Catching Up…

On November 28, 2010, in Training Events, by jonfmerz

The last month has been a lot of fun for the Bujinkan Komugakure Group. Our usual Sunday night classes have delved into topics such as knife defense, handgun defense, shoot/no-shoot exercises using our taijutsu, throwing and joint lock techniques, working on targeting drills for striking, and much more. The idea of each class is to take a segment of training and break it apart, doing our best to use it under high-pressure situations and thereby develop more confidence in being able to use it when it counts – not just when it’s relatively easy.

Halloween night saw the group engaged in a dead drop recovery exercise that tested stealth techniques, escape & evasion skills, concealment, and communication while under duress. Two hours of evading security patrols while recovering the target package and exfiltrating to a safe zone made for a very enjoyable night of training. We’ll be doing more in the future.

As the winter months set in, the group will continue to train outdoors in the cold environs, padded down with parkas and thick layers, all of which will add a new and different level of challenge to the techniques. Come join us and have some fun!

 

The Strategy of Chaos

On October 27, 2010, in Thoughts, Uncategorized, by jonfmerz

A few quick questions to start this post:

If you were a big organization looking to maintain control, which would you prefer: a cohesive, well-run, well-integrated company, or a fragmented, mismanaged environment rife with ego-battling?

If you were a shadowy conspiracy type, do you think the powers that be would have an easier time controlling and manipulating the populace if they pitted multiple factions of the bitter, angry folks against each other or if the people were living in harmony with one another?

If you were a boxer, do you think it would be easier relying solely on a one-punch knockout, or would you rather use a series of combinations to set up your opponent for an eventual knockout shot?

In each of the above situations, the element of inducing chaos is one of the strategies that might be employed. Chaos, by its definition, is great disorder or confusion. And perhaps more than ever before, inducing chaos is a strategy being relied upon by anyone looking to control or manipulate something or someone.

The martial art of ninjutsu, which I’ve had the great fortune to study now for over twenty years, is a system of espionage and intelligence gathering as much as it is about actual physical fighting. In some respects, the importance of espionage and intelligence gathering is even more important, because if through objective observation one can determine the scenarios which might unfold, then a physical confrontation may never even be necessary. And it’s always nice to win a fight without having to fight.

The lessons within ninjutsu are both common sense and profound, but only if one sees the lessons being presented. Within the Bujinkan organization, the grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi, is the ultimate spymaster. He knows what makes every person who walks into his dojo tick. And he often gives them exactly what they’re looking for. Back when the rest of the world was just beginning to learn about ninjutsu, Hatsumi-sensei’s organization was a small, type-knit group of core practitioners. These men were his original circle of trusted students and friends. But when “The Ninja Boom” of the 1980s happened, Hatsumi-sensei was faced with a great task: how to manage an organization that exponentially exploded almost overnight? Was it best controlled through a series of stringent guidelines that produced a cohesive student body governed by an established hierarchy?

Maybe.

After all, there are rules for “participation in the Bujinkan,” that spell out what is expected of the practitioner, his or her ethics, morals, etc. (And there is some degree of hierarchy, but it’s frankly rather silly. Westerners with a tenth of the time training in the art are promoted to obscenely high ranks and then attach titles like “shihan” to their names in an effort to make themselves look better than they actually are.)

But Hatsumi-sensei uses a better technique for controlling his organization: chaos.

How does he do it? Pretty easily, actually. His understanding of human nature is so refined that he knows what a little bit of disinformation will do if placed in the appropriate ear. All it takes is a few insecure individuals puppy-dog eager to consider themselves as close confidants of the grandmaster and you have all the messengers you need. Hatsumi-sensei then plants a small seed of suspicion, or an opinion, or some other statement. Then he sits back and watches it work.

Perhaps he says something like, “Teacher X doesn’t visit me that much in Japan anymore.” It’s a pretty innocuous statement. But when placed into the ear of an insecure person, it becomes much more than that. That recipient then starts spreading this nugget around. “Well, I heard Hatsumi-sensei say that he’s concerned that Teacher X doesn’t visit him in Japan anymore.” And knowing how gossip grows and spreads, the rest is history. Before you know it, the internet is abuzz with people declaring that Teacher X is no longer part of the Bujinkan or some other equally silly notion.

Consider this: if Hatsumi-sensei knows he’s got someone nearby who happens to be among the most vocal of gossipers, he might just wait until they’re getting ready to leave the dojo. Hatsumi-sensei will then ask for their help “removing some of the highest ranks name plackets from the rank board.” The student dutifully does this for Hatsumi-sensei and then leaves, already texting that he saw Hatsumi remove Teacher Y’s name stick from the board. Of course, Hatsumi-sensei may just have been dusting the board, or he may have removed it at Teacher Y’s behest. Or he may have done it to further induce chaos into his organization.

Perhaps Hatsumi-sensei has a particularly annoying visitor always hanging around his office. This guy just doesn’t know how to take a hint that Hatsumi-sensei would like some alone time. So, rather than simply telling this guy to take off, Hatsumi-sensei uses it as yet another way to control his organization. So he shows this clown some of the scrolls from one of the schools we study from and says something like, “This is the only way this kata was done.” Now the clown goes around telling practitioners that Hatsumi-sensei told him the kata was only done this particular way. Further, this clown now states that anyone training with him should only be training with him because he alone knows the true correct way to practice the art. (Of course, you’d have to be pretty stupid and naive to actually believe this, since this is a combat art and there is no ONE way to properly apply this art in the midst of combat. You do what works and what gets you home safely – if you’re bitching about whether your rear hand is properly positioned to approximate the Gyokko-ryu, you’re probably already dead – and mercifully so.)

So now, the grandmaster of ninjutsu has an organization that functions exactly the way he wants it to. There are rival factions, massive egos belied by even more massive insecurity, and rampant silliness that produces a mockery not seen before in the martial arts world. The vast majority of students fall for this manipulation because they forget what the nature of the art is. And this is perhaps the biggest lesson of all: Hatsumi-sensei isn’t doing this maliciously, per se, (although he is most certainly interested in keeping things under control) but he’s offering students of ninjutsu a tremendous opportunity to learn how they might ensure they aren’t manipulated by others in this fashion. And how to include this technique in their own arsenal.

Of course, you’ve got to be able to see it and most of these people never will. Which is fine. And even though some of the people this article speaks of will read this, they will just as quickly shake their heads and discount it. Because if they acknowledge the theory that this might be true, then the foundation of lies they’ve built their shaky house of fantasy on comes toppling down and what they’re left with will be a truth too brutal to bear.

But what if you don’t practice ninjutsu? Does this concept hold true elsewhere?

Let’s look at the political world. We’re less than one week away from midterm elections and the airwaves are filled with more attack ads then ever before.

Ignore your own political leanings for a moment and consider this: when President Obama was swept into the presidency, there was a real groundswell of optimism brewing in a significant chunk of the population. Those who voted for him were enraptured, to some extent, by his promises of a brighter future, change, and prosperity. He had the charisma, the ideas, and the oratory skills to make his case for occupying the highest office in the land. And he won.

If you agree with the idea that the real power in this world isn’t held by politicians at all – but by various consortia, corporations, dynastic types, the ghost of Elvis, whatever – then can you imagine what they must have felt seeing that emerging sense of unity and optimism? I’d wager they saw a significant amount of their control slipping away. After all, a unified people are much harder to control, much harder to sway. So what to do?

The Tea Party.

Independents.

No longer do we have a political landscape dominated by two parties (some might argue this, but both parties have been endangered by the emergence of these new players). The Republicans and the Democrats now have other things to worry about from both a new third party wanna-be and disgruntled members of both parties going Independent. An undercurrent of fear – which the previous administration used so adeptly to finagle nefarious legislation through Congress – percolated until it was ready. Now we have a nation that is being subjected to the most divisive extremist thought being espoused by candidates in decades. We have long-time incumbents being accused of ethical violations. We have a voter body so exhausted by the continuous mud-slinging that many of them don’t know who to vote for, just so long as the advertisements and robo-calls stop. And nowhere in this election cycle do we have candidates actually fielding solid plans for making things better. Every one of them is engaged in countering attacks, redirecting attacks, ducking the mud, and just trying to not look as bad as the other guy long enough for Tuesday to get here.

And you know what? That hope and optimism that endangered the control of this country is now gone. It’s been replaced by fear and division.

Chaos.

Those in control know that the vast majority of people won’t take the time to actually get the truth about things. They know that a whispered snippet of suspicion, that a sound bite that hits a primal fear, or that just the right look of contempt, are all the majority have time for. “President Obama is a Muslim.” “Christine O’Donnell is a witch.” “Sarah Palin is an idiot.” “Nancy Pelosi cohabitates with a transvestite koala bear named Zippy Garlin.” So that’s exactly what they give us. They don’t want one party in command because that’s simply too dangerous. They want a divided union; one easier to sway and manipulate and bend to their own actual agendas.

For the boxer who relies on the single knockout, it can be a dangerous road to victory. He’s got to bob and weave and jab and position himself just so perfectly in order to unleash that one single juggernaut shot that will end the fight. While some have the skill to make it look easy, it’s anything but.

Most boxers work combinations. And for good reason. A series of shots to various parts of the body overloads the nervous system, inducing chaos within the opponent. As the opponent’s nervous system struggles to catalog and address all the impulses flooding it (registering the hit, the pain it causes, the physiological reaction to the shot, etc. etc.) the boxer sees other openings – other targets to attack. And the tidal wave crashes down on the opponent again and again until a knockout is achieved or the fight is stopped. The boxer divides the body of the opponent; he breaks up the harmony that his opponent has trained so hard to achieve; and he uses that to ultimately control the opponent with a KO.

The inducement of chaos is brilliant strategy for controlling and manipulating situations and it’s literally all around us. What makes it so hard to defend against is our own human nature.

In the case of the ninja grandmaster, he knows that people want to feel like he’s confiding in them, that they are “special” or that they need to be “protectors of the lineage.” The truth is the lineage doesn’t need them; it’s been around for a thousand years and will be long after they’re gone.

In the case of politics, those really in control understand that most people are easily swayed by that which requires the least effort on their part to understand. The truth is they don’t care how we vote, provided no one party/ideal/attitude has too much sway. A divided union is an easily controlled one.

In the case of the boxer, he knows that a string of hits is going to be harder to defend than a single KO shot. The truth is if he can overload his opponent, then the KO shot will come naturally.

Using chaos to control a situation, a body of people, or even a nation is a pretty fascinating concept and by studying it, it allows us to objectively understand how others might be trying to employ it on us. Then we can take steps to make sure we don’t fall prey to its incredible power.

Thanks for reading!

 

Evolution of a Martial Art

On October 19, 2010, in Thoughts, by jonfmerz

When I started training in martial arts several decades back, the styles I studied were very two-dimensional. In other words, they were written down – sometimes with photos or illustrations – but there was nothing alive about them. They were a cataloged series of techniques/kata/movements that existed for me much the same way they had existed since the art began many years ago. It was passed down, ostensibly by teacher to student who would progress to become a teacher with his own students, pretty much as it had been for generations previously. Even today, there are certain koryu bujutsu enthusiasts who believe that techniques must be preserved and passed on exactly as they were for hundreds of years. They are exacting – to the point of being incredibly anal retentive – about what they do. But most of them are also honest: they don’t pretend to be able to use their art in combat. For them, it’s more of a recreation, much the same as those who dress up in military uniforms from the Civil War to reenact battles would be.

For a combat martial art like Ninjutsu, however, this approach is wrong; it robs the art of its life. There’s no sense of vitality to it. Combat cannot be reduced to two-dimensional snippets. It is an ever-changing, ever-evolving situation and the art needs to be that way as well.

As a beginning student, we walk into a new school filled with wonder, apprehension, and the proverbial empty cup. As years pass, we grow comfortable with the tradition, its mechanics, and the training partners we sometimes come to call friends. Eventually, our own evolution in the art produces a certain degree of skill within us and we may be inclined to become teachers. Sometimes, this happens when the student is ready to take on the mantle of teaching and the incredible responsibility that position entails.

The best teachers are those who continue to view themselves as students, always looking to add to their pool of knowledge and experience. They are forever looking further down their own path to the information they can incorporate into their own evolution. They study constantly, subjecting the techniques to the constant fire of real life, for it is only in this crucible that true experiences worthy of being handed down to a new generation of students are gathered. This is the legacy of this martial art. It is the reason why the art continues to evolve instead of being confined to the two-dimensional status of other arts.

But sometimes, becoming a teacher happens much, much sooner than it should. The reasons can be many: rabid insecurity and a lack of success in other areas of life may cause one to seek the position, a student may be graded at a higher rank as a test by their teacher to see if they allow their ego to trip them up, a desire for fame, status, or money, the need to be seen as some type of expert, etc. etc. etc.

Inevitably, what happens to those who should not teach – but do – is that they end up killing the art they may once have loved. They stop learning; they stop evolving. Worse, their inability to pass on even basic fundamentals to students can end up causing those students to get hurt or potentially die because of the teacher’s lack of experience. Those who teach but should not have a tendency to view themselves as masters of material that is far greater in depth and volume than most of us – truthfully, pretty much all of us – have the capacity to learn to the degree that we can pull it out and use it when we need to. There is simply too much to learn.

Yet the best teachers always try.

Those who teach but should not don’t try to learn this material as if they were still that beginning student filled with wonder. They try to assimilate the material only enough so they have something new to show their students. But they know deep down that they don’t understand it, so they explain that lack of ability away by casually lumping in this new information with the old. “This is just like that kata” or “this is just like that movement we did six years back.”

Only it’s not.

The best teachers don’t allow themselves to get trapped by the position of teaching. In other words, when it’s time to teach, they teach from their experience of working with the material they have learned and tried to master as students; they teach having used this stuff in the real world, knowing the emotional flux that happens, the uncertainty of facing a real threat, and the confidence they have gained from emerging safely on the other side of the conflict. But when they’re done teaching, they go back to being that student all over again. The cycle repeats. And as their experiences mount, their students are richer for it. This natural cycle becomes the basis of why this art continues to evolve.

Those who teach but should not, on the other hand, find themselves trapped by the status they sought so fervently. The need to always be seen as someone who is an expert, or the desire for others to gaze upon them with wonder, or the need to change their own personal history to try to be a part of something they never were, is fueled by insecurity and inability to stop the downward spiral they’re trapped on. The result is a further diminishing of skill in that would-be teacher, in the skills of those they would teach, and in the art itself. One only need go to Youtube and enter “Bujinkan” to see ready examples of why this art suffers from a tragically horrid reputation within the martial arts world. Too many people want/need/must be teachers without having the time, skill, or personal integrity to be one.

Those who teach, but should not, are forever scrambling to find new material to teach their students, lest they lose their students. As they scramble, the veil of ineptitude slips inevitably away, exposing the lack of skill. The students leave anyway.

But the best teachers have an inexhaustible supply of material to teach based on the fact they are always having new experiences from which to draw. As they evolve, so too do their students. So, too, does the art.

So while there exist far too many teachers who should not teach but do, there are also those who teach and should. For this amazing art, that is a good thing. It means the art will continue to live and evolve as it should, to always address the needs of the newest generation of warriors.

While those who teach but should not will inevitably end up blowing away like the very same two-dimension pages they draw their limited scope of knowledge from.

And the evolution continues.

 

Sunday Night Training, October 10th, 2010

On October 10, 2010, in Training Events, by jonfmerz

Thanks to everyone who came out tonight for another great session under the stars. Minus our run-in with the rabid dachshunds (kidding) we had a fantastic time looking at gyaku waza on the uneven terrain of the grassy slopes in Medfield, MA. After the gyaku waza, we examined ways of using knives in the flow of a fight. And finally, we examined another seriously awful situation to find yourself in when the attacker has a knife and is determined to use it. It was another good opportunity to explore being in the midst of an uncomfortable situation and figure out how to survive it. Everyone looked great! Next week, we’ll be back at it for 9pm! Have a wonderful week everyone!

 

Methods & Goals (or How to Control Your Universe)

On October 7, 2010, in Thoughts, by jonfmerz

Ask anyone what their goals in life are and chances are pretty decent that the vast majority of them will spout off a list of fairly general ideas. “I want to be rich.” “I want to live a long life.” “I want to have a great career.” These are pretty standard, pie-in-the-sky ideals that a lot of us have grown up dreaming about. Usually, these ideals are tacked on to the end of a statement like, “Wouldn’t it be great if one day…?”

The problem with stating goals in such a general way is that the likelihood of them ever actually occurring – of the energy in the universe coordinating itself to bring that goal into reality – is slim to none. One of the reasons why goals stated in such general terms don’t normally come to fruition is because they are too general. They’re not specific enough. Not enough detail. In other words, has the person wishing for these things really devoted a lot of time to what their goal is? Have they figured out exactly what they want?

Look at the differences between the following:

“I want to be rich.” VS. “I want to design a new operating system for Apple computers that will sell millions of copies and thereby make me a billionaire.”

“I want to drop twenty pounds.” VS. “I want to start a new program of walking an hour each day and cutting back on the volume of food I eat, while increasing the amount of water I drink.”

“I want to be a bestselling author.” VS. “I want to write a great new urban fantasy series that my agent will then sell for a lot of money, leading the publisher and book chains to get behind it and sell millions of copies.”

The first goals aren’t really goals at all. Nor are they dreams. They’re only a vague inkling of desire. There’s no energy put into them, so there’s no energy going out into the universe to make them reality.

The second set are indeed goals. They’re detailed. There’s significant thought behind each one. There’s real energy contained within the expression of each one. But each of them also has something else the first set does not have: the beginning of a method.

Methods are absolutely vital for pretty much every aspect of our lives as we know it. But lately, I’ve seen several people advocating an abandonment of method, preferring instead to imply that the goal is the most important thing, and that the method doesn’t matter much at all. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Within the system of martial arts I study – ninjutsu – there is a a subset discipline known as kuji-in which is derived in parts from Mikkyo esoteric Buddhism. During one of the training events held by Stephen K. Hayes he advocated against simply tossing out careless energy into the universe. The example he used was of someone desiring to be rich. So they simply repeat a sort-of mantra over and over again: “I want to be rich.” But there’s no detail, thought, or energy in the desire. So, the universe, being the universe it is, decides one day to have a tree fall on the house of the parents of the person who wishes to be rich. Both parents are killed. Now the inheritance goes to the person wanting to be rich and lo and behold, they are now rich.

“But that’s not what I meant!”

At which point, the universe cocks an eyebrow and says, “Hey, Slim, you said you wanted to be rich. You didn’t say anything about how you wanted to get that cash. So we improvised. It’s not our fault you didn’t know how to spell out your goals so there was a method to them. Deal with it.”

Detailed goals contain a method within them that enables the energy of desire to flow along a proper conduit toward actual achievement and realization of that goal.

Let’s look at this again: “I want to design a new operating system for Apple computers that will sell millions of copies and thereby make me a billionaire.”

Goal: become a billionaire.

Method: STEP 1 – design a new operating system for Apple STEP 2 – Sell or license operating system technology to Apple STEP 3 – Cash paychecks

Each of the above steps has within it its own set of steps, smaller waypoints along the path to success, that must be taken in order for the energy to continue to flow along toward the actualization of this eventual goal. (example: designing a new OS for Apple would inherently mean you would need to first learn how to code for computers, figure out how to then improve existing OS technology, and then code and debug a new OS – among many other smaller steps) Skipping or bypassing any of those steps may well cause the entire goal to derail. At which point, it’s no longer a goal at all. It’s most likely a New Year’s resolution. :)

The same thing happens in fighting. You don’t simply become good at martial arts. You have to figure out what style you want to study, how to find a good school, how to put on the uniform, how to figure out stances or kamae, how to move your body, how to coordinate your limbs and motion, how to breathe, how to stay clam under pressure, how the mechanics of striking, grappling, throwing, joint locks, weapon usage, and strategy all work. And again, within each of these steps are subsets of other steps. This is the way it’s always been taught, and for good reason. Students need a proper path – a proven method – in order to acquire skill at what they are studying. Advocating the abandonment of method in favor of the end goal is a recipe for disaster. In fact, it’s also terribly irresponsible for any teacher to espouse as it might well get the student killed.

For sure there are alternative methods to acquiring, say, an outward wrist lock (what, in ninjutsu, is known as omote gyaku) but you don’t simply say, “I’m going to get an omote gyaku” and expect to somehow achieve it without a method. That’s just silly. For beginning students, they learn a basic method for acquiring an omote gyaku – they understand mechanically how the lock works and how to affect it. More senior practitioners understand that they can get that omote gyaku in any number of ways, provided the basic mechanical method is still adhered to. But it doesn’t just happen.

Methods exist in pretty much all aspects of life. Babies don’t suddenly turn into adults. Seasons don’t just change.

And goals don’t just happen, either.

So the next time you think about your goals, ask yourself if you’ve given them enough thought and detail. Are you stating that goal in the best possible way? Is there real thought, information, and energy behind it? Once you’ve stated the goals the way they should be stated, are you then following the method that is inherent in your well-stated goal? Are you taking the steps and substeps that need to be taken in order to keep things moving toward actualization?

And if you’ve got goals that have gone stagnant or died completely, is there a way you can revive them?

Remember that the universe appreciates careful, directed energy a whole lot more than chaotic, unfocused energy. And you have a responsibility to not generate chaos as much as you can avoid doing so. Be careful with your stated intent-make sure you’ve given it the careful thought it requires.

But if you’ve done the work that focused intention deserves, then there is no reason why your goals will not become reality.

Good luck!

NOTE: when I write on topics like this, I prefer to use the term “the universe” as a reflection of my own spiritual inclinations. But feel free to substitute your own for mine. God, Jesus Christ, Allah, Mother Nature, the Buddha, Yahweh, Shiva, Mother Earth, Frank Zappa or whatever all work just as well as the term I’ve chosen. :)

 

T-Shirts Now Available!

On October 6, 2010, in Training Events, Training Gear, by jonfmerz

We’re using Zazzle.com to create print-on-demand T-shirts for the training group. Zazzle does some great work and I just ordered my own. We’ll eventually get the logo design embroidered as well for even more gear choices. For now, click the link below to grab your own!

 

Welcome to the Website

On September 28, 2010, in Thoughts, Training Events, by jonfmerz

Just got the website up and going, so I hope folks cruising in from elsewhere will find the info helpful. The training group has already conducted two successful outings and we have many more planned. It’s getting cooler now as Autumn rolls in, which means nice crisp nights for training and fewer bugs.

This coming weekend is the annual New England Warrior Camp run by my good friend and buyu, Ken Savage of the Winchendon Martial Arts Center. I’m honored to be teaching there again this year and for those of you who came out last night, you may have gotten a sneak-peek at what I’m presenting…

In any event, it’s great to have such a strong community of excellent Bujinkan practitioners around. I’m looking forward to training with you all!

-Jon

 

Sunday, September 26th Training

On September 28, 2010, in Training Events, by jonfmerz

Fourteen of us got together on the cool, drizzly Sunday last night and had a blast working on knife defenses in the dark field bordering a huge swath of conservation land. It was great to see everyone come out and have some fun. Not a bad way to end the weekend! As you can see from the picture (photo courtesy of Arianne d’Entremont Borgatti) there were plenty of green grass-stained knees from the training.

Thanks to everyone for coming out! We do it again in two weeks!