Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Budo Training and Budo Philosophy

There is a lot of philosophizing that goes on in budo circles.  I know that I am in the first rank of those guilty of it.  There is far too much of philosophizing about budo by a lot of people who don’t have the depth to do a good job of it.  This might be a symptom of the internet age though.  Everyone who trains should be thinking about the ethics and values of Budo, but not everyone’s thoughts are ready for prime time.  With the advent of the internet bulletin board and personal blogs (like this one) any fool (like me) can expound to the world.  That’s probably not a great thing.  However, budo without a philosophy of well considered ethics and honor is just another way of hurting people, so I’m glad to see there is so much time and effort being put into thinking about it.

Having said that, I think you need a ratio of at least 100 to 1 ratio of practice to philosophy, although it might need a lot more practice than that.   Consider that the Tao Te Ching can be read in an hour, and then you can spend years discovering new stuff from it.   All the good budo that I have encountered has been deeply thoughtful and filled with philosophical content, but the bulk of that content is written in the kata and application, not in words.  The kata and application are structured so they teach nearly everything about an art, whether it is a koryu bugei such as one of the branches of Yoshin Ryu jujutsu, or a modern art like Kodokan Judo or Aikido.

The kata and applications practiced don’t just teach how to do a technique.  They teach what the art values and thinks as well.  If you haven’t studied the kata and application of the art deeply, any written or spoken lessons about the art will be meaningless.  In Kodokan Judo there are 9 sets of kata, and they teach a full range of techniques for throwing, pinning, joint locking, choking and disarming.  But the techniques taught are just the beginning.  The kata teach how to apply them from a variety of ranges and attacks, so you can also learn something about when to apply the technique.  

When studied properly the kata teach a student to see how close someone has to be before they are dangerous.  The kata also teach an arts philosophy on how strongly to respond and what level of damage to inflict on an assailant.  Some arts believe in preemptive strikes (Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Muso Shinden Ryu share the same assassination kata Tana No Shita. One of the first kata in Araki Ryu is an assassination kata).  Other arts don’t include surprise attacks but are willing to strike first once they have been threatened (Shinto Muso Ryu’s Tachi Otoshi).  Still others refrain from action until actually attacked (Kodokan Judo).  This is philosophy at a fundamental level that is embedded in the kata of the particular systems.  These kata all make an ethical statement about what is acceptable behavior in the eyes of the people who crafted the system.  

Studying an art’s kata teach you what the system approves of and disapproves of.  It also teaches about things such as how strongly to respond to a given situation or provocation.  Some systems always respond with lethal force (see pretty much any koryu bugei from before 1604 c.e.).  Others have a variety of responses that range from killing or crippling an attacker down to simple restraint.  Shinto Muso Ryu has a variety of responses in the kill, cripple or seriously injure range, while arts like Kodokan Judo and Aikido tend to focus on the range from causing injury down to simple restraint.  These are all philosophical statements, but without deep practice of the art, the philosophy of the arts cannot truly be understood.

Most arts also have written or verbal teachings that supplement the physical training, but the physical training is the core of the system and really teaches what they system believes.  The associated writings help one to better understand the art, and provide some guidance in the form of things to think about while practicing. However, without intensive training in the systems kata and application, the writings and verbal teachings are nearly meaningless because they lack the proper context for understanding their intent.

Kano Jigoro Shihan, the founder of Kodokan Judo famously crafted two guiding principles for his art:
自他共栄   Jita Kyoei often translated as Mutual Benefit And Welfare
精力善用 Seiryoku Zenyo often translated as Maximum Efficiency Minimum Effort

These are simple statements, but the true depth of their meaning and intent can only really be understood through intensive practice of the system that embodies their meaning.   Mutual Benefit And Welfare sounds very nice, but actually practicing it in the dojo while you train is much more difficult that the simple phrase suggests.  The dedicated student has to learn how to do this even when they don’t like their training partner, even when they are tired, angry or annoyed, and even when a partner may have actually harmed them in some way.  The principle is not easy to implement, and it isn’t meant to be applied just during keiko.  

Seiryoku Zenyo is even more difficult to understand, though perhaps it less emotionally difficult to implement.  It starts out in technique, but grows quickly after that.   All Kodokan Judo students soon realize how important the principle is for doing the techniques of the system properly and effectively.  That is quickly obvious when you see a 60 year old judoka doing randori with a 20 year old, and you notice that the 60 year old is relaxed and breathing easily while the 20 year old is stressed, stiff and gasping for air.  Same techniques, same art, but the 60 year old is doing a much better job of applying Sieryoku Zenyo.  While the 20 year old tries to use strength and youthful energy, the 60 year old is doing only as much as is really necessary, resulting in the 60 year old being fresh and relaxed after a few minutes of randori while the 20 year stands next to him exhausted and panting for breath.  The difficult secret is that you are supposed to be able to scale the application of Seiryoku Zenyo to everything else you do in your life. It’s not meant just to be hidden in the dojo.  Without dedicated practice in the dojo though, the real depth of the concept will never be revealed though.  There are lots of things that seem efficient at first but that the trial and error of practice reveal to be mistakes.

As a student advances deeper and deeper into a budo school, they slowly discover more and more depth to the teachings, both the practical, physical teachings of the system and the written teachings.  The core of any budo system is the physical teachings of the art, the kata.  The writings associated with the art help a student to understand what is embodied in the kata, but without extensive practice of the kata and deep appreciation for their contents, the writings will just be so many scratches on paper.  This is true whether they are Kano Jigoro’s writings about mutual benefit and maximum efficiency, Ueshiba Morihei’s writings about the circle, square and triangle, Shinto Muso Ryu’s shiteki bunsho about the nature of the jo, or some of the esoteric teachings of other styles like Yagyu Shinkage Ryu or Araki Ryu or Miyamoto Musashi’s writings for Niten Ichi Ryu.  If you haven’t studied the physical portion of the curriculum deeply, the philosophy will be meaningless.

Now get out there in the dojo and study your art’s philosophy.


Louis Delgado said...

As one extremely knowledgeable senior practitioner who has lived in Japan for many years (40+) told me. It's laughable how naïve foreigners think that the so called budo ideals of self improvement and character building apply to them . They never once consider the simple fact that when a Japanese teacher talks (in Japanese) about character building through Budo he is talking about building the Japanese character not the the Western one. Japanese society values many characteristics that are utterly alien to the foreigner. There is no Budo philosophy that applies to 'Gaijin' and if you think there is you don't know anything about Japan or the way Budo is practiced in Japan.

The Budo Bum said...

I have from time to time heard that in Japan, but my teachers in Japan don't believe that, nor, in my experience, do the vast majority of budo teachers in Japan. After many years living and working and studying in Japan (though not yet 40 of them), I'm moderately familiar with the Japanese culture and social values, and their origins. Japanese values are not really alien, it's just a matter of how priorities are balanced. Budo in 2014 is different from budo in 1914 which was very different from budo in 1814 which was a world away from budo in 1614 or 1514. To say that no Budo philosophy applies to gaijin is, I think, completely mistaken. Far too many Japanese teachers make a lie of that idea through their efforts share budo beyond Japan.

Joseph Tomei said...

Interesting post. Perhaps this is a rationalization, but I view Tana no Shita from the point of view of pedagogy, in that it is a waza that has you practice in a certain way. The thing about Tana no Shita is putting your left eye close to the blade. (Kabe Zoe ha the same thing and is also could be viewed as an 'assasination' waza) Perhaps it is being an teacher and before that a wannabe musician, but I find it a bit unrealistic to think that somehow, everything one does to practice must translate in toto to actual conditions. I feel I'm fortunate, whenever I try to get in to these philosophical discussions with my teacher, he usually says, well, you need to improve your posture more than figure out what all this means...

The Budo Bum said...

I sometimes find the things hidden in the arts I study more than a little difficult to deal with. I have to remind myself that large parts of these arts were developed in world so different from ours it's nearly impossible to imagine. The okuden of Eishin Ryu was developed during the Sengoku Jidai, when assassination was, sadly, a relatively common way of dealing with enemies. Tana No Shita is not the only example in the okuden. Shinobu and Sode Surigaeshi also present a similar mindset. They just happen to be attacks of opportunity rather than in a preplanned location.

Blessedly the world is not like that now, and we can emphasize other aspects of the arts, but these darker aspects are still there.

And yes, in general, I spend a lot more time working on posture and technique that worrying about these points.

KobeH said...

Come on Louis! Don't forget about America's national treasure....Tom Cruise!

Ronin scholar said...

As usual, an interesting post. BUT, can't you proofread once in awhile? Some of the typos have me reading sentences a couple of times over before I understand what you are trying to say. I realize things are often written in haste, but, as a former writing teacher, I have to say they should *not* be, not even in a blog post.

Outside of that, I like Joe's point. Kata is theory.

The Budo Bum said...

Ronin, I try, but it never seems to work very well. Would you like to volunteer for the job?