In April 2014, members of the Hidden Mountain Bujinkan Dojo located in Durham, NC, USA, came face to face with the origins of their art when they found themselves encountering two armored “samurai”. Inside the armor were Shihan Rob Renner, longtime resident of Japan and direct student of Soke Masaaki Hatsumi, and Shihan Karl Koch, a thirty-three year student of the art and head of the Hidden Mountain Bujinkan Dojo. Both instructors had donned traditional samurai armor to help the students better understand the context in which many of the Bujinkan’s traditional techniques originated. Although generally associated with traditional ninjutsu, the Bujinkan encompasses several samurai and ninjutsu schools which had their heyday during Japan’s Warring States period – a period when the armored samurai represented the epitome of the warrior.
Yet, most modern martial arts students have never seen armor in action outside of samurai movies nor do they understand its effects on movement or weapons use. During a seminar in NC, this situation became apparent to both Shihan as they watched students struggle with the basic concepts, or kihon, of the Bujinkan. And so the Shihan resolved to put the rote, memorized movements that most of the students knew into the proper context so that the underlying principles of the techniques could be explored and internalized. With the help of Mr. Michael Asterita from Japanese-Armor.com (Samurai Armor on Facebook), Shihan Koch obtained a customized set of traditional armor for himself and rented an extra set for Shihan Renner. And just so the lessons wouldn’t be fixed in the distant past, Shihan Renner and Koch arranged for several suits of modern combat armor be available for trainees.
Thus, the exploration began and the results could only be described as eye-opening. As the Shihan demonstrated the various kihon techniques, students gained greater understanding into how traditional armor presented a certain context for the development of the traditional techniques, often validating techniques that often appeared difficult or invalid outside this context. This, in turn, provided the opportunity to explore the principles employed in the technique and how to adapt those principles the context changed. As students began to grasp the key principles embedded in the traditional techniques they began to breathe new life into them by incorporating them in both modern armored and unarmored applications. Thus, the armor brought context to the memorized tradition, allowing the true principles to reveal themselves in the application of the present.
About: Since 1995, The Hidden Mountain Bujinkan Dojo has been providing instruction in the Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu in the Durham, NC area. The dojo is a subsidiary of the Bujinkan Hombu of Japan of Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi and provides direction and support for many dojo/shibu throughout the US.