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Ninjutsu Master Interview Part 2
This is the second part of an exclusive interview with Brain Mc Carthy 8 th Dan master teacher of the ninja art of Ninjutsu
[Adrian]: This is an exclusive pod cast from the websites of the BBD. My name is Adrian Allen and recently, just before practitioners of the art of ninja art of Ninjutsu from across Europe converged on Edinburgh for their national seminar, I caught up with a man that rarely gives media interviews, the head of the BBD, Brian McCarthy. This is part two of a three-part exclusive pod cast and I started by asking Brian if he'd trained in any of the martial arts before studying the ninja art of Ninjutsu.
[Brian]: Yes, Adrian , I started training when I was 14 years of age. I started in western boxing, what we would know as conventional western boxing, then Kempo Karate, Japanese karate, full contact, which in those days were called PKA, professional karate association, and I found Ninjutsu in the mid to late 70s reading the Andrew Adams book, which is very well known book in the martial arts circuit, called The Invisible Assassin. And Andrew Adams had written probably one of the very few definitive books on what Ninjitsu was. That was my first introduction to, you know Ninjitsu, the art ofc I read the book, I was very interested in itc didn't necessarily believe or feel that I could take it any further because it was just this unique book; it wasn't a book about technique, it was a book about lifestyle, a book about history, values and tradition. And wrote to the author, which was Sahara publications, and said, gGot this book, can you tell me more about these people?h And they very kindly wrote back and gave me Hatsumi Sensei's name, as much as they could, his details in Japan . That's where the story started.
[Adrian]: So this was the day before the internet, mobile phones, this is where you put pen to paper and hope that somebody's gonna write back.
[Brian]: That's it. That was probably 1977-78.
[Adrian]: Right. So you mentioned Hatsumi Sensei. I take it he was your teacher?
[Brian]: That's correct. Yeah, I went toc after writing to him and making contactc I went to America in 1981 where he was going to be. He invited me, not just me alone; I'm sure he invited many people. But I was one of the many people he invited to go to the States, where he was coming for the first time into the west to do seminar and to do a weeks long course in Ninjutsu to introduce it effectively to the western world and the person who had sponsored him, who had brought him, was a guy called Steven Hayes who's a well known American Ninjutsu teacher. And he had been in Japan and he invited Hatsumi Sensei to the States to introduce Ninjutsu. So I went as probably one of the very few Europeans that where there at the time. That's where I met him, that's where I'd first saw him training and then I went to Japan in 1983. And I met him in the States, spoken to him, felt what the art was like, seen what he was like, decided this is what I'm gonna do.
[Adrian]: Did you just turn up with the dojo or how did you get involved?
[Brian]: Well, when I was in the States I spoke directly to Hatsumi Sensei and he was very interested in the fact that we should meet him from one part of the world, me from another part of the world, cut kinda halfway in the middle in the states, and he said, gWell, if you're that interested in.. you gotta come to Japan. If you want to learn Ninjutsu, you gotta come to Japan.h And I went, gOk, let's go. When?h And so it took -- because you know money and stuff and family -- you gotta take your time to get money together. It took me about 18 months and then I went to Japan and that started a long relationship until the mid 90s.
[Adrian]: Forgive me, Brian, but the people listening to you and I talk won't know who Hatsumi Sensei is. I take it sensei is an honorific title that a student would give to their teacher?
[Brian]: Yeah, his name is Masaki Hatsumi, and he's called sensei because he's teacher. Sensei is essentially teacher in Japanese. And all the martial artscall the Japanese martial arts would have the word sensei in it so people who are martial artists would understand that; people who are not martial artists possibly wouldn't understand that, but essentially sensei just means teacher.
[Adrian]: So Dr. Hatsumi was your teacher. Would you agree that your teacher is always part of you?
[Brian]: Yes, yes. By virtue of the impression the teacher lives on you. No, it's not just technique, Adrian , it's not about learning technique; it's about learning how to do things generally. It's like any teacher, even the teacher in school when we were kids, our college or university. You'll have remembered someone who did do something for you, who took the extra time to show you something, to teach you something. Martial arts relationships with good teachers are like that. Students never forget them; they're always part of them.
[Adrian]: As you've alluded to, a good teacher is a good teacher is a good teacher. Did finding Ninjitsu change you?
[Brian]: Yes, yes, I had beencprior to finding NinjitsucI had been a reasonably successful black belt in other martial arts and had done a reasonable amount. And Ninjitsu is different, was different, is different because it goes beyond the border of just doing technique or kata or combinations, it's different. So yeah, it changed me. I think, Ninjutsu has a profound effect on people who practice it. That's not to make it sound aesthetic or anything like that. It just has a profound effect in you when you understand what it sets out to do.
[Adrian]: So it's not just a case of punching and kicking. It goes much deeper than that?
[Adrian]: Some people might say that the ninja arts of Ninjutsu is a life -- a life's work. If that is so, how do you keep improving? How do you keep your hunger to learn?
[Brian]: That's a good question. It is a life's work. And this is something I've thought of quite a lot. People keep a level within themselves. There's no one single answer to that. I've seen people who've trained in Ninjitsu for X number of years and they have peaked at that. They are not going to proceed much further in where they're at because it's what's inside them. It has to be in the person. And I'm practicing Ninjutsu now since, say 81, that's 25, 24, 25 years, and I'm still finding things to do. I'm still looking at new ways of doing things. I've just completed writing a new syllabus for our own organization that is totally different. It's transformed since the last syllabus because you find things within yourself, you find things, by example, in other people and you find things in your own body; people's bodies change. As people age their bodies change. Therefore, training has to change for them. So it's the responsibility of any good teacher to find new ways, new methods of bringing to their students how they can continue in an art.
[Adrian]: I'm gonna ask you a fairly deep question. Is Ninjutsu or being a ninja about physical strength or is this about strength of spirit?
[Brian]: It's about both. Its componentcboth. And physical strength is important. You cannot do any martial art unless you've certainly got more of the physical strength. And then again, physical strength alone is not going to save your life in a life endangering situation. It's not going to pick you up when you have crushing results in your personal life. And so the spiritual strength, the mental strength, is equally important. Ninjutsu tries to find that balance for both of them. Physical strength, yes on the outside; inner strength, spiritual strength on the inside is probably the most important.
[Adrian]: The courage to forge forward in the flames of adversity.
[Adrian]: What does the BBD stand for
[Brian]: What it means, Adrian , is the Bujinkan thats the name of the system which we practice. OK? Brian obviously is my name and dojo means training school or hall, or you know, premises so to speak. That's what dojo is. How you link the names together isc I welcome the opportunity to explain this to people because there is to a certain degree a huge amount of confusion about it. When you pass your fifth Dan test you go and test in Japan. Hatsumi Sensei gives you a painting -- usually a painting of a warrior or a painting of an animal, a painting of a mountain scene, because he's a prolific painter as well as a martial artist. When he gives you that painting you are then allowed to use the name Bujinkan in your own dojo network, so my dojo is the Bujinkan Brian Dojo, BBD.
[Adrian]: And that is the sole network in Europe c because it is Europe wide?
[Brian]: Yes, yes it is Europe wide and there are other Bujinkan organizations in Europe and Bujinkan dojos in Europe but the BBD, my organization, is European wide.
[Adrian]: When did you set that up?
[Adrian]: So it's been around for quite awhile.
[Brian]: It's been around for awhile.
[Adrian]: What is the BBD's philosophy?
[Brian]: To bring traditional Ninjutsu as I learned in Japan, as I understand it to be, to as many people as we possibly can that are interested in learning a proper traditional feudal martial art.
[Adrian]: How difficult was it, forgive me for saying this -- but a Dublin boy making his way to Japan, I presume not being able to speak a word of Japanese, and getting there and then training within a Japanese martial art in Japan where it originates?
[Brian]: Well, it wasn't as hard as it sounds, Adrian , because if you grew up in Dublin cI grew up in and traveled in Japan was not necessarily a great threat to me, but certainlycthe language barrier was huge. I remember the first time I hit Narita airport and then get on a train and I'm surrounded by these signs that I haven't got a clue what they say. But that's character building I think. You know, you sleep in a bus
station; you sleep in an alley way till you get there. That's character building. And to go back to a question you asked me earliercEssentially, yeah, I just knocked on Hatsumi Sensei's door and said, gHey Sensei, remember me from America? I've arrived.h
[Adrian]: And what was his reaction when he finds you on his doorstep?
[Brian]: He said, gCome in. Have some food,h and I knew then that this was an art. This was a real art.
[Adrian]: So how long did you live and train in Japan for? Was it kind of a full time training?
[Brian]: No, no I could never have afforded a full time training. When I went to Japan , I was also married so I had responsibilities in Dublin . And if I didn't want to be divorced, I figured I'd have to come home some time. So I went to Japan on a regular basis. That would be every year for as long as I could afford - for three weeks, four weeks, six weeks, ten weeks - whatever period I could pay for to go there to train. I used up the money I had, got what I could, train a ways, come back, get more money, go back. So it's juggling balls for a lot of number of years.
[Adrian]: Do you think it's a good idea for any martial artist to go to Japan and train there?
[Brian]: Yeah, but it's a little bit difficult question to answer because the non-Japanese martial artists in Europe today, in the UK and all across Europe , are extremely good martial artists. The non-Japanese, they're extremely good and they have so much to give now because they've got so much experience. The Japanese are not necessarily any more the kings of the martial arts that they used to be in the 60s, in the 70s, in the 80s and I'm not being derogatory saying that but certainly from a historic point of view, depending on the art you practice, I think it's always a great idea and it's always very fulfilling to go back and see at least where their art came from, where it started, where it originated.
[Adrian]: The history and tradition andc
[Adrian]: Now you've explained the philosophy of the BBD but what exactly is its aims?
[Brian]: Our aims essentially is just train people, Adrian, to keep this traditional art alive and I spent a number of years in Japanese karate, involved in competitions and worthwhile and excellent as it was I think a lot of martial arts these days are now too sport orientated. People don't get it -- the background to the art, they don't get the history, they don't get the tradition. There's so many artists now who are just all about, you know, fighting in the next competition, winning a trophy, winning a title and they don't dig in to the background of the art. We're trying to bring people exactly what it was like to live the practice of Ninjitsu five, six, seven or eight hundred years ago. Bring that spirit into their lives, show them what the weapon techniques were like the empty hand techniques or like the subterfuge technique or like bring them into the outdoor, show them how to live in the outdoors. Trying to make people a little bit more self-assertive and enabled to take care of themselves.
[Adrian]: So within the BBD, you have outdoor training?
[Brian]: We do outdoor training, we do outdoor summer camps. People learn field skills, field crafts and the younger people enjoy it, you know, it'scget away from the Xbox, get away from the Gameboy.
[Adrian]: So you're thinking sort of that kind of survival?
[Adrian]: Now, you've gone from student to teacher. What do you get from teaching Ninjitsu?
[Brian]: First of all, great funcgreat fun watching people grow, watching people learn. A great amount of satisfaction bringing someone from being a beginner, a white belt, all the way through to black belt and then go through the black belt system. And to see that person grow up in those intervening years ? it takes about 6 years to go from beginner to shodan ( to first dan black belt). So I have students who are training with me over 20 years, that's part of a family.
[Adrian]: Wow. Why exactly are you in Edinburgh today?
[Brian]: I'm in Edinburgh today with Angus Nielsen, who is the senior instructor for the BBD in Edinburgh , and his black belts, where I'm holding a one day training course in Angus' dojo.
[Adrian]: I've had people call the show the last couple of weeks. Is it open to the public or is it behind closed doors?
[Brian]: It's in the middle, if you know what I mean.
[Brian]: It is open to the public but that's not to say that the public can just walk in. People can certainly come to the dojo, I'm sure Angus doesn't have a problem with that. It is open to the public with a certain amount of control because you know you can't have all kinds of people piling up on the floor when people are doing serious acts. But yes, it's open to the public. What we do is an open martial art, there's nothing hidden about it, everyone is welcome to come and see it, but in the proper sense that you know they come along to see the black belts and talk to them directly.