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

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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What is "Real Budo"?


What we do in the dojo needs to be real. It’s budo, not sport or athletics or some kind of game. We are practicing the serious art of controlled violence. This an art where mistakes have consequences. As Ellis Amdur points out so well in his essay The Real Importance Of Reishiki In Koryu, even the little things are critical. Even in arts that don’t seem to have any direct application in the 21st century such as naginata or kenjutsu have to be treated as real or the true value and lessons that the art has to teach are lost. What does it mean though, for budo to be “real”?


For budo to remain real, and not devolve into rhythmic gymnastics, a mindless dance or a meaningless competition, we have to remember what it is we are training ourselves for; at the most basic level, real budo training treats life seriously.


Proper keiko constantly reminds you how serious it is, even in the little things. All  those nit-picky little requirements about how a bokken or other weapon is handled, about never stepping over weapons and how you interact with everyone in the dojo all reflect that seriousness. Weapons, whether they are shinken (live blades) or wooden practice pieces, are treated with full regard for the damage they can do. Wooden practice weapons are handled just like the real thing, because you don’t want to have sloppy or careless habits when handling the real thing.

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Live blades are merciless. They don’t forgive mistakes anymore than a firearm does. For all the care I take, I’ve still cut myself a couple of times. Those were just shallow cuts that reminded me what I do is very serious, even when we’re not actively doing kata. Those nitpicky teachers insisting that there is only one proper way to handle your weapons and that even wooden swords should always be treated like they are live are not being pedantic. They know how much damage the weapons can do and do not want you to learn the hard way.


Humans are liable to distraction and hurry. If we always do something the same way, it becomes an unconscious habit and the way we do things even when we are distracted. If you start out with a bokken or iaito and always handle it like a shinken, then you will handle the shinken properly when your teacher hands it to you. When I started iai, I did so with an iaito.   A couple of years later we had a new student join the dojo who didn’t have his own iaito yet. While he was waiting for his iaito to arrive, Takada Sensei walked over to me one day, undid his sageo, took his shinken out of his obi, handed it to me and said “Give your iaito to him and you practice with this until his iaito arrives.” Sensei didn’t give me any special instruction about how to handle his shinken, he just handed it to me and went on teaching the new student. Sensei was confident that I had absorbed the lessons about proper weapons handling from training correctly with the iaito.


Takada Sensei was confident that his teaching had prepared me to handle a shinken without giving me any additional warnings. The kata teaching method works well. I handled Sensei’s shinken the same way I handled my iaito and didn’t have any issues with it. The proper technique was ingrained to the point of unconscious competence and came forth from my hands naturally and easily.


Even when it is not shinken shobu, budo must be treated with the seriousness of a shinken. We train seriously with wood and bamboo weapons so that when the moment comes and we find ourselves holding the real thing, when it’s not kata but life, the right things happen without conscious effort. The little things are the big things.


Reishiki, the etiquette that starts and ends each practice and regulates behavior during practice, is filled with little lessons that turn out to be big lessons. Paying attention to these details is the first step in keeping budo from degenerating into a pleasantly distracting sport. All those details that your teacher spends time on aren’t decorations of the important stuff that is practiced. They are important in their own right. Treating your teachers, your training partners, juniors, seniors, properly is filled with lessons for how you deal with real life.


Treating people with genuine respect and honor is an elemental lesson of real budo. This isn’t the casual respect of sport. This is serious. Look at the bow between training partners in arts like Shinto Muso Ryu and Tendo Ryu. In these arts the bow is respectful not only of the partner, but also of the partner’s ability and potential as an adversary. Training partners bow to each other, but they never give up their ability to move or take their attention from their partner.




Not paying attention is not  just another way of not showing respect. It also creates the first opening in you. This may not seem as real or important as the actual techniques, but if you’re not giving proper attention to people, you won’t be ready for any sort of attack.


Showing respect is a way of showing to those around you that you take them, and what you are doing, seriously. Budo deals with some of the most serious subjects; conflict, how we live and how we can die. I don’t think it gets any more serious than this. But if you only treat your budo as serious when you’re doing the techniques, you’re missing the most important lessons. Yes, those techniques are serious, but how you handle life is at least as important as how you handle your sword.


In budo, we learn how to handle weapons, how to handle conflict, how to treat others, and how to handle ourselves. If we’re not treating those things with respect, our budo isn’t real.  Weapons handling and dealing with conflict (including, of course, “fighting”) are obvious components of budo. How we treat others and how we handle ourselves may not be so obvious. How we deal with these lessons is what makes the difference between real budo and play budo.


It’s the little things that make budo real, as in bowing to our partner with sincere respect and not just because some old custom says we have to. How many conflicts and fights could be avoided if only people treated others with sincere respect? Fights happen not because people disagree, but because of how they disagree; often because people are, or think they are, being disrespected. This makes learning how to treat people with respect one of the most important things we learn in the dojo. Sincere respect is a powerful technique for preventing disagreements from escalating into violent fights where you have to use the techniques you’ve been sweating over at practice. Most people would prefer to not find out if their technique is up to the challenge if they don’t have to.


Real budo focuses on the little things, technical or otherwise. Learning to focus on the little things includes watching what’s going on around you and being aware of what people are doing and feeling. Is Sensei heading for the broom closet after practice? Show you respect him and the dojo. Get there before he does. If you see a new student struggling with the etiquette or proper dojo behavior, don’t wait for Sensei to show them. Talk with them before or after class and help them figure it out. Show respect for the new student and for what Sensei expects from everyone in the dojo.


Real budo isn’t just being aware of the spacing between you and your training partner, or understanding the timing for an effective counterattack. Real budo is being aware of what makes the dojo a good place to be, and helping to make it so without being asked or encouraged. Real budo is being aware of the feelings and needs of those around you, and responding appropriately. What better way to defuse conflict before it can start than being aware of rising tension and dispelling it while it is still only tension in the air?


It’s a paradox of budo. Arts that teach the most effective ways destroy life are immersed in teaching how to create better lives. This is the heart that beats at the core of real budo. Not brutal techniques of violence, but the subtle art of living.