Showing posts with label Ellis Amdur. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ellis Amdur. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What is "Real Budo"?


What we do in the dojo needs to be real. It’s budo, not sport or athletics or some kind of game. We are practicing the serious art of controlled violence. This an art where mistakes have consequences. As Ellis Amdur points out so well in his essay The Real Importance Of Reishiki In Koryu, even the little things are critical. Even in arts that don’t seem to have any direct application in the 21st century such as naginata or kenjutsu have to be treated as real or the true value and lessons that the art has to teach are lost. What does it mean though, for budo to be “real”?


For budo to remain real, and not devolve into rhythmic gymnastics, a mindless dance or a meaningless competition, we have to remember what it is we are training ourselves for; at the most basic level, real budo training treats life seriously.


Proper keiko constantly reminds you how serious it is, even in the little things. All  those nit-picky little requirements about how a bokken or other weapon is handled, about never stepping over weapons and how you interact with everyone in the dojo all reflect that seriousness. Weapons, whether they are shinken (live blades) or wooden practice pieces, are treated with full regard for the damage they can do. Wooden practice weapons are handled just like the real thing, because you don’t want to have sloppy or careless habits when handling the real thing.

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Live blades are merciless. They don’t forgive mistakes anymore than a firearm does. For all the care I take, I’ve still cut myself a couple of times. Those were just shallow cuts that reminded me what I do is very serious, even when we’re not actively doing kata. Those nitpicky teachers insisting that there is only one proper way to handle your weapons and that even wooden swords should always be treated like they are live are not being pedantic. They know how much damage the weapons can do and do not want you to learn the hard way.


Humans are liable to distraction and hurry. If we always do something the same way, it becomes an unconscious habit and the way we do things even when we are distracted. If you start out with a bokken or iaito and always handle it like a shinken, then you will handle the shinken properly when your teacher hands it to you. When I started iai, I did so with an iaito.   A couple of years later we had a new student join the dojo who didn’t have his own iaito yet. While he was waiting for his iaito to arrive, Takada Sensei walked over to me one day, undid his sageo, took his shinken out of his obi, handed it to me and said “Give your iaito to him and you practice with this until his iaito arrives.” Sensei didn’t give me any special instruction about how to handle his shinken, he just handed it to me and went on teaching the new student. Sensei was confident that I had absorbed the lessons about proper weapons handling from training correctly with the iaito.


Takada Sensei was confident that his teaching had prepared me to handle a shinken without giving me any additional warnings. The kata teaching method works well. I handled Sensei’s shinken the same way I handled my iaito and didn’t have any issues with it. The proper technique was ingrained to the point of unconscious competence and came forth from my hands naturally and easily.


Even when it is not shinken shobu, budo must be treated with the seriousness of a shinken. We train seriously with wood and bamboo weapons so that when the moment comes and we find ourselves holding the real thing, when it’s not kata but life, the right things happen without conscious effort. The little things are the big things.


Reishiki, the etiquette that starts and ends each practice and regulates behavior during practice, is filled with little lessons that turn out to be big lessons. Paying attention to these details is the first step in keeping budo from degenerating into a pleasantly distracting sport. All those details that your teacher spends time on aren’t decorations of the important stuff that is practiced. They are important in their own right. Treating your teachers, your training partners, juniors, seniors, properly is filled with lessons for how you deal with real life.


Treating people with genuine respect and honor is an elemental lesson of real budo. This isn’t the casual respect of sport. This is serious. Look at the bow between training partners in arts like Shinto Muso Ryu and Tendo Ryu. In these arts the bow is respectful not only of the partner, but also of the partner’s ability and potential as an adversary. Training partners bow to each other, but they never give up their ability to move or take their attention from their partner.




Not paying attention is not  just another way of not showing respect. It also creates the first opening in you. This may not seem as real or important as the actual techniques, but if you’re not giving proper attention to people, you won’t be ready for any sort of attack.


Showing respect is a way of showing to those around you that you take them, and what you are doing, seriously. Budo deals with some of the most serious subjects; conflict, how we live and how we can die. I don’t think it gets any more serious than this. But if you only treat your budo as serious when you’re doing the techniques, you’re missing the most important lessons. Yes, those techniques are serious, but how you handle life is at least as important as how you handle your sword.


In budo, we learn how to handle weapons, how to handle conflict, how to treat others, and how to handle ourselves. If we’re not treating those things with respect, our budo isn’t real.  Weapons handling and dealing with conflict (including, of course, “fighting”) are obvious components of budo. How we treat others and how we handle ourselves may not be so obvious. How we deal with these lessons is what makes the difference between real budo and play budo.


It’s the little things that make budo real, as in bowing to our partner with sincere respect and not just because some old custom says we have to. How many conflicts and fights could be avoided if only people treated others with sincere respect? Fights happen not because people disagree, but because of how they disagree; often because people are, or think they are, being disrespected. This makes learning how to treat people with respect one of the most important things we learn in the dojo. Sincere respect is a powerful technique for preventing disagreements from escalating into violent fights where you have to use the techniques you’ve been sweating over at practice. Most people would prefer to not find out if their technique is up to the challenge if they don’t have to.


Real budo focuses on the little things, technical or otherwise. Learning to focus on the little things includes watching what’s going on around you and being aware of what people are doing and feeling. Is Sensei heading for the broom closet after practice? Show you respect him and the dojo. Get there before he does. If you see a new student struggling with the etiquette or proper dojo behavior, don’t wait for Sensei to show them. Talk with them before or after class and help them figure it out. Show respect for the new student and for what Sensei expects from everyone in the dojo.


Real budo isn’t just being aware of the spacing between you and your training partner, or understanding the timing for an effective counterattack. Real budo is being aware of what makes the dojo a good place to be, and helping to make it so without being asked or encouraged. Real budo is being aware of the feelings and needs of those around you, and responding appropriately. What better way to defuse conflict before it can start than being aware of rising tension and dispelling it while it is still only tension in the air?


It’s a paradox of budo. Arts that teach the most effective ways destroy life are immersed in teaching how to create better lives. This is the heart that beats at the core of real budo. Not brutal techniques of violence, but the subtle art of living.




Saturday, January 11, 2014

Outside Training

This started as a quick note I was going to toss off in a couple of minutes.  More than an hour later it had gotten a little out of hand.  Sorry about that.

I spent about 3 hours in the dojo this morning. We warmed up with the Seiza No Bu from Shinto Hatakage Ryu Iai Heiho, and then I taught Rick a new kata, Ushiro, from the Tachi Waza No Bu.  After that we did some kenjutsu, and suddenly 2 hours were gone and he had to go to.  Then I worked on some kata from Shinto Muso Ryu alone.  It was good dojo practice.  The thing I haven't been doing enough of recently though is the outside training.  I need to be doing more of this.  That’s my plan for this afternoon.

For me, outside training is critical, but it's probably not what most people think of.  This doesn't include things like practicing kata and techniques at home.  That's still training inside the style and the system.  Outside training is training that happens outside the formal definition of the styles that I study, and it include some physical training, but mostly it's mental.

The physical training is the smallest part of outside training.  That’s just going to the gym to make sure all parts of my body are getting the exercise they need to be balanced and healthy and able to support what I do in the dojo.  A little time in the gym can make the dojo time much more productive, and I do mean a little time.  I’m looking to keep my body balanced and strong, so I spend most of my limited gym time making sure that I’m not getting overly strong in one direction.  I also try to stretch regularly.

The biggest part of my outside training though is reading and thinking.  I read stuff that makes me think about my budo and the principles related to it.  There are some books that I come back to time and time to read and ponder, there are others that I only read once, but they are all part of my training.  My favorite book for the philosophical side of budo, and I absolutely recommend it to everyone who trains in any martial art, is “Dueling With O’Sensei” by Ellis Amdur.   Amdur does a fabulous job of taking some of the great budo cliches and ideas, such as katsujinken and really giving them a hard look under some very real conditions.  He works doing crisis intervention, often with extremely violent individuals, so his starting point is always very concrete and practical.  He’s not taking a theoretical approach.

Right now I’m reading an wonderful biography of the man who influenced modern budo far more than anyone else, Kano Jigoro, the founder of Kodokan Judo, creator of the modern budo rank system, member of the International Olympic committee, sponsor who brought karate master Funakoshi Gichin from Okinawa to Tokyo and introduced karate to Japan, the driving force behind making physical education an important part of the Japanese education system and the person who got Judo included in the Japanese education system.  The book, The Way Of Judo, is loaded with information about budo and Japan during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.  Ideas about what the “Way” Kano saw students of Judo treading and what that means for how he envisioned Judo.  It gives me insight into the kinds of lessons that kata and keiko are intended to teach.

I’m reading books about the history of different Do 道, such as tea ceremony and calligraphy to improve my understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the concept of Do in Japanese culture.  Budo did not have any sort of national network and discussion until Kano Shihan created Judo.  Before that, all budo was local, though there were some interesting conversations started in old Edo.  On the other hand, tea ceremony dates to the 15th century or earlier, started to get organized into schools under Rikyu in 16th century, and had organizations that stretched across much of Japan by the end of the 1600s.   Tea ceremony styles, calligraphy schools, and flower arranging were having discussions about the nature of training and personal development on a national scale centuries before budo achieved anything close to that level of organization and discussion.  Since tea ceremony and calligraphy were considered essential parts of the training of a true gentleman in Japan, the ideas developed there appear to have quickly found their way into the writings of budo teachers, all of whom were certainly learning calligraphy, and many who were learning tea ceremony.  One surprise for me has been how little Buddhist and Taoist thought has to do with these, and how much Confucian ideas do.
I’m also learning things about physiology and the body under stress that change my understanding of training.  I’ve often heard that competition in the martial arts is supposed to teach you how to react and control yourself under the stress of a real conflict.  I believed it too.  The only problem is that the stress of actual physical conflict is orders of magnitude greater than anything going on in competition.  You don’t get anywhere near the dump of adrenalin and other hormones during competition that you do in a threat situation.  In a threat, adrenalin and other hormones drop into your system, you heartbeat flies up over 170 beats per minute, your fine motor control vanishes, and a number of other things happen.  A good place to start learning about this is Dave Grossman’s book On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace.  A lot of things I’d heard in the dojo turned out to be completely wrong at fundamental, physiological levels, so wrong that they could get you in serious trouble.  Grossman does a nice job of pulling a lot of research together, and the bibliography could keep you busy for quite a while.

Of course I’m also reading classics of Chinese thought, especially the ones that have had a significant impact on the ideas and thinking of classical Japan where the arts and ways I’m studying and training in were created and developed.  Be sure to read The Art Of War by Sun Tsu, The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tze,  the Chuang Tze, some of the writings of Confucius are essential too (some of Confucius can be difficult.  Start with The Great Learning and some of the Analects.  He seems boring, but he was writing about the essential relationships in life and how to develop as a great human being.  It’s important if you want to understand budo relationships and expectations, especially if you ever travel to Japan).  

I’m going to be reading more about Japanese history as well, so I can place the various ideas within the budo I study in the proper context to be understood.  Things that developed in the Sengoku era of constant war and the early Tokugawa period when people were still afraid that civil war would break out are very different from things developed in the middle Tokugawa era up to about 1850, when the Pax Tokugawa was accepted and expected to continue.  Beyond that, the budo developed at the end of the 1800’s after the fall of the Tokugawa government and the embrace of modern Western technology and the mad dash to overtake the West is very different from all that had come before.  On top of this, if you don’t understand the impact of the US occupation on modern budo, particularly Judo, Kendo and Karatedo, how they are taught and organized, it’s impossible to understand what they really are, and what was jettisoned in the 1950s.  Much was jettisoned, not to make the Americans happy, but rather to please Japanese bureaucrats who were busy crafting a new image for Japan in the international community.

All of this is outside training, but it is vital for my training in the dojo as well.  I admit it, I’m a budo geek, but I believe a basic knowledge of the history of budo, some of its philosophical ideas, and the real physiology of budo and conflict are essential to full growth and development on the Way.  Budo is not just a bunch of movements and techniques.  It absolutely demands a robust philosophical and intellectual framework to give it its proper place in our world.  The only way to get that is through outside training.