Archive for ninjutsu

Flow’s Way

Posted in Buddhism, Daoism, Fighting, martial arts, Monasticism, Religion, Stayin' Alive with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2008 by wizardsmoke

Somewhere along the way, internal martial artists and “soft” Aikido-type people got the impression that being gentle was the path to power. But really, the point is that experts on power no longer have to use much effort to exert themselves. It becomes subtle, natural, easy. I think when the Dao De Jing says things about soft overcoming the hard, it really means that the strong or unyielding are destroyed by the flow or tide of the world, mostly because they don’t take the time to recognize the changing direction of life.

Hatsumi’s philosophy interested me for the way it turned me on to one major concept: that one resists illusion and the destruction of powerful people by failing to stand out. Normally this sounds like some mass-religious peasant nonsense, but I am willing to accept that his message tells us to live internally aloof from the way of the world.

But if one has no interest/investment in the world at large, they will become a martyr or a loner. And one with strong interests in the world (“the world” being material wealth, power and prestige, sexual desire and conquest — basically violence, anger, greed and lust) will often become blind to their own presence and actions.

One must go with the flow in life because the flow is life. Even the most powerful people are destroyed if they resist the flow of life and society. However, on the other hand, it seems a person becomes self-aware by resisting the flow of the world, purportedly pointed out by the Buddha upon achieving awakening (religious figures! yay!). I really would like to believe that some people are so totally beyond the competitive world that they just aren’t moved to act in its vicious ways. But resistance is not enacted by some mystical nonsense, it’s all done by people like you and me. It’s not hard at all to do, it just takes persistent effort. The effort that happens right now is easy, it’s just hard to keep doing something consistently. And I think that’s what I forgot to mention in that slightly delusional post about martial arts enlightenment the other day: martial enlightenment is possibly the ability to keep going regardless of one’s circumstances.

I just wonder where all this interpretation that internal martial arts are magically soft and relaxed, and therefore stronger than “normal fighting” (a debate continuously ruminated over on the Formosa Neijia blog). Every martial art is fundamentally the same (in their original theories, not how they are dogmatically taught) because there is only so much efficiency to moving the body. I happen to think some arts like Taijiquan and Baguaquan merely have a much better teaching method of transmitting the body’s subtle movements and personal health and combat applications. This does not make them internal or mystical, it just makes them more complete “boxing” strategies. I feel like older dudes don’t need to spar (and probably shouldn’t) because their perception of space and intent is so developed from their rougher, younger days. 85 year old dudes may not still be able to drop kick you in the face so easily, but some of them sure as hell can still toss you around in push-hands.

But everyone who practices something long enough will figure out how to make it work. That’s why all success is only hard work. Even if you suck or are magnificent, your hard work will be the final word. And individuality, internal individuality compared to the flow of the world — that takes a lot of work.

Ninja Melt

Posted in Exercise, Fighting, martial arts, Stayin' Alive with tags , , , , , , on July 18, 2008 by wizardsmoke

I’m not one for traditional aerobic activity. I don’t jog or go to the gym or road bike or fight bulls. I certainly have done those things, but in my experience they seem like a lot more trouble than they’re worth. Plus, I cannot stand to get all sweaty and hot in front of a bunch of staring strangers and their smog-inducing cars (apparently I’m OCD/Social Anxiety-prone, hee hee!). Gross!

No, for me rolling is the sweetest exercise ever. I feel like I’m 7 years old all over again, every time. It’s so much fun! The thing is, you have to be careful when you roll. I actually used to intuitively tumble as a kid, but I picked up a wide variety and knowledge of rolls from throwing down with Bujinkan classes over the years. Some of those guys (along with maybe Systema) teach a crazy variety of rolls. Much more than in Aikido or Judo, where a lot of people get exposed to the idea. I’m actually surprised Dave at Formosa Neijia hasn’t talked much about rolling or roll-conditioning, considering he’s a true chameleon and full-time blogster on “soft” martial arts.

Rolling functions as an aerobic exercise that builds up the muscles on the back. Oh, sure, if you do it incorrectly or when you’re tense you will shred your back but that’s part of the fun, amiright? Point is, if I just work on rolls and (my half-assed attempts at) handsprings for a half-hour every day, I become incredibly powerful. Although! I should point out that I pre-empt and finish each practice session with some serious zhan-zhuan or zazen-type muscle relaxation meditation activity. Rolling incorrectly a few times can tense up your back pretty good.

If you already do Bujinkan/Systema/Aikido/Hapkido or whatever else curriculum that incorporates this rolling stuff, my advice is not that special. But, since nobody reads this blog anyway, what do I care?

Some precautions:

  • Do not drop onto your shoulder as you roll! Just as you smoothly transition between steps in Taiji or any martial art, the weight transition from the feet to the shoulder and then the back is like slowly pouring water into a glass. If you drop on the wrong part of your shoulder, such as where the collar bone connects to the shoulder, you could do some serious damage or pain to yourself.
  • Relax throughout the roll! The more worried about the roll, the more you will tense up. Even a little tension at the beginning of the roll will build up and create giant gaps in movement by the end of the roll.
  • Work on them slowly! Learn to do them with little momentum or slowly. Learn to feel your way through the roll, as though the muscles on your back were tire treads.
  • Never pre-meditate a roll or act when excited. Just practice rolls slowly until they are a natural part of your movement.
  • Don’t finish on your knee and don’t push with your head. If you practice on concrete this can really mess you up! Don’t do that until you’ve mastered this.
  • Practice on concrete or a hard surface once you’re getting good. This will let you see where you are too stiff or where you are relying on your hands/knees. It will also strengthen your back and smooth out your technique.
  • Go back and break down the fundamental basics and watch them as you go through a roll slowly. I.e. make sure it’s always going shoulder-to-opposite-hip and that you aren’t placing impact on any portion of your shoulder blade.

People make fun of the Bujinkan sometimes because there’s so much cheesy ninja romanticism that goes along with it. Fair enough — there are many guys (including teachers) who have simply spent too much time playing Tenchu: Stealth Assassins and Ninja Gaiden. But a lot of practices in martial arts are mistakenly discarded because they take too long to implement into one’s natural movement. Rolls are sometimes thought of this way. But with rolls, if they’re practiced every day for a couple of years, they become one’s natural movement. This means: no more fear of falling on pavement, the ability to jump from greater heights by channeling the momentum into a ground roll, and the ability to leap out of the way of gunfire while saving hot babes (this is the Roger Hamburger technique).

There are some truly legitimate videos of the Bujinkan Shihan demonstrating basic techniques that have finally weaseled their way onto the internet. Also, there are some Kadochnikov Systema examples that are slick: the dude just melts into the ground!

A Bunch of Ninjas

Posted in Fighting, martial arts, Religion, Shintoism with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2008 by wizardsmoke

Today I watched Naruto for the first time after a long hiatus, and I realized yet again that the Naruto series has the same charming energy as Hatsumi’s art and books. You could learn a thing or two about illusion and strategy from both works.

Clearly the writer(s) for the Naruto manga and show have read Hatsumi’s stuff. His books are the best ones on real ninjas widely available to the public. And his writing on genjutsu (illusion techniques) is just delish. A bunch of other things in Naruto were picked up from Japanese mythology and culture and so on, so if you’re interested in that stuff, you know what to do.

Hatsumi himself gives off such strong energy, he could pull some serious illusions on you. And I guess that’s sort of his game to begin with. Not only can he make and see through illusions, he’s pretty talented artistically — he’s a good writer. So he can pull people into his art through that alone.

Now, there are tons of high-level martial artists out there, many of whom are pretty comparable. Every martial art has the same belief that their lineage is the toughest, that some guy in their lineage is the best fighter the world’s ever seen. It’s a pretty narrow-minded belief, and as a show, Naruto demonstrates that stuff in a cool way; the various ninjas are exceptionally skilled at different areas of expertise. ‘Coz the various martial arts are like that, too. And in real life, and in the show, the person who survives is usually the genius of strategy and deception and perceiving when to act. And that’s what ninjutsu seems to be about as well, at the end of the day.

Naruto is such a bangin’ show when it does its stuff well. I know anime elitists don’t like it, because they need to keep everyone else off their scent (we can’t know what their underground tastes are!). And Naruto is a serialized show, so due to it’s high ratings and popularity as a money-maker, it probably won’t ever end. But if you can watch 4 or 5 episodes per sitting, you’ll be pretty set.