Sakki – Killing Intent

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.

Keep training.

Being an Uke

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.

3 Essentials in Budo

“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

Sho Shin

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“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.

Bo – Essence of Budo – Martial Arts Seminar

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 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!


Learning is a multi-modal experience. What I mean by that is that true learning comes from absorbing information  – physically, mentally, with your eyes, your ears, touch etc. One of those modes is via reading. So you bought a few books from Hatsumi and other trusted sources. But did you READ them? or did they go on a shelf?  Have you gone back and re-read them?  Taken notes?  Highlighted pertinent passages?  Dog eared the pages that “speak” to you?  Applied the learnings in your training and ethos?  if not, why not?
Tsundoku (積ん読) is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them. The term originated in the Meiji era (1868–1912) as Japanese slang. It combines elements of tsunde-oku (積んでおく, to pile things up ready for later and leave) and dokusho (読書, reading books). It is also used to refer to books ready for reading later when they are on a bookshelf. As currently written, the word combines the characters for “pile up” (積) and the character for “read” (読).

Are you a Flat Earther?

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Are you a Flat Earther?

In class recently we re-examined the common angles inside of our art (45 degree, 90 degree, etc.)  On our Dojo floor we have three stars taped down on the floor to show the “9 Demon Gates”.  We use these to give students visual aids on how and where to move their feet.  We also use them as a teaching aid to show the various angles for strikes and cuts with a sword etc.  

The other night, I explained to the class not to limit themselves to thinking about these angles in a linear or flat world, but rather in a 3D world.  So while it is easy to move forward or back at a 45 degree angle, there are so many other ways to move in time and space along similar angles in 3D space.  The eye’s opened wide as they all started to mix and match angles and movements as they started to move inside their own “globe”.

Are you limiting your options by only thinking of the world in a “flat” way?  Or are you exploring and applying your movements in a rich 3D world?


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I.M.O.P. Principle—Intent, Means, Opportunity and Preclusion

How do you know when it is legal to get physical with an adversary? Learn the I.M.O.P. (Intent, Means, Opportunity, and Preclusion) principle. All four of these criteria must be met before you have a good case for taking action. If one or more of these conditions are absent, you are on shaky legal ground.

How do you know when it is legal to get physical with an adversary? Learn the I.M.O.P. (Intent, Means, Opportunity, and Preclusion) principle. All four of these criteria must be met before you have a good case for taking action. If one or more of these conditions are absent, you are on shaky legal ground.

These guidelines are not only useful, but they are also easy to remember in the heat of the moment on the street. That’s because they are based on common sense. You must be in danger, or “jeopardy” in order to protect yourself from harm. Obvious, right? Danger from another human being comes from their intent, means and opportunity.

The hard part is that knowing this is not enough. The presence of intent, means, and opportunity may be sufficient for you to act in self-defense. However, their mere presence may not be enough for you to prevail in court. You must also be able to explain how you personally knew that each element was present in a way that the jury will believe.


You must be able to show that the threat (the standard cop term for a bad guy) wanted to do you harm.* You must be able to tell how you knew. Someone screaming, “I’m going to kill you!” is fairly clear, at least if his body language backs up his words. If the threat balls up his fist and draws his hand back, you can explain why you believed he was about to hit you. If a threat suddenly reaches under his jacket, you may believe that he is going for a weapon and can explain that too.

Intent is critical. People have chances to kill you all the time. The waiter bringing you a steak knife in a restaurant has a deadly weapon and is well within range. But we do not kill the waiter, nor do waiters live in fear, because we all understand that without intent there is no threat. No justification for force. So we don’t act.

This goes for the guy reaching under his jacket. This is an action that people do every day, getting out wallets, keys, and loose change. The hand reach itself is not enough. You will have to explain all the elements of that moment that indicated to you why that action showed intent. Did he continue toward you after being told to back off? Were you in an isolated area or alone at night at an ATM? Did you see, hear, or smell something that brought this everyday movement to a new level?

To be a legitimate threat, the person must have intent and you must be able to explain how you knew that.


All the intent in the world does not matter if the threat couldn’t hurt you. Most people have some means at some level—fists and boots and size. Others have weapons or indicate that they have weapons.

A two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum has some of the purest intent in the world, but he or she lacks the size, strength, and coordination to do anything severe.

The means that the actions you articulate must also match the means that were presented. People who were poorly trained in self-defense mouth the words, “I was in fear for my life,” like it is a mantra or a get-out-of-jail-free card. It is a bullshit platitude. You will be expected and required to explain exactly what made you fear for your life—the intent, the means, and the opportunity. If you are claiming the threat was deadly, the means have to be deadly. A shoving match does not count.

You must be able to articulate exactly what led to your fear in a way that demonstrates it was legitimate.


Intent and means do not matter if the threat cannot reach you. If someone is screaming he is going to kick your ass from across the room, he may be a threat but he is not an immediate threat. You can’t shoot him. If he has a gun, being across a room does not matter as much. You have a pretty good argument that you were in danger. Similarly, someone waving a knife at you from inside a vehicle while you are walking on the sidewalk is not an immediate threat. If he slams the accelerator and the car lurches toward you, that situation has changed significantly.

Intent, means, and opportunity are the desire, the ability, and the access to hurt you. You must be able to show all three to justify using force for self-defense.


Even if intent, means, and opportunity are clear, there is one other requirement (for civilians and in most states**) to satisfy. You must be able to show that you had no safe alternatives other than physical force before engaging an opponent in combat. If you can retreat without further endangering yourself***, this criterion has not been met. After all, it is impossible for the other guy to hurt you if you are not there.
These are the questions any jury will be asked and you must be able to explain: Could you have left? Could you have run? Did you in any way contribute to the situation getting out of hand? Would a reasonable person have seen a way out or seen a way that used less force?

All of these are preclusions that would have stopped the situation from going to force. You must not only prove the threat was real and immediate, but that you had no other good options.

Clearly you should never let fear of legal repercussions keep you from defending yourself when your life is on the line, but an understanding of the law can help you make good decisions on “that day” should it ever arrive.

* For self-defense. Other levels of legal force, such as refusing to leave the premises after a lawful order to do so, also require I.M.O., but at a different level.
**Law Enforcement Officers have a “duty to act” and can’t be expected to retreat. In some states, “Stand Your Ground” laws appear to remove the preclusion requirement.  “Castle” laws give great freedom for self-defense in the home provided the threat feloniously enters. If someone breaks into your home, a castle law essentially grants that I.M.O. are givens.
***The justifications for defending a third party are essentially the same as for defending yourself. Though you, yourself, might be able to leave safely if another potential victim would be left behind and helpless, you can articulate why you needed to engage.

(The above excerpt is from Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision-Making Under Threat of Violence by Rory Miller and Lawrence A. Kane)

Grand Re-Opening!

We are pleased to announce that we are up and running in our new Dojo Location (6901 Lynn Way, Suite 205 Pittsburgh, PA 15208).  This is an exciting next chapter in our story as we embark upon the NEXT 20 years of the Pittsburgh Bujinkan!  

If you have ever considered starting a martial art, now is the time to join us.  Schedule your interview to come in and observe a class.  This will give us time to discuss if we are a good fit for one another and to discuss your goals on what you want to get out of your training and the changes you want to make in your life.

Schedule your Appointment Now:

Schedule Your Interview Now!



20 Year Anniversary of the PBTSD!

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