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Dishonest or Stupid?

February 6, 2014

I visited someone’s Chinese Martial Arts class because I was working with him for a show. He had a Chinese sabre (刀) that had a really long handle for it to be wielded two-handed. That’s unusual, by the way. The Chinese sabre is almost always one-handed, which means it has less reach but a lot more speed.

He also brought along a bokken for the class (familiar territory for me!) and so I asked him what it was for. He replied that he was going to show how the two-handed sabre could overcome attacks from a katana. Knowing that this guy has little or no experience with Japanese arts, I picked up the bokken and quickly explained to him how the kamae (stances) all fitted in with the reach of the weapon, and what a proper Japanese swordman would have in mind when facing him with his two-handed sabre.

By the way, the two-handed sabre would be at a disadvantage against the katana. Because it is two-handed, it would be slower than the typical sabre, but since the blade is shorter than a katana’s, the slowness is not compensated for with reach. Can the disadvantage be overcome? Of course, but only if you know and understand the disadvantage.

A week or so later, he put up a youtube video of his lesson that day, and there was a brief clip on him using the sabre against his student wielding the bokken. Guess what? The distance of the bokken attacks were ALL wrong, but to the uneducated eye (his students) he had shown clearly how a Chinese two-handed sabre can overcome the famed katana. His student stood way too close and launched “attacks” that would have made kenjutsu practitioners either puke or die laughing. And of course the teacher could overcome such attacks easily.


It’s like me saying I can handle a gunman, but I demo with the gunman with his weapon holstered while I stand in front of him and sucker punch him. Only people who don’t understand guns would be convinced!

What galls me, however, is that they had absolutely no excuse for misrepresenting things. I had already shown them on that very day, that very morning, how the katana works. I even let the teacher try reacting to a basic tenchi kiri, done at the correct distance, so he had an idea of how hard he had to work. None of that came out in that video, not even a hint of it. In that vid, his student was demo-ing one-handed sabre slashes, at one-handed sabre distancing, while holding the bokken two-handed so it is even clumsier.


So this teacher is either dishonest, pretending he has skill and knowledge he knows he does not have, or stupid, unable to understand basic weapon distancing even after it has been explained to him. I don’t know which it is, but that doesn’t matter to me. It just goes to show how lousy he is as a teacher, and made me glad I always had teachers that were good!

Defence against…

Bujinkan Taijutsu is a marvelous martial art. I am sure it is wide-ranging and adaptable enough to deal with a wide variety of real-life attacks. However, that does NOT mean that every Bujinkan instructor is able to teach you how to deal with ALL kinds of real-life attacks.

Let’s take a boxing combo, jab-jab-cross, for example. If I was going to teach how to defend against that, I first need to know how to do it properly. Many Bujinkan students with no previous martial art experience try to do that combo wrongly, with the wrong kamae & distancing (which means it has little power). If you teach defences against a pitiful imitation of the jab-jab-cross but give your students the idea that they are now able to handle themselves properly with boxers, you are, like the above teacher, either dishonest (you know the truth but won’t admit to it) or stupid (and believe that you are that awesome when you are not).

The same applies in other related issues like groundfighting, gun disarms or knife defence. If you are a teacher, please make sure you really understand the problem properly before you claim you can teach the solution. It takes research, sometimes even forking out money to take lessons from other people. And if you have learned an awesome technique from another art that totally does not appear in Bujinkan Taijutsu, please be honest with your students and admit to it.

Then again, with 6 ryu-ha of material openly taught, the odds are any cool technique from another art is already in the Bujinkan. But don’t take it for granted. Besides, admitting that you taught them a cool principle or move from another martial art shows that you are good at research. Just make sure you get the move correct!

Realistic Expectations

Unless you have previous experience and a lot of outside training, it is ridiculous to expect that we outbox a boxer or out-judo a judoka, and so on. This of course assumes that the amount of training time is comparable; it is not something boast-worthy if it takes you 10 years of training to defeat a boxer with 2 years of experience! But if we are up against someone of comparable experience, we are at a disadvantage. Our wide range of techniques means that we cannot match a specialist at his/her own game.

Then what do we train towards? We train towards not getting sucked into the specialist’s game and keeping things where our wider range of techniques is to our advantage. We also train towards not being defeated by the specialist’s first line of attack. In other words, how not to fall for the boxer’s jab-jab-cross or the groundfighter’s takedown – ground & pound – juji gatame, for example.

One thing, we need to keep in mind: we need to be able to throw ourselves into the counter-techniques we are using, because if we mess up or hesitate, the specialist knows that we aren’t total pushovers and will up his/her game accordingly. Their second line of attack will be harder to counter than the first, which means we have to be able to read the situation from the beginning, recognize the opportunity and then give it all we’ve got, knowing that it might fail regardless.

Any Bujinkan instructor who gives you the impression that skilled practitioners from other martial arts are easily overcome is as dishonest or stupid as the teacher I talked about at the beginning.


Being a representative of Hatsumi Soke’s martial art is a great honour. Being trusted by your students is a greater honour still. We Bujinkan instructors owe it to Hatsumi and our students to represent the art correctly and honestly. And that means not only being good at what we are supposed to know, but also being honest enough to admit what we don’t know as well. We have a martial art that has great potential and we have a worldwide community of instructors that has an incredible amount of martial knowledge and understanding. Let us use that to be the best instructors we can be, and make our students the best martial artists they can be!

俊傑 (Shunketsu)


From → bujinkan

  1. S. Hamilton permalink

    I was just talking about this with some of our students that as a Martial Arts instructor, it can sometimes be easy to lose perspective – and lose touch with reality, if you don’t acknowledge your own limitations and aren’t willing to make mistakes.

    • Agree. For us, we have one advantage, we are part of the international Bujinkan community. Any student with an internet connection will easily find other instructors in the immediate vicinity and be able to compare our teaching effectiveness with other teachers. Within the Chinese Martial Arts community, they usually do not build organizations, the teachers are much more independent, and the students don’t often meet their teacher’s teacher. And all they have is their teacher’s own claim to greatness, like the teacher I mentioned in the post. *shrug*

      Anyway, I figured out that it is not my place to rescue that guy’s students. I don’t have much contact with them and I don’t want to deal with the political fallout that will follow. Sooner or later life will show them what they need to see, and at that point hopefully the damage won’t be irreversible! 🙂

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