Banpen Fugyō 万変不驚

Luke Crocker
Classical Martial Arts
9 min readMar 23, 2016


“[. . .] The universe is shared by all things and every moment is a state of spontaneous calamity, thus is always in the process of change. Any occurrence can happen at any time. This is truly spontaneous change. Therefore, I never go against nature. I am in favor of the quiet mind that is never surprised, and remains free from conflict. Simply put, there is nothing you desire.”

(Masaaki, 2008, p. 215)

Banpen Fugyō is a thoroughly interpreted phrase in the Bujinkan organization, and is generally translated as “Ten thousand changes, no surprises,” and the feeling is effectively elaborated upon in the above translation. However, in order to translate a classical phrase such as this into such a short and simple notion, we inherently loose so much both in translation and over simplification. So what follows is an attempt to translate, transliterate and interpret a deeper, more complete understanding of the worldview that is Banpen Fugyō.

The earliest reference of this term is found in the teachings of Hakuun-Ryū Ninjutsu[1], and in being derived from that tradition, we find the same teaching in Gyokko-Ryū[2], Kotō-Ryū[3], Togakure-Ryū[4], and Kumogakure-Ryū[5], and originated from Tozawa Hakuunsai[6] in 1156.

The Etymology

“Banpen Fugyō” (万変不驚) by Masaaki Hatsumi

The first character “man” (万) is generally translated as “ten-thousand” or something that is “innumerable.” There is, however, an interesting history to this character. The character 万 can be traced back to 萬, which is also pronounced “man”. With the introduction of Buddhism into China came the symbol 卍 pronounced “manji[7] in Japanese. The Chinese gave 卍 the same pronunciation as 萬, and eventually 卍 came to be used as a simplified form of 萬. 万 is a Scribal Form[8] stylization of 卍, and “ten-thousand” is a borrowing, the sound expressing the idea of a long string (as in a long string of numbers), or even “numberless”.

“Originated in kanji ideogram “man” (also pronounced as the Ban) [万] which means “10,000”, i.e. “10,000 things” with the interpretation “a myriad of things that exist in the universe”, “all living things”, “life itself”. Reality, existence, past and future is other interpretations of “man“. The allegory is the power of “十” in motion, where “十” is the movement start, and “卍” is the symbol when it is in full motion.”

(Ruha, 2012, p. 2012)

The next character, 変 which was formerly 變, an early variation of 恋 (tangled), with the radical 夂 (an action indicator) “to go” instead of the radical 心 “heart” or “mind”. In essence 変 comes to mean “an attempt to untangle a volatile situation that leads to change.” To be unusual, wondrous, or to have an internal disturbance, are all applied meanings.

Thus far, the derived meaning of the above two characters, 万変 is “all things that are in constant change.

The character “fu” 不 can be traced back to a Shell and Bones[9] character and is a pictograph of a figure spreading his arms to signify refusal or negation. In writing it is used as “not” or “un-“, as to negate the fallowing character.

The final character驚 “gyō”, combines the characters 敬 (to be stiff or upright) and 馬 (horse), meaning to suddenly jolt upright in surprise, fright or shock.

Combined, Fugyō 不驚can be read as to “not be surprised or startled.”

So we can come to identify Banpen Fugyō to be interpreted as “To face uncertainty without surprise or fear”.

The late 33rdsōke of Togakure-Ryū Ninpō, Takamatsu Toshitsugu had written the following in regards to Banpen Fugyō:

“No one possesses the knowledge concerning the events of tomorrow. This means that we do not know when our life will cease. However, you should not be surprised by any kind of happening. Whether a change in the divine process occurs, a cutting action is attempted by an opponent, or natural catastrophes take place, you should never feel such a thing as surprise. This is the spirit of Banpenfugyō. ‘Banpen’ means “change” and “Fugyō”, “never surprised”. What one should have in mind, first of all, is caring for one’s own life; this is common sense. Health, both physical and spiritual, is needed in order to prevent accidents.”


Achieving a State of Fugyō (No Surprises)

In order to never be surprised, one may come to the conclusion that they must expect the unexpected, but how does one achieve that paradox?

There is an approach where one may adopt a series of paradoxes as an exercise in perception and prediction training. The purpose of this exercise is to mitigate the response and reaction time it takes the mind to adapt to adversity, and also to mitigate the negative effects of stress when facing said adversity. It should be noted that the purpose of the following method is in fact a sort of self-induced brain washing through the utilization of neuroplasticity, the act of repeating a given task until the neuro-receptors of the brain have developed strong enough neuro pathways that the action or task at hand may be performed without any effort or even conscious thought.

The three paradoxes are “everything changes”, “there is an exception to everything”, and “everything comes in threes.” Some of these ideas will encourage some readers to roll their eyes and put this paper down immediately as these are all common ideas, tricks of the mind, and sayings that are used commonly in the west. However, when brought together in this model, and of course practiced for a while, one may quickly come to see how it can bring about the desired ideal of facing uncertainty without surprise or fear.

1. The Law of Change

From the Sutra of the “Gateless Gate”

The first law comes from the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus (Ἡράκλειτος 535–475 BCE). Or rather, an aphorism that was constructed by Simplicius, a Neo-Platonist of the time. By his description, the overall philosophy of Heraclitus is summed up as thus:

τὰ ὄντα ἰέναι τε πάντα καὶ μένειν οὐδέν”

“All entities move and nothing remains still”

(Plato, n.d., p. Crat. 401 section d line 5)

And later:

“πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει” καὶ “δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης”

“Everything changes and nothing remains still … and … you cannot step twice into the same stream”

(Plato, n.d., p. Crat. 402 section a line 8)

Here the notion that “all things flow”, and “all things change” are powerful tools against the concern that what we care for, love and are attached to, may one day leave us; our sense of peace will someday be disrupted; our precious Ferrari will of course grow worn out and cease to function; our loved ones will at some point expire and leave us. “The only constant is change” is also a common quote in our culture, yet at the same time we covet what we cannot possibly keep.

However, if one learns this lesson deeply, no loss will drive them to despair. The will understand that what lies in their hands now will not be there tomorrow. Through an acceptance of this quality we can come to accept this unstoppable change, relinquish the stresses of trying to feebly maintain what we cannot, and change just as nature does; without attachment or ponderous hesitation.

By “ten-thousand changes”, it refers to “all things”, “any adversity”, “all spontaneous chances”. In essence, anything that can happen, to build a habit of expecting change, we can be prepared for any spontaneous adversity as it comes into our life.

2. The Law of Exception

This is the Exception Paradox, that is to say that every rule has an exception, every certainty is without certainty, and is similar to the Liar’s Paradox (The following statement is true; the preceding statement is false). Here, any certainty you may have, you must recognize that there is a way that it is untrue. Through numerous potential variables, a computer can misinterpret a 1 as a 0 and an unpredictable glitch can occur in the system; you think that you will never finish that essay on time, but then you realize that there is an exception to that “never”, you simply sacrifice other things on your agenda such as sleep; you’ve performed that shoulder-throw technique in jūdō a hundred times, but this time it fails.

These are all things that if you expected an exception to what you expected, then there would be no surprise. This in turn leads to a freedom from expectation in its own right.

These two Laws would cover the idea of Banpen Fugyō, however, this alone is simply limiting, we must identify the next steps of life’s spontaneity through a pattern.

3. The Law of Three

Here we land at the third law: the Law of Three. For this we delve into #42 of Gottschalk’s Gestalts, a series of ideas illustrating innovative forms of the organization and exposition of mathematics, by Walter Gottschalk. Here the author explains mathematically that all good things come in a cyclical series of threes.

In short, all things come in a pattern of threes; if there is only two of something, the third is yet to come, if there is four of something, it is the beginning of a new series of three. Being able to know that something is coming next reminds you to not drop your guard. In japan there is a saying:

“When you gain ground; tighten your helmet.”

There is a poem from the 22nd Buddhist Master Manorhita (摩拏羅):


The mind follows the ten thousand circumstances and shifts accordingly; It is the shifting that is truly undefined. Follow the current and recognize your nature; No rejoicing, no sorrow.


[1] Hakuun-Ryū Ninjutsu 白雲流忍術

[2] Gyokko-Ryū 玉虎流

[3] Kotō-Ryū 虎倒流

[4] Togakure-Ryū 戸隠流

[5] Kumogakure-Ryū 雲隠流

[6] Tozawa Hakuunsai 戸沢白雲斎

[7] 卍 in Sanskrit is pronounced “svastika” and is used as a good luck symbol.

[8] During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. — C.E. 225, excepting an interregnum from C.E. 8 — C.E. 25), a more angular style with clean, straight lines came t be preferred by scribes who spent their lives writing documents. Known as K’ai shu (楷書), this is the style that serves as the model for the printed characters used today.

[9] The earliest forms of the characters are those carved into shells and bones (chia ku wen: 甲骨文; in Japan, more commonly known as 甲骨文字) and those (jin wen: 金文) inscribed into tripod kettles, tools, weapons, musical instruments and other objects made of bronze.
The shells and bones were used in divination rites during the Shang Dynasty (1600–1066 B.C.E.). Heat was applied to induce cracks in the shells and bones, and fortunes were cast based on the patterns of the cracks. Afterwards, details concerning the provenance of the shells and bones, the diviner, the question posed for divination and the interpretation made were inscribed with bronze knives or the edges of hard jewels, creating characters thin and angular in form.
It is worth noting that fully 5,000 distinct characters, some of a high degree of morphological development, have been identified among the shell and bone characters. This suggests that the characters will ultimately be found to date much further back than can be confirmed at present.

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Masaaki, H. (2008). Unarmed Fighting Techniques of the Samurai. (L. Crocker, Trans.) Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Plato. (n.d.). Cratylus. Retrieved 07 22, 2013, from Perseus Digital Library:

Ruha, P. (2012, July 22). Att avkoda densho och makimono. Retrieved Auguest 24th, 2012, from Iwato 1810 ~ イワト : SKILLFUL MEANS: 十方 折衝:

Takamatsu, T. (n.d.). Wise Words. Retrieved December 14, 2012, from Bujinkan Carroll Dojo: