A Talk On Takamatsu Sensei (Part 1) by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi

translated by Benjamin Cole

"I first met Takamatsu-sensei when I was 27 years old. He had such an air of wisdom about him. Not anything frightening, but a wisdom. Takamatsu-sensei spent ten years wandering around China using techniques in real battle. So when he taught, he was speaking from experience. How the body convulsed this way, or died that way."

And so began Masaaki Hatsumi-sensei's February 13 speech on his mentor Takamatsu-sensei. The talk, which was videotaped for later release (an English overdubbed version will also be available some time in the future), was one manís account of an unfortunately relatively unknown master. The evening was to begin with Hatsumi-senseiís talk, continue with film footage, and conclude with about 30 minutes for Questions and Answers. As all photography and recording were prohibited, this account will be from memory and includes my interpretation of Hatsumi-senseiís Japanese (a feat in and of itself for those who know Japanese and have heard him speak). If, when the professional English translation is released, some of what I thought was said turns out to be not so or out of order, please go easy on me. I am but human and donít have a taped account to rewind and check. I have done my best to make a coherent translation, but all is at the mercy of memory. Comments in quotation marks are Hatsumi-senseiís, those in parentheses are my personal thoughts and comments, and narration is anything else. And without further ado...

Hatsumi-sensei began talking of Takamatsu-senseiís love of painting and stated that he believed that painting was a means to longevity. "Thatís why I myself took up painting." When one first entered the room of the presentation, one couldnít help but notice the photographs and paintings on display. Hatsumi-sensei had brought with him a collage of old black and white photos of his mentor, including a couple featuring himself doing kuji (hand positions) with Takamatsu-sensei. Several of them have been featured in some of Hatsumi-senseiís books. Also on the table were two framed paintings about 2 ft. x 3 ft. One was a portrait Hatsumi-sensei had completed of his mentor about a year before he died.

Hatsumi-sensei took about ten minutes to show us the works he had brought with him, including comments when necessary. To Hatsumi-senseiís left hung several hanging Japanese paintings, one on top of the other. When he had finished talking about one, he would have it removed, revealing another. (Peeling away an onion, so to speak.) The one that struck me as the most beautiful was of a lone crane, standing nobly with a touch of red accenting its feathers. (I was surprised when he told us that he had painted it in only 200 minutes!) All of the paintings focused on nature. His comment later that "Taijutsu is... nature" shifted more than a few eyes toward the beautiful works that Hatsumi-sensei had been so kind to share with us.

At one point, he called up an elderly gentleman to inspect one of the works closely. It was of a person clad in kimono, I believe. The old man suddenly expressed surprise at what he saw. Hatsumi-sensei explained that he had incorporated hundreds of couples in various sexual positions into the design of the kimono! (Howís that for a pleasant surprise, folks!)

"Although I didnít bring them today, I have all the letters Takamatsu-sensei gave me in a trunk at home. I still pull them out every once in a while and read them over. I discover new things he was trying to say even today!" (Hatsumi-sensei has made similar comments about reading and re-reading Sanmyaku. He urges all of us to get copies of each of them, and to review them as our training progresses.)

(At one point during the evening, the microphone decided to start belching and whining. It completely threw off the rhythm of his speech. Three harried organizers ran around apologizing, leaving, and running back and forth in front of him, but Hatsumi-sensei never showed any impatience.) "Iíve gotten used to such things, dealing with the media and appearing on television. These things always happen." He called for questions, but the audience was silent and more annoyed by the screaming microphone than he. Rather than waste time waiting, however, Hatsumi-sensei decided that because the microphone was off anyway, he would mention some personal experiences not related to Takamatsu-sensei.

He talked of Dublin... of good Guinness. "The stuff we had in those tall glasses over there was so good. So unlike the Guinness we find in Japan. Here the drink is always too warm, the establishment too hot, and the taste terrible. But in Dublin, with the dank, cold weather and the perfect serving temperature, it is delicious. If you say that you have come from certain areas of Ireland, in fact, people will comment that their local Guinness is terrible, and that the area you come from offers the most delicious in the land. Gosh, we got so drunk... There are actually people in the U.K. who use Guinness for medicinal purposes." (Obviously, more than a few of us were not expecting to hear of the health benefits of beer from a Ninjutsu grandmaster, but as everyone knows, Hatsumi-sensei is just full of surprises.)

(He also talked about a Dublin incident which many of you may have already heard about.) "I was going to be showing some sword techniques. I picked up a nearby metal sword, drew out part of the blade, and checked it with my finger. It was not sharp, so I decided to use it for the demonstration. My gravest error was not checking the entire length of the blade. I had the sword laid across the back of Noguchi-senseiís neck and then -- rip! -- I had cut a two inch gash into his neck," Hatsumi-sensei laughed lightly. (Noguchi-sensei, who laughed as well, still bears the scar today. As Hatsumi-sensei reminded us a few weeks ago during practice: "Remember there is a difference between swords for practice and swords for battle. Always check the blade for dullness.")

As soon as the men had finished fixing the microphone, they pinned a new one on him. He said the words, "Test. Test. Is it working?" then without waiting for an answer, he turned back to the audience, and continued his stories about Takamatsu-sensei -- exactly where he had left off over ten minutes prior! It was extremely entertaining to see someone so unconcerned about insignificant things. And he obviously wasnít concerned whether the camera was on or not. He never even pondered, "Now, where was I?" as most of us would.

"One day, I went over to Takamatsu-senseiís and he told me to sit down, and that he had something for me. I was wondering what it could be and was kinda nervous about getting something from him. I felt something was strange, so I rolled to the side, then fell down flat on the floor. I rolled away from there and looked around. Takamatsu-sensei was holding a sword and had just tried to strike me down. He smiled and said, ĎGood.í He passed on his scrolls to me then. A year later, he passed on."

Here are a few things Hatsumi-sensei touched on during his talk, which remain superficially in my memory:

1. Healing without medicine, like in times of war. (see Q&A later)
2. A man who got cut open in China, pulled up all his intestines, got sewn up, and lived a long and fruitful life.
3. The fact that he himself never drank when he was young.
Despite that, Takamatsu-senseiís wife would always pour him a drink every time he visited their home, even though he would never touch what was offered to him.
4. Protecting the feet from cold (see Comments at end)
5. Virility and Potency (see Comments at end)

FOOTAGE: Unfortunately, this part of the evening will not be available on the retail video. Sorry. The cameras were turned off for this part and people got up from their seats to stand along the walls in hopes of getting a better view.

"It was originally taken on 8-mm film. I had it transferred to video tape." Because the video lacked sound, Hatsumi-sensei provided personal narration. He talked of how Takamatsu-sensei was explaining how the techniques were done as he was doing them. (Obviously, it was not intended as a training video for the general public. We were being invited to watch an intimate exchange between a master and three of his students.) The video was maybe fifteen minutes long, black and white. Seeing as one of the students was always filming (initially it was Hatsumi-sensei) Sokeís first appearance came after five or so minutes. (One thing that I found interesting was that they all wore white gi. I sat there wondering just when the penchant for black and patches came in, but that mundane question remained unasked.)

Hatsumi-sensei brought attention to Takamatsu-senseiís fingers again once when the camera zoomed in on him holding a bo. Earlier, after the microphone had been fixed, Hatsumi-sensei mentioned his mentorís fingers. "His fingers were really thick, probably 3 mm or so. But his hands were so strong and extremely flexible." (This statement sounded very strange, so I looked into this point further. I found that Hatsumi-sensei had mistakenly used the word "finger," when he had meant to say "fingernail." Evidently, Takamatsu-sensei frequently trained by pulling the bark off trees, and his fingernails showed it.) The figure on the screen spun and whipped the bo so quickly and fluidly it was amazing. Practice was being held outside on the grass. There were three students, including Hatsumi-sensei, who... how should one say this... was not yet 30 years old and has obviously improved. (Seeing a young Hatsumi-sensei working through things as we all do when we train lifted my spirits and strengthened my will. I realized something inanely obvious, yet usually ignored: that the only way to improve is to practice, and if Hatsumi-sensei can move from the level he was on the video to his present grace, even I can improve. Sometimes it takes such things to motivate.)

Many weapons were covered: bo, naginata, sword, jutte, and rope with a weighted end (a practice kusarifundo). When the footage of Takamatsu-sensei spinning the rope came on, Hatsumi-sensei laughed and commented. "This one was the most dangerous. That rope was rotting away, so as Takamatsu-sensei spun it, pieces of it were dropping off. I thought it would break, but Sensei handled it remarkably. Itís very important to know your weapons when you use them."

About halfway into the video the Taijutsu footage began. I found this to be the most interesting aspect of the film. Some of the techniques were Kihon Happo, but they looked different from the way most people do them now. For example, ganseki nage began with the hand on the outside rather than on the inside.

Afterward, several of us gathered outside in the hall. Several people commented on the differences, but were equally impressed with Takamatsu-senseiís speed and power, despite his age. "I wish I had hours just to pore over those few techniques on that video, but that footage wonít be available commercially, will it?" an eager, yet defeated, acquaintance asked rhetorically. I truly hope all of you have an opportunity to view the footage some day.

Takamatsu-senseiís movements were markedly different than any I have seen till now. You could see the fighter in Takamatsu-sensei, despite the seemingly 5 foot, 100 pound, slight build. He must have been 70 or 80 years old, balding and thin. I sit here trying to find a good comparison in terms of height, weight, and stature, but the only man that really comes to mind is Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. Imagine Ueshiba sans the beard and you get an idea of Takamatsu-senseiís build. If one were to see him without a weapon or without a gi, he would look like one of those frail little men who sweeps up at the train station every night; but he was in no way frail. His appearance in no way revealed the greatness of his martial arts. His techniques were smooth, but the physicalness of him surprised me. Bodies were flying and weapons whizzing. Reverting to my American colloquialisms, Takamatsu-sensei was the type of guy you would not want to mess with, even if he was 80.

Hatsumi-sensei commented, "As you can see, back then teaching and training were man-to-man. My teaching is no longer man-to-man because of the sheer numbers, not just in Japan, but throughout the world (nearly 10,000 practitioners). I shouldnít be saddened by this, though. But to go back to the idea of man-to-man teaching, we must come together as one, not split apart into factions. This is why I do not wish to create an "organization," but rather an overlying tenet." (I just wish we could do so. Hint. Hint.)