Literally translated it means “combat or actual fighting” and is a word and meaning not known by many in the ways of Bujutsu. When broken down further “Jitsu” means reality and “Sen” means to fight or battle.
Bujutsu has many translations, for example from the philosophical “to stop warfare” to the practical, “the craft or way of warfare”. Much depends on the way of thinking that binds itself to the kanji and their many interpretations along with the ideals of the Sensei.
In this modern era of training the thinking has developed to entertain the student, fill the cup with multiple pair work explanations and undertake the ways of kata for show or just for the physical and mental delivery of order towards perfection. Much of the way of things now is leveled at competition or entertainment. Like dilution the intentions are gradually being lost to time and a different expectation and way of thinking is evolving.
The way of living and the society we encounter now is not as adversarial as times gone by when it was crucial to be able to defend yourself, your honor and family and thus reality training was necessary. If you look at actual fighting now the hand to hand is almost lost to the knife and the finger pulling the trigger.
The impact on martial arts is apparent for those who have been taught by a Sensei who has experienced the harshness of reality and knows the feeling of despair and desperation to survive. Real life experiences of such magnitude ensure all aspects of training are relevant to actual fighting.
This is difficult for many who enthusiastically embrace the art and train for the well being of mind, health and body. So many people quote the profound words “Shin, Gi, Tai” but misunderstand that they spring from severity, which triggers the recognition of depth and profoundness.
It is however difficult to know if that which is taught and practiced will work when faced with adversity. The art form being the dominant aspect of martial arts these days and the applications all too often being created by builders and not those who understand the real life craft of combat. This is much evident in the teaching of Bunkai, so often lacking in natural movement and engagement. Once again the art form for the purpose of aping form!
The evolution from “Jyoteiken” to “Ranteiken” has always been the objective of martial artist. This is the way of moving from standards or fundamental approaches to training to no standards and all is open to interpretation. This is one of the enablers to the understanding of “Jissen”.
In Ninjutsu for example there is Seiteken and Ranteiken used in the art of throwing Shuriken contrasting the same principles as Jyoteiken and Ranteiken. Firstly throwing Shuriken of a standard size and way evolving to throwing anything and everything in different ways that you are capable of doing within the surroundings you find yourself in. This would include chopsticks, pencils and knives and forks for example. When I accompanied O’Sensei Inoue abroad to teach he would always take a sewing kit with him and use the needles daily as a form of Shuriken throwing them into newspapers hung on the hotel door. This was his way of being able to continue throwing daily and used projectiles that were not of the standard Shuriken shape and size (Ranteiken).
To be free of form but built from form is the enigma that so many find solace in the ways of Japanese Zen. “Miyamoto Musashi’s” book of wind in Go Rin no Sho or the true meaning of Mushin! The empty mind that does not inhibit performing but moreover supports it. Free of planning and structure but borne of both that do not cloud the mind in its ability to feel and deal with adversity. This signifies the training of the mind to be able and capable to perform in conflict. Because we can have superior technique does not mean we can perform this under pressure. I have seen and known many excellent martial artists who perform well in their own club dojo but as soon as they enter the realms of open competition and demonstrations in front of large audiences or with people they do not know their techniques suffer and they wilt like a flower in the dry season.
There are some that are born with a strong mind and are quickly identified in training as intense and uncompromising. They show no fear and quickly combine technique with intention irrespective of adversity. These students would not be intimidated in the street with or without the ability to deploy techniques within the study of martial arts. Being born like this is the most natural but hard training with an edge of severity can grow students to be just as capable and understand the road to “Jissen”. The military is a fine example of this producing mass personnel who will go into combat situations and deal with them based on there training.
In the years I trained in Japan I saw the products of hard Kihon and training in intense atmospheres where talking was not permitted and the military style of training was ever present along with a sense of fear and disquiet at times. The results were clear in that nearly all the students had a good fundamental level, competed often and demonstrated often as well. This was a good breeding ground for a strong character to begin the steps to deal with reality and not just be sports Karateka. In later years as you joined the senior circle the emphasis was more on hard Bunkai and techniques that were outside of the remit of competition. Evolving from Ukemi on mats to Ukemi on the wooden floor and working against multiple attackers! Learning to control the space and the timing of the conflict. Learning to use one adversary against the other and psychology of fear and hesitation.
As many progress and become ever more technically proficient and ever more fit and capable, too often under the framework of referees there is a worry that the true original meanings of the study of Bujutsu is being diluted. Many will look in the mirror and if they are honest will know what they really feel inside. Wearing colorful belts or espousing status only disguises this. It is always said that it is not who we are that defines us but what we do. Being able to defeat an adversary or protagonist in real life does not mean we should do this but nevertheless being able to defeat then is paramount.
In the study of Kata the understanding and interpretation is paramount along with the authenticity of techniques that work and can be used in the practical sense of combat. Jissen gives kata meaning and Jissen supports Bunkai and facilitates the understanding. Kata is a collection of Yoi, Kamae, Uke, Seme and Zanshin. In Jissen your movement should not only be powerful and effective but also economical with minimal exhaustion and maximum impact. This is explained during the practice of kata showing how to use tension and breathing. In recent times kata has evolved to have a tendency of being beautiful which is fine but all should remember to think about the techniques they are doing. Why would you kick above 6 feet in the air unless you are fighting a massive opponent! Then you see the how important “Metsuke, Tsukuriashi” and “Suriashi” are to defeat your opponent and realize true kata is not a dance.
I ask that you remember the word “Jissen” and other words like “Genjitsu” meaning reality or real. In remembering these you will stop to reflect on your training and work towards its true ideals. The severity at certain times in the 20th Century and before meant the study of Bujutsu was a serious matter for survival before the noble benefits of politeness and good manners.
Without the concept of Jissen, Budo would not exist!
I have added some brief notes from O’Sensei Inoue who shared these with me when I was training in Japan and often would reaffirm them to ensure my young path of competition did not prejudice the ways of training and thinking he wanted and taught.