About Japanese Martial Arts Attire

What do many English speaking martial artists call their uniform? Chances are if they train in a style of martial arts that originates from Japan they’ll often call it a “Gi,” however there is a problem with this. It is grammatically incorrect, and a misuse of this Japanese “word.” For you see, “Gi” isn’t actually a word at all, it is a suffix. How do we represent a suffix as a stand-alone term? This is something most English speakers were taught very early on in their education; we can

So how did this suffix -gi come to be misconstrued as a stand alone word? Ignorance and/ or laziness. Many people are told that -gi is the word for “clothes,” however it isn’t quite that simple. See the word for clothes that uses the same kanji is actually Kimono. We can see this quite clearly when looking at the kanji. The kanji for -gi is 着while the kanji for Kimono is 着物. But wait, why is it pronounced differently: -gi vs ki?

In Japanese there is a natural speech pattern called Rendaku (連濁). This is where often times a sound presented in the middle of a word will often be softened. In English we call this Sequential Voicing or simply Voicing. Sounds such as T, S, K, and H all have a softened version used later in words: T becomes D, S becomes Z, K becomes G, and H becomes B or P. Those who have studied Hiragana and/or Katakana have already seen this:

たーだ

さーざ

かーが

はーば、ぱ

Or in this case きbecomes ぎ.

Okay… so if it is -gi as a suffix should we call it a ki instead? No, that would also be grammatically incorrect. See 着just isn’t meant to stand alone. The closest you’ll get is actually the verb “Kiru,” to dress, which is written 着る.

So what should we call our martial arts uniform? There is actually a whole laundry list of things to choose from. Most commonly used are the generic terms: Dōgi (道着)and Keikogi (稽古着). Dōgi being “clothes of the way,” while Keikogi (my preferred term) is simply “practice clothes” or “training clothes.” Next we have Budo-gi and the style specific -gi, such as Karate-gi, Judo-gi, Kendo-gi, etc. There are also acceptable terms that don’t even use the suffix -gi, such as Seifuku (制服) which simply means “uniform.” (Be careful looking up the term “seifuku” because one of its homonyms is the Japanese term for BDSM, which uses the kanji 征服.)

Last two things I want to touch on is mixing languages and pluralization. Is it okay to slap a Japanese suffix onto an English or Korean word? Not really. So things like “martial arts-gi” and “taekwondo-gi” would be frowned upon. Do people still use them? Yes. Should they? No. Also how would you pluralize the correct terms such as: Dōgi, Keikogi, Karate-gi, Judo-gi, etc? Simple, leave them alone. Just like the plural of Moose is still Moose, the plural and singular forms of all these words remain unchanged.

Ninpo and Ninjutsu

NINPO & NINJUTSU

Ninjutsu 忍術 is a collective term for various strategies developed by very sophisticated individuals during various stages of Japan early history. Ninpo 忍法often referred to as the higher order of Ninjutsu. It sets the foundation for purpose in life based of natural laws (法) . The core philosophy is rooted in the principles of Nin (忍).

Nin translates into patience or perseverance (忍耐). The Japanese character for Nin (忍) consists of two parts. The upper part is called yaiba (刃) which refers to the cutting edge of a blade. The lower part can be translated into heart (心). In essence how to persevere during the ups and downs of life.

The character Ho or Po (法), can be interpreted as natures law, referring to the art as Ninpo rather than Ninjutsu. The emphasis in training is to strive toward a balanced development of body (體) mind (心) and spirit (魂). It isn’t enough just to know techniques (術). Having high moral standards being rooted in refined character and spirit are a way to create a balanced scale to highly acquired technical skills. This refinement of one’s spirit is known in Japanese as seishinteki kyoyo (精神的教養).

The Natural Flow

Shu Ha Ri 守破離 Is a concept that describes the natural stages of growth.

Shu (守) “to abide, to follow” – Refers to the early stages of development and requires a student to make a sincere effort to copy the master without deviation. The reason for that is that at the early stages a student does not have sufficient experience and emotional intelligence to understand the flow being taught. Therefore any attempt to comprehend what is being taught using ones own logic will no longer align what the Master is teaching (the illusion of self and breaking the flow).

Ha (破) “to come to light, to realize” – At this stage the student has accumulated sufficient fundamental knowledge to understand the essence is able to express the flow accurately. For that reason the student is now allowed to ask questions to further develop emotional intelligence. It is a also a stage where a student realizes the need to detach from the illusions of self.

Ri (離) ” to Transcend“- by this stage a student has matured into self mastery and is now able to articulate the flow independently. Its the time to open the door to creativity and express ones skills and emotional intelligence in ones own unique way. The concept “to transcend” denotes a level of self expression without forgetting the flow. Once reading this stage one realizes that the cycle of Shuhari repeats itself within oneself infinitely.

Seeing Through the Mist

On One auspicious evening the master invited one of his brightest students to join him for his regular walk with his dog.  The Masters pet dog loved his evening walk. The dog would run ahead to fetch a stick, then run back, wag his tail, and wait for the next turn.  You must understand, said the Master, that words are only guideposts. Never let words or symbols get in the way of truth.  With that said the teacher called his happy dog. Fetch me the moon, and pointed to the full moon. Where is my dog looking? asked the teacher of the bright pupil. He’s looking at your finger replied the disciple. Exactly, don’t confuse the pointing finger with the thing that is being pointed at. Words are only guideposts. Every human being fights his way through others words to find his own truth.

In Ninpo we work to transform the body, mind and spirit. Increasing consciousness and cutting through illusion of duality. Mastering self, mind, body, and skill is done through studying the Art of Effortless Power. Recognizing protecting self, family community and country without raising a sword is if the highest achievement.

Mastery of self leads to enlightenment allowing the highest level of compassion for humanity. Appreciation and preservation of all living things. The lessons and pains learned on the mat mirrors the up and downs of life. Developing an unwavering spirit with the notion of getting up with every fall and never giving up. This require the forging of martial virtues: humility, honesty, courage, faith, wisdom, obedience, kindness, dedication, compassion and trust.

The Ninja use the laws of nature by leveraging the strategy of In/Yo Gogyo, eight directions with the notion of Hisho Hen. The heart must strike a balance in being be as sharp as a raiser-blade and as pure and soft of a flower.

Appreciate all that life has to offer and enjoy every moment as if it was your last.

The Spirit of Yamato in the world of modern Budo

Japanese paper (washi 和紙) is one of the several symbols of Japanese culture and spirit. It is made using fibers from the bark of the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub (Edgeworthia papyrifera), or the paper mulberry. Washi comes from wa which refers to Japanese and shi meaning paper. The process is very precise and requires skills and knowledge held by a handful of families throughout Japan. However, due to the “modernization” of society and technology, the lengthy process, and declining interest/appreciation by younger generation is slowly causing the tradition to erode.

It was during a discussion about this subject with my Shodo (calligraphy) teacher that I was reminded once again about the importance of Yamato Damashi and subsequently sparked the interest to write this article. Sensei mentioned that although Japanese paper can be made by a more “cost efficient ways” and may look like Japanese paper it cannot be called one. The reason for this is that the traditional way of producing paper is done with the “correct spirit”. This “spirit” cannot be achieved with technology but rather through passing knowledge from teacher to student by word of mouth. This “spirit/attitude” is connected to any action in ones daily life and is especially prevalent in the world of Budo.

Yamato-damashii 大和魂 (“the Japanese spirit”) is a historical and cultural, developed in the Heian period which set the premises of describing Japanese spirit and attitude achieved by following the ‘way’ of the people. This term is often contrasted with the knowledge and scholarship imported into Japan from China. It can be also understood as ‘The Soul of Old Japan’. ‘For this national type of moral character was invented the name Yamato-damashi Yamato-damashii refers to “Japan or Japanese”. The characters for Yamato (大和) translates as great harmony. Wa (倭 or 和) is Japan’s oldest endonym and derives from the Han Dynasty Chinese exonym Wō 倭 “Japan, Japanese”. This character 倭, which graphically combines the 亻 “human, person” radical and a wěi 委 “bend” Japanese scribes replaced the Chinese character 倭 for Wa “Japan” with Wa 和 “harmony; peace”.

Soke has also mentioned “Tamashii”. Most commonly translated as “soul”, we may also acknowledge that in order to understand the duty of fudoumyo, we must accept fully the teachings to understand the soul of bushido
Developing the soul of budo is the aim of the true budoka. This is far more important to me than continually learning new skill sets. While training, we will inevitably learn new waza. However, if there is no soul or heart to the movement, there is ultimately nothing, only an empty shell. This is part of the reason we recite the Ninja Seishin and a special verse every class.
Damashi or Tamashi is closely related to the theme of the year, Sai no Kon Ki. In this theme Utsuwa also can imply a person of high calibre or capacity. A person may have Saino & Tamashii, 魂but must have the caliber to understand, unify, and use these together in harmony to their full potential.

This type of ‘spirit’ is of extreme importance in the world Budo and Ninpo. In essence if you do this type of Budo without this type of attitude you may not be doing Japanese Budo but rather your own interpretation of it. It’s not something that can be seen necessarily or even understood. It is more like being able to absorb it with the whole body over time. To further explain what it is that is being referred to let’s look at air. It cannot be seen, touched or felt yet everyone knows it exists and we need it to sustain life. Another analogy would be that one cannot cook any kind of ethnic food without being able to fully absorb the process, flavour, taste and customs associated. There is a story about an individual moved to Japan to study Japanese paper making and was asked about the subject after training for several years. His reply was that although I have been learning how to make paper for quite some time I have yet to achieve the required spirit associated with it and as such cannot call the paper I am making Japanese. it would probably require additional time to acquire this essence. In Ninpo, when you perform a waza without this type of spirit it in essence loses its flavour and authenticity. Many of the modern Budo and sport martial arts may seem attractive to many but are truly deviating from the source.

This is not an easy concept to understand especially for a person who was not born and educated with this type o
f mentality. It also easy to ignore this type of attitude as it requires in some cases an adjustment to ones perspective and conduct. The truth is not always easy to accept but as practitioners of Ninpo we strive to polish our spirit through training and follow the righteous heart. I encourage you to dig deep and discover the true essence and spirit of our Budo.

The qualities of Budo

Hardness, Softness, Strength, Weakness, could all be thought of as moods. If we try to fit the mood, there is a danger that we will fail to do henka (change). Having the ability to do proper henka is rooted in a proper study of the different moods available (InYo). Walking the right path is a having the ability to differentiate and adapt to the situation at hand, this is true Ninpo. According to the old Densho one can’t claim to have studied and understood the Gokui (essence) of Gangaku (martial strategy) without understanding the principles of Ten Chi Jin.

The Densho states regarding the matter that Ten can be associated with Yo and Chi associated with In and Jin is the person in between who use Ten Chi accordingly. Associated to Ten is the sun, understanding the qualities of the sun can lead to good strategy. To understand the sun one has to master “Shin Tai Seiden Mata Nichi Ri Taisei”. If you lose this momentum you will be out of synch with nature and unable to win. These matters are the foundation of all budo and humanity. One can clearly see the depth and beauty of our Budo from these old teachings.

The principles of Ten Chi In Yo and the Goki (5 elements) are the foundation strategy of all budo from the beginning of time. Drawn from Chinese Confucianism and influenced by the famous book of Sonshi (Sun Tszu the art of war). All military and arts ancient or modern are governed by these universal principles.

All living creatures possess unique combative instincts. Nature granted most animals with natural weapons . Throughout centuries humans had to catch animals for sustenance. The tools they used for hunting were then applied as tools of war, this is the anthropology of Budo.

“There may be many paths to the foot of the mountain,
but all leads to the same view of the moon as its distant summit”

The Purpose of Budo

In Ninpo there is an important teaching in a form of a poem called Ninniku Seishin. This poem sets the tone for the state of mind and character required to endure as a Ninja. The poem explains that the ultimate goal is peace and happiness. It is ironic looking at the state of martial arts and humanity in the world today how far it is from that goal.

Nevertheless it’s important at times to bring this topic to light and put things in perspective of what is truly important in Budo and life. In the Densho there is a description of Shoden, Chuden, Okuden etc….. in that order my students practice the waza one by one. I often remind them not to fool themselves when studying the higher levels thinking one has mastered a skill. Its better to think that when you studied all the waza you really finished Shoden. Then when you become truly skilled you reach Chuden anything above that is real life and the ability to cope with it while finding a balanced medium. The concept of lateral growth is not limited to Budo, in society we are taught to graduate things by degrees. This notion divides life, study and obscures the focus on infinite study .So in essence one may view mastery as an illusion of infinite study.

True freedom is not born of winning and losing, how can you understand Budo with only the concepts of give and take? You must rid yourself of your personal desire then you can begin to understand morals and the way of living. This is Ten Ryaku Ucho Gassho.

I think for myself budo has always been about that and is the reason why I continuously strive to improve in it. To better understand this point let’s look at Fudoza no Kamae (sitting on ones leg with the other folded in). In order to achieve good kamae it’s important to straighten the spine and breath through the belly. You start understanding patience when you develop the ability to sit in a prolong duration without moving. This is the notion of Ninpo Ikkan (single minded perseverance).

Takagi Oriemon was defeated by Yagyu Tajime in a match. Determine for a rematch Takagi went to the mountain and asked Sounryu’s advice. Soounryu replied “forget everything else and just keep training”. He later managed to draw a tie in a rematch with Yagyu as neither could pass each other swift intention. Later in his life he understood the futile purpose of winning and wrote plenty on the subject.

Don’t be caught in the trivial aspects of life and pursue, Budo with a balanced heart while nurturing family and society for a stronger future.

BIKENJUTSU – 秘剣術

The art of the sword saints (剣聖)

This year Sensei asked us to spend some time and polish our sword skills so its only appropriate that I would write on the subject to stimulate students of the art to polish their physical and spiritual swords until it shine (renshu).

Takamatsu Sensei once said “Even if some are called masters, how many other masters were there?” The demeanor of the true master has a beauty that resembles nature itself. It is therefore that many of the true masters were never recorded in the history books rather their achievements and knowledge passed by word of mouth from master to disciple.

Our sword system is called Bikenjutsu (secret sword art). It is said that in the Heian Era (1141), the system founder Izumo Kanja Yoshiteru was not satisfied with his skill and committed himself to 3 years intense training in a mountain cave called Inome Dokutsu. During this time he developed special sword techniques and named his style Kukishin Ryu Happo Hikenjutsu. Happo refers to eight categories of martial arts (Taijutsu, Bojutsu, Yarijutsu etc….) and Hikenjutsu refers to special sword techniques. This combined with the Togakure Ryu Bikenjutsu, Koto Ryu Bikenjutsu and Shinden Fudo Ryu Iai Goshi provides a comprehensive sword system.

There many types of sword techniques such as Tanto Jutsu (knife), Kodachi Jutsu (short sword), Daito Jutsu (long sword), Nito Jutsu (two sword techniques), Tachi Jutsu (very long sword) & Ninja To (special Ninja sword).

The true understanding sword techniques must be combined with a good foundation in Taijutsu (body arts), Bojutsu (staff arts), Shinjusu (spiritual and mental arts).
According to history the first swords imported from China had a straight, double-edged blade. The curvature of the Katana as we know it today developed with the advancements in metallurgy and improved forging and tempering process. During the- Muromachi period (1336-1573) swords began to resemble the form that is most recognizable today. It was during this time that the custom of wearing two swords became popular.

I will expand further on the subject at the upcoming Canadian Taikai and at the 2009 Ninja Camp

Understanding the Bujinkan Way

What is the Bujinkan? What does it stands for? These are some of the questions asked by many answered by few. Although I know as much as I don’t know I thought it would be refreshing to attempt to put things in perspective.

The Bujinkan was established by my Sensei, Masaaki Hatsumi Grandmaster of the

9 Ryu Ha passed down to him by his teacher Grandmaster Toshitsugu Takamatsu. One of the reasons for its establishment amongst others was to bring together the vast amount of knowledge passed down by the former under one umbrella.

It is a combination of skills which came to be known as Ninja Sanjurokei (36 categories of Ninpo arts) But more so the Bujinkan provides the ability to break through the boundaries of the art taking it to new levels, hence the Name Budo Taijutsu. As well as the ability to incorporate All the necessary tools for complete victory this is Happo Biken

It is multifaceted, colourful, and diverse much like the world we live in today. This can be a good thing and/or a challenging thing depending on which path you take. Mannerism, etiquettes and tradition are all part of training and for those who seek it can find it.

Although the Bujinkan is not the art, but rather a place where people cultivate the spirit of the art and gather with a common interest. It is a way to understand nature’s way, finding happiness through the eyes and heart of the divine.

To be a Student and achieve competence one needs a good teacher. A teacher is essential for nearly anything one wish to learn. Find a good teacher, trust him completely and he will take you to the same level he is.

Strive to know your Rank, Rank is a honour to those who train as well as a source of inspiration. It’s a symbol of learning and is heavily dependant on the content of the holder. Experience, dedication and hard work with an honest heart will lead to true development of Body, mind and spirit. This can never be obtained with money. Strive to polish your skills and hold high standards for yourself. In this way you can shine like a diamond.

Tamakatsu Sensei dream was for all his students to gather and grow together into the new millennium I believe the Bujinkan provides this forum. In Canada we started in 2008 with the Shihan Taikai which was a great success and will continue in the future to come. This is in line with Sensei vision of:

“Bushin Wa wo Totoshi to nasu“ – the warriors heart holds harmony sacred.

Give hard training a new meaning,

Sensei writes in his book Ninpo Wisdom for Life “the first step of Shugyo is to endure the pain your teacher assigns you”, I would like to expend on this point. Today there is a tendency to be over protective so people often try to avoid hardship. This type of attitude or approach prevents one from growing. It is sad to see so many young people looking for the easy way and give Shigoki (hard training) a bad name. This concept is not only important in becoming a good martial artist but also developing in to a good person. Sensei always taught me that the harder the hardship the greater the growth forthcoming. You just need patience and endurance (Shinobu) and the rest will follow naturally. According to the teachings written in the scrolls of Ryusen no Maki “A hardship serves as an omen of future growth if one learns to ride the wave of life”.

During my years of training I experienced Shigoki on many levels but never let myself neglect my training. I don’t think of it as a great achievement or even my own rather then my ability to “empty my cup” and let Sensei fill it in every opportunity I get. In other words I do my best to endure the pain that Sensei assigns me with humility and compassion. The words “I am teaching you to teach yourself” still echo in my mind everyday. For this reason I teach my students in the same manner so they may capture the essence that I am trying to teach so one day they may stand on their own two feet.

10 years have passed since the Dojo opened its doors to the public and through endurance and growth is starting to bear fruit. It is very encouraging to see a good number of students who are starting to understand what I am teaching. All of whom have been with me for a while now and have being going through their own Shigoki. Rudy was tested for his Godan this past trip and passed successfully. He was tested on many levels, and I know he will represent the Dojo well.

Gambatte,