Friday, July 30, 2010

Land of the Lost

How do you keep something you never really had? Now if you did have it and it was true motivation, what factors involved were so strong to make you lose it?

Those who are truly motivated never lose or need to keep motivation. It is always there. While yes the strength of the motivation may waiver depending on certain times or circumstances, the truly motivated never worry about keeping it.

You have to look at motivation like a relationship. You have your great days and your bad days but you realize that good and bad days are part of life and quite possibly necessary to fully appreciate one over the other. Now you don’t leave the relationship just because of a few bad days, no, you do the things to get back to having good days. You do this because of the value you place on the relationship and your commitment to it.
Therefore Those who lose motivation or have none, perceive the thing they need motivation for to have little or no value and/or they have no sense of commitment.

You may think that statement to be harsh, but if you truly valued and were committed then there is your lost motivation. People dedicate themselves to the things they find important. So before you try to keep something you never had, you should take a look at your value system first. If you value your spouse/significant other then you are committed to them, if you value your home, your dedicated to your job, if you value yourself then you never truly lose motivation.

This blog came about through several people asking me to write about how to stay motivated. Some are looking to get/stay motivated for martial arts and some for fitness/workouts. So let’s look at those specifically.

Martial Arts: in order to understand how to get/stay motivated, we have to understand what make us question our motivation. In martial arts (which is practically the same for fitness) I have seen through the years that most people lose there motivation due to lack of progression. They get to a certain point and then become stagnant. Now I think a lot of the time the student will mainly blame the teacher, or the system they study for this stagnation, but the true reason lays with the student. If you do the same routine, attend the same classes with the same teacher year after year how do you expect to grow? And as we said before no growth = no motivation. Now I am not suggesting you leave your teacher, but what I am suggesting is you on occasion train with other people. Make it a point to attend seminars and if you really want motivation, go to Japan! When you see that no matter how long you have been training you still are nowhere near the understanding or ability of the Japanese shihans and watch the brilliance and effortlessness of Soke Hatsumi (which is powerful and terrifying) at almost 80 years old, that is enough motivation to keep going for a lifetime. Now if you cant quite make it to Japan there are people such as Paul Masse, Rob Renner, Pete Renolds, and Duncan Stewart who come from Japan to teach and share. These guys’ abilty and understanding keep me motivated to keep going for sure!

Now when we talk about fitness, most people seem to view it as a necessary evil that they HAVE to do 3 or so times a week. Well with this attitude how could anybody stay committed to going? Now to help with motivation for fitness and working out you need to remember this. If you don’t have your health then you have nothing. Again with fitness just as martial arts, motivation comes through seeing results, so if you’re not seeing results then you lose motivation. Now you have to realize that your lack of results are directly related to the effort you put in.

A student whom I told I was writing this ask me to talk about distractions such as work, family, and friends ECT. So here is my take on that…

My Martial Arts and Fitness training is not a hobby or something I just do for fun. It defines me. Everything I am is related to my training. If I stop or cut back on doing my training then I feel I stop being myself and what makes me who I am. Therefore if I allow myself to be distracted by friends and family then I stop being the person I am to them who they have come to know and love. These people in my life actually help motivate me to not let myself get distracted by them or anything else because their well being is important to me and my ability to be skilled, aware, and fit enough to protect them is important to me. Again we make time for whats important to us.

In conclusion if you care enough about your training goal (s) then you will do what is necessary to accomplish these goals. The results are what will keep you motivated, if your not seeing results train harder, smarter or in a manner that will produce the results. If you need help, reach out to people you know who are accomplishing what you’re after. If you had motivation and lost it, remember how important your training is and you will regain your motivation.

For question about fitness or martial arts you can reach me at

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!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dragons, Tigers, and Kihon oh my!

Well Happy New Year! Its 2010! Kind of hard to imagine huh.
So 2010 is actually 0. It is a new beginning! So I believe to understand Sokes art we need to go back to the beginning. No not to the days of beating the hell out of each other so it appeared that we were tough or powerful to attract people to the art. No I mean Kihon! Not necessarily Kihon Happo but simple kihon. And the most simple is our not so basic principles of distance, timing and angling or some would say positioning. They are basic in understanding, but not so basic in application. If you look at what goes wrong in most people’s taijutsu (including my own) it has something to do with one of these if not all of them being off. They all rely on each other and one creates the other. If we can not get these “basic” principles down how can we expect to move on to kukan or juppo sessho or such. Kukan is created, taken or manipulated through the use of timing and distancing together.

Now we have to understand that in taijutsu, distance + timing = position
Always remember this equation!

Now they are many other equations we can look at like position + distance = Kukan, but then you have to understand the measurement or some would say “shape” of the space between you and your uke in a 360 degree manor and then understand the next space once uke moves and the shape and distance while calculating all the potential space which is depending on a infinite amount of possible moves from you or uke that would cause you to be constantly calibrating. But this is a kihon blog so we will keep it simple. 
Btw there is a way to not only know all of the above, but create it as well. But that is for another day!

When we first learn our kihon, it is much different then when we have been training for 2, 10, 20 years or better. When we first start, we are training to develop specific motor skills and hand eye coordination all while trying to memorize some maneuvers or technique. Now when we “grow up” and train kihon these skills are present and refined, so then what are we acutely training when we do kihon at this level? I believe at these levels we throw the maneuvers out the window and start concentrating on how we use timing distance and positioning (angles) to create our “techniques”. (When practicing techniques) let me add here that I personally believe that its ok to practice technique as long as you realize its for the sake of training your kihon and that when the situation is real you throw it away and focus on principles and being in the moment, not technique!

These principles are so important to understand and to drill. Everything we do relies on them. Strikes are not delivered just for the sake of throwing them. They are dictated by all three principles of distance, timing, and positioning. You strike with what is appropriate in the space (distance), in the right timing from the right position. Now to take it a step further. through your understanding you will know that how the strike will create the next space that will lead to the next thing.

I believe that when we start to understand the interplay of these three principles and how they can lead us to victory or to death. Through them you can understand how to deal with any situation with any weapon so on and so forth. As you progress you will learn that you can not only learn distance, timing and positioning, but also how to create distance timing and positioning. Watch Soke, he creates the distance that creates the timing, which creates the position! Simple as that! Now once Soke has created these things then he cycles the opponent through CFP (see previous blog) and wahla! Of course there is more to it then that but for the sake of basic definition of what’s going on, it gives you an idea.

So for this year lets work on this aspect of kihon so we can better understand Soke’s art and thus be able to better share it with the world.

PS. Distance, timing, and positioning is not just a physical concept. It applies to mental and emotional as well!

In order to ride the white dragons tale in the year of the tiger, kihon will determine our grip!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What State Are You In?

When training or really protecting yourself or someone else you want to invoke one of three states in your advisory. At first, as you progress in your training you will learn to cause one of these states and then as you grow you learn to produce two, but the goal is cause 3 different yet specifc states to your uke/advisory. A form of san shin if you will.

In Taijutsu we employ all things to our advantage, but our biggest advantage is our opponents own mind! Why defeat someone all by yourself when you can actually have him help you? So how do we achieve this? Well the answer is the use of Kukan, kyojutsu, and kyusho. See there you have it!

Clear as mud?

Those three are pretty vague principles and unbelievably there are many Bujinkan members who don’t know what these concepts are really about. Sure they have heard the terms, but don’t really grasp the fullness of these concepts and strategies or what they encapsulate. Now because of this, I developed a simple way of breaking these down these concepts to their most raw states.

I personally teach the C.F.P. method. C.F.P. stands for confusion, fear, and pain. Ultimintly you want your opponent to be experiencing all of these interchanging states. Now you don’t want to just focus on one state. This can be dangerous! For example let say by chance you actually have you opponent in a state of fear, this will only last so long before they develop the moxy in the moment to fight back or do something unexpected. As the adage goes even a mouse will attack a cat if out of options. So what you want to do to avoid this is to cycle through the states. Interchanging these states will never allow the opponent to be able to adapt to the situation. Fear can be overcome, pain can be defeated with adrenaline and confusion only lasts so long before they understand what's going on, but if you cycle through the states they can never adapt.

As an example, if you use a kyusho* to cause pain, which in this case will be the first state, but the pain will not last long so while the opponent is trying to escape the pain you take the pain off, instantly putting them one step behind because they are fighting something that no longer exist. Now in that moment you put them in a lock. Next you let go of the lock to apply pain somewhere else and maybe another lock. Now you’re using kyojutsu or confusion. You don’t let the opponent know where the next attack will be coming from. This will allow you to hold and create space or Kukan due to the fact the opponent is in a state of confusion, now when you gain a good position to let go of everything and just have yourself and presence in the Kukan; this will create the fear. He will be in a state of fear because he can feel the potential danger but cannot predict or know where the next thing will come from. You are able to do this due to the fact you are free from and not confined by technique. In this state you will again cycle through the CFP until a desired result is reached.

Once you can create these states and use these principles then you will have your opponent doing most of the work. They will start fighting themselves rather then you. They will be too busy trying to stop hurting, start understanding and stop fearing what will happen next to effectively fight you. They have to many battles going on while you are being a ninja and removing yourself from the fight. You will prevail where your opponents own emotions and thoughts are your best weapons.

Watch Sokes movement and then watch his uke, he is always using CFP!

Now just for clarification, Kukan, kyojutsu and kyusho are by no means limited to these basic definitions, in fact they can be quite complex. This is just one way of looking at training and a way to help describe and understand Sokes Taijutsu.

So next time your at training see if can move your uke through the different states using my C.F.P. method and see your taijustu transform.

*(Kyusho is a reference to specific weak points on the body, my definition is a little more ambiguous. I view kyusho as any week or venerable points on body, mind or spirit.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Are you getting your students killed?

Do you play dungeons and dragons? Magik, world of warcraft or other role playing games where the consequences of your actions are based in fantasy?

Now the important question… Do you go to the dojo and teach things that are based in fantasy to your students because its fun to play Ninja? It’s the ultimate game of ninja and samurai where you are the master and the students are the players learning your game of fantasy and imagination. The only problem is in this game the players trust you and your information to keep them safe but in this game their well being and possibly lives are on the line.. For real!

Unfortunately this is happening all over the world. People teaching nieve students that want to learn how to protect themselves and instructors teaching techniques that are not based in reality. So why do they teach it? More importantly, do they know they are teaching fantasy? I would have to say No!

But why don’t they know? More then likely they were taught by someone and they took it as gospel and never bothered to see if it was true or effective. This is more common then you think. Even people who go to Japan come back with information that could be potentially fatal to a student if tried for real.

Am I saying not to trust your teacher… ummm yes and no. It is our job as student to do our due diligence to make sure the information passed on to us is accurate, but there is always an ura and omote. The other side of this is the teacher should contsently checking and validating the information he is teaching. Just because you were taught something in the 80’s or 90,s and feel that you have a handle on this teaching due to the time you have had to practice it does not mean the original teaching was correct! It means it is possible you have been wasting 10 to 20 years on something that was not the truth, but rather a fragment of the truth to help you move on to the truth once you were ready. Waza and Kihon Happo is a way of teaching you principles and what's possible. It is not the answer to the problem rather a tool to help you figure out how to get the answer. Another thing you must do is consider the source of where the information comes from. Did it come from Soke? ask yourself “have I ever seen Soke teach or do that”? If the answer is no…THEN WHY THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IT? There are people running around acting like experts in what the densho says. They believe just because they can read the densho that they have some special understanding or knowledge. Well let me tell you tell you this mentality is so dangerous. Simply knowing the Japanese characters are not enough, you have to have the experience to understand it. This is why Soke says that it does not matter if the makimono (scrolls) are stolen. He also has been saying a lot lately that this is why historians will die in real combat. When in doubt trust Soke. He is the living Densho.
Now with that said here is a simple way to check to see if what you’re doing is based in truth. Just find out if the information, (if youre not getting it yourself) is from Soke Hatsumi (and not information he gave out 10 years ago, but rather what he teaches currently) or from the shitenou (Seno, Oguri, Noguchi, Nagato). If it is not directly from them, I personally will question the information. And to be completely honest anything I learn from the shitenou, I cross check with Soke. Sometimes their personal feeling or ideas will slip into the teachings and I need to weed that out so my Taijutsu doesn’t get stylized. I do not want to do Nagato or Noguchi style, not because they are not amazing, they are! But because I want to do Soke Hatsumis’ style! This is his art and so I wish to do it like him. But this tangent for another time.
Now I will make what seems to be a bold statement, but in reality not really. Not everything Soke shows is effective in combat! What?! How dare I say such a thing?! Lol. Well you have to understand the teacher if you wish to understand his art. Soke is not teaching, he is training and because he is training he will always only do what is necessary in the moment. So if all he has to do is move a little and touch the uke with his pinky and the guy goes flying, then that’s all he will do. If the uke wants to over commit to a strike and fall down easy then Soke will let him do so. Now here is our job as Ninja to do our Cho Ho. (information gathering) we have to recognize that what Sokes just preformed will be dangerous against a real fighter. It was effective in the moment but only in the moment and had the attack been different the response from Soke would be as well. We have to have the eyes to see these things and know whats real. Soke is always using Kyojutsu. He is like a magician putting on a show. But only other magicians can understand how he does the magic. Its not enough to just see the magic, you have to have the eyes to see it, then understand it and practice it!

If you are a teacher it is your responsibility to your students and Sokes’ art to continually educate yourself. Just because you have been training for 10, 20 or even 30 years in this art doesn’t mean you know it, have it or can share it. As teachers we can’t be complacent with our skill and understanding. We must constantly question and refine what it is we think we know. We must do this not only for our own sake but also for the sake of the ones who call us their teacher. It is their lives we put at risk with our teachings. Can you look in the mirror and honestly say you train and study as much as you could? If after every class you knew your student were going to be in a life and death situation could you sleep at night satisfied with the information you just taught? Luckily most of us are not in this position, but you never know what can happen.

Think about what you are teaching. If you were held personably responsible for the injury or death of a student would you still teach the same material? Would you still teach at all?

The point of this writing is to act like the mirror on the kamidana. For us to reflect on ourselves and our training and teaching.

My advice to be more secure in your teaching is.
1. stop making fucking excuses and go to Japan (more if you already go)
2. Don’t go to Japan to be seen, go to learn!
3. Forget what you were taught 2, 5, 10, 25 years ago. It’s a trap that keeps your utsuwa small! Prior teaching was only a tool to get you here to the present, ready for the teachings now.
4. Train in some way everyday.
5. Ask yourself WWSD? (what would Soke do)

I am sure there is much more, but that is a good start. So get to soul searching and stop doing things that will get your students killed. I am sure Soke would appreciate it!