As a follow up on a question that seems to be on people's mind on occasion, and something that was touched on in my original thread about Quality Control and the Bujinkan: http://www.martialartsplanet.com/forums/showthread.php?t=103623 I want to get people's feelings on the role of play in the Takamatsuden in particular(and for those who don't study it in other martial arts in general). The laissez faire way in which Hatsumi sensei has let those who obviously do not have a grounding in correct taijutsu(as witnessed by their poor demos and lack of knowledge about and inability to do the kata correctly), receive teacher status and pass on their lack of understanding of the Takamatsuden ryu is obviously an issue that everyone is aware of. Those with high dan rank(including the highest 15dan), are often the most obvious example of people who don't know the kata, cannot explain them, and instead of emphasizing the correct demonstration and application of them, drone on about henka, freedom, breaking the form, and other aspects of high level budo practice. Interestingly enough, none of these highly ranked individuals have any ranking in the actual ryu themselves, which makes sense as they clearly have not mastered the ryu material nor do they show a deeper understanding of the ryugi unlike the Japanese shihan who have the traditional licensing and a longer period of study and familiarity with the ryu(in general 40 years or more). We are all aware of the concept of learning the form, adhering to and protecting it, and later destroying the form, and moving away from convention as laid out in the concept of shu ha ri(守破離). Though this concept and process is important, it seems obvious to many both within and without the big three Kans, that too many people are going on about the latter stages of breaking and moving away from form before they have spent the time and years on mastering the form. Looking at Hatsumi sensei and his students, they spent a couple decades at least on mastering the form, and even now, they can demonstrate the correct form(both omote and ura) of the kata, describe why things are done the way they are, and the principles behind the kata. Sadly, many foreign uberdan or "shihan" if you will, cannot do so. They do not know the kata names or why they are named as they are, the correct choreography, or the principles behind the techniques. However, they do know all the buzzwords and talk about play, parroting the words and trying to mimic the movements of Hatsumi Soke, an 83 year old martial prodigy who has forgotten more martial arts than any handful of average proponents will ever learn. Clearly, his ability and understanding of martial arts are what allows him to use his creative genius to look at movement and conflict and come up with his own playful techniques that confound even seasoned martial artists. However, when he is serious and facing someone more skilled, one often sees him do things that are much more down to earth. In those instances, gone are the weird henka and stop and go motion that one often sees in demonstrations and when he is "teaching" to a room of hundreds, and we get back to the devastating and simple skills that these ryu embrace. Henka or Bekkei means another interpretation or variation of the original kata, and there are several official versions of all of the kata, in some cases the number of official versions can be quiet extensive. Sometimes the kata shown in the videos are actually henka that have become to be thought of as the original kata, and there are henka for the kiso and kihon as well. These official variations of the original kata also show how the principles of the kata can be used in different circumstances and so training in these henka or ura versions of the omote kata is an integral part of kata geiko and is nothing different from other martial arts(although the timing of when these kata are introduced or learned could be). Beyond this, the idea of change, or henka is also discussed very often in the Bujinkan at least. This is simply understood as doing something other as is written out in the densho or how has been taught by Hatsumi sensei, and can take on some very exotic and often comical interpretations. These explorations into movement are very seldom criticized or questioned as to their martial efficacy and many who teach these kinds of movements are often applauded and lauded for their "ability" in doing these spontaneous or not so spontaneous off the cuff demonstrations. Needless to say, in a real fight or physical encounter, you will end up moving in ways different from how you do in prearranged practice, and your ability to apply and demonstrate the same skill, relaxedness, élan, and spontaneity will come about as a result of your training or lack thereof, the situation, if you are aware, the environment and your familiarity with it, and a number of other factors. So what is the role of play in learning martial arts in general, and the Takamatsuden in particular? Is that just a reminder to keep an open mind and loose body, or should it mean to forget the form and kata and just make up any old thing that you like? If the latter, why did Hatsumi Sensei admonish people for so many years to do things correctly, without some personal accent or influence? Why did he drill the kata over and over with his original students, and why is there such a gap in ability between those who trained that way, and those who just play at BBT and who lack a foundation in the kata? What do you end up getting if you just do henka and play without learning and mastering the kata? Clearly not the technical fighting ability and correct movement, even if one can achieve a high dan rank and loyal following. Is there some point to playing at doing a traditional martial art while forsaking and forgetting the traditional practice and etiquette that go along with that practice, or is there something to be gained in the pursuit of play in a martial context regardless of whether or not one develops fighting ability and a strong and flexible body? For those who wish to discuss this, pleas put ego aside and speak from the heart. This thread should not devolve into another blame game or discussion about which Xkan is best or which teacher is better than the other. The difference is obvious and generally accepted by all, so let's look keep this a simple exploration of the training paradigms and see if we cannot get a better understanding into how our training choices can affect our own martial journey. Please stay on topic, which again is the importance of play vis a vis learning a ryu, and how much kata training one feels is vital as compared with the exploration of things outside of the kata. In our arts the kata and bunkai(application) are generally taught hand in hand, so more so than that, it is how does one get beyond the official choreography and deeper into the principles and nuts and bolts of leverage, proper body mechanics, timing, spacing, angling, speed and power, and application with another human being that the kata teach?