In the Bujinkan – the test for Godan (5th Dan/Shidoshi) is where one is subjected to “sakki” or killing intent. The teacher stands behind you with an upraised sword while you are kneeling facing away. Both teacher and student have their eyes closed. The teacher will then without warning cut down with killing intent at the student’s head. The student senses the attack and rolls out of the way to safety… or doesn’t. Pass. Or Fail. Very binary. Usually this happens in front of a large audience of other senior students and instructors. No pressure. 🙂
Although the reason for my post is not about any sort of suggestions or “tricks” on how to pass the test (you are either ready or you are not), I am interested in sharing a story with you. I took my test well over 15 years ago and it STILL resonates with me today.
I feel very lucky to have received it from Soke (the world has changed and that is as it should be now). And I tell my students about a CRAZY dream I had the night before my test. It is the lens or filter through which I view the test and the moment then and now. In the dream I was in a room looking at a piece of Soke’s artwork hanging on the wall, and he beckoned me to come closer. I did. He beckoned again until my face was almost touching the paper. Then he said to get even closer and now I was looking at the paper thickness itself from the side. Soke beckoned yet again and said look closer still. When I did, the layers of the paper seperated and I saw the space between the micro layers of the paper itself. He beckoned again and now I was inside of the paper in between the actual layers and the space between the layers was enormous! At which point in the dream Soke just smiled and nodded. I woke up absolutely convinced that there was space inside the space or time within the time and knew that when the test came there would be all the time in the world needed to sense and evade. No need to rush, no need to try and be “faster” than the cut. Time would simply slow down and expand. The more I focused, the more time there was. An infinite amount. Kind of like the concept of how many points are there between two points? Infinite. I passed on the first attempt and like so many others I found myself halfway across the pads in the Hombu to applause and a smile/OK symbol from Soke wondering what the hell happened.
The role of Uke is a critical one in the Bujinkan and it has several layers to it. At it’s base level, being an Uke is all about experiencing an technique. One of the best ways to understand something is to have it done to you, or to “receive it”. Our art is alive and being an Uke is one of the areas where you experience first hand how alive it really is. On another level, being an Uke is all about being a good training partner for your partner/Tori. We practice specific attacks with proper resistance so they have the opportunity to learn and grow. Too little resistance and they get a false sense of security. Too much and it just becomes a “wrestling match” and the specific concept being studied at the time is lost. If you want to do free randori, then please be my guest. But label it as such. Another layer in our Dojo is a practice of rotating between training partners after each time. This forces you to train with folks bigger/smaller/taller/shorter/stronger/weaker than you as well as an opportunity to train with folks of varying skill levels. I think this is critical to a deeper understanding in a shorter amount of time. And lastly, the interaction between Uke and Tori is really the crucible in which your own skills are forged over the years. You have a role to play and it is a conduit for deep learning. Respect it as such. Take it seriously and realize that knowledge is gained by being on both sides of the equation, not just one.
“In budo, too, there are three important essentials:
first, seeing and knowing oneself, one’s own strengths and limitations; second, the sword of discrimination, of decisiveness, for eliminating faults, weaknesses, and the unnecessary;
and last, the sincerity, feeling, devotion, insight, and understanding of the heart.”
– Soke Hatsumi
“Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.” Bujinkan Life Dojo Facebook post
Even after 33 years in the martial arts, I still approach any subject with open eyes and an open mind. Learning never stops. The basics are not something you do once and forget about. There are layers upon layers of understanding within our basics, and each new day brings new eyes to see what you did not see before. Some of this is due to the fact that your own skill level changes over the years. Early on, you just simply may not be able to process what you are seeing and practicing, or only see it at a gross mechanic level. Later, as your skill and understanding grows, then you gain fresh eyes and can see the same material in an entirely new light. Those that do not bother to re-look at the basics as they progress in their training, or do so without a beginners mind will miss the value and truth buried within. Be humble. Go back to your basics. Look at them with new eyes and always consider your self a student.
The Pittsburgh Bujinkan Taka Seigi Dojo is pleased to host long time resident of Japan – Dai Shihan Phil Legare at our new Dojo for the weekend of April 5th, 6th and 7th.
This event will focus on the aspects of the Bo (6 foot staff). Come see why the RokuShaku Bo is the very Essence of Budo. Dai Shihan Phil Legare will also share the current Bujinkan training theme in Japan. This promises to be a jam packed weekend of training!
Saturday 10am – 5pm (Dinner afterwards, costs on your own)
Sunday 10am – 4pm
(We may have a short Friday night session as well, will confirm if timing works out.)
Open to all, no prior experience necessary. Please bring all associated training weapons with you for the weekend.
Fees for the weekend are $150 per person prior to the seminar dates ($160 at the door). No single day option available. You can send the seminar fees via Paypal to email@example.com. All credit cards are accepted via Paypal, and if paying at the door, we have Stripe merchant credit card processing account as well.
This will be another great weekend folks and we look forward to seeing you here!
We have reached an amazing milestone as the Pittsburgh Bujinkan Taka Seigi Dojo celebrates it’s 20th Anniversary! Hard to believe that we opened our doors to the general public a full two decades ago . Along the way we have trained hundreds of students from all walks of life in Budo Taijutsu, Batto Jutsu Japanese Swordmanship, Personal Protective Measures and modern day Self Defense. Please join us as we move into our next decade of training and studies! Exciting times lay ahead.
See YOU on the mat!
Brent Earlewine – Dai Shihan
David Fetterman – Dai Shihan
“Soke has been mentioning the Gojou 悟宝.
The Gojou represents the five ethics which should be kept by a human being in Confucianism. The Tokugawa Shogunate adopted Confucianism as an official ideology. The Gojou therefore became a samurai’s ethics standard. These are also the five values represented by the five pleats in the front of a hakama.
Fumetsu no Fuse
Mamichi no Jikai
Vow of the true way
Shizen no Ninniku
Shizen no Choetsu
Transcendance of nature
Komyou no Satori
Illumination of the awakening
I was told a story by Nagato Dai Shihan about Fumetsu no Fuse.
There was once a monk who was proud of his ability to fulfill the goal of being able to selflessly give endlessly. Hearing this, a man approached him and said,” I’d like your ear please.” The monk looked at him, then cut of his ear, and gave it to him. The man took it and when he turned to walk away, he threw it into the bushes!
These precepts are given to aid those in developing a balanced life. If ( like anything ) you develop in an unbalanced way, you can loose the capacity to discern right from wrong and live in society harmoniously with the self and others.
Developing in a balanced manner also allows you to see the truth and falseness that lies everywhere around us. It also minimises the chance of being manipulated.
Jo – Introduction or Beginnings
Ha – Change
Kyu – Impact
Or perhaps we could apply this to Shodan, Shidoshi, Shihan?
Or perhaps we could say “learn, understand, apply”?
Or perhaps we could say Form, Formless, always Form?
There is a rhythm to our training and levels of understanding. I drew a circle in class the other night and discussed how it represented the path of training from the beginning with no understanding – all the way to applying the knowledge/mastery. We also discussed how this cycle never really ends and as we THINK we have reached the “end” or mastery, we are actually starting over to discover new depths of the information. So as Jo leads to Kyu, Kyu leads to Jo.
As we have been training on the sword, we are seeing the sword cut away our own misconceptions and lay bare who and what we are. There is nowhere for false bravado or false fronts when faced with the thin line between life and death. In that moment, the truth is self evident.
See you on the mats.