"What do you study in the Bujinkan?"

"Kobudo, BudoNinjutsu, Self Defence"... are an example of some replies that a non-practitioner, or prospective student to the martial arts will likely hear.  Bujinkan instructors respond with many different answers to the question. The scope and dynamics of their training are broad, and unmeasurable relative to their age, experience and the exigencies of time. Non-conformity and different replies should be considered natural as they reflect an instructor's perspective of their art at a given point of their life. Definitive meanings of Kobudo, Budo, Ninjutsu and Self-Defence can be found through translations and research.  Yet is that enough for a prospective Bujinkan student?  Nailing down a precise definition will - and should - prove elusive. What follows is general, but written to prepare a prospective student for the challenge to grapple with what occurs in Bujinkan training.

The term 'Kobudo' - Ko - old budo- martial way -  defines the plethora of ancient and old Japanese martial arts/traditions. The term includes the armed and unarmed combat training practices of Japanese clans and families - both ruling - samurai knights and lords -  and non-ruling classes that predate Japan's modernisation. This started from 1867 when a revolution overthrew Japan's Tokugawa ruling elite and re-established the Meiji emperor as head of government.  Through a tumultuous period a new government rose that rapidly altered Japan's power structures.  By creating a civilian military, and arming a corps with pistols, rifles, and cannon they were able to defeat the samurai.  With the destruction of the feudal clan structure & the introduction of modern weaponry, the widespread practice of Kobudo largely disappeared.


Though the Bujinkan today trains in Kobudo, the expression Ko - old -  has largely disappeared from conversation.  In the 90's Grandmaster Hatsumi  - the Soke or Head-master of the 9 traditions -  began using the expression "Budo "at training and in lectures.  He believed that decisions to engage in combat and weapon choice depended on context and imperatives of the time. For the Bujinkan art to survive, as it has for 34 generations, he demonstrated variations of traditional movement and encouraged students - steeped in basics - to explore and adapt what they'd learned. Pistols and street knife tactics were added to training scenarios and students understood the necessity to deal wth  whatever was to hand. A Japanese friend once asked me why I train in the most traditional and conservative arts practiced in Japanese culture.  I could only answer that I found the skills studied practical;  dojo training incorporated more flexibility than he assumed and Hatsumi sensei himself demonstrated rationalality, reason and offerred inspiration to students. Furthermore the Bujinkan's instruction sessions and tenets resonated with my own belief... That the secret to success generated from perseverence and to "Keep going". 


Alluded to earlier,  training for combat and acquiring skills - armed and unarmed - never occurs in a vacuum. Context and change determine weapon availability - or non-availability - and historical events of the time always compel one to adapt. Bujinkan budo is dynamic.  Training does not focus on collecting techniques or simply accomplishing 'a finish' or escape in scenario training.  The need to look deeper into practices and movement  - picking up skills and letting go of redundant knowledge  is a never-ending pursuit -  in and out of the dojo. Mastery of oneself to adequately deploy skill in service to protect life, as an instrument of justice' requires a refined and constant addressing of one's own character.   


This is not a glib statement. Protection and survival lie at the heart of all budo - European Chivalry being no different.  The antithesis of such being to take life, to feed off misery, perform wanton destruction and acquire power through greed, wrath and hubris. These acts are inextricably linked to judgementality, and extreme indulgence in ego's desires. Thus Bujinkan training directs practitioners to become keen observers and to strive to understand nature. It should be no surprise that Bujinkan budo training at all levels commends that students consider -and revisit - the words and actions of past Grandmasters, master teachers, and warriors that preceeded them.  For example:

"Know the secret of Taijutsu is the foundation of peace.  If you learn this, you can walk the path of the immovable heart.

- "Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu  - 32nd Grandmaster Togakure Ryu Ninpo - 1824- 1909 - Chief Instructor of the "Konbusho" - the school for training the Shogun's retainers.

Toda Sensei's title is the 32nd Grandmaster of Togakure Ryu NinpoNinpo is a general term to describe the "ways" of the Ninja. If, via the movies or popular culture, you are of the opinion that a Ninja is an elite killer terrorist, criminal, wraith - clad in black -  or a spy  who wishes to dominate others through their use of physical and non-physical power... Then you've been misled. To be a Ninja today is to study  train  and work toward deploying the skills you acquire in service of family, friends, justice and your community. Thus there is no end to this kind of training and effort.  It is selfless and obligates the practitioner to sustain a responsible outlook on life. The current Grandmaster - Hatsumi Sensei - encourages the Shihan to demonstrate this truth and "Keep Going".  He writes many books supporting this principal now and for the art's future practitioners. (Please click here) 


Budo frames the Bujinkan's training, however, Ninjustu is it's beating heart. Ninjutsu gives definition to Ninpo. The perpetual training and on-going acquisition of martial skills open a way for the individual to navigate through life... To the adherent, a way becomes apparent. It is this journey that leads to an "Aha!" moment that helps one make sense of "Banpen fugyo" - "10000 changes no surprises".  The 33rd Gradmaster's - Takamatsu  - essay on the " Essence of Ninjutsu" emphasises the need to drive and acquire that balanced outlook to identify and naviagte through life  - (Please click here)

So where does self-defence sit within Bujinkan practice? It is a core element. Without the capacity to survive there is no tradition. Self-defence directs competencies to overcome all that would destroy one.   It is very basic training and is - in a contraditicatory fashion -  ego-centric.  Yet without an ego we couldn't exist. Without an ego what would motivate or trigger us to do the most basic action - to survive. Thus balancing the ego and sustaining this balance is a critical element of all Self defence practice.

To a Bujinkan practitioner the more people that develop a self defence capability the less the need for a warrior's  service. Whether one is meek or powerful makes no difference as the self-preservation motivation for an individual is universal. Yet a warrior, true to his mission to serve ,should understand all that precedes the choice to place themselves in harm's way.  A warrior is not 'ordered' to do so... He chooses.  So letting go of their own desires - thus contradicting ego's rationale - marks an impecceble budoka.

Offering self-defence training to support others when violence and hubris cause social fracture demonstrate warrior principals. The training has a more immediate focus and relevance to life right here, right now. It generates out of a timely need to protect our children and society from those who seek to enslave and destroy. It is offered in this school as a focused workshop or progressive classes in Shinkengata  - real combat - training. If you feel so inclined to train your efforts will be welcome.The Bujinkan's 34th Togakure Ryu Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi licensed Dai Shihan Phillip Legare to specifically teach Shinengata. Sensei Legare regularly visits and licenses instructors in this dojo to provide Self Defence training.


At the end of the day, it is important that a Bujinkan student recognises that training in Kobudo, Budo, Ninjutsu & Self -defence generated out of the need for good people to stand serve and protect. This vibrant imperative drives Bujinkan training today - as it has always.  The Bujinkan tradition survives because of it's willingness to adapt. It offers self defense training that encourages you to learn, practice, apply the art to do more with your life.  On reaching a level of mastery the practitioner throws away what's been learned, and sincerely walks the path of an artist. Thus it is an art - a Martial Art.  For a student at life's end, to be nothing but a copy of another, denies allowing the inspirational spark to fire their spirit and make them a unique human being. 

John Cantor 

Bujinkan Kokusai Dojo

20th June 2017.