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Don Roley

You Can't Learn Bujinkan From Home Video Courses

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Some things come up so often on internet forums that it gets tiring answering them. This blog is meant to be used in the future when someone else comes up with something that has been dealt with before.

If you have been told to read this it means that you are asking about a home study course that will allow you, a beginner, to learn Bujinkan "ninjutsu" from video instead of a going to a real school.

The responses you are getting are probably that it can't be done and you do not want to accept that. After al, it is your dream to study ninjutsu and the advertisement you read says it is possible.

Robert Heinlein wrote, "Man is not a rational animal, but a rationalizing one." If we want something, we find excuses to overcome logic against it. If you think it does not apply to you, you're wrong. You must realize that your desire to achieve your dream deafens you to the advice of those that gain nothing if you take it or ignore it.

The responses you got probably have been pretty savage. There is a reason for that. As you might have figured out by now, this subject comes up a lot. People come on asking about video courses and when they don't get the response they hoped for, nine times out of ten they try to argue with folks who have far more experience in the art than they. They tend to strike people as being pretty egotistical in thinking that they know better than more experienced folks. Despite that, people do want to help if you are willing to accept it. If you can keep your ego in check, maybe we can reason with you.

Why can't you learn from a home study course? There are many reasons.

Prime among the reasons you are doomed to failure from a home study course is that you need a teacher to point out mistakes.

As I say, the job of a teacher is not just to present knowledge, but to bounce you back on course when you wander off it. There are problems that those doing the technique cannot see. They do not know their mistakes, or even know they have mistakes. It is the teacher's job to point them out.

You may think that you will be able to find the mistakes. You may even think that your friends can point out the mistakes. In a pinch, maybe sending a video of yourself to the video teacher will allow them to point out the mistakes.

Sorry to tell you this, but if you think that you are wrong.

There are some ways of combat that are very crude. There are no fine points. I learned some myself back in the military. If we are talking about those types of styles that are not meant to be very subtle, maybe you could learn them from a tape and a little feedback from friends. But if you are talking about anything more subtle than that, it is just too much to try to learn from a tape.

When you talk about martial arts, the art portion tends to mean that there is an acceptable level of ability in something but there is always room for improvement. At first you will be shown a punch and the teacher will be satisfied with your abilities. Later he will point out how to use your hips better with your punch. Maybe later he will align your arm a few degrees to optimize the transfer of power. I have seen people who have been in the art for years still get pointers on how to punch.

Instead of something that you check off and go on to the next technique, arts require you to peel away layer after layer of a move. That is the exact opposite of what you will get from a video home study course. The teacher can't peel away the layers as I detailed. Once you have sent in your tape of you doing the technique, you move on and don't get any more instruction in it. In the military, they did not care if we stayed at the level we were. Once we had the move down, they were satisfied since we really were not there to punch the enemy and had to devote more of our time to skills more likely to be used.

There are some things that will make sense at first. Those are not the things you need to worry about. The things that do not seem to make sense at first that your teacher tells you to do but later become clear that are the problem. When you have a teacher whom you trust, you will do what he says as he says to do it. But if you are learning on your own, you won't. So the true depth of the art will never be available to you.

If you are attracted to the art due to the way it can take you all the way to mastery, do you really want to cut off your future potential like this?

A beginning is a very delicate time. You develop habits that will follow you for the rest of your journey. If you are just starting out in the art, you need to pay close attention to the habits you start to build up. The earlier the habit built, the more central it is to what you do and harder to get rid of. So any mistakes made due to lack of someone there to point it out is worse than something picked up later in the journey.

There is something else you should know- different arts have different principles on which they are based. Some can be snappy, others can be smooth. Neither is ineffective if done right. But when you have habits from one are with its principles you tend to view all arts through that experience. That is when you need to unlearn old habits and develop new ones. You might not even be aware of the differences. As the saying goes, "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." So if you are thinking that prior experience in another art might help, you are completely mistaken. Without a teacher to point out the differences and explain why you will try to build on the wrong type of foundation.

Some things are not even visible, they have to be felt. That is why you need someone like a teacher to work with you. Even large classes are not good for learning. The arts of the Bujinkan are so subtle good technique can differ from bad based on whether you pull with your rear leg to move forward or push off with your rear. Can you see the differences in yourself? Can you even see that on a video?

After you have built up good foundations you might, just might, be able to learn things from a video. But at the beginning you need a teacher. Do not look at videos and such meant for experience folks and think that their experience is applicable to your case.

Here is the thing, I know of no one who is decent that has started with a video course and was glad they did. I know quiet a few that started out and wished they had not. The teachers trying to sell you a video course probably all had real teachers. So it is strange that they would think that it would not be needed for others. Again, I call attention to the fact that I said I knew no one who was DECENT in my first sentence of this paragraph. I know several who consider themselves the best in the world but leave me unimpressed.

Here is a basic fact, much of what passes as video home study is not geared toward honest students at all. Instead they are marketed for people who want to add to their resume more than they want to learn. This alone should cause you to think about the type of person you are dealing with when you sign up for a course. I have seen many, many people get a black belt in an art like ninjutsu through the mail and then create their own style. It is really sad in my opinion that there are people in the Bujinkan willing to help these folks bilk money out of unsuspecting students and I look at them in the same light as the dojo owners.

If you have read this far without dismissing everything I have said and going back to your DVD player, I applaud you. At this point you might be readying some arguments to counter what I have written. Perhaps I can answer them.

"But if you can't learn from video learning courses, why are people selling them?"

They want something from you. Some of them are after money, some a stroke to their ego. Most times, a little of both.

In their own minds, I am certain they do not see things like this. Go back and read that quote by Heinlein again. Everyone wants to look in the mirror and see a good person looking back at them. The people that try to sell you video courses honestly think that they are doing good for the most part. Just remember that they gain something if you take their course. People like myself and the folks who pointed you to this blog have nothing to lose or gain by telling you that you can't learn from a video.

In addition, I should point out that the quality level of the Bujinkan is sometimes lacking. From the earliest days, people that should not have been teaching were trying to put together training groups. That legacy still haunts the Bujinkan and the head of the art has commented that he is trying to overcome the bad habits that people have built up. Many of the people I have seen trying to sell video courses are not people that understand the depth this art is capable of. They are limited in what they know and think that that level of knowledge is all they need to pass on to others. They are honest, but unskilled. Do you really want to start your journey with someone like that?

Consider this as well, the guys trying to sell you videos are saying that you can do it. You might respect their opinions because of their greater experience than you. But if you use that logic, then you should listen to the words of Masaaki Hatsumi, the head of the Bujinkan. A simple search of what he has said will find that he is strongly of the opinion that you can't learn his art from videos.

"But there are no schools around me!"

Then you can't learn. Sad to say, but you can't have everything. Life is rather unfair. Accept it. Do not try to do something half cocked because you want to. Would you try to learn to be a doctor on your own just because you could not commute to a medical school?

In the future a school might present itself to you. It would be better if you waited and started out with a fresh outlook rather than try to overcome the bad habits you will gain if you try to learn from video.

The folks who pointed this blog out to you are probably willing to help you find a school near you. Not all of them are easily found. Try to ask around before you give up and go with a video course.

"The Bujinkan schools near me are not good enough."

First of all, don't you think that is a bit egotistical? You have no experience in the art and yet you consider yourself a better teacher than the dojo near you. If you really give that answer to why you learn from DVDs instead of a local teacher you should expect to be treated as an egomaniac.

However, I will admit that there are some teachers who use the Bujinkan name and yet do not seem to hold up any standards for themselves. I would not advise people to go to them. In that case, it is the same as if there were no teachers in the area and you can't learn Bujinkan. End of story.

"I will go to seminars and such to supplement my training from videos."

That is a good idea after you have built up a good foundation. If after about a minimum of two or three years under a decent instructor you probably can learn that way on your own. Many people do it. But not at the beginning. Two days with 30 or more people just does not give the teacher the ability to deal with your individual habits. Moreover, I know that I can show someone something on one day and there is about a fifty fifty chance that they will have gone back to their old habits the next. At the beginning you need to show up on a regular, weekly basis to build up good habits and not just once every few months.

"Hatsumi himself learned from a teacher who was far away."

First of all, I would not suggest you loudly compare yourself to Hatsumi. That won't get you many friends on those forums you have been trying to post on.

Secondly, he never learned from video. I have talked to many of his first students and they say that he used to go almost every weekend at the beginning. Later on as his responsibilities mounted he cut back to once every few months. But the routine did not change. He would take the overnight train and get into his teacher's house early in the morning. From then on until he had to go home at the end of the weekend it was intense, one on one training with his teacher. And it was harsh. HIs teacher would not allow him to get away with any mistakes. He got frequent and rather rough feedback on his mistakes just as soon as he made them. This is a far cry from a video learning course.

"If Hatsumi does not want people to learn from videos, why does he have so many out."

In most cases, they are reference. There have been many times when I have not know the name of a technique but have been able to find it after viewing the videos I have. I also buy tapes of sessions I have been to in order to reawaken my memories. Since I was there the first time, they are very effective memory aides. But they are useless to a beginner to learn from.

"If people need a teacher to learn, how did arts get invented in the first place?"

People went out and faced real situations and if they survived, passed along their observations and experience to others. Those that came later added to the knowledge as they gained experience. Every generation's mistakes served as lessons for later students. Slowly the level being passed on grew to where they reached the levels they are now. The first folks to fight another were flying blind, as will you be if you try to follow the same path.

In closing, I know that what I write is probably not what you wanted to hear. If that disturbs you, how do you think you can hack the real hurdles martial arts will throw at you? This is your first chance to take the path of overcoming your ego and show the world that you can take bad news and accept reality. If you do, then if and when you finally find a real teacher you will be the better able to accept the lessons he has to give you.
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