|Posted by Phil on August 15, 2012 at 1:10 AM|
Training with Hatsumi's Best
A Diary of an American Ninja in Japan
By Chuck Dervenis
Flashbacks and Jutaijutsu Memories of Japan . . .
"Let's go for it," Tetsuji Ishizuka, 9th dan shihan instructor [at the time], said as he approached me on the dojo floor. The scene was the Ishizuka dojo on Friday night, site of Hatsumi Sensei's instructors' training. We had been called upon by Sensei to demonstrate a technique. I was, of course, the victim. I punched. Ishizuka-san dodged with graceful ease, pushed my attacking arm to the side with a small movement (unbalancing me as he moved, "so sorry") and applied a painful elbow lock. I was raised to the very tips of my toes. There was a whirl of movement and I took ukemi (rolls, breakfalls, etc) as I realized (too late!) I was being slammed onto the tatami mat. Ishizuka was doing a headstand next to my face. "What happened?" I asked the upside-down, ever-grinning Ishizuka. "We did a technique!" he exclaimed, and flipped away. I stood up, sheepishly grinning. The Japanese roared with laughter.
On the wall of the Bujinkan dojo in Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, is a sword broken neatly in half. I asked lshizuka-san what the sword represented and how it had been broken.
"Ah," he said in fluent English, arms folded across his chest, the almost always grinning face touched now with a look of deep thought, "Sensei broke that sword with a stick when we were making a book. It was a very good lesson for me."
I'm a metallurgist; I couldn't resist taking a look at the blade. The sword was definitely forged - heavy cold work. I looked at the fracture surface. Nothing made sense to me; the behavior of the steel as it broke did not follow normal guidelines. Here was a shear-lip, there was plastic flow. Resolving to one day take a closer look under an electron microscope, I let the matter go. For this student, too, the broken sword had been one more in a series of never-ending lessons.
We were having a party, and one very drunk Greek was having a good time. Ishizuka walked over. "I'll give you 15 minutes," he said grinning as usual. "It's time for you to learn the basics of Takagi yoshin ryu jutaijutsu, the system that stresses the grappling attack of weakpoints in our Bujinkan dojo ryu: " "But I really don't want to right now," I groaned, knowing what was coming.
Ishizuka's grin became much wider...
These anecdotes are very typical of the training atmosphere in Noda City, Japan, where students from all over the world train under the tutelage of Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi. Almost all foreigners studying Dr. Hatsumi's Bujinkan ninjutsu in Japan will train at one time or another at Tetsuji Ishizuka's dojo in Kashiwa. Indeed, it is the only dojo where the telephone is answered on a regular basis with a loud "Hello!" as well as the traditional "Moshi, Moshi! " Ishizuka is well known as being the shidoshi instructor most closely associated with the Bujinkan training groups in Europe, along with his close friend, Israeli Doron Navon (who, as is well known, was Hatsumi Sensei's first foreign student). A former judo champion, Ishizuka actually met and trained with Dr. Hatsumi for the first time when he went to the doctor's office for treatment of a shoulder injury acquired during judo randori training. Hatsumi Sensei showed the then teenage Ishizuka a totally different type of martial art, one that claimed his loyalty for the rest of his life. It was an easy transition for the young judoka to develop proficient throwing skills following the principles of ninpo jutaijutsu rather than those of judo. In Bujinkan dojo ninjutsu, throws are performed with a lifting and slamming motion rather than the stylized circular motions of judo and aikido. The intent is to slam the attacker into the ground in the most injurious manner. Attacks against weakpoints or blows in midthrow are also an integral part of the jutaijutsu concept.
Ishizuka enjoys throwing.
From a grappling situation, shidoshi Ishizuka first unbalances his opponent with painful weak point attacks (leg & throat)
He then shifts his grip to secure his opponents elbows, forcing him up onto his toes.
To end the technique, Ishizuka flows into a throw designed to slam an opponent onto his back.
The throws of taijutsu are not exaggerated and circular, they are more like lifting and dropping movements, which inflict the maximum shock effect on impact.
The other fortes of this shidoshi instructor are extremely penetrating blows and devastating "pressure point" attacks. By the entrance of his Kashiwa dojo Ishizuka has incorporated a solid oak beam, roughly 8x8", which he invites students to strike as hard as they can. The beam has an area that is gouged in by dozens of four-indentation patterns, representing extended knuckle strikes pounded by Ishizuka into the wood. Of the many hundreds of people with various backgrounds in many martial arts who have made the attempt, only one has made even the slightest dent in the beam (Ishizuka has circled the area in black ink and signed the particular student's name after it). Another of Ishizuka's favorites are the very effective weakpoint attacks, following the principles of Takagi Yoshin ryu (the "weakpoint" system of the Bujinkan dojo). His favorite method of countering throws or grappling attacks is to use this method to very painfully control or suppress the attacker's motion, usually with an irritating grin about a mile wide.
The ability to flow constantly back and forth from a striking to a grappling situation is one of the key criteria to competence in ninpo taijutsu. Ishizuka-san is a primary example of an excellent combination of both these abilities.
For those of us who do not have 25 years training in ninpo taijutsu, hover, there are fortunately standardized and historic technique sequences in the Bujinkan dojo by which we can develop proficiency in the flow between striking and grappling.
One such sequence, for example, is rakurai (thunder). As the opponent attacks, the defender fades back to the inside and gently grabs the attacking hand. Applying an omote gyaku wrist attack and simultaneously slamming an ura shuto strike into the attacker's neck, the defender steps in to drop the opponent with taijutsu. As the aggressor strikes the ground, he is crushed by the defender's body, who has used his weight to slam elbow and hip into the opponent.
One reason why Tetsuji Ishizuka was chosen for the focus of this article, over and above his obvious martial abilities, is the equally obvious zest for life and barely contained happiness this man radiates at every instant. This is a major part of Dr. Hatsumi's training that somehow seems to be missing from ninjutsu training in the West: Enjoy life! Be happy! Somehow between left and right we have neglected that basic principle, so crucial to any success whatsoever with taijutsu. Any pointers on technique notwithstanding, this author would like that point to be the major emphasis of this article: Be happy!
From grappling range, shidoshi Ishizuka demonstrates a weak point attach to the throat.
He follows with an attack to the ear, which has many target points. Stepping in with a push-stomp to the ankle....
...Ishizuka drives his opponent to the ground.
The weak point attack to the ear coupled with an arm lock, holds the opponent in submission."You haven't hit my wood yet and you're leaving in two days;" the dojo instructor said, patting me affectionately on the shoulder. I thought of all the cinder blocks, stacks of bricks and layers of boards I had broken in my previous martial arts training. I thought of how 1 had once punched through a wall during a particular incident. I thought of my right hand, well-muscled and conditioned by a decade of martial arts training.
Then I looked at that huge, immovable piece of wood and turned to my friend.
"But I really don't want to right now," I said.
Tetsuji Ishizuka grinned.
Boy, that piece of oak sure hurt . . .
Memories and Proper Feeling"Good condition?" Isamu Shiraishi, 6th dan shidoshi instructor, asked me in broken, melodious English as I strapped my belt loosely around my waist and readied for training. I knew exactly what he meant. Was I in the right frame of mind, did I have the proper spirit at the moment to really enjoy training? Shiraishi-san had often stressed to me that I should never train while in a negative mood. He did not mean that if I were feeling angry or tired I should walk away from the dojo until a better day. Quite the contrary. What he had drilled into my skull on a repetitive basis was that, before training and while training, I should always bring myself to my most pleasant state of being. One should, in other words, enjoy training so much that for every instant spent in training, all troubles are forgotten and the heart fills with joy. Training should become an ultimate form of relaxation that brings peace to the spirit of the martial artist.It is this feeling that is one of the most important things this author was taught in Noda City, Japan, under the tutelage of ninjutsu Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi. Perhaps this feeling is, indeed, the most important factor of all in any martial arts training. Isamu Shiraishi possesses this feeling.
On the wall of Shiraishi's dojo is a simple calligraphy painted by Dr. Hatsumi during a period of crisis. The following story is verifiable and true, and the reader may believe it or not, as he or she wishes. There was a time when Shiraishi-san (whose name means "White Stone") was caught in an explosion in the powder metallurgy factory where he is employed as an engineer. His body was horribly burned and he was blind. Surgeons at the hospital where he was rushed for emergency treatment gave him very little hope of survival and certainly no chance of ever regaining his sight. One night Masaaki Hatsumi stole into the hospital room of his student and left a simple calligraphic painting with an even simpler message: "Please open your eyes." Within two days Shiraishi's bums were healed; within two weeks he began to regain his sight. Shiraishi-san still wears glasses and probably will for life. However, his vision is improving constantly with time. Of the horrible bums that covered his body only a small strawberry mark remains on the underpart of his right bicep.
"You must use everything together, arms, body and heart, plus-plus-plus, to throw a shuriken correctly." The Shidoshi instructor let fly with a needle-pointed bo shuriken. The missile hissed through the air and buried itself with the faintest of "chuffs" into the straw makiwara 15 feet away. Shiraishi-san let fly again, placing another small dirk next to the first one he had thrown. "Proper throwing for shuriken, only with good condition," he said, and I understood.
It takes proper feeling to understand taijutsu. Technique, stability, timing, flow; these things are very important, yes, but if the student does not capture the correct feeling of ninpo taijutsu then what he is studying remains a series of blank movements. This is one of the biggest problems with ninjutsu training in the States; few people have and convey this feeling. It is not something that can be seen in pictures. It is not something a video will illustrate or that can be read in a book. It is something that must be experienced and freely given to the student.
From a grappling situation, the defender will use a technique called omote gyaku.
As the attacker punches with his right arm, the defender shifts to the inside and deflects the blow.
Stepping in, the defender continues the arm deflection up and across the attacker's body to break his balance.
Then pivoting around, using the attackers wrist as a fulcrum, the defender begins to throw his unbalanced opponent.
The wrist-torque throw, ninja style, looks like an aikido or jujutsu throw at this stage.
But since ninjutsu throws are designed to inflict maximum shock, the defender adds a snapping pull back motion to shorten the ukemi's arc.
The throw ends with the attacker slamming on his back, from where an immobilization arm lock can be applied.
Takamatsu Toshigutsu, Dr. Hatsumi's teacher and 33rd generation Grandmaster of the Togakure ryu, had a dream one evening which proved to become the foundation of his philosophy in the martial arts. In this dream, a demon and a butterfly engaged in battle; quite an uneven conflict, as most readers would agree. The demon was strong, huge, and had great powers. The butterfly was small and appeared to have no capabilities other than those of the average insect. And yet, when the enraged demon attempted to swat the flitting butterfly, it easily avoided his charges. Dancing here and there, ever out of reach, the butterfly fit completely into the demon's motion. His strength useless, and choking on his own anger, the demon fell to the ground dead while the butterfly floated away, free and unharmed. Needless to say, this combat strategy brings to mind the rhymes of a once famous heavyweight boxing world champion.
This is taijutsu. To be able; in other words, to adapt to your opponent's energy and movement so completely that he has no capability to injure you, or ultimately, to affect you in any way. The pinnacle of this ability is to simply not be there whenever any action potentially harmful to yourself is carried out. Once Masaaki Hatsumi was asked: "What would you do if a sniper shot at you from half a mile away while you were going out your door7' The answer was simple: " I would never walk through that door at that time."
This, too, is taijutsu.
Shiraishi-san's dojo is conveniently located behind his house. In the afternoon hours my friend Pierre Dahl, from Sweden, and I would often go to the Shiraishi dojo, break in, and subsequently work out in whatever fashion the mood of that particular day brought on. More often than not, Shiraishi-san would return home from work, see us in the dojo, and subsequently (to the endless chagrin of his wife) jump in and spend an hour or three training with us. It was an endless pleasure to watch him move.
After training, most dojos offer tea and sweet biscuits to relax the student and help him regain his energy. Shiraishi always took that practice one step further: he usually brought out dinner. The first time I saw this high-ranking martial arts instructor exit the back door of his house with a huge platter of food and drink, I confess to having been a bit stunned. I asked him why he was fattening us up for the slaughter.
"Ah," he said, "for good condition, to make good condition." (Incidentally, it just dawned on me that when you speak to someone in broken Japanese and they answer you in broken English . . . hmmm, let's hold that thought for much later.)
Through Shiraishi-san's example I learned something very important about proper training: ho matter how hard you train, no matter how diligently you condition your mind and body, it is very important to do it as pleasantly and with as much dignity as possible.
Facing a knife attack, with nothing but your empty hands, is one of the most dangerous situations a ninja can find himself in.
In this technique the defender first shifts to the inside of the thrust.
Then, by applying the 'wave' concept, the defender checks the attackers momentum with a forearm shuck and a wrist grab.
He then drives the knife man to the ground by twisting the knife as he pivots his body
The engagement ends as the defender turns the attackers weapon against him.
"True meaning of ukemi, very deep." Hatsumi Sensei had at one time said to me. (no one exemplifies that quote better than Isamu Shiraishi, whose flowing and graceful ukemi are an extension of his effortless taijutsu. I was part of an audience that watched in complete silence as Hatsumi Sensei threw Shiraishi for five minutes nonstop onto a wooden floor and into the surrounding walls to better satisfy himself with his student's ability to take a fall. The art of ukemi goes back to the principle of the butterfly in Takamatsu Sensei s dream. If you are so skilled in the ability to recover from and/or escape from your opponent's attack that he cannot injure you no matter how hard he tries, then you, too, have become like the butterfly, flitting away from the demon. It is for this reason that ukemi is extensively taught for long periods of time to beginners in the Bujinkan dojo. Indeed, proper training for the student cannot begin until he has demonstrated the ability to not be injured by the training itself, which, to the untrained eye, can appear quite brutal.
The student was either relatively new or he did not enjoy working with a foreigner. Whatever; his body was tense, every action resisting my motion. As this student (a rather large Japanese) sought with ever-increasing strength to make the foreigner look foolish, my body adjusted to his movement, stepping into another technique effortlessly. Again he tried to muscle his way out and again I turned his energy back into him, flowing into yet another grappling variation. Soon his struggles ceased and I stood over him, completely in control of the situation. 1 grinned and stepped away, helping my training partner up as l saw the new respect in his eyes. The Shidoshi instructor nodded his head and pointed at me with a smile.
"Good condition," said my friend and I understood.