December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We had terrific fun at Bonenkai! My great thanks to all those who came and supported it.

Look for my Under the Blade 2011 this January.

Please have a safe and very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

See you in 2011!



December 5, 2010

2010 Bonenkai Training and Celebration

Seasons Greetings and Merry Christmas!

We’ve nailed down the date for our annual Bonenkai training and celebration for Saturday, December 18th!

Join us as we recap this year’s training in “Shinobigokoro” and “Rokkon Shojo” from 1-5pm at the Tenshinkan Dojo, the Japanese Culture Center at 1016 West Belmont Ave in Chicago. Cost for the afternoon training will be $30.00.

After training, we’ll retire just across the street to “Mi Tierra Cocina Mexicana” for some of the best food and margaritas in Chicago!

We’ll also enjoy a spirited game of “White Elephant” gift swap, so please bring a wrapped gift for exchange and possible savage, bloody combat. Last year, I brought a whole smoked ham. Yes, a ham. It killed.

Here’s hoping you can join us!

Best,

James

I would like to add - if you are a Shidoshi and are interested in coming, please feel free to attend as my guest and share your thoughts and experiences from your own year of training.


The Bujinkan is incredibly diverse with many different perspectives. When we share these perceptions with each other it can only strengthen our training and help us navigate this sometimes confounding warrior art.

Hoping we'll see you!
Check out our Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=wall&gid=106870052015#!/event.php?eid=164107683630983

November 25, 2010

Warriorship of the Ring

Warriorship isn’t just an individual path we choose for self-enlightenment, it’s also something we share with each other, much like friendship and fellowship. Warriorship is that bonding - part of the ‘group ethic’ - we experience when we train together, sharing adversity while trying to understand this inscrutable martial art.

Recently, we had several gatherings that highlighted this ring of warriorship. Our annual Gasshuku was in October and we also had a couple of trainings last week with our friend and mentor, Jack Hoban.

Warriorship is nothing less than the search for values. If we ask ourselves “why do we train?” we’ll discover it is the same as asking “why is it important enough for us to train and keep training?” Warrior values are moral-physical – ethical - and unless we can see them both philosophically and physically encoded into the art, how can we ever comprehend its higher principles or the potential they hold for us?



“To me, a warrior is a protector of other people at the risk of his own life. But what they do that other protectors – like firemen - do not, is kill to protect life - this oxymoronic thing that actually undermines this feeling of nobility from defending others. Yes, I did protect others. Yes, I did protect life, but I had to take life in order to do it. This is an added burden. They almost cancel each other out. And that’s why people get sick from it. And you’ll surely get sick if you do it from the wrong mental perspective, out of anger or fear or prejudice or disrespect or dehumanization – you’ll get real sick. But even if you don’t, it’s still very, very difficult. And that’s why a warrior to me is the epitome of human endeavor because even though they protect humankind’s most important value, life, they may have to take it which is almost … so dangerous to you … that it can’t be overlooked.” 
~ Jack Hoban






 http://s742.photobucket.com/albums/xx70/sgtidojo/2010-10Gasshuku/

October 30, 2010

Martial Heart

Last Saturday, I woke up to the very call nobody should ever wake up to. You may have heard by now, but if you haven’t, we have lost one of our own – Mark Hodel passed away last Friday from a heart attack. He was 57. He is survived by his sisters Anne and Page and his son Andrew.

Mark was one of the first, a pioneer of the Bujinkan in America. As one of its “Founding Fathers,” Mark was the 5th American to take the Godan test, co-sponsored the first American Tai Kai, and completed some 40-plus years of martial arts training. A lifelong student, he also mentored those who asked (and some who didn’t) and watched over plenty of folks along the way, opening not just his home for training, but also his heart.                                                       
I first met Mark in 1999 and enjoyed a strong friendship with him ever since. He arrived with Jack Hoban, hosting the first Buyu seminar in the Midwest, or perhaps it was one of the first. There were like, eight of us there or something - it was very small. Mark introduced himself to me with a smile and a firm handshake, “Welcome,” he said. He was friendly, accommodating, and kind. He remained that way all of the years I knew him.

Mark recommended I teach at the second Buyu Camp I attended some years ago – a step into a larger world I might not have taken on my own. But that was Mark for you – he pushed me, mentoring with the confidence he would freely give away, recognizing and handing our own potential back to us saying, ‘keep going,’ (you’re almost there).

Training is a very personal thing. There is and probably will always be much debate as to its efficacy and essentialness – is it just a hobby sharing time with model shipbuilding and tennis? Or is it something more, something deeper, spiritual even? How we choose to answer that is incumbent on our perspective, the perceptivity of our training experience, and what it means to us in the big picture. I don’t go to church, I no longer practice my Catholic faith, I still respect it and believe in a higher power, in my own personal way. But for me, I train. Training answers for me the great moral questions, it directs my thoughts and actions and shapes my character; I believe in its law, a naturalness to understanding justice and what is right and wrong in the world around me.


Mark did too. He knew the importance of it, the weight and burden of it, so never questioned why, he just accepted, until such time he could understand things more fully, embracing the change, his evolution in thought. He was smart that way, patient, fervently loyal to training’s long-term goal, while prioritizing his life among his loved ones and friends. I will miss my friend Mark as will the thousands of other people around the world whose lives he touched.

Attached are 10 questions I sent Mark in 2002. He sent his answers back to me right away, as I recall, and I am so thankful he did. It is an amazing read - in his voice – and displays the quiet brilliance of Mark’s understanding of Budo. Some can train martial arts the whole of their lives and never realize the subtle shades Mark knew intrinsically, the nuances that provide that last piece of the puzzle, giving us clarity to navigate in a sometimes brutal world. Mark knew these truths simply, like he knew his name, like he knew the sun would rise tomorrow. His words, just like he did in life, shine a light on the path so the rest of us can find our way.


The life we lead is also the imprint we leave behind, the track others can see and sense and follow. The imprint Mark left was as a minder of the path, a guardian on it, standing sometimes on its sidelines just to make sure others were not getting lost, or confused, or standing still. And in those cases, he would reach out, offering us a necessary hand, righting our balance, until such time we needed to be righted again. And he would be there, again. This was Mark’s Taijutsu - his life’s last and greatest lesson - that inspired us and led us by example.

If you knew Mark, please keep him and his family in your thoughts. If you didn’t, please say a prayer for him, and one as well for yourself, that you might know someone someday, an expert in martial heart like Mark Hodel.

~James


10 Questions with Mark Hodel, 2002
What is your personal martial art biography?
I became interested in martial arts in the early 60’s. I started Judo when I was 11, and got my green belt in December 1964. I continued with Judo and Jujitsu (Kodenkan Style, Prof. Wally Jay, Alameda Jujitsu Club, Del Esposti, Marin School of Self Defense) and got a brown belt when I was 15.

When I was 16, I could finally attend the Karate class that I only could watch until that time. I became a martial art nut. I still have boxes of old Black Belt Magazines, including the December 1966 issue that introduced ninja to America and the February 1967 issue that introduced us to Hatsumi-Sensei: “A little more than an hours train ride from Tokyo in drowsy Noda City along the back waters of Chiba peninsula lives one of the more interesting men of Japan today. He is Yoshiaki Hatsumi, a modern day ninja…”

I think I may have been one of the first people to buy the Andy Adams book in March of 1970. I read it over and over, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would ever meet Hatsumi Sensei face-to-face.

I got my Black Belt in Shotokan Karate from one of Richard Kim’s (SFO YMCA) Black Belt Instructors, Gene Orlando, in September 1971. When I was in college in Santa Barbara, California, I trained with Bill Berk a student of Hidetaka Nishiyama (AAKF) in Shotokan Karate including attending tournaments and camps and going to LA to train with Nishiyama-Sensei.

I took several years off then moved to Stockton, California (1978), and trained for three years in Karate and Jujitsu with a student of Prof. Wally Jay and Coach Willy Cahill, named Art Diocson. I also trained simultaneously with Stockton based Filipino martial art masters: Gilbert Tenio, John Eliab, Leo Giron, Angel Cabales, and Dentoy Revilar.

I bought the first Stephen K. Hayes book in 1980 and became interested in Ninjutsu again. I saw a seminar in Black Belt Magazine that he was giving in October 1981 in Seattle, Washington, and went to check it out. His partner and Uke for the seminar was a wiry, crew cut Marine officer named Jack Hoban.

I started going to seminars in Ohio with Stephen K. Hayes and went with him on the 1983 Ninja Tour of Japan where I met Hatsumi Sensei and the Shihan: Ishizuka, Nagato, Kan, Saito, Kobayashi, Oguri, Nogouchi, Shiraishi, Seno, and others.

Stephen K. Hayes recommended that I train with Jack Hoban who was closer to me than Ohio, in San Diego, and introduced us. I started going down to his monthly seminars, given in a Quonset hut on the Marine base by the San Diego airport.

I invited him to come to Stockton and give a seminar for my little training group in January, 1984 - he did and that was the beginning of the Stockton Bujinkan Dojo. The picture of that first Jack Hoban seminar includes California students who are still active, Richard Van Donk, Mark O’brien, Bill Atkins, Dale Seago, Dave Furukawa, Miki Fujitsubo, and others.

In 1985, Jack Hoban and I started the Warrior Information Network, at that time a newsletter with training information. It has evolved into the WIN website on the internet: http://www.winjutsu.com/.

I have been active in the Bujinkan Dojo, co-sponsoring 5 Tai Kai’s, Sensei’s two newsletters, Tetsuzan and Sanmyaku, seminars, and camps and I have been to Japan to train 16 times. I passed the Godan test on December 4, 1989 (I was the fifth American). I have also enjoyed the international expansion of the Bujinkan and have attended Tai Kai’s in Sweden, England, and Israel

I now train weekly in Southeast Wisconsin, monthly with a group of independent instructors from around Wisconsin and Illinois, yearly at the Tai Kai, USA. I also co-sponsor the BuYu Camp in June in San Francisco and I go to Japan with a group of students every December for the Daikomyosai training.

What are the biggest differences in training today than when you first began in the Bujinkan?
The biggest change is the sheer volume of information available to the student. There are numerous books, videos, websites, newsletters and magazines that didn’t exist in the early 80’s. The second difference is the number of training opportunies available in dojos, seminars and qualified instructors usually no more than a couple of hours drive for most students. There is also a twenty year history of practice in America to look back on as part of the learning process.

Why do we train the way we do, e.g. yearly themes, yearly weapons?
This question begs the answer: because Hatsumi-Sensei told us to do it this way.

It may seem strange that he teaches “no technique” and then directs us to train within a defined structure, but I don’t think it is, even if it is frustrating to the student*. I think that Sensei is talking about an end - no technique - and a means to that end - the lesson in the waza.

I believe that all the lessons of Ninjutsu are coded in a three dimensional language called taijutsu, but that their meaning - the waza’s essence - is different, or changes, for the student as a he or she progresses in skill level. So we need to revisit the ryu and the waza over the course of our lives, over and over again probably, to apply the lessons to our current training level or awareness.

I also think he is giving us something constructive to do so that we don’t get cocky and start making stuff up - do the technique wrong well.

At the first Tai Kai in Yuma Mura, Japan, in October 1983, at a question and answer session, someone asked Sensei what he - the student - should do to become Soke. The translator said that the student should do his movements in front of a mirror, and when he moved like Soke, he could be the Soke.

What at first seemed to me, in translation, to be a flippant answer to a stupid, insulting question later made more sense to me. He gives us dozens of waza, hundreds of variations, weird concepts like snow falling off trees, dropping devils, and imperial palanquins and says do all this stuff, it will take years, if most of it sticks, you will be OK.

*At the BuYu Camp 2000, Julio Toribio told us this story: when training in Japan, Sensei watched his technique and said, “No power!” Julio asked, “Sensei, if I have no power, how can I do the technique?” Sensei replied, “No technique!” Julio then exclaimed, “But, Sensei if I have no technique, how can I do the exercise?” Sensei smiled and said, “Keep Going!” and walked away.

What aspects of training should budoka concentrate on?
Their health, family life, personal economics, then balance training activities. Don’t think about it too much, just do it.

Is there a secret to training?
Well, if there is a secret, it is still a secret to me (laugh)! If you are asking is there a simple top priority, I would say that it is to train with Hatsumi Sensei directly, or if that is not practical, train with people who believe that that is the top priority.

What is the best way I can improve my training?
Keep going.

Given the new climate of the world stage, what are our roles as budoka?
While sometimes warfare is a zero sum adventure, I believe that Ninjutsu in application is not. Any situation should be managed so that there is no bad after affect if possible. I would say the worst after affects are the consequences of death, hatred, and revenge. Sometimes good people have to do bad things, but it must never be their choice to do them, it must always be a last resort and without alternative.

The ironic thing about martial art training is that you practice with some of your best friends to apply to your worst enemies. The chilling reality of a real enemy is not usually part of the student’s life experience.

Sadly, evil is on the move in the world now and the chance that we will have to apply our training against real enemies is much greater after 9-11-01.

However, maybe that (applying our training) is our minor role. Our major role may be to remind those that we protect and defend, and each other, that our enemies are not animals, and while some will have to be killed, it is because they force us, and if we live, we will have to share the world with the rest when the war is over so we have to relate to them as fellow human beings, and get them to do the same. (www.lifevalues.com)

At the Daikomyosai training in 2001, Hatsumi-Sensei told us that we must prepare to deal with real enemies at their level, but without the hatred (my paraphrase of the translator).

“…The ninja’s duty is to be enlightened in the laws of humanity. There should be no fighting that does not follow these rules. Therefore, the enemy who stands against the laws of nature has lost his battle before he begins the fight. The first priority to the ninja was to win without fighting, that remains the way.” (Takamatsu-Sensei in an interview by Hatsumi-Sensei in his book “Essence of Ninjutsu”, page 23.)

If you could contribute one thing to the Bujinkan “Book of Knowledge” what would it be?
One thing? Well, I suppose it would be three admonitions.

The first is that simulating violence and talking about it in training is not the same as experiencing it. (It is easy to say “cut here” it is not easy to cut “here.”)

The second would be that the budoka treat his or her skills like a sacred trust, be careful when you apply them and to whom you teach them.

The third admonition is that the student must realize that when you apply your skills on a real enemy, your life will be changed.

How do you overcome problems with training or other budoka?
I am not sure I understand this question. I suppose the biggest problem students have is the money and time commitment required for training, so I would say that you must balance your economic life, personal life and training life because they are interactive whether you like it or not.

Regarding problems with other budoka, I really haven’t had any that I can recall. I suppose that if I did I would just avoid them, if they damaged me in some way, the legal system both criminal and civil exists to compensate that damage. This is not wild west any more, after all.

What is the future of the Bujinkan?
I wish I could predict the future! Well, from what I have observed, the Bujinkan Dojo is an expanding worldwide phenomena and I suppose that there will be thousands of little training groups all over the world that think and act local, but get together to share technology with each other periodically and remain linked by their common practice. Imagine a world filled with physical/moral, defender/protectors. Imagine communities where it is not safe to be a bad guy (laugh)!

Do you have any special plans for your own training in the future?
Like all students, I struggle with the “big picture” since the body of knowledge (physical skill knowledge) in the Bujinkan Dojo is huge. Some day I would like to be able to say that I understand it all, but I don’t worry about it, in the mean time I will just keep going.

October 23, 2010

Walking the "Plank"

He was just lying there, but his dazed look invited others to inquire – in my neighborhood that was a concern. He wasn’t dead, but he was out of it and needed help. I suspected he’d been drinking and in a rambling slur he acknowledged such. I didn’t want to leave someone who couldn’t take care of themselves - he could be dying from some drug cocktail coursing through him for all I knew. And if I had left him, he could be mugged, beat up, or worse. So I called 911.


Perhaps my experience at the inaugural RGI Conflict Resolution Course the prior September weekend instilled in me a sense of ownership for this moment. I couldn’t help being inspired, the lineup of instructors was impressive: James Shanahan, 30-year veteran of the NYPD – a legend; Joe “Marine” Shusko, 30-year veteran of the Marine Corps and director of the Corps’ Martial Arts Center for Excellence in Quantico, Virginia – another legend; Officer Artie Mark, NYPD, the epitome of the ‘street-smart cop;’ Gary Klugiewicz, 25-year veteran of the Milwaukee Sheriff’s Department and president of “Verbal Judo.” The list goes on with agents from the FBI, US Marshals Service, and other professionals from the civilian sector. And leading this mighty pack of sheepdogs was none other than Jack Hoban.


In attendance were Law Enforcement, Marines, servicemen, teachers, and civilians, all of us looking for answers to resolve conflict, reduce tensions, and make the world just a little bit safer. The impact of the training was to do just that. From learning how to communicate effectively, to street smarts, to physical skills, to teambuilding, to philosophy, to a morning PT session right on the Jersey shore, all of the training, lectures, stories, and anecdotes were geared toward activating the inner ‘Ethical Warrior.’

The root of all conflict is disrespect and often leads to the dehumanization of one’s enemy, further obscuring the moral high ground. Cicero said, “Whom they fear, they hate,” and it is as true today as it was in Roman times. By dehumanizing the enemy and reducing their lives to subhuman stature, it makes it easier to do the rough stuff, the violence, the killing. So, activating respect for the lives of others and ourselves is the surest means to resolve conflict, while at the same time creates a powerfully strong, tactical advantage.


Joe Shusko recounted the story of his own son, a Marine stationed in Iraq, when he took charge of a unit responsible for finding caches of illegal weapons. SOP was to kick in the doors of villagers, swarm in guns up, and interrogate the homeowners. Not only were they not finding any weapons, they were still being attacked, and weren’t receiving any information from villagers. Upon taking over, Shusko’s son made a command decision – stop kicking in doors and interrogating, start knocking on doors and asking politely. Within one week of the change, they were inundated with information and were led to various caches and insurgents that could have harmed or killed innocent civilians and fellow Marines.

So, after watching over my inebriated friend, imagine my relief when a Chicago Police cruiser rolled up to help him. I approached the officers – a young blond female, and an older male – and gave them the story, even telling them his name was Dean (I had gotten that much out of him).


They were silent, walked right past, without even looking at or acknowledging me. They ambled over to Dean who was lying on the sidewalk and the blond yelled, “Get up! You’re drunk! This is ridiculous!” The male poured a bottle of water on him. Dean jackknifed up. I turned and walked home.

Shanahan had said over his long career he had known cops who could talk a rabid dog off a meat truck and others who could show up at the scene of the Nativity and crack skulls. A few days later, I recalled my encounter to Jack. He asked rhetorically, “Think they’re happy acting that way?”

September 20, 2010

Ode to a Warhammer

So, I bought a warhammer. It’s nice – handmade from maple. It’s remarkably balanced. I named it “Gary” after the fellow who made it. I bought it at the Midwest Taikai in August. It’s my first warhammer.


When I brought Gary into the Ann Arbor ballroom and started moving with it, some folks approached me with consternation, “What are you going to do with that?” I was taken aback. They may as well have been asking what I intended to do with a hanbo, or sword, or rope. “Train with it,” I replied. They smiled, “Yeah, but … how?”

Now, “how” is a good question. But here’s a better one to me – “How do you not know how?” Isn’t this the Ninja art? The one supposed to grant us the ability to pick up and utilize any weapon whatsoever and use it to our advantage effectively? It seems to me, if we don’t know how, there might be a disconnect somewhere – with our basics.

Much of the talk at Taikai revolved around basics – how we needed to concentrate on them, practice them more often, make certain we understand them more fully. All of which begs the question: what exactly are the basics?

Most folks seem to agree the basics are the Kihon, Kihon Happo, and Sanshin no kata, some of the most fundamental aspects of our art. But here’s the problem … they’re not basic. They’re like a thousand years old, culled from actual battles, and collectively represent some of the most refined and advanced movement in the history of mankind. The Kihon, Kihon Happo, and Sanshin share something else in common – they’re all techniques; vehicles, models that illustrate, illuminate, and otherwise point us toward understanding the basics. In the use of Taijutsu, elements from all these techniques can be used, and probably overlap with each other along the way, but they’re not essential to the functionality of Taijutsu, they are mere examples - reflections - of it. But the basics are absolutely crucial to every and all movement in Taijutsu; we literally cannot move properly without them.

So, then, what are the basics? Well, let’s say we wanted to teach our little 8-year-old daughter “Jill” martial arts. How would we do it? Would we start her with the Sanshin, the Kihon, and Kihon Happo? About how long do you think it would take Jill to become effective using all of those techniques? And who is she going to use them on? Her friends? Bullies in the schoolyard? To be honest, I’m not so worried about them. I am however, worried about kidnappers, pedophiles, rapists, and murderers. Do we actually believe Jill could successfully perform Sanshin or the Kihon Happo to protect herself from any of them? At eight? Or nine? How about 10? Even after two years of training, I myself would be doubtful Jill could successfully use these techniques. And why? Simple, they’re not basic.

Here’s what I would like my little Jill to know how to do. I’d like her to be able to run as fast as she can. I don’t want her trying to Omote Gyaku herself away from some sicko, I want her outrunning them. I’d like her to be in shape, to be able to scramble up and scale things, run, tumble, and jump nimbly. I’d like her to be strong, be able to climb a rope, and have upper body strength. I’d like her to be able to squirm out of any wrestle, grab, hold, or lock I can place her in and get away. I’d like her to know she can spit, scream, cry, kick and scratch her way out if someone tries to pick her up and Daddy won’t be mad at her for doing so. I’d like to be able to hide or move quietly when she needed to. I’d like her to become more aware of herself and her surroundings and to always be thinking ahead, not waiting for somebody to tell her what to do. And she could learn to do all of these things in a matter of months, in some cases, weeks, even – no techniques, just games, fun games, that provide serious skills. Later, I would begin to layer in techniques - a twist here, a shuto there - but only as she matured, only as much as she understood her own role.

This to me is reasonable. This to me is basic. Why? Principles are the basic: distance, balance, and timing. Getting Jill in shape, and giving her a raw, visceral understanding of advantageous position and leverage on an opponent, at their weakest, most inopportune time grants her the very best chances to escape and survive. Not fighting back, mind you, escaping. Ninpo Taijutsu is based on escape; every aspect of the Shinobi’s life was dedicated to this ideal. They didn’t duel like the samurai, they used their Taijutsu for deception. They created all kinds of funky, freaky tools to assist them, while feeding the superstitions that would expand their legend and create hesitation in the mind of their next enemy. Ninja took the notion of the Bushido warrior and flipped it on its head, because they knew, if they didn’t return with the battle plans, or the reconnaissance map, or the secrets of the enemy, they knew people were going to die. Maybe their own people.

Principles make us effective. Techniques make us efficient. Why would we want our Jill to be efficient without being effective first? And if all of this is true, why would I train adults any differently? Why would I show them all the techniques and none of the principles? Why would I try to make them efficient before making them effective? Techniques on their own don’t work. And what’s worse, they can be lethal to us if utilized that way. To be effective, techniques must be powered, driven, applied by principle; gas is not the principle behind a car, the combustion within its engine is.

So, when asked “how” I would use my warhammer the answer was simple - with Taijutsu. But the better question, “how do you not know how?” is answered by our training perspective. Are there warhammer techniques out there? Yes, Shinden Fudo Ryu has some. Do I know any of them? Not yet, but I imagine I will at some point. Does it matter in the interim? Not really. When we can clearly comprehend the principles, opportunity and advantage become apparent, allowing us to capture the kukan in the right place, in the right way, and most importantly, at the right time. Techniques then fit into the captured space.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t master our most fundamental models – the Kihon, Kihon Happo, and Sanshin are remarkable tools to expose and enlighten us to principle. But memorizing and programming their techniques, or any techniques, as solutions to lethal questions is, to me, leading us precisely to “how do you not know how,” where we must be instructed on every aspect of training, told and directed by the numbers as to how to move, how to respond, and in essence, how to think. Reacting with pre-programmed responses has never seemed as important to me as creating a spontaneous moment through principle that we can take advantage of.

The techniques of our art are there to guide us through the mountains and pitfalls in our understanding of advantage. Position, leverage, and initiative are the adjustments we make in our application of technique. But if we cannot recognize those foundational concepts, if our movement becomes myopic and intent on ‘winning,’ we lose the vitality of the kukan, and the space around us contracts, choking us of the few precious moments we may need to get home to Jill.

I'd want her to own this understanding. I think she'd want me to own it too.

August 23, 2010

The Hero and the Warrior

Six people came that first time. We trained – all day – and ran around all night trying to sneak up on each other. The next year we did it again. And the year after that and the year after that. Pretty soon it was like this thing - an important thing, it turned out. In fact, we looked forward and enjoyed it too much, not to keep doing it. So we did. And we’re still doing it today. Gasshuku is shugyo. It’s two-and-a-half days when we volunteer our time and energy to concentrate on warriorship.


Google ‘warriorship’ and you’ll find it bandied about in new age circles – warrior coaching, self mastery, finding the ‘inner warrior’ – but it’s all just mumbo jumbo and clever marketing. No one seems to understand how to even define the warrior, let alone train others in their ways. So, why invoke the ‘warrior’ in such talk? Because of how we associate that strong archetype of the stable, centered, unflappable person able to deflect and defend life’s challenges, and our ideal self. In that sense, a warrior is really a hero.

But there’s something about a warrior that goes beyond even what heroes are capable of. Warriorship is not a complicated thing, but it’s also not an easy thing. Its roots are associated with war, to be sure, but not confined or limited to it. The best definition I ever heard of a warrior comes from Shihan Jack Hoban, an expert in ‘Ethical Warriorship:’

“A fireman is a hero. He protects life, right? At the risk of his own life. Runs into a burning building to protect someone he’s never seen before. Perhaps as a volunteer. And could die saving this person he doesn’t even know. That’s a hero. That’s the epitome of the self and others (value). Which others? All others. And what does he get for it? If he’s a volunteer he doesn’t get anything material. If he works for a town maybe he gets a civil servants pay. But what he (does) get for it is two things: one, he gets to save lives, which is the most noble, best feeling that a human being can get, and he gets the esteem and support of his peers and the people that he saved. He gets the inner and the outer feeling.

So, what’s the difference between them and a warrior? A warrior is supposed to protect people at the risk of his own life, but what he does that (others do not) is kill to protect life; this oxymoronic thing that actually undermines this feeling of nobility from defending others. Yes, I did protect others. Yes, I did protect life, but I had to take life in order to do it. This is an added burden. They almost cancel each other out. And that’s why people get sick from it. And they’ll surely get sick if they do it from the wrong mental perspective, out of anger or fear or prejudice or disrespect or dehumanization – you’ll get real sick. But even if you don’t, it’s very, very difficult. And that’s why a warrior to me is the epitome of human endeavor because even though they protect life they may have to take it which is almost … so dangerous to you … that it can’t be overlooked.”
There is a burden, a responsibility, in learning the ways and means of the warrior. The ‘self and others’ value inherent in Ethical Warriorship provides a roadmap by which to train by. Is it right to be excited by the pomp and circumstance of our training, the scope of our history, the minutiae and relentless pursuit of technical mastery? In a word, yes. This is the ‘self’ side of our training, the ‘selfish’ part we often, perhaps too often, get energized about, because it’s what we can most easily and readily identify – the part that seems to provide fulfillment. But we should be mindful here, not to allow ourselves to be carried away by the best intentions of our enthusiasm, lest it devolve into pride, self-centeredness, and relativism.

There is an ‘others’ side to the training as well, steeped in the honesty of movement, the tactical usage of space, and the ethics of the protector. We channel it through the principles of our art – position, leverage, and initiative – giving us the macro view that provides the necessary counterweight to find the stability to reconcile the two halves into one whole. It is our mature side, the ‘adult’ in us, providing perspective to “be real” about our movement, and come to terms with the warrior’s inherent burden and accept it.

We often excuse the absence of thought, word, and deed when it is superfluous, extra, or redundant, but what about when it is not? What about when it is essential, as in the protection of life and the lives of others? When inaction causes death, it exposes that which drives us to begin training, our most innate and primal fear – the grip of hesitancy, helplessness, and inaction, the spiritual nakedness that robs us of confidence to make us responsible or contributory to the death of someone we love. And it is through this we can decipher the imperative of our training, it’s crucial and key points.

Make no mistake, the warrior trains not to become courageous - the opposite of courage is not fear, but submission, a sick thing the warrior can never do. Since fear is an emotional response it cannot be eradicated, but after many years of hard, physical training we can discover its opposite – the assured and steadfast, peace of mind to know when to forgive ourselves for prideful activity, and when “doing” is the only answer, even at the cost of our own life.

Those first six people and I didn’t talk about this kinda stuff way back then. Maybe we had a hint, a sense of it, I guess. We trained and tried to exemplify what we had been taught the best we could. And even though we’re still doing that today, Gasshuku gives us a chance to do it together.

This year, I’ll host our annual Gasshuku on October 8, 9, and 10, at Camp Edwards in East Troy, Wisconsin. Join us for training, for shop talk, for camaraderie.

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July 31, 2010

That thing, on the ground, with the bo … that was cool

A mighty thank you to everyone who came out last weekend for our workshop and birthday thingamabob - so much fun. At the bar afterward, there was cake. And thunder! Then more cake.


A prospective student once told me rather than show up regularly, he'd spent his money on training DVDs to ‘get him into shape,’ so he ‘wouldn’t hold any of us back.’ I wished him luck and never saw him again – for some, owning information is so seductive, it becomes more powerful than the ability to utilize it.

There is an undercurrent of collection in the Bujinkan – for techniques, densho, kata, whatever – because we enjoy these aspects, respect them, and fully expect their knowledge to assist us in understanding this confounding physical philosophy.

But like ethics, “doing is what counts,” and this is no less true when it comes to our own ability. If our label is ‘Master Shootist,’ and we know stances, grips, draws, and ballistics, we can be sure at some point we’ll be measured by how well we pull the trigger and hit the target. For our friend, once he had watched all the techniques, he’d satisfied his curiosity and there was no reason to train – he already knew everything.

How do we know if a reliance on form has not superseded our ability to break and apply its principles to the actualness of the moment? How do we know if our ability is real and not virtual?

The workshop was hard, I admit it, but it raised this question. Practicing kata and techniques are known outcomes – a kind of programming that is different from sheer application. But at the workshop, we took movements with known outcomes and branched off into creative directions without knowing where we’d wind up, yet still shaped the space to our advantage. That was the point - gaining advantage no matter where or how we started or where or how we wound up.

Facts are inconvenient, so is reality. If our ability is hamstrung when applied to reality, we’ve a major problem. So, questions remain. Application is an unknown quality involving spontaneous creativity – the most difficult aspect of training - and reconciles the mechanical with the natural state. But it begs the question: what is the natural state?

We’ve many ways to describe this state, but little definition to give us actionable intel. Yes, the principles are distance, balance, and timing. Yes, Taijutsu is based on escape. Yes, we use the kukan as a shield to control the opponent. But there is something more, a truth from which all of these modifiers flow; a Rosetta stone that deciphers the parameters of what exactly Taijutsu must be if it is to exist.

When an architect designs a building, they can pull from their wildest imagination, with twisted schemes and broken thoughts. But if they intend to render it in the real world, they have to adjust it, apply it to reality. Though their shape, size, height, and usage may be different, all buildings – every one - share at least one thing in common, a fundamental, foundational rule that all buildings must abide by if they intend to sustain their existence: buildings don’t fall down.

Gravity exerts a force so powerful, every building must be built to defy its effects. At the very least, equal pressure is necessary to equal the force gravity pulls on it so it can stay upright and useful.

Like gravity, there is a force that pulls on Taijutsu with the strength to make it fall. And we must invariably defy its effects with at least equal pressure if not more. If we know how to define that force, we will understand how to naturally make the transition and reconcile our movement from the known to the unknown.

In training, we can design from our wildest imaginations and practice a variety of kata straight from the densho. But reliance on programmed movement is just that. At some point, we have to render it in reality, putting it into the kukan against an honest opponent, under given circumstances. The question is what foundational rule must Taijutsu abide by – above all others - to sustain its very existence?

July 10, 2010

Taijutsu Workshop and Birthday Thingamabob

On Saturday, July 24th, 2010, I'll host a Taijutsu workshop from 1-5pm, at the Alfred Campanelli YMCA, at 300 West Wise Road, in Schaumburg, IL. The focus will be igniting the 'Taijutsu Triangle' (see my recent KOSSHI post: The Taijutsu Triangle ) and how to make sure all three principles of Taijutsu are in play.

Last Friday night we did some hard training and found out just how difficult this aspect really seems to be. So, the workshop will involve a lot of maneuvering, trial and error, and we'll also drop weapons into the mix, so make sure to bring your gear. By the end, I hope you come away with a real sense between 'practicing' to make Taijutsu and making and preserving it. Should be good fun. The cost will be $40.00.

After training I'd like to invite everyone for a 'Birthday Thingamabob' (an annual event we seem to do every July). We'll head over to 'Fox and Hound,' just down the road from the YMCA, grab a bite, have a few drinks, and share some laughs (probably at my expense).

And who knows, maybe we'll even get to watch "9 Deaths of the Ninja." Best Ninja movie. Ever. Ever.

James

July 3, 2010

The Taijutsu Triangle

James, how do I get better at Taijutsu?

That’s easy. Just do Taijutsu.

Yeah, great. Is that like ‘keep going?’ Can you be a little more specific?

Let Taijutsu happen.

Wow. That’s makes it all better. Now, I understand. Wait, no I don’t. I’m already training Taijutsu.

Are you? Ask yourself if you’re actually getting Taijutsu, or just practicing to get Taijutsu. There’s a difference.

A diff-? What? Did anybody ever tell you, you stink?
Okay, so the conversation wasn’t just like that, but close. Last weekend, we covered a bunch of topics from our recent Japan trip, had some great training, and laughed a lot, like when I sat on Jeff’s face. Sorry, Jeff. 

Many folks do have trouble with Taijutsu and are not altogether sure why. They wind up attributing it to all kinds of reasons – the position is off, they can’t get the leverage, the moon in not conjuncting with Uranus or squaring with Pluto, whatever. The bottom line is the principles of Taijutsu are not being activated at once.

Training Taijutsu is a lot like firestarting. There is a concept called the Fire Triangle; it’s a basic idea – fire needs three things: oxygen, fuel, and heat. Combine these proportionally for the circumstances and – boom goes the dynamite – we get fire. Taijutsu is no different. Combine the three principles of Taijutsu – position, leverage, and initiative (distance, balance, timing) – proportionally for the circumstances and we can create its elemental reaction.

But folks having trouble wind up using just one or two of the principles – usually position and leverage – but not initiative. Like heat, initiative, is the igniter of Taijutsu and burns its way through fuel (leverage) in direct relation to the amount of oxygen (position). If just one side of the triangle is not present in necessary amount, we may get smoke, but no fire. No combustion.

Too often I see folks practicing the skills sets of Taijutsu, rather than combining the principles to create it. The failing I witness most often is lack of space, literally room to maneuver. But this is not an issue of position, or leverage, or lack of proper technique. It is a problem of initiative - they run out of time. Less time = less space. More time = more space.
Fire, like Taijutsu, is a life-preserving survival need. We must know how it’s made, but we must also know how to use it to keep us warm (give us security), cook our food (provide us nourishment), and light our way (show us the right direction). But there is one more thing we can do with fire more important than both making and using, allowing us to be just one step from fire’s creation and its life-giving usefulness: Preserving it.

Early man would have used such ‘technology’ as the Long Match, a tube of wood fibers surrounded by bark to contain a burning coal. According to Tom Brown, outdoorsman extraordinaire, the long match will protect the coal as it smolders for hours, or days even. To light a new fire, the coal is simply dropped into a tinder bundle. In 2010, our long matches are called Bic lighters, but you get the point.

Life is too precious to have to make fire from scratch whenever we need it. It’s too difficult and unpredictable to bet one’s and loved one’s lives on technique. Many folks are so caught up in the skills to make Taijutsu, they may overlook its usefulness, let alone preservation. If we cannot ignite Taijutsu at the ‘time’ we need to use it - when we need it - but instead must build it from scratch each and every time for different situations, circumstances are likely to overtake us.

Who would choose to sacrifice effectiveness and functionality for acquiescence to form when life is on the line? This is crucial, because the truth is … life is already on the line, just like it has been since the dawn of time. We may have ipads and Yahoo! accounts, Ferraris and instant ramen now, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t all still trying to survive in a cruel world.

Make Taijutsu. Use it. Preserve and protect it.

June 18, 2010

The Ninja Diet

So, you've probably heard of the, 'Ninja Diet,' right? Genmai, brown rice, umeboshi, dried plum, Azuki beans and what not? Takes some getting used to, but good for you - healthy.

Don't buy it. The real Ninja Diet is fried izakaya food - karaage chicken with mayo the base of that food pyramid. Strange pizza concoctions - we had one with cooked pasta on it ... yes, pasta. Convenience store food during the day and ramen fit in between. And everything lubed with abundant amounts of beer, beer, beer - 'dai jockey' for the faithful, with braver travelers downing sake and exceptional super-soldiers, shochu, Japanese vodka.

Oh, and did I mention you're up all night? And going all day? Training, sometimes up to three times a day? And with the best in the world, no less. Men with such high ability, it actually pains the brain to study with them. You're spending way too much money that you remind yourself not to feel guilty about. Plus you're trying to get over jet lag. You're in a foreign environment with possibly little to no language skills. Maybe you can't read anything. So, you wind up choosing that same damn sour plum 'convenie' rice ball over and over, even though you're desperately trying to choose the 'tuna mayo' one. Your voice is shot from screaming into a karaoke mic. You have to scream because everyone else is screaming, because, well, Bon Jovi's "Wanted, Dead or Alive," just doesn't sound right unless everyone is screaming. Oh, and you're drunk.

Well, maybe not drunk, but you've had ten beers and you really want to fight Yakuza now, but only if you won't get stabbed. Or shot. Which nowadays, even in Japan, is uncertain. So, you grab the wall telephone in your karaoke closet as your mates are screaming out "Hotel California" and getting the pitch all wrong, which means another low score, and order the third round of beers even though no one is halfway through their current mug. And someone inevitably hits on the Japanese chick who brings the beers, even if she resembles Ernest Borgnine in From Here To Eternity, when he was actually pretty svelte.

The Ninja Diet is an adventure. Healthy? Good for you? Let's just say it makes you stronger. Or at least, let's believe that until we figure out a more sustainable (read smarter) way to enjoy it. It's Musha Shugyo, the quest, the pilgrimage, the journey we take with our fellow shugyosha to hone our ability and broaden our capacity. It's no vacation, but it usually is fun, even when some turn salty from culture shock or frustration. But it's all part of the diet.

The reason for the diet is simple. We're trying to lose weight; to shed the pounds of all our unnecessary habits, beliefs, and desires and reduce ourselves to the kosshi, essentialness, the kanjin kaname no kosshi, that which is of critical importance. But that, of course, begs the question, what is it that we should know as critically important? What is this Gokui, essence, of Budo?

Soke "told" us such at last Sunday's training when he spoke at the beginning of class - lectured, really. He said we needed to study history, as people begin to repeat it. Becoming surprised is because one cannot see far enough ahead, because we haven't looked far enough back, studying the trends and rhythms of human frailties that have led to so much suffering in the world. In other words, relying on the form only leads to its completion, but does not give us the tools to forge any new direction.

Once again he chided those who believe technique is the means to illumination and reminded us of the Gokui no uta, song of the Gokui - "In the world of martial arts, one should not stick to strength or weakness, softness or hardness; rather one should transcend physicality and understand the void, 'ku,' regarding the body also as empty." Training Budo with childlike selfishness is to believe in the power of its minutiae, the white noise that obscures clear transmission.  

Soke is imploring us to discover the right direction. He won't tell us directly, mind you - that's not good for us. We must discover it for ourselves. So, we trudge along the path as best we can, watching him zoom by on his jetpack.

The basics may be fundamental, but they are anything but basic. The Kihon and its waza are in fact the pinnacle of movement and technical prowess, not our most rudimentary forms. The most basic form we can provide to each other is not physical, it is the ability to recognize our purpose for studying Budo. Unless each of us can answer this question honestly, we obscure for ourselves the fundamentalness of truth so important to our own discovery.

When Soke mentioned the evolution of weaponry throughout Japanese history, I was taken by the fact that it mirrors the evolution of ethics as well. From the brutish and straight 'ken,' through tachi, and firearms, to the life-giving katsujinken, the katana became a symbol of valor, honor, and benevolence in a brutal land. Such is the metaphor for training itself.  
There are all kinds of concepts, principles, and techniques to practice and study throughout our training. But no matter how well we program ourselves with the material, none of it makes any difference unless we can apply it when it counts. But when does it count? How do we know when it counts? If we never ask ourselves the question, there's never any reason to give a good answer.

It seems to me, Soke's theme for the year, Rokkon Shojo, is a means to perceive training in a different light, from a different perspective. "The purification of the senses through laughter," is not meant, like so many other themes throughout the years, to concentrate on our physical training. It is to place our training into perspective, a context, from which we can discern its meaning.   

The Ninja Diet provides many ways to train - asobigokoro, a playful heart, Majime ni asobi, serious play, and shinobigokoro, the hidden, persevering heart. But to what end?

For so many years, Soke has directed us toward finding the means to express ourselves physically. Now, it seems he is asking us to understand life's most poignant question. A question that has befuddled philosophers, warriors, and scientists alike; a question that has been asked and answered and will be asked and answered again and again.

Why?

June 15, 2010

'Japan Download' with James Morganelli, June 26th, 2010

It's great to be back! The training in Japan was tough, but inspiring. We've a lot of work to do. So, let's get to it.

On Saturday, June 26th, 2010, I'll host a workshop from 1-5pm, at the Alfred Campanelli YMCA, in Schaumburg, IL, 60193. We'll be covering our recent Japan trip with stories, concepts, and some cool souvenirs, including some of Soke's artwork. The cost will be $40.00.

I'll also be relating what we learned in Japan with our training themes of the year - Soke's, "Rokkon Shojo" and our SGTI Dojo theme, "Shinobigokoro."

Please bring training swords - fukuro shinai and bokken - bo, knife, rope, and hanbo as we'll be working with a variety of tools. If you have a long sword of tachi length, bring that as well.

Come out and join us!

Best,

James
 

June 14, 2010

Just disappear a little ...

Well, we're home. It's been quite a week. We're tired, but I wanted to update as best I could before my head slams into the keyboard and I wake up Thursday.

Soke's class yesterday was great, profound even. He began with what seemed like 15 or 20 minutes of talk; talk about history, of current events, of the future of the Bujinkan, of what it means to study this art. He spoke of the evolution of weapons in Japan, from ken, to tachi, to ju (firearms), to katana. He touched on lots of stuff - difficult to process now, but I'll get at it this week. What struck me was so much of it included the macro view, not just of the art, but ourselves, and what it means to, "study Budo as a human being." He asked us to look deeply to discover the essence of Budo - it's human face - and not become stuck on the minutiae of techniques.

His movement was supple, light - Jiyu ni, with freedom. "Just disappear a little ..." he laughed as his uke seemed to thrust a bo right through him and then be thrown - bo and all - spectacularly. Sword, no sword, bo, no bo, weapon, no weapon, he moves with the very freedom of his consciousness, always in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time.

And at the end of class, when I saw Nagato sensei administer three Godan tests, I felt a dramatic shift in my perspective. The only way I can describe it is I could see him cut, before he cut. All of them passed.

It's good to be home. Me sleep now.

June 11, 2010

Kiss her with Ki

Spent the past few days training with Nagato sensei, plus we were supposed to have training with Soke Friday night. But Ninja masters get days off too, so Noguchi sensei took over. Still, we had a terrific class, with Noguchi running us through Gyokko Ryu kata at breakneck pace.

I trained with Darren Hovarth the other day, which if you know Darren, at 6'7", 280lbs, and wide as a bus, is like training with a polar bear, armed with a knife. Darren has been around for quite a while and now lives in Japan from his native Australia. Not only is he quite good, he's surprising light on his feet. He was good fun and very helpful, offering his thoughts on Chuto Hanpa and the perspective Soke is trying to convey.

"Anything is okay, as long as it works," Nagato said, a familiar quote of his. Sensei worked against kicks and at points disappeared on his partner when he slipped under his kick and spun behind to control him as the student crashed down in a heap, so surprised by Nagato's lithe movement and timing. Sensei just laughed. At another point, he turned away from the kick and sat down on his uke, arms crossed, yet still covering every point of attack and escape his uke could manage. Nagato sensei's size is deceptive and one might think it would be hard to fit it all into the moments he does, but just one training with him is enough to come away scratching your head.

He also talked about putting Ki into a particular strike, a shuto, as an opponent reaches for you. "Hit them like your Mom would hit you when she's angry," he laughed. "Put energy into it." And demonstrated in animated fashion. "But don't do this to your girl ... kiss her instead!"

June 9, 2010

A gambling man?

Tuesday night, Soke tossed attackers like dice. And once the dice were thrown, he sat on their faces, twisted their arms behind their backs, and generally made a mess of them. And he's not even trying. When he does try he winds up making Duncan Stewart do a front flip to keep his finger from breaking. "Hold them, without holding them," Soke was saying. Let them do the work. And he did, over and over again. Jutte, knives, swords, multiple attackers, it all came out. We even did some ground work from Fudoza and tied up our attacker, only to practice reversing the attack as well. The energy could not have been higher - it's 90 minutes of GO! By the end of the night I was beat.

I trained with Steve Olsen, long-time resident of Japan and another of Nagato's guys. Steve and I had great fun training, and not just because Steve is really good, but because training in Ayase with Soke actually allows us to move. Hombu is powerful to train at because, well, because it's Hombu. But with 100 people in the room, it gets tight. Ayase allows us all to breathe.

Earlier in the day we had the pleasure of training at Hombu with Someya sensei, the Bujinkan's resident sword master. Someya is particularly good at the form of just about everything. He took us through some sword basics and paired us with yari and naginata doing tachi techniques. Apparently, however, there are few, if any, actual techniques for tachi, because it's so old. Nevertheless, the training was great. He even set out some real swords and took us through a short history from the ken, straight sword, through tachi, han-tachi, and eventually katana, noting the differences between them.

One shinken he laid out was a tachi of very old design - the back of the blade was sharpened as well. He said it was a copy of the sword Japan's emperor has. I said, it must be expensive. He looked at me wryly. "Yeah ... it's expensive."

June 8, 2010

Good for what ails ya

A bright beautiful day was the setting for our first training with Nagato sensei. It was great to see him and we had a chance to chat. Unfortunately, I wasn`t feeling too well, but training, being training, cleared that up right away.

There were 70 people at Hombu - busy, but not so bad you couldn`t move. Sensei put on his signature show. He seems even lighter now than he was last year, his uke nearly floating in the space around him. Punches, kicks, grabs, nothing ever seems to phase him. His position is always guarded, and yet he keeps open his path of communication to the opponent so he`s always aware of him and the changes they are making, maybe even before they are.

Towards the end of class, he pulled our own Steve Kovalcik onto the floor and gave him what-for. I was happy to see Nagato choose him. Being uke is tough, as a recent late-night, deep conversation - all our late-night conversations here are deep when copious amounts of alcohol are involved - revealed. When training with a partner, I have always advocated honesty in training, meaning 'move or you will get hit;' not in a harmful way, just a real way - this is happening, deal with it. But that's between partners. When we step before Soke or the Shihan, who are demonstrating and elucidating points, we aren't to treat them as a peer, that would only endanger them, and us - more us. So, we treat them with respect, and receive from them the most potent form a lesson can take - direct transmission.

Yesterday, we had great training with Someya sensei and finished the day out with Soke at Ayase - it was all rock and roll. More on that later. Heading off to Nagato's class.

June 6, 2010

Stop. Collaborate and listen ...

Okay, so much to write. Not a lot of time. Yesterday we had a ton of training.
We kicked it off with Noguchi sensei with 9am training at Hombu. Noguchi sensei is great. He's personable, friendly, easy-going, and incredibly good. He breezed through pages of techniques from Takagi Yoshin Ryu, putting his own spin on the movements. As usual the lessons came fast and furious.

He emphasized 'karamaru,' to mix up and become one; like a growing plant that entangles itself with another, and demonstrated what he meant over and over, by blending with his partners in various ways - now he's sliding off your back, now he's rolling between your legs, now he's twisting you 180 degrees with just his head and neck around your arm. At one point, he wiped his face with a towel, flipping it into a partner's face - there was a bottle of ink hidden inside. Class only became more and more abstract, as he broadened and stretched each movement to a point where few had any understanding of where exactly to begin.

But that's one of the best reasons to train with the man - the challenge of seeing through to the principles at work, like fellow magicians trying to decipher his latest illusion. Terrific training.

Soke picked it up at 11am. He looked great and moved even better. Class started with his concern about training injuries, saying he was concerned, and we should be aware of the danger inherent in training. He was surprised more people had not been injured, given its nature.

Striking became the classes' theme, as Soke continually hit, punched, shuto-ed, and smacked all manner of uke around the floor. Most times his partners were unaware of where, how, and when they'd be hit and Soke incorporated weapons into this same feeling. Hanbo, sword, tachi, jutte, and shikomi
all shared moments with the man as he tried to impress upon us the particular and universal, and the point of their intersection. One uke said his fear of the tachi in Soke's hands opened up the space just enough for him to place it for lethal advantage.

He used a tea cup to cover and twist the fingers of one uke, unbalancing him only to drop him to the floor. He talked about Takamatsu sensei's thick fingernails, that could strip bark off of trees, and how he told him not to bother hardening his nails, as a weapon would be just as effective, and he demonstrated on a young Hatsumi using his pipe.

We finished out the day with Duncan Stewart. Dunc is a great guy, fun to talk to, and very good. He's fun to train with because he's excited to train - he's all over the floor, very creative, and yet is very cognizant of his Kihon roots, showing various incarnations of fundamental kamae and movements. He spoke about 'ikken hasso,' one strike, many changes as part of Soke's earlier teachings. 'Chuto hanpa,' half movements that leave uke with little or no ukemi, and 'yoyu,' 'catch and release,' like fishing with the opponent. All great fun.       

This morning we had breakfast at Mister Donuts - Donuts-san. I'm having my coffee, Mike's got some crazy pasta-pastry thing, Tomo's rockin' some Green Tea thingamabob and we're listening to Vanilla Ice sing "Ice Ice Baby."

It's official. I'm back in Japan.

Training with Nagato sensei today.

June 3, 2010

To the East!

So, I thought this year I'd ask Soke for something other than a Tengu.

Just saying.



We leave tomorrow - see you in Japan!

James