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Training in Japan – Getting Ready

March 23, 2018

I just came across this blog post recently

A couple of thoughts I found interesting

1) ready to train in Japan

As I wrote before in another blog post, training at the Honbu Dojo in Japan isn’t necessary or suitable for everyone. I said:

“No point going all the way to Japan to seek out instruction in Gikan Ryu or Kumogakure Ryu, or trying to go beyond the densho kata, when you haven’t even mastered the shoden kata from Gyokko, Koto and Shinden Fudo Ryu yet.”

It looks like Arnaud and I have some agreement in our ideas. He said:

“Because there were so few students, I trained with a young Shōdan. He was totally lost because he’s didn’t know the basic waza from the Gyokko Ryû. Even though I think that anyone should come here to train with Sōke and the Shihan, if you don’t know your basic forms, maybe it would be better to not come to Japan!”

This brings up the question: at what point is a student ready to fully benefit from a trip to Japan? I’ll get back to that in a moment.

2) What are basics?

Arnaud wrote about training with a black belt who was out of his depth at the Hombu Dojo. He said:

“I asked him why his level was so bad? He answered: “we do only basics”.

If it were true, he would have been good enough to train with, but that wasn’t the case. He didn’t know the Bujinkan basics at all. I don’t blame him, but his teacher. know that his teacher is Jûgodan, but I don’t know who he trained with, but he has to reconsider his teaching abilities. He let him go to Japan without the fundamental keys to survive here.”

So what are basics? Some people think the basics only refer to the Sanshin no Kata and the Kihon Happo. This is a very Chinese way of thinking, that by training a few simple movements and techniques one is ready for pretty much anything. In the old days it was embodied by people like Guo YunShen (郭云深) who was known for 半步崩拳打天下 (“using the half-step crushing fist on everything under the skies”). In the modern context, Bruce Lee expressed this mindset most clearly when he said, “I fear not the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times”.

The problem with that mindset? When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The core teaching of Bujinkan Taijutsu is henka, the ability to adapt and change based on the situation and our goals. The very talented people can do that easily; they learn one or two versions of a technique and are able to from there extrapolate many workable variations. But such people are extremely rare. I know for sure I am not one of them, and amongst my students I haven’t seen any yet. Most people get the ability by training in many variations of a technique and looking out for what remains the same in the midst of change (i.e. principles).

And instead of hunting all over the place for variations on the basics or trying to create our own, we should try to hunt for the henka in the kata from the Bujinkan ryuha. Just looking at the various ways Omote Gyaku comes out in Gyokko Ryu and Koto Ryu is enough to keep me busy for a while.

Ready for Japan Training

Actually, the easiest way to look at the matter is this: What do the Shihan teach at the Hombu Dojo anyway? Hombu lessons, depending on the choice of the teaching Shihan, usually are on:

1) principles – distancing, angles and such, expressed in basic techniques (Kihon Happo, Osoto Gake, and such)

2) Ryuha Kata – material from the 9 (or 6) schools of the Bujinkan I know that there are many, many kata from the Bujinkan ryuha, and it can take a long time to get your students good at them. A good guide we can use to prepare a student for training at Hombu is Jin Ryaku No Maki. The kata there are arranged by theme instead of by the ryuha they originate from. This helps reduce the amount of overlap a student would have to sort through if they were taught the kata directly from the ryuha.

3) Weapons – katana, bo, naginata and the like. I also include Muto Dori in this category too. The student doesn’t need to know all the muto dori kata of Gyokko, Koto, Takagi Yoshin and Togakure Ryu, but at least some. My preference is to teach the muto dori kata from the third level of Gyokko Ryu. That is a good enough primer to the topic if you really have to cut a few corners here and there.

When a student has had enough exposure to these three main areas of study, he or she is able to make sense of what is going on in the Hombu lessons.


Training at Hombu Dojo is the expression of this truth: the Bujinkan is a huge community. Being part of this community has its benefits and responsibilities also. When we prepare our students properly for training in Japan, we prepare them to take up their roles and responsibilities in this international community also. As the sensei of our respective dojo, it’s our responsibility to prepare them for that rite of passage. If we won’t do it, who will?


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

From → bujinkan

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