Interview with Serge Mol about his book “Invisible Armor, An Introduction to the Esoteric Dimension of Japan’s Classical Warrior Arts”

Interview with Serge Mol about his book Invisible Armor, An Introduction to the Esoteric Dimension of Japan’s Classical Warrior Arts (This interview is placed here with permission of Serge Mol and publisher EIBUSHA).

Invisible-Armor_Serge-MolQ: What is your book Invisible Armor, An Introduction to the Esoteric Dimension of Japan’s Classical Warrior Arts about?

A: In Invisible Armor, I introduce the reader to the little known, let alone understood, spiritual and esoteric dimension of Japan’s classical warrior arts. The invisible armor used for the title of the book in fact has two meanings. On the one hand it refers to the spiritual means of protection such as special rituals and even charms that as it were clad the user in an invisible “spiritual armor”. On the other hand however armor can also mean weaponry. Therefore “invisible armor” also refers to “invisible weapons”, such as spells and curses used by samurai and ninja alike to speed up the demise of their opponents. On a much larger scale, “invisible armor” also includes the methods used by the classical warlord to predict or influence the outcome of major battles, and which as is were make up the esoteric side of the art of war.

Topics that are discussed in this book are goshinpo, kujho, jujiho, spiritual and psychological weapons, methods of divination used to find auspicious days and directions for war, methods used to read the ki or energy of an enemy army, the fusui (feng shui) used when building castles and muany more. Over time these methods were embraced by the classical warrior traditions or schools (bugei ryuha) and became a part of their most secret teachings. In addition to introducing the various esoteric methods, I also provide more background information and the historical context in which they were used.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: Already since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by Japan’s classical martial arts. Gradually my interest in them deepened. Whereas at first I was interested in the actual fighting skills and weapons, later on I became more and more interested in the historical background. However no study of Japan’s classical martial arts can be complete if one doesn’t at least make an attempt to understand the spiritual dimension that is inextricably bound up with these arts. Over the years I came to realise that both in the West and in Japan their are so many aspects of the warrior’s spiritual dimension that are either misunderstood or misrepresented that I felt compelled to write this book. With this book I hope to provide practitioners of the classical martial arts access to material that is normally not available in a Western language and thus help them deepen their understanding of the arts they are practising.

Q: Can you specify some aspects of the warrior’s spiritual dimension you feel are often misunderstood or misrepresented?

A: A first major misunderstanding I feel is that when addressing the spiritual dimension, the Japanese warrior, and especially the samurai figure is almost always automatically associated with Zen and Zen meditation. The same can be said about Japanese martial arts. One is made to believe that the heroic acts of the warrior are to be attributed to his practice of Zen meditation. This however is incorrect. Whereas I do not dispute that Zen started to play a more prominent role in the education of certain warriors, especially in the Edo period, which was a period of relative peace, prior to that, in the war plagued periods of Japan’s history, the warrior relied heavily on the spiritual methods borrowed from esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyo) to mention but one example, and worshipped various warrior deities and Buddhas. On a personal level, he used protection rituals, good luck charms, and even spells to ward off evil, or curse his enemies. At present such methods are often associated with the historical ninja figure. From the documents of some of the oldest existing martial arts schools however it becomes apparent that they were used by the bushi or samurai figure as well. On a much larger scale it can even be said that there was a whole esoteric dimension to the art of war. Warrior generals also used methods of divination and spells to predict and influence the outcome of war. If one studies some of the major works on strategy used by these generals and their advisors, and compares them to the secret manuscripts of ninjutsu, then it becomes apparent that ninja and bushi used the same esoteric methods and strategies.

Q: What were your sources of information?

A: I used a variety of sources, ranging from modern Japanese works on the subject, secret documents of the classical martial arts traditions, ninjutsu related manuscripts (e.g. Bansenhukai, Ninpiden, Shoninki, Inko Ryu Ninjutsu Kusetsu) to major works on strategy and historical chronicles (e.g. Koyo Gunkan, Shikansho, Bukyo Zensho). Also the testimony of living masters of both classical martial art traditions and of the religious schools the warrior’s esoteric teachings were based upon were most helpful. To get a better understanding of the original context of the Mikkyo based rituals such as goshinpo, kujiho(u) and so on I have consulted specialists in that field. I was for example fortunate in having the opportunity to talk to Miyage Tainen sensei, the present Gomonshu of Imperial Shogoin Temple in Kyoto, and the headmaster of the Honzan-Shugen school. Also I had frequent conversations on the subject of Shugendo and the deeper meaning of its various rituals with Shogoin’s reverend Jakkoin Kuban. I’m also most grateful to Otake Risuke, master teacher of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu(u), one of Japan’s oldest martial arts schools, for his detailed explanation on the the application of Mikkyo based protection rituals used in his tradition, but also for telling me anecdotes about the usage of healing rituals and fudokanashibari.

Q: Was it difficult to access these sources, and how did you find them?

A: Some sources were more difficult to find and gain access to than others. Even in Japanese there are not that many specialised modern books on the subject, and those few that exist often only refer to passages in older works, but do not actual provide much explanation about them, leaving many questions unanswered. Often such works are limited to vague general explanations It was therefore necessary to directly access the older source material. Whereas it is relatively easy to find copies of works as Koyo Gunkan, Bukyo Zensho, Bansenhukai, Ninpiden, and Shoninki, others such as Shikansho proved almost impossible to find, even in some of the more important Japanese libraries and collections. With the older source material the problem is that they are not written in modern Japanese, and also that they use metaphors and symbolism which are not immediately clear if you are not already familiar with the subject. The same is true for the once secret documents of the various warrior traditions that I consulted to write this book.

Q: What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome to write this book?

A: A major obstacle was that the subject is quite complicated and requires a lot of knowledge of a variety of fields. Not surprisingly, the research for this book alone already took me many years. Another problem was that I somehow had to condense all the available information and then write in such a way that even for someone that is not a specialist in the different fields that are discussed, the text is still clear and interesting to read.

Q: Invisible Armor is also richly illustrated, was it difficult to find illustrations for your book?

A: Naturally for a book that deals with spiritual and esoteric matters it is more difficult to find illustrations than for a book about techniques or weapons. So yes, for some chapters it was actually very difficult to come up with illustrations. But I feel illustrations can make a text more accessible and readable so I went to great length to find suitable ones for each chapter.

Q: How did you find the right illustrations?

A: Already when I was writing the chapters I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to use. So I looked trough my own collection of documents and prints and made a first selection from these. For material I didn’t have in my own collection I got the help from some teachers and friends, who were more than willing to provide material for me.

Q: You have lived in Japan for several years, was this helpful in your approach of the subject?

A: Most definitely. I feel having been immersed in the culture and history of the country may have helped me gain insights that would have been difficult to get otherwise. For many years I have actually studied classical martial arts in Japan, and as a result have been directly exposed to some of the things I explain in my book. However to further enrich my personal experience, and understanding outside of the scope of my martial arts training, I have also participated in other activities as well. To test my mental resolve for example I have done hiwatari, or fire walking rituals, on several occasions. Also in my book I explain how the ancient capital of Kyoto was constructed in such a way that it was believed to be protected by the gods. Kyoto was my hometown in Japan, I actually know and have visited many of the places I mention in my book. Finally I might also add, that as a member of very traditional Kyoto family, I have been able to see Japan both through the eyes of an insider and an outsider. Although Japan has modernized rapidly, certain remnants of the past, some of which I describe in my book, are still present. In my wife’s family since many generations a book that contains information on how to make healing spells and charms has been preserved. And I have seen occasions on which it has been used in the recent past. Similar things can be found in the curriculum and scrolls of ancient martial arts traditions that I have in my own collection. Also often my wife and father in law inadvertently said things which I felt were useful for my book, and sometimes when seeing me write they even suggested other interesting topics that could be checked or discussed. I think all these factors made a positive contribution to my approach of the subject of Invisible Armor.

Q: Who should read your book, or who might benefit from reading it?

A: Naturally anyone is welcome to read my book, but it think it will be especially of interest to practitioners of Japan’s classical martial arts that want to discover an in the West little understood dimension of their art, as well as to enthusiasts of samurai and ninja history and culture in general.

(January 2009)

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Copyright © 2015 Serge Mol & All rights reserved.

Interview with Igor Dovezenski about his book „Conversation With The Students“

(Interview realised by most visited macedonian website in 2013

Igor-Dovezenski_bookEven in martial arts, when you know how to just give a stern look (however inefficiently), it leaves an impression when someone in Macedonia who decided to write and self-publish a book of 250 pages on this topic. At the beginning I was skeptical that this might be a confession in the style of „how I became a ninja“, but I quickly changed my mind – Igor might know to handle the katana, but he also knows how to transfer the experience from these martial arts.

Since the book is titled „Conversation With…“, we are going to introduce the book through a conversation. Important: none of the participants were harmed during this interview.

1. To someone who isn’t acquainted at all with traditional Japanese martial arts, this book is likely read as an autobiography of someone who is deep into them, but also as a chronicle in the social context where they developed in Macedonia. For those who are versed, it’s a reminder of their history, foundations and spiritual background. Whom were you addressing when you were writing this book, to the first, the second, or to someone else?

The book is written on an easy and clear way, so that anyone who gets in touch with it, could easily understand and get to know the traditional Japanese martial arts, known under the common name of koryu bujutsu. Where Japanese terms are used, they are explained with footnotes, and again we get the impression that the book is written for a wider audience.

Regarding the question whom I address, I have to say primarily to my students. They are those people that follow the teachings for classical Japanese martial styles for years, that were developed a few centuries ago in The Land of The Rising Sun and that have one and only purpose – to (self)improve us in any field of life.

2. What arts exactly are we talking about? Can they work as they do in the original context, regarding the cultural differences between Japan and Macedonia? At the same time, are they being modernized in Japan itself, seeing that some of them are a few centuries old?

I had that fortune (or misfortune) of being the first Macedonian (and for now the only one) that brought the classical Japanese martial arts in Macedonia. I say fortunate, because I couldn’t imagine my existence without bujutsu, and misfortunate because the whole burden and responsibility for their correct transference lies on my soul. I don’t think of myself as a teacher, only as a medium where the words and techniques of my Japanese teachers flow through, that in fact are the heirs of the martial schools that we talk about.

I am a representative of about 10 koryu (classical martial traditions), among them for the oldest documented Japanese school – Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto ryu.

The cultural differences between Macedonia and Japan are not that big to prevent somebody to dedicate themselves to the legacy of the Japanese teachings, among which their martial traditions. The functionality of the martial arts is timeless, because it’s not only about techniques of combat and forms, but a philosophy of living that is applied in various situations in everyday life. The principles that are taught through bujutsu, can help resolve any conflict. To be skillful means to win on a higher level. Before any verbal conflict arises. Physical combat remains always the last option, after all other options are depleted, but even then, the person who pursues perfection will act consciously and with a desire to save the life and the integrity of his opponent. Exactly here we can see the greatest difference between the modern and the traditional martial arts. Our purpose is not to hurt the attacker, but to face his bad intentions and make him see that the violence produces more violence, that in turn isn’t bringing any good.

Classical Japanese martial arts aren’t going to be modernized, especially because the heirs (known under the synonym soke) have the task to keep the pureness and the originality of the first founder (known under the term ryuso). But that doesn’t mean that they are not applicable at all. The principles, the laws and the ways to move the human body are the same. The way of thinking remains unchanged. As long as you learn how to avoid the attack with making a step to the side, it doesn’t matter whether you will be attacked with a fist or with a cold weapon. In bujutsu, the weapon is considered an extended arm, or as a tool to shorten the distance between you and your opponent. The laws of physics are always the same. If you learn how to defend yourself from a classical medieval weapon, you will be capable to move adeptly and to predict the attackers’ next move.

3. Can you, as a teacher, recognize in advance personality or physical traits that could make somebody a „ninja“? Does this popular term is close to what you learn in the „dojo“? What are those traits?

Maybe many of you will be disappointed when they hear that the term ninja is pretty new and made popular by the Japanese pop-subculture that has its rise in the `30s in the last century. Afterwards, in the `80s the same was transferred to the west and vulgarized by Hollywood, afterwards by the Hong Kong film industry where the ninjas are represented as assassins or sorcerers that turn into various animals, or disappear with a clap of the hands. That damage will always remain visible, and the term „ninja“ is going to be used in a degrading manor.

In history, the ninja were famous by several names, but mostly they were called „shinobi“. Regarding their role in the social life in Japan, they belong to the lowest warrior class (bushi) whose purpose was gathering information about their enemy, but also to perform different diversions, and sabotages in the lines of the enemy army. Compared to a modern profession, I could say that they are something in between military intelligence and members of the small teams of scouts of the professional army units.

At the end, to answer the part about recognizing the personality and physical traits of the potential „candidates“ for a ninja. The biggest part of the people that enroll in my dojo, don’t have the idea of accomplishing some super-results that will draw them nearer to the capabilities of the Japanese „ninja“. In fact, many come for recreation, so they can relax from the everyday responsibilities, as well as to improve their health through improving their physical and psychological stamina. Although, with time, many of them show greater interest for the history and the tradition of the Japanese martial arts, and with that starts the Path that cannot be left easily. After many years of running a dojo, I can distinguish the serious practitioners with great certainty, that see differently to what I teach and that one day will become masters to the arts they practice.

4. What movie would you recommend that has a good combination of action, but also a correct depiction of the Japanese martial arts (without showing off and Hollywood tricks)?

Only in the movies of Akira Kurosawa and similar that I would call „Japanese classics“, where the spirit of the time when the Japanese warriors existed, known as samurai and ninjas, can be captured. Whatever comes from Hollywood is a perversion of the history of the Far East, with purpose to earn bigger revenues in the cinemas’ box offices through luring a greater audience.

5. Recently you’ve been to Japan for the first time. What kind of impressions did you bring back?

If I start talking about that, I will have to „knit sheets“ that the readers of „BookBox“ would hardly have the time and the desire to read to the end. I can only confirm something that I’ve heard from my mentors, which is: anyone that trains hard and with a dedication can become a good and skillful warrior. But if someone wants to really understand the tradition and the culture of Japan, it is necessary to travel there and to train in the dojos of the Japanese teachers at least for a few weeks.

You can contact Igor by this mail (, and the book can be found here (

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Copyright © 2015 Igor Dovezenski & All rights reserved.