August 25, 2011

A Sword to Cut Stone

It’s official - Gasshuku will be October 7-9, 2011!

Our 12th annual retreat returns us to Camp Edwards in East Troy, Wisconsin (about 1½ hours north of Chicago) - a little country respite with natural beauty and rustic charm, so we can train, and train, and train some more. Gasshuku is that one weekend a year when we set ourselves to recalibrate, remembering why we train in the first place.

We’ll bed down at Hoffer Lodge this time, enjoy our usual hearty morning breakfasts in the dining hall, and then take kamae on Edwards' rolling meadows.

The Boardwalk at Camp Edwards
Training will follow this year's Bujinkan theme of Kihon Happo and Taijutsu, as well as our own - "Ichi go, Ichi e." We'll also look at integrated skill sets from stealth, stalking, camouflage, climbing, escape and evasion, to weapon sets, like shuriken. In fact, if you’d like to offer a specific skill set, please contact me.

Instructors include myself, and Shidoshis Joe Bunales, Jeff Patchin, and Jim Delorto, all of whom have trained with me for more than 10 years and have extensive experience beyond that.

Training in the Bujinkan is unique and as such, every instructor's take on training is slightly different. Recently I was talking with a long-time practitioner, who was having some trouble moving forward in their training. He was confounded about his Taijutsu and felt he had tried all manner of method to improve it, so he asked my advice. I told him, he had it backwards - sharpening his technique wasn't going to make his Taijutsu better, only re-calibrating his principles would do that.

I make it a point not to view Taijutsu as an amalgam of 'technistic' movements from across a historical and/or 'linealogical' timeline, searching for quantifiable outcomes in non-quantifiable conditions - in essence, thinking specific techniques provide solutions to ever-changing problems.

However, the reason I choose not to train that way is simple - it's not because I think that type of training doesn't work, on the contrary, it can, and plenty of people train that very way, practicing specificity as answer to the unanswerable. The problem is I don't believe we work that way.

Training isn't about how much we know, but how well we know what we know. Techniques in themselves cannot calibrate us, they are only useful once we are calibrated. If we perceive the use of Taijutsu as merely means to an end, then it stands to reason that the end inexorably justifies those means, granting us license to dish out whatever hot, steaming bowls of creamy "justice" we think apply, without realizing we do so from the darkest of places, where "right" is simply our version, made up, imagined, based solely on our own personal beliefs, cultural standards, relative values - our own sense of pride. But pride condemns us in a court of law and withers and weakens against the judgement of the guilty conscience, an affliction that has ever burdened warriors since Herodotus first chronicled the self-induced blindness of an Athenian at the battle of Marathon in 490 BC.

So, the philosophy must become the physical, the ethos must become action - that's why we train, to physically clarify our ethos, to physically activate our philosophy, not only for our corporal protection, but to fortify our spirit, embracing the warrior's universal humility to reconcile the scars scored upon the soul. The physical itself, on its own, is devoid of meaning without it - a sword cut technique is simply that, a procedure to cut with a sword. But the technique gains priority, consequence, only by fulfilling higher action - ethical action, which is always moral-physical.

The sharper our understanding of what is moral provides acute awareness of what is ethical, and our Taijutsu is the direct action of our ethic. With a moral philosophy as our base, Taijutsu becomes lucid, our behavior, our movement becomes the creative spontaneity of ethical awareness, one that protects us, everyone around us, and even our enemy, if possible, killing only to protect life - the warrior's everlasting paradox.

This perspective is not opinion, it is not simply what we think or believe, it is, in fact, Taijutsu's foundation, its uncommon sense, the counter-intuitiveness of our human nature made physical. When one is ignorant to it, there is no spark to ignite the connectivity of Taijutsu, only technical procedure, while openings remain open, leaving us dangerously unprotected as the kukan collapses, time evaporates, and leaves our 'intuitiveness' in charge to ramp up the speed and pour on the power in futile effort to 'get ahead,' thinking our technique is to blame, when in actuality it is the woefully lax initiative, poor positioning, and inadequate leverage that account for our absent advantage. We are dancing, but missing the beat. We are moving, but have no rhythm. Focusing on the singular tree, leaves us blind to the wonders of the ancient forest before us.

When we recognize the warrior ethic, accept it, Taijutsu manifests, the kukan is as shield, our openings disappear, and we not only 'see the space' (thank you, Jack), but also 'shape the space,' and thereby dictate the outcome. Our ethic drives our tactic and chooses our technique. This is "ninshiki" - we are (sub)consciously ahead, naturally earlier, and can sustainably remain so.

So for us, training isn't about making our Taijutsu better, training is about making us better - Taijutsu the gift of our perseverance on the path of Budo, to clarify, activate, and sustain the ageless common sense so many warriors over so many millennium gave their lives to protect and preserve.


Bujinkan Shingitai-Ichi Dojo Gasshuku
October 7-9, 2011
Edwards YMCA Camp and Retreat Center
N8901 Army Lake Rd
East Troy, WI 53120

• Friday, October 7th
o Check-In: 5:00-6:00pm
o Training: 6:00-8:30pm
James Morganelli
o Dinner: 9:00pm

• Saturday, October 8th
o Breakfast: 8:00-9:00am
o Makko Ho: 9:00-10:00am
Tomoko Morganelli
o Training: 10:00-12:30pm
James Morganelli
o Lunch: 12:30-2:00pm
o Training: 2:00-6:00pm
Break-Out Sessions
James Morganelli
Joe Bunales
Jeff Patchin
Jim Delorto
o Dinner: 6:30pm
o NightGames: 10:00pm

• Sunday, October 9th
o Breakfast: 8:00-9:00am
o Makko Ho: 9:00-10:00am
Tomoko Morganelli
o Skill Sets: 10:00-12:00pm
Various Instructors
o Lunch: 12:00-1:00pm
o Training: 1:00-3:30pm
'Hoop Training'
James Morganelli
Joe Bunales
Jeff Patchin
Jim Delorto

• Sleeping bag and pillow
• Toiletries
• Training gear
• NightGames gear (camouflage, boots, gloves)
• Flashlight with red lens
• Extra batteries
• Rain gear
• Snacks and drinks

Cost: $130.00 (pre-registration)/$150.00 (at the door)
Includes: All training, lodging, Saturday and Sunday breakfast.

Shidoshi bringing at least three students can attend for half price: $65.00

Tshirts available for $20.00ea

Please remit checks for pre-registration to:
James Morganelli
6312 N Lakewood Ave, Unit 1
Chicago, IL 60660

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August 7, 2011

Turn 40. Train. Get a sword.

So, I turned 40. I taught and I trained. Afterward, we had tacos and margaritas. But this time the birthday sombrero came out. I got to wear it and it's pretty awesome - very throw-downable-and-dance-around. After a couple drinks, I came close.

Over that weekend, I taught and trained again and the boys got me a sword. It's a really nice sword - hand crafted and detailed by our own Bryan M. It's got a naked-lady-geisha tsuba, a live, custom 'ninja-to' length, a hand-carved handle, and even represents the colors of our dojo - black, orange, blue, and stuff. Oh, and this is pretty cool ...

We had fun training. We always seem to. I like to think it's because we're in tune with what we need to be in tune with, letting everything else come up when needed, when necessary. And that's the rub, ain't it? Knowing what is necessary, illuminates what is not.

If one sets themself on the path of Budo, Taijutsu is necessary; it recreates the kukan as shield, one that protects yourself, others, and all others, even the enemy. That's a hard one, isn't it? In fact, it's the hardest one. Taijutsu, when done right, is life-protecting-respecting-sustaining. In this regard, Taijutsu is an ethical imperative for warriors, and we just can't do it right, unless we do it in a moral way. This begs the question: How do we know what is moral?

But that's the great thing about priorities, they allow us to discern here from there, this from that, now from then, and ultimately, right from wrong. Without a qualifier, all things are even, all things are equal, all things are relative. When there is no one thing that is special to us, that is sacred, ideal, then all things are given chance to jockey to be such. And it gets confusing.

If one equivocates martial arts with the art of martial Taijutsu, then mastering that Okuden level Gyokko Ryu kata (you know, the one where you twist, and grab the guy) becomes just as important as the awareness to judge when we should use our abilities and how to apply them reasonably and responsibly under given circumstances. And where does it end? Answer: It doesn't.

You see, it can't - if everything is a priority (because nothing is) then every kata is just as important as every other one, every detail of all the minutiae of our collective lineage and history must be first swallowed whole and memorized: You can't just have a piece of cake, you must eat the entire cake for that's the only way to understand that it's chocolate. (But don't I only need one piece - in fact, one bite - to know if it's any good? In other words, if it's worth eating?)

We humans are not meant to roam compass-less for the same reason cell phones burn out earlier when constantly trying to locate a signal - our own human nature will defy us. If what we tell it to do is in reality innately unreasonable, we lessen ourselves, are weakened, easily confounded, and on the path to disillusionment by our lack of direction, our lack of priority.

If one sets themself on the path of Budo, one must know the right from the wrong. Otherwise, we can't use Taijutsu. Hatsumi sensei has said as much and written about it many times. Taijutsu is not difficult, only made so by our perception of it. If you wish to do it well, just remember three things: whenever you move, protect yourself, protect everyone around you, and also protect your opponent, if possible, all at the same time. That's it.

Shidoshi Joe Bunales giving Charlie Harrison what for.
After training, we hit the bar, had a drink, and shared some laughs.

I'm pretty certain, it was the safest bar in town.