Bujinkan is a creative space created by Hatsumi Sensei is of the nine different ryuha:
- Shinden Fudo-ryu
- Takagi Yoshin-ryu
The kanji “ryu” (flow; 流) is of Chinese origin, and can also be read as “Nagare”. It originally means “to flow” and “current” but later also given translation system or school.
Many of these original ryuha was founded by a person, often a warrior, who had some kind of life-changing experience. The experience was considered to have flowed down from a divine source and was regarded as a secret doctrine and kept hidden to all except those initiated into the family or relatives.
There could be several hundred years before this “current” is named and or written down on parchment. Knowledge transfer was always directly from master to student and could take the form of a kind of performative transfer of the feeling of flow and inspiration.
The oldest parchments contained no descriptions of techniques or exercises, just philosophical thoughts and ideas of combat and survival.
Compare this with modern Japanese “do” (philosophical way; 道) species of martial arts that have concepts, techniques, and methods combined and designed by a committee, a mix of techniques summarized in the discursive patterns of movement or controlled by a system of rules
If you try to capture a classical current (koryu; 古流) in a ritualistic systems it dies immediately. The flow can only be experienced in reality and can not be defined with a theory or documented in a book. Theoretical knowledge of this kind brings us nothing new about reality, the conclusion is already hidden in the conditions.
The original sin that many ancient and modern martial arts masters (and committees) have done is they have assumed that kata (patterned drills; 型) exercises in a fixed context made it an eternal truth.
Bujinkan is a creative association that originally lacked educational systems, grading norms or dogmas. There are no committees, boards or “business developers”. Hatsumi Soke handles all administration from home, with paper and pencil, the old analog way.
The gradations are certainly a modern invention but there is no common standard for what every degree is defined by.
One thing, however, is a remnant from the war-period. It is not always the most competent, the best, or fastest that will survive real combat. It is the one that commits the fewest mistakes. Therefore the higher grades are awarded to those who make the fewest mistakes, and then one should think of the dojo life, in the best case, consists of 10 hours per week, while the real life going on 24 hours a day, day after day, week after week, year and year out.
When Bugei (martial arts; 武芸) is taught, one does not exactly know how to deal or behave in combat. You acquire only the opportunity to get to know some of it. Compare with buying an encyclopedia. You do not own all the knowledge encyclopedia covers, you have just acquired the ability to read about all this.
The exercises start with the teacher showing how something should be done. We work with different annual themes and taijutsu. Within the Bujinkan a theme for the year is chosen and processed in detail. It can be a special ryu, weapon, or idea. The way to use weapons are not the formal ritual way, but something real and that interacts with the real situation.
We do not go through kata rituals, but starting, for example, from how the opponent strikes, and how to then move their body. From there it grows many ways to use their body and arms… or how to find an escape route. And finally, it is through the technique that the opponent has ended up in a position where he is put out of action.
This is the warrior’s way of training – to practice how to act, based on a real situation.