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Unlike my May trip, I decided not to do daily posts about everything going on; it’s time consuming, and quite difficult – especially considering how many classes we did this trip. Rather, I’ll just do a quick recap, and share the juicy tidbits of what went on.
On this trip I got to see quite a few people from past trips, and build on some relationships.
Steve Olsen was helpful as always, shedding light on both the Bujinkan and his training. Steve has a deep understanding of the culture, history, dynamics and the art itself. His technique is phenomenal as well.
Dan Hildebrandt was also here again, and was also offering help in understanding the movements of Nagato Sensei. He also moves very well, and has an interesting perspective from his training with Rob Reiner. He is also just a cool guy, and a pleasure to talk to.
I ran into Matthew Harvey, who I had trained with in Someya Sensei’s class on my 2012 trip. He apparently lives here now and a student of Someya, which is reflected in his precise and flawless technique. He is also a very funny and personable guy with a lot of knowledge on the inner workings of the Bujinkan.
I also met a lot of new people: a group from Germany, Mexico, Robbie from China, Alberto from Macao, a couple of Guys from Australia. It’s fascinating to have so many different people come together from so many different places and cultures to study this one thing.
New Honbu Teachers
I noticed a couple of new names on the Bujinkan Class board in my last trip: Furata and Sakasai. I made it a mission to try a class with these two teachers, and I’m glad I did, even if it meant squeezing 4 classes in on a Saturday.
Although I was exhausted, both Furata and Sakasai were well worth it.
Furata Sensei had a balance of seriousness and playfulness. He would keep saying to his uke “Gomen” (“Sorry”) but in a playful way as he continued to tie them up and knock them down. At the end he took a picture of all of us with himself, for what I’m assuming is a way to remember our faces. His movement was quite interesting, using kamae and applying some pretty painful strikes.
Next was Sakasai Sensei, who was a real eye opener. I was told he was a Noguchi student who focuses on Kihon. However, the Kihon he does focus on is quite different than what I expected. Using the kamae Kihon gata, he broke down footwork, positioning and timing – bridging the gap between training and application. He was also super friendly and very approachable; even thanking us for taking his class.
If you plan on coming I highly recommend these two classes – they’re definitely worth it.
This trip also offered a few breakthroughs for me:
Someya Sensei is foundation
Someya talked about building foundations in one of his classes. If you build upon a weak foundation the building will topple. While we all are trying to do what Soke is doing, we have to remember that the Ryu-ha and their waza are what everything is built on.
Indeed Someya should be the first person to learn from since he preserves the techniques in their original form. However, you can see the principles still in Soke’s movement – just more subtle. Techniques become blurred and are intermingled and boiled down to key principles. As Someya said, Soke has done this type of training for so long he is simply past kata now. That however doesn’t mean it’s not important, in fact it means it’s even more important.
Nagato: Move yourself – not them
Nagato’s movement is quite fascinating, and at times a bit difficult to grasp. However, he shared on this trip a tidbit that clicked on a lightbulb.
“Move yourself, don’t try to move your opponent.”
Suddenly, things became much easier. When Nagato moves, he moves around his opponent making subtle effects to their balance until he is ready to strike/throw/etc. That requires you to use your feet. It becomes a struggle when you attempt a technique stationary – and makes you difficult to using strength. By simply changing the focus of movement on yourself – not moving your opponent – the movements began to flow and work much more easily.
Shiraishi Sensei feels what’s real
I noticed more and more of what Shiraishi Sensei taught did correspond to elements of what Soke is teaching. It’s hard to see since Shiraishi presents it differently. Usually he teaches through kumiuchi, focusing on one key element of what Soke does in context of “footwork, spinework, handwork.”
What makes this so difficult is that often Soke is doing movement of a “tsuki”, so it can be hard to see the correlation when done with kumuchi. One of the things I wanted to see in Shiraishi Sensei’s class was to see the gap close between how what he teaches in his class, and how it translates to recieving punches.
Then, in one class he began to show things off a punch, and replicated something Soke did in his class previous day PERFECTLY. Suddenly it became clear and the bridge between Soke and Shiraishi became apparent; what Shiraishi feels as uke is indeed real, and he can replicate what Soke does quite well.
On this trip, I began to see more overlap between the movements and teachings of all the Shihan and even Soke. The principle of “takadoki” – or knee movement in Someya Sensei’s classes began to become apparent in all the teachers movements, as did Shiraishi Sensei’s shifting of balance, and Seno Sensei’s locking of the opponent’s spine, and Nagato Sensei’s positioning, as well as Noguchi Sensei’s subtle effects on balance and opponent’s reactions.
On face value they may seem to be studying different arts, but in reality it’s only a shift in focus. Even in Soke’s class, he appears to show things slightly different depending on the teacher there – almost teaching to their focus based on how he moves.
Truly to understand Soke, and even key elements of each teacher’s methods or styles, you have to train with all of them and find the overlap. Even in the waza of the techniques, there are all these key elements at play to varying degrees.
While studying each teacher, you may find “disagreement” on movement; each teacher has their own methodology and what they themselves are working on. But once you begin to see where their movement “agrees”, you’re understanding of the art as a whole will deepen.
There are no standards except the ones you bring
A big complaint some people have is that there is no “quality control” for ranking. Indeed this is maybe the most apparent in some of the Godan tests. For example some people actually pass without rolling. I know Victoria became a bit disenchanted by this, as I have on previous occasions.
It’s true there is very little structure; we have all these Ryuha we study, but not necessarily a standardized definitive way to approach all of the material.
I came to the simple conclusion that there is no standard except the one you hold for yourself. When I passed my Godan I rolled like my life was dependant on it – if I did anything else I would consider it a fail. Would I have officially passed without rolling? Maybe – but I held myself to a higher standard. That doesn’t mean I did it better, or have a better understanding – rather my perfectionist nature makes me demand more from myself than the status quo or bare minimum.
What I think happens for most people is they give power rather than take power, and that makes them frustrated. Think about it this way: you can take the stairs or the escalator. The net result or accomplishment is the same, but the experience and the challenge is different. Don’t let those on the escalator take anything away from climbing the stairs.
No one really understands all of it.
I think there are many of those with real deep insights into the Bujinkan, it’s art and it’s history. But I don’t think any one person has all the answers – not even Soke. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seek answers, just be prepared that at some point you have to figure it out yourself. Just keep watching, learning, listening, and take things with a grain of salt.
I also think this is part of the Japanese culture; in Japan you’re rarely told something explicitly. Rather, it is expected that you pay attention and find the answers yourself without being told what to do.
I guess I’m an 8th Dan now
Something VERY unexpected happened this trip: Nagato Sensei recommended me for 8th Dan.
I have been working very hard this past 3 years to live up to being a Godan, and part of me was looking for a bit of encouragement that I’ve been heading in the right direction. Really though, a simple nod of approval would have been enough.
I trained quite a bit on Nagato movement at home, since it was something I struggled with on previous trips. Nagato is familiar with our school, and during a break began to ask about Shihan Woodard and the dojo. I explained that I had bought the school. He asked what rank I was. I said I became a Godan in September of 2012. He said that it was time for the next rank. I was appreciative and excited that I was noticed. Hopefully he is starting to remember me, and maybe I’m starting to show some improvement.
When he called me over to the back office he said that he was going to promote me to 8th Dan. I was speechless. He asked me if that was okay. I explained that I was in shock, and that I didn’t feel worthy. “Ah – no confidence” he said. He then went on to say that it was up to me to live up to it, and that as a teacher, students are looking to me. I told him that I remember he said not to pass up rank, but I added that “I’m here for the training not just for rank.”
“I know”. He then handed me his recommendation.