Inner door students

Discussion in 'Ninjutsu' started by Please reality, Feb 8, 2014.

  1. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Watching a video on tai-chi, it just crossed my mind that the easiest way to look at the Bujinkan is to think of things in terms of traditional Chinese martial arts. There have been many famous Chinese masters who taught at big schools and had thousands of students, often having hundreds of students practicing forms together at once. However, these masters recognized their true disciples as well as people who were just students. Disciples were considered the ones who the true teachings were passed down to whereas students were not. This phenomena is not uncommon in Japanese martial arts either, yet it is perhaps more obvious in Chinese arts.

    Part of the problem with the image of the Bujinkan is that many people don't recognize this difference and incorrectly assume that anyone claiming to be a teacher, master, shidoshi, or godan automatically makes them the equivalent of an inner disciple. Obviously, this is not the case.

    So how can you tell who is who? Obviously, someone who is claimed by the master to be a close disciple and has dedicated their life to learning, internalizing, and passing on the arts would be a good place to start. However, in a huge organization with hundreds or even thousands of teachers, it may seem that many can make a case for their inclusion in this category. Yet, no matter how big a school or organization, you repeatedly find that there are usually not more than a handful of people who can prove themselves to be a true disciple. First of all they have to demonstrate a certain knowledge about the art(s). This is academic, including the ability to explain the depths of the philosophy and technical aspects. Then comes the physical, the ability to demonstrate a mastery of the technical side of the art. Since even amongst deshi(inner door students), there can be a difference in technical ability and knowledge of curriculum, it takes a bit of familiarity on one's own part to really know if the teacher has this ability. Yes, a lot of it can be seen, but so much actually needs to be felt.

    Often, people point out that there is no one way or correct way to do techniques in the Bujinkan, yet they miss the point. There is definitely a correct way to do the kiso, kihon, and kata(all with their respective correct and known variations), and they are easily differentiated from those that are incorrect. There are also beginner, intermediate, and advanced skills that are hidden within the techniques. Once these skills are appropriated through practice, trial and error, and dedication, the person who truly has mastered the kata can demonstrate these aspects of their mastery outside the context of the kata and in any situation.

    Giving an example of a technique that often comes up, let's take Koku from the Gyokko Ryu. One of the meanings inherent in the technique name is the leading of the opponent's attack into nothingness. Another ability is the use of the shuto as a counterstrike to the opponents incoming attack. It can be likened to presenting a target that is the lure to a trap. Then, there is the way of avoiding a kick and counter kicking, a skill similar to the above but this time using the legs. There are particular footwork patterns learned, and the beginnings of learning how to use perception and perception of distance to your advantage. So, does your teacher have this skill? Can they show it outside of the confines of the actual kata? Can they tell you how one develops this ability(it doesn't come from just the practicing of the kata)? Of course there is much more to Koku than what was just mentioned, but it is a start.

    It is usually those who can't demonstrate these skills that argue for the laissez faire approach to these arts and how that is what makes it superior to other more "static" arts. They henka their way out of the fact that they don't have the correct foundation or skill to do things the right way. It is due to these kinds of misconceptions that the true art is beyond the reach of the masses and the reputation of said ryu gets sullied. So, if one is claiming to be a private student of the Grandmaster or certain other seemingly impressive credentials, one should reflect on whether or not they are just another student or are really a true inner door disciple. 9 times out of 8, they aren't and the student isn't going to get what they are truly looking for. However, the ability to perceive this comes with a certain mileage and investment in researching these arts for themselves. Many people never reach this stage in their development and are content to believe in the illusion. Knowing the difference is the first step to making one.

    Just food for thought, it isn't really that important unless one is trying to teach or looking for a teacher who can pass on the true arts.
  2. hatsie

    hatsie Active Member Supporter

    And as a rule of thumb the most well known gaijin, selling videos books and live streaming of Japan training, are anything but inner circle, whether they live in Japan or not?

    At an educated guess how many 3 rd generation 'inner circle' students would you say there are currently ?
  3. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    That's a difficult question, but one that could be answered by asking each of the Shihan how many inner door students they had. You could gestimate by looking at how many such students Hatsumi sensei had and multiplying by the number of shihan but that would yield a number much larger than reality. Even when looking at famous Chinese masters who taught multitudes of people, the number is usually pretty low. Time and dedication being important factors.
  4. hatsie

    hatsie Active Member Supporter

    I don't think a lot of people believe ( or want to) the difference between BBT and the martial art the older Japanese gentlemen do, it's fairly obvious though if you met them.
  5. Simon

    Simon Moved on Admin Supporter MAP 2017 Koyo Award

    Will these skills be lost forever with so few in place to take over?
  6. Dean Winchester

    Dean Winchester Valued Member


    There are numerous other schools that have survived in the same way, granted that some schools of course have died out, Kuroda-ryu for example, but the Takamatsuden has a pretty good base to work from with not only the seniors of the Bujinkan but also the Genbukan and Jinenkan.
  7. hatsie

    hatsie Active Member Supporter

    Pr could answer better Simon, I'd say it is as it has always been though
  8. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    There is always the chance that the skills could be lost. However, there are more people who can pass them down in this generation than there were in Hatsumi sensei's. Takamatsu sensei had fewer inner door students. There isn't much that is hidden, it's more a matter of reaching the level to learn the particular skills. After that, it's a matter of personal ability. Due to the requirements to reach such a level, it just isn't possible for there to be multitudes of true disciples.
  9. aaradia

    aaradia Choy Li Fut and Yang Tai Chi Chuan Student Moderator Supporter

    Your post got me thinking about someting I have pondered before. Sort of along the lines of the post, but not exactly. I hope it is close enough to be on topic.

    I don't know if all schools have "inner door" students by that name nowadays. but even in modern day schools you have the serious students and the not so serious students.

    My school is one example. My location has roughly 250 students at any given time. It's a big school. But there is a much smaller core of us that are the serious students. We all know each other. It doesn't have to be said. We are the people that are there practicing all the time. Usually the ones that have been there for a few years. Just the ones that take it seriously. The ones that don't sit around and talk for hours instead of working out.

    The tools are there for every student to succeed. But not everyone takes advantage of them. Does a student practice away from lessons? Do they ask for help from instuctors when practicing? Go to lots of classes throughout the week? Actually push themselves in said classes or practice or run through classes half heartedly? Do they spar regularly?

    I know it sounds snobby, but I stopped bothering to get to know most of the white sashes years ago. I'll bow and be polite and welcoming, but I don't waste much time on them. Because too many drop out and I got tired of making the efforrt when they just left in a few months. There are exceptions though. Once in awhile you can tell a particular white sash is going to stick around. It is in how they approach their practice. I have been pretty good in figuring out who they are.

    I look at those less serious students as the ones who help pay the bills to keep the business open and running for the more seirious students.

    So, would those serious students of today be the "inner door" students in a set up like years ago?

    And I don't think this phenomena is related to martial arts alone. I think any skill that takes time to develop has its more serious and less serious people.

    My old boss was an avid surfer. He was talking about how there were serious and poser surfers. That the serious surfers had uncomplementary names for those other ones. He said you could always spot them because they were the ones with the fancy expensive surfboards and wet suits. But they always looked new and the people were never in the waves, just running around the beach looking fancy and talking to others about their surfing. Or look at people in any gym. Or anything really.

    I am saying MA may have its own spin, but it isn't unique to MA really.

    I should add that our Sifu's get approval to teach through a formal old school style ceremony. So, would that be considered the closed door stuff? I do know that our Sifu says he does not hold back materials from anyone. That once you prove you are ready to absorb information, you will be taught it. He makes this distinction between older ways and our schools approach.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
  10. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Great post aardia. I do agree to some extent with your discussion of serious students versus those who keep the lights on in the dojo. You cannot become an inner door student or a deshi or whatever term is used for such a relationship without being a serious student. In Japan, where martial arts nowadays are more of a hobby and less for necessity, you still find people showing up for years and going through all the motions, a dedication that would be considered more serious in Western eyes, but they aren't necessarily serious students. They belong, and are given certain deference for this, but they aren't necessarily the ones who their teacher will give everything to.

    Beyond seriousness and character, a lot has to do with skill and ability to learn. I think we subconsciously favor those who demonstrate an ability to learn what we are trying to teach or show in general, no matter who we are. I also know that some teachers cater to those who try hard to do something and who show tenacity as well. When a martial art or skill is very difficult to learn, all of the above might become factors in what the student is considered by the teacher, what they are show, and what they are able to pick up on their journey.

    Some teachers guard their skill jealously, and others give more freely of their knowledge and skill, but at the end of the day, the best teacher in the world cannot make the student learn. It is all about doing for oneself and figuring out how to be able to do what the teacher or senior does and being the best one can be.

  11. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Again, it's hard to say.

    When you look at some of the schools, there are other groups outside of the Takamatsuden who hold lineages of the same(or close to the same) art, but there is some difference in how they are propagated(esp. Takagi and Kuki).

    When it comes down to the essence of the schools movement and philosophy, the depths of these treasures are always at risk of being lost in a particular generation. It is really up to the individual student to make themselves worthy to inherent such teaching and also be clever or lucky enough to reach the level of or surpass their teacher. It has always been this way, and it is doubtful that it will ever change until we can be plugged into a computer and suddenly proclaim like Neo, "I know kung fu."

    So, as in the arts have been passed down till now intact, there is a template to them continuing to be done so, but there is no guarantee.
  12. bujingodai

    bujingodai Active teacher now. Supporter

    Interesting thoughts.
    I would agree whole heartedly. I know that when My student and I came to Japan. The opinions of what we saw was not high.
    However, your outlook makes me think that, it was likely the poorest representation to go off of. We did not have the time to seek out a local dojo, nor did we feel right doing so as advised.
    The people we did see, I would mostly believe they think they are inner students . Mind you I'd think an inner door student would be a tad more humble, rather than arrogant that we had experienced.
    My teacher felt himself as one of these and he may have been. Not sure.

    I'd guess that you'd have to be there for some time before being inner door, even in your own local dojo. Rather than at honbu.

    Random thought.
  13. mattt

    mattt Valued Member

    Can we get a couple of names of inner door students so we can see the difference you are talking about?
  14. bouli

    bouli Valued Member

    Dude! Why all the negativity on the ex-pats?:evil:
  15. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    While a certain amount of ability and dedication not demonstrated by others can show itself to be arrogance, it is more often correctly seen in people who have a high rank that hasn't been tested in reality. If you are constantly told you are good and rewarded, whether you are or not, you might strut around as if you have really attained the level and ability that you hold.

    The inner door students are inner door students of a particular teacher, it has nothing to do with the politics or running of an organization. When confusion arises in the Bujinkan, it's always nice to take a look at outside examples(in this case Chinese arts) for precedent. You really wasted a trip in not seeking out the dojos of one of the Shihan, it would probably have been much more thought provoking.
  16. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    Sure, the inner door students of Hatsumi sensei are the original students that trained under him and reached Menkyo Kaiden in some number of the arts he holds sokeship of. Though some will argue that this ranking was for whatever purpose other than them actually having reached that level in them, it is interesting that they don't all hold the same menkyo.

    As for whom the Shihan consider their own inner door students, it is simply a matter of asking them.

    In my teacher's case, there are only a few, as would be expected.
  17. gregtca

    gregtca Valued Member

    Interesting thoughts , but not sure why you posted this , didn't you say that unless you were studying with Hatsumi or his original students , it was a waste of time ?
    Are you know saying that , in your opinion , that a select few students of the original students are now ok to train with ?
    Assuming you train with Nagato , and a lot of Aussie have as well , are any off them ok to train with ? In your opinion.
  18. Please reality

    Please reality Back to basics

    The reason for this thread was laid out in the OP. I'm not sure how you feel this thread contradicts anything else I've ever written, perhaps you misunderstood the OP. I can explain it again though if it helps.

    Hatsumi sensei is just like any other famous master you find in Chinese martial arts with thousands of students, who goes around the world teaching or multitudes seek him out to learn. Just like any other famous master, he has students who are his real inner door disciples(who are few in number as one would expect), and he also has numerous people claiming him as a teacher, mentor, guru, father figure, etc and claim to have been personally taught by him. Just as in Chinese arts where this phenomena is present, there are ways to find out who is truly an inner door disciple and who is just blowing hot air. So for those confused about who really knows the arts that comprise the Bujinkan, reflecting on Chinese arts where a similar situation exists can be eye opening.

    There are many great instructors of BBT out there, so you should go to the best source for what you are looking to learn. If it is the arts that Takamatsu sensei passed down to Hatsumi sensei, he would be the obvious choice. Whereas you couldn't learn from him, you would look to an inner door disciple if he had any. Or, you could suffice to learn something less under a person who was just a student, even a serious practitioner yet who wasn't an inner door disciple. This is the choice most people make(99%), yet think they are learning the same thing that they would from an inner door disciple.

    Why would you assume that I am suggesting you train with some Australian teacher when the person who taught them and the person who taught their teacher is still teaching? To answer your hypothetical question though, I would train with Nagato Shihan and unable to do so, ask him who his inner door students were in case I was able to seek out training with them. Personally, I wouldn't do such for my own advancement, but to each his own.
  19. bujingodai

    bujingodai Active teacher now. Supporter

    I would have loved to seek them out I was advised strongly against it as being poor protocol. By my Shidoshi and a number of others. Too bad.
  20. hatsie

    hatsie Active Member Supporter

    Sadly everyone wants their little empire, starting with Hayes's infamous quote in one of his crappy books;
    "Whilst retired from active teaching hatsumi sensei ......."

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