What Is Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu?

Excerpt from History and Tradition: Unlike the conventional martial skills that can be learned by the body and brain in a relatively short time, the total life skills of ninjutsu are acquired through a lifetime of diligent training, observation, and personal development that takes the practitioner far beyond the qualities of a mere human fighting machine and moves him or her forward to a state of enlightenment. Masaaki Hatsumi

The easiest way to define Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu is to look at the name in a slightly reversed fashion: The word budo is a term that refers to the ancient and traditional martial arts (warrior arts) of Japan. Taijutsu is a Japanese term which literary translates as body skills (skills with the body). In the art of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, we primarily use the term taijutsu to refer to the empty-hand or unarmed aspects of the training. Bujinkan (Divine Warrior Training Hall) is a single martial system comprised of the complete teachings of nine ancient and traditional schools of martial arts. The Bujinkan Dojo was formed in the early 1970s by Masaaki Hatsumi, Soke (Grandmaster) of these nine schools.

Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu training is comprised of extremely effective, proven methods of self-protection and self-defense consisting of unarmed and armed defenses against armed and unarmed assailants. The effectiveness of the physical techniques contained in our system relies totally on natural body movement. By understanding the laws of nature and blending with these seen and unseen forces, regardless of the comparative body size between defender and attacker, an accomplished student is able to capture the energy of one or more adversaries and turn it against him – to coin the phrase: allowing the attackers to defeat themselves. It should again be noted that whether unarmed or armed, whether armed with a contemporary or traditional weapon, each and every physical technique is supported by philosophy. It is for this reason alone the physical aspects of the training cannot be separated from the spiritual elements. It is also for this reason that Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu cannot be compared to any other system of martial arts. In determining whether or not Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu is the most appropriate art for an individual to study, one does not first need to understand the history of the Bujinkan system nor the history of ninjutsu. While these are extremely important issues, they will be learned in time. There is, however, some general knowledge that should be absorbed by the prospective student prior to arranging his or her first class. Regardless of style or system, there is one reality within the realm of martial arts study: There is no one style that is appropriate for everyone. As individuals, we make decisions based largely upon personal preferences.

Choosing a martial art is no different, we need to find the one system that meets our individual requirements and best suits our needs. Anyone who is considering active involvement in a Bujinkan Dojo should be aware that our art is not in any way associated with any form of competitive martial arts (sport) program. Even in cases of “extreme” competition, the techniques of true budo are far too devastating to be used in this type of environment. Along with sporting events, those who are looking for an exercise program or a cardio workout will quickly discover that Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu will not meet their needs. Likewise, those who have hopes of only learning ways to kill their adversary will be greatly disappointed and are advised to look elsewhere: Through budo, we learn about life, justice, and blending into society, not about killing and destroying our forefathers’ achievements. Finally, while there are some self-defense techniques that can be effectively applied soon after learning them, Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu as a whole is not an art that can be learned within a specific period of time. While it is rather ironic, students of our art do not learn to fight. Instead, we defeat our adversary by applying the three most basic and essential physical principles of hand-to-hand combat: distance, timing, and balance.

Excerpt from History and Tradition: “The effectiveness of taijutsu as a fighting system is based on the ninja’s reliance on the harmony inherent in nature. Even the most fundamental fighting postures and techniques model themselves after the manifestations of the elements in our environment, and advanced training methods use the balance of the psychological as well as the physical ways. The five elemental manifestations of the physical universe are the classifications of solid, liquid, combustious, gaseous, and sub-atomic potential, which are the chi (earth), sui (water), ka (fire), fu (wind), and ku (emptiness) of Oriental metaphysics. By increasing our observation and awareness of the inter-relationships of these various levels of reality, we develop the ability to see vast patterns of cause and effect that are unrecognized by other people around us.” Masaaki Hatsumi

When any attempt is made to categorize the art of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, it becomes necessary to separate the unarmed aspects of the training (taijutsu), from the weapons training (bugujutsu), from spiritual refinement (seishin teki kyoyo). Yet in reality, as can be determined from reading the words of Hatsumi Sensei, the art is synergistic and each element is inseparable from the other. However, as a means of forming an understanding of the complexity and completeness of the Bujinkan system, the physical elements of taijutsu can be categorized in the following manner:

Dakentaijutsu: Even though we use dakentaijutsu to refer to all of the striking techniques of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, this one subject can be further divided into two distinct categories: koppojutsu and koshijutsu. Koppojutsu: Solid parts of the body (elbows, knees, bottom of feet, clenched fists, etc.) are used as weapons to smash and/or break up the adversary’s bone structure. In addition to bones, breaking the physical and emotional balance of an adversary is an integral part of all koppo techniques. Koshijutsu: Koshi techniques utilize the toes and tips of extended fingers to rip, tear, gouge and stab the softer internal areas of the adversary’s body including the nervous system (pressure points). In the above descriptions, I mentioned a few areas of the body which can be used as a fist. In this art, all parts of the body – including the body as a whole – are used as weapons. Distance, and of course the target itself, will determine which “fist” is used.

Jutaijutsu: In addition to grappling (trapping) methods which consists of joint locks and leverages, this section is comprised of choking techniques (jime waza). Also included in this category are methods of countering and escaping from constricting attacks.

Nage Waza: Rising and sinking methods of throwing your opponent(s) to the ground. Which method is used will, among other things, depend greatly upon the comparative body size of the adversary. * Ukemi: Methods of receiving an attack without sustaining injury. These methods are practiced on an emotional as well as physical level.

Taihenjutsu: Evading, countering, or escaping from an attack by employing methods of leaping, dropping, and tumbling.

In continuing to break down and list the individual attributes of taijutsu, there is one crucial facet of the training that remains to be mentioned. While body conditioning exercises would normally top such a list, I am placing junan taiso at the bottom of the list as a means of drawing attention to its importance. In doing so, I must again state that no one part is more important or larger than the whole.

Junan taiso: The conditioning methods of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu which consist of stretching and strengthening exercises. Unlike a rubber band that becomes weaker each time it is stretched, the flexible components of the body have the ability to be strengthened. If performed properly, the strengthening exercises will enhance rather than limit the range of motion. In addition to producing supple joints and muscles, the combination of strength and flexibility contributes to the development of smooth and even body movement. The dynamics which are produced as a result of fluid movement is the source of power.

Just as junan taiso allows us to expand our physical limitations, seishin teki kyoyo (spiritual refinement) affords our spirit (or heart) that same degree of suppleness. A refined (supple) spirit allows us to adapt to the changes of any given situation whether it be a physical altercation, an emotional confrontation, or a spiritual awakening. By having the ability to fit into a situation, we can take advantage of the subtle influences of nature and, by changing our physical as well as emotional position, control the outcome of the situation from within.

Through continuous exposure to the universal process (the way things are), our spirit becomes conditioned in such a manner that enables us to alter our way of thinking and establish new boundaries as the need arises. By conditioning our body as well as our spirit, we become able to withstand any type of attack without sustaining injury. Weapons Training

Excerpt from History and Tradition:The principles of taijutsu also provide the foundation for combat with weapons in ninjutsu. The loose, adaptive body postures and movements readily fit the fighting tools employed in the ninja’s art. Footwork, body balance, speed, energy application, and strategy are identical for practitioners of ninjutsu whether fighting with fists, blades, or chains.Masaaki Hatsumi

The simplicity and overall perfection of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu afford the experienced practitioner the ability to pick up any device or utensil and use it as a defensive tool: In our hands, a weapon becomes nothing more than a tool which is necessary for accomplishing our goal.

At first glance, the number of training tools associated with ninjutsu may appear to be quite overwhelming, but if one takes a moment to view the tools carefully, they will find that there is only five main categories of study:

  • Bojutsu: Skill with sticks, staffs and bludgeons (wood and/or metallic objects ranging from a few inches to well over nine feet in length).
  • Kenjutsu: Skill with blades. * Kusarijutsu: Skill with flexible devices such as chains and cords.
  • Shurikenjutsu: Projectiles, including metsubushi (sight removers).
  • Kayakujutsu: (Explosives) Present day, kayakujutsu consists primarily of firearms training.

Just as with the elements of taijutsu, problems are encountered when attempting to categorize the tools of ninjutsu, not only due to the physical composition of the tools but because of the versatility of budo taijutsu as a whole. It doesn’t take much insight to realize shuriken (aka throwing stars) are blades. However, the versatility of budo taijutsu extends much farther than shape or physical composition: Sticks, blades, chains, and even firearms can be handled as designed, used as bludgeons, or used as a projectile; at the moment of impact, a flexible object becomes solid; and, while it may be hard to believe, an adversary can indeed be held or tied into place with staffs.

In addition, there’s one more aspect which further complicates the process of categorizing the fighting tools: Many are a combination of elements such as the naginata and yari which combine staff and blade; the shinobi-zue which combines staff and chain; and the kyoketsu shoge which combines blade, cord and steel ring.