|Young lady walking through a train station in Japan with a sword across her back.|
Photo Copyright 2015 Girgoris Miliaresis
Budo Isn't life. It's training for life.
I was reading an article about a writer who became a carpenter, but didn’t stop writing, and it made me think about the mistake I sometimes see people make with budo. Budo is a Way, and as ways go, I think it is a great one. You can explore strength and conflict, peace and stability, action and quietude, moving with things without being moved by them, and many other points that are important in life. For all that, budo is not life.
I’ve see a number of people over the years who become so involved with training in budo that they let the rest of their lives go to hell. They often become fabulous martial artists, but their personal lives are train wrecks, with disasters everywhere. These are people who make the mistake of putting budo training above everything else in their life. Budo is training for life. When you let the practice become so large that it squeezes out everything else, including the application of the training to your real life, you have completely missed the point. In fact, you’ve failed as a budoka.
Budo only has meaning in the context of a complete life. When your training gets in the way of a complete life, you should be asking what’s wrong. If your only friends are people you train with, why don’t you have time for anyone else? If budo has replaced all your recreational activities, why are you becoming so one faceted? If budo is the only thing you enjoy, why is that?
Budo is difficult. Training is hard work. That’s fine, it should be. If you are training so hard that your only relationships are with your training partners, maybe something’s wrong there. One of the lessons of budo is not that training is hard work. The lesson is that life is hard work, and if work hard at it, you can do good things. Good relationships take hard work. If you’re spending all your time in the dojo, you’re avoiding the relationships that you need to be working on. Good relationships with friends, family, coworkers and partners takes at least as much hard work as training in the dojo.
Letting budo training squeeze all other relationships out of your day-to-day life is a sign that there are things you need to work on. The problem can be lots of different things. You could be avoiding difficult situations that you’re not good at and you don’t feel comfortable with. You could be focusing on doing something that makes you feel good and gives you a sense of accomplishment to the detriment of maintaining healthy relationships. I admit, maintaining healthy relationships isn’t something you can brag about. You don’t say “Yeah, I put my wife’s wishes ahead of my own and did those dishes instead of an extra set of kata last night.” It just doesn’t sound as cool as “Dude, I pushed myself and squeezed in two extra kata sets last night. I was completely wiped out!” Maintaining good relationships just doesn’t work as bragging and ego building material.
Budo training is hard work and the returns are slow and difficult. If you are letting budo training muscle everything else out of your life though, what are you really getting out of your training? If you are learning it for self defense, but you’ve given up every other part of your life to train, what’s left to defend? Make a full life so you have something really worth defending, friends and relationships and people who love and value you. A life with nothing but dojo training in it doesn’t build anything of value, and all that training never has a chance to contribute to the world. Budo is a Way, a Do, 道, that reveals better ways to travel the path of life. You can’t travel that path in the dojo. You have to go out the door and interact with all parts of life, even the boring ones, the ones that don’t do anything for your ego, and especially the ones that are hard for you. The lessons of the dojo aren’t really learned until you start applying them.
|Girls heading to Kyudo practice in Japan. |
Photo Copyright 2015 Grigoris Miliaresis
Budo training should help us conquer our egos. Budo training is an ongoing lesson in doing the hard work that doesn’t have quick returns and isn’t glorious. I’ve been beating my head against the wall of kata that make up Shinto Muso Ryu lately. It’s not easy to remember all those kata, and to keep each branching straight in your head so you don’t accidentally slip from one kata into another at a juncture that is similar in more than one kata. On the other hand, this is so fundamental to the art that nobody is ever going to pat me on the back and tell me “Good job Pete.” just because I remembered the proper sequence of steps. If I can’t remember those, we can’t get to the real practice.
I don’t get any ego polishing from this. It’s just part of the training. In fact, the longer I practice, the less ego polishing I get from any of the training. It’s something I do because of the way it informs and improves the rest of my life. Budo is about dealing with conflict in it’s rawest, most straightforward form. The same strategies and tactics and practices apply to life though, both in the way we train in budo, and what we are training.
We go to the dojo and we train. Training feels good and I enjoy it just for its own sake. That’s a lesson right there. Enjoy things for their own sake. It’s something that’s easy to forget to do.
The training teaches me to deal with the discomfort and pain and exertion required to get good at budo. This is perhaps the most basic lesson we should be getting out of budo practice. It’s also the easiest to ignore. It’s a lot easier to put forth the exertion, to put up with the discomfort and the pain, for something I really enjoy doing than it is to apply that lesson to something that doesn’t have the immediate reward of being something I love to do. Having cultivated that ability to endure pain and discomfort though, it becomes an ability I need to make use of nearly every day outside the dojo.
The effort necessary to maintain good relationships isn’t easy. Sometimes it is downright uncomfortable, and even emotionally painful. If I can exert myself in the dojo, than I can put similar effort into being a good human being with those around me. It’s not easy. I know there are several people in my life that I would love to smash, or at least be rude to and then ignore.
That’s not good budo though. Good budo extends those lessons everywhere in your life. You take that ability to exert yourself, and you make effort to endure emotionally uncomfortable and even painful situations and treat people well. Every practice we work on remaining calm and undisturbed while people attack us physically. Shouldn’t we be making the same effort to remain calm and undisturbed when people attack verbally and emotionally? Is it any wiser to allow someone to manipulate you verbally or emotionally outside the dojo than it is to let people manipulate you physically in the dojo?
If your focus is only on getting better at your budo so you can defeat others in competition, you’ve completely missed the point. Budo training isn’t about defeating others in any sort of competition, it’s about improving yourself. If your reason for training is only to defeat others in a game, you have already defeated the purpose of the training. The lessons are not lessons about winning a game. They are lessons about life.
If you’re only applying the lessons about structure and ma’ai and timing in the dojo, you’ve missed out. All situations have structure and ma’ai and timing. A good life really requires that we apply the lessons of perseverance and endurance and continuous effort for improvement to all aspects of our lives, not just the ones that we are comfortable with. In fact, that’s probably a good clue about where you need to apply the lessons you’ve learned in the dojo. If there is an aspect of your life that you’re not comfortable with and that you keep avoiding, it might be time to apply the lessons of budo to that area of your life.
If you’re doing budo all the time because it’s what you’re good at, I’ve got bad news. You’re going to to have to get good at other things to be a good budoka. Even in ancient Japan people recognized that someone who is only good at budo isn’t a well-developed person. The phrase 文武両道 bunbu ryodo stretches back to at least the Kamakura era. It means roughly “martial and academic are both of the Way.” Even then it was recognized that a person who only mastered martial arts was not complete.
In the dojo, we train to be able to handle someone trying to crush us with their strength. We practice remaining calm as our partner is trying to hit us with their hands, a stick, a chain, a sword. We strive to remain cool and relaxed while people attack. If we can do that in the dojo, but we can’t do that in stressful, uncomfortable situations outside the dojo, we’ve completely missed the point our our training. To be true to the training of budo, we have to strive to apply the same lessons we practice in the dojo to every corner of our lives.
Budo should compliment all the other aspects of our lives, and help us improve them. It should never become so dominant that it squeezes the rest of life out. Even professional martial artists need a life beyond the dojo. It’s worth noting that one of the greatest martial arts teachers of all time, Yagyu Munenori, was known not only for his budo, but he was also known for singing and performing Noh theatre. Many budo teachers in Japan are known far outside budo circles. Kaminoda Tsunemori of Shinto Muso Ryu is recognized for the excellence of his calligraphy.
If you do budo right, it is very much that dangerous road that Bilbo Baggins told Frodo about ““It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” It will creep into every corner of your life and force you to face those parts you aren’t confident about, and work to polish them just as much or more than it demands that your polish your strikes, cuts, and throws.
If you’re serious about doing budo, you have to get out of the dojo and have life. You have to work at making that life a good one, and making yourself better in each aspect of your life. Real budoka don’t hide from the world in the dojo. Real budoka train, take a shower, and then go out and engage their life and the people in it, while applying the lessons of the dojo to all the difficult, uncomfortable parts to make them better.