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Here are some of my views about ranking within the Bujinkan on a cold,windy and rainy winters day.
Soke is beyond the trivial concept of ranks. He has spoken about ranking in regards to sports and budo many times over the years.
In the Bujinkan, we have a concept called “Sakizuke”. This is the way Soke received his ranks from Takamatsu Sensei. It is my personal opinion that he respected Takamatsu and the Arts so much, that he clearly understood what was required of him and thus trained three times harder then anyone else. The problem with the new generation ( and mainly the gaijin ) is that we do not understand the concept to our bones and soul. We shy away from accepting a role model, teacher, and also becoming students, disciples etc. We fear we will loose our identity and individualism or, we look at this teacher/student dogma as cultish and refuse to accept anyone as a long term teacher. Being a true budo student is complicated yet very simple. Thus, we see very few out there with the balance of body,mind and spirit to enter the dojo under the tutelage of a teacher. Peoples egos are too big. We live in an era of “entitlement”. It is an era where trust is rare and people find it difficult to be told what to do.
Takamatsu Sensei apparently taught whoever showed an interest in his budo. It was important for the continuance of his budo to spread it throughout the land in a hope that one day, someone will make something of it. He was lucky, as Hatsumi Sensei came along and became his deshi. I believe Soke is doing the same. He is passing on his knowledge to anyone who shows an interest in his budo. He has mentioned that it is his hope that one day, some masters from all the thousands will emerge. The more it is spread, the more chance the art has of surviving and ensuring the health and protection of the people of the world.
The Bujinkan is more like an organism than an organization. Soke spreads the seeds and some die, some grow into weeds and die sooner than later or become a nuisance, some grow into small trees,shrubs,beautiful flowers, and large trees. Each inhabit a space for a period of time. Some longer than others. Some learn well and have the right heart to endure the hardships and teach what they have learned or spread more seeds for the future. Some just hibernate, some just die and wither away. This is nature. This is the Bujinkan.
The Bujinkan and nature is the same.
I believe Soke does not try to control mother nature, he rather accepts it and flows with it ( Shizen Gyoun Ryu Sui ). This is a far more powerful way of leadership – becoming one with mother nature. Soke allows what will be, to be. Of course, there must be intervention from man on occasions as we live in the realm of man. Yet, I believe Soke truly is attuned to the balance of Ten Chi Jin and lives in neither realm, but within the space of all three. Thus, he can rise above the trivial concept of ranking that his less than enlighten students ( us ) can comprehend. He leave us to fight and be concerned about these things for our own training,learning and life lessons. If we don`t understand, that is fine. Maybe we will when we are his age? Therefore, just look after your health and train to one day allow the teachings mature where the concept of “grades” is nothing more than “sowing the seeds”.
Soke is like a farmer, trying to nurture his crop so it can grow and then assist others in growth and finding a life. However, he is at the mercy of mother nature and as a result, some parts of the crop don`t survive or grow well. We are but rice, scattered by the martial wind to test our resolve as budding martial artists.
Some will get it, some won`t. Within this space is where we discover ourselves and what we need to learn to grow and survive.
The Bujinkan grades are based on heart. This heart is the heart of “keeping going”. Just talent or technique is not enough. We must have all three ( Sainou Kon KI ) to reach enlightenment ( Rokkon Shojou ). Therefore, I believe that grades are given to those that have shown perseverance and endurance over the years, even if they are not skilled. If they keep going, it is Sokes wish that ( maybe ) one day they will become skilled.
Really, we are just children. Here is one way I view some ranks/awards. You can also view from the perspective of Shu Ha Ri.
Mu kyu – yet to be thought of by your parents.Lol.
Shodan – sperm
Godan – born
Judan – puberty
Jugodan – 15yr old child ( in samurai culture considered a young adult free to enter life on his/her own ).
Shin Gi Tai Bufu Ikkan – Understands the unity of spirit/technique/Body through enduring years of hard training.
Yushuu – Adult ( in the midst of living, experiencing life, assisting others. )
Dai Shihan – Matured Adult ( experienced lifes trials and survived, leading through example in ShinGiTai, having lived a long life ).
Soke – Mu ( Zero or nothingness )
Just as with mother nature, there are problems,permutations,mutations,diseases,etc. We have this within the Bujinkan as well. Things do not always make sense and work out the way WE believe they should. There is something greater at work. If we believe we are in control, than we are sadly mistaken. Welcome to the workings of mother nature. Just when we think we know, we haven`t. Maybe this Gokui can help:
“If you think there is something, there isn`t. If you think there is nothing, there is”.
The world and those inhabiting it is forever changing and evolving in a tempering process that is infinite, beyond our life time of understanding. Therefore, it is important we try to develop a larger capacity ( utsuwa ) to accept or tolerate these times. I believe Soke has a huge capacity and therefore expresses it by calling himself a UFO. He rises above it all and on occasions, lands to fix things and/or take people for a ride of inspiration to a dimension showing what can be achieved with correct training in heart,body and soul.
Soke has said the Dojo is like a swimming pool and the students are learning to swim. He is the life saver but, he cannot dive in to save everyone, if he did, he would drown too. He therefore stands back and assists those who have the qualities of a budoka that can endure and stay afloat. It sounds harsh, but when you look at mother nature, she is harsh too. But, the training is fun isn`t it, even if we are drowning! So, it is also a lesson to live in the moment, learn to accept death, and die well. Lol. There are always two sides 😉
Those that rise in rank sooner than others, well… it is a test for everyone. It is a test for those that cannot accept it, and also for those who received the ranks. If both parties view ranking superficially and in a materialistic sense, no true understanding will evolve. They may continue training but, the depth of understanding of what they are doing may only ever reach skin or ego depth. They have succumb to desire, lack of maturity, and the unfortunate state of thinking in this modern world. The only way is to live in the Kukan ( space of life ).
We must also acknowledge that Soke respects those with “real world” experiences. These people are often ranked quickly out of respect, regardless of their actual dojo ability. Soke says that if these people have seen battle and survived, they understand budo. We have to remember that Soke never saw battle. According to Nagato Sensei, Soke felt for many years that he could not successfully pass on the feeling of Takamatsu Sensei as he had never killed anyone. Therefore, I believe Soke admires and respects those with similar qualities and gives them ranks/awards/status from sincere respect ( among other things ).
As a result, we see a wide variety of skill sets in the Bujinkan. Those that cannot or did not accept this manner of ranking have left the Bujinkan or cause problems. These people have their own strong ideas of what ranking should be like and cannot see beyond to Sokes teachings. If you are one of these people, it might be better that you leave the Bujinkan or, just shut up and train.
Any issue that arises is not Sokes problem. It is ours. If we cannot accept it, then we have to change it to appease our egos. If we were true students, we would learn to accept the teachings of our Soke. His life is testament to his teachings. Therefore, don`t follow your own way, follow the way laid by 2000 years of Budo transmission. Just as Soke has.
I hope that one day enough of us will mature to continue following Sokes transmissions in tune with the path of nature.
The tradition of the Bujinkan recognizes nature and the universality of all human life, and is aware of that which flows naturally between the two parts:
“The secret principle of Taijutsu is to know the foundations of peace.To study is the path to the immovable heart (fudoshin).”
To know that patience comes first.
To know that the path of Man comes from justice.
To renounce avarice, indolence, and obstinacy.
To recognize sadness and worry as natural,
and to seek the immovable heart.
To not stray from the path of loyalty,
and with a balance between the pen and the sword,
always delve deeper into the heart of Budo.
To follow this code is part of the dojo’ guidelines.
Meiji 23 (1890) Spring, Toda Shinryuken Masamitsu
Showa 33 (1958) March, Takamatsu Toshitsugu Uou
Hatsumi Masaaki Byakuryu