Who can train? Is there fitness or age requirements? Are there any other women training?

The Bujinkan is an extremely open and international organization, which provides an opportunity to study true martial arts to nearly everyone. However due to the serious nature of what is taught in Dojo, there are some restrictions as regards those who train, and only those able to exercise true patience, self-control, and dedication shall be allowed to participate.

The Bujinkan is open to only those who agree with and uphold the guidelines of the Bujinkan Dojo and those not doing so shall not be allowed to join. In these guidelines it states that:

“Specifically, individuals with mental illness, drug addiction, or mental instability shall be barred from joining. The necessity of such a report concerns individuals who may present a danger to others, for example, those with infectious diseases or illnesses, individuals with clinically abnormal personalities or physiology, and individuals lacking self-control. Individuals with criminal records shall be turned away. Trouble makers, those who commit crimes, and those living in Japan who break domestic laws shall be turned away.

Those not upholding the guidelines of the Bujinkan, either as practitioners or as members of society, by committing disgraceful or reproachable acts shall be expelled. Until now, the Bujinkan was open to large numbers of people who came to Japan. Among them, unfortunately, were those committing violent drunken acts, the mentally ill, and trouble makers who thought only of themselves and failed to see how their actions might adversely affect others. Through their actions, such people were discarding the traditional righteous spirit of the Bujinkan. From this day forward, all such people shall be expelled.”

These rules are designed to protect the Bujinkan, the public and the individuals themselves.

Often beginners ask about age, fitness level and gender, and whether this will preclude them from training. The Dojo has currently an even gender breakdown, and an age range from teens to mid forties, and all levels of fitness and flexibility. Obviously to train seriously in Japanese Budo you must consistently refine your fitness and conditioning, but this is a part of training, and not a prerequisite – the training is designed to promote this so don’t worry if you don’t have it yet.

Naturally, and as with all forms of physical activity, if you have a serious medical concern that may prevent you from training consult your GP before starting.

What’s involved in the beginner’s course? What does it lead to?

The course is designed to give participants an introduction to Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu as it is taught at the Shugyou Dojo, and to see if training is for them.

Classes last three hours and usually begin with a simple warm up, then onto rolling and breakfalling, basic striking, a quick water/note taking break and then fundamental forms. There’ll be graded students attending to train with and help you, and if you’ve questions during the class you’ll be free to ask them.

Topics such as stretching, breathing, striking, rolling, fundamental forms and training theory will be covered, so that participant will, by the end of the course, be able to engage with more advanced material and train safely.

After the successful completion of the course, beginners will be assessed for their first grade and then given the opportunity to join the Dojo, and free to attend the other classes in the Dojo.

Is this art effective? How long will it take to learn how to defend myself?

Extremely, it’s used by people who professionally need to defend themselves such as police officers, soldiers, and prision guards, and of those I’ve talked to, they all say Bujinkan training is excellent if trained correctly.

Bujinkan Shugyou Dojo Beginner's Course Poster A

Obviously training is only as useful or as effective as you make it, you can train sloppily for decades and still be totally ineffectual, or you can train well and be able to defend yourself relatively quickly. It’s all up to you, but as this is the Shugyou Dojo (Shugyou – Serious training), it’s expected if you train at the Dojo that you train well, so that if you need to use your martial art you can.

In relation to this do not expect to do 8 classes and be an expert, it takes a long time and constant effort to become skilled, like in any art, and anyone who thinks otherwise is simply mistaken.

Lastly I highly recommend the work of Marc McYoung on the topic of self defence, if this is an area of concern be sure to check it out.

Is training strict? Is there much etiquette?
Training is conducted in a relaxed atmosphere, where safety of the those attending is paramount.

Much is made on the ‘strict’ etiquette around Japanese Martial Arts, but often it can taken to the point of affectation and parody in the west. In the Shugyou Dojo, it is taught for pragmatic reasons, namely to prepare students should they visit and train in Japan,  to uphold the cultural traditions of Budō Taijutsu and of course for the safety of those training.

Due to the nature of what is being taught, there are  common sense rules (like anywhere) to ensure the safety of those practising and all those training are expected to follow them. This is no different from, for example rules, and etiquette around the use of firearms or cars, which are mainly the formalization of common sense, and Dojo training is no different.

Like learning the dynamic of any social situation this is picked up during the course of training, so shouldn’t be a reason for concern and everyone at the Dojo is happy to help.I would recommend David Lowry’s In The Dojo as an excellent no-nonsense reference for this area of Budo.

Is it just forms studied? Is there sparring?

Training follows a progression from set patterns, to variations, to various degrees of free training. Such free training can include the addition of additional opponents and weapons, and other various scenarios.

While there is a focus on training correct form in Dojo, especially at the pre-blackbelt level, the training does progress past this point, to free movement. In this regard training is designed to model the movement of the Japanese Shihan, in particular Nagato Sensei and Noguchi Sensei, and of course Hatsumi Soke.

In contrast to other martial arts while sparring of a kind is part of the training process, but is not used as preperation for competition or the main function of training, but just one way of many to stress test a student’s ability.

Moreover this form of training occurs only when the student has a sufficient basis to be tested, and at the teacher’s discretion, so don’t expect to be fending off groups of opponents wielding weapons on your first day!

What’s the uniform? Do I need to bring anything?

The standard uniform in the Bujinkan is a black training uniform or ‘keikogi’, with traditional Japanese footwear known as ‘tabi’, which all graded students are obliged to wear. Additionally a crest or ‘wappen’ is worn on the left lapel, which colour depends on rank (Mudansha, Shodan, Godan, Judan), sometimes with stars to indicate grade. Students wear a coloured belt which also indicates rank, and may have a ‘Bujin’ crest or other embroidery on their uniform but only in white, and never in any other colour, especially gold which is reserved for the head of the school, Masaaki Hatsumi Soke.

From time to time students may wear traditional Japanese trousers known as ‘hakama’, gaiters known as ‘kyahan’ and footwear known as ‘jika tabi’ when training outdoors. Often when training in a training space with a hard or wooden floor, tabi are omitted.

To start with beginners should attend training with a change of loose fitting clothes such as a tracksuit, but should be able to get uniforms in Dublin from Mullen’s Sports on Mary Street or online from NineCircle.co.uk or Playwell.co.uk.

It’s also an extremely good idea to bring along a notebook and pen, and some water.

How does grading work? How long does it take to get a black belt? What is the significance/quality assurance of rank in the absence of competition?

Bujinkan Shugyou Dojo Poster D

The Shugyou Dojo uses  a grading syllabus written by the instructor to ensure that students have a solid grasp of all the key aspects of the art by the time they recieve their blackbelt.

The syllabus introduces the student all the basics contained in the first two books of the instructors manual (Ten & Chi Ryaku of the TenChiJin Ryaku No Maki), three of the main schools and all the major weapons (3 Foot Staff, Sword, 6 Foot Staff, 4 Foot staff, Spear, Glaive, Short Sword, Truncheon & Thrown Weapons).

With diligent practice, training 2-3 times a week it usually takes 2-3 years to achieve a 1st degree blackbelt, or shodan (literally ‘beginning grade’), however please bear in mind this is simply the first serious rank, and by no means the mark of a master. In reality it is where the real training, and the real fun, begins.

Upon recommendation for a rank students can accept the rank by paying for certification from Japan, as you only really have a rank once you’re in possession of the certificate.

Lastly rank in the Bujinkan system is an extremely nebulous thing, but it could be said rank is simply how harshly skill is judged and assessed, not a certification of quality. The ability we all have to recognise strong and weak points is something essential to training (“budō eyes” as some know it) and something which good training refines. Ultimately it is up to you to carefully select a good teacher you think will further your training as best you can – there are excellent martial artists who can’t teach, and excellent teachers who are terrible martial artists and every permutation in between; if you are serious about training martial arts look around several instructors and decide for yourself which is you think is best for you, regardless of rank.

Is there much work with traditional weapons? Is there much focus on material from different schools? How is it taught?

Yes, the study of traditional weapons and material from traditional schools of Jutaijutsu, Dakentaijutsu, Kosshijutsu, Koppojutsu and Ninpo are an inseparable part of Budō Taijutsu, and forms a key part of the training.

In the Bujinkan Shugyou Dojo these area of training is taught in a structured manner, going through one school or weapon, technique by technique, level by level as taught in Japan at Bujinkan Someya Dojo. This allows the student to practice, write down and refine the material, and gain the insights the forms are designed to give.

For 2015 the Dojo will be focusing primarily on Gyokko Ryū Kosshijutsu and Kukishin Ryū weapon systems (sword, spear, jutte, jō, etc.).

Why train in Martial Arts/Budō?

As mentioned above, prospective students train in martial arts for a variety of reasons such as self defence skills, cultural interest or fitness. Reasonable expectations like these are of course catered for, but  over time people keep training because they enjoy it and find it fun, and that the training and sense of community improves their quality of life overall.

That said, like everything you have to try it to know whether it’s for you!

Lastly…

I recommend reading the excellent Classic Budoka’s post on joining a Dojo for more information, and if you’ve any other questions please feel free to send them to shugyoudojo@gmail.com