Learning from Senior Shihan

I’ve recently had the fortunate opportunity of gaining Shihan Jack Hoban as my Bujinkan instructor and I wanted to pass on some of the stuff he has told or taught me to the community at large. I was once told that “having a senior level Bujinkan shidoshi (Instructor) use you as Uke is somewhat of an honor.” Well, I’ve been honored!

Ignore what I’ve shown you in the past

Something interesting happened the other day when we first started training. I asked Jack to go over sanshin no kata with me and he obliged. I kept trying to “lean” into the forward movements like I had learned from others and also seen in his book, Ninpo

“Ignore the book and videos. I had it all wrong then. Yeah, I know, everything’s wrong and out of date now, but just do what I’m telling you now.” The difference was that he now had an erect posture because it provides greater stability and, when done correctly, allows for more natural movement into other kamae. I was warned, however,
that “there will be times when leaning is appropriate, but to just feel the motion, stay upright and one day it will make more sense. Go spend time with Hatsumi Sensei and you’ll see the feel for it. It took me a long time to realize this.”

After twenty-five years, Jack’s still working on it. I’m definitely listening. I noticed, however, that when having techniques explained, it is sometimes better to not get the super experienced person. They “get it” without thought, so its harder for them to explain to a new person exactly what to do from a “technique” standpoint. A new person can take you through the steps they just went through to help you out. Just remember what the senior people say… one day it will make more sense.

Soke also says the same thing… that things will never again be the same. It is always changing. Focus on the here and now and future. Forget the past. Move on.

Who Should I Train With

There are a lot of people out there claiming to senior level instructors. Don’t get me wrong… they are senior level instructors. But does that mean they are the best ones to train with? Not always. So the question always comes up… “Who should I train with?”

There are a few keys to this, I think. First, train with someone you like. The word sensei can be translated “One who has exprienced this before.” You want to train with someone who, when they previously encountered it, handled it in a manner you find appropriate. I hope that makes sense. Let me put it to you another way. You should be able to look at your instructor and say, “Wow, I want to be like that when I grow up!” That doesn’t mean like them in every way, but there should be something there that stirs you from within.

The second key is this: Find someone who trains with Soke. If you’re new to all this, soke means “Grandmaster” or perhaps “Head of the household.” There can be only one! Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi is the current grandmaster so if you ever hear “soke” think “Dr. Hatsumi.” Whatever he says goes. Period. The primary point, however, is that even though Bujinkan belongs to all of us, Soke is the final word. Not only that, but he’s been doing it longer than anyone else, so its safe to say the “he gets it.”

The further you go from the source, the more diluted the message sometimes get. Soke stopped taking personal students, so the next best thing is to find one of his personal students. Jack Hoban started training with soke twenty-five years ago, so I feel honored that he’s taken me under his wing. Even if it was somewhat against his will or better judgement (that’s a story for another time).

Fourth, train with Soke (or at least at honbu dojo – that’s the home dojo in Japan) but remember that he says to train with other people or you’ll never fully understand. You need to see it at the source, but also from other peoples’ perspective. This is key… kind of like find different people to explain it to you different ways. Each person paints a different color onto the canvas.

Lastly, train with someone who loves to train and just “Ganbatte.” Ganbatte can be translated, “keep going.” If you’re gonna train with anyone… then train! Don’t stop. Keep going. Find someone that motivates you, inspires you and is willing to take the time to train, train, train.

Summary: Who should I train with?
  1. Find someone you like and want to be like
  2. Find someone who trains with Soke.
  3. Train with Soke and others.
  4. Find someone who loves to train.

Well, I hope that you’ve enjoyed this first installment. There will be more to come as I get more time.


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