Traditional Relationships and Teaching in Esoteric Martial Arts

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he preferred, but seldom achieved, teaching relationship is one of mutual trust and consulting. I know things you don't know. You know things I don't know. We both benefit from sharing. There is always a hierarchy in experience but with respect it doesn't have to be formalized to any great extent. Distancing creates many problems in communication. All science appears as magic to the ignorant. Ignorance is not stupidity but not learning. In Christian nomenclature, ignorance is missing the mark or "sinning." My father informs me that the word sin is a Greek archers' term used when the archer misses the target. The fool killer Kali, the spider goddess, as well as Shiva, balance on the corpse of ignorance. Dr. Norman R.F. Maier (my industrial psychology mentor) said, "The easiest way to identify smart people is to look for who's asking questions."

In the traditional master-student relationship, a master parcels out information and experience according to his or her perception cf the student's readiness to receive. Master Sherm Harrill spent years on the karate basics in Okinawa. Shimabuku gave him scrolls when he left for the States. The master had rewarded and recognized his sincerity. It took Sherm years to figure out what he'd been given. It helps to have a translator when you're dealing with the inscrutable. Leo Sebregst's teacher, a retired Chinese general, made him watch for seven years while he tried to teach his own sons. Finally he relented and said, "Since you've shown more interest than they have, come and get it!" or words to that effect. Takamatsu is described by his wife as being delighted with having Hatsumi as a student. At the shidoshi training for godan and above in Noda City, Hatsumi rolled out Takamatsu's scrolls for us to admire and spoke about how often he goes back to read the letters and cards from Takamatsu and returns to the scrolls to discover new insights.

I know from my own experience trying to teach street people what a drain it is to teach those who can't or won't learn. All of my students have confirmed for me how much more fun it is to teach smart people regardless of their physical skills. It's easy to see why Takamatsu would love having Hatsumi for a student. You would give your left nut to teach a real genius, it's so much fun. In expanding our venturesome militaristic societies, the study cf unarmed combat is considered in the province of gentlemen. In a democratic, business oriented society, it is too often limited to disciplining children, entertaining adults, or being studied by thugs. It is a lengthy, painful growth process to learn the real thing as the levels of risk and your avoidance skills expand. Neither raw intellect nor great physical skill compare well to the lessons cf endurance. The master or guru and disciple or deshi relationship requires deep bonding and closeness. This is a relationship and friendship for life.

When Hatsumi was demoing in Dayton, Ohio, for a Japanese TV network special in the early eighties, I saw his aura running high-voltage green wind chi. He started doing techniques on Steve Hayes, Bud Malmstrom, and Jack Hoban: the looks on their faces as he sent them sailing were an appropriate mix of awe and terror. I loved it when Hatsumi said, "Now my American instructors are at a level where I can use more of my power." Only an outsider with developed chi could really appreciate the looks they gave each other when he said that after what he'd just done to them. It looked like, "Oh, no. It's starting again." Hatsumi's motto is "Keep going. Keep playing." In other words, "Never quit. Have fun. This is your life. Enjoy it."

Ninjo (endurance under the stick? beating emotions into place?) is the concept of human feelings being vastly more important than what is logical and profitable. For the time and effort a sen-sei invests in a student he hopes the student will realize tsukiai (the social debt incurred by the student toward the teacher). Tsuki-ai in ancient times would manifest itself by the student taking care of the teacher's family, shelter, or whatever he or she needed to be more comfortable. Giri, the obligations or debts the student owes to a real shihan, are considered gimu (endless), and no matter what is given, it will never be enough for the gift of enlightened life or spirit. Giri to one's associates, however, is repaid according to the significance of the obligation or gift received, and it must be repaid promptly.

The titles of teachers have meaning beyond teacher. Shihan means knight/scholar and head of a particular school. Shi, referring to four and death, is also Japanese for chi as manifested by spirit. Shihan then has a hidden meaning as one who can give chi. Shichi-dan or seventh degree has three obvious meanings that are concealed from the outsider by using the number designation nanaedan. Oshihan is a self-made master in reference to chi, holds no obligations to a teacher, and is able to pass on his skills. It is also a term used to refer to someone who has thousands of followers as head of a particular school. The title is interchangeable in terms of quality or quantity resulting in knowledge lost to popularity. Big organizations often lose their hearts to size.

Amae (unconditional affection) is the core concept of Japanese culture and the foundation of their psyche. For lack of a better definition it could be described as indulgent love. Francis L.K. Hsu wrote an excellent ethnography of Japanese concepts and behavior that I read some twenty years ago and can't remember the title. In Rogerian psychology amae would be total acceptance of the other.

Regardless of physical skills, the person with the most experience is regarded as sempai (senior) and the person with less expe rience as kohai (heart that says yes? or junior). Sempai have an obligation to develop the kohai. The kohai have an obligation to tend to the needs of the sempai.

Most Americans have no desire to become grown-up dojo boys to a rigidly traditional master. It smacks of indentured servitude and taxation without representation. We are used to receiving public education, and with the exception cf apprenticeship avoid in-depth relationships with teachers. We pay them money rather than serve them always. The actual behavior among sempai and kohai, however, is usually of the older indulging the younger to be boisterous and rowdy under the master's protection. The sempai observes from the background while the kohai acts as his or her agent. The sempai will reach out to save the kohai if disaster threatens. The kohai shares a fresh perspective with the sempai which keeps the senior up to date. It's a powerful relationship.

The kohai/sempai relation is supposed to be one of indulgence. The relationships between the ninjas and their American students have to be pretty forgiving, as most people who are drawn to this sort of thing tend to be wild and headstrong (as well as have more redeeming qualities). Often a kohai will be over-promoted by the sempai with the expectation he or she will grow into the new position. After Hatsumi gave me a shidoshi license at godan, I told him if he wanted to protect the ryu's reputation for excellence in taijutsu he had better quit promoting me. Expectations of behavior could be better researched on both sides, but all wounds seem to heal eventually or at least become smoothed over out cf curiosity and politeness. In some ways it is like belonging to the tennis league and playing doubles. You get to know people on a number of levels. You are there to learn and play. If you can't handle it, you back off.

Giri can also be translated as discipline, and a discipline requires disciples, which is the term often used in Chinese systems for a student of a chi kung or kung fu master. The Japanese term for a disciple is deshi. The relationship is considered religious, for life, and the kung fu or kempo training hall, or kwoon, is a temple. The disciple is often the memory of the master and studies in one par ticular discipline of a large system. By being the memory of the master, a disciple perfects a particular form and specializes in teaching that part of the system. (I don't cartwheel out of flips, but my student Todd Smith and ninja shihan Greg Kowalski can. If you are athletic enough to want that as part of your response system, you go to Todd for that lesson, as my body tends to fail at that level. You want to learn that technique from someone who does it with grace rather than the hope of avoiding injury. The knights stand in for the king. The deshis transcend the skill of the aging master to preserve what has gone before.)

A lot has been written on the martial arts but very little on the science of pedagogy as it applies to the teaching of martial artists. For that matter there is considerable question as to whether art can be taught, as the best artists are often self-taught. This is true in the performing arts as well as the combat arts. Those men that I've known who bragged on the harshness of their master and the brutality of their training were invariably not too bright and were probably deserving of their treatment. From a higher perspective their physical skills weren't terribly impressive either. Together with John Porter, a ninja friend who taught me how to walk fire, I used to laugh about how some people thought that "mental discipline" could be taught by physical means. Like there might be a relationship between how many push-ups you could do and how well you could teach, fight, lead others, shoot a gun, or make a bomb. In statistics this would fall into the fallacy of comparing apples and oranges.

No great spiritual tradition that teaches single-minded pursuit cf happiness leads to satisfaction, as personal desires multiply endlessly, forever creating new desires which create new dissatisfactions. Happiness is not a goal but a by-product of accomplishment and recognition of self-growth. Cherishing the growth of others, particularly those we love, exercises the larger capacities of our being and helps us be aware of our vulnerabilities. The call to teaching a way of creative development forces the learning of new skills while unfolding our finest qualities if we are taxed and fully stretched to the limits of our understanding. A real martial art has no rules and thus continually forces adaptation and creation through conflict. Teaching is a leadership behavior, and the relationship with the teacher is part of the modeling.

Since people do not generally regard wisdom, truth, or creativity as central to an intimate relationship or the mastery cf self, they seek out relationships based primarily on biochemical reaction, companionship, or mutual self-interest. The same can be said for the selection of a martial art teacher. A true martial artist is concerned with saving your life. A master would also like for you to have one that is worth living, full cf passion and excitement as you develop your deepest resources and finest qualities. This need not be rare in this day and age, as all the secret technologies of meditation, breath, and massage are widely available, and more and more knowledgeable students demand that their teachers exhibit the qualities associated with their credentials. This is not an abstract concept but a growing recognition that a teacher is real when actions are based not just on knowledge but the explicit presentation of one's own being through the personal experience of knowing. Knowing is doing. You must observe carefully.

For example, sometimes a martial system may be broken down into beneficial exercises and dances, breathing and meditation techniques, and combat and weapon applications so that all the knowledge is not in one place. If a country is conquered, the martial applications go underground. They may be hidden in what appear as folk dances or religious postures. The swords may be hammered into plowshares but the training continues. The Indian goddess Kala, a sexier, younger version of Kali, is often shown in the sword posture of Dokko no Kamae. I have learned many interesting techniques for strengthening my body through studying the movement of traditional dancers. The dancers of Ball have remarkable balance and control that appears full of life-preserving grace. The fighting application can be picked out of its aesthetic concealment long after the footwork goes from lunge to jeté.

When I met Kevin Millis the first time in Japan I could see he was a perfect vehicle. He had the build, diet, intensity, all the good ninja stuff. We became friends as he seemed to think I was wise and worth cultivating even though I was a lowly, old, and decrepit white belt in ninjutsu. 1 began to show this godlike black belt little ways to improve his already prodigious skills. He took my clues and covered ground in months that had taken me years to research. He has a very high IQ and learns fast. He would reciprocate by showing me how to improve my physical techniques. We had a great time teaching each other. (We still do.) Hatsumi would ask him, " Who is the teacher, Morris or Millis?" Our relationship doesn't follow typical hierarchical practice because we're Americans. A year or so after I showed him how to breathe and meditate properly, he could generate enough chi to show in his aura. When the grandmaster noticed his higher glow, Hatsumi promoted him again and then told him that everything they did from that point was a gift. He was a colleague by the rules cf giri! Kevin had achieved the lesser enlightenment.

Kevin was horrified. No more learning hundreds of techniques with all kinds of toys. No more walking the dogs with the boss late at night in ancient Noda. He didn't want to be a colleague. He didn't know what to do. As far as he was concerned he was getting some chi. A little something extra in his ninjutsu! He was a California Boy. Surfing. Kicking butt. Lakers. Malibu and the pretty girls in the morning. Rock climbing in the off season. Spiritual stuff was pretty low in his hierarchy. He blamed me for spoiling his relationship with the boss. What if the boss quit teaching him ninjutsu and expected him to come around and discuss flower arranging, or levitate? His world had come unglued. He wanted no cracks in his cosmic egg. He was an urban, modern, American warrior.

So he went out into the Buddhist temple park in the center of Noda City where the roads come together. He went into the garden that has the little pool. He pushed all his energy down into his feet. Then he pushed as much of it into the ground as he could without dying. He stepped away from the spot. A desperate act of devotion on his part that struck me as lunacy when we discussed it after I discovered what he'd done.

We were roommates in the training bunkhouse rented from shihan Ishizuka's parents. I noticed Kevin wasn't getting out cf bed after a couple of days and seemed to be real sick. Sleeping well into the day or catching up after hard night training was common behavior. We were whipped most of the time. Kevin looked like death eating a cracker, kind of dried out and definitely not himself. I said, "I can't believe you're sick, man. We hardly ever get sick." No jet lag, exhaustion, nothing. He looked like a sick puppy to me. He told me what he had done in the park. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know you could do that. He'd gone over to Hat-sumi's to train after he'd fed the spirits of the place (kami). Hat-sumi told him, "You look like someone who has lost your way."

I loaded him back up after he'd suffered enough to remember what it's like not to have chi. Like many flower children, Kevin's short-term memory leaves something to be desired. Never ask him to remember anything abstract for you unless it is music. As an exchange of chi does carry some emotional content or intention no matter how clean you try to run it, 111 bet his perceptions were a little weird for a while. After I thought he was OK I took a sample and ran it through me for a check. (Every now and then I get this urge to surf.) He went back across Noda to visit with Hatsumi. Hatsumi said, "I see you have found your self."

I'd love to know what Hatsumi thought was going on. I don't know how he feels about experimentation on human subjects. Kevin told me a year or so later that Hatsumi had put a bug in him that seemed to flush out the meridians. The Indians, Buddhists, and Taoists all have purification rites and techniques for purging the body of toxins, as do Jews, Christians, and Methodists. When I joined the Methodist Church as a child, my father and the elders put their hands on my head. I fell to the floor, fainted, and threw up from the blast of energy. Some fundamentalists might regard that as casting out a demon. It feels like electrocution to a little kid.

Ninjas seem to work off giri by showing each other a good time. I always know when I go out to train with Kevin he is going to blow my mind with whatever he has come up with since last we exchanged information. It's a great pleasure to watch him teach and move. He has incredible skills. I wonder how the big fish are responding to him now that he's got a yacht and diving licenses. Octopi are supposed to be smarter than hell. They're probably heading for Frisco. Kevin likes his sushi.

Shihan Ishizuka took Kevin and I out to a great Japanese restaurant with private rooms and an elderly traditionally trained geisha (a woman trained to fascinate and encourage men) to entertain us after I showed him the trick of seeing auras. She fed us and cleverly played games with us while we got blitzed and laughed ourselves silly and discussed dreams. Tetsuji Ishizuka (The Fists of Iron) wants to establish a training camp in the coastal fjords and wilds of the resort mountains for the old boat and pirate techniques. New that could be fun. A little luxury in beautiful terrain and then storm the yardarms. Let's try your bokken (hard wooden practice sword) on a deck that moves beyond your control. Traditional and modern assault courses with famous teachers, nets, and intersecting water slides. Wow!

I like to party with my student/friends. We pick each other's minds and verify our experience. At some point in their training they get to work on my house or lawn and plant something in the garden. I've had the football players moving furniture. There are always little projects that require more hands. Steven helped me with the plumbing. Randy and Steven helped hang wallpaper. Courtney's wisteria bloomed lavender this year. We call it sempai duty.

I'm told Hatsumi's shihans get together and attempt to dust his library once a year. Theirs is a Herculean task. I've seen his books. The shelves are full, so it's floor to ceiling stacks. He has a huge collection of more than three thousand museum-quality swords in storage. It's difficult to keep a heritage alive when you have limited living space as in Japan.

Many of the people who have studied ninjutsu have written about their experiences with minimal comprehension of what was actually being shown them. People come and go and take what they can use. Others stick it out, working their way up through the ranks, following their desire. Some learn the meaning cf giri and amae. Some find their dream can be a nightmare. The ninja develops his or her endurance through external or internal energy. The end result is the same but the collection of experience can be very different. Ten can also be zero. People do very strange things and consider themselves martial artists.

I once read a martial arts book by some poor silly bastard who went around attacking martial art masters to see if they were really that tough. He got slugged by quite a few and could describe their techniques when surprised. He finally jumped some old Chinese doctor and herbalist who had an international but low-key reputation for chi kung and martial expertise. The boob woke up in a hospital dying of severe bioelectrical malfunctions that Western medicine couldn't explain or adjust. He had to hire the Chinese doctor he had assaulted to consult on his case. The old gentleman kindly saved his life. This young thug retired igno-miniously from his stupid hobby after experiencing the real thing. Hes lucky the Chinese like gamblers and consider fools touched by God. I would have handed him his first book and said "Save Yourself."

In most traditional systems, visiting with the grandmaster (the absolute head/founder/lineal successor of the founder) is equivalent to addressing the Pope or the Dalai Lama. Talking to Hatsumi is sometimes like hanging out with your eccentric neighbor. V\fe had a couple of minutes to talk at the 1989 New Jersey Tai Kai (annual training party with the grandmaster) and Hatsumi asked what I was picking up. I told him that I was having a good time watching and learning from him, as it was a pleasure to know he was still alive. He laughed and put his arm around me and said, "I like to watch and learn from you, too." I don't think he was admiring my sloppy taijutsu. I haven't the faintest. I was beating the snot out of some great looking girl who had trained in Isshinryu and liked to wrestle. The girl and I were having a hilarious time. She thought she was dangerous. He said, "The next time I see you. Youll take the sword test." Then he said to my horror, "When the godan demonstrate, I'd like you to do something." I was a sandan in ninjutsu on that occasion. He's merciless. I'm going to have to properly learn the Kihon Hoppo.

A few moments later while I was in front of the crowd doing a cane throw I've done hundreds of times, my right arm went up instead of the left. My partner, gokyu (fifth green) Mark Kenworthy (shodan now and semi-retired as he pursues a career in organ music), started doing things we hadn't rehearsed. He got into his part. He started slugging me from behind. The whole thing got very spontaneous. It ended with me throttling Mark with the crook of the cane while throwing him to the ground after disarming him with a buss on the cheek. He thrashed in disgust admirably. The crowd loved it. We stood and bowed to the audience, then turned and bowed to Hatsumi and the shihans and skedaddled stage left.

He likes to test you. He can attack from a distance. It is the combat application of Therapeutic Touch (discussed in the Healing chapter). Kevin Millis comes over later and tells me I'm supposed to bow to Hatsumi first. He was embarrassed that his student was uncouth. No one has ever told me what goes into each particular grade, any protocol, or how to act at a ninja demo. The boss didn't seem offended. We were all having a good time.

Shihan Toshiro Nagato (former All Japan heavyweight champion in kickboxing as well as judo) asked if I wanted to be ranked in ninjutsu at the Los Angeles Tai Kai in 1988. Nagato went to Ohio State and can be quite fluent. He's very big, smart, and gentle. I'd been doing ninjutsu as a white belt for about six years without a promotion and thought of it as a hobby. I like the people who are in it, some better than others. It's a wild mix cf people from all sorts of backgrounds. My progress always surprises me as I have no idea what I'm doing. I just trust my guts and pay attention. Like Woody Allen, I keep "showing up" at seminars of teachers I respect. Nagato-san told me to send Hatsumi a video of what I thought were my best teaching strategies. I sent back edited clips of some of the other masters I train with; I put in the beautiful girls from Hillsdale College's hoshinjutsu class dodging shinai strikes from the rear while wearing their white belts as blind folds in front of a cheering crowd of martial art enthusiasts; I showed Ethiopian Toffesse Alemu defeating my best Errol Flynn imitation with Japanese sword and chain techniques; I showed him one of Hoshin's combination firewalk, beer bust and weenie roasts; I showed him my son Shawn, the power lifter, training with me with hanbo (three-foot staff) in a wooded clearing. After we were done beating and throwing each other Shawn delivered a little lecture on Vietnamese kung fu and the expansion and closure of the rib gates while breathing, then we meditated next to a wild rose. Hatsumi sent me a black belt through Kevin and a license through Van Donk. I wear it proudly. I like it better than my red and white belt, and even wear it sometimes when I'm teaching hoshin.

I've missed a lot of the traditional training as a hobbyist. I have been lucky in having very bright students who speak my language and had little preconceptions and no bad habits concerning the martial arts, so they approached their training with open minds. I will probably never again have so much fun as when testing hoshinjutsu (our smaller American system) against the ninja and discovering whether we could blaze the same path but as hobbyists. Yondan (fourth dan) from Hatsumi probably has to do with pushing through and keeping going when you're under psychic attack, as he promoted me after the demo and he was definitely jerking my chain as well as egging Mark on. It forced me to alter my programming in a hurry.

Esoteric aspects of ninpo that I have noticed include covert use of healing techniques by some of the higher-level players; telepathic exchanges-through touch, over short distances, and over vast distances; cloaking of movement; and great strategies for driving away the unsuitables. I will discuss how some of these are done, but if you want to be consistent in your practice you will have to develop chi. A teacher can pass that to you through contact as in the case of Takamatsu training Hatsumi. Or you can learn to develop your own way of achieving enlightenment, of becoming a tatsujin (indescribably harmonious spirit) through meditation.

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