Ninjutsu Grandmaster Hatsumi visits N.Z.!

"Be like the wind with this one," says Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi while demonstrating a technique. An elusive man that merely steps out of the way of a lightning fast punch or kick, then proceeds to destroy any further attack, Hatsumi moves appropriate to the attack, many moves going unnoticed except for the person on the receiving end.

"Don't use big movements like in the movies," he says, showing in slow motion all the little moves he had just performed on his assailant for the sake of those who stood in awe the first time, wondering what he had just done to drop someone with ease. He speaks about "feeling" Taijutsu and of the life skills this ancient art of Ninjutsu will give to those who persevere with training in the Bujinkan system."

Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi is better known as the 34th Grandmaster of Togakure Ryu Ninpo, a title handed down through an unbroken chain of Soke before him. He also holds the same title handed down by a succession of masters to other schools of Budo. He is: 28th Soke of Kukishinden Ryu Bikenjutsu, 14th Soke of Kumogakure Ryu Ninpo, 28th Soke of Gyokko Ryu Koshijutsu, 18th Soke of Koto Ryu Koppojutsu, 28th Soke of Shinden Fudo Ryu Jutaijutsu & Dakentaijutsu, 17th Soke of Takagi Yoshin Ryu Jutaijutsu, 15th Soke of Gikan Ryu Koppojutsu, 21st Soke of Gyokushin Ryu Ninpo. This is just some of the inheritance of a long study of the martial way; other interests include painting and writing, as well as working as choreographer and technical advisor for some film producers on top of his initial career as a bone doctor.

During a short interview with Dr. Hatsumi in the lunch break at his Tai Kai recently held in Auckland, one could feel that the following barely scratches the surface of what this man has to offer.

Translation by Ben Jones.

KB: Hatsumi Sensei, welcome to New Zealand and thank you for the opportunity to conduct this interview. You came to this country primarily to attend the wedding of Anthony Netzler. This is a momentous occasion, you must hold Anthony in the highest esteem.

H: Yes, of course. He is a good student.

KB: What sort of feeling do you get from the attendance of New Zealand students here today?

H: I feel they are all trying to find the true martial arts and I realize they are all training well and with dedication.

KB: Can you explain about the type of training so far today, its origins and history?

H: There is no particular theme today. I am not trying to concentrate on one particular school today, it's just the feeling that I'm trying to get across.

KB: Although training in the Bujinkan system is practiced in the traditional form, do you see it as basically a study of old martial practice or as a defense system still applicable in our society today, or more than this?

H: I believe its the same no matter what period you live in. So whether you're trying to light a fire by rubbing two sticks together or by using flints, or whatever you use the principle is the same throughout time. So as far as life is concerned, the period you are in doesn't matter. It's always been the same throughout life. People tend to try and create themes which are not always correct; they make too many of these. Because man in an animal himself if you look at it from the point of view of anthropology.

You should go through the martial arts to see how human beings should live, so whether you're strong or weak - that's a load of rubbish. It's totally worthless; a form of gambling, on whether someone's strong or weak. If you don't understand this thing, you'll never become a true martial artist.

KB: You have also studied other martial arts as well, before studying under Takamatsu Sensei, the previous Grandmaster to the Ryu which you house under the Bujinkan banner. I believe you attained a Dan grade in Aikido. Could you give some more details of that and previous training before finding Takamatsu Sensei?

H: In Judo, on physical ability as opposed to an honorary grade, I attained 5th Dan, Kendo, a 10th Dan, and with the Katana, also a 10th Dan. I did all these things, then began to feel a few questions regarding these sportified martial arts and that's when I went into the path of Kobudo, the ancient martial arts.

It was only once when I had met Takamatsu Sensei and was accepted as a student, I knew this is it, this is the real thing. Takamatsu Sensei, as you probably know, had experience of real combat in various situations. He was a friend of the last emperor in China and was also the president of the Butokokai martial arts organization in China. There was also a Butokokai in Japan. There was fighting all around China at the time and it was far more dangerous than in Japan. So Takamatsu had been through real combat for over 10 years in China and survived it all, and that's who I had the pleasure of learning from.

KB: What was training like with Takamatsu Sensei? I believe he was an awesome sort of person and a very hard man.

H: He was actually very kind. He taught me at the level appropriate for my rank at the time. He was very good at teaching, very skilled.

KB: How did you make contact with Takamatsu Sensei? Did he openly take students much the same as you do now?

H: For the 15 years that I was learning from him, there were no other students learning from Takamatsu Sensei. If other ones came, Takamatsu Sensei would say, "Go and learn from Hatsumi." Takamatsu obviously did teach many people before then, but seems to have gotten bored with them. There must have been some sort of link between Takamatsu and me, some sort of connection. Even if there was someone being taught by Takamatsu, if Takamatsu didn't think the person had the heart of a martial artist, he would say, "O.K., you don't need to come back tomorrow," and dismiss them on the spot.

So the very fact that I was able to learn from him for 15 years is one thing I am very proud of.

KB: What things come to your mind when thinking of your training with Takamatsu?

H: I was always trying to pursue the truth. The essence of truth. I didn't look at learning from Takamatsu to become a teacher myself, I had another profession, the profession of being a bone doctor. The thing that really surprised me as I traveled around the world was the number of people who didn't study the martial arts but made use of the martial arts for their own living. So the reason I travel around the world now is to show people that this is what the martial arts are really about.

KB: How does learning under your guidance now compare with how you trained as a student of Takamatsu?

H: It is the same.

KB: You have conducted a Godan grading today, a test which you alone measure. Considering this test is a lot different to what other martial art systems use, what is the significance of this test to you?

H: It did exist in other martial arts before, but has disappeared back in the Edo period, over a hundred years ago. Because there was a long period when they didn't need these kinds of things in combat, they forgot about the Godan test and concentrated only on getting the forms and appearance right.

KB: A lot of martial art practitioners from other styles seem to rubbish this art for students achieving grades very quickly in a lot of cases. What do you think of this?

H: All they need to do is get into a real combat situation and they will understand who is the stronger. That's the real problem. I am not teaching people about winning and losing, I am teaching people how they can survive and live. This is a basic problem that people should understand. It's not just a question of who wins, who loses. If you think about that you will be defeated. If you learn how to survive and how to live, then in the long run you will win. This is important.

KB: It has been said before of your talent for performing uncanny, rather mystic feats. Is this a gift passed on to you from Takamatsu Sensei, or derived through religion, or by what means?

H: It's probably something to do with the 3000 years of martial arts that I have inherited. I try not to think too much about things like this. It's like the Godan test: you can't do it if you thing about it and try to do it.

KB: There has been a lot of promotion of this art as Ninjutsu and portrayed as Ninjas thanks to the media and those wishing to cash in on the Ninja boom in general, however I believe the Ninjutsu part of the Bujinkan could be quite small. Is this correct?

H: Yes, just look at it as one small part of it.

KB: Is most of it a study of old martial ways in general?

H: They're all divided and classified into different sections but they're all linked together, so it's just one big home. It's very difficult to split it up and apply individual names to what we study... it's the same way as... where there is air, human beings will live and survive. That's the sort of feeling behind it.

KB: Some time ago you produced a book called "Stick Fighting", showing the techniques of the Kukishinden Ryu. Will we see any more books like this in future about other Ryu that you are Grandmaster to?

H: I will show many things like this in Sanmyaku, the magazine I am producing now in 18 or so countries. I am also planning on making some more videos.

KB: Is there any more you would like to say in finishing?

H: I joined the Japan Writer's Club to see which is stronger, the pen or the sword. I am now the president of the International Division of the Writer's Club. I am probably going to write a lot more from now on. Sanmyaku is going to be a major part of this. I hope people will understand the real martial arts from this. I hope Sanmyaku doesn't get thrown away, but kept and people read and re-read it in future as this is one way I leave a legacy behind. Via a medium like this, plus all the videos of Tai Kai I have been to, probably over 100 by now. I want everybody to see these. People from all over the world attend these Tai Kai. A gathering of people who agree "Let's think about life through the martial arts, use the martial arts to look at life and see how one should live." Everything changes depending on the era when you are, and the environment you are in, and themes change all the time, so you have to be able to search out and find these changing things.

And with that, Dr. Hatsumi left to walk outside and conduct the afternoon training session of sword vs. sword, and sword vs. yari (spear), emphasizing taijutsu again.