Sunday, January 21, 2018

In Memoriam: Nakagawa Taizoh Sensei

Nakagawa Taizoh Sensei at his forge circa 1997 photo copyright Peter Boylan 1997

My dear friend and mentor, Nakagawa Taizoh passed away on November 16, 2017. He was 85. Nakagawa Sensei was an artist and teacher of the first rank. He was a swordsmith who made swords that were exceptionally beautiful, and exceptionally functional. He was also one of the most knowledgeable people I have ever met regarding Japanese art and culture. I want to share my memory of this wonderful man.

I met Nakagawa Sensei in the spring of 1992 while working on the Jet Program in Japan. My sister and I were riding our bikes home after getting haircuts in Yokaichi, Shiga, Japan, where I was living,when I noticed someone sharpening something on a huge, old fashioned grinding wheel It was the biggest grindstone I’d ever seen. We stopped and stared at the grinding wheel for a while when it occurred to me to look at what was being sharpened. It looked like a sword. Of course that couldn’t be, because guns and swords were illegal in Japan, weren’t they? As all of this was going through my head, the guy doing the grinding looked up and noticed us. He waved for us to wait for him.

He finished what he was doing shortly after that, and introduced himself as “Nakagawa”. Then he invited us upstairs for tea. He lived on the second floor of the two story metal building behind the workshop where he’d been working; up a steep set of metal stairs on the outside of the building.. Inside was a small room filled with books and antiques and yumi (Japanese bows) and posters for sword exhibitions and cats - and swords. Mostly it was filled with swords. He had a pile of unfinished blades in one corner of the room that quickly convinced me that swords must actually be legal in Japan. 

Nakagawa san made some tea for us and we started to talk. He took out a finished sword and started pointing out some of the features. Other than the fact that this sword was amazingly beautiful, I couldn’t appreciate it because I didn’t know what I was looking at. Remember that, up until a few minutes before, I’d thought swords were illegal. He showed us a couple of other blades and pointed out the pile of blades that were his experiments as the cats walked across the unfinished swords and flicked their tails against the finished ones.

Nakagawa Sensei cleaning one of his swords photo copyright Peter Boylan 2018

I don’t remember nearly enough of that first meeting, partly because I’d only been in Japan for a little over a year, and conversations were still difficult for me. I was still looking up a lot of vocabulary in my cool, new, electronic dictionary (a godsend after hauling around a paper dictionary all the time). I do remember that he gave me one of his business cards, which helped my understanding and gave me his first name, “Taizoh”. It also confirmed for me that he was a swordsmith! I was still quite green at figuring out Japanese etiquette on the fly, but I decided that a guy who was licensed to make swords deserved more respect than to just be called “Nakagawa San”, so I upgraded the honorific I was using to “Nakagawa Sensei”, which seemed more fitting. When we left he invited us to come back any time (at least that’s what I understood). As a parting gift, he gave us a pair of antique soba cups from the Edo period.

Nakagawa Sensei's business card

After that, I started visiting Sensei whenever I could. I was teaching English in the local junior high schools, so I’d visit after work and on the weekends. Sensei’s patience with my poor Japanese amazes me to this day. If he was working in his forge, he was happy to let me watch, and I was thrilled to be able to. I got to see a lot of incredible swords through Sensei. People would often bring him swords to look at and appraise. Sensei was friends with many sword collectors in the area and sometimes we would visit them together. I wanted to understand more about all the beautiful swords I was seeing and handling I found a copy of Leon Kapp and Yoshindo Yoshihara's The Craft Of the Japanese Sword and started reading. Our conversations about swords quickly become much more interesting and complex as I added to my sword-related vocabulary, but Sensei was still very patient with me as I looked up words in every other subject we discussed.

I had been training in Judo since 1985, but Sensei introduced me to the world of koryu budo as a result of our discussions; and the opportunity to handle so many fine blades made me want to understand them even more. I eventually decided that to fully appreciate these swords, I would have to understand how they were used.

Nakagawa Sensei was always happy to meet people and share his love for Nihonto. I introduced him to administrators at the local extension campus for Michigan universities (JCMU). The students were very interested in meeting Sensei, and learning about his art, and he was completely open to the idea. We arranged for a group of the university students to visit Sensei’s workshop to see him work and learn about swords, and Sensei arranged a side trip to see the collection of a great sword collector in the area. He happily shared an amazing experience with them that very few people anywhere can have.

Sensei shared his knowledge and passion for Nihonto with anyone who was interested and respectful. He also freely shared his swords. Shortly after starting iaido with Takada Sensei, I mentioned to Nakagawa Sensei that I was thinking about grinding a blade to use in trying tameshigiri. Nakagawa Sensei was dismissive of the idea. Instead he got up from where we were sitting on the floor of his front room and disappeared for a minute. When he came back he had a long, purple cloth bag in his hand. He handed it to me and said “If you want to do tameshigiri, use this.”

I opened the bag and took out a heavy sword in a shirasaya. As I drew the blade from the saya, Sensei told me “I made this but I won’t sell it. I think the steel is a little too soft. It’s good for you to do tameshigiri with though.” I protested that I couldn’t possibly use the beautiful blade I was holding for tameshigiri, but Sensei assured me repeatedly that it was fine for me to cut with this sword. I let Sensei convince me that it was ok.

At the next practice, I talked with Takada Sensei about doing tameshigiri and explained that I had a sword we could use without fear because it didn’t matter if I damaged it. Takada Sensei was excited by the idea and we started planning. A couple of weeks later we had everything we needed put together: sword, tatami omote rolled and soaked, some bamboo stalks, and stands to hold everything. Oh - and Nakagawa Sensei.

Nakagawa Sensei offered to come to keiko on the night we did the cutting. He picked me up in his car and drove to gym where we trained. Just in case there were any problems, Sensei brought along a couple special tools he had for straightening bent blades. Takada Sensei had a stand in which we could stack rolled mats horizontally. We set up the stand and stacked mats three-high on it. Takada Sensei went first, swung a big kiriorishi and cut through the top two mats with ease. Then it was my turn. I had only been doing iai for a few months. I raised the sword up and took a huge, muscular swing into the mats and managed to cut through two of them. I also managed to put a rather extreme bend in the blade. Fortunately, Nakagawa Sensei told the truth when he said it was ok for me to cut with the sword. He just smiled, took the sword from me and started straightening it out with tools he had brought. Then he handed it back to me and we did some more cutting.

Nakagawa Sensei had very high standards for what made a sword good enough to leave his forge. The sword we had used for tameshigiri, for all its beauty, strength and flexibility, did not live up to his expectations. He felt the steel in the blade was a little too soft for a proper sword, so even though he went to the expense to have it polished and mounted, he would never consider selling it. The sword wasn’t quite good enough.

As I got to know Nakagawa Sensei, he began to let me help around the forge. I did all sorts of little things like cutting charcoal to size (I never dreamed that charcoal has to be the proper size for various operations in the forge to go well. I still have a scar on my index finger where I managed to cut myself instead of the charcoal once.) Even though he had a power hammer that was mechanically precise, he would have me swing the big hammer for him from time to time, as much for me to experience doing it as for the pleasure of working as a team, I think. The big hammer differs from a western sledge hammer in that the haft is offset in the head. Instead of coming into the middle of the hammer so the head is balanced on the end of the haft, it comes in on one end of the head. This makes the hammer unbalanced and more difficult to control, but the offset head almost swings itself, making the strikes stronger with less effort. I wasn’t very good, but Sensei never seemed to mind my lack of skill, and I did get better over time.

In 1998 Nakagawa Sensei established a forge in Ihara-cho in Okayama prefecture. I was beyond honored when he asked me to help out with the dedication ceremony. The ceremony was to include a Shugendo priest and anoffering of traditional dance by a young boy. In addition, offerings would be made to the deity of the forge. Sensei would also ritually smelt and work the first piece of steel assisted by a group of deshi swinging the big hammers. Sensei asked me to be one of a pair of deshi swinging the hammers for him. No power tools would be used for the ceremony.

The new forge decorated and fired up during the dedication ceremony. Photo Copyright 1998

In the days before the ceremony, we prepared the new forge by sweeping it repeatedly and hauling up chairs for people to sit on. Ihara-cho is on top of mountain in rural Okayama Prefecture, and the forge was difficult to get to - up a steep slope that defeated some cars. We set up a platform for the altar with offerings, including kagami mochi (rice cakes), fruit and sake. We also hung traditional rice paper and erected standing green bamboo around the forge.

The shugendo priest blessed the forge and we hammered away at a fresh piece of ore. It’s difficult working the hammer by yourself but working in a man team also requires cooperation and coordination so only the hot ore is hammered and not anything else. Sensei directed the deshi where to strike and in what rythm by tapping with his hammer. After we had worked the ore into steel by hammering and folding it a number of times, Sensei quenched it in some water and we placed it on the altar as an offering. Then the young boy performed a traditional dance for the gods. The ceremony finished with us cutting up the kagami mochi and opening the sake for everyone to share.

Working the first steel in the new forge with Nakagawa Sensei Photo Copyright 1998 Peter Boylan

Sensei loved to discuss art and politics and culture and history. Because of my passion for martial arts as well as for swords, we spent a lot of time talking about the relationships among traditional arts in Japan, budo and swords. Being surrounded by swords while talking with a master swordsmith who also practiced classical Heki Ryu kyudo and was also very familiar with many of the classical sword arts and much of their internal politics didn’t leave much room for me to hang onto illusions about the world of swords and martial arts. I traded my myths about unbreakable swords that could cut through anything for the fascinating truth of swords carefully crafted by smiths, polished so finely that the grain of the steel becomes visible, and wielded by people who may be masters of the art of swordsmanship but are still quite human.

What else can I say about a man who was a talented sculptor and a university professor before he became an incredibly skilled swordsmith? As a skilled practitioner of Heki Ryu kyudo, Nakagawa Sensei had participated in some extended endurance shoots. Though he never tried the 24 hour shoot, he successfully completed some of the shorter ones. He owned a Ming Dynasty bowl while living with three cats. The bowl got broken. The cats were excused and forgiven.

Nakagawa Sensei in his living room, the pile of swords in front of him, and his Ming bowl on the bookshelf. The cats were hiding. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2018

He enjoyed Japanese green tea and soba noodles. He worked in a charcoal dust covered forge and got absolutely covered in charcoal dust himself when working. Nonetheless, when he cleaned up to go out, he was one of the most stylish people I have seen, with a personal sense of elegance that was wonderful to the eye. We would visit art museums in Kyoto and the Tokugawa Museum in Nagoya to see the paintings and sculpture as much as to see the beautiful swords they often had on display.

Nakagawa Sensei was a great smith. I once watched him turn down a commission for five swords because it was a boring commission. The buyer wanted five matching swords, and the idea of making five nearly identical swords didn’t interest Sensei at all. On the other hand, he made a beautiful omamori tanto and gave it to my wife and me to commemorate our wedding. He could tell you the carbon content of a piece of ore by looking at it (really! I challenged him on this once and he fired up his grinder, handed me a book with spark patterns for steel and proceeded to accurately identify every piece that he sparked on the grinder).

One of the things he allowed me to help him with was gathering old steel to use in making swords. When old temples and shrines were being renovated we would go and gather up the old nails and iron fittings with a huge magnet. Then we would go through and sort the pieces into traditional Japan-made steel and western-made steel. With a little study, you can tell the difference between the two easily. I spent many pleasant hours collecting and sorting steel while Sensei did things that took far more skill than I ever acquired.

I will always treasure my memories of helping Sensei in the forge and sitting with him in his living room surrounded by swords and cats and yet more swords, talking about everything under the sun.

I miss you Sensei.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Budo: The Art Of Living

I was watching an otherwise excellent documentary by NHK called “Real Samurai” about modern practitioners of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. It’s a very nice look at the modern practice of a great koryu budo. One thing bothered me though. The narration kept referring to budo in general and Katori Shinto Ryu in particular as the “art of killing”. I think this may be the biggest misconception about budo as it has been practiced since the Pax Tokugawa took effect in 1604.

The documentary repeatedly talked about Katori Shinto Ryu as an “art of killing” and emphasizing the potentially lethal aspects of what is taught and studied. It seemed unable to deal with the  contradiction offered in nearly every frame and comment by the practitioners themselves, that Katori Shinto Ryu practice informs and transforms their way of life.

For me, the fact that the skills we study can result in killing is outshone by their usefulness in living, and living fully. I find it hard to imagine that even during wartime the focus of bujutsu study was killing. Despite a few folks like Yamamoto Tsunetomo who were obsessed with dying, budo has always been about living.The reason for studying these arts, even five hundred years ago, was less focused on killing than on surviving horrible circumstances and going on living. Perhaps budo is not really an art of killing. If it’s not an art of killing though, then what is it?

Without the constant threat of warfare, there would be little reason to study arts of killing. Peace encourages us to consider not just living, but how to best live. Budo as an art of killing isn’t relevant to a life of peace. But budo is just as  much about living. Life is filled with conflicts of all sorts, and all forms of budo are intense studies of conflict, both physical and non-physical.  Methods of dealing with  conflict can also be applied throughout life.

 In budo, the first things you practice are things you’re already doing all the time. You learn how to hold your body, breathe well and move powerfully. What’s more essential to living than breathing? The building blocks of good budo turn out to be the same ones used to build the foundation of a good, healthful life. 

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Budo reminds us, every practice, of our limits. We stare death in the face with every kata we practice. Most koryu budo kata are paired, and being off just a little for either person can result in a nasty whack that would be deadly with live weapons. Crucially, someone always loses in these kata, and losing equals dieing. In the paired kata we learn to see just how narrow the difference between success and failure, life and death, really is. Learning this is solid preparation for life outside the dojo. The lessons about moving enough, but not too much, emphasize the need to respond appropriately to whatever happens. I can think of many kata in Shinto Muso Ryu where action is essential to not getting hit in the head with a weapon, but where overreacting is nearly as bad as failing to act. When uchitachi thrusts during Sakan, if you don’t act you will be stabbed in the gut. If you overreact you block the thrust but leave yourself open to a number of follow-up attacks that flow smoothly from your excess movement. If you do everything right, you move when uchitachi has committed to the thrust and you deflect the sword tip just enough to miss but not so far that the sword can come in through a new opening. Action must be appropriate to the situation.

I’ll say this again and again. Breathe well.  

Remain calm and relaxed. Budo practice emphasizes this. It doesn’t matter if someone is trying to throw you across a room, split your head open, or choke you. You still have to be calm and keep breathing. It’s amazing how often people in the dojo have to be reminded to breathe. Under stress they start holding their breath. It happens so often I have to wonder that people aren’t passing out right and left in their everyday lives. Budo practices teaches us to relax into stress.

Tightening up only makes things worse.  Stiff arm a judoka and the result is a beautiful throw or an elegant armbar. Tense up while holding a sword and you’ll be much too slow to respond to whatever your partner chooses to do. A lot of practice is required to overcome our bodies’ natural tendency to tense up under stress so we can relax into difficult situations. Someone yells at us at work. A deadline gets moved up. Our uncles get into an argument over politics at the family dinner. Things that can cause us to tense up are everywhere.

Breathe. If you find yourself getting tense, let go of the tension. Don’t cling to it. Budo practice is the only place I’ve found that practices the essential art of relaxing into stress. Having someone try to throw or choke or hit you is stressful. If you can learn to stay relaxed and calm under this pressure, you can do it anywhere. When life tries to hit you over the head, relax, breathe, and move just far enough to avoid getting hit, but not so far that you can’t hit back.

As a kid, I always thought that being “grown up” meant that you were finished becoming you. Budo has a way of reminding me that I will never be finished becoming myself or becoming a better person. I’ve been at this budo stuff for over 30 years and every day I make new discoveries about myself and how much I can improve. It is often said, and always true, that budo is a path, not a destination. We’re never done learning. We’re never done polishing ourselves.

It’s easy to forget that we’re never done changing, so the opportunities for improving never cease. We can keep working on our technique, and ourselves, until we die. My iaido teacher is 94. My jodo teacher is in his 80s. When Real Samurai was filmed a few years ago, Otake Sensei was 88. One of the saddest things I hear people say is, “That’s just the way I am,” as an excuse not to change and improve. It’s the way you are today. Whether you want to or not, you will change and be a little different tomorrow and each day after that.

The difference that budo makes in my life is that it teaches me over and over again that I don’t have to be satisfied with what I am today. I can influence how time changes me. I can passively receive the way life molds and shapes who I am, or I can actively participate, choosing how I want to change and who I become. This is the art of living that budo teaches us.

I’m not finished. My teachers aren’t finished. They still practice. They are still changing and improving. That time spent refining my kirioroshi and my hikiotoshi uchi is not just time spent learning an obscure skill with an archaic weapon. It’s also about refining who I am. That practice breathing calmly and deeply is useful wherever I am, whatever I am doing. Teaching myself that my default condition is calm and relaxed even when someone is actively attempting to throw me across the room, and especially when they succeed in throwing me across the room applies to dealing with “all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Budo is not an art of killing.  Budo is an art of living.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Efficiency, It's Not Just For Judo

Kano Jigoro realized that efficiency of movement is one of the highest principles. He enshrined his insight in this maxim of Kodokan Judo, “seiryoku zen’you”  精力善用, most often translated as “minimum effort, maximum efficiency.” Seiryoku zen’you is probably better translated as “best use of energy” but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as neatly as “minimum effort, maximum efficiency.” This is the foundation of Kodokan Judo’s technical curriculum, just as jita kyoei 自他共栄 or “mutual benefit and welfare” is the foundation of Kodokan Judo’s moral and ethical principles.

The principle that Kano Shihan so succinctly clarified in just four kanji characters has always been a critical part of martial arts.  Kano’s genius lay in clearly elucidating that principle and building his entire system around it. Even though it took until the 1880’s for the principle to be made explicit and public, it has always been essential in weeding out techniques and practices in the martial arts. Anything that doesn’t contribute to success in conflict will eventually be eliminated because those who rely on it will lose.

Making the “best use of energy” seems like an obvious good idea, but things like this often seem obvious in hindsight. Even if the idea wasn’t explicit, it has always been implicit within the martial arts. The universe is ruthless, and during the long centuries of civil war in Japan leading up to the enforced peace of the Tokugawa Period, anything that wasn’t efficient for teaching, learning, practicing or applying the martial arts was culled simply because anything that wasn’t efficient would get its proponents killed.

Look at pretty much any koryu budo. They aren’t filled with endless lists of techniques. They have a few techniques that are polished like treasured gems, and then are practiced in a variety of kata so students learn the real foundations of the art and how to apply them spontaneously. Effective budo has to be efficient. 

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That’s the secret reason why koryu budo generally don’t have extensive curriculums with endless lists of techniques. It’s not efficient. Instead, a basic principle or two are embodied in the fundamental technique of the system which are then explored through a limited set of kata result in that teaching the plasticity of the main principles.

Sword systems are often based around one fundamental cut, with the entire system expanding on that. Sasamori Takemi talks about the kiri otoshi of Ono-Ha Itto Ryu. Kashima Shinryu kenjutsu is built around the a fundamental cut practiced in the Kihon-tachi. Arts that teach other weapons are similar. Shinto Muso Ryu calls its fundamental jo technique hon te uchi, or “fundamental hand strike.” Judo has a large syllabus by comparison, with five basic principles for throwing expanded into the  Gokyo, or “Five Teachings.”  Aikido also breaks up it’s main principles into 5 techniques, called ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo and gokyo, or “teaching 1, teaching 2, teaching 3, teaching 4, teaching 5.”  In both judo and aikido, there are numerous expressions of the five teachings, but they all start from the same fundamental principles.

It makes sense when you consider it. Which is going to work better under stress, one technique that you can apply to a thousand situations, or a thousand techniques each of which is good for only one situation?  

Efficiency shows itself in myriad ways. Learning one technique well takes less time than learning one thousand techniques to mediocre level. This why in Olympic judo, the competitors don’t spend their time trying to master all the throwing techniques of Kodokan Judo. They focus on two or three techniques and develop their understanding of the techniques and their principles so they can apply them in any situation.

Within those fundamental techniques is another level of efficiency. Techniques have to work with as little effort as possible. This is true of any effective martial art. Efficiency of energy is a key component of effectiveness. If a technique requires a lot of raw strength to perform, it will be useless when you run into someone bigger or stronger. The more efficiently the principle uses your strength, the greater the situations you can deploy it in. I was in Japan recently practicing with one of the shihan from Shinto Muso Ryu, and he kicked my butt over this. I was doing kuri tsuke ( a technique for catching a sword attack and binding the sword to the attacker’s body) and it was working, but Sensei pointed out that I wasn’t doing it as well as I could. He resisted my technique and I was able to muscle through his resistance. He then showed me how to do the technique with minimal modification so that I didn’t have to dig in to muscle past his resistance. If I got the angles right, I left him without a stable platform from which to resist.  I had learned a more efficient way to perform the technique.

He didn’t use the word, but the term that floated through my head was from Kodokan Judo. Kuzushi”  崩し. Don’t attack strength to strength. Maneuver your adversary to a position where they cannot apply their strength and attack there. In other words, attack where your opponent’s strength is minimized and your own is maximized. Seiryoku zen’yo in action.

Our strength is limited. I might be able to muscle through Sensei’s resistance because I’m a lot bigger than he is. I know plenty of people who are bigger than I am though, and there is no way I could muscle through them. But, If I do the technique efficiently, strength is no longer a concern. The efficient technique is the effective technique. This is true no matter what you’re doing.

Here are a couple of videos that have been floating around the web. One shows a little girl screaming and flailing around with a sword with great effort. The other shows a little girl cutting with no effort at all.  Efficiency gets the most out of the energy being expended. Which one better embodies seiryoku zen’yo?

Flailing little girl

Efficient and effective little girl

Efficiency is a critical component of any martial art. Just because Kano Jigoro enshrined seiryoku zen’yo as a maxim of Kodokan Judo doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist in other arts or that you can ignore if you don’t do Kodokan Judo. Making the best use of your energy is always a good idea.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Budo As An Everyday Activity

Budo practice is special. We set aside particular times for practice. We have special rooms and buildings dedicated to our practice. We have special clothes that we only wear when we are practicing. There are particular rituals to perform when entering the space and when leaving, as well as at the beginning and end of practice. We make budo practice into something special and separate from our everyday lives. The problem with this is that budo should actually be part of our everyday life.

Budo practice isn’t something that sits outside our regular lives. It’s a part of who and what we are. The things we work on during keiko are supposed to change us and how we live. If we go about building barriers to keep our practice separate from our regular lives, how is it going to help us change and move towards the person we want to become?

Budo is a Way, a michi 道. It’s a path we travel.  We start out trying to master the techniques and kata, but in a short while we discover that before we master the techniques and kata, we have to begin mastering ourselves. In order to master ourselves, we have to take what we are doing beyond the dojo 道場 and out into the everyday world.

When I started judo, it didn’t take very long before bits and pieces of my training in the dojo began to leak out into the rest of my life. At first it was trying to fix my posture and get rid of the slouch I’d acquired as a teenager. Then I began to modify the way I walked and moved. It was gratifying when people commented that I was standing straighter or moving better.

Musings Of A Budo Bum
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No matter which budo ryuha, or school, you study, I’m sure your teacher would be sad and disappointed if the only time you do it is during formal practice. Like any of the non-martial ways in Japan, these are supposed to cultivate the whole person, not just teach a few discrete techniques and forms. Sado 茶道, better known outside Japan as “tea ceremony” isn’t just about learning an archaic method for preparing and serving tea. It is supposed to teach good movement, as well as train and refine the mind and spirit of the practitioner.

In that way, the various budo ryuha are no different from sado, or any of the other ways practiced in Japan.  Their practice is supposed to transform and refine the body and mind of the student. That’s why we expect senior teachers and exponents to be wise and understanding.  They are supposed to have learned this wisdom and gained their understanding through diligent practice of the art. Each koryu ryuha, each system of modern budo, has different lessons that students are expected to learn.
As a young judoka, I spent a lot of time trying to puzzle out what seiryoku zen’yo 精力善用 and jita kyoei 自他共栄 meant and what I was supposed to do to achieve them. Seiryoku zen’yo and jita kyoei aren’t all deep mystery. Some aspects of them are remarkably simple and easy to manifest.  Seiryoku zen’yo means roughly “best use of energy” while jita kyoei is usefully translated as “mutual benefit and welfare”. “Best use of energy” starts with not wasting my effort on doing things the hard way. That was a place even I could start at. I’m still working at not wasting my energy on foolish projects and ideas. “Mutual benefit and welfare” I think I’ve done a little better at, even though it was harder to grasp initially. How do I go through life doing things that are always good for the people around me as well as for myself? I like to think that I’ve become a kinder, more considerate person throughout my life, and not just in the dojo with my training partners.

Just as I’ve worked to make these principles of judo part of my everyday life outside the dojo, so I work on the principles of all the arts I practice. Budo isn’t something special and separate. Many aspects of budo are as mundane as can be. I’m still practicing my breathing and walking. I don’t know how much more mundane a practice can get. I work at breathing correctly, from my abdomen, rather than from my chest and shoulders. I find that a lot easier to be good about than some parts of sitting, standing and walking. Not slouching my shoulders and not sticking my chin out don’t come easily to me. For some reason, I feel like I want to slouch and stick my chin out. I know that moving is more difficult when I do, and that it puts unnecessary stress and strain on my body, but a dozen times I day I discover that I’m slouching with my chin stuck out. Again.

The physical parts of budo easily become everyday training points. I’m always working on them. But the other aspects of budo training need to become part of everyday life also. The mental side of budo, as well as the values and ethics of budo. These are supposed to inform even the most boring and mundane parts of life. Budo training at one level is about physical conflict. As you advance beyond the physical level, you discover that it is also about mental conflict. How do you deal mentally with your partner’s aggression? How do you project your will into the situation?

I find the mental training to be far more difficult than the physical training. Learning to deal with someone trying to choke me or throw me into the ground or beat me with a stick in a calm manner, without letting my partner disturb my mind or raise my emotions, is tough. I have to be so mature that even if I get smacked or injured during training, I don’t get upset, I don’t lose my calm, and I don’t get angry with the person who hit or injured me. Implementing this in my daily life means not getting angry at the jerk who cuts me off in traffic, or letting the angry guy who yells insults at anyone available make me feel angry or insulted. When I’m negotiating with someone at work, I don’t let them mentally off-balance me with whatever surprise or verbal assault they use.

My budo training impacts my day-to-day life in a million little ways every day. I breathe, stand and walk differently. I’m much calmer than I would be otherwise. I act with more caring and consideration of the needs of those around me, and I don’t let other people’s emotions and actions off-balance me. These are things that we can all use training in. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t feel they had progress to make in how they deal with the people around them. It’s clear to me that I need a lot of work on this, and a big part of how I work on it is by going to the dojo and training, and then leaving the dojo and applying my training.

What’s counterintuitive about all of this is that we see budo training as aggressive and violent, but when we are applying that training in our daily lives it is about being peaceful, calm and caring. Good budo training takes us beyond the edges of aggression to outright physical attack, and through this training we somehow find ourselves becoming more peaceful, gentler and calmer. Some parts of this transformation are simply a result of becoming comfortable with violence and confident that we can handle it. We don’t get upset because we can clearly see the difference between a genuine physical attack and one that is just verbal. Beyond that, even if things escalate and become a genuine physical attack, we are confident that we can handle it.

This expanded confidence is great for explaining martial artists reactions in tense confrontations, but what about how a martial artist handles other stressful situations, or how she becomes calmer and gentler all the time? With practice, how to apply her training in just about any situation gradually becomes clear. Breathe. Maintain a stable posture. Maintain a stable mental state. Understand the fear and pain that can drive others to do foolish things. Treat everyone with the respect and care with which you treat your training partners, even when they accidentally hurt you. Perhaps especially when they unintentionally hurt you.

If all our effort studying budo is for something that never comes out of the dojo, we might as well be playing tiddly-winks. The lessons of budo are for our whole lives. Not just the dojo. Not just those rare occasions in life where violent conflict is a possibility. The lessons of the dojo are meant for the whole of our lives. We should be learning to handle every situation in a calm, relaxed manner. It’s great if you learn to handle physical conflict that way, but it’s better still if you can handle the rest of life like that. Budo is meant for the everyday. It’s up to us to make it an ordinary part of everyday life.