Updated: Oct 27
Michael Jones has trained in the Bujinkan for 19 years. He has traveled all over the world including Japan numerous times, having been fortunate enough to gain valuable insight into martial arts from some of the world's leading practitioners. He’s also been fortunate enough to be able to cross train through Muay Thai and Systema which has also added to his understanding of body movement. He and his partner Randa Richards run Kunoichi/Shinobi Dojo, Cardiff Martial Arts Academy in South Wales, U.K.
Find out why he prefers Ninjutsu as a life-long practice. Age: 36 Rank: Judan (10th Dan) Style: Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu (Ninjutsu) Where he teaches: Kunoichi/Shinobi Dojo, Cardiff Martial Arts Academy, South Wales, U.K.
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*Due to editorial limitations, parts of this interview may have been abbreviated.
Black Belt+: Who or what inspired you to take the path of Ninjustu?
Michael: I happened across Ninjutsu by chance. An extended family member took it up and quickly sold me on its application. I hadn’t heard of it before and I was excited to give it a try. Within a few months I was hooked and although I have cross trained in other martial arts, I always stayed loyal to Ninjutsu above all others as it is the best fit for myself. My extended family member didn’t train for much longer but I continued to diligently turn up three times a week to try and improve my skill set.
Black Belt+: Tell us about the art form you teach?
Michael: Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu was created by Hatsumi Sensei with the approval of his sensei before him, Takamatsu Sensei. Hatsumi Sensei wanted to bring Ninjutsu into the 20th Century and expand so it was no longer transmitted through family lines. He then created the Bujinkan from a set of 9 Ninjutsu and Jujutsu schools. He would then begin accepting Western students, who would introduce the art to the rest of the world.
Although it is steeped in tradition and was originally designed for combat in Japan, it can easily be adapted to modern conflict. The art itself teaches a mixture of hand to hand techniques as well as using an array of weapons from the Staff, Sword and bo shuriken to name a few.
With heavy emphasis on movement, distance and timing, Ninjutsu aims to confound an opponent with a mixture of skill and strategy. It's not just about being able to hit hard for us, but also knowing when to hit and where to hit. Choosing to manipulate what we can control to most effectively overcome what we can’t control.
Black Belt+: Tell us about your master?
Michael: Although I frequently train abroad with various practitioners from across Europe, most of my training is transmitted to me by Sensei Ryan Hobbs who I train with twice a week. He initially had a background in sporting martial arts but chose to follow a different path when he found the Bujinkan. He is an unassuming man with little interest in recognition of any kind. He has a keen attention to detail which makes him a very conscientious teacher with a wealth of knowledge to impart. As well as Sensei Ryan Hobbs I also train every couple of months with Sensei Marc Moor. He is a particularly dynamic teacher who has a wealth of real world experience whilst working close protection.
Black Belt+: Describe the training in Japan?
Michael: The training in Japan is vastly different to what we do back home. It is of a much higher level and I would also say that the training is generally less physical. The basics are expected to have been mastered in your own time and training so that they can concentrate more on subtlety and the feeling of a technique. All the hard training and conditioning tends to happen in the earlier phases of our martial arts education. In Japan you are more likely to be put on the floor without quite realising how it happened or find yourself distracted by a technique that you think is being applied only to find it was another technique altogether. The Japanese rarely feel the need to knock you to the floor (although they can with astonishing force) but prefer to capture your balance and then let you believe you have regained your balance before taking it again.
Black Belt+: Can you teach in the same method and approach to your students in the UK as you learned in Japan or do you have to modify?
Michael: I would have to modify. The teaching I do in the UK is primarily to prep my students should they ever want to go to Japan themselves. If I tried to teach exactly what I learned in Japan it is likely that I would do a disservice to the lessons taught. It’s one thing to try and learn what they teach in Japan but to be able to adequately transmit it to my students would take a deeper understanding of the material than I currently have. I of course show my students what I have learned but their understanding of what they are seeing will increase when their understanding of our basics are more complete. There is a progression to follow and jumping too far ahead too quickly wouldn’t be productive to my students.
Black Belt+: What are the most important basic elements to master to become proficient in the art? Michael: The most important basic element to master Ninjutsu is adap
tability. We don’t focus on any one attribute as it would fail against an opponent who does it better. The first thing we tend to learn is the Kihon Happo, which is a set of 8 basic techniques that is at the heart of everything that we do. Within these techniques we cover strikes, distancing, throws and locks and once we have mastered those, everything is just a variation of those techniques. First we learn the form of these techniques so that it becomes ingrained in us and then we move on to variations. We then practice dissecting them and putting them back together so that whatever the situation calls for, there is an appropriate response within the Kihon Happo. This is the essence of our adaptability. Recognizing when an opponent may strike better than we do, we resort to throwing and locking. When an opponent is clearly better at throwing and locking such as a judoka, we would resort to striking. It’s really a jack of all trades approach with the aim of adding as many tools to your box as possible. Black Belt+: What is the emphasis of your teaching?
Michael: My emphasis is self defense/survival. Particularly self defense that is geared towards being smaller and weaker than your opponent but finding a way regardless. I like to think that Ninjutsu has a certain longevity that allows you to improve with age rather than peak at 30 and then slowly decline. When I talk about self defense I’m not necessarily talking about winning a conflict which is often ego driven but doing just enough to ensure the safety of ourselves and loved ones whilst removing a threat. If the most prudent way to do that is to learn when to distance yourself from a situation, then that is also a great skill to have.
Black Belt+: You have taught around the world, what are differences if any between Americans vs international students in learning and mastering the art?
Michael: I haven't seen much in the way of differences between Americans vs European students which I think is mainly due to the teachers. Most teachers will try and get out to Japan as often as possible and that is what generally unites us with common goals. As our knowledge is trickling down from the same source in Japan, we tend to be on similar paths, with the same aspirations which are to be our best versions of ourselves. We do this by strengthening the Bujinkan through forging strong relationships with each other.
I’ve witnessed some martial arts such as Karate have their own US identity but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Ninjutsu as regardless of what country we are from, we are all drawing our inspiration from Japan.
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