping, even. But what we got was not light. It was damn serious. I just wish we had known we were going to do it.

It's not like Tomo's friend didn't tell us. She did. The Shugenja Trail. A trail made by the Shugenja. Got it. We just had no clue what that meant. Turns out, she didn't either - she had been invited by a mutual friend, who was a semi-professional climber. This was 'light' for her.

The mountain, Homan-zan, is a well known 'power spot,' and has been for centuries. The shrine at the top was originally built during the Tenmu era, 673-686 AD. One of the shrines at the base was to the founder of Shindo Muso Ryu, Muso Gonnosuke. This guy was serious. He fights Miyamoto Musashi, loses, and comes to Homan-zan to pray and meditate on his loss. In fact, he meditates in one of the mountain's caves, 'Fuchi no Kutsu,' to realize why. The story goes, he prayed and meditated until he got a 'divine stick,' and came up with Jodo - the way of the stick (Shindo Muso Ryu, for short).

Now, granted, I should have known better, I mean it is called the Shugenja Trail, right? It isn't called the Hello Kitty Trail, Totoro's Trail, or the Super Floppy Sock High School Action Trail, it's called the Shugenja Trail. And it is called this for one reason alone: the Shugenja were nuts. And at no time during this hike do you ever forget that.

You see, the trail is, in fact, built out of rocks. Rocks that make steps. Big ones. Big rock steps up the side of a mountain. An 830 meter high mountain (2723 feet or a little more than half a mile straight up). But the trail winds more than 2 kilometers (about a mile and half) up the side of said mountain. It took us three hours to summit. An hour and 45 to make it down.

And remember, we had no idea we were going to do this. We were completely unprepared. Tomo's wearing her tiny Puma shoes, we've half a bottle of water between us, the rocks are slippery and steps steep. Any slip would have made for a very bad ending to a great trip. By the time we realized where we were and what we were doing, it was just too late to turn back.

All in all, it was a fine day. It's nice to know we can climb a mountain at the drop of a hat, even if there was a little gnashing of teeth (okay, my teeth). But, hell, no one got injured. And when we came down, the girls drank purple Shiso drinks. I had a coconut-mango smoothie. It was awful.

Oh, and we heard from Tomo's friend. She couldn't walk for two days.