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
“Forget your sadness, anger, grudges, and hatred. Let them pass like smoke caught in the breeze. You should not deviate from the path of righteousness; you should lead a life worthy of a man. Don’t be possessed by greed, luxury, or your ego.
You should accept sorrows, sadness and hatred as they are, and consider them a chance for trial given to you by the powers… a blessing given by nature. Have both your mind and your time fully engaged in budo, and have your mind deeply set on bujutsu.”
Soke Masaaki Hatsumi
KOFUKU NO SHIORI
“The way to experience ultimate happiness is to let go of all worries and regrets and know that being happy is the most satisfying of life´s feelings. Reflect back on all the progress in your life and allow the positive, creative and joyous thoughts to outshine and overwhelm any sorrow or grief [bitterness] that may be lingering there in the recesses of your mind. Knowing that disease and disaster are a natural part of life, the key to overcoming adversity is with a calm and happy spirit. Happiness is waiting there in front of you. Only you can decide whether or not you
choose to experience it, take this to heart!”
33rd Soke,Togakure-Ryu Ninjutsu
The tradition of the Bujinkan recognizes nature and the universality of all human life, and is aware of that which flows naturally between the two parts:
“The secret principle of Taijutsu is to know the foundations of peace.”
“To study is the path to the immovable heart ( fudoushin ).”
Banpen Fukyo (Fugyo)
“10,000 changes, no surprises”
We talked about this in class last night. The discussion focused on the feeling of being “centered” or in your own bubble and not allowing outside influences startle or change you. Although not a fan of the “foo foo” mystical martial arts terms that folks throw around like State of Zero, or whatever, I do believe in the idea of being centered in yourself. Only things that enter your orbit and require a response are the ones that warrant a response. This is a very difficult state to enter, much less maintain in today’s modern society, however I think it is worthwhile to cultivate that mentality. Observe, don’t react until it is time to react.
On Saturday, we explored the next Waza in the Jo Ryaku No Maki level of Gyokko Ryu – Renyo. We looked at 6 (Six!) different sources of material for descriptions of the base/core waza, including 3 from the Boss himself.
We tore apart the notes, read them, re-read them, did our best to interpret what we were reading, and identified what we felt was working (and perhaps not working). We did inside, outside angle versions. We moved the timing of some of the elements around vs what was in the Waza description, and we tried variations as seen and recorded by various teachers over the years.
One of the main points to come out of this effort was using the Waza as a “reference architecture”, ie as a framework or a “box” to explore ideas and concepts. To treat it as a baseline or a starting point and to tease out the essence of perhaps what it is trying to teach us. Waaaaaay too many people simple perform a set of movements that they think is closest to what they think a Waza is and then move on to the next one and they do not peel apart the layers and depth of what is inside. These people are technique collectors and what they are doing is shallow understanding at best, and a pale approximation of mimicry at worst.
This is all about the PROCESS of learning. Of utilizing the FRAMEWORK of a waza to explore within and about bringing the material ALIVE. It is about concepts, not techniques. And when you can understand concepts, you have a meta model that you can apply anywhere.
(Oh and for my geeky friends, this is a cybersecurity Reference Architecture. Kind of a high technology version of a waza, eh?)
Everything is Sakizuke.
“The award of rank before actual attainment of skill and understanding.”
The ranks in the Bujinkan are for the heart. Those with the right heart will accept rank from their teacher without question. Students having a feeling of discomfort or inadequacy for their new rank ( which should be everyone ) will then go away and train hard until they become worthy of the grade. This is understanding Sakizuke and the correct feeling to have when dealing with the grades of the Bujinkan Dojo.
Sakizuke 先附 or 先付け
“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.