Article by Michael Schjerling

What should you do with fear?

Keep Going …and make it disappear!

By Michael Schjerling

 My Sanshin purpose of this small article is:

1. A thank you to Soke for giving me the keys to rediscover and re-know myself and find my true path in life.

2. A hope that it will serve as inspiration to those who do not consciously know why they are practicing or have forgotten. I hope that it will help some of those Bujinkan members who might have lost their motivation in training to regain it and keep going.

3. This leads me to the final purpose that is a wish that all of us practicing Bujinkan will develop and transform into strong shining stars who by example will show to the rest of the world the purpose of Bujinkan which is as I recall it something like: To live a healthy life in harmony with society and nature with out harming nature and society and to live a life of universally justice.

You probably know the feeling. Your breath stops, your hands get cold and you get that dry sensation in your mouth. You feel your heart beating like crazy and your whole body stiffens up. Maybe you freeze. Frozen by fear. When fear stops us from acting it is not good. It is very dangerous in jissen (a real situation). Then what should we do with it? What can we do with it? The answer is Keep going in spite of fear – then nature makes it disappear.

This is true. It is also true that we should keep training in order to receive answers to our questions. In other words you must discover the path for yourself. I’m a big believer that we can’t give one size solutions to specific questions. No one specific path for all of us to follow. We are all different dynamic individuals with each our tasks and purposes in life. What works for one person does not work for all. I also believe that we can’t be taught the essence. We can be guided or coached and thereby discover and teach our self. Therefore the words Keep going is the best answer to such a question. It forces us to seek, to study and to keep going until we discover the answer – our own way.

Now I can end this article as you already know what to do. On the other hand I choose to keep going as my words might serve as a puzzle that fits as it did for me when I first got the thoughts after one of Sokes trainings in Hombu, November 2006, Japan. And as such it might help you some way with your own budo study. I remember the first time the words Keep going was ever said to me. It was by Soke in August 1992 during my first trip to Japan. This was before Hombu Dojo Bujinden was build and the training back then was very different. Soke had just promoted me to 2. dan after 2 hours of a kind of examination. I was taught how to punch in Koto-ryu style. I clearly remember that I did not hold my neck as Soke wanted me to and did not understand what he tried to teach me.

 First after several years I understood. That is the way it is with the teachings of Bujinkan. It unfolds like an onion. You can go deeper and deeper. Therefore what I write now may not be my opinion tomorrow. Now I have heard Soke use the words keep going on many occasions and the words have changed their meaning for me over the years. And it is interesting to discover the depths which unfold as always with the teachings of Bujinkan. Why do you practice Bujinkan and Ninjutsu? You probably got this question from friends and family before. I have talked to many Bujinkan practitioners who have difficulty answering this question. You might say something like: “I practice because I learn how to defend my self and my loved ones. Or you might say that you study this art because it’s not a sport, but about real fighting, self defence and survival. Then people look strange at you and ask you why that is necessary for you.

You live an ordinary life, goes to work, study or what ever you choose to do in your life. Why spend so much time learning something you might end up never using at all. Do you like to give others pain or do you like pain they may ask and look strange at you. Even though you may like that in the practice it can be difficult for you to explain to others and even for your self to understand. So if you are not sure what you should answer, then it is important that you use some time in analytic meditation. You need to reflect on this question. Why do you practice?

It is important for you to consciously know exactly why, because that gives you the driving force to continue and the skills to communicate the beautiful reason to others without ending up as a total wired person in their eyes. You might have a feeling that it is good for you to practice and that it makes you happy, but it can be difficult to put words on what it benefits and why you do it. This “Why?” is a must because it is the “why?” that gives you the basic motivation to keep on practicing or keep going with every important aspect of your life. When you know “why?” you also know why and when to say no to other things that might come in your way of training. Now you might benefit form reading the rest of this article.

 Keep going is important in every part of life. When it comes to our Bujinkan practice it is most necessary to keep training correctly. But what is it that keeps us training year in and year out except that you once decided and never stopped up to re-evaluate if the training still has the same reason as in the beginning. Remember you must have a reason both for training and for going in to a battle if you ever find your self in that situation. What is the driving force behind your training? What is your motivation? I believe many of us did start our training because of fear. I know I did. We felt fear to the extent that we got motivated to find a way out of that fear. Many of us felt we were small, insecure, uncertain, weak persons or something similar.

When we take up Bujinkan it is because we believe that this could be the way to eliminate our fear. I am a big believer that human beings are motivated by to primal factors: Fear or Love. Almost every choice or action we make can be analyzed to be motivated by love or fear (pleasure or pain). Either we choose a strategy to move away form something that we fear (pain etc) or towards something we love/like. In the teachings of Bujinkan we have many ways to eliminate fear.

First of all the kihon and taijutsu training makes us stronger as warriors. Therefore if the fear is about dying, getting injured or loose face in a real fight the physical training prepares us more and more for that. More over we have, in our teachings, what I choose to call our philosophical Kihon which gives us guidelines on what to strive for. These Bujinkan philosophies serve as transformation tools for our mind and spirit. For example one of the things we practice to do is to set aside our own ego so we act in a broader sense than our own egoistical needs. The bigger ego we have the more easily we get afraid. It is the ego which is afraid. It is afraid of loosing it’s power and control over us. Therefore we get afraid of getting injured, of making a fool out of our self, of saying our opinion, of not being loved etc.

As long as you can say “I”, you have an ego and that is probably important for you to have. It serves as a driving force for us to set and obtain goals, when we are at a certain level in our spiritual development. The important thing here is to be able to control the ego so it does not take the control over you. Moreover we learn that it is of most important to cultivate heavenly justice. Our mind can only be 100 % occupied with one thing. Therefore we wisely choose what our mind should be occupied with. You can choose to focus on your possibility to loose a fight and the disaster that might happen to you or your loved ones, or you can choose to think on something positive. For example: I did what I could to prevent this conflict in a peaceful way. Now that I can’t prevent it anymore I have to use my abilities to regain peace. Your act is then of heavenly justice. First you used the pen now you have to use the sword. The more we focus on something the less we are able to focus on other things.

Remember that you have the possibility to control your mind. Focus on positive instead of negative. If you are not leading your mind it is being lead for you. As Soke tells us, practicing heavenly justice leads to shin shin gan (mind and eyes of God). In other words, as I understand it, if we are able to put aside our own ego and the focus on our self and instead act as a protector of heavenly justice we will unleash a lot of power. We will break through our narrow vision and set our mind free to act as it should, to it’s fully potential. Free your mind and the rest will follow. Then the taijutsu is not some thing we produce anymore but guided by Devine energy. The practice also builds up Fudoshin (Immovable spirit or heart). The more Fudoshin the less fear. Through Sanshin chi no kata we learn stability. We learn to stay calm in whatever stressful situations we may find our self in. Remember that fear crystallizes and love melts. Fear contracts and love expands. So in one way the stability we experience in Chi no kata can be understood as a medicine against fear which gives us the possibility to flow more naturally and both focus, change according to the situation and make use of kyojitsu.

That is one understanding of Sanshin no kata.

As I see it as warriors we can not go all the way to mushin (empty mind) without going through all the 5 steps in Sanshin. You see. In chi no kata we learn to stay calm in stressfull situations. When we can do that it is possible to make flow. It is impossible to flow and be loose if we are paralyzed by fear. Flow is water is sui no kata. When we can flow and when we are not controlled by fear we can start to focus our power which is the qualities of ka no kata. Focus. It is also symbolized in the stone monuments of the five elements in Japan by a triangle. The point symbolizes focus. When we have uptained the first three qualities we can start to set us selves more free and move on to the more windy element of change. Fu no kata. A leave in the wind changes direction constantly according to the changes in the situation of the wind direction.

When we have moved through all thiese stages we are ready to let go of our mind and empty it. We can rely. We can feel secure. This is ku no kata. Through our Bujinkan study we cultivate Banpen Fugyoo (ten thousand changes no surprises) which is important in this context too, as we may have built courage up to a certain situation, but if that situation changes it is important that we are not being surprised which may lead to new feelings of fear. Talking about courage, courage teaches us to dance with our fear. Fear make us crystallize.

When you are afraid and scared everything gets more frozen and stiff. A chock which is the highest level of stress makes your breath stop, your salvia production stops, your digestion stops, your vision gets like a tunnel, the same goes for your hearing and your muscles stiffens up. Everything gets much harder. That makes us very inefficient. Courage on the other hand gives us the possibility to act in spite of the fact that we are still able to feel the fear. In the beginning it’s OK to feel fear as long as you have courage enough to dance with it. Through practice and training we gradually become better to act in spite of fear and therefore the fear means less and less to us. That is because we experience that if we act in a situation which makes us afraid it does not hurt, and if it hurts it won’t kill us. And if it kills us we won’t feel fear anymore. So there is nothing to worry about (laughs). Fear is kyo. It is an illusion. The physical situation may be the exact same but now we are a lot less afraid.

On our martial path to freedom, joy, enlightenment or whatever we aim fore, it’s normal to experience fear in different parts of life. Our Bujinkan practice and the transmissions from our mentors in the dojo teaches us to take our capabilities and experiences outside the dojo too. The skills and abilities we gain as martial artist should be applied in every part of our life. First then we can call our self a true tatsujin (complete human being). Many of us experience that we can catch the feeling in the dojo, but when it comes to our private life we are not that good at maintaining fudoshin, banpen fugyoo, put aside our ego, etc. That is because the dojo is a sacred place. It’s like a holy temple where we should all study and help each other.

My opinion is that the dojo is a place where you on a secure and certain ground have the possibility to study and make failures. As such the dojo is only the beginning, but please remember that jissen (real life) is outside the dojo. There is a saying: “If you can’t do it – Do it”. That means if you are afraid of something, it will take you further in your spiritual development to do it. In my life I experienced a lot of fearful situations. One of the strategies which worked for me was to just do it anyway. Then you might think that is easy for me to say. I didn’t say it was easy but it really is that simple.

Again we have a tool in Bujinkan. The tool is mushin (no think). Even if we are not well trained in this concept I believe most of us experience some no think in stressful situations. It is when you reach this mushin you should act. I will draw a parallel to parachuting. I never did it myself but this is the best example I can give. When you stand in the airplane, the doors are open and you are ready to jump you probably feel afraid. If something goes wrong you have a high risk of dying. This is a stressful situation for most of us at least until we have done it many, many times. My experience from other situations is that suddenly an invisible door opens (mushin). We enter a glimpse of an empty mind. This is when we should take the first step out of the airplane and act. This moment is when we do not feel fear at all. We only have this one chance, and it is usually a very short time like a second or so. Now we take our step in to the heaven. If we do not act, then our thoughts and feeling of fear returns and it is too late. Then we have to get our self together and struggle with our mind to do it. This might be too late, and for sure takes a lot of effort, which is in big contradiction to our taijutsu where we usually go for the path of least resistance as a way of controlling the fight. Then life and jissen should not be a fight anymore but a dance.

 I think we have another saying in Bujinkan. It goes something like: “In front of a raised sword – Step in and there will be heaven”. Step in. Don’t let the fear stop you. Keep going. I got to mention another thing here. I believe that the concept of dancing with the fear is quite important. From my own experience I know that in the past I was able to do something I feared just by suppressing the fear. I wouldn’t aloud my self to feel it. I also know that it still makes me stiff and ineffective, I still got tunnel vision etc. to a certain extend, when I tried to suppress the fear. My energy would contract. But what I found worked very well for me was to accept that I felt fear and then dance with it. That makes you able to still feel other feelings and catch the moment. Through endurance in our training we might not in the first place be able to totally get rid of our fear, which was our motivation to take up martial training in the first place. But we learn that the fear does not hold so much meaning to us because it does not hold us back anymore.

Through more consistent training we might be able to totally get rid of all our fears. There is less space for that emotion as other feelings and emotions takes the place. Where there is light there can not be dark, so negative feelings can be replaced with positive feelings. Isn’t that wonderful? As such our mind and spirit act as the muscles. When you train them correct they will develop to something stronger. Remember that fear is something you want to get rid of, but never forget to have respect. Do not fear something but have respect so you do not act stupid. The Budo Heart is important.

Soke often talks about the importance of keep going and endurance. I also remember Nagato Shihan talked about the heart of persistent training. But now we may experience that we can live with out Budo as we are not afraid anymore. Our purpose from the start was to get rid of fear and now it has disappeared or at least the weight from it has diminished. Now, then what should make us continue our practice when our first motivation for practice has disappeared? The answer is the other side of the coin – Love. Love takes the place of fear.

I remember Soke once said that we should fall in love with budo. To fall in love makes us blind and make us do stupid and irrational things. That is important as one should be a kind of fool to withstand the hardships from training and keep on going. On the other hand love also gives us passion. That inner fire which burns, and gives us unlimited fuel for our practice. Now we train because the practice gives us joy and happiness and we feel so passionate about it. Now we don’t practice because we want to get rid of something, but because we want to have something positive. That is very good. Remember that balance is most important. Fear is egoistical but passion is too. And if you let it grow too much the passion becomes nutrition for the ego and become dangerous.

We discover that we get so much out of our training that we get addicted to our daily fix. We practice and practice day in and day out, so we burn our self out. We get injured not only in the body, but we also get out of balance mentally. We see that in students who are highly motivated. They practice very dedicated and hard a few years and suddenly they quit training. It is important to train slowly and steady. If the passion motivates us, it is a pure egoistical reason that motivates us to practice. In stead of a wish to move away from fear it has changed to: what is in it for me. If that is the only reason you should move further to the next level. Now it is time to move on to the third side of the coin and build up motivation to continue because that wisdom which lies within the teachings of Bujinkan is so important for the whole universe, the earth, nature and humankind.

In the big picture we as human beings are meaningless. Yet we mean a lot if you think about what we can serve with. We can serve earth, humanity and act as a force of heavenly, universal justice. Remember the rules of Bujinkan. Now we can give back to society. As gratitude for all our teachers gave us we can give those teachings to others who may benefit in the same way as we did. And the earth may end up being a more peaceful place. It is that simple. Practice because it makes you happy, it protects heavenly justice and leads to harmony and peace.

That is what Bujinkan practice gives me and that is what I wish to contribute with to society and our Bujinkan family. Remember all I said is just knowledge. What we could call intelligence. It is first when we apply the knowledge that we can call it wisdom because when we apply, we get to know the feeling.

Remember to smile.

Your Buyu.

Michael Schjerling

7 Responses to “Article by Michael Schjerling”

  1. Very thoughtful insights… It was definitely something i needed to hear, and apply to my life and training.

    Thank you.

  2. …so true…
    thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Wonderful insight! Thank you for writing this, Michael. Your statement rings true to me, based on my personal training experience.

    As Soke has said, life is budo, and budo is life. The way we train is, ideally, the way we also live our lives. This also reminds me of Soke’s advice to eliminate tsuki (weaknesses) until all that is left are strengths, and then eventually to forget being proud of those strengths.

    Maybe Love replaces the pride…?

  4. “When we take up Bujinkan it is because we believe that this could be the way to eliminate our fear. I am a big believer that human beings are motivated by to primal factors: Fear or Love. Almost every choice or action we make can be analyzed to be motivated by love or fear (pleasure or pain). Either we choose a strategy to move away form something that we fear (pain etc) or towards something we love/like.”

    Michael, We have known each other for the last 24 years or so, and you know, how I feel, when I say this: The above quote is exactly what happened to me, and lies deep within me. At a point after several years of training, the fear went away and was substituted by a deepfelt love for our beautiful martial art. My passion for the Bujinkan and what the ancient Warriors stood for and stand for to this day, is so rocksolid in my heart. I really want to share the Philisophical Kihon with the world and pass on the knowledge an love of this fine art.
    I really appreciate being a part of this and to know so many good people.

    Bufu Ikkan
    Your Buyu

  5. Thanks for taking the time to post this. Though this budo path is a lonely one and requires self study, it’s good to know that there are fellow budoka who look out for others and can be a friend in need.

    Bufu Ikkan

    Chris Richmond

  6. thomas schuldes Says:

    I have to say as well: many thanks for posting this

  7. Dear all.
    Thank you so much for your comments. I am happy that my words inspieres you. Keep training correct and Walk Tall.

    Michael Schjerling

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