Just two years ago, G. called me and asked: “Renzo Gracie is in Israel and he has a free evening”.
“Well, let’s hone our BJJ skills with the best”.
When Renzo walked into the Tel Aviv dojo he took a step back, either the smell, the beer or the number of people took him by surprize. As some veterans in AKBAN have been to Renzo’s New York place the hesitation changed to smiles.
We learned and laughed a lot and, once again, understood that the man is not only a world class fighter but a humane and happy person. What a king!
I just caught Renzo and Pat Milletich On “60 Minutes” and now it’s on Youtube. Here it is (update – it’s not there anymore).
Kitab el AKBAN, for no apparent reason, that is the name I call the book “Tree climbing for pedestrians”. I have adopted this book as ours since it speaks of many things that are important to us as martial arts practitioners.
The book was written by Dan Ha’Shimshoni, one of the AKBAN veterans. He wrote it many years ago.
Dan and me have been busy lately writing the AKBAN outdoors book, the famous black belt okugi. This book will be very different from “Tree climbing for pedestrians”, it distills our knowledge and our favorite whiskey into a short, full of flavor booklet.
It is written:
“Fear can cause any action, it can cause one to run home or sprint forward, but in any case, fear is a reaction to the moment. Surprise always deals with what has been in the past. Sometimes even in the distant past”.
And then more:
“The knight listened as he was galloping, and then slowed his horse down . The horse stopped, closed one eye and Gunak continued his explanation: “When you’re surprised, it is a sign that you were thinking of how things would turn out instead of watching them happen. There is no room for planning, just observe the moment”.
From “Tree climbing for pedestrians”, by Dan Ha’shimshoni, (No official English translation and the first Hebrew edition ran out).
Questions regarding the body arose in me in the first years of practicing martial arts, some twenty five years ago. These questions were acute but some were answered in the following several years. I was, and still, working and teaching people In my line of work – The Grinberg Method, where my only working tools are the body, the touch, the breath and the movement.
I’m writing in order to present these questions:
Why and how does one pay attention to the body?
Where, in the body, should we focus on?
What is the connection between the body, feelings and the atmosphere around us?
What are the techniques that sharpen awareness in the body?
I might also be able to address the relationship between attention to the body and the practice of martial art.
Why is it even worthwhile diverting attention to the body?
Because the body is the most significant and obvious tool that I, as a person, have. I can utilize my body in order to sharpen my attention to life (to other people, the environment, to myself).
Because it’s there: the body is with us in whatever we do, from good to evil. Every habit or behavior will eventually be manifested in the body. Stress will come together with contraction, excitement with butterflies in the stomach, calmness with relaxation, and many other possibilities.
Because the body can become a prison that holds in it certain thinking patterns (the bars will be expressed as stiffness, chronic symptoms etc.). Coming out of that prison is only possible with the help of the body, borders can be crossed with its help.
Body = reality: the body enables the clearest and most real encounter with life. With the body things are clear, when in pain, there’s no room for second guessing, when it feels good, it’s obvious.
The body is a “student”: Like the saying: “you never forget how to ride a bicycle” â€“ the body “remembers” everything. The body enables me a learning process filled with experiences and feelings that are not easily forgotten.
I am the body and the body is me: think about this, even if I was put in solitary confinement, my only substantial physical possession would be my body.
Working with the body enables us to begin with what we already have: we can read all the books in the world, we can learn of every capillary, nerve and tendon in the body, but it is much simpler to just lie down in a quiet place and listen to the body. With the addition of attention, the learning process could be extremely meaningful.
I grew up in my teacher’s Dojo. I was only thirteen.
We started training in Doron Navon’s old house, he used to live in Afeka. After a year we moved to an old henhouse, cleaned the rubbish, painted and Doron planted a bamboo, dark green and lovely. Everything taking place in such a fitting address: Number 3, Flowers St. between vast empty fields and Kiryat Shaul, the cemetery of Tel Aviv.
Many things happened since, the old hen house is now an interiour design shop and I became a nomad, a travelling Ninjutsu instructor in many Dojo: At the bomb shelter in Jerusalem where every winter we waded to our knees in sewage, at the school corridor in Tel Aviv and at the baby gimbory place in Ramat Hasharon, practicing underneath huge pink elephants- funny. Just like an old indian would say:”Many winters…” and for me many years, many training mats to lift, many toilets to clean.
I do not need a Dojo, I do not need a special training apparel every morning when I practice, most of the times I just do my morning duties in my pajamas. The real estate Dojo is not important, It is temporary, but it is still the place to meet veteran friends and to exchange insights. My Dojo has been Mount Eitan, repeating an old Katori kata for the thousand time, or even this web site and the hidden part of it, the vast AKBAN database where I can talk and learn.
The real Dojo is now an interior decorating shop but my hidden Dojo will never be a shop, it existes under the power of friendship, and passion for martial arts. I tell myself: If we can understand this we can relax. It is easy.
After a long wait, probably over one thousand five hundred years, a translated English version of the important and cool book by Issai Chozanshi (or as we in AKBAN call him â€“ I.) has been published.
In the book you can read lectures by a Tengu (or as we call him â€“ T.), the mythological demon who began teaching of Ninjutsu, and to whom we owe our kata.
Not many martial arts pride themselves with the fact that their prime teacher is a crow-like demon â€“ we do â€“ what other choice do we have.
The book, by the way, is serious and important, and should join the bookshelf of every Akbanaut, which should already include â€œHagakureâ€, â€œGo Rin No Shuâ€, and, of course, â€œFoot on the pathâ€ and â€œTree climbing for pedestriansâ€.
On November 22nd, 2006, Ido and I successfully passed the orange belt exam.
The exam, I found, was very intense. An hour and a half in which time Amir covered all the basics: traditional kata, groundwork, throws and stand-up. He looked for the small details in the exercises, the nuances that make the difference between successfully completing the task and just going through the motions.
I learnt a lot from that experience and from the experience of getting together outside of practice to train. During those evenings on the lawn next to our old dojo, Ido and I, along with friends who came to help, were able to practice on different levels: the physical and grounded level, where every move and stance is crucial, and the level of understanding the importance of the moves and positions. I think that these experiences enabled us to look differently at everything we did after that.
I used to be a non-believer in the system of exams in Ninjutsu, however I think that as time passes and as I learn more about both myself and the art, I understand that exams are not meant to show others what I can do, but rather allow myself to better understand what it is that I do.
A full length video was shot, but for now here are two pictures taken during the exam.
Five hundred years ago Lizasa ChÅisai Ienao founded the Katori discipline (Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu). It is considered in Japan as one of the classic and most renowned martial arts although it does not have a large number of students.
For hundreds of years this martial art was the starting point of many new martial arts (Ryu), and bred renowned fighters and martial artists. Today, the head of the discipline (the title Soke) is held by one of Lizas’s descendants called Yasusada, while the curriculum is taught and guarded by Risuke Otake (this is quite common in Japan, the Kukinshin discipline is not held solely by Hatsumi, but he holds a degree to teach it, Menkyo Kaiden).
Otake is the star of many tutorial movies found on the web and posted on this site, and I thought it fitting that I explain why the fighting techniques used by Samurai found its way into our Ninjutsu.
In our Ninjutsu I see different sources of knowledge: six of the martial arts Takamatsu brought into Ninjutsu have nothing to do with Ninjutsu per se, but generated from other traditions. Of the Ninja fighting techniques we only practice the Togakure discipline. The two other disciplines: Tomogakure and Gyokushin, are not practiced in AKBAN and probably not in Japan.
In Katori, Ninjutsu appears on the curriculum. Just as in the Ninjutsu practiced in our school, where Katori kata are mandatory.
Many other skills: horse riding, swimming, the use of a sword and other weapons of that time, fighting without weapons, casting weapons and more, appear in both forms of martial arts – Katori and Ninjutsu.
The links between the spiritual traditions are even more compelling – in the third Katori book there are detailed explanations of hand gestures of Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyo) and Ninjutsu; these gestures are called Mudra (or Kuji kiri, Juji kiri).
Esoteric Buddhism, Mikkyo and the unique mountainous religion of Japan, Shugendo, were the largest contribution to our Ninjutsu’s spiritual content. We, as modern people, can look at some of the aspects of magic in Katori and Ninjutsu and give them only a psychological explanation, I do this. However, it is easy to see, even without any need for explanations, the two disciplines have many things in common.
This is not the main issue.
When I first saw Otake practice, I was deeply impressed and I still have that feeling. I think that his work and personal level is of the highest standard (as it seems without personal acquaintance – maybe this is an inaccurate observation). Though he does not face the same problems we do, we are preserving a diverse and complex martial tradition, whereas Katori has only several tens of Kata, but I still wish both my students and myself, to present technique even approaching the level of Otake and his students.
It’s good to know that there are always goals so far away.