What is a Tengu ?

Several Sempai practicing regularly in Strasbourg with Sensei Habersetzer had not failed to notice that something new had been going on for some time in his CRB ( Budo Research Center ), something called... "Tengu". Some of them finally asked him what it was all about, to understand what was on their Sensei’s mind, who had developed this new concept and integrated it in his martial processes. Indeed, since 1995, he had been directing the Tengu Institute he created, and has started to mention it publicly or on the occasion of recent publications, such as his book "Tonfa" or his reflection untitled "Empty hand for a martial edge".

Karasu Tengu
Hansobo Shrine, Kamakura
(photo : Mark Schumacher)

The CRB experts, who participate in the ceaseless work of research in the martial domain – the Sensei’s passion ever since the day he first set foot on a tatami...40 years ago – but also several careful Sempai, are perfectly aware of the enlargement of a process that must give back Karate, according to the president of the CRB, its true ancient martial meaning, in retrieving sensations, and a raison d’être, lost long ago because of the competitive evolution of Karate. May the others read the unsettling text "Karate: empty hand for a martial edge. Reflections for a return to a warlike dimension in the traditional art of Karatedo", published by the Tengu Institute, that broadly introduces the subject. The last two sessions of the Instructors School ( Ecole des Cadres ) also clarified this direction for Karate inside the CRB: the Tengu Institute is a setting for advanced practice in the field of the art of fighting, along two axes: building and managing a retaliation force ( with a global dimension and the complementarity of integrated defense techniques, as true weapon ), always perfectly controlled by the "right spirit". This IS the DO, the ethics for any determined and responsible man or woman of his/her time, in THE RESPECT OF THE PRICIPLES OF A TRUE MARTIAL ART, RECONSIDERED FROM A CONTEMPORARY ANGLE, THEREFORE EVOLUTIVE. A big work at hand. As such, the Tengu Institute is a real laboratory for research and experiments that extends the teaching given in the CRB dojos, sharpening it, never denying any part of it. All this makes it probably a practice setting unique in the world. Beyond the technique, there is above all a "Tengu Way" that consists in knowing ( using physical and mental advantages ) how to RESPOND, like a human being, to a threat, instead of REACTING, like a fighting animal. A fundamental subtlety.

So why "Tengu" ? What is a "Tengu" ? Read its definition by Sensei Habersetzer and you will certainly better understand this meaningful choice. As we later give an explanation for the symbol designed by Roland Habersetzer to stand for his idea, we shall underline more clearly the orientation of the "Tengu Way" ( Tengu-no-Michi ) as he wishes to share it with greatest number of sincere and realistic budokas. Way beyond an elementary Bunkai, of course. But, coming from him, did you even have any doubt ?



7 b CHEMIN DU LOOCH, 67530 - SAINT-NABOR, France

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Tengu : a definition.

Mythical beings of ancient Japan, who lived in mountainous solitudes and were famous, according to many fabulous popular stories, for their knowledge in martial arts, which they shared occasionally with humans. Many warriors and Samurai, founders of schools ( Ryu ), particularly saber experts ( Ken-jutsu ), claimed they had been providentially inspired by the wise advice of a Tengu, sometimes in a dream, while they were in a voluntary retreat in the mountains, to pursue feverishly their quest for the "Way" ( DO ) in asceticism (Musha-shugyo). Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune himself, one of Japan’s greatest and most valiant warriors, would have acquired his mastery of the saber that way, allowing him, despite his youth, to defeat Benkei the monk, who tried to block access to the Goto bridge with his Naginata, while he spent his teenage years at the Kuma-dera temple. And was the great Miyamoto Musashi not nicknamed "the little Tengu", he who remained undefeated after more than sixty duels ? And, at the dawn of the 20th century, Takeda Sokadu, master of Aiki-jutsu, was called the "Tengu from Aizu".

The "divine technique of the Tengu" ( Tengu-geijutsu-ron) was also supposed to explain the fighting skills of the Yamabushi, these fearsome monk-warriors wandering in the mountains, from a monastery to another. It widely inspired too, for its mystery, the dark world of the Ninja, who named Tengu-gui the black mask covering their face to give them a devilish look.

The origin of the Tengu is Chinese. "Ten-Gu" is the Japanese interpretation of the Chinese characters "Tien-Kou" ( = Sky Dog ), and the legend of these supernatural beings went on to Japan in the 6th and 7th century. The image of the Tengu evolved as time went by: definitely devilish at the origin, famous for setting forests on fire, kidnapping children, certainly anthropophagi, endlessly tormenting Buddhist monks, the Tengu turned into a being capable of making a difference between Good and Evil. Therefore, during the Japanese Middle Ages, in turn merciless and terrible or filled with kindness, depending on the traveler’s soul who encountered it on a forest path, it meant hell or the last resort for the lost or the reckless who knew his moment of truth had arrived when he suddenly heard mocking fits of laughter above him in the branches. Half-man ( body), half-bird ( head) , Tengu gave rise to many popular representations: the most ancient ones made them look like crows (Karasu Tengu), but the most common ones were those of "little Tengu" (Ko Tengu ) with wings, or the ones of long-nosed Tengu ( Konsha Tengu ). There was in fact a hierarchy that ranked the human-faced Tengu with long nose above those with wings. Masks showing this type of Tengu are often hung in some temples in the mountains of contemporary Japan. The Lord of these mountain spirits was Sojobo, represented with a long nose and long white hair. Its power was symbolized by a fan made of seven feathers.

As opposed to pure spirits ( Obake ), Tengu are always portrayed with feet. A Tengu may assume a human appearance ( child, woman, old man ) to better deceive, or appear also under the disguise of a badger ( Tanuki ) or a fox ( Kitsune ). But its shadow always betrayed its true nature. The Tengu is credited with an unusual sense of humor, and its mischief was only equal to its arrogance. ( "Tengu-ni-naru" is an expression used to ask for someone not to be as arrogant as a Tengu !) A Tengu speaks without moving its lips or its beak. In fact, it uses telepathy to communicate. A Tengu may be defeated by a superior magical power, or by the mental and physical superiority of a man who was brave enough to engage in combat with it. If vanquished, it will then appear as a wounded or dead black bird. A Tengu can also, if he has done many good deeds, be reborn as a human.

Inspirer for many warriors in ancient Japan, for solitary Ronin in search of the ultimate truth, models for Ninja, source of numerous legends and superstitions, Tengu were often taken for the terrible Yamabushi from the mountains, to such an extent that popular imagery showed them in the latter’s clothes, such as these Karasu Tengu wearing the priests skullcap (Tokin). All areas along the Northern Pacific Ocean have similar legends with mythical birds, half-way between Gods and humans: in Siberia, Alaska, and on the North Pacific coast of Canada (e.g. the legend of the Great Crow from the Tlingit and Haïda people).

 Roland Habersetzer, copyright. Excerpt from a book to be published soon