Since 2006 we have been meeting every Saturday morning as friends to practice, learn, and grow in the martial arts. These classes have, and will continue to be outside as a way to understand ninjutsu, and cultivate fudoshin.
If I divide the time that I have been studying the Bujinkan martial arts in half, we can see two unique perspectives of the training. Often in terms of our own self-discovery it is best to look big picture, and explore training over a period of time to see not only your progress, but how your understanding of the arts has changed.
For the first half of my training, much of it was in what we believe here in the West to be a "traditional " training experience- a dojo environment with a dedicated kamidana, training weapons on the wall, artwork, mats on the floor, and classes in uniform with belts. This time was very formative in my mind and was very influential in how I perceived the martial arts.
But was this how the martial arts, the Japanese arts, were traditionally studied?
What did training look like in the pre-judo era? The era before formalized school/dojo?
The second half of my training has taken place outdoors, and there have been many interesting benefits that I feel have scaled well with the first half of my training.
An example, from the perspective of ninjutsu or the application of ninpo (philosophy).
The first few year outside it was hot, cold, and a few months of nice weather.
Sometimes it rained, other times it didn't.
The weather was the weather.
At some point, I began to notice the subtle transitions of the seasons...
As the summer would wind down, when the lines of the summer and fall began to meet at the equinox, once could feel the change, yet visually it was still very much "summer".
The rays of the sun would feel different, that air would have a different taste, and the very slight first change of the leaves would be under way.
Nature, even if it was in a park setting, in an urban area, was shifting.
This both made me aware, and also again reinforced what I had been taught in that ninjutsu is not something that can be academically learned or understood- it can only be experienced and internalized.
How does one develop the skill to subtly sense a changing situation, before anybody else is even aware of it happening?
What can we first detect the hidden shift of a situation?
Impossible from an academic and intellectual standpoint.
Only by training week after week, understanding how one moves (taijutsu) and how other people move and act can we begin to see.
Add the changes and shifting of nature, as a kind of natural-visual philosophy and it begins to click together into a usable skill.
Just by training outside for a few years in nature, there are many taijutsu lessons which can not be taught in the dojo.
That said, I still prefer later spring and early fall training vs. training in the dead of winter.