Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Interview with Shihan Rob Renner:

PB: First, let me say thank you for spending time to do this interview. I know you are extremely busy with your teaching and training schedule. I want to say that the Zeropoint training modalities that I have learned over the last few years have really helped my taijutsu to improve exponentially. Zeropoint gives a student the tools to begin to understand Soke’s movement and then develop the particular attributes needed to replicate his movement. So, in a word, thank you.

RR: Thank you Joel for taking the time to actually practice the drills and exercises you spent all that money on trips to Japan to go and learn! Its people like you that make what I do everyday such a pleasure. I know that every time I see you, you are going to be better than the last time; this is a constant motivation for me to always keep pushing ahead in my own journey!

PB: What makes Zeropoint training different then your typical Bujinkan class?

RR: It’s mostly done in Japan…

Seriously though, that is a good question. I think if you take many snapshots throughout a typical Zeropoint class you would see things that look like most other Bujinkan Dojos. The difference lies in the approach to training.
First of all, I believe that any human skill can be modeled and then taught, this includes Hatsumi Sensei’s. This is a crucial point. Many people have said over the years that “Hatsumi Sensei’s movement cannot be taught or copied”. Having been involved with programs designed to copy and instill the skill sets of Elite-level athletes, world-class salespeople and musicians, as well as entertainers and performers, I know this statement to be ridiculous, for Hatsumi Sensei has attributes from all these groups.
So, at the Bujinkan Zeropoint Dojo, we are practicing movements, concepts and ideas that will directly lead to Soke’s particular skill sets. That’s not to say what we are doing is perfect and complete, for there is always room for improvement, I make mistakes and misunderstand things just like everyone else.

PB: Where is your information coming from? Are you just making it up?

RR: Well Hatsumi Sensei does talk about receiving information from the Bujin!

As you know, I am in a unique position living here in Japan and having the job that I do. I am extremely fortunate, because when I have a question about anything Bujinkan related I can ask the world’s leading authorities….and I do, nearly on a daily basis!
Hatsumi Sensei has made it quite plain who the top four teachers in Japan are (Oguri, Seno, Nagato, and Noguchi Shihans), two of them are original students of Hatsumi (Oguri and Seno) and I have been doing my best to train with all of them and to get feedback from them on the best ways to solve the problems we all face in our journey through budo. I am constantly asking them for further clarification of something they have taught or something I just don’t understand ( I’m sure that sometimes they’d rather I just left them alone, but usually they are thrilled to pass along the information they have dedicated their own lives to learning).
This is the main source of what I teach; I also am constantly trying to stay abreast of the latest research into human movement and performance as well as health and longevity. Funny thing is; the deeper I go into the Bujinkan, the more the two areas corroborate each other! This is great for my company Zeropoint training, because I am able to give the teachings of the Bujinkan to many people who are not interested in martial art training, in the form of corrective exercise and fitness.

PB: You have been doing a lot of seminars lately around the world, is there any common problems or issues that you see in peoples’ movement?

RR: Well, there seems to be a “disconnect” between what people are practicing and what they believe in their hearts to be true. For instance, people are performing movements like the often laughed at “Bujinkan diving-lunge punch”. They know it doesn’t make any sense and yet they keep on doing it! It’s really time we learned the correct principles of movement. (Notice I did not say THE correct way to punch!)
Also, people don’t seem to have a good grasp on the whole tension/relaxation thing. It seems to be at two opposing ends of the spectrum, some people are like wet noodles, while others turn themselves into bricks, when in reality neither are correct, it is about having specific, controlled tension when and where you want it. In order to be able to do this you must first rewire your nervous system through specific exercises and drills that help you gain control over your “flinch-reflex”.
And let’s not forget – politics! Really the most ridiculous thing. So many people trying to convince other people that they have the “truth” about Bujinkan training, but they won’t let their students train with others and they themselves cannot be found at the seminars of other instructors, out of fear that someone might find out some competing information. Who cares?! None of can say that we know anything for sure, it’s a constant journey of questioning and testing, but at the end of the day, the thing you thought to be the stupidest technique or habit is the thing that saves someone form harm! So as Hatsumi Sensei (THE Bujinkan) says it’s not about being strong or weak, fast or slow, we even have to give up on the idea of someone’s taijutsu being good or bad, it’s about finding that Zeropoint, the place where you can appropriately match to your situation and come out of it positively!

PB: In most traditional Martial Art dojos, the teachers are very strict with students who don’t perform the movements “correctly”, even to the point of giving out punishment for the “betterment” of the student; this doesn’t really exist in the Bujinkan.
With that said why do you think student get their feelings hurt when someone actually steps up and says “hey, that’s not how it’s done in Japan”, even when this is intended to help them?

RR: Well, maybe if you wouldn’t slap them in the back of the head when you said it?! Actually, this tends to strike directly at their beliefs and their sense of self worth. Some people have invested a lot of time into their training and do not want to be shown that they could have done it more efficiently. Kind of like buying a car and then finding out you could have bought a better car for half the price once it’s too late to change your mind!
So, you really can’t tell people they’re doing it “wrong”, all you can do is offer them an alternative and let them judge for them self the value of what you’re showing. They will either adapt or not, depending on their own personal criteria, that’s life…

PB: It seems that are people who have trained for many years that don’t know/teach the principles and drills you teach, what factors can you attribute to your ability to not only see these things in Hatsumi and the Shihans’ teachings, but to also be able to teach them?

RR: Thanks for the compliment! It is especially flattering coming from such a distinguished intellect and martial artist as yourself …
Really though, if you read the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, you will find some very interesting information. It seems that to achieve “mastery” in any field it takes at least 10,000 hours of quality practice. That means seeking to improve upon, not merely repeating what you have always done. I think if you look at my training schedule since I began training in the 80’s, you will see a constant and upward curve in the amount of time I have put in. It would be nice to say that I have a genetic ability to perform magical taijutsu and to see to the heart of what’s important, but the reality is that even were that the case, it really boils down to lots of hard work and effort to intrinsically understand and to be able to demonstrate understanding of something like taijutsu. But isn’t that what life is about? Finding what you truly love to do and then doing it all the time? I am so lucky!

PB: Wow that sounds like a lot of training! Would someone have to do that, is that really what it takes?

RR: As I said, I talk to the 4 Shihan and they have all invested that many man-hours into their own training. Some, like Oguri Sensei, have been training with Hatsumi for 47 years!
And he has always lived at least 2 ½ hours from the dojo!

PB: Does any one Japanese Shihan have ALL the information?

RR: Nobody has all the information. Each Shihan has their own viewpoint on taijutsu and they each have a different ability to transmit their understanding. I personally find that the four of them do about 70% the same type of things, with 30% being their personal preference and capability. I recommend focusing on the 70% at first, then worrying about individual flair later.

PB: Ok so here is the question I have been waiting to ask…Why do you think people hang on to “old teachings”, that may not have even directly came from Hatsumi Sensei, when every day you go to class, you see nothing that resembles that “old training”?

RR: Whoa! A loaded question!
I think the better question is; “why do THEY hang on to those ‘old teachings’ when every time THEY train with Hatsumi or a shihan at Honbu, THEY see nothing that resembles those ‘old teachings’!
I think there are several factors. It is human nature to move through life accumulating information as we go, but rarely do we take that information and question it thoroughly, measuring it against what we assume to be true at this stage in our life. I mean, who among us has gone back through the basic Math teachings we had as a child, and sought to compare our understanding then, when we first learned Math, to now, with all the years of experience we have gained, not to mention the abundance of information currently available on how to understand and learn math. Might it be possible that what we think we learned was incomplete? Or that we were incapable of grasping it correctly at the time?
I think so.
I believe this is the main reason for what you describe.
Secondly, we know that humans cannot understand what the mind has no reference point to compare with. So, when most people are training they are looking at everything through the lenses of their past experiences. They say to themselves “Oh, that’s such and such a technique, I know that” and so, the new information gets crammed into the box of the old information.
It is quite difficult to constantly question yourself and assume that what you have learned is probably incorrect or at least incomplete.

PP: All great points, I appreciate your insight and candidness. I always look forward training with you when I visit Japan. Again thank you for your time and experience.

Rob Renner will be in holding a seminar in California this summer. Watch for the official flier coming soon!


  1. Nice interview! Thanks for sharing it Joel!

    Matthew Krause

  2. I appreciate it too. Joel, hope you make it back to Virginia this year!