Archive for May, 2010

Luke Molitor Seminar (May 15-16, 2010)

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Luke Molitor
Photo by Nancy Kelly

This last weekend (May 15-16), the Muzosa Dojo was kind enough to bring Luke Molitor back to NYC for Part II of his wonderful sword seminar series.

I will begin by saying that I am biased toward Luke; we used to the knock the crap outta each other during training at both Nagato Dojo and Hatsumi-sensei’s training. He’s a good friend.

He also happens to be a terrific budoka and the most skilled swordsman in the Bujinkan among the non-Japanese, in my opinion. Luke has gotten frighteningly good at sword, and there are many lessons to be had in that….

First, Luke’s skill did not improve because he was living in Japan. It improved because he actually practiced once back in America what his teachers had shown him in Japan. It is clear that Luke does not just do a “Back from Japan” seminar one week and then return to doing what he was doing before his Japan trip. There is no way Luke could have gotten as good as he has gotten by following that prescription.

I knew Luke’s budo very well when I left Japan in 2000. I had felt his shuto many a time. His time spent with the sword has added a new dimension to his budo, and I am extremely happy to see that progress.

Luke could always generate power, my jaw recalls fondly. But the way he generates power today is in a totally different league. Luke owes that growth to his work with the sword, in my opinion.

Second, everyone in the Bujinkan should attend one of these seminars with Luke. I don’t care who you are, how many years you have been practicing, or how good you think you are. There is no one in the Bujinkan who could not learn something from Luke in this seminar. At the urging of his students, Luke has broken down some of the key lessons of swordwork within the Bujinkan, and he basically serves those lessons on an all-you-can-eat platter of Tasty Budo. Do your best to attend one of these seminars.

Third, just because you attend does not mean that you will “get it” during that seminar. In fact, most of the people in attendance really had no idea what Luke was doing. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That means there is still room for growth! And that is, after all, the reason you are attending the seminar in the first place.

At one point during the seminar, one of the practitioners behind me was swinging his sword quite forcefully. I turned to him quizzically, wondering what was up. He looked at me and said, “I’m trying to make the sword whistle like Luke.” To which I responded, “You won’t be able to make it whistle for at least another year. Get the mechanics instead first.” And that presumed that the practitioner was actually going to practice religiously what Luke was showing that day.

The last time that Luke was in town (for Part I of his seminar series last summer), our dojo spent six straight weeks working on what Luke had shown.

  • “What was the structure of the wrist?”
  • “How did he shift his knees?”
  • “Where did the sword stop?”
  • “Does anyone remember what happened to his elbows when he did this?”

It was a collective effort to try to reconstruct the lessons of the seminar, and we relied on the fact that each person was going to take away part of the puzzle and together we might be able to reassemble it. In the end, we worked on the material until we came to a point where we could not go any further without starting to make stuff up. When you get to that point, it’s best to simply stop…and to get more on which to work from the teacher—in this case, Luke, who had been scheduled to return to NYC later that summer, but ended up having to cancel.

Still, those six weeks were a worthwhile investment, as we were able to follow along this time around with a bit more ease. We plan to work on the newest material in a similar fashion again. Hopefully, we can improve by the next time Luke hits the Big Apple.

Thanks for a great seminar, Luke! We look forward to the third installment next time around.


Roles in the Bujinkan

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

The concept of role has been a source of tremendous angst for many people in the Bujinkan over the years. Roles are considered to be a building block of sociology as an academic discipline, and so it might be informative to examine how sociology could inform our participation in the Bujinkan.

Roles are characterized by four unique traits, according to the sociology literature.

Photo by Russell Whitaker

First, roles are reciprocal. A leader cannot be a leader without someone to lead (i.e., a follower). A manager cannot exist without at least one person to manage. And a husband cannot be considered a husband without a spouse. Because roles create a point of distinction between the person in the role and others not in the role, roles usually accompany status. This linkage between role and status is why workers are willing to work harder for the same money if superiors give them a title; status is valuable and roles are linked with status.

Bringing the concept of roles into the dojo, naturally one cannot be a teacher without having a student. But at the same time, one cannot claim to be a “student of Budo” without having a teacher. And I am not talking about someone that you see once a year for an afternoon. You cannot be a student without having a teacher—someone who regularly corrects your mistakes and keeps you on the correct path.

Second, roles are contextual. The way you converse with your high school friends is not the way that you converse with your grandmother. When you are with your high school friends, you are adopting the role of “friend,” but when you are with your grandmother, you are adopting the role of “grandchild” or “family member.” These are very different roles; each has its own language and acceptable norms of behavior. If you speak to your grandmother in the same way that you speak to your high school friends, then you might be reprimanded by a parent as being rude or disrespectful. That is because you are acting out the wrong role given the context in which you have found yourself.

Understanding context is incredibly important if you are to have relationships with people from Japan. While most Westerners believe that they “know who they are,” Japanese might say, “How can you know who you are until you know who you are with?” When I am with college friends, I use the word “Boku” to refer to myself. When I am with those same friends in front of their bosses, I would use the more formal “Watashi” instead. Nothing has changed about me, per se, other than those with whom I am passing time. But that difference is really important. “I” change because of whom I am with. In other words, context matters.

Third, roles come with rights. A right affords you an opportunity to act in a way that others may not act. If you take advantage of that right, then good for you. You are exercising your right, given your role. But if you elect not to take advantage of a right that comes with your role, you will not be punished. That is because rights are options, not requirements.

At the same time, only role holders may exercise the rights that accompany a given role. If someone outside a given role attempts to exercise those rights, that individual will be punished.

As a Shidoshi, for example, you hold the right to teach. You need not do so, however, and your choice not to teach despite being a Shidoshi will not garner sanctions or scorn. My first teacher, Keiji Nakadai, did not start teaching until several years after passing his Godan (fifth dan) test. In fact, I believe that he did not start teaching until he was Hachidan (eighth dan). Very few Westerners would consider putting off teaching after passing their Godan test. Instead, they see the right to teach as something that they must do to be a legitimate Shidoshi. But this thinking, unfortunately, is confusing a right with the fourth (and arguably most important) trait of a role.

Fourth (and finally), roles come with duties. A duty is an obligation to act in a particular way. As described above, while failure to exercise a right bears no consequences, failure to perform a duty will bring about sanctioning and scorn from others who hold expectations of the actor in the role position.

About a decade ago, a very high ranking practitioner of our art committed an egregious violation of his role in the Bujinkan. In an interview, this practitioner stated that he would ignore Soke‘s admonition not to train with a given teacher, who was being punished for his inappropriate behavior. By publicly coming out against Soke‘s wishes, this practitioner was not only violating his own duties, but also he was preventing Hatsumi-sensei from fulfilling his own role as Soke. That was a double whammy of a mistake, and deserved the scorn of the entire Bujinkan community.

Naturally, many people balk at being reminded of their duties. Americans especially have a tendency to focus solely on the rights that they have earned (in a given role) and strategically ignore the duties that they also bear (in that same role). On more than one occasion, I have had heated disagreements with people living in Japan who desire to have a voice on the Internet as a representative of someone training at Hombu, but do not want to bear any duties that accompany that role. These individuals covet the status that comes with taking on the role of “Japan-based Practitioner” or “Voice from Hombu,” but complain when people acknowledge that role by emailing them with requests for help (e.g., translation, directions, hints). You cannot enjoy only the rights of a given role and ignore the duties of that same role. The role embodies both. If you don’t like it, then don’t take on the role in the first place.

Everyone in the Bujinkan has a role. Sometimes, some individuals may have multiple roles…at the same time. It behooves us all to consider deeply one’s role and how one can carry it out.


Dusting off the blog….

Friday, May 14th, 2010

After some urging from friends, and a very long online absence, I have decided to restart this blog.

While there are many dojo-specific blogs written by instructors for their students, there are very few blogs out there that are targeted at the larger Bujinkan community. In the latter category, I include Doug Wilson’s fantastic Henka blog and Paul Masse’s beautiful Shin Bu Fu Satsu blog. I hope that some day this blog can measure up to the wonderful standards of quality that these men have shown the global Bujinkan community.

While I probably cannot post all that often (given time constraints), I will do my best to make my posts meaningful to the larger community.

All the best,