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Benjamin Cole

This is a collection of quotations made by Masaaki Hatsumi-sensei during practice sessions at Ayase, as recorded in my training diary. Despite the current debate over the role of the Internet in the Bujinkan, Ben will continue to make this part of his diary available. If you truly look at what Hatsumi-sensei is saying, you will understand that these words (as with any printed, spoken, or otherwise) are to be used as a reference, nothing more. It is up to YOU to make the proper chioces in your life and in your training. My hope is that more and more Bujinkan practitioners will increase the intensity and frequency of their training as a result of this series. I also hope that these words will push people to do what they can to make it to Japan to train with the only one who truly understands this art. As for the quotes themselves, I try to remember the general flow of the training sessions when I record my thoughts, because, as Hatumi-sensei once said, “I teach from what I see around me.” I have tried keep these quotes in essentially the same order as they were made during the training session, but naturally memory does play its tricks. These are my interpretations as to what Hatsumi-sensei was saying, based upon my feelings at the time. They should not be viewed as verbatim nor as “official.” Words in parentheses are my comments, most of which are for clarification.

June 28 (Friday)

“I went to this federation of martial artists gathering the other day with Anthony (Netzler). It was good to meet these people. There were many good instructors, but also some pitiful ones. It was a good experience.”

“As I have mentioned before, these five or six years are going to be very important. They, combined with the three preceding years, are the times of blooming in the Bujinkan. I decided a few years back to start teaching you all in this way. Those who fall back on what they learned before, and think it sufficient, are kidding themselves. If they make their own curriculum and teach that, their students are the ones who ultimately suffer. And that distresses me.”

“This period for the Bujinkan is like a watermelon. We are all trying to mature into large delicious watermelon. Watermelon may all look the same on the outside, but only some of them will be succulent and delicious. Others won’t taste very good at all. I hope that you all grow into large, delicious watermelon.”

“Don’t be concerned about the neck right now. It will take you too long if you try to go straight from the block. His sword will come in right here (to your ‘do’) and you’ll get killed. Rather, take the closest target–that’s the hands. Then go for the kill.”

“Even if you miss (with your sword), just keep flowing into the next technique. Doing so will save your life.”

(Concerning a thrust technique) “Once you’ve got the frontal one down, try to do this technique by moving off to the side.”

“Naturally, an attacker is not going to attack if you don’t give him an opening.”

(About a rolling technique) “Learning this technique should take you about three months. Use the rest of today to just practice this technique. If you can just grasp the essentials of it, that will be sufficient.”

“If you suddenly think you’ve got it, you don’t. That means you are probably creating your own style and falling back on that. Nothing is more frightening than someone who thinks they’ve got it, when they actually don’t. They’ll most probably be killed by that mistake.”

(Concerning the rolling technique) “When Takamatsu-sensei was 88 teaching me this technique, I was in my thirties. He would get so angry with me and would constantly yell at me, calling me ‘foolish’ and ‘terrible.’ I would go home and practice and practice, then go back… But I still couldn’t get it.”

“He used to hit me with ‘bokken,’ too.”

“I can’t teach these techniques. You’ve got to discover how to do them yourselves. It’s not a matter of understanding it in your head, it’s a matter of getting your body to do them.”

“When you get to my level, it’s hard to get down what you want to teach in books and videos. Those media can’t do it justice. We are dealing with the three-dimensional here. And from there, beyond.”

“I write books when I see a hole that needs filling. But most of these techniques can’t be explained in that medium properly.”

“Writing books in the past was kinda like P.R. There were plenty of swordsmen better than Miyamoto Musashi in his time, but they didn’t write any books. But everyone remembers Musashi because of his ‘The Book of Five Rings.’ There are people all over the world writing books and putting out materials in much the same way. It gives them more credence than what they deserve… You have to have the ability to discern who is genuine and who is fraudulent.”

“I only teach things once. Your job is to absorb all of what I am teaching. Plus, there’s the fact that age will take its toll on my memory the older I grow. (He laughs)”

“Your life is on the line. Practice well.”

“You are all making sacrifices to train here. You are gaining this knowledge first-hand. You should all be proud that you are representing the Bujinkan.”

“When rolling, you must examine the area onto which you will roll and then adjust accordingly. You could end up further away from your opponent and unable to reach them with your sword. Or you could get too close. Spacing is very important.”

July 2 (Tuesday)

“This art begins with Ninpo, or Ninjutsu. From there it moves to Budo, or martial arts. Ninpo and Budo are one and the same.”

“Here there are no fifth dans; there are no tenth dans. Everyone is the same here.”

“There are three different ways you can have your hands in ‘Chudan no kamae.” They can be either fully extended, partially bent, or against your chest. Practice them all many, many times until you become comfortable with them.”

“Always take the tip of your sword to their left shoulder.”

“From now on, you must strive to cut out unnecessary movement. Waste in movement is wrong and will get you killed.”

“You’re not coming in with a berzerker attack. You must keep control of your weapon at all time. No giant cuts. Short controlled cuts. No waste.”

“Once you get the sword in them, leave it there. Then if they try to turn against you, you just run them through (like this).”

“It doesn’t matter if you block the second arm or not. Just get your hand in position and they will be unable to strike you.”

“It doesn’t matter if you have short legs or long ones for this kick. Everyone’s problem is that they are not bringing their knee to their chests. Do it this way.”

“Don’t forget this hand, people. Your left hands are all dying on this technique. Your opponent is in position to kick you so be aware.”

(After calling out people to show their interpretations) “You need to take all of these good points to heart. Take other people’s good points to heart… There is no need for me to say this is a good technique or that is a good technique.”

“It’s not a question of this technique working or that technique being ‘cool.’ The most important thing is to survive.”

“You don’t have to do it exactly the same way I did it. Just feel the flow of the situation and take control, using whatever technique comes to light.”

“In a real war, if you go in a set formation, they’ll just mow you down with their guns… Similarly, don’t follow a set pattern in your movements in a fight.”

“Let them go. You must let them go a little to let them put themselves in a worse position (by moving for a technique.)”

“A martial artist (‘budoka’) does not try to steal a technique. That is for thieves and pickpockets.”

“Drop them into a trap. Let them go a little, then drop them into a trap.”

“Even if you are the one being attacked, you must be aware of all the holes in your opponent’s position. (READ: As you could see, it looked like I was going to get screwed, but suddenly I was on top and out of danger.)”

“For these techniques, you must have the fifth dan sense. That is why everyone who has attained that level should be training here with me.” (Hint, hint.)

“I am not teaching techniques. I am teaching flow. I am teaching nothingness.”

“Don’t hesitate and don’t hold back. In a real confrontation, if you do, you die.”

“You must lift up. Use your body, not your hands.”

“Use the sword as though you were not using it.”

“If you think of using the sword for the block, you’ve locked yourself into the technique and will not be able to do the next movement (a cut).”

“Move as though you do not have a sword in your hands.”

“You don’t have to cut the torso, people. You can cut whatever’s there. Cut the hands, if you want.”

“The movement is exactly like Mutto Doori.”

“I am pulling him here (where his hands touch his hilt). I can pull him toward me here and impale him. Or can lower his center of balance here and then kill him.”

July 9 (Tuesday)

(Before practice, upon seeing two people practicing knife techniques) “Don’t try to fight for the knife like that. If they’re stronger, they’ll win. Rather, ignore it and strike here (to the face). Or grab their other arm and cut it with their own knife like this… You would have never thought of that, would you? They wouldn’t have either.”

“Try not to stop walking when you draw your sword. That’s Iaido. And in a real situation, that is no good. You don’t want to stop and draw; you want to draw as you’re walking. This is an example of how to attack without any hint of the attack.”

“Use your body to cut here and just walk through.” “If they try to turn to face you (when you move behind them), you can put your tip here at their shoulder and keep them from turning on you.”

“If I were doing this technique (in ‘jissen’) I would not stop walking here. But then you couldn’t see what I was doing. Rather I keep moving and cut the tendons here, before moving back here. At normal speed you couldn’t see this cutting. Look for the little things in your training.”

“You must make the ability to strike the ‘kyusho’ as you move from one technique to the next innate.”

“Don’t learn this technique. Use this technique to learn your spacing. Distance is very important. If you’re too far or too close you can’t do it properly.”

“Practice this well so that you always cut to the ‘jakkin.'”

“This technique should take you about five or six years to learn.”

“People everywhere are complaining about each other. This guy sucks. Or that guy’s teaching things the wrong way. The reason they do that is that they don’t understand my art. And this saddens me. I wouldn’t feel any remorse if those people were to leave the Bujinkan. Their leaving would actually bring more people–good people–into this art. And that would provide fertile ground for more goodness. More people would come to the Tai Kais to train with each other as well.”

“It’s like you’re dealing with a wild animal. If you go to grab a wild animal, it will run away. That’s a natural reaction. So you can’t go into a fight with the intention of cutting this way or doing that technique. You have to be able to create the opportunities.”

“During the times of the warring states in Japan, everyone was like a wild animal. They would react to whatever you intended to do. So the only way to win was to have no intention.”

“It’s not important if you cut them here. The most important thing is that you don’t get cut.”

“This is why I don’t like to write books any more. Having the technique done to you and experiencing it yourself is the only way to learn it. This stuff can’t be taught. This stuff can’t be understood through merely words. It must be experienced personally. Books are for use AFTER you know the techniques. It’s the same for the scrolls. (Or Ben’s diary.) If you know the technique, then read the words and it makes sense.”

“Takamatsu-sensei once told me a story. One day, his teacher Ishitani Matsutaro came to him and said, ‘I can teach you no more, boy.’ And with that, he passed the Densho for Takagi Yoshin Ryu to him. Takamatsu-sensei was only seventeen at the time. Ishitani-sensei was ninety.”

“Just because you train with me, don’t assume that you have actually learned anything. Too many people around the world have made that mistake or continue to do so.”

“So few arts break down these techniques for different weapons, such as the ‘ken.’ That is why training in this way is so important.”

After practice one foreign visitor wanted to see if Hatsumi-sensei would be willing to spare some time to explain a little about healing methods in Ninjutsu. I was asked to translate. Soke’s answer was a very Japanese way of saying “No,” but was nevertheless extremely interesting.

Q: “I was wondering if you might have some time to explain a little about healing methods in Ninjutsu one weekend before I leave?”

A: “That’s a serious subject. A very serious subject… Humans expect too much of everything. They want to know how to live longer, or stay healthy. They’re never willing to admit that they are living animals that age and will eventually die… Such a talk as you ask would take many, many hours. And it would be very complicated.”

Q: “How would I say this? What about focusing your ‘ki’ and using that to heal?”

A: “It’s all the same. Focusing your ‘ki’ (called ‘Chi Kung’ in Chinese or ‘Kikou’ in Japanese). Healing. Medicine. It’s all the same.

Q: “What I’m really interested in is the so called ‘Tradition Ninjutsu Healing.’ Is there such a thing?”

A: “Oh, yes. It exists. I’ve written about it in one of my books. And I recently gave a talk on it at Manchester University in Britain.”

Q: “Was your mention of such things in your book very long?”

A: “No, I just touched on the subject.”

Q: “Have there been any articles about your talk in Manchester? Or is there anyone I can contact about it?”

A: “Rose-san… Chris Rose. He might have something on that.”

Q: “The reason why I ask is that I have studied such things as Chinese healing and Indian healing. We use these symbols–these various symbols–for the healing process, but very few people really understand what the symbols are.”

A: “People are always looking for the miracle pill. There are such providers of knowledge in all lands. But they always grow old and die as well. People try to look far and wide for all the answers. But they forget to recognize that which is good within their own land. It’s kinda like Japanese houses. This is the land of wood. Over the years, the traditional Japanese house of wood and ‘tatami’ has been replaced with Western style architecture. Only now have people realized in hindsight that sticking with Japanese houses might have been better.”

Q: “Yeah. There’s nothing like sitting in a ‘tatami’ room with good ventilation during the summer, is there?”

A: “No, there’s not. The things you ask cannot be taught or learned on a mental level. They have to be discovered and learned through personal experience.”

Q: “Like what you talked about today with Taijutsu techniques?”

A: “Exactly. Even if I were to explain things to you, it wouldn’t matter. Because it is different for every person. Ten different people will have ten different interpretations. But after all, isn’t that what medicine is? A doctor’s purpose is to heal his patients, but he must adjust the medicine, treatment, time, and so on to meet the personal needs of each patient. He has to understand the patient from the patient’s point of view. In a way, he has to be the patient.”

Q: “I see.”

A: “I have tenth dans whom I am still correcting daily on their mistakes. This is because ‘they haven’t got it.’ But when they do, everything will come together.”

Q: “I see you have to go. You’ve been very kind. Thank you.”

A: “You’re welcome.”

July 16 (Tuesday)

“Kihon Happo… learning Kihon happo requires learning things other than Kihon Happo, like Biken Happo, Bugei Juhappan, and Ninja Juhakkei. By learning these other things, you will eventually come to understand Kihon Happo.”

“Naginata, bo, yari… By learning the character of these different weapons, you will come to understand Kihon Happo. Those around the world who have not been training with me over the last four or five years truly don’t understand this point.”

“When one begins learning an art–gets involved in the fine arts–there’s a belief in Japan that the best age to do so is the sixth day of the sixth month after your sixth birthday. And they say that you can finally get your art down on the sixth day of the sixth month after your sixty-sixth birthday.(He laughs) I feel that only now — now that I’ve reached that age — am I finally able to teach you all what Takamatsu-sensei was teaching me… I feel kinda bad that it’s taken me this long to be able to teach this way to you all.”

“Everyone’s not using their legs.”

“If you let them go here, they will get away from you. Follow them and control their movement like this.”

“If you had killed them, then they would be useless here.” (They’d be on the ground and all limp so you couldn’t use them as a shield.)

“As you can see, there’s just too much stuff. It’s so minute as well. That’s why I cannot put this stuff into books… Books are for kindergartners. You know, you learn from books when you don’t know anything, like when you’re in kindergarten. After that, their not needed… Modern education is misguided. That’s because it doesn’t teach you how to live.”

“You have to turn your ‘saya’ to the side, so you can cut straight to their ‘do.'”

“Don’t forget to push your ‘saya’ back. It will help you to draw.”

“You’re not trying to cut them. You’re trying to hold them. If you had cut them, you could not move freely if there was another attacker.”

“Too many people think swords are just for cutting. That’s silly. They can be used for striking…use the ‘tsuba,’ the ‘tsuka,’ the ‘saya,’ as well. They can be used for holding, tying up, or cutting.”

“If you use swords only for cutting, you would be like the ‘tsurigiri.’ And that’s silly. (In ancient times, ‘tsurigiri’ was the practice of wandering around at night choosing random victims on which to practice your sword techniques. Obviously, this was illegal and looked down upon. Its modern equivalent is buying a new gun, then going out to a nearby playground to practice your target shooting. Obviously, it’s bad for morale.)”

“This stuff cannot be taught. It has to be discovered for yourself.”

“By turning your body this way, you will completely amputate their foot at the ankle here.”

“I am showing you this so you do not think that Mutto Doori is the end.”

“Don’t hit their arm with your ‘tsuka’ from the side like this. Practice hitting straight on… No, you people are not using your bodies. Lift your knee like this as you step back then rock forward and whack ’em. It hurts.”

“You can hit them with the ‘tsuba’ as well. That hurts worse.”

“Don’t look at your weapons! Don’t look at your opponent! Look at everything around you. You don’t know how many opponents could be around you.”

“It’s okay if you didn’t get it. That’s what practice is for. Just keep doing it until you get it. It will come… (After several embarrassing minutes in front of everyone.) Good. See you did it.”

“Look with your feet.” (Initially, this statement was mistranslated during practice as “Look at the feet,” because the concept was so…different.)

“You can tell who has been practicing and who hasn’t by looking at their movement.”

“You could have two swords like this (on both hips like a gun slinger). And you could draw them like this. (Draws them simultaneously with the hand of the same side) Don’t think, ‘Oh, my sword has to be here on this side.’ Too many writers and movie makers don’t understand this point and always portray swords worn in one way.”

“You could strap another sword on your back like this and have three swords. You could have a ‘daito’ and a ‘shoto’ on this side, and a ‘tachi’ here, and another one on your back… Try to be better armed than Robocop.)”

“For this one, when they come to punch, you merely draw your sword halfway. They’ll freeze in fear, and their other limbs won’t come in to attack… You’re trying to control them — encompass them–here. They will be unable to attack you. Then you can talk to them and try to calm them down. Ask them, ‘Why does life have to be so short?’ (He laughs) If they don’t get your point (that it’s stupid to punch someone wearing a sword), then just slide forward as you finish drawing, and kill them.”

At one point, someone piped up with a comment worth writing: “I was just talking with Sensei and he asked me to share our conversation with you. I just mentioned that it looked like many people were not practicing with the intensity they would need in ‘jissen.’ I mentioned that many people were just going through the movements and drawing their swords. Sensei has mentioned before that these techniques should be practiced for real combat. Later, when he mentions another point, everyone focuses on that point, forgetting about the other things he said, such as the importance of combat utility. Looking around, it seems like people forget his previous comments as soon as a new one is made. That is because they want to be spoon-fed everything, like babies…. Some people actually say that Hatsumi-sensei is not a good teacher because he doesn’t constantly say those things. But that is just because those people expect to be spoon-fed. They don’t take responsibility for their own training. And that is a true shame.”


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