|Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis|
I watched the Avengers: Age Of Ultron last week. I admit to being an old school comic book geek. I’ve got nearly the entire run of Marvel Comics from the 80s in boxes somewhere. Watching the movie reminded me of one of the old motivating fantasies many have for starting martial arts; to be able to be able to do things other people can’t, to have something like a super power. While watching the movie, some of the heroes, especially Black Widow and Hawkeye, did things that looked fantastic on screen. While what was these characters were doing on the screen is an exaggeration, it made me think about that fact that budo practice really can endow people with extraordinary power.
Black Widow runs around fighting and beating the daylights out of whole armies of foes. We all know that’s not realistic. On the other hand, a average size women, with plenty of training, is going to be quite effective against an ordinary man. Yes, the man will have size and strength. After a few years of budo though, the woman will have an understanding of spacing and timing, as well as technique that will effectively multiply her strength because she will put it to targeted work rather than just lashing out. I’m pretty sure any of the women who make it to the medal stand in Olympic judo could go through me so fast I wouldn’t know what happened. That’s speaking as someone who’s done judo for decades. Their extensive and focused training makes them that much better than just about anyone.
Power is relative. From the Merriam-Webster dictionary we get the meanings
(1) : ability to act or produce an effect
What budo practice endows someone with isn’t super-power, but it is power, and it’s available to anyone who is willing to work at it. There are lots of different sorts of power developed, and strangely, few of them have to do with raw force. The real power of budo comes from learning the precision application of small amounts of force in the correct way, at the correct moment. All the strength in the world, applied incorrectly, will not result in power.
That’s the genius of Kano JIgoro’s maixm 精力善用 seiryoku zenyo, usually translated as “maximum efficiency minimum effort. Kano was able to identify and encapsulate this in a simple phrase for Kodokan Judo, but it’s true of all budo. Regardless of whether we are talking about ancient or modern budo, karate, judo, aikido, weapons or any other art, the best, most effective budo will be that which applies force with the maximum efficiency and the least amount of effort.
It’s skill that brings about that efficiency and effectiveness. That skill multiplies the power of whatever strength someone brings into the dojo. Power “is the ability to act or produce an effect” and in budo there are two sides to that. The one that catches most people’s attention is the ability to do things to the world. Whether this is a karateka’s punch, a judoka’s throw, a the precise strike of a jo, or the clean joint lock of an aikidoka, these are all examples of power, and none of them require a huge amount of strength to be effective.
Karate folks know full well that the location of a blow is at least as important as the force behind it. Strike a strong man in the chest and you might knock him back. Strike him in the side of the knee or one of a number of other choice targets and it doesn’t take much force at all to leave him broken.
How much strength does it take to throw another human being? Surprisingly little. A college friend of mine who weighed something north of 300 pounds could be easily thrown by a young lady in our dojo who weighed less than of third what he did. Strength had nothing to do with it. He could bench press 3 of her. When he picked her up from behind in a bear hug though, she could put him in the air. It was not a landing he was fond of, but it was great at demonstrations. She could never match him strength for strength. The lesson was that she had to apply her force and technique in the right place, at the right moment. Then she was powerful enough to throw someone 3 times her size.
The right point of application and proper timing have far more to do with the power to do things than raw strength. Otherwise, the young gung-ho guys in the dojo would be the powerful ones. Instead, if you go into a dojo, it’s the people with the most training time who are really powerful. Watch out for the relaxed looking older ones. They don’t have the strength and the stamina anymore, but for some reason they can keep up with 20 somethings when randori starts. People wonder why, but they really shouldn’t.
In common sense thinking, there is no way someone in their 50s or 60s or 70s should be able to keep up with, much less regularly dominate, people in their teens and 20s. We all know life doesn’t work like that. Hang out in a good budo dojo for a while though, and you’ll see it happen all the time. Knowledge and skill make the folks with the gray hair powerful. They don’t need youthful strength and stamina (though it would be really nice to have) to be powerful. They know when an attack will be effective and when it won’t and they don’t waste their energy on things that won’t work.
They have something else too.
It’s not just what the experienced folks can dish out. It’s what they can roll with and keep coming up for more. In that movie, the Black Widow gets thrown all over the place, and instead of going splat into the ground, she does neat ukemi and comes up ready to go. That’s another sort of power. The power to absorb and negate. In the dojo we learn how to do that! I get thrown into the ground all the time at practice, roll through it, get up and dive straight back in for more.
|Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis|
In budo, power is a coin with two sides. The side that leaps to the front of everyone’s mind is the power to do things to someone else. Equally important, is the power to absorb and handle other people’s power. When I used to watch Suda Sensei, who was in his late 70s, handle the attacks from all the teenage kendoka in the dojo, it was a lesson in minimum effort and properly applied power. He could absorb and redirect their attacks without getting tired.
Hikoshiso Sensei at 65 would do randori for 15 minutes straight with young judo guys in their teens and 20s and throw us all over the place. He could absorb our attacks without effort. He would also let students learning techniques throw him around. Imagine a 65 year old man getting thrown repeatedly to the ground, and smiling about it. That’s power too.
That’s a lot of power. Think about what would happen to a normal, untrained person who was picked up and hurled at the ground. Bruises? Broken bones? Concussion? Death? Yet I see people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s taking ukemi and getting thrown around. Then there are the 70 year olds competing in judo and throwing each other around!
70-74 year division judo competition
It takes power to be able to throw someone, but it takes power to be able to be thrown and stay healthy as well. Imagine the kind of power that allows people in their 70s to throw someone, and to survive being thrown. That’s real power that comes from budo training.
Budo training won’t turn you into a super-hero. But if you keep it up, it does give some extraordinary power. Budo will empower you with whatever you train for. And that power stays around as long as you train. Just ask these karateka.