Bujinkan Culture




Tanuki and Shima Dojo in Japan





On my last trip to Japan, Nagato Sensei and I talked about culture and how it affects life. Nagato Sensei said that most misunderstandings happen when there is a difference in culture. For example, when Japanese people wave for you to come over, it looks to Americans like they want you to go away. I spoke about the way the American and British people give the peace sign very differently. Americans tend to hold the two fingers in all different ways, but if you hold them the wrong way, and do that in England it means F$@! You. So it is the same with the war on terror. It is the ways our culture teaches us how to view things that create differences between two people. In America, this problem is common, because we have many different cultures living under one roof. It is not that one type of people is worse or better than another, but it is the cultural taboos that cause conflict. This is something that my friends and I who lived in Japan are facing now regarding the Bujinkan.





Tanuki and Shima Dojo with Kamioka Family in Japan

In Japan, where Bujinkan was born, we have been taught how to train, teach, act, etc, as Hatsumi Sensei has directed. There are many people who also travel to Japan, in search of Hatsumi Sensei’s teaching. However, in America Martial Arts are very commercial and anyone with a black belt can open up a school. However, in the Bujinkan you must be a Shidoshi with a license to teach in order to open up a school. There is one exception and that is a Shidoshi-Ho license, and in this case this Shidoshi-ho must be sponsored by a Shidoshi or above. So as you can see there is already a cultural difference between the way Martial Arts are run in America and in Japan. However, if you are a part of the Bujinkan, then you should obey the laws of the Bujinkan no matter where you live. There have been too many Bujinkan practitioners that have been left to teach on their own, without enough experience training with a Shidoshi or Higher. There is also this epidemic of people who have their own schools and never train with Soke, or those Shihan and Shidoshi who train with him. This is not good, because Hatsumi Sensei tells us to train with him, or anyone who goes to train with him. This is exactly what we should do. Unfortunately, there are also teachers who go to Japan, and never teach or change their training habits to keep current with Soke’s teachings and movement. Many instructors go to Japan and just show their face and when they go home, continue training and teaching as they did before they left. This is a trap that many people fall into.


Tanuki and Shima Dojo with Kamioka Family in Japan

 Budo is life and life is Budo. Therefore, Soke allows us to make our own decisions in our training. However, many people fall into a trap, because oftentimes people misunderstand or make mistakes when making a decision. Many people who do not train consistently under their instructor, whoever that may be, will fall into this trap as well. This happens because we all have a teacher, although Hatsumi Sensei is everyone’s teacher. Therefore, if you wish to train with someone, you should ask who they train with, and how often they train with that person. If they only see them once a year, that may not be good enough. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. For example, many people may not have a qualified instructor near them, so they have to go to the next state to train. However, if people do have a qualified instructor in the area, we need to ask why are these Shidoshi, or Shidoshi-ho not training with this person? Oftentimes, Culture is to blame. All of us are looking for something and maybe the guy who lives next to us is too rough, or not rough enough. Maybe he doesn’t have a dojo, or maybe it is too commercial. It all depends on how we were brought up. Therefore, no one should be criticized or blamed for their actions. However, when we are seeking the truth, and we choose to ignore it, or are just too blind to see it, then this is where traps are made and fallen into.  


Andrew Young at the Tanuki Dojo


Many people have an idea in their head about what training should be, and not what training really is. This is when people open up their own dojos, and do not follow any of the teachings or rituals of the art. Oftentimes, these people also try to break off and do things on their own, because they do not feel that anyone has what they are looking for. These same people can be taught one on one by Soke himself, and they still would not be able to understand. On my last trip to Japan, we met someone who just quit. This person used to go to every Soke class, but after a few years, he just quite. Most people look for the easy way out. However, in Budo nothing is easy.





Oliver Martin in N.Y.C.



  If you do not like the way someone trains, then do not train with that person. People should not be faulted for this. And other teachers should not criticize their students or peers for this either. However, if you ask an instructor a question, after receiving the answer, one should process the answer and make a decision for themselves. How can we ever find an answer to a question when we ask 10 different people with 10 different view points. This is why when we do pick an instructor who is qualified to teach, we should study with that person for the rest of our lives. After meeting Kamioka-san, I was introduced to Nagato Sensei. I continue to train with Nagato Sensei to this day (Obviously with Soke as well.) The funny thing is that I started to go to the other Shihan’s classes for the first time last year. I was able to get so much more out of them, because I studied with one instructor long enough to get good basics. This is why you should study with one instructor for a long time first, and then learn from others. If not, there will be a lot of confusion.  


Jay Zimmerman in Indiana



With all this said, there should be a common thread in you instructor’s movements with that of Hatsumi Sensei’s. If you look at the Japanese Shihan, they all move differently, but they all have that common thread. If you train with people who live or have lived in Japan, you will see this common thread. However, the further you get away from the source; this common thread gets weaker and weaker. I often find this thread to be non existent with people who do not train with their teachers often. This is the same for people who have trained for 10-15-20 years even. So if you are looking to truly train in Hatsumi Sensei’s art, please try to put the cultural differences aside, and find a good instructor to train with. Find someone that has the base of what you are looking for. If you do not like how someone trains, then simply do not train with that person. It is of no fault or disrespect on anyone’s behalf. All teachers and students who think the same, or who were brought up with the same culture will work together. We can not expect to change these people’s minds. Therefore, more than what we think or what we feel, we should do as Soke tells us and just train as he is showing us. Soke still says to this day that he communicates with Takamatsu Sensei, and that he is still learning from him. Therefore, we should do as Soke teaches us to do, and nothing different. Soke has often said that this is a Japanese thing, and it will be hard for people who have no understanding of the Japanese language and culture to truly learn this art.








Chris Carbonaro

Bujinkan Shihan


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