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Classes Through January

Hope everyone had a great holiday and new year!  I’ve had a few people approach me and ask what remaining classes I will be at prior to leaving Muzosa and when the Sente classes officially start. To clarify I’ll list out my training schedule for this month:

Thursday 1/6 – Muzosa Class in Central Park
Saturday 1/8 – Muzosa Class in Central Park is canceled!
Monday 1/10 – Muzosa Class in China Town
Thursday 1/13 – Muzosa Class in Central Park
Saturday 1/15 – Muzosa Class in Central Park (this is my last official Muzosa Class)
Thursday 1/20 – Sente Classes begin (Tanjiki Dojo Space from 8:15-10:15)
Saturday 1/22 – Sente Class in Central Park
Thursday 1/27 – Sente Class in Tanjiki Dojo Space
Saturday 1/29 – Sente Class in Central Park

Saturday 1/22 we will begin working though Gyokko Ryu, starting with the three Muto Taihenjutsu Shoshinsha Gata (Sword Avoiding Forms), Hira no Kamae, Ichimonji no Kamae, and Jumonji no Kamae.  I will bring some padded swords.  If you will be joining us please also bring bokken if you can.

Tanjiki Daikomyosai Training

This past weekend (Saturday 12/18) I attended the Tanjiki Daikomyosai Holiday Training event.  It was a really great time.  About 12 people including several instructors were present.  Each instructor taught for 20 minutes then passed the responsibility to the next instructor in line.  Several people taught and everyone did a great job, but my highlight of the day was Antonio Rodriquez’s teaching.  Great movement and a genuinely great guy!  I highly recommend that if you’re in town you swing by his dojo (Bujinkan Gokui Dojo).

Another highlight was the beautiful set of armor (pictured below) that Chris Chen has been so kind to add to the dojo.  I’m sure everyone who trains at Tanjiki is very excited to utilize the armor.  A big thanks to Chris.  I’m really happy that he loves new toys…

Thanks to the corporate matching program through Pfizer, Blaise was able to ensure that the total amount of money collected was donated to New York Cares.  Super big thanks for making this happen Blaise!

Thanks to Chris, Antonio, and Blaise for setting up the event for the rest of us!

Group shot from event. Probably not good that I'm wearing the Guinness shirt...

A beautiful old reproduction, but still lots of fight left in it.

Sente (先手)

I wanted to take the time to explain the term Sente. I chose it as the name of the dojo because it is a unique budo term that has profound depth.

The term Sente is used often in the game of Go, which is where I was introduced to it. If you are unfamiliar, Go is an ancient board game that is considered and treated as a true martial art, including traditional belt rankings. Go is the only martial art, other than the Bujinkan, that I have delved into. I won’t say ‘studied’ because I haven’t committed myself to real study under a formal teacher. I enjoy playing, have read several books, and make some effort to keep up on the current players and goings on in the Go world.

In Go you lay stones to surround territory and capture the opponent’s stones. The game is scored after both players pass their turn consecutively. Score is tallied by counting controlled territory after subtracting dead/captured stones on either side.

Sente is a term that refers to placing a stone that your opponent must chose to answer, or accept some level of sacrifice by not answering. Keeping your opponent off balance in this way not only controls your opponent, but also controls the flow of the game and the direction of play.

A traditional dictionary definition is:
1. Beginning before anything else.
2. To place yourself in an advantageous position.

Sente is also explained as asking questions that your opponent must answer. Someone is considered to be ‘in Sente’ if they have the advantage and are a step ahead of an opponent. Having Sente means that you are in balance, in control of yourself, and are able to make you own decisions. Being out of Sente, a term called Gote, means being off balance, out of step, and controlled by an outside force.

Thanks for reading. If you ever have the chance to train with us, I hope you find our dojo worthy of its name.

Do You RSS?

A few weeks ago some students and I were talking about various blogs that we follow and how we follow them.  They were surprised to find out that I follow all the Bujinkan related blogs that I can get my hands on.  I explained to them that even if I don’t have the same training philosophy as another practitioner, it still benefits me to be familiar with their approach and thoughts on the art.  After having this conversation I thought it may be fun to explain what an RSS feed is and how to set one up, then provide a list of the Bujinkan blogs that I follow.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.  It’s an easy way for a reader to ‘subscribe’ to a writers blog.  Subscribers automatically receive new articles as they are published to each blog.  There are several ways to subscribe to an RSS feed.  Finding the RSS feed URL is the key.  If you visit a blog and see the RSS logo (pictured in the upper right of this entry) you can click on it to be taken to the feed URL.  You can also right click and copy the URL address.  This URL is then added to an RSS client.  Many people use Google Reader to subscribe, manage, and read their RSS feeds.  Google Reader is an easy place to start if you are unfamiliar with RSS.  I use Google Reader to subscribe and manage my feeds, but I use a separate client called ‘Reader’ to read my feeds.  Reader is an application that I have installed on my iPhone and iPad.  It’s made to work with Google Reader.  It pulls all the RSS feeds from Google Reader and syncs/updates itself as you read them and as new posts appear.  It has other great features, but you get the big picture.

Before I list out some of the blogs I follow, I would like to add a tip about Ebay and RSS feeds.  You can turn any Ebay search into an RSS feed.  Say your going to buy a copy of Soke’s super rare Togakure Ryu Ninpo Taijutsu book as soon as you find it for under $1000.  Good Luck!  Anyway, if you’re anything like me you’re way to lazy to sift through Ebay every day looking for one offering.  There is an alternative.  Do you’re search, and best to do an advanced search so you get only what you’re looking for.  Once you get your results scroll down to the bottom of the page and look for a small RSS logo.  That logo will contain a feed URL for your search results.  Plug it into your RSS client of choice and never miss another auction.

Now for my Bujinkan Blog Feeds.  I am in no way recommending any of these blogs.  There are some that I like and some that I don’t.  I simply choose to read them all.  Outside of the Bujinkan I follow several other blogs, including Stephen Hayes (for fun), Engadget, and a Local News Blog.  The list goes on and on.  I even get my daily comics via RSS.  You can’t beat that!

Here are the Bujinkan Blogs I currently follow.  I’m always looking for more if you have any to share.  I will list the name of the writer of the blog and the feed URL.  I’m going to skip the actual blog name but no disrespect is intended.  A lot of these feeds have been dormant for some time but I keep them on with the hope that they one day come back to life.

Alex Meehan: http://www.happobiken.com/index.php?/blog/feed

Amir Khan: http://tetsuryudojo.com/feed

Anthony Lucas: http://kotekidojo.wordpress.com/feed

Arnaud Cousergue (1): http://tenchijinuniversity.wordpress.com/feed

Arnaud Cousergue (2): http://kumafr.wordpress.com/feed

Ben Cole: http://blog.bushinbooks.com/feed

Chris Carbonaro: http://www.christophercarbonaro.com/blog.rss

Don Roley: http://www.budoseek.net/vbulletin/blog_external.php

Doug Wilson: http://henka.wordpress.com/feed

Duncan Stewart: http://tazziedevil.wordpress.com/feed

Jeff Christian: http://by-other-means.muzosa.com/rss

Joe Maurantonio: http://www.nydojo.com/feed

Mark Guest: http://www.bbdojo.com/ninjutsu/?feed=rss2

Mats Hjelm: http://kaigozan.se/feed

Paul Masse: http://web.me.com/phmasse/martial_profile/Blog/rss.xml

Rob Renner: http://zeropointbujinkan.com/feed

Shawn Gray: http://www.shawngray.name/mm/Blog/rss.xml

That’s my current list.  As I said, if you have others please pass them on.  If you haven’t tried RSS you should give it a go.  It’s a great way to keep up on things that interest you. Don’t forget this blog if you start:

Rob Flanagan: http://sentedojo.com/?feed=rss2

Why Do You Train?

Early in my training Larry asked the class, ‘Why do you train?’. He wasn’t looking for a verbal answer, instead he wanted us to examine the answer within ourselves. He also wanted us to know that answers vary, even among practitioners and friends within the same dojo, and that this variety is healthy and expected. He went on to say that our answers to this simple question would continue to change and evolve for as long as we were in the art and that we should make it a part of our practice to examine this question ongoing.

I think examining, understanding and acknowledging why you are training at any given moment is healthy and can allow for vast personal improvements.

When dojos and teachers get together, sometimes our individual reasons for learning the art may seem incompatible on the surface, though completely respectable and valid in their own right. I think these differences are healthy and improve our art as a whole. There are vast numbers of teachers out there, all with their own individual experiences and perspective. Students should research all the teachers they have access to, and consider why they want to learn this art. This will help them make the best choice for themselves and their training.

I also think teachers should allow for a rich diversity of reasons for training. I’m referring here to the relationship from teacher to teacher more so than from student to teacher. It’s unfortunate that this fundamental question is the cause of some conflict within our art.

I think our rich diversity is a powerful strength that enables all walks of life to benefit from our art. If our answers to why we train were all the same, or if we were forced to adopt our teacher’s answer, we would be a much smaller and indeed much duller group. Whether a teacher or a student, examine this question of why you train and have tolerance for the multitude of answers that you may or may not agree with or understand. Teachers should cultivate within their students this tolerance and patience towards the Bujinkan collective and towards all martial arts and artists.  It’s easy to begin with this simple question, ‘Why do you train?’

Five Books

Taijutsu is an art of “doing.”  You must do it to learn it, long term physical training on a regular basis is essential.  Watching videos, reading books and talking about it will not, unless coupled with physical training, improve your movement within this art.  That said, I do believe that media and talk do have a place within the training.  In many cases, when approached from the right direction and at the right time, they have a way of opening doors to areas of your training that may have been previously unaccessible, as opposed to instilling intellectual knowledge that is separated from training experience.  At least this is my experience.

Unfortunately the timing of the reading or talk or video and its connection to your training is crucial.  Both teachers and students should be patient and not underestimate the value when considering this. This is the way I tend to think about ‘shikin haramitsu daikomyo’. There is a timing to everything.

As you can understand, writing something that will in some way help or possibly influence someone’s training is a difficult task.  With this in mind, for this entry I’ve decided to take the easy way out by listing five books that have directly influenced my training.

I’m not going to list out the specific changes that have taken place within my training as a result of reading these books.  I feel this information should be given directly when and if the time is right, or not at all in many cases.  Bottom line, our experience is separate and I wouldn’t want anyone to manufacture a false experience or understanding simply because you have intellectual knowledge of mine.  After all, we are learning an art.  I will also say that I have no doubt that many of you have already read at least a couple of these books and they may or may not have had direct influence on your training.  For me these are gems that I have picked up and read again and again.  If you’ve read them and put them aside, I urge you to take them up again.  If you haven’t read them, maybe try something new, the timing may be right…

The book that has had the most direct impact on my training is Taisen Deshimaru’s perfect The Zen Way to the Martial Arts.  This is an obvious pick, but because of the impact it’s had on my training I didn’t want to leave it out.  If you’re unfamiliar I urge you to invest the time and money in this book.  Only 120 pages, most can devour it in one sitting, but for me it will be a lifetime read.  Here is a quote from the introduction, a beautiful piece in itself written by George Leonard:

‘Master Deshimaru tells us of three stages that are common to Zen and the martial arts.  The first, shojin, is the period of training in which the will and conscious effort are involved, and which generally takes some three to five years of diligent practice.  In Zen, this first period culminates with the shiho or transmission.  The second stage is the period of concentration without consciousness, after the shiho.  The disciple is at peace.  In the third stage, the spirit achieves true freedom.’

The rest of the books I will put in no specific order.  But I will begin with Masaaki Hatsumi and Ben Cole’s Words of Consequence: Understand? Good. Play! Again, an obvious choice but a worthy one.  I can open this book at any moment and find perfection and beauty.  More importantly, it continues to impact my daily training.  It’s a hard one to find if you don’t already own it.  Ben mentioned that he may release a revised second addition in 2011.  In the meantime your training is ticking away…find a copy of this book and refer to it often.   With respect here is a piece of Soke Masaaki Hatsumi’s forward:

‘This is not a book for which I alone will thank Ben, this is the kind of book for which buyu all over the world, and all people desiring significant books as human beings, will be thankful.’

Next I have The Direction of Play by Takeo Kajiwara.  This book might not be for everyone, but I am speaking of my own direct experience.  I love to play Go, a true martial art in itself.  As with Taijutsu I am not that good and quite a slow learner.  An amazingly complex game that takes two minutes to learn, but can take a lifetime of study only to play at a rudimentary level.  As with other martial arts, kyu and dan ranks are awarded.  Go is so difficult that there are pseudo ranks to help keep newbies straight.  I am not so proud to admit that I’ve made it to the grand rank of 11th kyu, not even white belt.  Anyway, this is not about Go, but the book that had a direct influence on my Taijutsu training is.  Within the book we find a complex breakdown of positions and how individual stones influence the battlefield or the two bodies of stones as a whole.  I do want to say that I’m not really recommending that you run out and buy this book if you have no understanding of Go.  It is advanced in the sense that it assumes you have played several games and you understand what it means to win and lose both individual conflicts and wars on the Go board.  I will also add though that your Taijutsu may be helped, as mine has, by learning and playing Go on a very basic level.  Here’s a quote from the author’s introduction:

‘In Go each stone, whether it stands alone or with others, is invested with a power all it’s own.  Naturally, that power acts in a certain direction depending on how all the stones on the board interact.  Accurately pinpointing this direction and finding the right move to match it means having a ‘sense of direction‘, an intuitive skill that is vital for real strength.’

First Kyu by Sung-Hwa Hong.  Another book about Go which was originally written in Korean, then later translated into English by the author.  English not being his native language, the book does seem to lose some feeling along the way, but the story is great.  A fascinating look at ranking within the Go world and the world of martial arts as a whole.  I have no quote from this book or long explanation, instead I will simply say that in martial arts everyone has an individual interpretation of rank, whether it be in giving, receiving, teaching, comparing or understanding — rank matters.  This story examines this point inside the Go world and beyond.

Lastly I have Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity by Soko Morinaga.  This is Morinaga Roshi’s autobiography which centers on his own difficulties with simply relaxing through life and getting out of his own way.  An engaging and funny story that stopped me in my tracks.  Here’s the first paragraph from Morinaga Roshi:

‘If I were to sum up the past forty years of my life, the time since I became a monk, I would have to say that it was an ongoing lesson in the extent of my own stupidity.  When I speak of my stupidity, I do not refer to something that is innate, but rather to the false impressions that I have cleverly stockpiled, layer upon layer, in my imagination.’

That ends the five.  Thanks so much for taking the time to read.  I will leave you with another quote from Morinaga Roshi:  ”And as I have mentioned, when I end a lecture, I often ask everyone to please forget everything I have just said.  But nonetheless, it is my earnest desire that this clumsy narrative be a stimulus that may, in some way, help you to lead your own life…”