Friday, October 16, 2015

Ow! Ow! Ow!

Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

I caught a knee in the chest at judo the other evening. That kind of hurts today. Why on earth do I keep doing something where catching a knee in the chest is not just possible, but permissible? Then I go to jodo where my partner gets to hammer on my  gut with a big stick from time to time.  Am I nuts? Don’t bother answering that, we already know the answer.

Martial arts hurt sometimes. That goes hand in glove with what martial arts are. Martial arts are combative disciplines. One part of that is getting banged up from time to time. I go to judo and get thrown around the room and bounced off the floor. Some nights I’ll take upwards of 100 falls. Somewhat surprisingly, the difficult part is not taking the falls, but getting up afterwards. It’s more work than you think.

If it’s just me being uke for someone who is practicing their throws, it doesn’t hurt. If we’re doing randori (grappling sparring), the falls aren’t always completely controlled, and sometimes I land badly.  That can hurt. The strange thing is that I remember bad throws hurting a lot more when I was young and first started training than they do now. There is a big lesson in budo practice about how to handle and evaluate pain, and it’s fundamental to everything going on in the dojo.

People commonly think that the person who can cause the most pain and damage is the toughest. My thought is that the person who can absorb the most is the toughest. Part of budo training is learning to handle what other people do to you. This lesson is a basic one not only in the modern arts like judo and kendo, but it’s fundamental in classical systems of jujutsu, kenjutsu and other weapons.

Falling down hurts sometimes. So does getting hit with sticks and hands and feet. If you’re learning a combative art, it’s not just about what you can do to someone else. It’s also about what they might be doing to you. If you’re not learning how to deal with the discomfort of being thrown or taking a hit, you’re not learning budo.
Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

I have to admit, there isn’t much out there that matches judo for the regular level of discomfort experienced when training. Judoka get banged around to the point that bumps and bruises aren’t even noticed. I come home from keiko, take a shower and discover a new batch of bruises that I don’t remember getting.  How can that be?

Any good budo develops and demands a high level of focus. Judo certainly does this.  Particularly during randori, I don’t have any mental space to spare on worrying about a little bump or bruise. I’m so focused on what I’m doing that sort of discomfort doesn’t even register.

What surprises me is just how much that is true in budo that don’t specialize in picking people up and throwing them at the ground. Most arts don’t demand that sort of pounding, but all good budo do require that we learn to handle discomfort. Kenjutsu has bangs and accidents where wrists and knuckles get whacked. Jodo in particular emphasizes absorbing tsuki and the occasional bang on the wrist. Aikido bends and attacks joints is ways that can be uniquely torturous. Other arts have their moments of vigorous contact as well.

Is there a good reason for this, or is it just an excuse for people to hurt each other? There is a good reason behind a certain level of a bumping, banging and bruising. There’s no other way to get used to this sort of discomfort, and if you’re really learning a martial art, you need to be able to handle basic levels of discomfort and even a bit a pain now and then. It’s part of the learning process.

If at time any you need the literal skills of martial arts, you’re certainly going to have to be able to focus through some pain and discomfort, maybe a lot of it. If you can’t do that, you’ll fold the first time things start to hurt. Pain hurts, but it doesn’t have to distract. One key is learning that there is a difference between discomfort, pain, and harm. Discomfort and pain can be endured, but harm is to be avoided.

Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

Not everyone approaches this part of practice wisely. The most foolish way learning to handle and absorb pain and discomfort is to be like the people who try to prove they are better than everyone else by taking more pain and still getting on the floor to train. These people do a great deal of damage, most of it to themselves. They push past enduring discomfort and pain right into inflicting harm on their own bodies.

For the rest of us the question then becomes, what level of discomfort is learning, and what is abuse? It’s good to learn to to handle discomfort, but how hard to push is always a good question. We’ve all met people who push themselves too hard and too far. For me the key is that if someone is getting themselves injured, they are pushing to far.

There is a dark side to this lesson to watch out for as well. There are people who use the need to learn to be tough as an excuse to abuse the people they teach and train with. I’ve seen bullies and sadists purposely inflict unnecessary pain and even harm on their training partners in order to “help them toughen up” and similar excuses. Anyone who complains about the treatment is excoriated for being soft and weak.

Putting up with this sort of abuse is not a sign of strength. If you find yourself dealing with people who abuse their partners, don’t stick around and put up with it. One aspect of budo is standing up for yourself. Let people know this isn’t acceptable. If they won’t listen, leave. Don’t let yourself be injured or abused.

Learning to deal with discomfort and pain is an important lesson. Equal to learning how to deal with it though, is learning when not to endure it. Discomfort and pain can be a sign of stress and pushing ourselves, but they are also signs that we are pushing too far and getting close to harming ourselves. Knowing which and respecting the differences are just as important as being able to put up with the discomfort of training.

Mugendo Budogu: Martial Arts Equipment and Media

I love training, even though it hurts sometimes. The joy and rush of randori or sparring is like very little else. For me, this makes it easy to ignore the odd bump or bruise.  The occasional ache and post training stiffness is a small price to pay for all that I get out of martial arts practice.
The truth is, to quote Jimmy Buffett, that “the pleasure is worth all the pain.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Way Of Miyako

miyako...(enjoy in HD)i was searching for a train station. the kind you rarely see. small. countryside. we found it. and by accident, found something else. someone else. miyako. the station master. i watched her smile at each exiting passenger. then, noticed her wave at the departing one-car train. then, surprisingly, she continued waving. she waved until there was no trace left of the distant train. no one witnessed her, except, well, me. in that short span, my love and wonder of life was renewed. when i spoke to her later, she said at first she felt so shy. and hardly waved at all. slowly, over time, she began doing something she neither needed to do, nor imagined she ever would. so, this is miyako, master of a tiny station in the middle of nowhere japan who attends to every train and passenger that passes by:
Posted by Erez Sitzer on Wednesday, 30 September 2015

We say that budo is more than just techniques.  We say it is a Way. What does that mean though? Japanese culture has been steeped in Neo-Confucianism for hundreds of years. It was part of the official doctrine of the Tokugawa government for over 200 years. Neo-Confucian thought is deeply concerned with how people become exemplary, what Neo-Confucian thinkers call sages and worthies, through self cultivation.  

At a more general level, Neo-Confucian thought is about how people can develop themselves to the highest level both as individuals and as members of society.  This is the Way of the Neo-Confucians, and it is the Way that so influenced much of Japanese thought and resulted in the creation of the many formal Ways in Japan (Budo, Sado, Judo, Kendo, Kado, Sojido, etc), and a limitless number of personal Ways that have not been codified.

In the film above by Erez Sitzer, Miyako shows one of these personal ways.  Hers is the Way of being a good station master.  She started out being shy about waving to people. Over time she created a Way to develop herself as she felt she needed. Notice that her wave is very graceful and stylized. She has clearly spent time figuring out exactly how she should move when waving and then practicing that motion to point that it is gentle and perfect.  The practice helps her to better fulfill her role as the master of this station.

Instead of seeming shy, judging from the movie Miyako has become quite outgoing and relaxed with the passengers and train conductors. She smiles easily and cheerfully, and seems to chat with everyone without hesitation.

You can see from her movement and interaction with passengers that she has certainly mastered her role as the gregarious station master. Sincere practice of her Way, waving and talking and paying attention to each passenger has paid off and Miyako is able to fulfill her role as completely as possible.

If you watch, it looks like she made a kata out of the parts that were difficult, particularly the waving.  It’s a kata, a form, and yet she fills it with appreciation and concern for the passengers.

This is what we should be doing with our own practice.  Not just the technical forms, but all parts of the ways we practice.  If you’re reading this, you probably practice some form of budo, or martial way. Looked at coldly, the odds of needing martial skills on any given day are pretty low, but it is almost a given that we will need all the other things we practice.  Whether I am practicing iaido or judo or jodo, we have proper ways of greeting people, showing respect, giving honor and deference when it is appropriate.  These essential elements of politeness and respect are somewhat lacking in modern popular culture, and people are often amazed at the result that simple politeness and respect can have. This true not only in the corridors of business and polite society, but even more so when tempers flare and and inhibitions against violence weaken. The power of politeness and respect to defuse and deescalate is amazing. This part of our practice deserves at least as much attention as how strike, throw or cut.

Being polite. Showing respect. Acting with dignity. All these things are part of the Ways we practice. I hope my practice is as sincere and as successful as Miyako’s.

She has created a  marvelous Way.