A story of a visit to Japan to study with Dr Masaaki Hatsumi
I was in Japan recently training with Dr Masaaki Hatsumi, the 34 th grandmaster of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. ‘Bujinkan’ means ‘Hall of the Divine Warrior’ and Hatsumi Soke (grandmaster) is the inheritor of nine different schools of martial arts – the oldest of which has a written record from about 1100 AD, but which is much older and originated in China. Soke is 72 years old, and is considered a National Living Treasure in Japan. His teacher, Takamatsu Sensei, is acknowledged as the last real ninja in Japan. That is, the last to truly live the life on the ninja in the fullest sense of the word. Later in life he became a Tendai priest (an esoteric Buddhist sect).
Hatsumi Soke is the first to teach the art of the ninja openly, and to westerners. He began this task only in the mid-70’s and says he is only now teaching the true ninjutsu or ninpo. It is only now that he thinks his students are up to it.
The purpose for my trip was to undertake my godan (5 th dan) test and obtain a shidoshi (teaching) license in our system. Unlike most martial arts, this is not primarily a physical test. No feats of endurance, displays of spirit, or demonstrations of intricate technical knowledge are required.
To obtain godan, one must demonstrate the capacity to detect the Master’s sakki – killing intent – and react appropriately. In the old days, the test was done with a live sword. I am truly grateful that the modern warriors have ‘lost the edge’ of the old warriors! Now, the test is done with a wooden training sword – still quite capable of delivering a nasty blow, but a mistake is not quite so unforgiven…
The student kneels in seiza in front of the Master, with her/his back to him and eyes shut. The Master is behind the student, and lifts his sword high, shutting off his aura. His eyes are also shut. At some point – sometimes seconds, sometimes minutes – he brings the sword down fast and hard in a downward strike at the head of the student kneeling in front of him. The student must roll away to avoid the cut at precisely the right time and distance.
My first trip to Japan. I arrived the week before my test and watched, somewhat helplessly at times, as my ego played havoc after my first training sessions. Inevitably, faults in my skill level were revealed and taunted me - not good enough, not seen, not up to it, too old for this yah, yah – the usual suspects. I hurt my feet and making kneeling in seiza very painful. My body felt awkward and I am sure my ukemi (rolling skills) – never my strong point – was even worse than normal. So, the day before the test I was all over the place and could feel nerves getting the best of me.
I had just enough detachment to remember that this is, after all, the nature of tests – they set the ego and inner critic loose for the hunt. That is, the true test is with the ego, the external test is just the proof of victory. Amid the inner chaos, I also became aware of something Soke wrote tugging at my consciousness: ‘People think they are doing the test. This is not correct. I am doing the test – they just need to get out of the way.’
Finally, on Sunday morning, my partner and I catch the train to the hombu in the unprepossessing Tokyo suburb of Noda. A factory town, main claim to fame – the Kikkomen soy sauce factory. The day is grey, hot and humid. I am nervous and still not sure I will sit the test after all.
I walk into the hombu . Like most buildings in Japan, the space is small. Maybe 80 m2 at the most. Today the class is also small – only about 30 students. Japanese shihan (master teachers) and senior black belts from around the world. The walls are adorned with photos of Soke with various students and celebrities, his artwork and calligraphy, weapons from top to bottom. The eastern wall has a spectacular Kamidama – spirit house acknowledging the kami and the ancestors.
Immediately, and to my surprise, I feel the support of the hall in a most profound, tangible and personal way. I become aware that my work on Essence and the transforming qualities of space with my inner work school, the Diamond Approach has also come forward to support me. The essential qualities of Clarity and Peace become available. In terms of both the DA work and the bujinkan I can feel the kukan or space. This is not the first time I am aware of congruent paths. My nerves are subsumed in the space. ‘This is what we are here for’, the walls seemed to say. I feel the first layer of peace descend on the room, and on me personally. For the two hours of the class, nerves come and go, but now just float in and out like a tide.
At the end of the class, the call goes up. Anyone for the test? I go out the front and kneel down in seiza, facing my peers. Now the next layer of peace descends, I feel calm and relaxed although still not quite ready. Soke is behind me. His eyes are closed so Shihan kneel either side to witness the test. Soke steps back to begin, but then stops and starts speaking excitedly in Japanese. A student translates. He speaks of the importance of the sakki test, that it is dangerous and needs to be taken seriously – how if he projected killing intent into someone with a weak heart or spirit it could really damage them. This is why up until now, only he has done the test, but he is retiring soon and will soon allow his senior students to do the test under his supervision. Of course, I feel myself and everyone else in the room contract with the question – Is that what’s going to happen now? Is he going to get someone else to give the test now? Soke is a trickster, one would never know. A new variable to deal with. The next layer of calm descends and calls me back from the mental distraction. I stop listening to his words and let the sound of his voice float past. I remember that my task is to get out of the way and let what is to happen, happen.
Finally, he stops talking. I cannot not hear him, but I sense he has stepped back for the test. At this point, a most extraordinary black space opens up in my inner perception. Dense and velvety but spacious. Kukan. Space. Time itself expands and the deepest peace of black space opens out in my awareness, and also descends. I feel light and substantial at the same time. My senses are keenly alert but very, very calm. Calmness permeates the whole room and people later comment on the depth of peace they felt.
Suddenly, in my inner perception and from behind and in front simultaneously, I see a tiger running towards me from what seemed quite a distance. The animal begins to pounce. I roll effortlessly and in perfect timing away to the right. My body is made of nothing and I have all the time in the world.
Frances Haynes has studied martial arts for over 20 years, and the Bujinkan for 12 years. She teaches in Petersham in inner western Sydney. She is also a psychotherapist and student of the inner work school, The Diamond Approach. You can contact her at [email protected]. Frances will be talking about her experience as a practitioner of a Japanese way and teaching some techniques at the next one-day Reiki Retreat at the Tomah Reiki Centre on the 1st November.