While Mark needs no introduction to those who have been training for a while, for the newer members of the Bujinkan community I would like to introduce a little about him.
Mark moved from England to Japan in June of 1986, with the intention of staying for two or three years to study with Hatsumi sensei. Back in those days, the first stop for most foreigners, including Mark, was the Ishizuka Dojo. Being one of the few Japanese Shihan who spoke English, Ishizuka Sensei was kind of the “foreigner coordinator” for a while. He also had some apartments he rented out to foreigners, one of which was Mark’s home for about half a year or so, before he found his own home.
Mark’s little old house became the center of “gaijin” life in Noda City. This is where I first met Mark when I moved to Japan. He let me follow him back to his place once for a small get together after training. Many of the old-timers will remember sleeping there when they were without accommodation, sitting watching movies on TV (Mark had a ‘bilingual box’ so we could switch some movies to English), drinking beer, and even regular ‘card nights’ for a while. One of the “gaijin” apartments was just around the corner and didn’t have a shower… so some used to go to Mark’s place for a shower too.
Mark started his training in Japan at the Ishizuka Dojo, and then, for a while, he went to pretty much all of the training available at all of the dojo. For a long time, apart from the Ishizuka Dojo being in Kashiwa, all the other dojo were in Noda. Mark settled for a time in the Shiraishi Dojo, later he spent a few years at the Manaka Dojo, before Manaka left the Bujinkan. But, he was also always at training with Hatsumi sensei… including a period when he was the coordinator for almost daily training with Hatsumi Sensei, at Noguchi Sensei’s dojo while he was away at work.
Pretty much right from the start, Mark was translating classes for Hatsumi Sensei into English. Nowadays there are many who speak Japanese, but back in the early days, Mark was the best we had. I still think he is among the very best of the Bujinkan translators.
Many years ago, Hatsumi sensei said something that would have a very profound effect on Mark’s martial path. He said “People wonder why I can do mutō tori so easily…. It’s because nobody can use a sword properly!”. Hearing this Mark pondered for some time and decided to find somewhere to learn how to use a sword correctly, and he was very lucky to find a dojo of the Shinkage-ryū, a martial art that had always been a favorite school of his. Auspiciously it had just opened near his house in Noda, Japan. Mark began training there 20 years ago, and he is now one of the teachers there.
When Mark first started training in Shinkage-ryū, Hatsumi Sensei would pull him out in class to ‘put him in his place’, but that soon changed to very positive comments about ‘proper sword use’. Once he learned of the school’s emphasis on mutô tori… practicing in a progressive process of long sword, short sword, no sword, he strongly told Mark that “You should be out there teaching this to the people of the Bujinkan”. Mark did so for a few years, trying to contribute towards people’s taijutsu, especially from the angle of swordsmanship.
The third art, in what Mark often calls his ‘budō sanshin’, is kyūdō (Japanese archery). He used to shoot traditional English longbow before moving to Japan, so I guess it was natural for him to be drawn to kyūdō while living in Japan. Mark was fortunate enough to find a teacher with a koryū background, in Heki-ryū Sekka-ha. After training in the traditional All Nippon Kyūdō Federation kyūdō for a few years, he asked Mark if he would be interested in learning the old school, saying that many Japanese are no longer interested in learning the old ways and that he was afraid of the old schools dying out. Of course, Mark said ‘yes’, and he was honored to receive personal training sessions from him after the normal training for a few years before his retirement from kyūdō and subsequent passing away.
We are very fortunate to have Bujinkan Dai-Shihan Mark Lithgow as one of our guest instructors for this event. He brings with him a broad knowledge of the martial arts of Japan. Here are some of the ranks he has earned during his many years in Japan:
Bujinkan Dōjō – 15th Dan (Daishihan)
Shinkage Ryū Kenjutsu – Kaiden (Shihan Dairi)
Shinkage Ryū Jōjutsu – Kaiden (Shidōin)
Seigō Ryū Battōjutsu – Menkyo (Shidōin)
Heki Ryū Sekka-Ha Kyūjutsu – Menkyo Kaiden
Kyūdō (ANKF) – 4th Dan