The Roots of Budo

Do you know your Kihon ?

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 I’m still trying to understand it !

The Kihon Happo is the thread that links us to the truth of budo. Takamatsu Osensei stated that it was “the root of all budo”. He then asked Hatsumi Sensei to treasure it and teach it to his students.

Nagato Sensei has said that the Kihon Happo is the link between the consciousness and the subconscious.

The principles that are found within these eight kata are the mysteries that help us to understand budo. The Kihon Happo is therefore an essential medium that when practised well, will open us to the endless possibilities of the kukan realm. Distance, timing and angling are the principles that enlighten us to the world of the kukan (life space). These three principles (sanshin) can be viewed as three treasures to teach us the essential components of life and death.

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We study the Kihon Happo as set movements or forms to better aquaint ourselves with our body, culture, spirit of the warrior, true fighting methods, and tradition. The kata are very simple when viewed, but in reality, very difficult to master.

The ultimate aim through practising these eight kata is the unification of our spirit, body and technique (Shin Gi Tai Ichi). The mastership of the eight kata is not to develop a beautiful form only, but to know that Henka (change) is the root to truly understanding the vast and unlimited potential of the kata in all situations.

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The Kihon Happo is not just a means of learning physical fighting techniques. I believe Hatsumi Sensei once said that he learnt more about life from the Kihon Happo than he had about fighting. I think we should listen to him well here (as always!) . These movements are the movements of the thousands of warriors that have fought for their lives before us. These movements hold within them the base of budo, the roots of budo, the reality of fighting, and the soul of the martial artist.

Budo training happens mostly in the dojo with other like minded persons. If we are following Soke and the Bujinkan way, we should be not neglecting the practise of the Kihon Happo. Many people study the movements with a very technical mind. This is ok to do sometimes, but I believe Soke himself has said that he felt looking at budo through the spectacles of a medical mind was not so healthy.

I believe that once we have been given instruction on the fundamental teachings of each movement, we should keep our mind deeply embedded on these teachings while we continue our own training. From there we learn to become our own teachers and with the teachings becoming deeply rooted in our spine, we come across secrets, and develop a movement that is natural for our own body.


 I was once instructing at my dojo in Tasmania and we were performing the Ichimonji no kata in a basic form. I was watching a student of a dank rank below fifth dan perform it on a taller person. He was having difficulty and couldn’t understand why. He approached me and said that he couldn’t do the technique. I said, “you have to change”. He didn’t understand. In his eyes, once he had learned the form, he had thought that he had mastered the ichimonji no kata! It was a shame, but I believe he then fell away from training.

We also see Karateka perform wonderful kata with crisp and strong movements with a cracking dogi. It’s very interesting really. These people spend their lives perfecting these movements of self defence, but never actually come to train in them and understand the true potential. It is purely internal training. The art has become as two dimensional as an oil painting. It is now only an art form that upholds traditions only. These arts have forgotten to train in a manner to keep it’s methods truly alive, functional and inspirational.

In the Bujinkan, we have fundamentals. We have the Kihon Happo and kihon of kicking, rolling, etc. In the beginning of our training, we should work very hard at making these movements and our body strong, flexible and resiliant. In fact, we need to drill techniques and movements (much like other arts) so we can understand each individual action that eventually makes up a whole waza or kata. By this I mean that we can drill Jodan Uke, Uke Nagashi, Daken Uke, Ken Kudaki, Keri Kudaki, Taihenjutsu, Ashi Sabaki gata, etc.

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The kata of the Bujinkan are the “starting points”, or the “warm up” to the real training. This is the wonderful thing. This is what differs our training from the modern arts. Where the modern arts stop training, we keep going, going,going and going. There is no end. The Bujinkan is a complete art.

 We can spend many years to become accustomed to the movements and important points that make each waza effective as a form. We then are given the freedom in our training from our teachers to truly experience and bring to life each waza and it’s infinite potential. We soon learn that ” henka ” is the most important point. Change is constant. For the martial artist, we must believe and understand this. If we do not, then we will be easily defeated if we just limit our training to set forms. This why our art is a true fighting art.

From the taijutsu we then move to the Happo Biken.It’s the taijutsu that brings our weapons to life. Holding a weapon will tell us our training level. So, training with weapons is also good to keep us on the right path. We can see that the Bujinkan is a comprehensive that requires alot of training to appreciate it. There are definately many things to learn. I have a long way to go!

The body will be conditioned and our spirit will grow stronger from hard training. The pain from the Dakentaijutsu and koshijutsu training will be hard for our bodies, but it will strengthen our spirit and forge a character and physicality suitable for a martial artist..

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“Our Bruises are our medals in the Bujinkan.”

I feel that this type of Kihon training is neglected nowadays. This is all we ever did in the Bujinkan Hobart Dojo. And, I’m thank full for it. Those that haven’t gone through hard training and train only in a soft manner nowadays truly will not understand what they are doing or the true potential of their movements.

Recently Soke also stated that we should practise things over and over. Drilling to be exact. He commented on a particular type of cutting action with a katana, and that we should do it 1000 times! He also said to not neglect shurikenjutsu. He has mentioned this a few times recently.

 In Tasmania when I was studying under my first teacher Richard Jones, we used to go home with many bruises on our legs and arms from the Dakentaijutsu training. We had cuts or finger marks from the koshijutsu and jutaijutsu too. Some people may say this is foolish, but I don’t. Look closely at this art. What is this art? It’s about survival. We are animals living in the concrete jungle. We have to become strong to survive. Our body needs training, our mind needs training, and our spirit needs training. If we train hard in the dojo and listen to the teachings well, we will naturally follow these three important elements of training. In the future, we may be lucky enough to develop a level of Shin Gi Tai and come to be happy in our life.

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I have been training for over 21 years in the Bujinkan and still, everytime I practise the Kihon Happo, I feel the need for more training. It is never ending. What I do feel, is a greater sence of spirit and conviction. For this , I’m happy. I can now pursue the training with a fresh understanding of Sokes words “Keep Going.”

I had one person say to me that they though I was only concerned about techniques. They didn’t think that I was concerned about developing the “feeling.” Well, I perservered with this comment of ignorance and maintained my training as I’d always done. I will say no more. Endure these comments and follow your own path. This is important. It’s about knowing yourself and what’s right for you. It’s about living with conviction and purpose.

The Kihon Happo is more than eight techniques. We know this. But, do we really,really know this?

Keep going and, one day your body and life will tell you how much Kihon you truly understand.



6 Responses to “The Roots of Budo”

  1. thomas schuldes Says:

    Sometimes it’s really helpful to just see things with other’s eyes.



  2. Thanks for this inspiring writing of your thoughts & “vision” of Kihon.
    Keep going 🙂

  3. I agreed. Kihon Happo is important. Even beginner students, instructors, and master instructor should always practiced this. Even the grandmaster, Hatsumi, sensei always training and never stop training. If he does then he will become rusty and no longer be a grandmaster; or let alone be able to move and beat other younger shidoshi and shihan.

  4. Bradley Knowles Says:

    Hello, Duncan:
    I am quite some distance from you, living in The Bahamas, but your pages have proven encouraging to someone who enjoys this art but has little to no access to trained instruction. Books, DVDs, and blogs like yours are the incentive to train solo to the best of our abilities, until the opportunity arises to have the benefit of true instruction.
    Please continue to inspire, physically and mentally, it is very much appreciated.

    • Duncan Stewart Says:

      Your’e very welcome Bradley!
      Keep going, and hopefully I’ll see you at training one day.

  5. This endless growing of our Kihon Happo, in which I mean our personal Kihon Happo, is a true view of the tree.
    Not only do we have “roots” solid in the ground, trees grow forever. And so we learn forever, with solid roots of a tree, a thousand years of age (through all previous experiences).

    Thanks for your insights!

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