The original interview occurred in June 1998 between Masaaki Hatsumi sensei, 34th soke of the Togakure-ryu (Bujinkan) and Mr. Bernard Bordas, 10th Dan Shihan, the author of the original text in French. (For those of you who want to see the original text, go to Mr.Bordas' site.)

Translation By Michel Grandmont, January 12, 2000.

Iron Magazine Online

Today, martial arts are becoming more and more static and stiff, and their forms (kata), stricter. However, during a fight between two combatants, the winner will be the one whose movements will be the most fluid and natural.

Hatsumi sensei, founder of the Bujinkan, explains to us why in a very relevant interview concerning this subject. Information reported by Mr.Bernard Bordas in June 1998, Japan.

Bernard Bordas: In everyday life, being static or tensed is very often a sign of lack of self-confidence or self-esteem, fear or feeling uncomfortable with oneself , how come styles of combat have become so stiff and static nowadays? Has it always been this way?

Hatsumi sensei: Obviously not. In the beginning, the martial art was created to be used and, in that optic, it was part of the BUSHI's (warrior, samurai) way of life. It could never have been stiff in those days.

Bordas: In Japan, the words SEIGATSU (life, existence) and SHIZEN (nature) are very often closely associated, is there a link between this notion and what you teach?

Hatsumi: It's a fact! What is not natural is not in harmony with life. Life changes constantly, everything is naturally evaluative, nothing is static. In this perceptive, everything that tends to remain static is not natural and thereby, because it goes against nature, is doomed to disappear for it is fruitless.

Bordas: Is it the same in martial arts?

Hatsumi: Yes, of course, the stiff styles of the new martial arts which were created after the EDO era (in a peace period) were not meant to be used (the bushi-samurai class having been abolished), therefore they have nothing in common with the true and traditional martial art KAKUTO NIHON KOBUJUTSU

Bordas: Even as a style of defense?

Hatsumi: Let's get serious now, no combat professional would want to use any of those stiffened (and stiffening) styles during his protection missions or any other mission where lives are at stake. Being static in that kind of operation means risking his partner's lives or even getting killed. In that kind of scenario, as in many others, our survival depends on our mobility and in our ability to adapt. Nothing happens 100% like what we trained for. Surviving in a real fight requires a lot of creativity; conventional stiff forms (kata) just can't be pieced together efficiently. When I was teaching the special operations' (FBI, CIA, SAS) instructors, they were very impressed by my way of moving during a fight as it was so natural and close to what they practice during their operations.

Bordas: A lot of teachers give their classes as if it was just any other subject, without taking into consideration that what they teach on the tatami could very well become dangerous for their students outside of the safety of the dojo: a lot of falling techniques don't fare so well on the sidewalk, some ground immobilisation techniques don't work so well against more than one opponent, etc. If we take them out of the educative and sports training of the dojo, many techniques taught have no real life application in a fight.

Hatsumi: Of course! As a matter of fact, the special operatives that I've coasted along don't train on tatamis or in dojos, but have replicas of streets, buildings and fully equipped apartments at their disposal. For these real professionals, the art of combat is not a sport or a business, but everyday life. They have nothing to win or to sell, they live by the real meaning of martial arts: that of protecting and saving lives.

Bordas: I have known university students that were feeling so well protected from real life on their university campus (restaurants, gyms, study rooms, living quarters, etc.) that they were no longer aspiring to work in the field of their studies, but to become teachers. They didn't want to leave their cocoon and step in real life, but rather remain in their safe little haven. We can observe the same phenomenon in martial arts : some students feel protected in the exotic and anachronistic structure of the dojo, which is a world on it's own, and would like to never leave it. Soon enough, these persons only want to become SENSEI themselves; to be the one people respect for the lost knowledge he imparts in us. It's the death of the martial art since it then becomes nothing more than a product to be consumed, and it's initial role of protection is now limited to assuring a salary to the teacher (kata seller).

Hatsumi: I understand what you mean by that. In the west, there is a huge difference between, life and the dojo. This is something that doesn't exist in Japan since the Budo and the dojo are an integrated part of our culture and, thus, are not exotic to us. Traditionally, the dojo is the place where we practice the way to find enlightenment , so that must be everywhere. In the same vein, training must also happen in nature and practice must not be limited by the opening hours of the dojo. Do we stop to live when we are outside the dojo?

I have had the privilege to meet TAKAMATSU sensei and to become his student. TAKAMATSU sensei didn't work has a martial art teacher (he owned a little tea house in KASHIHARA-SHI in the suburbs of NARA), however, he had been the bodyguard of POU HI (the last Chinese emperor) for the 10 years he spent in China. He had to face armed and determined opponents more than once, and so he had to put to use the teachings of his ninja masters. Even as an 80 years-old, TAKAMATSU was incredibly efficient, no matter his short height and light weight. He didn't use strength or speed, attributes that are both lost with age, but he was still terrifying. I was nothing more than an insect in his hands, no matter the modern martial arts master that I was when I met him.

A martial art that puts emphasis on muscular strength and speed can't be anything else than a hobby, an activity to unwind for young athletes. They will have to stop martial arts after some time, because they will lose efficiency as they get older (maybe then, they'll teach?). You'll be able to practice what I teach up to your dying days. TAKAMATSU sensei trained regularly and without any problem, even at the ripe old age of 80 years old.

Bordas: A lot of students have to forgo their training due to arthritis or osteoarthritis which appeared following an unnatural training of their articulations and bodies in general. And what about dislocated shoulders and knees that happen during sportive fights ? (A show that has a high cost to the athlete in that case). My meeting you really was a great change for me as my knees and elbows were starting to give me trouble and pain after more than 20 years of striking in the air.

Hatsumi: Everything flows naturally in life, nothing is jerky. In many styles of combat, you can almost imagine yourself looking at those old mute movies from the early years in which the images kind of jumped from one movement to the other, when you see the students practice their kata. Is that a natural way to move? No way you could walk like that down the street without going unnoticed (which is certainly not the goal in BUDO).

Bordas: The energy (ki) flows more freely in a body that is loose and relaxed, doesn't stiffening the body go against the flow of these internal energies?

Hatsumi: Absolutely, what is not natural makes us sick in the long run (In Japanese, the word sickness is said BYOKI and is composed of the signs meaning, disorder, disharmony for BYO , and vital energy, spirit for KI . In ancient China, those same words were read as shame in the house it also meant sickness ).

Bordas: What can be said for the future of the budo in the world?

Hatsumi: Actually, in Japan as well as in other countries, the styles, which are too stiff or too strict, have a tendency to disappear. People would rather practice combat sports in which they can express themselves more freely (wrestling, free fight, etc.). The Japanese people don't have any more time to waste on things which have no use in their everyday life, their job or their family. Less than 1% of the Japanese people practice martial arts. Young people prefer football or baseball to help them develop teamwork, and the others choose golf for concentration and standing. In a few years in Japan, nobody but the foreigners will have any interest in BUDO. This is very serious as the occidentals like forms (easier to codify than feeling); martial arts teachers have a growing tendency to create more and more formal and exotic katas to satisfy their foreign clients/students.

All of this is becoming more and more of a show and a business where the real martial art is completely forgotten (if not willingly ignored because of it's lack of profitability). The vast majority of non-japanese have discovered what they think is martial arts trough movies (More often than not, of American making), and so they expect to find what they have seen in the movies in the dojo. And very often the teacher adapts, very professionally, to keep his clients...

Bordas: Foreigners come to Japan to learn the true art and they are given codified katas specifically designed for them, this amounts to saying they have always been deceived.

Hatsumi: Foreigners have a caricatural view of Japan and BUDO. Many have discovered the samurai and the Bushido trough the American novel shogun . What most don't know is that the book Bushido was written by Inazo NITOBE (a university student) in 1899, meaning 32 years after the disappearance of the last samurai, moreover, the writings in that book were based on an epic novel made of 11 volumes (Hagakure Kikigaki) written in memory of warriors some 150 years earlier, by the monk Yamamoto Tsunetomo. That book extols, through its stories, the idea that the way of the warrior is death . Before being a monk, Yamamoto Tsunetomo served the Nabeshima clan in the writings/account department, and so never had any real experience of combat, and was neither a martial arts master. As you can see, neither the book BUSHIDO, the way of the samurai , neither it's inspiration HAGAKURE KIKIGAKI, notes collected in the leaves' shadow , were written by warriors, but by dreaming and nostalgic intellectuals during a period of peace and so, have nothing in common with the essence of BUDO. It's those romantic Epinal images from another time and another world which bring those practitioners in our country. So, you now understand why most senseis, (ultra nationalists and ultra conservatives), sell them what they came to get: postal card's images with an allure of exoticism, oriental folklore in other words.

Bordas: Is the true art so complicated for us occidentals?

Hatsumi: On the contrary. As you have already understood, the true art is so natural that it is impossible to make a business out of it, it is in every one of us (survival instinct?). As for me, I'm not teaching techniques to my students, but rather making their moves simpler, their attitude more fluid or, if you will, I'm correcting what is unnatural in their behavior. I'm protecting them from stiffness in a way.

Bordas: So you are correcting their weak spots in a way?

Hatsumi: Yes, I'm putting back in place what needs to be, I have been a chiropractor for over 30 years and I have done nothing but putting back in it's place was wasn't anymore.

Bordas: However, you are still transmitting the ancestral knowledge of 9 different traditional schools of Bujutsu and Ninjutsu in the Bujinkan...

Hatsumi: Of course, and it's true the practice of those arts that I can make my students more efficient in everyday life. The tradition in martial arts has always been to make progress, to adapt to the period in which it was practiced so it becomes more efficient and more practical . When firearms (pistols and rifles that were brought in by the Portuguese and the Dutch around 1540) were introduced on the battlefields of Japan, the armors (yoroi kabuto) were conceived to be more solid so as to resist those new weapons (of which the use was considered a dishonor and a cowardly act without compare by the conservative warriors). Following the upgrade of the armors, some schools had the bright idea to modify their fighting techniques as well as their weapons to make them more efficient. That's why the SHINDEN FUDO School's sword is longer and thicker than a normal katana. In a similar way, the schools' techniques were adapted to the region where they were developed (geography and nature of the ground). It is a fact that you don't fight in the same way in a muddy rice field, on steep slope of a rocky mountain, on a sandy beach, in a bamboo forester inside a house. The KUKISHIN DEN school has kamae (fighting stance) that are very low and stable, this comes from the fact that one of the origins of this ryu's techniques comes from the navy (kuki suigun) and when you are fighting on a boat, stability is of the essence.

Bordas: Few people know that there exists a multitude of different sword models depending on the time period and the clans. Even the ninjas had their own type of sword, the ninjato.

Hatsumi: Yes, the sword from the TOGAKURE ninjutsu school is shorter than the standard sword by about a third of the length, this permitted the ninja to draw from either the right or the left hand while wearing the sword in the traditional way. Moreover, the information agents (ninja) had to be able to sneak anywhere (to spy) and had to be able to draw the sword and fight anywhere if they were unable to flee once discovered. To be able to fight in an attic for example, it's better to use a shorter blade.

Bordas: So the traditional styles are not static like we were taught in the west?

Hatsumi: Absolutely not. The tradition is to win, to survive, and for that you have to keep adapting. Only the FEELING peculiar to each school remains intact, as it is the essence of the RYU. And so it is those essences from the 9 schools which form the BUJINKAN that I am showing you today which make our wealth and efficiency.

Bordas: But today, nobody uses a sword or a lance on the battlefield (in an armed conflict).

Hatsumi: Of course not, but whatever the weapon you are using to defend yourself, it is the spirit of the warrior that is important to survive and win. If you make a bad estimation of distances, have a bad control over your breath (your emotions) or over your balance, on a battlefield or elsewhere, with a weapon, a vehicle or a tool, it's all the same. Your circumstances change, but your weaknesses stay the same, and we always fall on the side we lean...

Bordas: So, you are mainly teaching a mental attitude (GOKORO GAMAE), like FUDOSHIN (keeping your cool) or BUFU IKKAN (staying alert) for example.

Hatsumi: I'm correcting what is wrong in my students' mind so they choose the right way.

Bordas: Given the occidental conception of BUDO, many practitioners are on the wrong track. We are looking for an answer to our problems in the East instead of looking into ourselves. That's where our need for exoticism comes...

Hatsumi: But everywhere in the world, the trees are growing towards the sky and the rain falls towards the ground. The universal laws rule over nature just the same in the Orient as it does in the Occident and those who are in harmony with these laws are in harmony with life (what is).

Bordas: Can we than say that BUDO is life?

Hatsumi: BUDO as a way to find a natural protection, absolutely, but not in the way of using BUDO for business and to live off of it.

Bordas: It would then be much better to say that BUDO is not different from life then?

Hatsumi: Yes, it is better this way. We can also say that it is natural to be alert.

Bordas: You mean the principle of the BUFU IKKAN , right?

Hatsumi: That's right.

Bordas: Sensei, do you have any piece of advice to give to the BUDOKA?

Hatsumi: Trying to reproduce a form is being its prisoner, the form kills the KI, the creativity as well as the spontaneity. Practicing a martial art is becoming more and more flexible (JU) and so, becoming better able to adapt to any situation. In these days and age, people are being prisoners of forms, comfort and fashion in an increasing way. One must not put too much emphasis on these things (keeping your distance, breaking free). In the opposite case, both the body and the mind become stiff and rigid, which is very dangerous as it is not natural. Stiff people become obtuse, strong headed and end their life in loneliness.

Bordas: They become too YANG i.e. rejects all opinions that differ from their own, and thus they lose all their relationships, right?

Hatsumi: Yes, that's right. Becoming flexible is working in the same way as nature, animals are flexible, they don't overburden their lives, they accept it as it is. That's very interesting, it reflects the idea of SHIKIN HARAMITSU DAIKOMYO .

Bordas: Can you tell us more on this subject?

Hatsumi: SHIKIN means existence, life (what IS)...

HARAMITSU is calling us to the global idea of protection (knowing how to protect oneself), for that, finding a sincere way (MAKOTO NO MICHI) is very important. However, thinking that your chosen way is a just one, it must be a naturally just one, that is the MAKOTO NO MICHI. As important is to know how to give. Nature gives without thought and expecting nothing in return. We must live naturally. TAKAMATSU sensei tried to the best of his abilities to live in a simple and natural way (food, hygiene, and exercise). Nowadays, a lot of people practice the budo while following the wrong path (they force themselves to be stiff and rigid, which gives them a feeling of power ). You must respect nature, live in harmony with it and stay in touch with it, this is the right way: being in harmony with life. Accepting what is as being an integral part of life, this is the definition of living naturally .

DAIKOMYO means that we must always keep a bright light in the darkness (keeping the faith true the worse challenges). When I'm making videos, that's all I'm trying to pass on. That is what I'm teaching, but many people don't understand. If somebody tries to teach you otherwise under my name, then it is not really my teachings. Some people use the name BUJINKAN without knowing me or all of this; it's a great shame because they are deceiving their students. More than that, knowing nothing of the real (salutary) practice of the BUDO, those people are dangerous to all those who give them their thrust.

Bordas: Those people are very limited and thus, are rapidly surpassed by their students.

Hatsumi: If their students come here, or train with you, they will better than former teachers after only a month of training in the real feeling of the BUDO.

Bordas: A step in the right way is better than a thousand in the wrong one .

Hatsumi: Yes, that's right, it's a good thing for Europe that you've been coming here in Japan for a month each year for the last 10 years, to permeate yourself of the evaluative feeling of the BUJINKAN. Those who don't come don't know anything...

Bordas: In every time period, there have been forgers in all domains. A lot of people still think that the BUJINKAN BUDO NINJUTSU is a martial art just like any other and that anyone can use the name. In the majority of the other styles, the founders are long dead and just about anybody uses their name and that of their school without anyone being able to verify if the techniques and teachings are right or not. Being the founder of the BUJINKAN, you are able to keep an eye on those who use the name of your school.

Hatsumi: Whatever we are teaching, if we are sincere and efficient as a teacher, the students will come to us. There is no need to use a famous name. I am not surprised at all that more than ten dojos have decided to follow and thrust you, because you are authentic and generous. I am certain that if you were to create your own style, you would have just as many students because your style is natural and without any form whatsoever, just like mine. I've already told you so in the past.

Bordas: If you don't mind, I'm trying to make sense of all the students who are being abused by those teachers who pretend to have studied with you. A lot of them are wondering what is happening to them. I often hear them say: I subscribed to this dojo because I found nothing closer to my home. I think it's quite incredible when I look at the fact that I myself am training at some 20,000km from my home by coming here. I think we get the teacher that we deserve, a teacher we measure up to by our efforts and sacrifices.

Hatsumi: I was traveling 800km on weekends to be able to train with my teacher, TAKAMATSU sensei, and I did that for 15 years. The students you are telling me about are not really motivated. Those people are not really looking to practice a martial art, but rather some sort of physical activity. There's something I want to say to those people: if you want to practice a sport to unwind, play some football or squash. If you are looking to work up a sweat, do some jogging or go to the sauna. If you'd rather work your muscles, go to the gym and do some weights, but please don't practice BUDO in the hope to obtain these results, because BUDO is not a sport and it has nobler goals. So, if you want to see some progress, train with those who come to train under me in Japan. Otherwise, don't be surprised if, during an altercation, you end up with a broken limb, wounded or even worse yet.

Bordas: Before getting acquainted with you, I was practicing those new martial arts (post EDO period) and I have known many friends from the dojo who have become victims of those reflexes gained during training:

-One of them had a broken forearm by a driver whom, after a short car chase which ended in a bootleg turn , got out of his car wielding a hammer with which he attacked my poor friend. This friend of mine parried the attack with a perfect JODAN AGE UKE (upper block)...but unfortunately, this block was designed to stop an empty-handed attack.

-Another one of my colleagues broke his coccyx while trying to give a MAEGERI KEAGE JODAN (A snap kick to the face) to a street fighter on the terrace of a coffee shop. The street fighter, not stupid enough to take that kick, simply dodged the attack by removing his upper body from the way, which brought our Bruce Lee enthusiast crashing on the sidewalk.

And I'm only talking about the less dramatic cases here! The hospitals' emergency frequently receive cases of kids who break their wrists or forearms while trying to do a breakfall technique learned at the dojo to catch their fall in the schoolyard or on the sidewalk while falling from their bike was recently telling me a friend who works as a radiologist.

Hatsumi: If those kids hadn't been conditioned with those reflexes learned in some sport martial art, their natural fluidity wouldn't have been stopped, thus letting them roll naturally on the ground while saving their physical integrity. In Japan, KENDO and modern JUJUTSU are mandatory training for the police, which doesn't help them much when they are caught in the subway's staircase, in the parking lot or on the train. Police officers regularly get hurt or killed while trying to subdue a person who's drunk and armed with only a knife in a public place. Few people know this, but even the Japanese know nothing of the BUDO that dates back before the MEIJI period...

Bordas: You have created an international rule which authenticates the members of your organisation and sanctions them with membership cards as well as original diplomas. So to be certain that this teacher or that student are not frauds and really are learning your teachings, it becomes real easy to verify by seeing if he possesses his annual membership card and his rank diplomas, or the SHIDOSHI MENKYO certificate which authorizes him to teach in your name. All of this to make certain that said teacher really his learning under one of your chosen representatives (SHIHAN) as it should be.

Hatsumi: Yes, I designed this rule so as to protect the authenticity of the teachings of the BUJINKAN and so doing, to preserve it's reputation. I have kicked out many high ranked teachers who didn't want to follow that rule. Lately, a Spanish teacher that you know well has tried to come back with us, but I refused. Don't hesitate to do the same in your country, as one must be right (straight) to earn his place in the Bujinkan. It's a good thing that these conspiring teachers' students come to Japan looking for the real thing, and then surpass their ancient teachers by far. That's how you came to me, and I'm very happy about that as it is a fortunate event for Europe.

Bordas: I think that we must always be looking for truth, even if some media are impeding this way of doing. Knowing the truth is a great strength, and following that truth is following the MAKOTO NO MICHI. Before being acquainted with you, I just couldn't be satisfied to reproduce those exotic and sterilized katas, when it hit me: during the American occupation of Japan ( Officially from 1945 to 1952), the practice of martial arts and other forms of combat was forbidden. But then, thanks to Donn DRAEGER who requested to MAC ARTHUR that the practice of empty-handed combat (of Chinese origin) developed on OKINAWA, and later transformed for the military in a disciplinary and rigid system which brought about the apparition of suicidal commandos, be allowed. Being adapted for military education, this combat method was very successful towards the occupational forces. However, that Sino-japanese style put more emphasis on execution rather than on the adaptability, creation and spontaneity of the practitioner, contrary to the traditional KAKUTO BUGEI which had been conceived for the samurai and thus, to be used on the battlefields.

Hatsumi: Yes, it was a strange period...The stiffer a government gets, the stiffer the organisations underneath it become. Then, the submissive people only blindly obey.

Bordas: The divine part, which is in all of us, makes creators out of us. When that creativity is put down, all that remains of us are obeying and foreseeable political laboratories guinea pigs. Which only serves to reassure the institutions in place, but which also impedes humanity's progress. The creators are often those who doubt the infallibility of a system and are looking for a way to better it.

Hatsumi: That one person who was able to master fire changed humanity's history, and going from there, steam was tamed, and then electricity, and so on. Evolution is change. Those who don't want to evolve don't have the right to complain about a system because they're not doing anything to change it.

Bordas: Sensei, can you tell us about de spirit of SANSHIN , the 3 great fundamental principles on which is based the BUDO. Could it be distance, control and direction?

Hatsumi: That's what it is in the beginning, but once the basics are covered, one must reach for the next level, SANSHIN then means KYOJUTSU (strategically cunning), instability (looking for the weak spot in the adversary) and invisibility (not using one's strength, but the strength of the opponent and of the environment).

Bordas: By that, what you mean is that in all the techniques that we are using in the BUJINKAN, we must use the weight of our body, feint and the opponent's strength to imbalance him, subdue him or to get out of his grab.

Hatsumi: Yes, and that can be resumed by saying that we are then becoming invisible to the opponent's eyes. Since you possess an armor from the EDO period, you can use it to explain to the Europeans why this technique is used, or this other one while using the SANSHIN spirit against an opponent wearing an armor and being fully equipped on a battlefield.

A lot of people has forgotten, or simply don't know that the techniques used in martial arts were created in the very specific goal of being used against armed adversaries who also knew how to fight. We would never use a MAWASHI GERI (roundhouse kick) against a SAMURAI who is armed to the teeth and wearing an armor. Those who think that are really crazy and dangerous for themselves.

Sure the armor has it's weak spots, and that's why the KOSSHI JUTSU (nerve hitting) and KOPPO JUTSU (using a shock wave to hit the heart of the bone) techniques that we are using in training can be used to strike when we find ourselves unarmed in a fight. But one would never go on a battlefield weaponless and without any type of protection, bare feet and bare handed, that would be either suicidal or sheer stupidity, nothing more.

Since I've been writing articles for the martial arts magazine HIDDEN BUDO and BUJUTSU (secret teachings in combat martial arts), a lot of teachers have been writing to me from all over Japan to thank me for revealing the profound sense of BUDO which has been hidden for so long. The traditional martial arts not being taught anymore in Japan since 1867, it is a great revelation for many.

Bordas: Thank you very much for all the answers you have provided to my many questions. I will try to transmit as best as I can by translating to the best of my abilities. It is a great chance for me to have been your student for so many years, and I hope that many will understand the deep meaning of your teachings and will thus find the courage to evolve. To those who will be reading these lines and will thus have spent some time in your company, I want to quote a wonderful sentence from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: We deserve all our encounters, they are granted to our destiny and have a significance that is for us to discover. .

Hatsumi: Please, be a guide for the good willed people, for those who are honest searchers, but more than anything, don't lose your time trying to convince those who would rather stay sheltered in their illusions...

Bordas: I will do my best and, if only one person in all of Europe begins to understand the deep meaning of KAKUTO NIHON KOBUJUTSU NINJUTSU, then this ancestral art will rise from the past to teach us about our greatest lackings in the martial arts: sincerity towards ourselves and the answers to many questions...

NOTE: Bernard Bordas assumes the entire responsibility of his sayings. Always at the disposition of the real searchers of the Martial Way, he will consider any demand of conference, debate, seminar, radio or television show or demonstration.

2nd NOTE (from the translator): I am by no means a professional translator, only a sincere martial arts adept who wanted to share with you an interview which I find most interesting. I have received permission from Mr. Bordas himself to translate this text from French to English and am in touch with him on a frequent basis. I will be more than happy to respond to e-mail concerning this article, or any other, as my time permits. I am also open to suggestions concerning subjects you would like to see discussed. Thank you. -- Michel Grandmont