Monday, 8 May 2017

Introduction to Bujinkan Budō Taijutsu

Bujinkan Grandmaster Hatsumi Masaaki
   Previously, I had given you a short introduction to Bujinkan in my post Introduction: Bujinkan at the start of my blog. Indeed that was just for a total beginner or novice to let him/her understand what Bujinkan is and it was also my intention to define the purpose of this blog. Now going more towards the actual business, I am going to post in detail about the structure of the system of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu i.e its fields, levels, ranks and training methods.
   'Bujinkan' consists of three sub-words: 'Bu' meaning 'warrior'; 'Jin' meaning 'Godly/divine' and 'Kan' meaning 'hall', hence it gives the complete meaning roughly as 'Divine Warriors' Hall'. Similarly in 'Budō', 'Bu' means warrior while 'dō' means 'way', hence, Budō simply means 'way of warrior' or 'martial way'; and in 'Taijutsu', 'Tai' roughly means 'free body' while 'Jutsu' means 'technique', hence, Taijutsu means 'free body techniques'. Now going further into the details, 'Bujinkan' is the name of the system or organization that has collected the arts of ninpō and bujutsu into one curriculum; 'Budō' is the name of martial system(s) in general, while, 'Taijutsu' is a branch or part of it which deals mostly with unarmed combat.
   So Bujinkan as a combination of arts from three ninpō ryū-ha and six bujutsu ryu-ha consists of 9 sub-systems, each from the specific ryū-ha. These are:
  1. Togakure-ryū ninpō
  2. Gyokushin-ryū ninpō
  3. Kumogakure-ryū ninpō 
  4. Shinden Fudo-ryū Dakentaijutsu
  5. Gyokko-ryū Koshijutsu
  6. Koto-ryū Koppōjutsu
  7. Gikan-ryū Koppōjutsu
  8. TakagiYoshin-ryū Jūtaijutsu
  9. Kukishinden-ryū Happō Bikenjutsu
   Some history and summary of what each of this system is about has been given in History: Bujinkan part 1 and History: Bujinkan part 2. Each ryū-ha will be separately discussed in detail in their specific posts later. So far you must know that the first three subsystems in the above list are that of ninpō (arts of the ninja) while the later six are bujutsu (samurai martial arts) schools. These ryū-ha were inherited by Hatsumi Masaaki Sōke from Takamatsu Toshitsugu Sōke.

Bujinkan Ranks and Grades: The lowest grade/rank is mukyū ('mu':'empty/nothing', 'kyū':'level/grade'; mukyū: 'no grade') while the highest rank is that of Sōke (grandmaster of the tradition).

Click to See Full Size Image
   The above image shows the various ranks, degree or grades of Bujinkan, in ascension from left to right and top to bottom. A student starts in mukyū when he first joins the Bujinkan Dōjō. Depending upon the likeness of the Shihan (master instructor) under the mastership of whom the Dōjō comes, the mukyū level can be skipped and the student be started directly into the 9th Kyū which is the lowest level of the Kyū system. The student then progresses upto the level of 1st Kyū which is the highest level of the Kyū system and is then given the rank of Shodan (1st dan/level blackbelt) and also gains the title of Shidōshi-ho (junior instructor).

   A Shidōshi-ho can not open a Bujinkan Dōjō under his/her own name and has to be under the care or supervision of a Shidōshi and a Shihan; He can train and grade students upto one level below him, by the permission of or through a Shihan i.e he doesn't have the direct authority to pass a student to the next level but can recommend a student under him to the Shihan and the Shihan will request for the student's ranking certificate from the Bujinkan Honbu Dōjō. Upto to the level of Yondan (4rth level blackbelt) the person is considered Shidōshi-ho after which he/she gives the Sakki test for the Godan (5th level blackbelt) which he/she has to give at Bujinkan Honbu Dōjō (or it can be at another place but) under the direct supervision of Hatsumi Masaaki Sōke.

   After passing the Sakki test for Godan, a person receives certification for Shidōshi (instructor). He/she can open a Bujinkan Dōjō under his own name but to receive certification for his/her students from Bujinkan Honbu Dōjō, he/she has to be in contact with a Shihan in contact with Bujinkan Honbu Dōjō. A Shidōshi can grade students upto the level of Yondan (4th level blackbelt).
   After a person attains the level of Godan (5th level blackbelt), he/she has to regularly train in Bujinkan Honbu Dōjō or attend the annual seminars (TaiKai) to be able to progress towards Judan (10th level blackbelt). There is no specific grading criteria after Godan (5th level blackbelt) and it is totally upon the likeness of the Shihan and Sōke to pass you to the next level. Generally it is dependent upon your services and dedication towards Bujinkan Budo which is measured by the years of teaching you have given to Bujinkan students, seminars you have attended and time you have trained in Bujinkan Honbu Dōjō. Once a person achieves the level of Judan (10th level blackbelt), he/she is regarded as Shihan (master instructor). A Shihan is able to teach and grade students upto the level of Kyudan (9th level blackbelt). He/she is able to form not only a Bujinkan Dōjō under his/her own name but now a days Sōke is also allowing individuals to form their separate system that is not dependent on Bujinkan Honbu Dōjō for grading and certifying students. The Shihan certification can only be given by the Sōke himself. Judan is generally the highest dan in martial arts and it was so in Bujinkan too in the beginning but Sōke has further expanded it to the level of JuGodan (15th level blackbelt). From Judan to JuGodan, it is totally upon the likeness of Sōke to promote a Shihan to the next level. Generally it is measured by his/her spirit to spread the wealth of Bujinkan budō around the world.

   Levels and Ranks in Bujinkan are signified through the following insignia:
Belts: There are only four colors of belts used in Bujinkan. These are white, green, red and black.
White belt is worn by the mukyū students while green is worn by students from 9th kyū to 1st kyū. Red belt is worn only by females of 9th kyū to 1st kyū level but now most of the dōjō prefer to use the same green color for both male and female. All blackbelts from Shodan to 15th dan Shihan wear the black belt. White color signifies a new spirit, green signifies flourish while Black color signifies experience. Red signifies a flowery growth.

Patches and Stars: All students of Bujinkan -except mukyū- wear a circular patch with 'bujin' 武神 written on it, to represent their school. Students of mukyū level wear no patch and no star. Students from 9th to 1st kyū levels wear red patches with white 'bujin' letters and white boundary. Students of 9th kyū has no star; students of 8th kyū to 5th kyū respectively wears one, two, three and four white/silver stars and students of 4th kyū to 1st kyū wear respectively one, two, three and four gold stars.
   After one becomes Shodan blackbelt, his patch changes to deep red with black 'bujin' letters and black boundary; this remains so upto yondan (4th dan). Shodan has no star while nidan, sandan and yondan respectively has one, two and three white/silver stars. Bujinkan members of Godan (5th level blackbelt) to kyudan (9th dan) wear light red patch with white 'bujin' letters and white boundary. This shift of color signifies a new spirit with added experience. Godan blackbelt has no star while from 6th dan to 9th dan the members wear one, two and three gold stars respectively.
   All Shihan wear a patch with green 'bujin' letters, yellowish background and blue boundary. What I think is that blue signifies water, yellow signifies soil while green signifies the plant but I don't know exactly yet. Judan (10th dan) Shihan has no star while 11th dan to 15th dan have one to five gold stars respectively.
   Sōke has the unique patch with red background, gold 'bujin' letters and golden boundary. This is to signify that he is the 'dragon master' of the school.

Bujinkan Budō Training: Training in Bujinkan Budō is based on the principle of Tenchijin ('Ten':'Heaven'; 'Chi':'Earth'; 'Jin':'Spirit/Man') where 'Heaven' symobolizes knowledge, 'Earth' symbolizes physical training and 'Jin' symbolizes spiritual training.  This is used for philosophical classification of Bujinkan Budō elements. For example, training from mukyū to 1st kyū can be considered as 'Ten' since it comprises of the basics of the Bujinkan budō; from Shodan (1st dan) to Godan (5th dan) it can be considered as 'Chi' since it consists of physical implementation of techniques (Kata) of those techniques and from Godan onward, it's considered as 'Jin' since now the Bujinkan practitioner works on infinite variations of those techniques (Henka) and also works for the personality development of his/her own and the people (especially students) around him by nurturing the true spirit of budō (way of the warrior).

Bujinkan Techniques
Click to see full size image

       For the physical classification, Bujikan budō can be divided into two main branches: Taijutsu (unarmed techniques) and Weaponry. First let's look to weaponry. The following weaponry fields are taught comprehensively in the Bujinkan curriculum:

1. Kenjutsu: consists of the sword techniques including Kamae (stances), Nuki (sword draws), kiri (sword cuts). Various types of swords such as tachi (long sword), nodachi (big sword), ken (two-edged sword) and shoto (small sword) are also practiced and not only Katana (standard samurai sword).

Sōke geared up with various swords

2. Bōjutsu: is the art of using simple stick/staff as a weapon. Various types of Bō such as the Rokushaku Bō (~six feet staff) and Hanbō (half stick - ~3 feet staff) and Jō (~4 feet staff) are taught comprehensively in Bujinkan Budō. It is to be mentioned that these are not just taught to swing around but for actual attack and defense against single and multiple attackers.

Sōke handling two armed opponents with a Jō staff

3. Tantōjutsu: consists of the techniques of attack and defense using knife. While the other fields of weaponry taught in Bujinkan budō are often considered as impractical to the current era, this is at least one of the fields which no one should have objection that it is impractical to the current age.

Cover of book Knife and Pistol Fighting by Hatsumi Sōke
4. Nawajutsu: Nawa: rope so nawajutsu is the art of using rope for various purposes such as binding an opponent, tripping an enemy, setting up traps and other shinobi activities.

Our Shihan taking an opponent out using a nawajutsu

5. Shurikenjutsu: Shuriken includes all types of projectiles/throwing weapons from a small needle to a large spear which can be thrown. There are various types of shuriken mainly classified as bōshuriken (bō: stick) and shaken. The bōshuriken as name suggest as straight stick like and are the actual shuriken extensively used for combat and other purposes by samurai and ninja. The shaken have a star like pattern and are the most famous today. Shurikenjutsu comprises of all the techniques of the use of shuriken including not only to throw them but also use it in taijutsu (hand to hand combat) and how to conceal (hide) them along your body and in your clothes.

Sōke throwing business cards as Shuriken

6. Juttejutsu: Jutte is a weapon similar to Sai, with one straight batton like structure and a hook to capture swords. Juttejutsu comprises of the techniques of using not jutte but similar weapons like tessen (hand fan), Sai to which the same principles are applicable.

Sōke holding a Jutte for demonstration
7. Kusarijutsu: Kusari: Chain so kusarijutsu consists of the techniques employing simply chain as a weapon or mostly chain with weights on ends such as the manrikigusari or kusarifundo.

Sōke holding Kusari -Tribute image by DCA*
*DCA stands for Door County Art
8. Kusarigamajutsu: Kusarigama (Kusari: Chain, Kama: Sickle) is a medium range hand-held weapon which consists of a chain (however a rope can also be used instead of chain) with a sickle on one end and a weight on the other side. Kusarigamajutsu is a sub category of Kusarijutsu but it needs a separate mention as not only Kusarigama has been extensively used and popular but the techniques of Kusarigama vary greatly from other chained weapons.

A Kusarigama probably from Sōke's collection
 9. Sōjutsu: Sōjutsu is the art of using vary types of spears for combat and other purposes. Various types of spears such as Yari, Kamayari, Bisentō, Naginata e.t.c are taught and used along taijutsu.
For each type of spear the techniques are further classified into their respective ~jutsu.

Bujinkan not only teaches attack but also defense against the same weapons
10. Shukō and Sokkō: Shukō: Hand Claws and Sokkō/Ashiko: Foot Claws are shinobi tools (ninki) mainly used for climbing to a high position or walking/crawling over slippery surfaces such as ice but they are also used along taijutsu.

Hatsumi Sōke capturing sword using Shukō
11. Metsubushi and Makibishi: Metsubushi is blinding powder while Makibishi are caltrops. The metsubishi are used to blind off opponents and reduce visibility while the makibishi are primarily used to slow down enemies in pursuit during escape.

Sōke demonstrating the use of metsubushi
Various types of makibishi
12. Kyoketsu Shoge: It is a tool and a weapon which consists of single edged or double edged blade with a hook, tied to a chain or thin rope made of women's or horse's hair and having a ring on the other side of the rope/chain. There are various uses to the kyoketsu-shoge. As a tool it is used like a kaginawa (hook and rope) and as a weapon it is used much like the Kusarigama.

Sōke in action using Shoge
   There are several other weapons and tools mostly related to ninjutsu but they are not taught actively in current Bujinkan curriculum. Defense using common everyday items is also taught in some dōjō but it depends upon the taste and experience of the teacher(s). Usually the same principles for shuriken, hanbō (half stick), kusari (chain) and nawa (rope) can be used for everyday items with a little practice.

Taijutsu: Taijutsu is the form of unarmed combat taught in Bujinkan and is the main focus, using only the body as a weapon. Depending upon the types and principles of the techniques, it is further classified into three parts:
1. Taihenjutsu (Free body movement)
2. Dakentaijutsu (Unarmed striking techniques)
3. Jūtaijutsu (Grappling techniques)

1. Taihenjutsu: basically deals with the movement of body in space (open or closed) and forms the major part of Kihon (basics). With learning on how to control and utilize your body position and movement in space, you can say that you have learned space-time technique because all is dependent on how much space you must maintain from your opponent and at what time you should and should not enter the field of action of your opponent. If one masters it then he can fairly make their opponent(s) dance with him.

In taihenjutsu the following types of techniques are taught:

i. Kamae: Kamae means postures/forms or stances. Every technique starts from a stance and must end in a stance just like any other martial art, however, forms in Bujinkan budō are not static. What does it mean? It means that you do not necessarily stay in the same stance like it is done in other martial arts; instead there's a constant flow from one stance to the other. What I like the most about Bujinkan budō is that often you just move from one stance to the other and that becomes your technique. There are various stances in Bujinkan budō some of which are namely:
  • Ichimonji no Kamae /Seigan no Kamae (Figure one stance /correct eye posture)
  • Jumonji no Kamae (Figure ten posture)
  • Doko no Kamae (Fierce tiger posture)
  • Hoko no Kamae (standing bear stance)
  • Shizen no Kamae (natural stance)
  • Seiza no Kamae (correct seating posture)
  • Fudoza no Kamae (immovable seating posture)
Sōke in Hoko no Kamae

ii. Ukemi: Ukemi are commonly called breakfalls in English. As the name suggests, these are techniques to properly receive a technique and safely move to or over the ground hence ensuring safe practice, however, they can also be used as first hand technique(s) in combination with taihenjutsu (grappling methods). Ukemi in Bujinkan budō are similar to Aikidō and Judō. Following are some Ukemi practiced in Bujinkan budō:
  • Zenpo (forward) Ukemi (breakfall)
  • Koho (backward) Ukemi
  • Yoko (sideways) Ukemi
  • Yoko Nagashi (sideways flowing) Zenpo Ukemi
A demonstration of Yoko Ukemi (source:

iii. Kaiten: Kaiten are rolls. They are classified by not only the names of the direction of roll but also hands i.e Katate: one, Ryōte: two hands and Mute: no hands. Following are some of the rolls practiced in Bujinkan:
  • Zenpo (forward) Kaiten (roll)
  • Koho (backwards) Kaiten
  • Yoko/Sokuho (sideways) Kaiten
  • Yoko Nagare (Sideways flowing) Kaiten
  • Hicho/Tobi Kaiten (jump roll)
Yoko-Nagare Demonstration (source:
iv. Tai Sabaki and Ashi Sabaki: Sabaki means handling. Tai Sabaki (body handling) comprises the techniques of moving our body in various directions quickly and efficiently to evade attacks and move in or out of the field of attack of your opponent(s). Much like Ukemi and Kaiten, hence, the techniques are named as Zenpo (forward), Koho (backward) e.t.c. Ashi Sabaki means foot/step manners and comprises the techniques of taking steps in various patterns.

v. Tobi: Tobi means jumps and consists of all the techniques of jumping in various directions and manners from standing or seating positions. Tobi too are named with the directions.

Sōke leaping high in air with the help of a bō

vi. Kuten: Kuten consists of handsprings, cartwheels and somersaults.

Front somersault used to escape a throw (source:
vii. Shinobi-iri: Shinobi-iri comprises the shinobi techniques of stealth movement, silent infiltration and escape methods -in different situations such as narrow spaces, different surfaces, low visibility e.t.c.

Shinobi Aruki

2. Dakentaijutsu: Dakentaijutsu: unarmed striking methods are the various methods of striking using not only punches and kicks but also other parts of the body such as knee, elbow, head and every other possible way to strike.

Hatsumi Sōke practicing Shako Ken
   Dakentaijutsu can be classified in various ways: based on technique of strike, based on part of body used to strike and based on part of body to strike. One of the most basic thing of dakentaijutsu is Hōken-Juroppō which means 'sixteen striking treasures'. These are sixteen basic ways of striking utilizing various body parts.
   The techniques of using hand fists (tsuki) are called tsuki-waza while techniques utilizing kicks (keri) are called keri-waza. Based on which body part to strike, the techniques are divided as:
    i- Atemi Waza which includes methods to strike Kyusho which we generally call pain points, pressure points, vital points or nerve points.
   ii- Koshijutsu are methods of tearing skin and muscles but also to strike nerve points
  iii- Koppōjutsu are techniques to strike and manipulate the weaknesses and limits of the skeleton system of the body

(Note: Koshijutsu and Koppōjutsu are generally considered part of Dakentaijutsu but they overlap commonly into Jutaijutsu since some techniques include twisting of certain body parts)

3. Jūtaijutsu: Bujinkan budō is not only limited to movement and striking, a good portion consists of Grappling Methods called collectively as Jūtaijutsu. This aspect of Bujinkan makes it similar to Judō and Jujutsu but most of the techniques are very much different. The locks, throws and chokes of Bujinkan budō may be similar to other martial arts but it is the way of utilizing them effectively which makes a lot of difference.

Takamatsu Sōke applying Omote-gyaku to Hatsumi Sōke's arm
   Jūtaijutsu further consists of:
i- Hajutsu are techniques of releasing one's self from various locks from single and multiple opponents, with weapons and without weapons.
ii- Gyaku-waza are basically locks or levering methods. There are various locks in Jūtaijutsu of Bujinkan notably Omote-Gyaku (inside wrist lock) and Ura-Gyaku (outside wrist lock).
iii- Shime-waza are techniques of applying chokes to the neck using one or both hands with or without the use of weapons
iv- Nage-waza are throwing techniques utilizing various types of throws

Muto dori: One of the most interesting aspect of Bujinkan budō taijutsu is Muto-dori. Muto means 'empty hands' while dori means to 'capture'. Muto dori are the techniques of defense against an armed opponent with 'empty hands'. Now the opponent can have any weapon from a sharp sword or spear to even a gun which can slash your neck or blow off your skull. Defense against various types of such weapons is still very much of a need and practical to battlefield (and common life too) in close quarter combats. Here's what the true budō shows up its difference from sports martial arts like MMA but it requires great patience and skill to learn it because this is not just based on physical prowess but more with the presence of mind. But good that the Bujinkan budō gives you an efficient set of predefined situations in which to practice and then move on to variations of the weapons (including modern too) and situation. The muto dori utilizes all the three main aspects of Bujinkan budō taijutsu i.e movement, striking and grappling for the complete show.

Hatsumi Sōke applying muto dori aginst an opponent armed with a sword
   For the End Quote:
"The secret of Muto Dori is the achievement of non-combat.
The secret of Taijutsu is to know the path of peace."
-Hatusmi Masaki (The Complete Ninja, 2014)

End Notes:
1. Sincerely if you find any mistake or problem with the information provided or there's any grammatical mistake, do tell me and I would like to correct it at the earliest approach.
2. For many of the difficult terms, you can simply search for internet or ask in the comments.
3. If you have any question or wish to add some thing to this blog or blog post, write it in the comments and I would like to respond with the best of my approach.

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