Archive for July, 2010

Los Angeles Bushinden Kai

Posted in Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

With Buyu and Los Angeles Bushinden Kai host, Tom Houlden.

The sun was shining and the pool was inviting. I was treated to a wonderful week of living it up at ” The Standard “. This hotel is hip and groovy a great relaxing atmosphere. I spent many hours by the pool turning into a “bronzed Auzzie” at last!

Tom is a great host. He showed me many interesting places and his “english” hospitality made me feel right at home. Being a part of the Commonwealth, I felt that our humor was similar and that we could converse freely  and from the heart.

I must also greatly thank Eric for his great support and without him, the Los Angeles Bushinden Kai may have never eventuated. Thank you Eric.

Lance Kumm and Andy Martin

The training over the weekend was very enjoyable. We touched on aspects of the Kihon and ways to gain a better personal understanding.

Many people a bewildered or floundering in the current training era. We have to seek a balance in our training and learn where what we are doing comes from. This is important on many levels.

Basic movements are the basis of ALL our training. I still cannot do the basics as well as I would like. in fact, every time I do them I learn something new and hopefully, something better to improve on.

“The Standard Hotel”

If you think you know the basics, test it on various students. Do you know what I mean?

If you understand the basics, then you will have a level of mastery where you can consistently perform taijutsu waza on anyone. Just look at the shitenno. They can train on anyone and not have to vary the structure of their movement. Can you do that?

If not, then why not? What do you have to do to gain this ability of consistency?

If you know the answer, please tell me!

But, if you can tell me, then I expect you to be able to “walk the talk.” If you cannot, then you are theorizing.

Action speaks louder than words. All we have to do is watch with clear open eyes and learn to see the ones that have this consistency. This is what I try and do.

Thanks to all who attended the Los Angeles training. It was a great two days and I`m looking forward to seeing many of you in San Diego at the end of the month.

Bufu Ikkan

Vancouver Bushinden Kai

Posted in Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

What a beautiful city. The sun was shining constantly for us during my weeks stay. It was warm and the people were friendly. I felt very comfortable.

I had moments of pure gratitude for the wonderful experiences that training in the Bujinkan has given me.

Paul Mann hosted my Bushinden Kai and had organised the seminar to be outside in a nice parkland area.

Paul is an excellent host and is a very friendly and hospitable person with the Bujinkan heart. It was also nice to meet his family and spend some time with them.

As the training was outside, I enjoyed learning about moving according to the environment.

I moved naturally to higher ground at all times when training and transmitting. This also put the sun in my training partners eyes. This occured naturally. when I became conscious of this, I was again pleasantly reminded that Sokes teachings are real and, that we come to move without knowing why we move the way we do.

We also moved with the shadows to protect us from the sun. This therefore continuosly changed the training area slightly and required us all to become more aware of our surroundings.

The training became more secluded and private in nature due to changing with the sun. We trained between expanses of trees and shrubs to conceal us not only from the rays but, the people not related to training who ventured past.

I naturally found us gravitating back to the basics. We studied the fundamentals and then I attempted to show how the basics are eventually made transparent when moving more neutrally and naturally in Henka.

We practised Tachi waza, Bojutsu, Hanbojutsu, Tantojutsu, Shurikenjutsu, Metsubushi, and various other aspects of training as they naturally arose.

Soke speaks of inspiration. I found that the change of environment inspired me to practise what is often spoken about in the dojo yet, rarely actually practised.

It is easy to become distracted when you are outside. I found it also good training to learn how to maintain ones focus yet aware of the constantly changing environment that we were training in.

Vancouver is a wonderful place and I enjoyed my time there very much. Thank you Paul, your students and to everyone else who supported the two days training.It was fun to dine and talk with enjoy everyones company.

From Vancouver, I travelled with Ryan Coffey to his home by ferry to Nanaimo. This island is a 2 hour ferry ride from Vancouver. It is a very beautiful area.

We relaxed and walked along the seashore and then returned to his home to be treated to a tasty BBQ of steak, salmon and some devilish 8% strength beer.

I was also surprised to see Deer roaming freely within suburbia too. This wasn`t something I get to see every day.

Every morning I would rise early and walk and exercise before breakfast. It was nice to see the sun rise over the mountains and feel the freshness of the morning on your skin.

I left Nanaimo on a Seaplane to return to my hotel in Vancouver. It was a quick trip across the water but, it was a nice way to see the landscape.

A Seal saying “hello” to us  near the plane just before leaving Nanaimo.

Thank you to everyone who made my stay enjoyable and relaxing. I`m  looking forward to seeing everyone again next year.

“I have recently attended a seminar in Vancouver, BC. I saw Duncan show the reasons of how the basic forms have so much importance to effective taijutsu. He moves in a way with precise kamae and light natural movement. I am really happy to understand a little more about how the basics of taijutsu are so important and light natural movement will only be obtained by mastering the basics.”

Thank you Duncan!!!!!

Ted, Taka-Seigi Dojo Vancouver


Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

How do you come to experience the principles of budo taijutsu?

When I refer to the principles, I mean Distance, angles and timing.

Where do you begin?


Kata are the initial stages of practice within the Bujinkan.

The Bujinkan is a martial art. We must remember this. We must learn well.

Why do you attend the Shihan classes in Japan? When you see and feel their taijutsu, you are left in awe and the desire to develop similar feelings and skills aren`t you?.

How did they get to this level of training?

Think about it.

There are no short cuts.

Nagato said ” There are no short cuts. You have to learn the forms.”

The forms and the kamae we learn teach our bodies about many,many things.

Kamae teaches us a great deal. All movements need to be focused on with a feeling of them being a “moving meditiation”. We begin to feel and become more aware of ourselves, our environment, and our training partners.

Kamae are you shields. They are what help you understand the kukan.

the “Letting go of kamae”  is only when you have mastered the principles. Because when you understand the principles, you have become awakened to the kukan. From there, you “can feel” naturally the distance that the physical kamae were once teaching you.

The kamae are now in your heart, and you can make them appear or disappear at will.

We learn varied distances from fundamental foot work to move our whole body while forming a kamae to an angle/position of safety.

We then develop a sence of timing within these forms to learn how to draw ones attack and take the opponents balance.

These three principals and more are within the katas.

Through correct training we  come to appreciate Shin Gi Tai Ichi.

The Katas are dead until we train well enough to bring them to life ( Shin Gi Tai Ichi )

We can then move on toward the Ha level ( Shu Ha Ri ) and eventually make the forms transparent.

The principals, as well as the correct mind/heart for training bring these forms to life.

This is a martial art with deep history. We cannot just bastardise it into something to satisfy our ego and desires.

Studying Budo has a process, just like life.

Shu = birth

Ha = life

Ri = Death

But, this last level is not really death. It is really the “letting go” of all inhibitions that keep us from experiencing heaven.

As we become more natural and absorb the teachings correctly into our spine, our body movement will become more fluid,relaxed and resilient. However, we will still move with a solid foundation and sense of conviction ( even when moving from the subconscious.)

We can see this with the godan test. There is no practise for the test. However, if you have truly studied well, then your fundamental taihenjutsu training will move your body away from the danger as you “recieve” the sakki.

If you have bad kihon taihenjutsu, then maybe you would not be able to avoid being hit, even if you have felt intention.

My words are also demonstrated and discussed on occassions by Noguchi Shihan Eg: at the 2009 DKMYS.

“feeling alone is not enough!” Soke

Our movements will become more neutral in manner as we understand these principles that the kihon gata holds within.

Some people just say ” it`s all about the feeling, that`s all you need, etc.” I watch these people train. They move like they really believe they have got it. You can see it on their faces. They are unfortunately in a world of their own. They have no kihon. Why? Because they have told themselves that they don`t need it. There is no balance to their training mind or body.

I hope their wake up call is not too painful for them if and when it happens.

I believe Soke has said that he believed he had learned more about life from the practise of the kihon happo then anything else.

Life. This life could be the result of finding the secrets of the kihon of the kihon – the principals.

Without the principals, there is no life in kata,technique or taijutsu.

Our neutral manner still holds within it a structure based on solid fundamental training in the Kihon waza and the Sanshin. These kata also teach us the fundamental movements required to wield weapons.

Soke has often said,

” you can tell someones level of kihon through their ability with weapons.”

All our movements have the lessons of these waza within them.

If we have not understood the kihon, we will not recognise this. Our body will not recognise this.

Looking carefully at peoples training, will also tell you their level of understanding of the Kihon.

Nowadays, I see people punching at soke like “rag dolls”. Whenever I see the Shihan punching at Soke, they do so with their full body, in a controlled and structured manner. A Bujinkan punch.

People are getting lazy. Noguchi Shihan often reiterates this.

People have lost their foundations. I think you have failed if you believe your foundations are not necessary to practise any more.

If you don`t practise, how will the Bujinkan develop in the future? We need to really understand that as high ranks in the Bujinkan, we have a great role to play in helping the junior students know the correct way to develop.

Just look of the standard of training in the dojos where the instructor is only concerned with his own training.

Soke, often states in class that the 15th dans have a great responsibility.

If we don`t keep a vigilance with our own training, then our students will suffer.

Instructors often just go home and concentrate on henka. If there is no structure to the training, then how do new students develop?

Some people who live or have lived in Japan often go home and start a dojo. I see these people sometime later, and they all come back and say that they have to teach basics. But, they don`t know how!

People are listening intently to every word that Soke says in the dojo. He often says that we don`t need kata,forms,etc. But, please remember that he is talking to the people ( 15th dans ) that he believes have gone through the stages of learning and are ready to appreciate his words. Not before!

People have to be honest with themselves.

The way the Bujinkan is taught is very “old school” in approach, I feel. It`s a matter of the instructor showing something a few times and then giving the students some time to practise what they have seen. This approach is backed by Nagato Sensei`s words to us about having the eyes, and ears to record and absorb directly. Why? because we often have only one chance to learn from the master.

Ichi go Ichi e

There is rarely any very technical explanation, or personal attention for any length of time. The student is left alone to learn the virtues of budo and develop their sainou kon ki and perservere with their own musha shugyo.

The teacher stands back and watches for those that have an aptitude and heart for budo. It`s from there, that these students recieve more direct training. Isshin Soden.

People want to be spoon fed in this era. The teachers that offer “the answers”, will get the students. I hope that these students will one day see through the advertising and marketing that is real and false. There are traps everywhere for students who have a strong desire to “get the secrets” and “get good quickly.”

It is important for all of us to realise that like every other martial art, there is a process to develop. The Bujinkan is no exception. Train hard.

The Bujinkan is not a free art in that you can do anything you want. If you believe this, you have missed the point.

Soke and the Shihan have the level of feeling and skill sets that they have from diligent,sincere, and hard training.

We now see them effortlessly move with devastating effectiveness.

We try to copy, but we can`t. We can often mimic what they are doing with a compliant training partner but, do we really have the fundamental kihon movements and principles mastered to truly be free and effective?

This post is based on my thoughts regarding a recent Soke class. They are my thoughts only.

It might seem that I`m an advocate for kata training. I`m not. I try very hard to feel and then absorb into my life, this wonderful art of Sokes. I experience directly from soke nearly every class, his feeling. Even then, I don`t believe I understand. I just have the knowing that patience and time will tell if I have absorbed anything at all. You cannot rush these things. It may be 10-20 years before I begin to understand.

Soke says this. He says only those people that feel his taijutsu will understand. But, I think people automatically believe that they understand straight away. I don`t believe this. I believe his uke are just being conditioned over and over again until one day ( depending on their saino kon ki ) that they come to understand the teachings in their own time.

It all depends on ones ability to recieve. And, this is the art of being uke. If you cannot be a good uke, you will never recieve the teachings. Again, I believe this depends on sincerity and ones saino kon ki.

I believe that to truly understand, we need to work from the beginning ( where ever that may be ) lol.

I never liked practising my rudiments when learning to play the drums but, when I began to play, I realised how necessary good basics were. The more I played, the more I saw the need for good basics. So, I did both. With the band I was able to be free and experiment with my rudiments and fills, etc. when at home, I went back to basics.

Budo is the same I feel.

I am forever working on the “feeling” of Sokes art while maintaining a balanced approach to my training .

I hope you are too.

“Don`t walk too heavy nor with your head in the clouds.”

Keep yourself and your training REAL.

Good luck.

Shut up and Train

Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

Those that train hard need not seek territory or the like.

Their training integrity and skill will naturally attract both good and bad people.

What is most important is to ” shut up and train “.

Your training is the most important. If you spend your energy criticising or complaining about others, you are no better than those who you feel are wrong. You are in fact stagnating your growth as a person and budoka.

It is much better to let everyone go and concentrate on ones own training and life. this is the most important thing. Ones own Shugyo.

If people are not harming others, there is no need to interfere. Use them as lessons for you. Learn from them. People have their own lives and destiny.

Natural Justice is something that is active in the Bujinkan. Allow nature to take it`s course. Don`t interfere. Are you larger than nature?

Look into the past and see how those that failed in the Bujinkan disappeared. These people naturally removed themselves without any intervention. People end up destroying themselves. This is nature weeding out the good from the bad.


Shut up and Train.


Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

In New Zealand with Jo Gaunt on a Lord of the Rings Tour.

In a previous post on facebook, I`d mentioned my observations regarding peoples dress sence when visiting Japan. Especially when going to and from training:

“Many people travel from the Kashiwa Plaza Hotel or Ryokan in Noda wearing their training uniforms. They have “Ninja” or ” Bujinkan” plastered all over their t-shirts,sweaters, etc. I have even seen a student wearing kyahan, jika tabi and his full dogi in Kashiwa station!

Needless to say, the Japanese saw this as very amusing.

Do you see the Japanese practitioners representing the Bujinkan dojo doing this?

We often see Japanese children going to the dojo in their karate-do uniform etc. But, they are children.

We are adults, please think and act as such when you are in Japan.”

A saying comes to mind,

” when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

When in Rome, do as the Romans do means that when you are visiting a new place, you should try to do as the people do who are from the place. Example: “I can’t eat that.” Reply: “Oh, give it a try. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

People from different places have different ways of acting, so it is important to try to do things the way people do who are from the place that you are visiting. Example: “Are you sure we can eat this with our hands?” Reply: “Why not? All of these people are. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

The city of Rome was the capitol of the great Roman Empire. There were many strange and interesting things to do when visiting (“in”) Rome. Example: “Back home, we never sing in front of other people.” Reply: “Oh, come on. Give it a try! When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

In regards to being budoka and representing the Bujinkan in Japan, we can`t just think about ourselves.

As I have said previously, many people travel on the train or by bicycle to the hombu dojo. Many do this while wearing their dogi pants and training t-shirts. These t-shirts are representing the Bujinkan in both Japanese kanji and english.

These people are often training in the garments they arrived in and then return ( without changing ) by train to their ryokan or hotel. In some cases, these people stop and eat in a restaurant or cafe.

For the Japanese, the ninja have been long lived in folklore. The truth has been distorted so much, that they have no understanding of the truth from the false. We can then appreciate that the natural evolution of society has created a kyojutsu that has helped the art stay misunderstood.

In Japan, if we are seen walking around in ” Ninja Uniforms “, than this would be the same as walking the streets dressed like ” Robin Hood ” England.

I have never seen a Japanese nor foreigner studying Karate,Aikido,Judo,Iaido,Kendo or any other martial art, walking around in their dogi, let alone eating at a restaurant in one!

We often see children being dropped off to class in their uniform. This is fine, they are children.

We can also see High school boys and girls congregating together at the train stations in their Kyudo uniforms. But still, they are children/teenagers and, they are involved in an extra curricular activity representing their high school.

I have attended seminars around the world and seen people stroll from the training area in their dogi to local shops. I`m very suprised when I see this.

Has anyone seen the Japanese before or after class leave the dojo in their dogi to visit a cafe,shop or anything of the like?

We are learning how to blend into society. I have therefore headed this post “kusa”. This means grass, and at times, shinobi were called this due to their ability to move undetected and become one with nature.

In Japan, it is unavoidable to not ” stand out”. We are foreigners. However, if we are foreigners and also walk around in “ninja uniforms”, we are asking for more attention!

I`m not saying that there is anything wrong with advertising the “Bujinkan” or wearing t-shirts in public saying ” ninjutsu” or the like. However, we need to be mindful of the points I have attempted to raise while in Japan as representitives of Soke and his School.

If we have a problem, cause trouble, or do something stupid, than people will know our purpose here in Japan ( wearing Bujinkan related clothing ), and this is not good for Soke. We must really try to  not ” shame” him or his Shihan and therefore think and act accordingly.

There will be people who defend themselves in one way or another on this blog but, if we are thinking about the art,culture and just as an adult, it should be common sense.

Sanshin no Kata

Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

Last Tuesday at Ayase, Soke had a few people ( including myself ) demonstrate the Sanshin no Kata by themselves.

We were then all instructed to practise by ourselves in the dojo.

Noguichi Shihan ( as always ) was gracious enough to pass on important aspects of tai – sabakai and te – sabaki in regards to these kata as well.

Even at this point of his life, Soke obviously still feels and wants people to recognise the importance of these kata.

We must ALL maintain vigilance in developing sound basics and do our best to practise well.


Posted in Uncategorized on July 8, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

By Soke Masaaki Hatsumi

Jutsu means technique, but it also means heart. Jutsu must come from the heart. Therefore, your heart must be straight and honest. If your heart is not clear and straight, your jutsu will be lacking and you will not improve in the martial arts. Lust for victory will not give you the victory. You must receive the victory from your opponent. He has no choice but to give it to you because he will sense your heart as better or truer.

Nature is your friend, it will help you to win. Your enemy will have unnatural movement therefore you will be able to know what he is going to do before he does it. If you want to make only your mind/spirit strong practice religion, not martial arts. Martial arts can kill. On the other hand if you only are interested in making your body strong enough to kill or win honors, lift weights, eat vegetables, and walk to become strong. Don’t bother with martial arts.

I refer to mastery as a feeling in the individual.

The certificate, even 10th degree, is no proof. One must be honest and think on this very deeply. This is the proof, this ability always allows the Budoka to win, his technique always works. Ninpo protects all of you, your body and spirit.

If your spirit is not straight, you can easily get yourself killed.

Moko Speaks

Posted in Uncategorized on July 5, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

This excerpt is from a piece written by Nagato Shihan published in Tetsuzan. It is a timeless piece because of it`s complete honesty. He speaks the ultimate truth.

Don`t be too quick to dismiss his words as being irrelevant to you. Or, that you feel he is speaking to everybody but You. No one is exempt here. We all need to be honest with ourselves and constantly be vigilant in keeping our motivations pure to maintain the true path.

” Some people come to train in Japan from overseas. That requires some doing, and I take my hat off to all such people. However, just coming to Japan once or twice and staying for a few days can`t teach you much. And especially those whose heads are full up and confused with concepts like speed,power,business,etc will find it harder and harder to understand what this budo is all about.

After a few years, they may be succeeding to a certain extent. But then they have  to think of how to protect the livelihood,status and honor that budo has brought them, and it`s the beginning of the end. They do not even notice when they slip off the true path, and start wandering through a maze.

If someone doesn`t understand  budo , it doesn`t matter how much they wonder about whether the present training system is suited for country X or not: they haven`t got a hope of understanding.”


Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

St Agnes & the Burning Train – The Band

Kartika Franks, Duncan Stewart, Kim Cambridge, Paul Goodwin, Peron Lan.

The following words were posted by Anthony Lucas ( jazz musician & bugeisha ) on facebook influenced by a training clip made by Simon Gaunt.

” there are three main rules in jazz:

1) play in the harmony,

2) play out of the harmony,

3) disregard the harmony all together.”

This is like SHU HA RI.

We can see that everything is connected. Through budo study and practise, we hope to become aware of this connection and develop a working knowledge to benefit our lives and that of others.

I was a semi-professional musician ( well, a drummer really ) when I lived in Tasmania. For musicians, it`s all about the “connection”.

when a synchronicity with each other is obtained, an amazing feeling of “oneness” or “connectedness” envelopes the subconscious. This feeling wells up and drives the band as a single unit. With unified hearts, the musicians come to reach their soul through the music and enlarge their capacity to accept ” freedom”.

Godan Test Renshu?

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

There is NO practice for the 5th dan test!

Soke strongly reiterated that today after class at Hombu. Mark Lithgow translated.

There is no practise for the 5th dan test.

On another occasion, the following has also been stressed.

When you have reached  4th dan, by the time you are ready for the test, your taihenjutsu should be at the level to give you the ability to avoid the sword when you have “sensed the sakki “.

To reiterate, there is no “specific practise” or ” correct method to move” that needs to be memorized and rehearsed for the test.

Soke asks that ( unless on special circumstances sanction directly by him )  that ALL 15th dans must do the test in his presence. This is very important.

Those that are performing it in their dojo, are not to practice the test. If you are practising with a student in front of you, then you are really actually doing it, aren`t you.

This is against Sokes wishes.

What I have mentioned above are words directly spoken by Hatsumi Sensei and Noguchi Shihan.

Bufu Ikkan

Divine Inspiration

Posted in Uncategorized on July 3, 2010 by Duncan Stewart

Divine inspiration

It’s the vital ingredient of creativity, but what exactly is this thing called inspiration?

Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips seeks its source

If the word “inspiration” is to have any meaning,’ TS Eliot wrote, ‘it must mean just this, that the speaker or writer is uttering something that he does not wholly understand – or which he may even misinterpret when the inspiration has departed from him.’ Eliot has a slight doubt about whether the word has any meaning, or any meaning now, because inspiration is something that only originally made sense in a religious context. If you are a religious believer of any denomination you know, or at least you have words for, where your inspiration comes from, however mysterious it may seem; and you may even have an idea about what you can do to invoke it – make sacrifices, do ritual incantations, live ascetically, take drugs, sit down at your desk at the same time every morning, and so on. But for the more secular-minded there is not much language to talk about inspiration without beginning to sound a bit mystical, reliant on some powerful source or force that can’t quite be named but can’t quite be ignored.

And yet inspiration is a word no one is shy of using now, even though they are not that keen to explain how it might work. It is the kind of magic that people like to believe in, perhaps especially now, in a culture where money can buy virtually everything else of value, and science and technology can create or invent the things we most need. Inspiration, in other words, is a kind of God-term; it refers to something we think of as essential but that we can’t, or may not want to, understand. As Eliot suggests, it is like a visitation from something profound and incomprehensible. It reassures us, or at least reminds us, that some of the best things about us are beyond our control.

Whatever it is that feeds us our best lines – the gods or God, the unconscious or the genes, the class war – it is something we depend upon but cannot command. Like God’s grace, inspiration doesn’t respond to our need or our greed for it. It is not a resource we can exploit; and it doesn’t look as if, at least as yet, science or technology can help us get more of it. It isn’t exactly measureable. And it may be this, perhaps more than anything else, that makes inspiration so difficult to describe in its workings, and so enraging in its elusiveness.

In our craving for something we can’t count on we will often unwittingly do anything we can to destroy it. Inspiration may not belong to us, but it is only we who can be inspired. And by the same token it is only we who can spoil it.

It is not news, even though it is continually shocking to see, just how much envy insidiously corrodes our pleasure in other people’s gifts and talents. What is more difficult to apprehend is just how fearful people often are of their own inspiration, of their own odd and unfounded thoughts, and therefore how prone they are to sabotage it and attack it and trivialise it. Often just by ignoring it. If to be inspired means, as Eliot said, to be even momentarily unintelligible, unrecognisable to oneself, then inspiration is akin to possession, to being taken over. And this, for some reason that is worth considering, does not come naturally to most people.

However much we want inspiration, if it disturbs our normal sense of ourselves then we are going to resist it. Most people are not seeking self-knowledge; they believe – they live as if – they already know who they are. So self-knowledge in this sense is the enemy of inspiration, our best defence against this alien invasion. As in sex, we may long to lose our composure and self-control but there is one thing we desire even more, and that is not to. Self-knowledge protects us from inspiration; inspiration, like sexual desire, undoes us. For non-believers, inspiration is more like sexual desire than anything else; a fascination, a fear, and something we think of as having a secret solitary pleasure attached to it.

So when people fear that domesticity, or a regular job or even therapy will destroy their creativity, it is usually because they have an apprehension that something about themselves is already sabotaging their inspiration, and this is then attributed, delegated to the family, or the work routine or the therapist. Of course, making anything depends on making the time and creating the best conditions for the work; indeed, actively creating the worst possible conditions for one’s work is one of the commonest ways people have of sabotaging their inspiration. But it is also true, as anyone knows who has let themselves rely on their inspiration as well as their discipline, that it is willing what cannot be willed to believe that you can make an appointment with your inspiration. Without practice no one can play a musical instrument, but practice at best creates the conditions in which inspiration can happen; no amount of practice creates or guarantees the inspiration. If a true poet, as poet Randall Jarrell once said, is someone who is struck by lightning several times, then the only thing a poet can do is make sure he keeps going out. The whole notion of inspiration, in this sense, shows us both the limits and necessities of our working practices. You can work at your poetry but you can’t work at your inspiration. Self-discipline exposes what the self can’t be disciplined to do.

We need to be receptive to the unfamiliar; and we need to be able to wait, without certainty, for the thing we want. This, in a sense, is the faith of the believer in artistic inspiration. It is perhaps not surprising that the wish to fake it or the wish to dispense with it altogether is so pervasive. It is difficult to get our minds round something that is so unlike a commodity and, in actuality, so unlike a religion. There are, of course, superstitions around inspiration, and probably all artists have their own; but there are no dogmas about inspiration except that it is required for work of the highest value. And there are no laws, natural or otherwise, of inspiration, except the ironic law that it is mostly unpredictable. And there are no experts who can teach it, though there are people who can teach us how to recognise it. It is, after all, only by consensus that we agree to recognise certain artworks and certain people as inspired in the first place. If the word inspiration is to have any meaning it has to have people who will give it meaning; people who, for various reasons, want to believe in it, and want to get other people to take it seriously.

And yet, like all God-terms, it is open to interpretation, and needs to be because terrible things are also done in its name. We may want to think well of artistic inspiration but we need to be able to consider our options. It would be possible, for example, to imagine a society that thought the whole notion of inspiration was the invention of irresponsible, decadent people who simply needed to disown what they did, people who refused to take the consequences of their actions; people who were always saying, one way or another, ‘it wasn’t really me’. From this point of view inspiration would just be bad faith, the alibi of the timid, of those who couldn’t bear their own nature (and above all couldn’t bear the fact that it was their nature not to understand themselves). These hardliners would want us to face up to what we are doing when we vote in democracies for leaders who have a ‘calling’, or when we exempt so-called artists from ordinary moral standards, or even admire their terrible behaviour. They would tell us that when we do these things we are worshipping at the shrine of inspiration; they would tell us that heeding the call of ‘higher powers’ can be the most compelling cover story for the most brutal egotism. At its most minimal, they would say that to describe ourselves as living in the lap of the gods tends to be a mixed blessing. That we should see our invention of gods as our intolerance of being human: and our wish to be the chosen ones as our self-cure for our insignificance in the scheme of things. It is worth wondering, they might say, why we are learning belatedly to be wary of inspired world leaders but not of inspired artists.

Even though artists are far more harmless than politicians or businessmen, we need to be able to distinguish now between different kinds of inspiration. The version of inspiration we should trust tends to be enigmatic and disturbing to the person inspired; they don’t, as Eliot said, really understand it. And it should not be an incitement, however plausibly put, to harm other people. It should not be permission or instruction to do terrible things so much as the offering up of something new for consideration. In other words, the inspired doesn’t use the word inspiration to covertly legitimise his own private dogmas and interests, or to allow himself to claim that he knows what he is doing, and that what he is doing is right. Bad inspiration always wants to convert people, good inspiration merely wants to interest them.

But our inspiration can’t tell us what our inspiration is worth. Only we can. When inspiration is recruited as part of our craving for authority – for the authoritative voice either inside us or outside us – we need to be suspicious. When it is used to refer to our potential for strange thoughts and feelings it reminds us of our unfathomable resources. Inspiration makes us choose, it doesn’t do our choosing for us. We still have to work out, among the many things that are written and said, which are the ones that matter to us, and which are the ones that should matter to us: which are the ones that will give us the lives that we want.

Good inspiration draws things to our attention. For believers and non-believers alike, that should be more than enough.

· Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst and writer. His most recent books, Going Sane and Freud Reader, are published by Penguin in paperback this month