If you’ve been to Japan and trained in the Honbu Dojo with Soke Hatsumi, you will undoubtedly understand that Soke does not normally teach the basics. He has said he teaches at a 15th Dan level. He is teaching the 15th Dans and he expects them to take his teaching back to their respective countries and pass it on.
I’ve been training on a regular (2 to 3 times a week) basis, in the Bujinkan, since 1990. I’ve had the privilege to travel to Japan with my teachers numerous times over the past 14 years. The first 10 years of my training was spent learning the basics. I have been blessed with fantastic teachers who understood from the beginning that the basics are very, very important for proper understanding of the techniques in this art. I passed the Godan test at the Atlanta Tai Kai in 2000 and started making trips to Japan in 2001.
Disclaimer: I tell you all of the above (about me) to also tell you that I am not a 15th Dan, I am not even a 10th Dan, so anything I say is just my opinion and really means nothing to anyone but me and my direct students.
I tell my students: In the beginning of your training, we will force you into a mold. You must learn how to step, how to keep your back straight, how to use skeletal alignment to deliver powerful punches without using muscle, ect. ect. ect. In short, your body must be reprogrammed to move properly.
For our dojo this takes about 4 to 5 years of consistent (2 to 3 times a week) training. This is also the time it takes to receive your black belt. At black belt level, you have mainly accomplished two things. 1) you’ve trained your body (as much as possible for your body) to move properly. 2) you have a basic understanding of the mechanics of most of the basic techniques required for this art.
Black belt to Yondan (4th degree black belt) are spent using the techniques you’ve learned in much more complex situations adding advanced weapons training and more combat oriented applications. After passing the Godan (5th degree black belt), your body has been reprogrammed as much as is useful.
At this time we break the mold, I won’t be correcting your posture anymore, your body should be able to move properly and naturally without correction. Now I believe this will look different for each individual, not everybody is made the same.
So now after Godan, you are free to move with your body’s natural movement. You have all of the “tools” (techniques) that you need and you can choose how to use them. (This is a general outline of the training in our dojo, I have not touched on spiritual training or any number of other aspects of our training, and of course there are always techniques you have never seen before, but they will be easier to understand.)
I like the analogy of learning how to drive. In the beginning you need to have your hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, you must check your mirrors before moving. Apply the brake, start the car, check all around you, put the car in gear, check around you again….you get the idea. After you’ve been driving for 10 years, you’re driving with your knee, while eating a cheeseburger and holding a hot coffee between your legs. This type of driving is of course not recommended, but you can do it, it becomes natural.
Taijutsu is the same, in the beginning: Left foot here, Right foot over there, hand here..and so forth. After 10 years of consistent practice, your talking on the phone and applying gyaku waza with your free hand. It’s a beautiful thing.
Now comes the reason for the disclaimer, I’m gonna jump up on my soapbox for a bit.
Why oh why, do any of us with less than 30 years of training under our belt feel the need to go to Japan and try and move like Soke?? Soke’s movements are what the 15th dans are trying to figure out. If you’ve got less than a 15th dan rank, you’ve got no business trying to teach like Soke.
I am really tired of seeing people going to Japan, getting promoted fast, never really understanding the basics required for the techniques, and then trying to teach like Soke. And worst of all, having the arrogance to assume that they actually earned the rank they’ve been given. If you’ve trained for a short amount of time and you go to Japan and pass the Godan test, the only response appropriate at that time is: Wow, I did not deserve that, and I will work my ass off to do my best to earn what these great teachers have entrusted to me. If you are recommended by someone for a promotion, Soke (and the other Shihan) assume that you have the necessary basic understanding of the art up to this promotion.
Now, let me be clear, I have seen people do this (get promoted fast in Japan) and come away with exactly the right attitude, many of them out rank me by a lot, and they have my greatest admiration and respect. It is not easy to be given such honor and responsibility and walk away from it with a humble attitude. I am in no way an expert on Japanese culture, but i’ve been around long enough to guess that humility is what is expected in this type of situation.
So anyway (Jumping off the soapbox) What makes what I have to say on this subject important? Nothing. I just had to vent.