The guy was serious. I looked over at “P” who trained with Stephen Hayes and loves to needle me about such things to see if he set it up. If so, he was doing a great job of acting surprised with a bit of, “Oh boy, this is going to be good!” thrown into his expression. The guy honestly wanted to know if the move I just showed was part of the Godai system.
Sigh….. Looks like a lot of people still have not gotten the message.
I was around when the ninja first really hit the media. It was revolutionary in it’s outlook. The ninja were marketed by Hayes as a group of oppressed jedi nights (BTW- Greedo never got off a shot in case you didn’t know) with an outlook that appealed to many. One of these was the godai system of outlook and fighting. The system went from Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Void. In Japanese they are called “chi-sui-ka-fu- ku.” The techniques we saw were explained in terms of these five methods. Earth would be centered and standing your ground, while fire would be aggressive, etc.
The problem was, it is not part of actual ninjutsu. You would never know it reading about it in English as the following example shows.
In the article by Hayes, there is no mention of the fact that Hayes created all the ideas about the godai as a system for combat. Today, many people still believe that it is part of the traditions taught by Masaaki Hatsumi, as my recent experience shows.
This of course has caused a lot of confusion as people go to Japan and ask questions about it, sometimes only getting blank looks, sometimes worse. When I translated for a certain Japanese teacher and someone asked the question, I knew I was in for at least 20 minutes of him going on not only about how Hayes created something and tried to pass it off as Bujinkan, but all the other sins that the Japanese could not forgive him for.
Sean Askew had at least one similar experience when talking to Hatsumi directly as the following shows,
The exchange went like this,
“Recently I asked Hatsumi Sensei to talk a little about the inner meanings of the San Shin kata. I wanted to know how important is the “Five Elements Mandala Kata” and is it a necessary part of Taijutsu?
Usually Sensei does not give a straight answer, but for some reason this time he gave it to me on a silver platter. “Oh that’s Mikkyo, religion!”
OK, and how does this relate to Taijutsu? “It doesn’t!”
Evidently, exchanges like this and the tales from people coming back from Japan about blank looks and rants from the Japanese caused Hayes to finally clarify things in public. In a March 1996 e-zine called Ura and Omote he finally detailed how he came to create the godai system he was teaching. His experience in the Bujinkan in Japan with the concept was limited to this,
“Everyone else at the dojo assured me that the five elements were just a device for counting as far as they were concerned. Convinced that there had to be more, I continued my cultural detective work. I sought out descendants of the monks and mountain priests allied with the roots of ninjutsu who referred to the five elements in the form of mandala graphics that described like blueprints the human psyche.”
This point can’t be stressed enough. All the native speakers of Japanese who were learning Bujinkan alongside him were telling Hayes that it was just a system of counting. Can we be more clear that it is not part of what Hatsumi is/was teaching going by Hayes’ own words? And yet, we still have people in Bujinkan dojos using the system. And he admits that the source for his creating the system came from other sources other than the Bujinkan. He went instead to people that were involved in religion and got the older, religious version rather than what everyone else in Japan was using. As Hatsumi stated, it was mikkyo and had no relation to taijutsu.
Here is the thing about the historic godai system. It is indeed a counting system and it was indeed originally based on some aspects of Buddhist thought. In the same way, the days of the week were originally named after the Norse gods. For example, Thursday used to be called Thor’s day. Hayes seems to have made the same type of mistake as someone that believes that anyone in the modern age that schedules an event on Thursday must be wanting to channel the power of the god of storms. Hayes went a little bit too far in seeking things out, hampered as he was by his limited experience, knowledge and Japanese ability. He was not satisfied with the boring reality of a simple counting system and instead sought out a more mystic and exciting way of looking at things. From his point of view, it would be very natural to wonder why the Japanese just didn’t use numbers to count instead of something that he could find on old Buddhist sculptures called the Gorinto (see below). It is a hell of a lot more exciting to think of things this way, but it isn’t what is being taught in the Bujinkan.
In the actual Bujinkan as I learned it in Japan, the five elements are used as a counter for what we sometimes call the san shin. These five techniques are solo moves meant to build up habits. They are not combat techniques per se, rather they are supposed to build up default settings for the way movement is done. Once you get in the habit of moving your body in a certain way constantly, then learning a new kata is a lot easier since you don’t have to worry about some things just as you don’t have to worry anymore about the proper way to change gears on a car while driving a dangerous road. There is no mental aspect to doing the san shin. I know this from all the people who constantly used me as a translator to ask time and time again.
In the same article from the e-zine, he claims that the kihon happo was created in the 80s. This is not correct. I have read quotes from Takamatsu Toshitsugu talking about the kihon happo, and he died in the early 70s. When I told some Japanese teachers what Hayes wrote about the Kihon Happo’s creation, they just laughed. I believe that Hayes just was not able to follow many things because of the language barrier. Teaching in Japan is often just someone showing a move and everyone does it with no real talk about the name of the move or it’s place in the system. You see it, you do it- end of story. So it is not surprising that Hayes could have seen the same techniques over and over again and yet have no knowledge of it’s importance.
However, when Hatsumi started stressing the importance of the kihon happo, Hayes refused to follow his lead. As Hayes explains it, he had too much invested in the system of his creation already and decided to present the art of Hatsumi using his method rather than the method his teacher wanted his students to use. I believe this is one of the things that started the path to the eventual banning of Hayes from training in Japan.
Interestingly enough, some very partisan supporters of Hayes have tried to say that it was always acknowledged that this was a creation of Hayes and the folks like the guy at the beginning of this story are just not very bright for not realizing it. But since the first time I heard that defense of Hayes used, I have been trying to find a source prior to the 1996 e-zine that states it openly. So far, I can’t find anything.
Since the godai method of attitude is not part of the Bujinkan as taught by Hatsumi, it should not be presented as such. Many Bujinkan dojos still cling to it and pass it along as being Bujinkan material. This is wrong and unethical.
As a system, it is interesting. Back when I started reading about it I was really attracted to it. In the early 80s, snarling and such was about the only things you could find in martial arts magazines. The idea of a wind technique, that you could use with a relative you loved but had a bit too much to drink, was a totally different way of looking at things. As a concept, it might be a good tool to start some thinking.
However, as a system it is not only NOT part of the Bujinkan, but also not really tested by centuries of experience in combat. Inside the Bujinkan, you can find concepts such as mushin, fudoshin and zanshin. These are recognized not only in the Bujinkan but in other classical Japanese arts as well. If you want to do Bujinkan, these are the types of things you should be exploring.
It has been nearly a decade since Hayes has been allowed to train with Hatsumi in Japan. He now teaches his own creation of Toshindo and with it his version of the godai. He has his path, and the Bujinkan has another. People need to decide which path they want to walk down and then turn their back on the other. If you claim to teach Bujinkan, you need to turn your back on the godai and start looking into the actual mental models being taught in Japan.