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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Interview with Dr. Kacem  Zoughari

by Shidoshi-ho Zoran Mijic, San Dan

Bujinkan Sojobo Dojo Banja Luka

Would you be so kind to explain us the importance of form (Gata) in martial arts?

Form, shape, structure or Kata (Gata as well) is very important because they contain many details which are based on experience of different Soke and founders of the classical ryu or style whatever the style. During their life, a fight or a terrible situation, each one of them has found something  in certain techniques that he has received from his Master and that is accumulation of many small details, knowledge of the body, which creates the art and the way of moving. Those things represent a certain aspect of fighting, living, using tools and weapons, codes, etc., which we need in order to read and understand what, is behind, inside, after and before at the same time.  So the Gata or Kata, is really important, in can even said essential, because it’s the gate, the door that connect directly with the current master, soke of the style with the previous soke. Because of their importance, they have been change and adapt to their time, in this way we can find many different type of Kata, like Shinken or jissen gata, Hyô-en Gata, Tanren-gata, etc. according their importance and also according the capacity of the disciple, student, client, friend, etc, in other words, the capacity of audience, the transmission of those kata change. Japanese’s classical bujutsu’s history is full of many history, tales, chronicles that deals about the way of transmission of those kata.

Which process is necessary to pass in order to gain very efficient, flexible and ergonomic movement like ancient masters?

I think it is a question of time as well as quality of practice. To tell the truth, my knowledge in this case is very limited, because I don’t think I have the technical and full knowledge to talk about. It’s better to ask a master or a soke of various ryu. But what I can say is that many things come with time; don’t need to have a PHD to understand that.  Moreover, I think to underline  the definition as well as the conscious of the “Time” and “Quality” is relevant for each of us, because we all spend time and we all see quality on different way. We need time to reach the top and even to understand that it’s impossible to reach the top or the goal aimed. In everything in life, Time and Patience are the keys. In order to do things, (studies, researches, practice, painting, etc) in a certain way, we need Time, Quality. Time and Quality request a particular state of mind made of measured passion and deep patience. It is not easy, but when you love what you do and you have the patience you can go through. We just need to deeply consider and keep in mind that behind each technique of the various schools there is the life, sacrifice, tears, blood, love, etc, of many soke, master, men, and it’s enough to realize that Time as well as Quality practice is really important. This is what I strongly believe, and this mind leads my practice and the way I think about it.

In your work “The movement’s tradition in classical combat schools of Japan based on ancient scroll” you indicate the importance of movement that has helped the ancient masters to be effective in the fight… So, what is the main difference in movement through different periods of ancient Japan?

I don’t think there is too much different between ancient Masters.  What makes major difference is that every period brings his own change, and every Master, whatever the style,  who can adapt himself to the shift and go deeper, survive as well as being able to find someone who will have the capacity to receive and apply his way of moving, is a real Master who understand the needs of period where he lives.

So it is not question such “in this period you move like this, at this other period you move like that”, the studies and researches on various master’s biography and chronicle reveals the facts that a MASTER whatever the time, place or enemy he must adapt himself. Most of  the classical ryu’s essence of Japan, as well as the contains of their scrolls, is always about adapt yourself and fit to the moment, understand the moment, be ONE with moment, and if you are able to do that you can do and apply the technique, survive and pass down the knowledge. Now if the school  or the style, you practice is just created for a certain type of movement based on certain use of the body for a particular period or area, the possibility of survive and adaption, as well as freedom are deeply limited, in certain case it is completely lost.  I think it is really important to have in mind that the major classical ryu, that deals about Bugei jû-happan, Bujutsu, Heihô (or Hyôhô), Heijutsu, Gungaku, Gunpai, etc, is about combat on battle field, war, or based on battle field experience. The essence of their used of the body, weapon, psychology, etc , is  based on adaptation, flow, surprise, no form, intelligence,  how to do or apply the body more deeply, how to be more accurate according the moment where you live. If the Art (in mean here the used of the body in the classical ryu) is about living deeply the present moment, adaptation is a key of everything. If you practice limited, stiff, fixed form or kata, if you practice one side of the body, it is logical to say that those form or Kata cannot allow you to be free, to open, to accept, to absorb things, to fight according the moment and different enemy, as well as survive.  I think they are not good form and more deeply not good for the body and the mind as well.

Lots of people wonder why you have banned the sale of your videos… Does the reason for this lie in concept Taryu Jiai which strictly orders us not to fight against others Ryu, in order to keep our waza secret, and would you be so kind to explain us the concept?

It is really crazy how people can start to talk and claimed words or things about me without asked me or talk to me directly. But it is all right, it is not the first time and not the last one. Why I don’t sale video?! Well its really easy, it is Because first I’m not a salesman!  And I don’t used martial art for living, I hope its clear on that.

Second, the reason why I don’t want the people to tape the things, is mainly because I want them they practice and used their brain, their memory. All classical bujutsu and military arts is about using the metsuke (art of observe) from that the art of kengaku (studies by observing). Whatever the master or the soke in the japanese martial arts’s history, the highest level is about being able to copy in one look the form, the movement shown or performed. Like it is crucial to remember clearly the position of the enemy, people, tools, weapon in a place, remember the way used, the very deep details of the technique or the transmission and even a conversation between to people, with the master, the parents, girl friend, wife, etc. It is impossible to talk about transmission (shinden, taiden and kuden) without this crucial and essential aspect. So I think that if people really practice they just need to use their eyes and memories, this is a way I did and still do myself.

I never tape the class of Hatsumi Sensei (before 1999 Hatsumi sensei allowed people to tape class, there are a lot of video about that time, even tape from the 80), even at Ishizuka sensei’s dojo!  The reason  why I Never ever tape the class, is mainly Because you might lost everything, scroll, dvd, image, notes, etc. the real scroll is the body and the heart. If you lost everything, how are you going to do? If you attach yourself to DVD image, notes, etc, rather than attach yourself to the art, the practice itself, the result is really different. But I am not completely against the use of DVD, tape, notes, images, etc, it’s the way of using it and how to do it.

So, about the Taryu shiai, I understand that some people need this. It’s good for test the technique, to test oneself self confidence, courage as well as for studies different things. Also it keeps the feet on earth, I mean in the reality of combat and fighting.  Because too many people (whatever the rank) in the Bujinkan as well as other school and organization, forget about reality and forget to respect the other styles. In this case, I think that the idea of Taryu shiai is interesting even if it is not a real combat, no one ll die, I mean nowadays.

Since the beginning I gave my class, and I have many witnesses, even if my techniques et knowledge are very limited, each time I met people from different martial art,  I always try on them. I like it, and I think its really important. Everything is done with a great respect to their art, professor, etc. no wounded, no bad feeling (I hope). I like to studies and try on different type of sport, strong men, different art, whatever the school, the country, etc, I don’t have limit for that. I think that knowledge and wisdom doesn’t have any limit. This the way I see the art of ninjutsu and the nine school of Hatsumi sensei.

About the word Taryu, it was mainly used during Sengoku Jidai period and even before. It was forbidden to accept a combat or to challenge someone or his school, because if you lost the name of your school will not be respected and you could be killed. One more important aspect is the fact that when you fight and you lost, the survivor or winners have seen some of techniques of the school, so he can create counter technique. So this is the main reason why the Taryû shiai was “officially” forbidden by most of the classical school. But it became more popular in Edo, in certain case, sometimes a master of a school could paid a certain sum of money in order to avoid the shame and the fight as well. There are many story and chronicle that deals about that. Other deals about the death of people and the end of the school as well.

In my case, I don’t care if someone want to try, to challenge me, he is more than welcome,  I’ am very open – I’m always open! No bad feeling at all. If someone want to challenge me, no problem. Unfortunately not too much people come, people love to talk behind, or in internet, but no one step out and say it “I challenge you”! I strongly believe that martial art, whatever the styles, country, is about action, not words. Who ll be the last standing man. This is what I believe and what also leads my practice and the way I have learn.

We know that you have made research of many bujutsu and among them also teachings of Tetsuzan Kuroda Sensei, would you be able to explain his saying that “Soft Kata will produce fast and disappearing movement” (柔らガい型ガら生まわる速い消え動き)? How it can be used through our practice in Ninpotaijutsu?

Well, first of all, I’m not student of Mr. Tetsuzan Kuroda sensei, I have a great respect about him, his family’s art and his 5 ryû-ha, but I’m not his student. When someone become student of Kuroda Sensei he must fellow important rules like not allowed to teach in public and using his name or ryu-ha for making money. In my researches as well as for my own interest, I have met different master and Kuroda sensei is one of them. All the techniques, way of practice as well as the wisdom I follow and received, come from the 9 schools of Hatsumi sensei and my humble movement are completely different than Kuroda Sensei. I am not in the same scale, level; he is soke of 5 schools, and me I am just a beginner.  I can show you the way they do kata and few things in his school, but it ll be a very bad imitation.  Of course, in all the bujutsu classical’s school of japan, there are some common points that deal about the use of the body. Some of those common point or principles have been presented in the highest level by Kuroda sensei in his class, book, DVD and seminar. In the Shinbunkan (Kuroda sensei’s dojo) students follow certain order and methodology of practice, certain rules of fighting, rules of using the sword, rules of using the body, other weapon, etc. So in those kata, form and codes, if someone who have the good capacity fellow and practice it correctly, he can find pretty much same principle that most of the classical ryu of Japan have. Some of those schools have lost it, some doesn’t use it, or use it in a different way, stiffer, more hard, more fixed, more Ki (energy), more commercial, etc.

Like you said soft kata will produce fast and disappearing movement – well first in ninpo-taijutsu (normally I should explain the meaning of this word and his history, but it’s not the question here) the use of the body as well as the weapon is based on the practice of both side (right and left) and Kuroda Sensei practice for example in case of sword only one side (Kenjutsu and iaijutsu, but it is not because I did not see him do it, that Kuroda sensei is not able to do it). All the densho of the nine schools mention that each technique should be done, practice, apply learn and master in both side. Being able to do same things from right hand and left hand, help to cultivate a high balance and a very deep understanding of the technique as well as the bio-mechanic itself . When someone can use left side or left hand and left foot the same way from the right side, people will think this man is left handed. Also in a battle field, during war or a combat, there is strong chance to be wounded in the side of the body mainly used, for example the right hand, or legs. At this moment you ll stop the combat and said “no attack me from the right hand please! We don’t have time to used the left one!!!!” Or more easy, if you are wounded in the right side, you ll not used the left and just let you die? All the major wars chronicle of Japan show how most of the warriors could use the both side for fighting. If you use only one side well the chance to survive are divide, if you use both you are more complete. I think it is very important.

One very important aspect deeply connected by this capacity of using the both side, is the necessity to to have a correct form. Correct form means correct body structure, and correct bone structure in same time, the back should not bend, the head should keep in the right position, the knees and feet should be in a right line and direction, realign the body structure according the enemy position as well as  the weapons used, etc…

All this alignment and structure has to follow the rules of moving with and by the weapons. In this case, the more you go slowly the more you see the inner details. The more you see the inner details, the more you are effective and accurate.  So it’s not question of being fast or strong, or even explosive. What I’m looking for it’s to be deeply precise. For me, speed or moving fast is not the main factor, because when speed as well as moving fast request the use of different tensions plus a strong muscle activity. In most of those case, the result is pain in the shoulder, knees, arms, too much tension, you are tired and it’s the right direction to hurt the body. Now if you add to that different muscle exercises which are not for the support the practice of the art, its easy to create a unbalance and accumulate a lot of wounded and tension. Of course, all those tension and wounded will have a strong impact or influence the spirit.

Also over speed, or moving fast do not allow to be very precise and accurate. Among the people who practice martial arts, whatever the organization, I also include the Bujinkan, It’s easy to see how there are a big confusion between speed and rush, like between effectiveness and brutality or violence. I think that the use of the body is beyond that. The example of Takamatsu sensei and Hatsumi sensei are eloquent in this case. They are the highest model for me.

There is old saying in a scroll; I remember it very well because when I read that I was pretty much touched in my heart. It was said that: “Slow is smooth – smooth is invisible”. So you have to move in a certain way, use the full body in a deep way, that allow you to move slowly and so precise in one flow and in a very smooth way. Here because you move in one flow, with coordination and synchronization, the beginning of the movement is not seen, and only the end of the movement is seen, I mean the result of the technique. The enemy doesn’t realize how you did, even if he watches it, from that you can conclude that the movement or the technique becomes invisible. Not showing how the body starts, how the move or the technique start, is the starting point of this kind of using the body. The enemy cannot see what type of muscle, tendon, bones are in action here. It is the same in the use of the weapon too. When you practice the form, if the form is correct, the way you shift weight of your body from one leg to another and the way you walk doesn’t follow the sport way of doing. Because what you looking in the sport is immediately effectiveness, immediate explosiveness of power. In classical martial arts is opposite. Of course you are looking for what is effective directly, but effective in long term. What you can do it now, tomorrow should be done better. And in ten years even more better!

In sports you are very good when you are young, you get skill pretty much fast  because the style are create according a certain kind of physical education and easy way of using the body. In the sports system, when you became old you just experimented. Which means you just gives advice and cannot apply effectively as much as you can, because here again, the use of the body is base on the strength of the muscle, the stamina, in other words, on youth. In classical martial arts it’s the opposite! Because in martial arts you are suppose to always proof yourself. And this proof is “ can you do it right now”, and “can you put him down now”?!! this question or proof doesn’t look the age or the sex, the body, the strength of the one you must put down. Of course there are many ways! Best way is one that allows you to do this, of course effectively but in the way that you don’t hurt your partner. It is not really easy to let him feel that what you do is really dangerous. In because in many case most of the student play the game, or let the instructor doing, with no resistance.

Sometimes the student is even convince that the really try hard, that is cannot accept the truth. Normally the instructor or the master should understand directly that the student did let him doing or did not attack correctly. Why that? Well there are many reasons, the relation they have between them, the rank, loyalty, friendship, envy, love, business, loneliness etc… It is not easy to accept our own mistake and realize after years, and a certain high rank that we practiced doesn’t work. The best test is to try the same technique on different style, different strong men. Correct form, correct movement, effectiveness as well as preciseness as well as many other things start by being honest in the way we learn and practice. This is the heart of the sincerity.

So, yes I did study many martial arts because this is also part of the Ninjutsu, and I just follow the rules of Ninjutsu. In Ninjutsu you have to be aware of other martial arts, so I study other martial arts. Not only because its rule of Ninjutsu, but because I like to know and curiosity. It’s not curiosity in order to let other people that I know a lot, I like them so I study them .

I was very interesting on Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei schools because one of his, actually two of his schools: Komagawa Kaishin Ryu Kenjutsu 駒川改心流剣術 and 民弥流居合術 Tamiya Ryu Iai they are deeply connected with Kamizumi Ise no Kami, the founder of Shinkager-ryû. In those two school, it is still  the same form and body structure. So I was pretty much fond of Kage Ryu, Shinkage Ryu, Taisha Ryu, and those schools …I’ve try to find form which you can find in Kage Mokuroku written by Kamizumi Ise no Kami 1566. So where we can find those, these days? Most of the people who practice this school now are Kôno Yoshinori Sensei and Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei (there are other master too) who still keeps the same method and modality of using the body like they used to do period of Kamizumi Ise no kami sensei, that is why is he so effective and very good. But he is not only one in Japan who have thing like that. Now the good things would be, is to see those master doing their technique against others styles. And this is what I like.

Because doing kata and been well in his own school and with your own student it’s great but this is not martial art then. Bujutsu, techniques of war, which every country that you are; Africa, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Canada, whatever the art or the men you need to face, it’s not like; first you need to grab like this, attack like that, and do like this. Those are Dojo rules.

In bujutsu, real combat, there are no rules. But I understand the necessity of the rules in order to teach. So I think, once again in order to gain accuracy and speed in the practice everything depends on three points: first – the form, second – the way you shift from one point to another and how, third – the process which you follow through the years in your practice. When you have those three aspects, of course with the flexibility inside; its perfect. Everything is in the form, because the form shapes the body. When you follow this normally you should find. But I think I should add that the most important aspect stay the heart and the love of the practice. The question is “Why do we practice that? “What are we looking for?” whatever the art, the path is long, deep and not easy. Our ego is there, hiding, expecting, aiming something…. If someone look for the fame, the rank, the high position, the organization, the control, the power, etc, I don’t really think that those kind of goal or purpose can really be connect with the true art or find something pure and deep. Classical martial arts’ history of Japan is full of example to studies and meditates as well. It is very difficult to answer, because everyone has different mind and goal at the beginning of starting an art, and through the time, the initial mind as well as the sincerity from the beginning change. How and why they changed? The answer should be finding by everyone.

History show how it is very difficult to grow for someone who just look things from his own perspective and this is not practice of the classical martial arts. We must follow certain type Nagare, or certain type of  flow, we really need to understand relationship’s nature, the relationships with a master, and to polish that. In conclusion, this state of mind and body include in the art of disappear or not give any signal of the movement through the kata practice, even if its start from a technique, it is not just a technique. It’s really and deeply much more.

Does the “disappearing movement” refers to Musoku 無足?

Before to answer directly to this question, let me explain few things about words and their definition as well as the way I do my private or scholar researches. When I use Japanese words, also it can be English word,  French word, English word, Arabic word, I want to know the definition of this word, when it was use for the first time, the definition at that period, how and why it change, all the different meanings and influence. To realize this goal, I will check many dictionaries, many books, chronicles, and meet different professors and scholars in order to see what is the right and more close definition. When I’ve accumulated all those different explanations, definitions, ideas, etc, I start to study the source itself, I mean where all the information I received comes from. After I have trace the more correctly and deeply those source Its possible to express different idea and meaning for one word. It’s the same for analyzing a fighting technique, school’s history or legacy, etc. its is important to keep a certain honest mind set when you start something like that, because in most of the case, especially in the case of classical bujutsu or ninjutsu’s history and technique, what you have in mind my mislead the reality in order to feat what you looking for. Between the reality and what we wish, want, deep inside us, there is a big difference.

About the word Musoku most of the people when they take Japanese books translate as:  Mu –nothingness or without, and Soku – Legs. The literally translation ll be “NO LEGS”. Moreover, this translation doesn’t really help to understand the meaning, I mean, “no legs” in what, where, for what purpose, context, etc.?!!

Now when you use the following kanji:  Musoku no Ho, you can understand that the words Musoku refers to a certain type of using the legs call “no legs method”. For a regular, Japanese it means nothing as for foreigner. After you dig in Japanese history you start to find the word:  Musoku Nin. This words in mention in few chronicle which some of them stretch back to Muromachi period. According to those chronicle the Musoku Nin is “People who doesn’t have legs”. This can create confusion, like maybe those were people whose legs were cut off etc etc..

The chronicle explain that the Musoku Nin was a name for certain type of warrior who can work for big family, but they didn’t have right to have a name. So they were a warriors, bushi but not a high level one, their origin are not same as a warrior family. This is the first definition. After the name ll change and evaluate. It became the name given to a lot of people, who lived in Iga and Koga, two birth places of Ninjutsu and Ninja, because there was no warlord who ruled, but many samurai family who hold piece of land that not really belongs to them but they act as it belongs to them.

And finally same historians start to call Ninja at very beginning of 16 century the Musoku Nin “people whose legs you don’t see”.  In Japan, some researchers and historian starts to explain that those people have certain way to walk, to move their body and to fight that allowed them, to not let see and understand how they shift the weight of the body from one leg to another.

This way of using the body can be find already in the Shinto sanctuary using by priest as well as in Nô theaters. The founder of Nô,  Kanami and after his son,  Zenami were known to have developed a very sophisticated and deep way of walking. They were from Iga and Koga family with ninja family background, so they were already Musoku Nin and familiar with their way of walking and using the body.

Later on, at the beginning of the 16 century, the Musoku no Ho was the words that refers to a method of using the body find in various ryu-ha of in Jujutsu, Kenjutsu, Sojutsu. Mmost of classical schools have it, under different kanji. The main goal of this method of using the body is the capacity of to not let the enemy see the shift of the weight of the body during the application of the fighting technique. And this is very important! This is how it starts. So Musoku no Ho, you can find in different expressions, Kieru ugoki: “Movement that shot down himself”, Kage Fumi: “walking or stepping in the shadow”, Kage Ryu, Togakure Ryu, Gikkan ryu, Kumogakure ryu, Kotô ryu, etc.

Would you explain to us a method of transmitting knowledge within martial arts through three levels: Taiden, Kuden and Shinden Gokui?

It’s not easy because those aspects on itself are matter to do a PHD. I am right now writing a book on that subject for a French publisher. Well, let’s try to explain it in a very easy way. In all the art in Japan, but also in religion, esoteric, mystic, magic, etc., in order to transmit or pass down a certain kind of knowledge, first you need a master. By the word “master” I mean someone who has the capacity to do, apply, demonstrate a kind of knowledge, a science, in a very high and deep level, in the case of classical martial arts, this ll be the application of all the technique, use of the weapon from both sides. If you don’t have one master, well, there is no transmission.

Second, the master needs to find someone, the disciple, who is open to hear, open to receive, open to absorb, and open to accept, but in the same time master need to read in him the future. This means that from the knowledge given by the master, the disciple can dig it more and go deeper. This relationship has no end and creates a flow that connects the master and the disciple forever. When you see how Hatsumi sensei talks respectfully and gratefully about Takamatsu sensei, well you can see that this is really great, something that goes beyond what we can find in nowadays in the bujinkan between people.( Of course this relationship is not only between Takamatsu sensei and Hatsumi sensei, it exist in all the classical school of Japan. Nature of this relationship, connections, bond, depends on various factors.)

And this aspect of the transmission is call Taiden – body transmission. And body transmission is not  about how long you stay with your master, but the quality of time you spend with him and everything you felt from him and keep it alive deeply in your body.  This transmission stays in your body, during your life, daily life, solo practice, encounters, talks, etc. It is also like a constant “renaissance”, like a recall of everything you have seen and felt from him. In a way that the master lives through you, when people watch the disciple moving they see the master’s form, movement, attitude. This is what the Bufû is about too, being part of one flow of thinking, being, involve, a old and long family that allow you to change and adapt yourself at every moment.

This Taiden is made from the practice, by the practice and for the practice; it is something that you live and apply, like the flow of the blood in the body, you don’t see it, but you feel it, you need to live and help all the other organs to live and stay alive. Its hidden in the body, like the Taiden.  If this flow stops, the body stops, the heart stops, and it’s the death. So it is a knowledge a wisdom as well as an understanding for the master‘s art based on life practical experience. It goes without saying that the nature of the relation with the master, reflect trough the disciple movement, attitude, technique, etc.

The Shinden can be written with different, kanji. Transmission from the Kami is the more used one. The one I use here is mind (or heart, sentiment, idea, thought, intention) transmission. It’s all the things that you keep in your heart, like the image of the master, the souvenir of him, his actions, his talks. This is deeply connected with the Taiden, because one nourish the other, actually they are together impossible to separate. Here also, its how to keep the image of the master in the mind and the heart, it’s all the thing you felt from him without really understanding it, but you remember the movement, the way he did. It doesn’t means that you understand it or can do the same, but because you keep the clear image on your heart and mind, you can see it and try to feat it become like the image.

Finally the kuden comes. Kuden is everything the master said, in private or in public, to you directly or to someone else who told you after. Even if they are completely different, Kuden and Kotodama have something similar in essence, both are used to wake up something in the disciple’s heart, to lead and show him the right way, the right form, to reconnect with the master’s image, the souvenir, the etc. The Kuden goes of course with Taiden and the Shinden. In this way you can said that it is a full transmission, but not finished. It’s never finished, because as long as the disciple lives, the masters and his transmission lives toward the disciple.

Something very important to understand about the kuden is that in most of the case, the disciple never really understands directly what the master said or performed. It’s similar to what we all experimented in our life with our father. We all have heard at least one time in our life, our father said something like “you ll understand when you ll have my age” or “you ll grow up and realize it”, etc..  Those phrases come when the answer to a certain kind of situation cannot be understood through a certain process and experience of life that could not really be explain by words in order to be fully understood.

To those phrases, most of the time we answer “yes, yes” or “it’s different now”, “ that was your time, not mine”, etc…and when the times comes, we reach a certain age, most of the time, the same age as our father, we felt in the heart when the same situation happen “yes, he was right”…Its similar process with the master’s transmission, words, movement, etc.

So the kuden deals with words, but they are more a practical experience explains by words. Without having pass through the same experience or passed by a certain process of practice, receiving, endure, get betrayed, stabbed, disappointed, happiness, angry etc., it is really hard to understand and realize deeply the meaning of the Kuden and all his inner meanings.

Through his life, the disciple fellow a similar process of practice and experience as his Master. The difference and the changes are the time, the period, may be the city, the place, or the country and the religion if there is one. The age also are different, the way of looking life, the education as well is also different. But deep inside the process is similar. When the disciple goes through the same situation facts of life as his master, he starts to realize what he said and understand the meaning behind the words. Moreover, it’s impossible to understand or realized it without experienced it through the body and the heart. The reason why the disciple cannot really understood the master’s Kuden directly, it’s mainly because the Kuden are not just words. This is the reason why most of the densho use the famous phrase:”Martial arts cannot be thought by words”.

The deep understanding of the Kuden requests the Taiden and the Shinden. Without those three, it’s impossible to realize and to use the word art, flow. I found very funny and also pretty much arrogant people in the Bujinkan, shihan and different instructor, when tell me things like: “Hatsumi sensei told me this”, “He said to me that”, etc., like they could really understand what he said, the reason and purpose he said it. If consider the difficulty of the language, the knowledge, history and all the things someone need to know just to try to translate one phrase said by Hatsumi sensei, I honestly think that it ll be more humble to not present our self like the one who really understand. Because in ninjutsu like classical martial arts, understand means being able to apply and demonstrate against anyone.

Anyway, one of the greatest things that the Bujinkan offers is not the freedom?  Yes the freedom to say everything, to do everything or to believe everything you want. Good or bad, false or true. Everyone in the Bujinkan, especially high ranker (whatever the rank) wants to believe that Hatsumi sensei say or said to them is the truth and the reality, everyone wants to believe that he have a real and deep, as well as true relationship with Hatsumi sensei. This is very human and normal. But there is what we believe and the reality. I think that it is really important to not forget what the nature of this relation is. To not forget on what is relationship is base on, and of course what is the real purpose. If it’s not a extension of the same relationship that Hatsumi sensei had with Takamatsu sensei, I think that it’s not part of the flow of the Bufu from the 9 school.

Back to the subject of Kuden, the master doesn’t really need to think about what to say, to show, to transmit or to explain. All his actions and words come at the right time, when the time request. They are part have to think of flow very deep. For the disciple, the only thing is about to be part of this flow, to forget himself in order to be part of this flow and become the medium, the widow and the mirror of his master’s science. In classical martial art as well as ninjutsu there are many words that express different type of transmission, like jikiden, nai-den, gai-den,jitsu-den, isshin den shin, isshi sodden, kaiden, shitsu den. There are many “Den”. The nature of those “Den” or Transmission depends deeply about the relationship with the master as well as the nature of the master and disciple’s heart and intention. But all the “Den” or transmission request the to have the Taiden, the Shinden and the Kuden.

So all in all it is super position off the three aspects of the practice that allows the disciple to understand (if he have the capacity) one day the Master and in same time to walk in his footstep. When he can do that he is part of a legacy, part of  the Transmission of something that goes together and beyond us. At this moment you can call this an ART. You can call this ART when there are many man together who have sacrifice many things and gave the best they have in order to create one day what we practice nowadays.

Which is the best method of self-practice? Could you tell us how and what do you practice?

I don’t think that my practice is interesting, really not! Its better to studies how and what Hatsumi sensei and Takamatsu did for reach where they are now. I think that this is really better. First of all, Self practice in two words SELF and PRACTICE, so you practice alone. Problem is if I tell you how I do, how Kacem Zoughari does, which means; my blood, my flesh, my small muscles, my small brain, etc. its pretty much personal, not really interesting at all. It’s crucial to not forget that everyone have different way of looking at the Art, everyone have different feelings, thought, purpose of practice, etc. So I don’t think it will help if I explain how I practice.

Anyway I can tell that for me “practice” does mean “training”, or going to the dojo or the class o2 or 3 days per weeks. Practice is in everything and it’s everything. Breathing is practice, standing is practice, talking with people is practice, sleeping is in certain way practice, eat is practice. In order that everything someone does become Practice and one day Art, it is crucial to separate few things. For example, there is what we call regular practice, how do you repeat thing, how many times, frequency, quality, what you looking for in the practice and what you aim in practice-the goal. When this regular practice start to be a little bit more deeper, she needs to be integrated in life, in daily life movement, the way you are, you talk, behave,  in every daily life aspects in your job, in your relationships with your family, with yourself, so it is an attitude, daily life attitude than becomes a Art of living.

After that there is no difference between regular practice and life. At this moment what you do become way of living and when it becomes way of living you start to reach what is meant by ART. And finally, there is also some times when you are tired, when you get ill, when your body gets hurt, at this moment you have to see how you can keep on practice and how you can change, because everything is about change and this will influence on how you practice but not the essence. Essence is the continuity, because practicing one or two month, six month one year or 20 years and then stop is nothing. It have to become one kind of discipline, like drinking water, if you don’t drink, you feel ill and die. This is how I think practice is supposed to be. It is not like you just do 100 the same technique, if you can do 10 correct and good with full application of yourself it is enough. Quality is always better then quantity.  I think is quality, now people can say it yes its quality but we all can have different opinion about what is quality.

Last thing I would like to say, and this especially for all the one who are talking and pretend they practice or knows to move, to apply, who things they are great, the practice, the real practice is something you can see, it’s not something you wear or hold, like tools, keiko-gi or rank, it’s something you can demonstrate and apply on anyone. If someone can only apply or demonstrate the technique on his “good-best- slave friend or student”, it ll be more honest to not call this practice. A lot of people in the Bujinkan and other organization will not agree about what I said, but I don’t care. I know what I am talking about. Like I said before, if anyone has something to say or argue with me or wants to see me about that, no problem I am open. Direct confrontation or talks are always better than talks behind the net, practice and application of martial arts, is not a forum of talk. Action is always the best way to resolve everything.

Which is the proper attitude required for a student of martial arts?

Being able to find the right and correct questions, politeness, patience and lot of courage. It is very difficult to be born with everything and be rich, beautiful, clever, nice, cool, etc. in same time. But I think for a student it is necessary to be polite. It is always very nice to talk with someone who is polite, who got good manners, who is clean, his Keiko-Gi is always clean, he take the time to do things, he doesn’t try to show how great he is, how deep he knows things, he doesn’t try to hurt the one whit who he practice, he always let the people start, this is already mark or sign of someone who will grow very deeply in all aspects of the Art and his life.

Being patience and aware is also crucial; Art of ninjutsu is about remind patience, endure and persevere. Too many people in the Bujinkan forget that. When you are very polite (not in the fake way, not in a ceremonial way or etiquette) you learn the patience. Because politeness is actually showing how you really are inside. Same as the kata and the kamae, it express and show what we really are. Sometimes I wonder what someone as skills as Hatsumi sensei see in our form? But this is another subject.

If someone wants to get inside the form and transmission of one art, he needs a good combination, and one of best combinations is politeness and patience. Moreover, its important to be aware of the politeness from a heart with fake politeness, ceremonial politeness. Being Patience is very important, because someone young wants to go fast, and it is impossible. Everyone can learn a lot but will need time to adapt, adjust according to many situation and people. The patience is crucial in everything, life, art, relationship. In the practice of Ninjutsu it is the master key. Patience is requested to understand how to study and to know how to avoid certain problem and how to absorb the knowledge. Finally, I ll add the courage, because the path is not easy. Yes is not easy. But this is what is good. If it was easy no one would do it.

Mr. Kacem thank you very much for your time and effort.

The pleasure is mine.


The following interview was given by Dr. Kacem Zoughari to the greek martial arts monthly  magazine “Μονοπάτι για τις Πολεμικές Τέχνες” (Path for Martial Arts), of May 2010 (issue #105).

KACEM ZOUGHARI – My rank is what you see on the tatami!
Interview by Dionysis Tsetselis

( brief introduction by D.T.) This year’s seminar with Kacem Zoughari was hosted at the  Martial Way Academy of Martial Arts, where I had the chance to observe as a spectator. I  had heard many positive things about him and was expecting to see a teacher at a ripe  age. Instead, to my surprise I saw a young man who at first glance didn’t seem to stand  out at all amongst the rest of the seminar participants. Nevertheless, the continuation was truly impressive. His very direct and analytic teaching, his great emphasis on the “details” of the techniques and to the correct posture and body movement, his persistence on executing the attacks, and thus the defenses, as close to reality as possible, without of course jeopardizing his students’ safety, his broad knowledge on martial arts, as well his politeness made me sit fixated and watch closely for almost the entire duration of the seminar. In addition, all the above led me to the decision to ask him for an interview, which he kindly gave to me. Enjoy it!
First of all, let’s start with the formalities. Would you like to tell me about how you started your journey in martial arts?

Dr.K.Z.: I was born and raised in Paris and at a very young age I did a bit of Shotokan Karate, which I didn’t like though. I was more moved by “street” culture, so I felt closer to styles like Muay Thai and Kickboxing, which among others gave me a sense of freedom of movement. At that time ninja movies were also in fashion so, as it was natural, I got the impression of also becoming a Ninja (laughter)! The only thing I wanted was to wear the black ninja mask and throw shuriken (laughter). At that time I knew nothing of organizations, genealogy and other such things so I started searching for a ninjutsu school in Paris. So I began lessons with a teacher but after a little while I started having many doubts on what that man was actually teaching me. Therefore, on December of 1989 and at the age of 17, I decided to travel to Japan so I could see what ninjutsu was really about.

At the age of 17 you just simply got up and said that you’re going to Japan to see what ninjutsu was?

Dr.K.Z.: Yes, just like that (laughs)! Of course it was very hard for my parents to understand and the ticket alone cost my father’s monthly wages. Even so, my desire was so big that I managed to have an agreement with them that I’d be away only for a few days. In the end, I stayed there for two whole months.

What was your first impression?

Dr.K.Z.: I couldn’t understand a whole lot but the first thing that I realized at once was that all I had learned that far was , excuse the expression, bullshit (nonsense). Everything!

I can imagine your disappointment!

Dr.K.Z.: Yes, I felt a very big disappointment. But then I had the rare luck of getting noticed by Ishizuka sensei, one of the closest students of Hatsumi sensei, who showed interest in me and asked me why I was looking so disappointed. I replied that I’d just discovered that everything I was taught was wrong. His answer gave me strength: “So what? Time you learn correctly then!”. I asked him “how?” and he told me to just watch him and to try to imitate everything he does as best as I could. I immediately started lessons with him. He would never explain anything, he just let me look at him and copy him. That went on for two months, until I returned to Paris.

What did you do then? Did you go back to your school?

Dr.K.Z.: Of course not! I had brought three techniques with me: tsuki, uke and geri, as well as a brief kata which I practiced constantly, so I would learn them all perfectly.

Wasn’t it boring for a 17 year old to constantly and exclusively practice on just three techniques?

Dr.K.Z.: Not at all! Those three techniques don’t just have the simplified meaning most practitioners give them but represent many more things. Tsuki is not just a punch but a whole way of body movement, so you can penetrate through the adversary with one blow. It’s governed by the concept of one blow-one life. Uke in reality means to accept but many people erroneously translate it as block. However, the word block has a very hard and absolute meaning. When we block, our whole body, as well as our heart, hardens and tightens , resulting in our energy being immobilized too. When our energy gets immobilized then death comes. The word uke has more to do with the flow and freedom in movement, while we respond to the everchanging demands of battle. Finally, with the term geri we mean the kicks, which also have very many demands and ingredients that can’t be seen at first glance. So, in reality I had a lot of work to do.

According to my knowledge, it was at that period in which you also started to occupy yourself with the Japanese language and with Japanese culture in general.

Dr.K.Z.: During my stay in Japan I felt a deep disappointment because I couldn’t effectively communicate with Ishizuka sensei and Hatsumi sensei. Of course they spoke English, but I felt that they wouldn’t trust someone who didn’t speak their language. So, when I got back to Paris I started learning Japanese. Of course, at that time I couldn’t even imagine that later I’d be doing complete studies and get a doctorate degree in Japanese language and culture, that I’d be able to study from very old manuscripts (scrolls) and that I’d finally undergo postgraduate studies at the University of Paris on the history of Japanese martial arts.

So finally, when did you return again to Japan?

Dr.K.Z.: I returned in Japan in 1994 and ever since I’ve travelled there many times, trying to learn the art of the ninjas as well as I could and to also discover ancient authentic scripts, in order to respond to the demands of my studies. You know, in the end it’s not so important how long you’ve been in Japan but rather the quality of your time there, your training and your contacts there. I know many people who go to Japan three times per year but who haven’t accomplished many things. The most basic challenge (need) is to build a deep relationship of trust with the sensei, so he can really teach you his art in depth and not just superficially. But to build such a relationship takes a lot of time, effort and a pure heart. Senseis very rarely give out their deeper knowledge to someone.

Why does that happen, I wonder?

Dr.K.Z.: It’s very simple. In the older years, if a master showed someone all his secrets, then it was like handing him the weapons with which he could, if he was finally proven bad-intentioned, successfully go against someone of the genealogy or even kill his own master. Therefore, the duty of finding the master’s successor, who would receive all the secrets of the genealogy, was very deep (grave). Today, even though circumstances have changed and no one’s life is in danger like that, this old habit has mainly been retained and masters show their secrets very rarely and to few people. The question is very old and extends to our days: How can you give everything, even put your life at stake, for someone you don’t know? So it’s always a matter of trust, and confidence of trust is a matter of time and quality of personal character (personality).

So, in the beginning of 1990, until 1994 when you returned to Japan, what did you do?

Dr.K.Z.: Like I mentioned, I come from a poor family and I didn’t have the possibility to have trips to Japan. However, all that period of time I worked hard, working countless hours on my techniques, training in many other martial arts and studying the Japanese language and culture. I had to search and dig deep on my own in order to move on. In 1994 I went back to Japan while already speaking, reading and writing  Japanese, I got a university diploma on the language in 1998 and in 2000 I got my doctorate diploma. In all of this period of time, as I mentioned, I had a lot of long visits to Japan, where while learning ninjutsu, I also  studied Japanese culture for the needs of my university.

How was it when you travelled to Japan?

Dr.K.Z.: Since that time, every time I went to Japan I stayed in Ishizuka sensei’s house. I followed all of his training days, as well as all of Hatsumi sensei’s ones, and when group training was over we did a lot of private lesson work with the senseis. Of course, I am not the only one that went to Hatsumi sensei’s or Ishizuka sensei’s house and that had lessons under them. However, as I mentioned before, what matters is the type of relationship someone has with the master and not the number of lessons he’s done with them. I’ve never had economic aspirations from martial arts, nor personal ambitions. I just wanted to learn and not to take non-deserved ranks and knowledge in order to sell after going back to Paris. It is that which, in my belief, was appreciated by my masters and resulting in them giving me something more.

Excuse me if I’m rude (impolite), but your story resembles a Hollywood movie a little bit. A fifteen year old boy from the West suddenly shows up to the master out of nowhere, tells him “I came so you can teach me your secrets” and he, even though doesn’t profoundly teach anyone in many years, opens his arms and says “Welcome! It’s you that I’ve been waiting for all my life to give you all of my secrets!”

Dr.K.Z.: (Laughs) It wasn’t exactly like that! At that period of time I went to class just like everyone and paid just like everyone. At first I was nothing more than a western human wallet (laughs). It took a very long time, effort, sacrifices and most of all training until I could be considered Ishizuka sensei’s internal student, as well as be allowed by Hatsumi sensei just to get a look at the authentic ancient manuscripts (scrolls) of his art. Like I said, gaining trust takes years, and mostly demands quality in the relationship. Everyone just doesn’t suddenly open up in front of you, like in the movies. Even after someone is accepted as an internal student, a master continues to test him till the end and as long as the student passes the tests, the more a master opens up to him.

Nowadays traveling is easier and western teachers come and go to Hatsumi sensei’s headquarters, bringing back stories on how close their relationship with the masters is. Really, how is the situation for them?

Dr.K.Z.: The Japanese are very polite people. They smile, invite you for dinner and such but that’s mainly an etiquette. They never open themselves totally to you. Ishizuka sensei and Hatsumi sensei are very polite towards everyone who comes to meet them, for any reason. They happily discuss with everyone but when one asks something he truly doesn’t deserve the answer of, then they just smile and say “I’m sorry but I do not understand what you ask me”. Ishizuka sensei in particular, can become friends with someone because he’s good company, or go out for dinner with someone but that doesn’t mean that he’ll give him technical knowledge too. You may be his best friend but if you’re not technically good and really devoted to learning  he will give you nothing.

After your acceptance as a student from Ishizuka sensei, how did your relationship change as well as the teaching you were receiving?

Dr.K.Z.: My relationship with Ishizuka sensei changed a lot during time. While at the beginning I was nothing more than another student from the West, today he has reached the point in telling everyone who asks him about me that I am his son. I think that alone says it all. Of course, like in any real father-son relationship, the father talks to the son according to age, knowledge and experience of his son. In reality, Ishizuka sensei doesn’t teach me anymore but rather transfers his knowledge and those are two entirely different things.

Yes, I heard that during your seminar. Can you tell me a few words concerning that difference?

Dr.K.Z.: The meaning of the term “teach” mainly concerns training of kids and/or adults in matters of either theoretical or technical nature, by a teacher. The meaning of the term “transfer” is much deeper. In a relationship of knowledge transferring there is a deep experience-based transmission of the art and it’s deeper ingredients (elements), which happens from body to body and from heart to heart. For example, in martial arts you have to be able to not just learn what is taught to you but mostly with your own eyes to copy the movement and meaning in it, while watching the master executing it live in front of you. But to copy the master at such a high level so as to obtain the entire depth of his teaching is something very very difficult. Many times, you’re not able to understand something you see. But that stays inside you like a seed waiting to blossom and when you’re ready, even if the master is no longer there, the seed will blossom. The way that I understand this relationship, I feel that I never need to ask my masters questions. How can I pose questions if I’m not firstly moving correctly or if I’m not flawlessly executing the techniques? When you attain technical perfection then the questions get answered by themselves. The answers are not in words but in the movement itself and the bodies of the masters. The way they walk and execute their techniques. That is true knowledge transferring.

What do you do today? Do you teach ninjutsu as a profession?

Dr.K.Z.: No. I never wanted that. When you expect to make a living from teaching you must make a lot of sacrifices in quality. Many times you’ll need to give certificates to people who don’t deserve them, you must occupy yourself more with the politics and promotion and less with training etc. I’m not saying that something like that can’t be done in the right way but I can’t do it. Many say that they train with their students but that is not correct. Real training is done when someone is alone. So I teach just twice per week. The rest of the time I work at the university as a researcher of anything concerning martial arts and Japan, I occupy myself with my personal training and I also have a family which I have to take care of. I also speak on numerous universities’ events and teach at seminars when I’m invited. All those are enough for one person, don’t you think?

Of course they are! Now, would you like to say a few words on your academic career? It sounds a bit odd that you have a PhD on martial arts. Is there such an academic Chair?

Dr.K.Z.: When I was young I studied electronics but I got very tired, since they didn’t suit me at all. So, I decided to study Japanese at the university, where the level was very high. I took all courses, even those which didn’t interest me at all, like history, philosophy, art, religion etc entirely in Japanese, just to learn the language proficiently. When I graduated and told my professors that I wanted to do my PhD in martial arts I naturally faced suspicion and irony. The usual story of martial arts is abundant in non-scientific and unproven inaccuracies such as: “that’s what my master told me”, “my art was revealed by God himself”, “the scroll of my art’s philosophy descended down from Heaven in a shining light” etc. Therefore, martial arts aren’t particularly appreciated in academic circles. I was allowed to attempt such a thing, only because I was known and appreciated. So, in order to respond in the best possible way and to reverse the prevailing general view, I had to first and foremost find authentic sources, which would not be susceptible to any doubt. I had to meet, talk with and gain the trust of living masters from authentic styles. I had to discover and study the prototypes of ancient scrolls (manuscripts), crosscheck them and stay absolutely loyal to them. Finally, it was also necessary to invent the method with which I would accomplish this task, since I was the first to attempt it. The subject was big, since apart from the formalities of dozens of schools, like chronologic events, names etc, I needed to also find the kinesiology of each school, how they fought, what weapons they used etc. In the end I gave in my thesis, which contained 800 densely written pages and so I got my PhD. From all of this research I learned that we shouldn’t just suffice on what one or another says (even if it’s from Grandmasters) but to look back on the sources. Only there does the authentic knowledge and truth exist.

What is the biggest difficulty for someone wanting to study the history of martial arts?

Dr.K.Z.: First of all one must of course be able to separate myth from reality, and that is very very hard. To achieve that, first condition would be to distance himself from his choices, likes and dislikes. Usually martial artists get very bonded with their master and their martial art and have difficulty in acknowledging the truth, if it is different from the one their martial art supports.

Have you achieved that? Since the beginning you were, and still are, devoted to one specific art. Can you distinguish the truth and the lie concerning your art, or could it be that your emotional (sentimental) involvement with it has led you towards erroneous  conclusions in your academic research?

Dr.K.Z.: Since the beginning I had a separate view concerning my personal training and my academic research. The training concerns what “works” and what doesn’t in a body to body conflict. It also concerns on how I’ll train in such a way that I protect my body and be able to continue to train at an even older age. Academic research is a totally different thing. It’s exclusively occupied with the historical facts and not with technique. So I have never mixed one with the other.

Correct, although emotional involvement with an art may possibly make a researcher want to hide facts that aren’t “convenient” with its genealogy, or just reading the facts with special “glasses” and filters, bringing them to his standards.

Dr.K.Z.: One of the basic principles  of martial arts, the way I understand them, is above all honesty with our own self. When I train I want to learn the real thing. When I attack Ishizuka sensei I don’t fake it, but with the intent to really hit him. Only that way can I see if what he transmits to me is real or not. I ask the same from my students. So, since I behave like that in training it would be paradoxical of me not to do the same with historical matters, which concern the past. If I discover something which is different from what my master claims, I discuss it with him and after I form my final scientific opinion, whichever that may be, I write it down. When you do a research, you have to be ready to overthrow even the history of your style, or even to bring to light evidence that isn’t convenient for you. I’m always ready to do it and I indeed do it. If I did it any other way, how would my university teachers trust me enough to give me my PhD?

So, since you’re absolute on that, may I ask you a question concerning Ninjutsu’s historical validity. Mr. Dervenis, who was one of Ninjutsu’s pioneers in our country, claims that after studies he has made he has concluded that Ninja’s never existed and that this whole story is just a manufacturing of both Hatsumi sensei’s and the movies, for merchandising (commercial, business) purposes. As an academic, what is your opinion on this?

Dr.K.Z.: I know Mr. Dervenis’ claims very well. Firstly, I would like to say that he’s an exceptional (remarkable) person. I had met him in Japan many years ago, at a phase when I was completely out of money and desperate. Without even knowing me, he gave me 10.000 yen which was very valuable for me. Nevertheless, may I be allowed to mention that Mr. Dervenis firstly is not a historian and secondly he doesn’t speak Japanese. With all due respect towards him, my understanding on what he said is that it’s entirely wrong. I believe that his assessment is a result of fragmentary research and studies he has done from a few books written in English, while what he knows about Takamatsu sensei and Ninja history is just what he was told by Hatsumi sensei (what he wanted to tell him, to be precise), who of course had and still has his own reasons for all he says and does. Of course Mr. Dervenis didn’t have the chance to study the authentic ancient documents, as I have, so he naturally reached erroneous conclusions. Also, please let me estimate that Mr. Dervenis wrote what he wrote being urged by his personal bitterness and disappointment for the way Bujinkan has evolved through the years. I can understand and I don’t judge him for what he says. Nevertheless, to answer you a bit to the point, even though I think that one interview is not the right place for such a big subject, Ninjas’ existence has been proven via a multitude of ancient texts. In a 14th century chronicle, the “Nochi no Kagami”, there is an extensive reference on the warriors of the Iga and Koga provinces, the Iga-shu and the Koga-shu, who were specialized in sabotage attacks and  espionage. All the names and techniques we find in that text is related to the Ninjas. Of course, when  researching ancient documentation on the subject we don’t search to find the name “Ninja”, which was invented at around 1680, but for actions and techniques related to espionage and sabotage attacks, and they were completely different from what the samurai did and the way they operated. From then onward someone needs to research very deeply in order to find evidence, since of course any history of spies that moved in the dark isn’t something that could have been easily recorded. When doing an academic level research, we search to find different sources that cross-reference our subject, we check who every person claiming anything we read is as well as what his motives are in saying so, and we finally present all different opinions we find, thus letting the reader draw his conclusions. This is real research and not reading five-ten books and hastily providing arbitrary conclusions. Therefore I believe that Mr. Dervenis is wrong and, to whoever interested, I prove that completely in my book “The Ninja: Ancient Shadow Warriors of Japan” (by Tuttle).

You spoke before on the situation in the Bujinkan. It’s a common secret that the situation is not good. What’s your opinion?

Dr.K.Z.: The situation in the Bujinkan, and I’m not talking about Hatsumi sensei of course but about the organization, isn’t just not good but desperate. Many people come and go to Japan with the only purpose to buy grades, and while they can’t even move decently correct they claim that they possess the supreme killing art. But once they’re up against an MMA athlete for example, they are on the ground. Unfortunately, most Bujinkan teachers are only capable against their students and that’s not honorary at all. When you do martial arts you have to be able to face anyone. If you’re not able to do it, then you should at least be silent and continue training. To possess a high grade means nothing. Ever since martial arts were born, the grade of someone is what he can do in battle.

But, if the situation is so, who should take the responsibility if not the one leading the organization, meaning Hatsumi sensei?

Dr.K.Z.: Here we have two things. Firstly, as we said above indeed the situation in the Bujinkan is very bad, and for it the responsibilities can undoubtedly be shared and given in many directions. The second thing is that Hatsumi sensei from a technical, theoretical, philosophical and fighting/combat point of view is very very high and no one can doubt him in any way. Personally, I’ve never been interested in the organizational thing, the grades and the titles. It is something completely beyond me. My exclusive interest is in training and learning. Personally I have no grade at all. My grade is what you see on the tatami mats. You ask why this is all happening? How much of it is Hatsumi sensei’s fault or the insatiable thirst of western students for grades and diplomas that don’t correspond to reality? I really don’t know and I’m certainly not the one to judge him on the organizational aspect. Don’t forget that it’s always been like that in martial arts, even when they were inside the monasteries. Even Funakoshi sensei or Ueshiba sensei gave out belts for a price to people not deserving them or to people with power. There were and there always will be obvious reasons for that. However, even though you can buy a belt, it’s not the same with knowledge. You have to earn that. What I do know firsthand though, is that in the Bujinkan there is authentic and deep knowledge for anyone interested and willing to try hard for it. Anyone desiring just diplomas is out of my field of action and thought.

You talked before about the lack of fighting experience even from very highly ranked Ninjutsu teachers, who can’t stand in front of an MMA athlete. MMA people claim that it’s the lack of sparring responsible for that in your art. What do you think about that?

Dr.K.Z.: I disagree. I don’t mean that sparring doesn’t have its value. It teaches you a lot of things like distance, rhythm and timing and it also helps you check the validity of many techniques as well as your ability to do them. However, sparring is governed by rules where as real combat isn’t. Therefore sparring isn’t the panacea that will magically solve all problems. I believe that the problem in Ninjutsu (apart from the false grades of course) is that attacks are never made in reality, with full force and intent. Therefore the defenses are also loose and trainees never learn to work with correct speed and power. Also, practitioners don’t feel the need to learn the details of every move as well as correct body alignment, necessary ingredients for a technique becoming efficient, since all is done in cooperation and no one is in danger. Now you will say, if techniques were done that way, then we would have injured or even dead on the tatami. Correct. That is exactly the reason why real martial arts are finally aimed only for an elite group of dedicated people and not for everyone. From the moment of opening the doors to everyone, then a martial art has to be  “diluted” and in that way loses its battle characteristics. Nevertheless, we can find the via media so that training can be realistic and at the same time have the least possible injuries. And that is the bet for  someone who wants to work correctly.

Concluding our very interesting interview, I would like you to tell me what you consider most important in a person practicing martial arts.

Dr.K.Z.: Honesty concerning one’s intentions, seriousness and continuity concerning one’s training, and no “blindness”. If you discover along the way that something isn’t right either with your master, with your art or with you, don’t hesitate to admit it and to change it at once, even if the price for that would be to start over from the beginning.