July 29, 2009


I'm happy to announce I'll be hosting our annual Gasshuku on Friday, October 30th thru Sunday, November 1st, 2009, at Edwards YMCA Camp (http://www.campedwards.org/) in East Troy, Wisconsin, about 90 minutes outside Chicago. I'll be assisted by a score of instructors, bringing all their experience and knowledge.

We'll look to cover:
Outdoor survival
Escape from capture
Stealth and evasion
Night training
Night games
Makko Ho Japanese stretching
Climbing and ropes course
Camp Edwards is 132 acres of pine forests, prairies, marshlands, and wooded dells, all with easy trail access. We'll be staying at the Runge Lodge with its sunken fireplace, cathedral ceiling, and bunk beds. We'll enjoy family meals in the cafeteria for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Saturday and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. The cafeteria includes a fresh vegetable salad bar, soups, hot and cold foods, and desserts. Coffee and tea will be available all day in the main lodge.

Registration is $150.00 and includes lodging, all meals, and training on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.

This is a preliminary announcement and specific information will be forthcoming. Please respond if you plan on attending.

Pack your gear!


July 19, 2009

Beers after Training

The Bujinkan has been a lightning rod for controversy over the years and no less of it seems to exist today. There are ongoing debates, arguments, and flat out name calling (mostly online) when it comes to training’s whos, whats, wheres, whens, and hows. Attacks come from both within and without about a variety of subjects – rank, authenticity, practicality, ability, etc. I quite understand someone who doesn’t train in the Bujinkan having difficulty seeing it for what it is, since many of the Bujinkan’s own seem to have trouble as well. (My only question to those outside the art who would criticize it is: why do you care?)

The Bujinkan is purposely indefinable. There are no curriculums, syllabuses, manuals, books, or videos, detailing requirements for training from Hatsumi sensei. With the exception of a single test, for Godan, there are no rank requirements from Hatsumi sensei. This isn’t to say requirements don’t exist, plenty of people have created their own, but I have never seen any released and continually advanced by Soke himself.

Soke has published countless books and videos, many with cool step-by-step photos. The “Bujinkan Bible,” Soke’s purple book, published some years ago, is often used as an ad-hoc training manual, but this is solely the choice of the user; Soke doesn't regularly say, “Oh, and make sure you know everything from my purple book."

The Bujinkan places the individual at the helm of their own training. Why do this? Why not have standard rank tests, or standards period? Why allow the extreme variation from one training perspective to another? Hasn’t the Bujinkan lost seemingly good people, people who should ‘know’ better, but left because in their view the Bujinkan lacks focus on basics? What’s wrong with a curriculum anyway? What’s wrong with being told what to do? Why can’t everyone just ‘meet the standard’ before being ranked to “mega-dan?” Why not do all these things?

Simple. Soke is not interested in teaching his art to make people good. He “teaches” and I believe has always taught, to see who gets it.

One might view all of the above elements – curriculums and standards and what not – like a ladder, just put one hand over the other, and rung after rung, you too can climb to the promised land. There are plenty of precedents and other schools that behave in exactly this manner. Here’s what you need to know next, learn it, perform it for the test, good job, here’s your rank, here’s what you need to know next, learn it … For some, this may be the manner in which they feel most comfortable training and can measurably judge their progress. I don’t have a problem with it, in fact it can be a good tool for those who need it. But therein lies the rub.

It’s one thing to standardize those who need it, it’s another to standardize everyone. As a rule, instead of an exception, egalitizing the masses forces them to an un-chosen path of training with sets of standards and curriculums, information and performance of that information, and funnels them through the strict gates by which they will be judged. Doing this creates a median level that everyone must attain and can create the opportunity to draw up those who would not, could not, attain such levels on their own. The problem with it, like any kind of socialization, is in drawing up the least of us, we also hold back the very best of us. We inevitably, and inexplicably, revoke the opportunity to excel.

In stark contrast, Soke has given us as much freedom and liberty in our training to become as good or as bad as we wish to be. This perspective allows the best to track out of the wilderness and discover their own way, while assisting those who might not be able to do so. In the best sense, our training really has as much freedom as possible with as much assistance as necessary. This empowers and cultivates the artist within, while celebrating the burden of personal responsibility. Remember, it will be the best of us that usher the Bujinkan to the future, not arbitrary “standards.”

The standard is not why art thrives, on the contrary, it’s what remains to be placed in museums to be remembered by. Taijutsu happens in the moment, and it cannot be captured in photo, picture, video, or other medium; it cannot be categorized, or defined in a way to teach those struggling with its form. Function is the form of the Bujinkan, which is why kata holds no answers, only the means to ask better questions. If not infused with the moment, there is no life, no lifeforce, and art becomes simply a performance, an image, a perception of reality, like so many martial arts practiced today. Like all teachings in the Bujinkan, there are contradictions: what we see is not how it really works, and how it works, is not how we might use it.

As Soke walks his own martial path, I don't believe he's interested in how many follow. Something tells me, he’s looking for those who walk beside him.

July 2, 2009

Perseverance and Spirit

By renouncing their allegiance to the King, the delegates at Philadelphia had committed treason and embarked on a course from which there could be no turning back ...

In a ringing preamble, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the document declared it "self-evident" that "all men are created equal," and were endowed with the "unalienable" right of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." And to this noble end the delegates had pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Such courage and high ideals were of little consequence, of course, the Declaration itself being no more than a declaration without military success against the most formidable force on earth ...

But from this point on, the citizen-soldiers of Washington's army were no longer to be fighting only for the defense of their country, or for the rightful liberties as freeborn Englishmen, as they had at Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill and through the long siege at Boston. It was now proudly proclaimed, all-out war for an independent America, a new America, and thus a new day of freedom and equality ...

At a stroke the Continental Congress had made the Glorious Cause of America more glorious still, for all the world to know, and also to give every citizen soldier at this critical juncture something still larger and more compelling for which to fight ...

-From David McCullough's "1776"

Amid the barbecues and fireworks, levity and laughter this weekend, we celebrate the promise of America's hard-fought values. These original values, conceived with almost divine foresight, created the basis for the most audacious experiment in democracy the world had ever seen.

The self-evident truths of equality were revolutionary thought at their time, laying the groundwork for a nation of frontiersmen, free thinkers, and leaders prospering with the opportunities only freedom can grant.

These original values, fought for so desperately, are America's culture, its gift to natural born and naturalized citizens alike, its gift to a world too hardened by its own imperialist history, to embrace the idealism of the world's newest country.

America's values are the antithesis of moral relativism, an embrace of the common, or natural, sense, an acquiescence to power higher than the self. Is it any wonder, the warrior's own values are so closely aligned ...

Be safe this weekend and embrace those you care about, wherever you might be.


"Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages."
-General George Washington

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.