Patchy Bujinkan (Or, Confessions of a Japanese Elitist
by, 11-06-2011 at 20:15 (4836 Views)
As we all should know, contact with Japan and Hatsumi is important for Bujinkan members. This has been said often enough. Students who don't come are not considered real students anymore. We all are clear on that, right?
Well, I think that a lot of people mistake the reason they need to keep in touch with Japan.
Quiet simply put, the first time you see something like a kata, you don't get all the points. Anyone who has taught knows that you need to get people so that they are moving the correct limbs in sequence. Then you refine your corrections with making sure the limbs work together, then you correct the spine, make sure the breathing is at the right time, and so on. You start from the gross movements and move to the finer details. But the fine details are often more important than the gross movements. Are we pretty much in agreement on this point? Good, I'll continue.
Now lets face facts, the people who did the most to take the art outside of Japan in the early days were far from the most knowledgeable. Stephen Hayes is credited with being the reason most of us are in the art, and many of us either studied under him, or under teachers that did or even teachers of teachers that first started out under Hayes.
But as those of us that were around at the start of the ninja boom can remember, Hayes went around saying that there were no kata in the Bujinkan. That is obviously not correct. Obviously he was still working on the stuff before kata before he returned home. I have been told that in Japan. He also wrote that the ninja used straight swords. If he had been run through the basics of using a sword, he would have known better. A friend who used to be a member of the Shadows of Iga told me that Hayes once admitted that he had not been taught sword in Japan, but felt he needed to teach it so he got a book on kendo and picked up stuff from it. And after seeing some footage of his sword work, I can believe it. He does many, many things that I have been told not to do.
I don't mean the rag on Hayes. He is no longer part of the Bujinkan, and really has not been for a couple of decades before that. But my point is about the legacy of Hayes in the Bujinkan. Many people still think that what he does and puts out can be used in the Bujinkan. That is a problem. So is the fact that a lot of the early people trained under him and picked up some of his habits. Even though they left him, they still have some habits that are from Hayes and not from Japan. These people are now very high up in the overseas Bujinkan presence. They are unaware of their habits and pass them on to others, who in turn pass them off to others.
And it is not just Hayes. There are many teachers in the Bujinkan who think they can learn something from a video and turn around and teach it. Some folks even watch videos and turn around to make their own videos! There are folks that think that if they have notes they can learn the form- and in at least one case turn around and teach a seminar. And many people think that they can add moves from other arts and pass it off as Bujinkan. In all cases, these are people that think the goal of training is to build up a huge amount of techniques that they can recite and that will make them skilled. This is why the term "kata collector" is such a dirty word in the Bujinkan. Katas are great things to learn from. But they are really misused by a certain type that does not seem to think that quantity trumps quality. These are the sort of folks that try to get people to lend them your notes without having you go over the material in person.
The best way to think about martial arts training with a teacher is someone whose job is to knock you back on course. When you start to go off on a wrong angle, the teacher should steer you back toward the real goal. If after the first lesson the student still learning how to use the right limbs in sequence were to leave and set himself up as a teacher, he obviously would not be teaching something close to what the school he went to was doing. But of course, that is true for people that opt out even later in the sequence as well. If you are off even a little in terms of angle, the farther you go down the road the further off the course you will be. You can have many years of experience, but unless you are on the right angle it will be of no use.
People who do not have all the pieces of the puzzle on how to make a martial arts work tend to come up with patches. I have to thank Marc MacYoung for coming up with term and pointing out a very obvious thing when you know what to look for. A patch is something you use to cover over problems in what you are doing to get it to work. But obviously it is not the same as the system as it was supposed to be practiced. The most common patch is strength. Trying to muscle a technique is something you see on almost a daily basis in the Bujinkan. But strength is not the only patch out there. There are many others like adding in extra moves, changing the moves and things like that.
This is one reason I have ranted on various forums about people who come to Japan to train and then won't even seem to try to do what the teacher is showing. "There is no wrong way to eat a Reeses" goes the joke between some of us as we view a room full of people and none of them seem to be even close to what we just saw the teacher doing. I am not talking about slight mistakes, I am talking about people that toss in extra moves or change them so that it is not even close. Well there are many wrong ways to do taijutsu. And even if you manage to get your partner to harmonize with the earth, unless you do it in the same exact way the teacher showed you are using patches instead of taijutsu. In that case, you are training yourself to use patches. That is the habit you will build, not taijutsu.
It is kind of like how you are supposed to learn math by always using the new formulas. Sometimes you can do the stuff inside your head and not bother with the proper way to do the problem. But when you get to a point where you can't do it in your head, if you have never gotten used to the formula you won't be know how to do the problem, period.
The thing about patches is that you can evolve to center around the patch in what you do. You find something and seem to get it to work. You rely on it more and more and you drop the old way that you are supposed to be doing in order to stay within your comfort zone. You build up new patches for what you do as you set off in another direction. You get to a certain point on this journey away from taijutsu and when you reach a point where you can't go any further with the current patch, you build up another patch on top of that to continue. You end up going in another direction and get something composed of patches that in no way looks like the smooth lines of the Bujinkan. Maybe what you do manages to work, but most often it is not even close to the full potential of something with a common core like the Bujinkan. And even if you think it is, it is not the real Bujinkan. And if you want to learn and teach Bujinkan you should try to have as few patches as possible.
Now what is my point? Just this, we need to keep in touch with Japan NOT to learn new stuff, but to get rid of the many patches we already have. Instead of trying to learn a new throw, we should be looking to see if we have too many moves in throws we already think we know. We need to find out if our quality of movement needs to be bounced back on line. And we need to ignore ex-students like Hayes who have not had their movements nudged back on the same track as the Bujinkan and whose stuff has had to evolve in another direction with its own sort of patches for the last few decades.
It is not necessary for everyone in the Bujinkan to go to Japan. But there must be a link. If you are not going to a teacher that trains in Japan, you need to go yourself. I have a bit of scorn for people that consider themselves teacher of the Bujinkan and won't train under anyone else in America or Japan. If you are too good to train under anyone in your area, and believe me I think I will be in this situation when I move to America, then you need to go to a source where you can get your taijutsu nudged back on line. And no one is better at taijutsu than Hatsumi. If there is no one else you think is good enough to point out your mistakes, there is always him. But more often, there are plenty of people who could nudge you back on line. There is no reason for any member other than Hatsumi to not visit a teacher on a regular basis. Those that think they do not need nudging are already well down the path on a totally different angle.
And when you get to Japan you need to be willing to have mistakes pointed out to you. You need to have the courage to fail and let everyone see you fail. Because it is through failing that you learn. If you can't get the move to work as the teacher showed it, you are obviously missing something. If you pull out a patch and continue on you will never learn what the vital point of the move was. You are missing something. If instead you fail to pull the throw off and look at the teacher with puppy- dog eyes, they might come over and show you what you are missing. It might be that the entire class then gets to see that you could not pull off the move and the teacher is taking the time to tell you how you were wrong.
Some people avoid that type of situation like the plague. Not only do they pull out patches to keep going, there have even been a lot of cases where people do not practice the moves in Japan but instead spend their time trying to "correct" the mistakes of others. Imagine spending all that money to come to Japan with a load of students only to avoid practicing because you don't want them to see you make a mistake! It is something I have often seen and ranted about. To get good at taijutsu you must have the courage to fail and fail in public. You must put your desire to be better above your desire to look good in the eyes of others.
And folks, that sort of person seems to be getting rarer in the Bujinkan.
One thing you should be concerned about if you are an honest student. The Japanese are not very big on public confrontations. In my experience, if they think you are there to teach folks or do your own thing they will not smack you down. Instead, they will probably just nod and smile and spend their time pointing out things to people they consider real students instead. If you make an honest mistake and are not aware of it, they will probably be pleased to tell you. But if you add extra moves, or act more like a teacher than a student you will get a smile and praise.
My impression is that many of the Japanese teachers almost have given up on most students that come to Japan. They would like to help, but after seeing so many cases of their teaching being ignored they get the impression that it can't be helped. I once was working out with a senior Japanese at training and he commented on how long I have been in Japan. I said that despite my years, I was still having trouble with the technique and was "dame." "Dame" is Japanese for "no good." He corrected me and said that I was lacking in some skills yes, but I was not "dame." He looked around the room at all the people for other countries training and said that I was the only non-Japanese in the room that wasn't "dame." It is sad to say, but they have come to that conclusion with people after many long years of experience. Everyone seems to be doing their own thing. I have seen Nagato say that it was very nice that people can improvise when they can't get something to work, but unless they did the technique as Hatsumi showed it they won't learn what he is teaching. I have read on the board of the honbu administrator saying much the same thing about doing what the teacher is showing. In my experience, if someone in Japan has to point out a problem like this in public it is already pretty large.
There is more to be concerned about. Sometimes people pull out patches because they choose to. Many times it is because people have habits that they rely on by default. Some of these habits are built up by teachers like Hayes, and sometimes they are from other arts.
People that come into the Bujinkan from other arts have to be careful that they leave their preconceptions at the door. But it is not the problems we see that as big a concern as the ones we do not. What works well in one art may be suicide in another. It is not a case of the way of moving being bad, just not appropriate.
Which is a better car, a humvee or a Ferrari? The answer is it depends on what you want to use it for. If you want to race around town, one is good and if you want to race around the desert the other is the best choice. Both have four tires and use an engine, but there is little else in common between the two. And you can't take too much from one and use it on the other. They are both built around central cores that let them be excellent in what they are designed to do, but limit what they can do. There are limits to everything from cars to martial arts. If you try to make the humvee as fast as the Ferrari the first time you take it and its high center of gravity around a corner at top speed you will go tumbling ass over teakettle. If you try to take the Ferrari out to the desert, years from now they will find your bleached bones in the remains of a car with a broken frame.
It is the same way with martial arts. If your art was designed mainly around the idea of standing up and pummeling the opponent from a distance, snappy movements that get in and out like a whip might be the best strategy. The entire art can be built around that central core. And if your art is based around occasionally facing someone who has so much covering that you can't get a decent hit in you might want to work more on blows that disrupt balance rather than damage and let you transition into a throw to the ground.
This is a danger for people that come into the Bujinkan from other arts. The habits they built up are excellent for their old arts. They are unaware that they have these ways of looking at things. But those habits do not mesh well with the central core around which the Bujinkan was developed over time. Worse is when people try to take things from other arts to cover gaps in their knowledge. Sometimes it works, more often it is like souping up the humvee.
Sometimes looking at other arts can be very informative. You can pick up new things and add them, just not everything. I had a conversation with another Bujinkan member here in Japan about a martial arts tape. He liked it since we could probably adopt 70 percent of what was shown on the tape to the Bujinkan. Of course, that means that there is 30 percent we would have to leave aside not because it was good, but because it did not mesh with the central core of the Bujinkan. And this tape was rather high in percentage of stuff we could possibly adopt. Before anyone tries to adopt things from other arts, you need to have a good grounding in not only what we do in the Bujinkan, but why we do it. If you try to expand your knowledge too soon, you might try to adopt 100 percent of the tape I mentioned instead of just the 70 percent that meshes with the Bujinkan.
There are people that do not learn from videos, or try to add things from other arts and only study from real Bujinkan teachers. Sadly, some of the teachers they may be going to might be learning things from videos or from ex students going their own way and passing it off as Bujinkan. The honest students then pass on what they learned to others and it gets accepted as Bujinkan. Contact with Japan can help expose this type of thing as long as you are able to try to look at things with new eyes and honestly try to learn and do what the teacher is doing.
The Bujinkan I see in Japan is a wonderful art with a great potential. The version of it I am seeing from people outside of Japan seems to be going in another direction entirely. This art deserves better. We can't change others, but we can change ourselves. I write this for the person that desires to get better and may not have realized the reasons he needs a link to Japan or that he might have habits that hold him back. I know it will anger some, but that can't helped. I hope that this helps some folks and brings them back to what Hatsumi is doing instead of going off in another direction.
I have been accused by some of being a Japanese Elitist with my beliefs that the Bujinkan in Japan is where we should looking. Guilty. I even have a t-shirt made for me with a friend that proclaims me as a Japan elitist. But I would like to caution folks that not everyone who comes to Japan or has lived here is automatically good . As with all things, it depends on what your purpose is. I honestly have seen some people that seem to only live here so that they could say that they lived here. It is very obvious in the way they do things that they want to be teachers and they are the ones that trumpet how they have lived in Japan.
There was one guy who seemed to live on various forums telling folks how to behave in Japan and commenting how things were in the country. People listened to him, bought his DVD and followed his advice as to what to do and not do in taijutsu and in dealing with the Japanese. I saw him walk into the Mister Donut at Ayase once and he had to order a coffee in English. Later his Japanese wife divorced him and got legal custody of his kids because she was tired of him unknowingly offending so many Japanese he came in contact with and leaving her (in Japanese fashion) to apologize. The poor guy will never see his kids again due to his behavior, but he honestly thought the way he acted and told others to act was acceptable.
So I am not saying that every person who has lived in Japan knows all this type of thing. It took me years to be accepted as an honest student instead of someone who only stays here in between seminar tours overseas. It was then that the Japanese were more willing to correct me and give me advice they would not give others. And I know I still have a lot to learn even after about 15 years in Japan.
(Note, this was originally written in 2009, when I was still living in Japan.)