The following article is written by my good friend and Buyu Shihan Rob Renner who is living and training here in Japan.  The content of the article was inspired by our after training conversations regarding the idea of “play”.

Devil’s Play

By Rob Renner

    “Understand? Play!”

     These are familiar words to anyone who has trained with Hatsumi Sensei. People have a range of responses to this simple command of “play”. From practicing with no spirit or intensity, to doing whatever they feel like at the moment without regard to the lesson being taught. For most people, the word “play” translates into having a child-like attention to capturing the feeling of Hatsumi Sensei’s movements and working with your partner as children do when they are playing.

      This year, in every class, Sensei has been focusing on how to “play” with the ideas and movements he is teaching.  

     In the Bujinkan, for 2007, the theme is Kukishin Ryu, or the “school of 9 demons”. With this in mind, Hatsumi Sensei admonishes us to “play like a devil (or demon)”. In the west we call Satan, or the devil, the “father of all lies”. In stories, he tells people what they want to hear, in a way that seems reasonable, so they make one bad decision after another, all the while he is leading them down a path to their own destruction. Our budo should have this ability, being able to present ourselves in such a way (through the use of kyojutsu in our kamae and movement) that our attacker feels like he is getting what he wants, all the while we are leading him down the path to his destruction!

     Another aspect of this “playing like a demon” is doing something that seems “bad” at the moment in order to create a “good” outcome. For example: Hatsumi Sensei was using an uke with a bad knee, in the scenario he was describing, he had to protect his “friend” with the bad knee from an attacker. So, knowing his friend had the bad knee, he kicked him in the knee, which projected the guy at the attacker unexpectedly, giving Sensei the opening he wanted to take control of the attacker. Very similar to the classic movie scene, in which the good cop shoots through the shoulder of the hostage, in order to kill the bad guy. This, of course, seems kind of mean, yet it is the ability to think like this that may save your (and your friend’s) life.

     One more idea to “play” with is the way wild animals play. Let’s use tiger cubs, in the process of learning how to hunt, they “play” with each other, jockeying for position, making attacks that go up to, but not past (normally)the point of actual damage, and acting like they are through with the “fight” only to suddenly pounce again. Hatsumi Sensei continually demonstrates this, as well as admonishing us to continue the “fight “to the very end. His uke will think that Soke is finished with him and begin to get up, only to have Soke stand in his space or step on his fingers, preventing him from continuing. Almost like a game of “cat-and-mouse”.

Of course there are other ways to use this phrase, but give these a try and see how your taijutsu improves.