MMA Pioneer Series: Masaaki Hatsumi

It's been a while since I've put out a "Pioneer Series," so without further ado, here is the latest MMA Pioneer history lesson....

What is it about Mixed Martial Arts that makes it such an exciting and entertaining sport?  Surely it must be a combination of numerous variables... The unpredictability of outcome?  Definitely.  The intricacies of Jujitsu?  Surely.  The power and devastation of Muay Thai?  Without question.  The outright control imposed by Wrestling?  Check.  The opportunity for improvisation and creativity?  Bingo....

I am sure that I am not alone in my feeling that MMA is the culmination of thousands of years of Martial Arts development and evolution.  As such, in order to fully appreciate modern combatives, it is important that we all take the time to understand just how much time and effort has gone into allowing us to reach this point.

With that, I would like to take everyone back to the 2nd of December, 1931, Noda City in Chiba Prefecture, Japan. On that day, a true martial arts Legend was born.  His name is Masaaki Hatsumi (born Yoshiaki Hatsumi).     



At the age of 7, young Hatsumi began his training in the ways of martial arts.  His first experience was sparring with his father's biwa wood sword.  Masaaki was immediately hooked.  Exhibiting the passion and determination of a modern day mixed martial artists, he studied everything everything he could, including Judo, Kendo, Karate, Aikido, Okinowan Karate (Zen-Bei Butokukai) and Jukendo (rifle and bayonet combat).

By the time he was 20 years old he had obtained the rank of 4th degree black belt in Judo.  At that time (1951) it was extremely rare for such a young student to obtain such a high ranking.   His dedication and perseverance were evident as he was continually tested against much older and bigger opponents.



After the war (WWII) years, he took a break from martial arts for awhile.  As a teenager, he was eager to experience new things.  In an effort to broaden his horizons, he took up western style boxing, played soccer, and worked hard on academic studies.  After graduating high school, he attended the Department of Literature at Meiji University in Tokyo, majoring in theater studies, and also the Department of Reposition at the Advanced Acupuncture and Mixibustion Medical School located in Yotsuya.  He eventually graduated from Meiji University in Tokyo, with a major in theater studies, and osteopathic medicine (bone doctor).  He would later return to Nado City and open a bone clinic (his practice continued on a steady basis until about 1990 when his travel and movie schedule seemed to take over all his time).

Missing the dojo world of training he so loved as a youth, he again returned to martial arts. He kept looking for something; he was not sure what it was but it seemed to be missing.

Hatsumi had trained in boxing and several different Japanese martial arts, earning several teaching certifications.  He practiced Judô (4th Dan), Karate, Aikidô, and Kendô.  After some time he realized that all of these martial arts were teaching Kata, or forms, and not true martial art skills. In search of a "true" martial art be began studying various schools of Kobudô (ancient martial arts).



While teaching various martial arts to some U.S. soldiers stationed in Japan he noticed that the larger and stronger Americans had an advantage in battles when using the same techniques.  As a result, he began to question the legitimacy of modern martial arts training, and started to search for an art where students of equal skill truly were equals, even if the other one was more muscular.

One of Hatsumi's Koryû teachers told him that if he wanted to learn real Budô (or Kobudo), he needed to learn from Toshitsugu Takamatsu.  This same instructor introduced Hatsumi to Takamatsu Sensei.


Master Takamatsu via

Master Toshigatsu Takamatsu, was the last of the true Shinobi (Ninja).  In March 1957 or '58, Hatsumi became a student of Toshisugu who was a grandmaster of several different Kobudô martial arts. During his first meeting, and training session, with Takamatsu Sensei, Hatsumi had realized that he had finally found someone that could teach true martial art skills.  During that initial meeting, Takamatsu Sensei handed Hatsumi the Togakure Ryû Ninpô Taijutsu scrolls.  For the next 15 years, Hatsumi traveled to Kashiwabara City, Nara Prefecture to train with Takamatsu Sensei. 


Takamatsu and Hatsumi via


Takamatsu and Hatsumi via


Takamatsu and Hatsumi via


Takamatsu via

Hatsumi had stated that even though he didn't see his instructor often, Takamatsu would always know what he was practicing.  Takamatsu would write a letter to Hatsumi every 2 days, discussing his view on many different martial arts topics and techniques.

Master Takamatsu took Masaaki under his wing for the last 15 years of his life, teaching him the Nine secret traditions of Ninjitsu and passed them on to him as the sole heir.  Today these studies have become known of as the Bujinkan Dojo. 


Bujinkan Dojo via



Hatsumi Sensei chose the name Bujinkan Dôjô (Divine Warrior Training Hall) for the name of his school and system, though for many years, this "system" of skills was referred to as Bujinkan Ninjutsu.  This was based on the fact that Togakure Ryû Ninjutsu was the "original" style of martial art that, over a several hundred year period, eight (8) other Ryû, or styles, were later added.  Hatsumi has since changed the name to Bujinkan Budô Taijutsu, to reflect the overall emphasis in the Budô, in comparison to Ninjutsu, content of most of the nine Ryû.

Masaaki Hatsumi focuses the training of Bujinkan on the "feeling" of technique, or perhaps more accurately, what he terms the feeling of real situations.  Hatsumi has a non-standoffish teaching approach, leading Black Belt Magazine to call him "wild, funny, unpredictable, anda cross between Charlie Chaplin and Obi-Wan Kenobi." 

While technical knowledge of an art is considered important, the direction of this feeling-based approach guides the practitioner towards a "natural understanding" of what links various martial lineages as well as what is most effective in real situations.  Additionally, Bujinkan students do not participate in martial art tournaments, as it is Hatsumi's belief that martial arts are not about winning or losing, but about surviving.


Masaaki via



The following are among Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi's many accomplishments:

The nine (9) Ryû that Hatsumi Sensei is the current Sôke.


Grandmaster Hatsumi is the author of 40+ video tapes on the art of Ninjutsu.  He has been featured in almost every magazine relating to this subject in Japan, and throughout the entire world.  He has authored countless magazine and newspaper articles on Ninjutsu and on living a productive life.  He wrote, directed and acted in 50 episodes of a television series called 'Jiraya' which was the number one watched kid's program in Japan.  He is now what is called a historiographer of martial arts for various plays and movies, acting as a consultant to ensure that what is being portrayed is done correctly based on true history.

He is a past President of the Writers Guild of Japan.  He is sought out as a speaker and television personality in Japan.  He is an accomplished musician and singer who plays guitar and yukelale.  The walls of his home display an elaborate collection of signed photos from presidents and leaders of many countries around the world, along with awards, certificates, and honorary degrees from some of the most elite organizations in the world.  Among them are Honorary Doctorate degrees from the USA in Human Sciences and Philosophy, Honorary Texas Ranger, Title of Knighthood from Germany, Blackbelt Magazine's Instructor of the Year, and Honorable Citizenship from the state of Texas and cities of Los Angeles, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Dublin, Ireland; etc..  In 2000 Soke was awarded Japan's highest honor, the Cultural Award, by the  Emperor  of Japan for his worldwide martial arts contributions.  The list is long and grows every month as he travels around the world teaching at international Tai Kai events hosted by senior Bujinkan students in their countries. 


Previous MMAPioneer Series posts:



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