Saturday, June 1, 2024

The Transmission Of Densho In The Martial Arts

How long does it take to get a black belt?

I knew better not to ask my teacher this question for all the obvious reasons, but I was able to ask it of the senior student in the dojo who was a black belt.

Kyu level students will eventually ask this question, and for a variety of reasons.

At the start of the martial arts journey there is tremendous enthusiasm, drive, and determination. Everything is new, all of the movements a new possibility, and so much to learn. It can be hard to stay on the martial path in the beginning if one does not have a target- and often the black belt is that target.

Other students will ask how long as the focus for them is developing skill, the black belt in the martial arts and popular culture being associated with said skill. If one has a black belt they are skilled in the martial arts, and if I get a black belt that means I am skilled in the martial arts.

My reason for asking was a little bit different.

In order to get into the advanced classes, one had to be a black belt. The classes after regular class, where the high level stuff was shown.

I had no idea what high level stuff meant, but the martial artists in that advanced class were all first class- If I could get into that class and just move like them, be mentored from them, that would be something in the martial arts.

I wanted to learn everything I could about the martial arts, and I didn’t want anything to hold me back, so I had to get into that class…

…which took about 6 years.

Just what was in the advanced class?

Practicing and exploring the martial arts techniques from the densho. Movements and strategies from ancient martial arts tradition, passed down from teacher to student for hundreds of years.

My first perception of the densho was what I was looking for, new martial arts movements, strategies, and ways of doing things, so many martial arts moves I had never seen before. Those first few years I took exacting notes, memorized all the names and moves, and got pretty good at replicating them on demand. After a few cycles through the densho, I had a pretty good working list of what to practice and how to practice it.

I felt pretty good about this list and my place in the martial arts.

Yet, over time I’d sometimes see certain parts of the densho, certain techniques shown differently. Sometimes they were little differences, and other times quite different. Aren’t the kata always that kata?

I would often be told taking notes was a waste of time, trying to collect kata lists and analyze each part was a waste of valuable training time, being told to just let the densho speak for themselves. It took quite a few years for me to give up on trying to collect kata and trying to find the way to do the kata.

At some point the densho changed, or did I change?

When did it first begin to change?

It was a few years after a sensei from Japan had shown parts of the densho, learning them from the master directly, who in turn sharing them with us. In turn I was asked to show some of the teachings from the densho, and in reading through my notes I saw something different for the first time. It was not the physical movements, putting the steps together, but rather how the movement of the densho made me feel. When the movements of the densho were done to me, when I experienced them, what that felt like.

Could I replicate that feeling?

I try to be kind on myself, telling myself it was a necessary step along the way, but the truth was that I had wasted many years collecting kata, collecting the right way to do them, taking notes, when I should have been chasing the feeling, just existing in that moment in time, that moment that will never exist again, where a teacher, a mentor, a shihan, shares a movement with you from the densho.

Can you replicate that feeling?

Can you share and transmit that feeling to another?

Can you make that feeling something else through the movement.

Now when I am asked to share something from the densho, when I am asked to show a kata, there is always a pause in my time. Perhaps one is thinking I am reviewing the steps and mechanics of movement, but really I’m flipping trough thoughts and feelings in my heart and mind, re-living those moments when I was shown this part, or had to done to me, or experienced that transmission from a teacher. I’m trying to exist in that moment, call up those memories and what it felt like, before doing my best to pass that feeling to the next person learning the densho.

Densho as a chance to exist in different places and times.

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The aim of the Bujinkan Shinmyoken Dojo (school of the life giving sword) is to understand nature and the movement of being zero through taijutsu- martial ways of using the body. The school exists to create and transmit this feeling and method through the experience of isshi soden.

Located in Westchester New York, the Bujinkan Shinmyoken Dojo is a martial arts training group founded in 2005 with the aim of coming together as martial arts friends to study the Japanese martial arts of Masaaki Hatsumi through the movement lessons of the Bujinkan Dojo.

Training is supervised by Fred Feddeck who has been studying Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu since 1993.

Classes are held on Saturday Mornings from 9-11 AM at a local park in Yonkers New York easily accessible by car, train, and bus. Additional training times are held for workshops and seminars each quarter.

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