A Talk on Takamatsu Sensei
given by Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi; translated by Benjamin Cole
(Source: Ura & Omote 1996)
“I first met Takamatsu-sensei when I was 27 years old. He had such an air of wisdom about him. Not anything frightening, but a wisdom. Takamatsu-sensei spent ten years wandering around China using techniques in real battle. So when he taught, he was speaking from experience. How the body convulsed this way, or died that way.”
And so began Masaaki Hatsumi-sensei's February 13 speech on his mentor Takamatsu-sensei. The talk, which was videotaped for later release (an English overdubbed version will also be available some time in the future), was one man’s account of an unfortunately relatively unknown master. The evening was to begin with Hatsumi-sensei’s talk, continue with film footage, and conclude with about 30 minutes for Questions and Answers. As all photography and recording were prohibited, this account will be from memory and includes my interpretation of Hatsumi-sensei’s Japanese (a feat in and of itself for those who know Japanese and have heard him speak). If, when the professional English translation is released, some of what I thought was said turns out to be not so or out of order, please go easy on me. I am but human and don’t have a taped account to rewind and check. I have done my best to make a coherent translation, but all is at the mercy of memory. Comments in quotation marks are Hatsumi-sensei’s, those in parentheses are my personal thoughts and comments, and narration is anything else. And without further ado...
Hatsumi-sensei began talking of Takamatsu-sensei’s love of painting and stated that he believed that painting was a means to longevity. “That’s why I myself took up painting.” When one first entered the room of the presentation, one couldn’t help but notice the photographs and paintings on display. Hatsumi-sensei had brought with him a collage of old black and white photos of his mentor, including a couple featuring himself doing kuji (hand positions) with Takamatsu-sensei. Several of them have been featured in some of Hatsumi-sensei’s books. Also on the table were two framed paintings about 2 ft. x 3 ft. One was a portrait Hatsumi-sensei had completed of his mentor about a year before he died.
Hatsumi-sensei took about ten minutes to show us the works he had brought with him, including comments when necessary. To Hatsumi-sensei’s left hung several hanging Japanese paintings, one on top of the other. When he had finished talking about one, he would have it removed, revealing another. (Peeling away an onion, so to speak.) The one that struck me as the most beautiful was of a lone crane, standing nobly with a touch of red accenting its feathers. (I was surprised when he told us that he had painted it in only 200 minutes!) All of the paintings focused on nature. His comment later that “Taijutsu is... nature” shifted more than a few eyes toward the beautiful works that Hatsumi-sensei had been so kind to share with us.
At one point, he called up an elderly gentleman to inspect one of the works closely. It was of a person clad in kimono, I believe. The old man suddenly expressed surprise at what he saw. Hatsumi-sensei explained that he had incorporated hundreds of couples in various sexual positions into the design of the kimono! (How’s that for a pleasant surprise, folks!)
“Although I didn’t bring them today, I have all the letters Takamatsu-sensei gave me in a trunk at home. I still pull them out every once in a while and read them over. I discover new things he was trying to say even today!” (Hatsumi-sensei has made similar comments about reading and re-reading Sanmyaku. He urges all of us to get copies of each of them, and to review them as our training progresses.)
(At one point during the evening, the microphone decided to start belching and whining. It completely threw off the rhythm of his speech. Three harried organizers ran around apologizing, leaving, and running back and forth in front of him, but Hatsumi-sensei never showed any impatience.) “I’ve gotten used to such things, dealing with the media and appearing on television. These things always happen.” He called for questions, but the audience was silent and more annoyed by the screaming microphone than he. Rather than waste time waiting, however, Hatsumi-sensei decided that because the microphone was off anyway, he would mention some personal experiences not related to Takamatsu-sensei.
He talked of Dublin... of good Guinness. “The stuff we had in those tall glasses over there was so good. So unlike the Guinness we find in Japan. Here the drink is always too warm, the establishment too hot, and the taste terrible. But in Dublin, with the dank, cold weather and the perfect serving temperature, it is delicious. If you say that you have come from certain areas of Ireland, in fact, people will comment that their local Guinness is terrible, and that the area you come from offers the most delicious in the land. Gosh, we got so drunk... There are actually people in the U.K. who use Guinness for medicinal purposes.” (Obviously, more than a few of us were not expecting to hear of the health benefits of beer from a Ninjutsu grandmaster, but as everyone knows, Hatsumi-sensei is just full of surprises.)
(He also talked about a Dublin incident which many of you may have already heard about.) “I was going to be showing some sword techniques. I picked up a nearby metal sword, drew out part of the blade, and checked it with my finger. It was not sharp, so I decided to use it for the demonstration. My gravest error was not checking the entire length of the blade. I had the sword laid across the back of Noguchi-sensei’s neck and then — rip! — I had cut a two inch gash into his neck,” Hatsumi-sensei laughed lightly. (Noguchi-sensei, who laughed as well, still bears the scar today. As Hatsumi-sensei reminded us a few weeks ago during practice: “Remember there is a difference between swords for practice and swords for battle. Always check the blade for dullness.”)
As soon as the men had finished fixing the microphone, they pinned a new one on him. He said the words, “Test. Test. Is it working?” then without waiting for an answer, he turned back to the audience, and continued his stories about Takamatsu-sensei — exactly where he had left off over ten minutes prior! It was extremely entertaining to see someone so unconcerned about insignificant things. And he obviously wasn’t concerned whether the camera was on or not. He never even pondered, “Now, where was I?” as most of us would.
“One day, I went over to Takamatsu-sensei’s and he told me to sit down, and that he had something for me. I was wondering what it could be and was kinda nervous about getting something from him. I felt something was strange, so I rolled to the side, then fell down flat on the floor. I rolled away from there and looked around. Takamatsu-sensei was holding a sword and had just tried to strike me down. He smiled and said, ‘Good.’ He passed on his scrolls to me then. A year later, he passed on.”
Here are a few things Hatsumi-sensei touched on during his talk, which remain superficially in my memory:
- Healing without medicine, like in times of war. (see Q&A later)
2. A man who got cut open in China, pulled up all his intestines, got sewn up, and lived a long and fruitful life.
3. The fact that he himself never drank when he was young. Despite that, Takamatsu-sensei’s wife would always pour him a drink every time he visited their home, even though he would never touch what was offered to him.
4. Protecting the feet from cold (see Comments at end)
5. Virility and Po...tency (see Comments at end)
Unfortunately, this part of the evening will not be available on the retail video. Sorry. The cameras were turned off for this part and people got up from their seats to stand along the walls in hopes of getting a better view.
“It was originally taken on 8-mm film. I had it transferred to video tape.” Because the video lacked sound, Hatsumi-sensei provided personal narration. He talked of how Takamatsu-sensei was explaining how the techniques were done as he was doing them. (Obviously, it was not intended as a training video for the general public. We were being invited to watch an intimate exchange between a master and three of his students.) The video was maybe fifteen minutes long, black and white. Seeing as one of the students was always filming (initially it was Hatsumi-sensei) Soke’s first appearance came after five or so minutes. (One thing that I found interesting was that they all wore white gi. I sat there wondering just when the penchant for black and patches came in, but that mundane question remained unasked.)
Hatsumi-sensei brought attention to Takamatsu-sensei’s fingers again once when the camera zoomed in on him holding a bo. Earlier, after the microphone had been fixed, Hatsumi-sensei mentioned his mentor’s fingers. “His fingers were really thick, probably 3 mm or so. But his hands were so strong and extremely flexible.” (This statement sounded very strange, so I looked into this point further. I found that Hatsumi-sensei had mistakenly used the word “finger,” when he had meant to say “fingernail.” Evidently, Takamatsu-sensei frequently trained by pulling the bark off trees, and his fingernails showed it.) The figure on the screen spun and whipped the bo so quickly and fluidly it was amazing. Practice was being held outside on the grass. There were three students, including Hatsumi-sensei, who... how should one say this... was not yet 30 years old and has obviously improved. (Seeing a young Hatsumi-sensei working through things as we all do when we train lifted my spirits and strengthened my will. I realized something inanely obvious, yet usually ignored: that the only way to improve is to practice, and if Hatsumi-sensei can move from the level he was on the video to his present grace, even I can improve. Sometimes it takes such things to motivate.)
Many weapons were covered: bo, naginata, sword, jutte, and rope with a weighted end (a practice kusarifundo). When the footage of Takamatsu-sensei spinning the rope came on, Hatsumi-sensei laughed and commented. “This one was the most dangerous. That rope was rotting away, so as Takamatsu-sensei spun it, pieces of it were dropping off. I thought it would break, but Sensei handled it remarkably. It’s very important to know your weapons when you use them.”
About halfway into the video the Taijutsu footage began. I found this to be the most interesting aspect of the film. Some of the techniques were Kihon Happo, but they looked different from the way most people do them now. For example, ganseki nage began with the hand on the outside rather than on the inside.
Afterward, several of us gathered outside in the hall. Several people commented on the differences, but were equally impressed with Takamatsu-sensei’s speed and power, despite his age. “I wish I had hours just to pore over those few techniques on that video, but that footage won’t be available commercially, will it?” an eager, yet defeated, acquaintance asked rhetorically. I truly hope all of you have an opportunity to view the footage some day.
Takamatsu-sensei’s movements were markedly different than any I have seen till now. You could see the fighter in Takamatsu-sensei, despite the seemingly 5 foot, 100 pound, slight build. He must have been 70 or 80 years old, balding and thin. I sit here trying to find a good comparison in terms of height, weight, and stature, but the only man that really comes to mind is Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. Imagine Ueshiba sans the beard and you get an idea of Takamatsu-sensei’s build. If one were to see him without a weapon or without a gi, he would look like one of those frail little men who sweeps up at the train station every night; but he was in no way frail. His appearance in no way revealed the greatness of his martial arts. His techniques were smooth, but the physicalness of him surprised me. Bodies were flying and weapons whizzing. Reverting to my American colloquialisms, Takamatsu-sensei was the type of guy you would not want to mess with, even if he was 80.
Hatsumi-sensei commented, “As you can see, back then teaching and training were man-to-man. My teaching is no longer man-to-man because of the sheer numbers, not just in Japan, but throughout the world (nearly 10,000 practitioners). I shouldn’t be saddened by this, though. But to go back to the idea of man-to-man teaching, we must come together as one, not split apart into factions. This is why I do not wish to create an “organization,” but rather an overlying tenet.” (I just wish we could do so. Hint. Hint.)
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q: You mentioned earlier that there are ways of healing in times of war when there is no medicine? Could you go into more detail on this?
A: Yes. There is acupressure, and acupuncture. (This met with nods of acknowledgment from many.) And other things, such as kikou (controlling the body’s energy). We all know there are instances of people healing without any explanation. (Pointing to an audience member, he continued.) I went with that man to America. What was it? The Atlanta Tai Kai? It was his first time abroad. He worked very hard. Well, anyway, during that visit, he met Stephen (Hayes) and Rumiko. That was the time wasn’t it? Yeah. Well, at one point Rumiko (I believe) cut her finger. But (someone did something and) the bleeding stopped. (I am sorry that I can’t recall who did what to whom, but the result was the same -- the bleeding stopped without conventional medical care.) There is another story of a woman who had not walked in something like 10 years. Someone visited her and by the end of the day she was able to stand and walk. Things such as this happen all around us, and that is a fact. Does that answer your question?
Q: In films, we see ninja using shuriken. Where did they get them?
A: They made them themselves.
Q: You mean like blacksmiths?
A: Yes. Every ninja was adept at many “trade” skills. People normally think of metal throwing stars, but just about anything can be used as shuriken. Like these. (Draws out his business card.) It seems flimsy, but it flies. Go on try it. (Throws a few at the audience.) And the corners can take out an eye. I was once arguing with my wife and got upset. I picked up a card and threw it at her. She ran around the corner to escape, but it had followed her. It hit her in the eye. And my wife has bad eyes. I felt bad and decided that I would never take out my anger on her physically again... Anything with four corners will fly. Attach some needles to the corners of your business card and dip the tips in poison. It becomes a very effective weapon.
Q: What was the cause of the Ninja Boom in the U.S. and Europe a few years a go?
A: Someone must have lit a fire. When I went to America, there were a lot of people making comments about Ninja this and Ninja that. I told them that I came to apologize to them. I said that “Ninjutsu” of the Ninja Boom had become a nuisance, and that I wanted to show them what true Ninjutsu was. After that, within about a year, the depiction of “bad” Ninja disappeared and the “good” Ninja prevailed, even to today. They’ve even got turtle ninja. (He smiles) You know them, right? Turtle ninja... I have also changed the name of what I teach from Bujinkan Ninpo Taijutsu to Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, to emphasize that Ninjutsu is just part of the whole.
Q: I have a question about Ryu-ha. When you teach, do you focus on particular Ryu-ha?
A: Many people are overly preoccupied with the differences in the Ryu-ha. But if you look at things, you will notice that they are all the same. Ryu-ha are there merely to accentuate different ways of applying the same techniques. The way in which Ryu-ha approach techniques are different, but not their fundamentals. People can use the different Ryu-ha to express their personalities in their Taijutsu, but we don’t focus on just one Ryu-ha or the other; we just let the options be known. That allows for more freedom (moving between Ryu-ha without getting pinned down.) The way we teach is like a compass, once the point is in place, the possibilities (within and among the Ryu-ha) draw a circle around it.
Q: In movies, there have been depictions of people able to leap up a story of a building. There are also documented cases of people in China who traverse walls of great height. Is there anything similar in Ninjutsu?
A: Yes. I can still scale walls myself. And that man sitting over there is very adept at scaling. It is usually done when no one is looking.
Q: Also in films were such things as Kunoichi, or female ninja. Do such women exist now?
A: Oh, yes. There is a very strong practitioner in Russia who is a woman. She would always walk by this group training in another martial art. I won’t mention the art, because that would be bad. But anyway, they kept taunting her every day she walked by, making fun of her because she was a woman practicing martial arts. Well, one day she just lashed out and set a few of them straight, physically speaking, that is. From that day on, they stayed on the other side of the street and didn’t say a word. (He laughs)
Q: So you’re saying it’s physical strength?
A: No, not necessarily physical strength. In many ways, it’s mental strength. And besides woman have something extremely beautiful (He smiles again). And men are extremely weak to such beautiful things.
Q: I am sure there are many things you learned from Takamatsu-sensei, but what was the one thing you remember the most? The one thing you think is most important?
A: That men live to die. Ever since I was young, I had always feared death. But I never actually thought Takamatsu-sensei would die. Maybe it was because of the way he lived.
(At several times throughout the talk, he mentioned that not letting one’s feet get cold was important to health. Even in the conclusion, when he read from a Japan Sports article which was written about Takamatsu-sensei, the point of covering the feet at night and making sure to keep one’s feet warm came up. )
[(Hatsumi-sensei also chose to address the significance of virility several times throughout his talk. At the embarrassment of the older women in the audience, Hatsumi-sensei detailed the significance of potency in Takamatsu-sensei’s teachings. (In fact, I think he actually enjoyed making the women blush.) He mentioned that Takamatsu-sensei’s motto was to “Stand tall” (in more ways than one) and that in his elderly years, sometimes people would greet him in such a way that he could play with his language and state that he could still “Stand tall.” Personally, I will do my best to master this aspect of the Bujinkan’s teachings.]
(Interestingly, Hatsumi-sensei never once said, “He was a great man,” in respect to his mentor. Throughout the entire presentation, I kept expecting him to say it -- to run into doldrums of speech and say something similarly generic, especially in his conclusion. People always do that. There is a tendency in giving speeches to use sound bytes or quickly formed, banal sentences. Such sentences, however, unfortunately distract from one’s message. Hatsumi-sensei never strayed, and never made any part of Takamatsu-sensei’s life generic. For this, I am thankful.)
For his conclusion, Hatsumi-sensei chose to read from a Sports Japan news article which featured Takamatsu-sensei. His final comment, directed at the man who had asked earlier about the most significant thing Takamatsu-sensei had taught him, was the most poignant. “That was a very good question you asked earlier. Takamatsu-sensei taught me that men cry. And that men die.”
From: Ura & Omote 1996