Budo practice is special. We set aside particular times for practice. We have special rooms and buildings dedicated to our practice. We have special clothes that we only wear when we are practicing. There are particular rituals to perform when entering the space and when leaving, as well as at the beginning and end of practice. We make budo practice into something special and separate from our everyday lives. The problem with this is that budo should actually be part of our everyday life.
Budo practice isn’t something that sits outside our regular lives. It’s a part of who and what we are. The things we work on during keiko are supposed to change us and how we live. If we go about building barriers to keep our practice separate from our regular lives, how is it going to help us change and move towards the person we want to become?
Budo is a Way, a michi 道. It’s a path we travel. We start out trying to master the techniques and kata, but in a short while we discover that before we master the techniques and kata, we have to begin mastering ourselves. In order to master ourselves, we have to take what we are doing beyond the dojo 道場 and out into the everyday world.
When I started judo, it didn’t take very long before bits and pieces of my training in the dojo began to leak out into the rest of my life. At first it was trying to fix my posture and get rid of the slouch I’d acquired as a teenager. Then I began to modify the way I walked and moved. It was gratifying when people commented that I was standing straighter or moving better.
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No matter which budo ryuha, or school, you study, I’m sure your teacher would be sad and disappointed if the only time you do it is during formal practice. Like any of the non-martial ways in Japan, these are supposed to cultivate the whole person, not just teach a few discrete techniques and forms. Sado 茶道, better known outside Japan as “tea ceremony” isn’t just about learning an archaic method for preparing and serving tea. It is supposed to teach good movement, as well as train and refine the mind and spirit of the practitioner.
In that way, the various budo ryuha are no different from sado, or any of the other ways practiced in Japan. Their practice is supposed to transform and refine the body and mind of the student. That’s why we expect senior teachers and exponents to be wise and understanding. They are supposed to have learned this wisdom and gained their understanding through diligent practice of the art. Each koryu ryuha, each system of modern budo, has different lessons that students are expected to learn.
As a young judoka, I spent a lot of time trying to puzzle out what seiryoku zen’yo 精力善用 and jita kyoei 自他共栄 meant and what I was supposed to do to achieve them. Seiryoku zen’yo and jita kyoei aren’t all deep mystery. Some aspects of them are remarkably simple and easy to manifest. Seiryoku zen’yo means roughly “best use of energy” while jita kyoei is usefully translated as “mutual benefit and welfare”. “Best use of energy” starts with not wasting my effort on doing things the hard way. That was a place even I could start at. I’m still working at not wasting my energy on foolish projects and ideas. “Mutual benefit and welfare” I think I’ve done a little better at, even though it was harder to grasp initially. How do I go through life doing things that are always good for the people around me as well as for myself? I like to think that I’ve become a kinder, more considerate person throughout my life, and not just in the dojo with my training partners.
Just as I’ve worked to make these principles of judo part of my everyday life outside the dojo, so I work on the principles of all the arts I practice. Budo isn’t something special and separate. Many aspects of budo are as mundane as can be. I’m still practicing my breathing and walking. I don’t know how much more mundane a practice can get. I work at breathing correctly, from my abdomen, rather than from my chest and shoulders. I find that a lot easier to be good about than some parts of sitting, standing and walking. Not slouching my shoulders and not sticking my chin out don’t come easily to me. For some reason, I feel like I want to slouch and stick my chin out. I know that moving is more difficult when I do, and that it puts unnecessary stress and strain on my body, but a dozen times I day I discover that I’m slouching with my chin stuck out. Again.
The physical parts of budo easily become everyday training points. I’m always working on them. But the other aspects of budo training need to become part of everyday life also. The mental side of budo, as well as the values and ethics of budo. These are supposed to inform even the most boring and mundane parts of life. Budo training at one level is about physical conflict. As you advance beyond the physical level, you discover that it is also about mental conflict. How do you deal mentally with your partner’s aggression? How do you project your will into the situation?
I find the mental training to be far more difficult than the physical training. Learning to deal with someone trying to choke me or throw me into the ground or beat me with a stick in a calm manner, without letting my partner disturb my mind or raise my emotions, is tough. I have to be so mature that even if I get smacked or injured during training, I don’t get upset, I don’t lose my calm, and I don’t get angry with the person who hit or injured me. Implementing this in my daily life means not getting angry at the jerk who cuts me off in traffic, or letting the angry guy who yells insults at anyone available make me feel angry or insulted. When I’m negotiating with someone at work, I don’t let them mentally off-balance me with whatever surprise or verbal assault they use.
My budo training impacts my day-to-day life in a million little ways every day. I breathe, stand and walk differently. I’m much calmer than I would be otherwise. I act with more caring and consideration of the needs of those around me, and I don’t let other people’s emotions and actions off-balance me. These are things that we can all use training in. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t feel they had progress to make in how they deal with the people around them. It’s clear to me that I need a lot of work on this, and a big part of how I work on it is by going to the dojo and training, and then leaving the dojo and applying my training.
What’s counterintuitive about all of this is that we see budo training as aggressive and violent, but when we are applying that training in our daily lives it is about being peaceful, calm and caring. Good budo training takes us beyond the edges of aggression to outright physical attack, and through this training we somehow find ourselves becoming more peaceful, gentler and calmer. Some parts of this transformation are simply a result of becoming comfortable with violence and confident that we can handle it. We don’t get upset because we can clearly see the difference between a genuine physical attack and one that is just verbal. Beyond that, even if things escalate and become a genuine physical attack, we are confident that we can handle it.
This expanded confidence is great for explaining martial artists reactions in tense confrontations, but what about how a martial artist handles other stressful situations, or how she becomes calmer and gentler all the time? With practice, how to apply her training in just about any situation gradually becomes clear. Breathe. Maintain a stable posture. Maintain a stable mental state. Understand the fear and pain that can drive others to do foolish things. Treat everyone with the respect and care with which you treat your training partners, even when they accidentally hurt you. Perhaps especially when they unintentionally hurt you.
If all our effort studying budo is for something that never comes out of the dojo, we might as well be playing tiddly-winks. The lessons of budo are for our whole lives. Not just the dojo. Not just those rare occasions in life where violent conflict is a possibility. The lessons of the dojo are meant for the whole of our lives. We should be learning to handle every situation in a calm, relaxed manner. It’s great if you learn to handle physical conflict that way, but it’s better still if you can handle the rest of life like that. Budo is meant for the everyday. It’s up to us to make it an ordinary part of everyday life.