Always a Question Ready to Go

My habit is never to meet a knowledgeable teacher without having a good question in mind, just in case I am given the opportunity to ask.

Rumiko and I traveled to the city of Tajimi municipal dojo for a demonstration of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu sword by Mouri Keisuke and his small group of students on the morning of September 11, 2011. As I walked in the dojo, my question that morning was, “Does anybody still teach old style tachi battlefield sword technique, or only stylized formal modern methods that make up sword training in Japan today?”

What I learned in the 1970s as old-time ninja combat methods and now teach in our dojo as To-Shin Do seems so different from what usually passes for Japanese swordsmanship. Somehow, on the 10th anniversary of the unexpected attack on New York City by suicide stealth agents in airliner flying bombs, the question of how old combat tactics evolve into valuable new lessons seemed appropriate. If we do not truly understand the old ways, how can we use their wisdom to build new effectiveness today?

Amazingly, before I could even ask my question, Mouri Keisuke’s demonstration and explanation started right in with old style tachi, something almost never seen anymore. His teaching plan for us began with the answer to my yet unspoken question.

Rumiko and I were impressed that he had put together a program and invited a newspaper reporter and significant business friends to make an event out of it. Rumiko and I even got private lessons from top teachers attending the seminar. So many times, masters of ancient methods are not very adept at promoting the value they offer the world, and too often languish in tiny training halls where few can find their treasures. Some call that “being traditionally reserved”. I often think of it as “being inept and unsophisticated”. Mouri Keisuke was clearly a different sort of traditionalist. How wonderful!



After training, ten of us walked to a soba noodle shop for lunch and conversation on a day of 90 degree heat and intense sun. Over lunch, the teacher asked me the probing question of why the usual Bujinkan kamae was so often pictured with the front leg extended too far out with the knee too straight. He was at ease enough with our relationship to comment that he felt it was too difficult to move quickly from such an over-wide stance.

I was very impressed that Mouri Sensei had apparently done on-line research as to what I teach and what my original ninja teacher and his students are teaching. I did my best to answer carefully, without criticizing some of my teacher’s students for either not knowing enough to teach well, or not caring enough and just letting students do what they wanted without forcing proper discipline on them. In the end, I gave a non-committal answer suggesting there was a wide range of quality when it came to my teacher’s students after my books had opened flood gates and his dojo had become a huge international training hall operation.

At any rate I was impressed that he asked a probing question. So many just sit in silence presuming to know things they actually do not know. Maybe sword master Mouri Keisuke holds the same view of always having a question ready as I do. An important lesson for all who would be masters some day, huh?

14 comments to “Always a Question Ready to Go”

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  1. Andrew Kennedy says: -#1

    To be able to study an unadulterated ancient and true war art is a cherished honor indeed

  2. Hello Sir,
    It is refreshing to read from a master who still holds to the “Old Teachings”. I find myself constantly challenged with finding ways to keep tradition exciting for my students. As I enjoy the challenge I find many young people who would become so much stronger, mentally as well as physically, through the “old ways” but there would not be support from their parents and, eventually, the student would drop out. Thank you for an article that wasn’t preaching dollars.

    With great respect,
    Thomas Wright, Wright’s ATA Martial Arts

  3. Scott Workman says: -#1

    I love the fact you can change from Teacher to student when you see something that is of value to you, so many can not. Over the years I have seen you do this and then be nice enough to share what you learned.
    Thank You.

  4. Very interesting, especially considering that Yagyu Shinkage Ryu is widely considered a “dead” art (I’d assume the same sort of dismissal our own art receives from time to time).

    Was there anything in particular that stood out to you about this system, Sir?

  5. Luis Acosta says: -#1

    Awsome post, looking forward to what you have in store for 2012.

  6. Mr. Hayes,

    I am always impressed by your stories and the teachings that come within those stories. Thank you for your always being the student first. Thank you as always for sharing your lessons with us. Wishing you and your family a great 2012.

  7. Fascinating post. Have discovered along the way that by focusing intention into my question it connects me to the path of the answer I seek. So amazing the power of a question has as much as the answer.

    Further agree with your perspective as always being respectfully open to learning from others ~ A lesson in itself ~

  8. Cutedervish says: -#1

    Mr. Hayes is making a far-reaching point here, of which one aspect could be summarized as, ” we are training – but so are they!”. Indeed, it is always i thnk useful to remember that in such a wide world such as the one of martial arts there are others who are putting in some serious efforts. Eventually this is the road to let go of the foul competetive spirit that concentrates all attention on “me me me!”. Thank you very much!

  9. is it all possible for an american to study in asia and NOT come back and make a religion and business about it. the real master did NOT do this. think about your next life. embarassing to he rest of us

  10. Kyle Watson says: -#1

    I was always led to believe that no matter what art you took it was what made you happy and enjoyed it, as well as learining. I used to take the art back in the late 80’s when it was the Bujinkan at the Hills and Dales shopping center.

  11. Master Hayes, I am impressed by your ability to be humble and teachable after many years of studying. I have been a student for 28 years in a Chinese art in which our techniques are similiar and endless. Thanks for being someone with honor over the years living as an example to us all. Since I was 16 I read about your training in BlackBelt Mag. Now I am a 8th Degree teacher in my own School. Salute

  12. Thank you for this excellent lesson in humility and pressing forward on the path to mastery.

  13. I have always been impressed when a higher ranking or skilled individual is willing to learn from others. Too often ego stops that process. The world is in a constant state of change, so how could we ever know everything.

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