The Art of Hidden Change

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Hidden Convenience, Kashiwa. photo by Michael Glenn

I saw the way Hatsumi Sensei hit the guy in the neck. But his victim fell down like he had been shot. I tried the technique with my training partner. Not the same result.
People sometimes ask, when do we study Ninjutsu? I answer, every class.
Here is one of the lessons of the Bujinkan. There is more to it than what you can see. This makes it hard to study unless you experience it in person with a qualified instructor. Even then, you will miss most of it.
What is happening underneath the surface techniques are what Soke calls 小さな chiisana henka  and 見えない mienai henka. These are small, hidden changes where the real art comes alive. You won’t find them in technique descriptions or even in the densho.
These are best taught through kuden or even better through 以心伝心.
This is why the same kata done by different instructors can appear so completely different.
It is also what allows you to win no matter what your opponent does to counter. This 技術 gijutsu is the skill or art of adapting in an invisible way. Soke says 小手を返す kote o kaesu. Meaning the skill of adapting to these small changes.
This kind of 手業 tewaza is something I experienced directly that day in Soke’s class. He showed me on my own hand which bone he was striking with. Then he hit me.
Sure it hurt. But it was the small hidden thing that stuck with me all day. Somehow the strike seemed to clack the vertebrae in my neck together. This caused an alert up my spinal column to my brain that I couldn’t shake easily.
Had he done the strike for real, this hidden effect might have dropped me. It sure got my attention. But the lesson was hidden from anyone watching us.
It is these small hidden changes that make us ninja. Find a teacher that knows this and study well.

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