From 10th Kyū to 10th Dan


A lot of people whom I began training or trained for quite a lot of years wondered  how I had reached the quality progress and the depth of understanding. I decided to write this article first of all for those who began their way in this sphere not long ago and who treat it in a sensible way. I would like to analyze things that helped me, things that turned into an obstacle for others, and also why people left, what discouraged them and made them turn to other branches of Martial art. I wouldn’t take into account people who don’t treat the practice seriously. 

The idea that I pointed as the main one is not to pay too much attention to the other branches.  Of course each branch deserves attention to some extent and really is efficient in a way, otherwise it wouldn’t have appeared in the world. I certainly got acquainted with other branches, attended training sessions as well as discussion groups but never got my teeth deeply into them for a long time. However this factor has been creating problems for a lot of people. Seeing interesting quality movements in another Martial art people often leave without asking why we don’t use those movements or what we can offer instead. They take up another branch or sometimes try to have a finger in many pies at the same time. In my opinion both variants are incorrect. Those who take up other branches do the same there and don’t stay for a long time anywhere. They don’t go deep and try to make sense of the initial levels only in different conditions each time. If we consider the Way in a martial art as a way to the top of the mountain this would be equal to the way around the mountain. The second variant when a person takes up several branches of Martial art is a little better but it is like going up to the top of the mountain along two or three paths at the same time. This certainly means going upwards, but it’s a spiral way up rather than a straight one. It will take a lot of time and maybe there will not be enough strength or time to reach the top.  

We need to be motivated to follow the road that we’ve chosen and we should be sure that it is the best way. We have everything to make it true!   Bujinkan is a set of methods tested by time and live war circumstances.  This is around 1000 times of successive passing of knowledge from generation to generation, you should remember it. It is the blood of many generations; all the techniques that proved inefficient haven’t survived and are forgotten. We practice only things that work. Bujinkan is first of all applied knowledge and not theory.   Most modern branches of Martial art are nothing but sport and mean a narrow field of application however life situations are complicated and a narrow branch won’t meet the expectations. A lot of people simply can't tell the difference between Martial art and combat sport; however there’s a world of difference between them and between the teaching approaches. Everything begins with some elementary conditions: as for combat sport one has to obtain superiority under particular set conditions and in Martial art one has to survive and stand his grounds, regardless of conditions! Nowadays it’s a frequent common mistake to use the word Martial art instead of combat sport, which disorients people. Bujinkan doesn’t have a separate technique of blows and a separate technique of dashes and even the methods of working with arms and without them are connected and all the movements are also connected in a harmonic way and are called Taijutsu which means the Art of the Body. Let’s have a closer look at the situation with Karate or Boxing where blows are important.  They are not the best solution as self-protection as you can severely injure by means of a well-trained blow and will have to face problems with law. In training sessions the possible limit of self-protection will always be too high, reality is like this. Bujinkan controls first of all the distance and the balance and later the applied methods can be used according to the situation. In peaceful time we can use painful pressure without injuring or leaving traces. In wartime we may injure and kill and the control of distance and balance will make in the most efficient way.


The way of self-improving and working with oneself


The so-called competitive spirit in Martial art is wrong. In sport however it is basic.   It’s quite easy to see and estimate one’s own growing against the background of others while competing and getting superiority. However there’s a chance of growing and remaining supercilious in other spheres of life. This is one of the reasons for the absence of competitions in Martial arts. All the techniques in Bujinkan are trained in pairs which helps to get the understanding of what is right and efficient without competing or proving superior.  Under the following circumstances competition with oneself appears, and its purpose is to be better than yesterday. It really is not easy, due to the number of things you have to perfect and improve. One can’t lie to oneself. An inefficient movement is easily seen as well as a well-trained one.  


The strength of intention


A lot of people leave their Way saying they are busy and have problems to solve. There will always be problems to solve and things that distract us! You should set priorities.  Just as if you were working according to a contract you know that no matter what the weather is – sunny or rainy, no matter what the mood is – good or bad – you have to come to a set place and do the set amount of work. Your acquaintances will hardly call you at work to invite you to the cinema instead, or something of this kind. An idea to go somewhere in the middle of the week without warning your boss or colleagues will hardly cross your mind. You know that there are terms to follow and in case you don’t you have to face unpleasant consequences. If you have the same attitude to training sessions you will be lucky. And one can find a flexible job to have time to go to the training session. Or a boss who can understand. When I attended Vladimir Viktorovich's classes I had to be in Medvedkovo at 18.00 which means to end work at 17.00 or to live nearby – and I managed. All my relatives and next of kin know that they shouldn’t count on my help in their business when I’m at a training session or group discussion. There’s a timetable and that’s it, there can be no ‘maybe’. Little by little everyone gets used to the fact and stops calling. And as for the budget I always planned it for a year first of all to have enough for group discussions, training sessions and trips to Japan.


Ranks and the right way to treat them.


There are initiates’ Kyū ranks and master Dan ranks in Bujinkan like in other Japanese systems. However our system has 15 Dans which is more than in others. Of course it’s natural to ask – why so many? However it’s logical to connect our Dan system with the old tradition having 4 levels. Thus we have The Initial level – up to 1st Dan, The Intermediate level – up to 5th Dan, The Advanced level – up to 10th Dan and the Level of Complete Knowledge – up to 15th Dan. And we can see the correspondence in colourful decorations of the 4 levels: Student, Teacher’s Assistant (Shidoshi Ho), Teacher (Shidoshi), Teacher of teachers (Shihan). If we look at other Japanese Martial systems we’ll see that their classifications are as young as their systems themselves and that one shouldn’t look for connections and parallels in them. Now, an important question of the right viewpoint on the ranks and getting them arises. One shouldn’t treat a new level as a prize or achievement! If you are hardworking enough at the training sessions, prizes will find you all the same. Each new level means additional responsibility and confidence you’ll have to justify. However you shouldn’t avoid it. It’s a lesson you have to go through, live through, learn and try to follow. Every time Nagato Sensei promotes me to the next level he adds: train more! Bujinkan sees a lot of people who try to escape Dans, emblems, saying that things like this didn’t exist in so-called old schools and making other excuses. I think this is nothing but pretence, or avoiding responsibility, or the desire to seem outstanding among others. There are rules set by Soke Masaaki Hatsumi and only he has the monopoly on the truth you should acknowledge. It’s not a good idea to judge people of the same rank or higher either. I heard some “freshers” discussing this or that master; and of course their words seemed funny as their level of understanding was far from things they were trying to discuss. There is no point in judging each other even for masters, because our art is very diverse, there are too many traits one has to develop. While training in Japan I worked in pairs with many masters and sometimes I felt my superiority in some things; however I also discovered things I had never been aware of. So it’s not my business to judge. However before Soke and the Supreme Shihans we appear as plain as the nose on a face, as if they X-Rayed us.  


I wish good luck to all those practising Martial art and remind them that everyone can achieve mastership, it’s only a question of time and hardworking.


Mikhail Matesh

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