Showing posts with label Budo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Budo. Show all posts

Monday, December 10, 2018

Who Is Your Teacher?


 
My first iaido teacher, the remarkable Takada Shigeo Sensei Photo Copyright Peter Boylan

My teachers are in Japan. These are the people I look to not only for how my budo should be, but also for how I aspire to be as a human. A true teacher is not just someone you learn technical excellence from, but human excellence as well. In the dojo we train in the rawest, most basic expressions of conflict, power, and life. I don’t think it is possible to learn raw, fundamental lessons such as how to throw, strike, choke and break a fellow human without picking up other lessons about living from the people doing the teaching.



In the dojo we study and practice under the close direction of our teachers. There is no other way to do this safely. My teachers have all earned my respect and love not just for their technical skill (which is enormous) but for the humanity with which they lead and teach. My teachers, the people I readily claim, and who, I am proud and humbled to say, freely claim me as their student, are human beings. They have flaws and weaknesses. They are also remarkable budoka who continue to work at improving their budo, their understanding and themselves.



I’ve known my teachers, trained with them, been scolded by them and gotten an occasional “OK” from them (that being the highest praise I’ve ever heard them give). In the dojo we have earned each others’ trust. I've trained with my teachers for more than 25 years. At each step along the way, I have learned that they are exemplary human beings. I know that can't be said for everyone who teaches martial arts, and I am extremely lucky to have found teachers of such high quality.



Kiyama Sensei's budo life stretches back to the 1930s with training in judo, kendo, iaido and jukendo in school during wartime Japan. He has seen just about every excess that can be committed in the name of developing a student’s spirit and technique. He can recall training in kendo bogu (armor) in the summer heat until people had to go to the side to throw up, and then come back and continue training. This was supposed to develop spirit. Instead he points out that people died all too frequently from that effects of that sort of training, so he doesn't teach that way.

Kiyama Hiroshi Sensei at home Copyright Peter Boylan



Kiyama Sensei is my second iaido teacher. My first teacher, Takada Shigeo Sensei, introduced me to Kiyama Sensei early on in my iaido journey as an excellent teacher. When Takada Sensei died, I was left without a teacher, and Kiyama Sensei accepted me into his dojo. It took a while before I was really his student though. I had to go through a keiko with him to discover what sort of person he was, if he was the sort of person I wanted to be learning from and emulating. It was clear from the way he treated everyone, from the 70, 80 and 90 year old members of the dojo down to the 7,8, and 9 year old members, that he respected his students, cared for them, and treated them well. It was also clear from the way his students treated him that they really cared for him. The bows at the end of class were not perfunctory. The school age students would approach him after class to say “Thank you” and he would offer some advice or help with their practice, and the “Arigato gozaimasu” that came from both the students and Sensei was clearly sincere. What kept the classes in order and running smoothly was the obvious respect the students had for their teacher, and the teacher had for the students. It didn't take me too many practices to realize that this was a place I wanted to be, with a teacher well worth learning from.



I respected Kiyama Sensei right away, and soon I learned to trust him as well. It’s not enough for a student to trust the teacher though. The teacher must also trust the student. This is especially true in koryu budo where transmission and the continuance of the system are always in question. Gendai budo are generally large organizations where testing and advancement are outside the control of any one teacher. In koryu budo, transmission is all about the teacher-student relationship. If the teacher doesn’t completely trust the student, the student isn’t going to learn anything much. The teacher isn’t concerned just with helping the student develop and learn the art. The teacher must think about the quality of the people who will be the next generation of teachers in the art, and who will be responsible for the art after she dies. There aren’t any dan ranks to collect, just teaching licenses. With each of these, the teacher is saying to the world around him and the teachers who have gone before him that this person is worthy to care for and extend this hundreds of years old tradition into the future. It’s not like giving out dan ranks for technical skill.

A GREAT GIFT FOR SENSEI!!



A lot more rests on the relationship between the student and teacher in koryu budo because the arts are usually small and closely held. They aren’t meant to to be spread as far and wide as possible the way modern judo, kendo, iaido or aikido are. Just as the student entering a dojo wants to be sure the teacher and the dojo are right for her, the teacher looking at students has to be sure each is right for the continuation of the art. This isn’t a concern when the art has a global structure and rank system with hundreds or thousands of dojo around the world. It’s a critical concern when the art may consist of as little as one teacher and 4 or 5 students. Even within larger koryu budo systems, which student receives a teaching license is a critical issue. Concern for how new teachers represent the art and pass on the precious teachings never leaves the mind of current teachers.



How do you earn your teacher’s trust? Start by showing up for every practice. Be sincere in your training. Be honest, helpful and genuine. Show your interest in the art through your actions. Help out with the operation of the dojo. Take care to learn the art as your teacher is presenting it. Don’t let the words “But so-and-so does it differently.” ever leave your mouth. Learning isn’t a  competitive art with people are looking for the newest variation of a technique to surprise someone with.



Once you’ve found a teacher worthy of polishing you, and you’ve done the hard work to be accepted as their student, what do you do to maintain and fortify your relationship? Now you have to work harder. Don’t fall into the trap of letting practice with Sensei become an automatic activity that you do without fail but forget to look for the treasures in every practice you attend.



I’ve known many people who are interested in techniques and physical skill but are so satisfied with who they are that they leave the bigger lessons their teacher has to offer on the dojo floor, never taking them to heart. They show up for every practice, but they somehow manage to learn nothing but technique.  The lessons on how to respect others and yourself, how to be an exceptional human being, float past them like an evening breeze that doesn’t even ruffle their hair. Go into each keiko looking to discover treasures. You’ve been lucky enough to find a good art and a good teacher. Treasures such as these do not sit on every street corner, and much like precious silver, require care and time and effort to polish and maintain. Be mindful that what you are learning is rare and don’t let treat is as an everyday affair. Show Sensei at every keiko that you are all there and you know that you are receiving a wondrous treasure.



Your teacher makes significant effort to share her art with you. For any good teacher, teaching is not transactional. Teaching is a gift and an investment in the student. Your teacher is also a person. Do you take the time to know more of your teacher than just the teaching persona they wear at the front of the dojo? Some of my most precious lessons in budo have come from my teachers outside the dojo while eating, laughing and sharing. Great teachers are exceptional people, in the dojo and out, but if you don’t make the effort to get to know them as people in addition to them being your teacher, you’ll miss out on many extraordinary aspects of their personalities. Buy them a cup of coffee. Accept graciously when they want to buy you a cup of coffee. Help out when they need it.  Ask a question and pay attention to the answer. Listen when they want to talk about something that doesn’t seem related to the dojo. You never know what Sensei might be trying to share with you.



Who is your teacher? Why did you choose them?
 
Special thanks to my editor, Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Yes, Virginia, There Is Sexism In Budo


Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D. doing Shinto Hatakage Ryu. (Photo copyright 2018 Deborah Klens-Bigman)
 
This is a guest post by Deborah Klens-Bigman, PhD. and Jun Shihan in Shinto Hatakage Ryu. A martial arts practitioner and teacher for more than thirty years, she has seen a great deal of the budo world, and experienced its good and bad. We as budoka are not perfect, and this seems like a good time to consider one area where the budo world could improve. Budo has never been a male-only practice, as can be seen most clearly in the number of women who've led, and lead, martial ryuha in Japan. Klens-Bigman Sensei is addressing an issue that should be of concern to everyone in budo.


First, I would like to point out that most of my teachers in my 30-plus years of training have been men - good, talented men.  And the vast, vast majority of my colleagues in budo are also men - honorable people I am pleased to associate with. But sexism in budo needs to be addressed; and I feel the need to address it very specifically, and right now.

The public discourse of the past two years has allowed for what pundits refer to as "tribalism" to come out into the light.  I think it is too early to know yet whether this is a good thing (what comes into the light can be confronted, and refuted), or a bad thing (normalizing behavior that many of us had hoped no longer existed).  All the while there have been some voices all-too-quietly pointing out that misogyny is ever present for all to see, regardless of “tribe.” Perhaps it is its perpetual "there-ness" that allows misogyny to be continuously overlooked, or disregarded.  Or, just perhaps, no one is very comfortable discussing it, so no one does.



Since I was a little kid sneaking out of the children's library into the grownup sections for further adventure, I was interested in hand weapons.  Not guns, but swords, knives, glaives, spears, battle axes, bows, maces - if you could hold it in your hand and wield it at someone, I was ON IT - at least in the bookly sense.  I lugged home books on arms & armor that were almost as big as I was. When I was traveling with my parents, nothing thrilled me more than climbing around castle ruins or forts, or (the best) going to a real medieval armory.  

My parents thought I might become a historian.  

Through all of this fascination, it never occurred to me for a single moment that my interest was weird or should be circumscribed in any way.  That is, until I decided to actually do something about it.

I tried fencing, which I enjoyed, but I was not happy with the competitive aspect of it (there was no historical fencing available like you can find now).  Likewise, I was not happy with the theatrical fencing I encountered in college; not just because it was fake, but because there really was no opportunity to take part in fight scenes featuring women.  I decided fight choreography was a waste of time.

When I first encountered iaido, I was very fortunate that my teacher, an Osaka native, had three daughters.  He had no problem whatsoever with training me. There have been few times in my life when I felt that I really found something important.  This was one of them.

Deborah Klens-Bigman, Jun Shihan, Shinto Hatakage Ryu (photo copyright 2018 Deborah Klens-Bigman)

Unfortunately, my sempai did not agree.  My first few months of practice, one of them told me that it was "not proper" for women to study Japanese swordsmanship.  I decided that was silly. My Japanese teacher was perfectly happy with me being in the dojo. However, this sempai arranged for me to miss a demo that my teacher wanted me to take part in.  Everyone else was there. The experience was mortifying. It was designed to make me quit. That was the first time I realized that not everyone had the same attitude when it came to women training in budo.

I should point out that most of the resistance to my practicing swordsmanship came from a number of my American sempai.  During my many training trips to Japan, I rarely encountered the feeling of being excluded. But more about that later.

I didn't quit.  I was stubborn. I kept going to okeiko.  I volunteered to organize demos (a job no one wanted) partly so I could not be left out again.  I trained hard. I watched. I listened. I learned. And I put up with a lot.

Budo training for women involves more than just wanting to improve your skills and develop your personality.  It involves enduring.  Enduring sempai who, instead of being willing to help you, try to hinder you, because something about being an onnakenshi just doesn't feel right to them.  It's walking into a seminar where you are the only woman (hint: You have to walk in like you own the place).  If no one knows you, it's getting the puzzled look as the guys try to figure out whose wife/girlfriend or (after awhile) mom you are.  It's also enduring looks at the inevitable banquet when wives and girlfriends eye you with suspicion because you are there by yourself.  It's being told you are "gender non-conforming," and that's supposed to be a compliment. 

 I'd like to say the situation improves for women who teach, but it does not.  I've had men walk into my okeiko and immediately look to one of my male students as the teacher, because it's not possible that could be me.  I've taught seminars and offered correction to a male student who ignored me while taking the same correction from another man. I've encountered fellow budo teachers who implied I should be teaching women, or children, but not men.  Sadly, I gave a demo once and had a woman in the audience ask if there are "any restrictions for women" in learning budo.  Because she assumed that there are.

Klens-Bigman Sensei leading class (photo copyright 2018 Deborah Klens-Bigman)

 And it's rare, but it happens - someone being just a little too rough as a training partner, landing a tsuki in jodo with the intention of knocking you down, or knocking the wind out of you, at least.  Or, as a senior student, having a sempai publicly humiliate you in front of the whole dojo, because you "just don't know your place" (and having the kohai silently agree with him). The fact that I was correct in that situation was meaningless.  

One wonders why we bother.  Indeed, I have wondered, from time to time, why I bother.

There are a lot of reasons for persisting.  For one thing, not all budoka behave in the ways I have mentioned (though more of them do than I'd like).  Just like the guys, there is the fun of learning new things and gaining new skill and confidence. And I have been to seminars in Japan where I am not the only woman; indeed, where several of the women have menkyo and everyone treats me as though I have the same potential.  As I said, while I can't say that I never encountered male hostility in Japan, I can say that, generally speaking, when it comes to okeiko, people have treated me like any other student.  And most of the groups I have trained with are at least 1/3 female.

And that is all women want.  We want to be just like everyone else.  We want to be taught. We want to learn.  We don't want to be hit on. We aren't looking for dates.  We want to be taken seriously. And we want our expertise to be recognized.

Now and then, a young woman comes to the dojo, with a look in her eyes like I had so long ago.  It's my job (and my pleasure) to make her feel welcome. To help her understand that yes, you can do this.  I will help you.

And there are good memories, like the time my teacher gave me a bear hug after a class (in front of the sempai!) and said, "You're doing VERY WELL."  

I do this to keep my teacher's faith in me.  I do it for myself. And yeah, I do it for women.

Deborah Klens-Bigman doing Shinto Muso Ryu. (photo copyright 2018 Deborah Klens-Bigman)

 








Friday, July 13, 2018

Budo Is Personal



Budo is personal. This seems like an obvious thing to say, but it is a truth that often is forgotten in a world filled with all sorts of ranks, titles, tournaments and awards. Budo isn’t about those. Budo is about developing your skills, and if you’re lucky, finding a Way that you can follow. Budo, in a way that can seem quite selfish, is about you. We are not ranks, titles, tournament victories or nifty awards.   Those are things that hang on us like ornaments on a tree. Take away the ornaments, and it’s still a tree.



I run into people who are so hyped up with worry about their rank or passing their next test that their budo becomes a stress-filled mess. Budo practice should lead one to be calmer and to have a more balanced perspective. It’s easy to forget that when so much time can be directed towards preparing for a rank test, and even more money and effort spent getting to the test site in some far-flung city.



Much of practice can be consumed with getting ready for tests.  In the Kendo Federation, there are tests to pass every year when starting out, so it seems like new students are always preparing for a test. Forgetting that iai, for example, isn’t about testing and rank can get lost in the whirl of test preparation and test taking. Rank should be a recognition of how much you’ve learned, instead of a validation of ego. It’s hard to make the distinction though when you’ve worked for a year or more to prepare for a test. Pass or fail, with that much effort invested in the process, the results of the test can overshadow the results of all the time spent practicing and improving.



In budo, as in any do , or way, there is no ultimate goal that can be reached. The point is to practice each day, and each day be a little bit better at budo and living. The process of improving doesn’t have an end point. In a world focused on results, where we check off the accomplishment of each item on our task list and where results are emphasized, sometimes to the point of ignoring everything else, this sort of thinking is easily overwhelmed and washed away.



Budo isn’t limited to a finite goal.  Implicit in the vision of practice as a way, a path, is the idea that roads don’t really have an end.  You can always continue, sometimes in the same direction, and sometimes in a different one. The path doesn’t have an end point. We practice. We train. We polish ourselves. As people, we’re never finished growing and changing. One of the ideas of do is that we can influence how we change. We’re not just stuck with the random influences that life throws at us. We can make conscious choices about how we are going to change and grow. Each day life changes us. Are we simple clay molded by our experiences with no input into what we become? Budo, and all ways, insist that we can choose how we change and influence what we become.

Musings Of A Budo Bum by Peter Boylan
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For each of us, the journey is personal. Practice is personal. The lessons are personal. The changes are very personal. Hang around a good dojo for a while and you will see new students, timid and unsure of themselves, transform their minds and their bodies. If we let it, and focus some effort on it, keiko, training, can profoundly change who we are. The most common transformation is for someone meek and physically unsure of themselves to become skilled and confident in physically dealing with other people. That’s the obvious transformation. How else might budo training transform us?



I find that budo can help change almost any part of me. All I have to do is bring the part of me that I want to change into the dojo. Just as the only way to change my skill with a sword or stick is for me to take what I want to change with me and train with it, if I want to change something that is not as easily seen as a sword cut or staff strike or a punch or a throw, I have to take it into the dojo and begin working on it.



In Kodokan Judo, one of the core principles is the idea of jita kyoei 自他共栄, often translated as “mutual benefit and welfare.”  I haven’t seen many people come into the dojo looking to change themselves to consider how their actions can create mutual benefit for them and their training partners, but I’ve seen many people implicitly learn this and begin incorporating it into who they are as they spend time in the dojo.  They begin to  consider how directly their thoughtfulness or carelessness impacts the people they train with, who trust each other to train together without harming each other. I’ve seen people who were strong, powerful and disdainful of others train themselves to strong, powerful, gentle and considerate of others.



The story of a weak, timid person coming into the dojo and learning to be a powerful, confident fighter is common (and true!), but what other ways can we change ourselves through training? The wonderful thing about budo keiko is that it is a time set aside for changing aspects of ourselves that we want to change. That’s what makes training so personal. We are taking time and effort and directing it towards changing ourselves in some way. The potential for personal development and transformation is tremendous.  



We’re not simple clay molded by what happens to us. We have choices to make about what we become and how we change. Those who work at developing their entire self, who work on humility, graciousness, kindness and compassion usually succeed in becoming more humble, gracious, kind and compassionate. Budo is a way of interacting with the world. It’s about how we deal with the world around us. It’s about how handle the stress and mess of life. Practicing budo impacts how we relate with all the people around us.



Budo is personal. It’s about developing and refining who we are. It’s not about the flashy stuff on the outside. It’s not about the ranks and belts and trophies and the awards. It’s about who we are and how we deal with the world and the people around us. Ultimately, that creates a lot more satisfaction than any rank or case of trophies.