I studied this art in 1986 and 1987. There was no "school" at that time in the Baltimore/Washington DC area (where I was stationed) but there were two training groups led by 5th-6th kyu green belts. I practiced with the Bujinkan Dojo Baltimore Shibu, a group led by a local 5th kyu. We had a black belt advisor who came in occasionally to oversee progress. In addition, every couple of months there would be a seminar where a black belt instructor would be brought in and who would teach the club and other people who came to the seminar. One of those seminars featured Stephen Hayes, then the preeminent practitioner of the Bujinkan school in the US.
Some years later, during a period where I had returned to school to get my degree and to try to move out of the poverty I'd lived in since leaving the Air Force, I restarted my interest in Bujinkan. At that time, I learned there had been a schism of sorts between the folks associated with Stephen Hayes and others in the Bujinkan system. Again, there was no school where I was located. However, I received permission from the Nine Gates organization to open a local club where I would teach what I had learned, provided some people from our club went to the Dayton area dojo periodically to study and bring material back to the club. Unfortunately, interest in the art was sporadic and no one stayed long. Frankly, I think no one was willing to accept teaching from someone who wasn't that much beyond them.
Since then, I've continued looking and, frankly, I began to wonder if either group--Hayes' or the other--suited me any more. While the material being taught in Bujinkan had not changed noticeably, the way it was being covered, and the emphases, had. Neither organization seems to match what I want at this time.
Bujinkan is a very flexible art. It can be hard or soft depending on the practitioner and the situation. Bujinkan incorporates strikes, takedowns, joint locking techniques, and weapons. Defensively, it has both blocks and "stop hits" (striking the attacking limb--a difference in focus from "blocking") but the main defense against strikes is through motion and position--being out of reach, or off the line of the attack, or moving in the same direction so the attack loses force. Its grappling techniques emphasize flexibility, leverage, and mass in motion over muscle strength.
One reader of this page asked some questions about my experiences with the Bujinkan. The questions (repeated by permission) and my answers are here:
The club format was not very structured. We would generally start with some warm-up exercises and some rollouts--on the ground in our outdoor venue and on a hardwood floor in our indoor venue (no mats). After that, the member (usually one of the higher ranked members) would lead through a series of technique drills. Sometimes we would cover very basic stuff--fall back to ichimonji, rocking from a "back" ichimonji to a "front" ichimonji, leading hand punches from jumonji, trailing hand punches from jumonji, and so on. Other times we would cover more sophisticated moves, takedowns, defenses against various attacks, weapons, joint locks, and so on. As you can see, the syllabus was quite varied.
Back when I was studying Bujinkan, the art in the US pretty much entirely derived from Stephen Hayes. A few had started to bring it to the US without going through Hayes, but that was a distinctly minority position at that time. However, when I sought to return to the art in about '93-'94 I found that there were a number of people who were teaching the art who had no connection to Hayes. More, they were actively opposed to Hayes. In particular, they were claiming that what he was teaching wasn't matching what was taught in Japan. Apparently two things contributed to that. One was that Hatsumi sensei had changed the approach to teaching the art and Hayes was still using the older methods. Another was that Hayes himself had modified the teaching approach from what had been taught. For example, in Hatsumi's own writings the "four element" approach (dividing techniques according to whether they were "earth," "water," "fire," or "wind" techniques) was only an idea mentioned in passing. Hayes made it the cornerstone of his teaching approach. I don't really know enough about the matter to say what the truth is. Just that there were two groups, in opposing camps, and in the course of evolving neither one really matched what I had been doing back in Baltimore. In addition, my own needs have changed which leads to the situation where I didn't, and don't, think Bujinkan is the right art for me at this time--in either form.
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