Various articles about Bujinkan training, by Soke and the Japanese Shihan:

  • Nagato, T. (1988) The Koppo of Kihon Happo. Tetzusan Magazine.
  • Ishizuka, T. (1988) The Kokoro of Kihon Happo. Tetzusan Magazine.
  • Nagato, T. (1988) Moko Speaks. Tetzusan Magazine.
The ‘Koppo’ of Kihon Happo (The Knack of the Fundamental Eight Methods)
By Toshiro Nagato Sensei

It would be possible to write an entire book about just one of the Kihon Happo techniques. one only begins to understand Soke’s teachings, in a vague sort of way, about ten year s after first experiencing them. Maybe it would be truer to say that one starts to understand that one cannot understand. Soke’s teachings just exist as a reality that must be experienced first-hand. Kihon Happo is said to be the basis of our budo. But basics can be started from any point-—there is no need to start from the first form and provided you do all of them some time it does not matter which one you do first. There is also no fixed historical reason to start from the beginning. Rather, what I find during teaching is that before anything else one should learn the important lesson that “either is OK.” But it seems that not many people have realized this yet.

Some people even believe that Kihon Happo means simply the first eight kata, the movements themselves. Of course, this is also true, but if you can do no more than the first eight kata nothing will come of them. Anyone can do them! Unless you can perform the kata correctly and link them up to the limitless variations, you cannot say that you have accomplished Kihon Happo.

Foreign instructors coming to train in Japan have problems even in the basic forms of the kata. They say that what they learned abroad is different from what they are being taught  in Japan, or that even in Noda the forms vary slightly from instructor to instructor. Of course they do! No two people are the same, so it would indeed be strange if everybody performed them the same way. However, just because the shihan in Noda all move in slightly different ways, this does not mean that foreign instructors can also do whatever they like. Many actually incorporate serious mistakes into their movements. To be quite honest, foreign instructors should act more responsibly. I see many students who are obviously the end product of half-baked training where the instructor couldn’t do Kihon Happo correctly himself, and so invented an arbitrary method to cover this up.

I want all shidoshi to be aware of the responsibility they have to transmit the teachings correctly. If you train for a long time, you become able to see at a glance whether someone’s basic movements are correct They dont have to all be the same, they must just be correct.

That’s the feeling l want everyone to grasp. It takes time to understand this mindset. To a certain extent, the longer you train, the more you understand the basics and budo itself. But it is precisely when you are devoting yourself single mindedly to mastering the basics that you can’t understand the wider principles.

Kihon Happo is like a bridge between the conscious and the unconscious. I think one can say that in the midst of training the unconscious, you are in fact acting consciously. It is important to get an even balance between the two. As I accompany Soke around the world, one thing that always strikes me is the fact that everyone has problems with the basics. They all know that the basics are important, but because they do not understand or cannot do such an important thing, they lose their self-confidence in the martial arts. The work doesn’t stand up as an art.

At present good shidoshi are emerging one after another throughout the world. I want everyone to treasure having communication with them. Once you get stuck with a bad teacher, no matter how long you train you`ll never get good. Videos and books are there to help. lt’s worth spending time on the basics, even just on the forms of Kihon Happo and not trying to run before you can walk. Soke teaches that the most important thing in budo is “living.” Kihon Happo is a living base. One of the basic thoughts of Buddhism is “the impermanence of all things.” All things are continually changing, and nothing is permanent. It sounds obvious, but few people realize the truth behind it. True Kihon Happo is likewise a living thing. It is permanently changing. My own Kihon Happo changes from one moment to the next. What has happened up until now had good reasons for it. But recently Soke has started providing answers to Kihon Happo. He waits until the students have reached a certain stage of maturity. Once that stage comes, he can teach them naturally, like a flower booming or a fruit getting ripe. And each of us can only waits until the our time comes. As I said, Kihon Happo cannot be defined or delimited. Naturally, I do not think that my own Kihon Happo is definitely right, nor is it definitely wrong. To grow into a large tree as a martial artist, the roots are indispensable. I think that about sums up my views on Kihon Happo.

The ‘Kokoro’ of Kihon Happo (Heart of the Fundamental Eight Methods)

By Tetsuji Ishizuka Sensei
When thinking about Kihon Happo, I feel I must start from the time, over 23 years ago when I was allowed to become a student. At the time I was a 17 year old high school student, with a strong interest in Judo, Kendo, Karate, Aikido and Shorinji Kempo. I was training in each of them. One day I dislocated my shoulder in Judo and went to Soke’s seikotsu clinic for treatment. That’s how it all started.The training hall at that time was a small room with a plank floor. Whether hot or cold, we would all train together there as friends. There were day’s when someone would stomp through a plank in the floor and we would all stop to repair it before continuing.  From the senior students I learned Ichimonji no Kamae, Hicho no Kamae, Jumonji no Kamae and strange strikes and kicks and blocks that I had never seen before, and which I did not really understand. After some months I learned that these new techniques were Kihon Happo. How I wanted to learn some techniques, but Soke and the senior students applied blocks to me and threw me through the air. They made my body learn ukemi naturally, so my ukemi gradually became better – totally different from those in Aikido or Judo. So I could take my falls without pain on planks, concreate or gravel.Soke talked to us about Budo both during and after training. Time and time again he told us ‘Ninjutsu is Taijutsu. Taijutsu begins with Kihon Happo and ends with Kihon Happo. If you get stuck for techniques, go back and redo Kihon Happo.’The most essential thing required of a martial artist is to have a Kokoro “heart” that is like the warm beautiful heart of a flower in peace and harmony, or alternatively the warm, beautiful heart of a flower with the upright, flexible character of a bamboo.I was young and often thought ‘Oh no not again,’ but as though reading my mind Soke would say, ‘Takamatsu Sensei used to tell me all of these things in the same way, and I would think ‘Uh oh, here he goes again !’, but later the fact that those words are really important pierced it’s way deep into my chest.’ Hearing these words, I felt them pierce my chest deeply too.As timed passed, I sweated through the training, always’s cradled by Soke’s warm heart and got to teach those below me the basic Kihon Happo., like “Te Hodoki” untying the hands, in just the same way as I had been taught in my time. When considering how each of the techniques had been passed down this way for over 900 years, I could but wonder at the mystery of living Martial Arts.Eventually I came to have a dojo of my own, and students of my own and realised more and more how heavy a responsibility I held for my own basics. As you are all aware, many students came from abroad to train in the martial arts, but somehow the techniques lacked ‘bite’, and I realised this must be because they had not truly mastered the basics. I really sensed a need for everyone  to learn from the Shihan how each individual movement of the Kihon Happo gets linked into techniques, and then into Taijutsu, to build a stable form of movement with roots firmly implanted into the earth, combined with sharp biting branches.Soke is a genius – as a painter, as an actor, and of course as a martial artist. His movements do not stop at where onlookers see them stop. The techniques flow on and on boundlessly, and so whenever you train yourself, copying the movements of this great flowing river, please watch Soke’s toes, fingertips, torso – in fact watch his whole body. He uses all of the Kihon Happo I have just metioned. If you just try to copy the flow of techniques without seeing this, your techniques will have no ‘bite’.When a baby starts to walk, he often falls over probably because of the unbalence between his head’s weight and the muscles of his body. The martial arts are the same. Just as a parent stretches out a helping hand to a baby, senior students stretch out to help their juniors, and both help and love each other. Love produces new things, raises new life.

It is said that Taijustu gives birth to miracles. And the first step of Taijutsu is Kihon Happo! As it was transmitted from Takamatsu Sensei to Hatsumi Sensei, and from Hatsumi Sensei to the Shidoshi throughout the world, with heavy responsibility to bring about world peace and help people to lead enjoyable lives. This responsibility may be heavy, but I feel it is also somehow enjoyable in itself. How about you?  

Moko Speaks

By Toshiro Nagato Sensei

There are some people who use budo as the base of their livelihoods. There are even some who claim to be doing it “for the sake of Bujinkan, for the sake of Togakure Ryu” whereas in fact they are merely using it for their own personal sakes, using it for their own professions. These are not true martial artists, they are martial art businessmen. (Soke is a martial artist, an author, a producer, a painter, a doctor, and the top level at each of them. For the past year he has also been an actor.) As for myself, I have a job just like anyone else, which I use for my livelihood, and i see by budo as existing on top of that base. I’m not saying that budo business is a totally evil thing. Things vary from country to country—for people who can survive just on budo, that’s fine. However, I do sometimes think (as a parent might), seeing as they have not got the necessary experience, what on earth are they teaching? It can’t be all easy sailing for these inexperienced ones, either. Looking at the current situation, there are only a handful of people who can really do taijutsu and understand budo, and all the rest need a lot more time and training. There are even some deluded children who take a few years of (in-) experience, some sort of feel for sports, mix them up together and try to prove what a “genuine expert” they are…

To be quite honest, unless someone really understands what Soke is saying, they have absolutely no right to use names “Bujinkan” or “Togakure Ryu”. If they get a reputation for being a user, well that’s more than understandable.

Soke just watches them silently. If someone does not understand your teaching, what’s the point of wasting energy on them? That’s what 1,000 years of history have taught. There are even some total idiots who try comparing Soke with their own feeble experience, and use their own petty powers of judgment to criticize him. Maybe it’s for the sake of making money———the advertisements are big—but the real contents are just a shame. What on earth can such people be thinking off? I suppose it must be just themselves…

But even then Soke says nothing. Budo is not as trivial as that. It is not the kind of thing where you can throw your responsibility to the winds, teach anything you like just however you like, and thus satisfy your ego. It is backed up by a long history of battling for peace. It is a splendid form of art; it is human culture of a high dimension. And as for those who encounter this martial art but then drift away from the core without even realizing it, and head off in the wrong direction, they are rather to be pitied.

Soke never forces his students to do anything. Instead he always says “If you just do budo for your own sake you’ll get worse.” “Do not think of yourself, do it for the sake of your country” is what he preaches wherever he travels throughout the world. He also says this to those who come to train in Japan, just before he sees them retum home. At first they seem to understand the gist of what Soke says, and their hearts bum with the feeling of their duty to teach true budo. But after awhile, what with the pressure of work, money, etc., they change heart or simply forget. Of course, I’m not saying that absolutely everybody is like that. As time passes everything changes. However, if one’s own feelings change, that is not simply a result of time passing. Those who are only thinking a of their own self, their own affairs never last a long time. Even if they did (for their whole life) it would just be a waste of time.

Bufu Ikkan (being blown by the martial wind for one’s whole life): I wish that people never forgot the impressions, emotions, and resolves that they felt when they first encountered this budo. Some come to train in Japan from overseas. That requires some doing, and I take my hat off to all such people. However, just coming to Japan once or twice and staying for a few days can’t teach you that much. And especially those whose heads are all full up and confused with concepts like speed, power, business etc. will find it harder and  harder to understand what this budo is all about. After a few years, they may seem to be succeeding to a certain extent. But then they have to think of how to protect the livelihood, status and honor that budo has brought them, and it’s the beginning of the end. They do not even notice when they slip off the true path, and start wandering through a maze. And if they were alone in this maze, then that would still be tolerable, but once they start causing problems for others one must ask “just what is this budo you think you know?”

In one sense, budo is very dangerous. It is quite feasible that self-defense can bring about self-destruction. I might be tempting as a trade, but there are traps lying all around. Once you understand budo, and manage to perfect it, then there will be few problems, and there is little danger of failure. But unfortunately, there are but few students who have reached that stage yet. Yet, you are still stuck with the problem of upholding your family, and your own livelihood. The only solution is to understand what I am trying to say, endure it and keep on with the training. You get blown by the wind of budo from Japan, take back the seeds of budo, make its flowers bloom and its fruits ripen. You also have to cope with the natural struggle for survival. It may take several years, several decades until a martial art which is truly suited to a certain country gets naturally weeded out and comes to rest.

This must be stressed from the very beginning. Our budo is the history of 1,000 years of weeding out. How on earth is someone meant to understand it in just two or three years ?

Some people are cherished with the illusion that they have already understood—but the true way is rather to realize how you gradually stop understanding. Unless you have a pure heart, which can listen carefully to what Soke says and try to understand, then you will not be able to build up any trust relationships. Even if Soke teaches with all his might, unless there is a receptacle waiting for his teaching, it’s just wasted effort; it’s pearl before swine. Even when he talks of the culture and art that has lived for 1,000 years, some just get caught up in small concepts like speed and power, and miss what is most important for life. If faced with someone who doesn’t understand no matter how much you tell them, then you have no choice but to leave them to flounder.

In a real fight, it is correct judgment that decides whether you live or die, in a split second : speed and power are far less relevant. This power to judge correctly is nurtured by the repeated practice of taijutsu’s variations and flow. To be able to respond correctly with both hearth and body to the opponent’s various changes, you must practice correctly, gently, and relaxed. Some people say, “that’s too soft” or “too slow,” but if you are trying to learn correct movements nothing can be “too soft” or “too slow.” Surely this is plain logic- can’t everybody understand it? After you have become able to move correctly, you should just move in a natural style suited to your own body. lf you think about speed and power from the beginning, you lose your mental flexibility, start moving as your ego dictates, and become unable to change yourself to respond to your opponent’s changes. Four or five years ago, training at Bujinkan was quite hard, but know it has become very soft. Some people question this. As far as I myself am concerned, I have no complaints about the present way of training. It is just those who are no good at budo yet who complain, and they should stop before they voice their “logic,” shut up and just train-they should be able to produce the answer from there. If someone doesn’t understand budo, it doesn’t matter how much they wonder about whether the present training system is suited for country X or not: they haven’t got a hope of understanding. Just as Soke says, they should keep on going with the training, first. And then if they see the result, that’s all that’s needed.

lt may sound like a matter of course, but during your training you will undergo various social and personal experiences. Not all of them will be fun. On the contrary, trying, sad, aggravating, or boring things are more common. That is exactly why Soke is preaching a method whereby anyone can leam together and urge each other on enjoyably, without forgetting the most important point, the soul of the martial arts. No matter how often you tell them, those who are stubborn, who lack a cooperative nature, who want to be No. 1, or who have too strong a desire to maintain their egos, will not be able to understand this martial art.

The “nin” of ninjutsu can also be interpreted as the “nin” of ninshiki (awareness). Soke says that true courage is being aware of everything, and then going beyond this. lf this is lacking, then no matter how many techniques you know you will make mistaken decisions. If you just try and think things out yourself, there’ll often be mistakes. This applies even more to those still undergoing training. Making mistakes is unavoidable. If you think you are mistaken, then correct it. lf you practice again correctly, then that’s all you need. This also needs courage. lt takes time, natural time until you can understand budo. And those who can’t endure the many years are no different from those who don’t understand culture, art, and human nature.