Showing posts with label real budo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label real budo. 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.




Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Am I Really Practicing Budo?



We go to the dojo regularly.  We practice hard.  We listen and try to follow sensei’s direction when she says “Cut with your hips” or “More extension” or the all-purpose direction “Relax.” We do these things.  We learn to do o soto gari or nikyo or kiri oroshi or whatever the technique is. Are we really practicing budo though?  Is budo what the samurai did in Japan? If that’s the core of what budo is, how is it possible for us to do budo now, in the 21st century?

Of course, if budo is what the samurai did in ancient Japan, then the next question is, which samurai in which period of Japanese history? The samurai of the 14th century were quite different from those of the late 16th century, who differed tremendously from those of the 17th century, and who might not have recognized all of the attitudes and behaviors of the samurai in the 19th century.
In the 14th century, samurai armies were often paid in loot. As for budo, the first of the ways, cha no yu or sado (tea ceremony, the way of tea) was just beginning to form.  Such a thing as “budo” wouldn’t be envisioned for several hundred years. The idea of forming bugei ryuha wouldn’t become common for another 200 years.

Katori Shinto Ryu only stakes its founding in the 15th century, while Kashima Shinryu and Kashima Shinto Ryu both date to the 16th century, as does Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. In that era the term “budo” hadn’t been coined yet, in part because the idea of discrete Ways, michi, 道 was still being formed in the teaching and practice of tea ceremony. What people did when training in these early ryuha was bugei 武芸. That second character is the same as in geisha 芸者 and means an artistic skill, technique, or performance.

It’s only in the 17th century, with the establishment of peace throughout the Japanese islands by the Tokugawa shogunate, that we begin to see a flourishing of discrete bugei ryuha.  Prior to this soldiers would be training together in armies moving and fighting all across the country.  Skills were constantly practiced, applied and evaluated in battle. After the the Pax Tokugawa was established in 1604, the armies were disbanded and skills were no longer used and tested.

With peace, there came time to codify and systematize teachings. People saw a genuine need for bugei schools where samurai could train in skills that were no longer applied on a regular basis. Over time, being able to show certification of training became important for samurai to earn promotions and to gain increases in their stipend.


Iaido schools flourished in the peaceful world of Tokugawa Japan

As the Tokugawa peace continued, townspeople who couldn’t wear the two swords of the samurai began to train in various bugei, and jujutsu systems flourished. With an emphasis on unarmed techniques and a variety of weapons besides the sword, these styles were well suited to the interests and legal limitations of merchants, craftspeople and wealthy farmers as well as samurai.

Over centuries the weapons changed as well. The famous samurai sword was originally little more than a backup sidearm for when the mounted archer ran out of arrows. The skills a samurai practiced were known as kyubajutu 弓馬術, “bow horse skills” since the primary role of the samurai was as a mounted archer. The sword might only be drawn when the battle was finished to collect the heads of defeated opponents for presentation to the winning lord so the samurai could get his reward.

Over time, pikemen armed with yari grew in importance on the battlefield and tactics for countering the speed and power of the mounted archers developed. Then in 1543 Portuguese merchants sold matchlock rifles to a Japanese lord and within 20 years these weapons that could be used by anyone with minimal training had transformed the battlefield. 65 years after they entered Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu used firearms to decisively take control of the country and bring the age of warfare to an end in Japan.


http://www.budogu.com/Default.asp


Under the reign of the Tokugawas, firearms were secured for the sole use of the Tokugawa and regional daimyo forces. Following in the path of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, only members of the samurai class could carry swords. The samurai for the most part ceased to be soldiers and warriors as they transformed into the bureaucratic class responsible for running the country.

As government officials in a peaceful nation, members of the samurai class practiced swordsmanship. Without battles to test themselves in, challenge matches with bamboo weapons proliferated and styles such as Itto Ryu, whose tactics and techniques were well suited to this sort of dueling, grew in popularity along with the matches. Non-samurai also began studying and styles emphasizing unarmed skills such as Tenjin Shinyo Ryu flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Following the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868, the reopening of Japan to the world and the abolishment of the samurai class, the martial practices changed along with the world. Competitive displays flourished as the old martial skills lost their role in society. These competitive displays mixed with new ideas about sports from western culture and the modern arts of judo and kendo emerged. Instead of being used in battle, or being a part of a class and role expectation, the arts became educational and recreational activities.

Kano Jigoro 1860 - 1938
Kano Jigoro lead the way by molding his Kodokan Judo into a system that could be incorporated into the physical education curriculum of the new government’s national education system in Japan and by instituting a clear tournament system. Leading swordsmen in Japan soon followed Kano’s example and did the same, taking elements from numerous forms of kenjutsu and creating a standardized system for national use that was incorporated into the public education system in Japan.

In the 21st century, all of these are called budo.  Are they all budo though? Is the modern study of judo and kendo the same budo, the same spirit, that the samurai in the 15th and 16th centuries learned in Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shinryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu? Of all the experiences of budo through the centuries, which one is the true budo?  The guys who fought for loot and collected heads for reward? Perhaps the true budo was practiced by the samurai of the Tokugawa era, who might go their whole life without needing to use their martial skills. Or is it only the modern budo, with the influence of Kano Jigoro in judo and the great kendo teachers like Nakayama Hakudo in the 20th century that is true budo? Is it only budo if you’re using it professionally as the samurai did? Do you have to be a soldier, guard, or law enforcement officer to truly do budo?


Nakayama Hakudo 1873-1958


A mistake we often make when encountering something from a different culture is to force it into a pre-existing category from our own culture. We try to draw the same lines between things that we are used to. There are many people who maintain that any art or way that seeks to promote individual development cannot be a true martial art. I’ve also encountered people who maintain what they do is superior because exponents explicitly talk about peace and harmony while bending joints and tossing people around the room.

One of the most difficult things to wrap my head around when I first moved to Japan was that things do not have to be clearly differentiated black or white. People there are generally not Buddhist or Shinto. They are Buddhist and Shinto who might well get married in a Christian ceremony, exchange chocolate on Valentine’s Day and check the calendar for auspicious and unlucky days from Taoism.

It is not Japanese culture that draws sharp lines between things. There is no need to call one the budo of one era “the true budo” (though you do run into people in Japan who claim that things in modern Japan have deteriorated and degenerated badly and need to be infused with the spirit of some previous age. Mishima committed suicide while making just that claim).  Ways are paths, roads, and roads can go long distances through wildly different terrain, all while changing from concrete to asphalt to gravel to dirt and back again.  It’s all still the same road.

If we stop trying to fit things into the discrete categories that our culture tries to fit everything into, and adopt a lesson from the home culture of budo, it might be easier to see that we are all on the same road. It’s a lesson that never tires of slapping me in the face from different angles. The beginner who just walked in the door is on the same road as the 90 year old master who’s been training for 80 years.  They are on very different stretches of road, but it’s the same road none the less.

The same idea applies to the people who have practiced budo in all those different eras.  They were on the path, practicing the Way. They weren’t where we are. They were on other sections of that road. The bits that are “relevant” keep changing. Armored warfare with bows, arrows, spears and swords dominated the fight for centuries. Firearms transformed things and made armor obsolete. Technology moved forward and somehow armor is back.

The immediately applicable bits and the historical scenery change, but the fundamental lessons that form the foundation of the budo Way never seem to. I’ve written about what I consider fundamental to budo. Whatever else it does, budo has to teach how to move with good structure, an understanding of the effective ranges of movement, how to use time, and it has to be concerned with making practitioners not just better fighters, but better people.  If it’s doing those 4 things, it’s probably budo.

Those 4 essentials haven’t changed   since some samurai in ancient Japan first started putting together a budo curriculum. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, those essentials have to be there. Whether it is unarmed jujutsu, kenjutsu, kyudo or modern firearms, you have to understand structure, spacing and timing to be effective, and those ancient samurai teachers recognized that bullies and jerks need to be grown into decent human beings if they are also going to be entrusted with martial skills. If those items are the basis of everything else going on in your training, then what you’re doing will still be budo, whichever century you’re in.