Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Are You Practicing Budo in a Vacuum?

Osaka Castle Main Tower. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2016.

I love visiting Japan. It’s a fantastic opportunity to train in dojo where there are several senior students, each with more experience than most teachers in the USA. The teachers who lead these dojo are incredible.  My teacher, Matsuda Shigeharu Shihan is based in Osaka. He doesn’t run his own dojo, but rotates around a group of dojo run by his senior students, people like Kazuo Iseki and Hotani Masayuki. Outside Japan, Iseki Sensei and Hotani Sensei would each be highly recognized, but inside Japan they run dojo and look to Matsuda Shihan for leadership. I also get to train sometimes with Matsuda Shihan’s colleague Morimoto Kunifumi Shihan.  To get to train with these people, who have 40, 50 or 60 years of experience truly is an honor and a privilege.  

However, this post isn’t about my teachers, or even training in Japan. It’s about the frame and background that surrounds them. I’ve seen people try to practice budo without putting any effort into understanding the history and cultural background of the art they are studying. To me, they are studying budo in a vacuum. It can be argued that fighting can be learned without studying the cultural milieu within which it takes place, but I don’t think the arguments are very convincing.  Without understanding the culture and history of your opponent, you will not be able to understand her goals, which leads to misjudging what tactics and strategies are most appropriate.

Budo wasn’t created in a vacuum by a bunch of guys with vivid imaginations. Budo comes from a concrete world of sweat and blood. The world of the founders of the many ryuha  was filled with obstacles that could block your weapon if you didn’t pay attention to your surroundings.  Even your own weapons and clothing could interfere with your ability to react.

The many different schools of Japanese budo are impossible to truly understand and appreciate without  understanding the history and culture which nurtured and contributed to the individual schools. There are dozens of surviving schools of Japanese budo; some with histories from the 1400s like Kashima Shinryu and Katori Shinto, as well as other,  more recently developed schools, such as Kodokan Judo and Ueshiba Ryu Aikido. Each of these schools shares a great deal of Japanese culture, but they also each have a unique history that informs the particular values of the school.  The circumstances that surrounded the founding of a school in the tumultuous era of the 15th century were different in almost every way from those that led to Kano Jigoro founding Kodokan Judo in the 1880s or Ueshiba Morihei establishing his Aikido in the 1940s.

When I go to Japan, it’s an opportunity to immerse myself in the unbelieveable depth of experience in the dojo, but also to soak myself in the culture and history that has shaped the arts I study. When I went to Japan in November, I had a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the culture and history of Japan that has influenced the budo I study and practice.

I arrived in Japan on a Saturday evening and spent much of Sunday getting adjusted to the time change and doing some jodo training. On Monday morning I got up and headed over to Osaka Castle Park. I wanted to see the dojo I’d be testing in the following Sunday, and see Osaka Castle itself.  Somehow, in nearly 30 years of traveling to Japan, seven of them spent living there, I’d never gotten around to seeing Osaka Castle. It’s the site of some of the most horrific and important battles in Japanese history. The castle tower has been built, destroyed and rebuilt several times, but visiting the castle and the surrounding park provides good perspective on the Japan of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Osaka Castle Main Gate. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2016

Osaka Castle Inner Gate. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2016

The castle tower is big.  It was easily the tallest object around for hundreds of years. What is more amazing are the walls and fortifications around the tower.  These are massive, and they easily give a feel for the huge armies that were involved in the wars of the 1500s that raged back and forth across Japan.The idea of carrying a sword and being part of those huge armies changes the view of what combat might have been like.

Shudokan Dojo. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2016
As it happens, the Shudokan Dojo, where I was to test, is part of the Osaka Castle Park complex now.  It’s a lovely building from the Showa Period (1926-1989) built just for budo practice.  I wanted to check out the interior where my test would be, but the dojo didn’t open until later in the afternoon when I would be training with Hotani Sensei.  The outside of the building was lovely, and the sign said anyone was welcome to practice for just 300 yen. What can be rare and hard to find in America is open to anyone in Japan with 300 yen and an interest in budo. 
After several days of training, I was starting to get a little sore.  I needed a break.  So before keiko that Tuesday we went to Kiyomizu Temple to do some sightseeing.  Kiyomizu Temple is at the site of an ancient spring with pure water used for sado, tea ceremony.  The temple complex is about 1200 years old, though the current buildings date from the late 1600s. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most picturesque places in Kyoto, so it’s always filled with tourists from all over Japan and the world.

Kiyomizu Temple overlooking Kyoto. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2016.

Recently, it’s become popular rent traditional clothing to walk Kyoto in. This is a new trend that I like. There were lots and lots of women in kimono, and even a few men in hakama. The city of Kyoto has worked hard to maintain its traditional buildings and architecture, and the tourists in traditional clothing fit right in. It’s not hard to imagine how the temple and city must have looked when everyone dressed that way.

Ladies in kimono at Kiyomizu Temple. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2016.

After walking through Kiyomizu Temple, my friend Bijan and I and walked around the small shopping streets from the temple to Maruyama Park. The road leading up to Kiyomizu Temple from Maruyama Park is, in this era, really a foot path, even though locals and delivery trucks insist on pushing their way through the crowds. It’s lined with small, traditional snack shops, green tea ice cream vendors, and traditional craft shops of all sorts. I bought some lovely tenugui at a little shop along the way.  When I asked the man at the register how long the shop has been there, he told me that he’s the 6th generation owner. This is not at all unusual in Kyoto, and helps bring alive the idea that the living traditions handed down carefully from generation to generation that we train in aren’t all that rare in Japan. Besides shops, there all sorts of crafts where the living masters trace their lineage back generations and hundreds of years. Kabuki, Noh, potters, painters, sword makers and sword teachers can all trace their lineages back through the centuries. In places like Kyoto, this sense of age permeates the atmosphere and brings a sense of the normalcy of such things to those of us from countries that  are younger than the arts we study.

Wandering from Kiyomizu Temple to Maruyama Park also makes some of the kata I’ve studied over the years much more practical and less philosophical. Many of the homes and store complexes have an actual gate or mon 門. If you have a kata in your system with the word mon  in the name, such as Mon Ire in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu or Muso Shinden Ryu, you can easily see why there are particular kata for fighting around a gate. The top of the gate is low and the space is not very big. You have to be careful just walking through the gate, much less trying to fight there.

Another feature of old Japanese cities are the narrow streets. I know several bugei systems with a kata called Hoso Michi 細道, or Narrow Street. The street from the temple to the park is only about 10 feet (3 meters) wide, and there are many little streets connecting to it that are only 3-6 feet (1-2 meters) wide. After you see just how many narrow streets there are in a traditional Japanese city like Kyoto, the only surprise with having kata called Hoso Michi is that there aren’t a lot more of them. There are little tiny alleyways everywhere.

The path leads past all sorts of little, traditional shops and many small temples in addition to Kiyomizu Temple.  We had a lovely sushi lunch in one.  Sushi as we know it isn’t all that old, only really dating from the mid-19th century, but some of the senbei and dango shops, like the place where I bought the tenugui, have been there for generations. Being able to walk the streets this way, you can feel the atmosphere of centuries past, and now, thanks to all the tourists wearing kimono and hakama, you can get sense of how the people may have looked as well.

Budo, like any living tradition, and any living person, has been shaped by the culture and history through which it has passed.  You can’t study budo in a vacuum. Without understanding where budo comes from, there is no way to really understand what you are doing or how those lessons might apply to the world as it has become. Those funky kata are just arm waving exercises until you can clearly see the world they came from and how they fit. Without that, there isn’t any way to connect what you are studying and practicing with the world you live in. Even the modern budo of judo and kendo are more than 100 years old in their current forms. Aikido isn’t quite 100 yet, but some of its elements are from far older traditions. Shiko, knee walking, goes back to particular styles of court dress from the Edo period. Judo contains kata against weapons of the Edo and early Meiji eras. Kendo, is, well, a sword art.

If you don’t know how the art you study relates to the world it came from, what possibility is there for you to relate it to the world outside the dojo you live in? This is especially true in the koryu bugei, but as in the examples above, it relates to more modern budo as well. In the Shinto Hatakage Ryu that I teach, there is a strange little movement during the noto that doesn’t make a lot of sense as iai is usually practiced. Iai is usually practiced with just a katana in the obi, but that’s not how the samurai who created the art and lived it for generations dressed.  They wore two swords, a katana and what we call today a wakizashi, a short sword worn beside the katana. That strange little motion looks like silly arm waving, and it is. At least, it is until you put a wakizashi in your obi next to the katana. Then the motion makes perfect sense as you maneuver around the wakizashi to get the katana back into the saya without banging the swords or your wrist. There’s a lesson here about being aware of your surroundings and moving in accordance with them that shows up in many places in budo kata, regardless of which ryuha you are studying.

The lessons of budo kata and training aren’t meant to be particular. You’re not learning about how to wield your sword in an alleyway in Japan, or how to fight in and around the gate of a traditional Japanese home. The kata chosen in any ryuha represent specific examples of general problems.  How do you draw your sword in obstructed spaces? How do you move in loose, baggy clothing, or be aware of obstacles in your environment? If you think of each kata and lesson as an isolated instance, there is no way to understand and absorb everything it has to offer. Knowing the history and background of a kata makes it possible to extract general rules from specific lessons. There is no way to make a kata for every possible variation. There isn’t enough time in one life to study every possible scenario. The creators of budo chose lessons that could be extrapolated from individual kata to the whole panoply of life.

Generations ago when the budo ryuha were being created, these general lessons were easier to pick up because the specific practices were drawn from daily life. Now we have to study not just the kata, but the history and settings of the kata before we can extract all the lessons they contain.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Modern Musha Shugyo Part 3: Dinner With Sensei

Who is your teacher? Not just the person you see when she’s standing in front of the dojo leading practice, but the whole person. Where did she come from? What experiences shaped and transformed her? How and where and when did she start training?  Who is she really?

Do you ever talk with your teacher about  the experiences that shaped and formed her (or him)? Your teacher is so much more than just the person standing at the front of the room telling you which kata to do, reminding you to relax, stop muscling the technique, move from your koshi/hips/center, yelling at you to “Breathe!” and all the other standard lines that teachers have to repeat endlessly because we endlessly don’t do what they ask us to do.

Not everything we did on our Musha Shugyo was physical training. We had to leave the dojo sometimes. Budo is the martial way, but you are supposed to take what you learn along the Way and thread it throughout your life.  You shouldn’t leave the lessons learned behind when you bow and leave the dojo at the end of practice. The lessons and learning don’t stop when you leave the dojo either. If the dojo is best used for  physical training, there is still ample room for talk after you leave. Many lessons, traditions and histories can only be passed down through talk, so spending time on that when you’re not in the dojo can be wonderful.

After we bowed out of practice, we were supposed to go out to dinner with Kiyama Sensei. We went back to his house first, and sat down in the formal guest room.  Japanese homes are quite small, so traditionally people don’t entertain at home. If you get together with friends, you do it at a restaurant or coffee shop. The traditional home just doesn’t have the space for entertaining. I’ve known people who had homes big enough to entertain in, but they don’t usually entertain at home because they feel like it would be bragging and rubbing their good fortune in other people’s faces. Most homes have a small room that is kept particularly neat and clean ,where a guest or two can be received politely.

Deborah, Adam and I got our bags with our swords and clothes arranged and started to sit down, when  we discovered that Sensei had a surprise for us.  We were expecting to head out to a restaurant where everyone could relax together. Instead, Mrs. Kiyama opened up the shoji to the next room and invited us to come in. Mrs. Kiyama and her daughter Yamada Sensei (she’s a college professor) had prepared an absolute feast for us. They had set up their formal tatami room with a traditional, low table so that Kiyama Sensei, Deborah, Adam and I could sit around it on the floor in the traditional manner. while Mrs. Kiyama and Yamada Sensei served. This is the room with the family tokonoma next to the family butsudan where their ancestors are enshrined and venerated.  While we sat and ate, Mrs. Kiyama and Yamada Sensei served, which is a pretty traditional way of celebrating, but there was also the issue that the room wouldn’t hold any more than the 4 of us comfortably. 

The table was sumptuous. They had gotten some lovely sushi, but the homemade tempura was incredible. I’m a sucker for kabocha tempura, and there were piles of it. We did our best to show our appreciation for the wonderful feast, but we couldn’t do much more than put a dent in the mountain of food. It was wonderful. It’s traditional in Japan to say “Gochisosama deshita” after a meal. It roughly means “That was a feast.” In this case, it was absolutely true. 

After dinner we moved back into the usual room for receiving guests. We watched some  of Sensei’s budo videos and talked about important budo points. We also had a chance to talk to Sensei about his history. Sensei has been studying budo for 85 years so there is a lot of history to talk about.  He even got out some picture albums with photos going back to the 1930s.

Sensei showed us some pictures of himself from junior high doing iaido. In school at that time, during the Pacific War, all students studied budo. Kiyama Sensei seems to have been an overachiever in this area. He practiced judo and kendo and iaido and jukendo. He even had a couple of pictures of himself in keikogi and hakama with his sword. It was something to look at the fresh face of the 13 year old junior high student in the picture, and then look up, knowing that the same person was sitting across from me 77 years later. Just so you don’t think Sensei is monomaniacally obsessed with budo, he also showed us a great picture of himself dressed in his uniform for the school baseball team. He’s loved baseball for as long as I’ve known him, and now I know just how far back that love goes.

Like all able bodied men of his generation, Kiyama Sensei served in the Pacific War.  He showed us a picture of his unit, the only picture he has. After the war he continued  budo training, even in the years when Japan was rebuilding itself, when time and resources were scarce. The people who trained during these years showed extraordinary dedication.
Sensei has some wonderful photos that show him training in the 1950s with his teachers. The atmosphere in the dojo is clear. People are training hard but there are also many smiles. Sensei is still powerful, but his movements, as captured in the photos, are even more dynamic.

There are pictures of kagami-baraki parties with everyone pounding mochi and having a good time. Some of the teachers had huge, full beards that strongly reminded me of Oe Masamichi.  It’s fascinating to see them wearing hakama and montsuki in one picture, and suits and ties in the next.

Sensei’s pictures and the stories that go with them make him even more interesting, and his achievements as a budoka more impressive. Sensei has dan ranks in at least 6 martial arts that we know of. In 3 of them he holds 7th dan, including iaido. He also has a tremendous amount of experience in koryu budo ryuha like Shinto Hatakage Ryu, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Shinto Muso Ryu, none of which use dan ranks.

Kiyama Sensei sat with us, sipping tea and flipping the pages in the photo albums like someone’s sweet grandfather, which he is. Sometimes he was quite wistful looking at pictures of budoka and friends who have died, and telling us about what kind of people they were. The budo world in Japan is surprisingly small, and Sensei has been a active member of it for so long that he has met, and has a story about, nearly everyone of influence in modern budo in the last 60 years. 

Being able to see Sensei in different periods throughout his life and in different aspects of his life was a rare treat. It was fascinating to see pictures of Sensei’s teachers, fellow students and the other great budoka he has encountered in over 8 decades of training.

Hearing Kiyama Sensei talk about these people and his experiences deepened our understanding of Sensei and his art in ways we didn’t expect, and often still don’t understand fully yet. Sensei is much more of a complete person, and not just the imposing figure at the front of the dojo.  This was as meaningful and important for us as the intensive training we completed just a few hours earlier. Budo is a path, and here we were, gifted with a rare view of the route our teacher had taken to get to his current place on the Way.

Who is your teacher?  Is she just the rank certificates on the wall or the trophies in the window? Not everything we learn about budo happens in the dojo. Budo is a Way, and that way impacts and influences every aspect of our lives. Being able to have dinner with Sensei, to sit and talk while slowly sipping coffee and talking about some of the places in his journey along the Way of Bu was a rare and wonderful experience. We saw another side of Sensei, and another side of budo.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Outside Training

This started as a quick note I was going to toss off in a couple of minutes.  More than an hour later it had gotten a little out of hand.  Sorry about that.

I spent about 3 hours in the dojo this morning. We warmed up with the Seiza No Bu from Shinto Hatakage Ryu Iai Heiho, and then I taught Rick a new kata, Ushiro, from the Tachi Waza No Bu.  After that we did some kenjutsu, and suddenly 2 hours were gone and he had to go to.  Then I worked on some kata from Shinto Muso Ryu alone.  It was good dojo practice.  The thing I haven't been doing enough of recently though is the outside training.  I need to be doing more of this.  That’s my plan for this afternoon.

For me, outside training is critical, but it's probably not what most people think of.  This doesn't include things like practicing kata and techniques at home.  That's still training inside the style and the system.  Outside training is training that happens outside the formal definition of the styles that I study, and it include some physical training, but mostly it's mental.

The physical training is the smallest part of outside training.  That’s just going to the gym to make sure all parts of my body are getting the exercise they need to be balanced and healthy and able to support what I do in the dojo.  A little time in the gym can make the dojo time much more productive, and I do mean a little time.  I’m looking to keep my body balanced and strong, so I spend most of my limited gym time making sure that I’m not getting overly strong in one direction.  I also try to stretch regularly.

The biggest part of my outside training though is reading and thinking.  I read stuff that makes me think about my budo and the principles related to it.  There are some books that I come back to time and time to read and ponder, there are others that I only read once, but they are all part of my training.  My favorite book for the philosophical side of budo, and I absolutely recommend it to everyone who trains in any martial art, is “Dueling With O’Sensei” by Ellis Amdur.   Amdur does a fabulous job of taking some of the great budo cliches and ideas, such as katsujinken and really giving them a hard look under some very real conditions.  He works doing crisis intervention, often with extremely violent individuals, so his starting point is always very concrete and practical.  He’s not taking a theoretical approach.

Right now I’m reading an wonderful biography of the man who influenced modern budo far more than anyone else, Kano Jigoro, the founder of Kodokan Judo, creator of the modern budo rank system, member of the International Olympic committee, sponsor who brought karate master Funakoshi Gichin from Okinawa to Tokyo and introduced karate to Japan, the driving force behind making physical education an important part of the Japanese education system and the person who got Judo included in the Japanese education system.  The book, The Way Of Judo, is loaded with information about budo and Japan during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.  Ideas about what the “Way” Kano saw students of Judo treading and what that means for how he envisioned Judo.  It gives me insight into the kinds of lessons that kata and keiko are intended to teach.

I’m reading books about the history of different Do 道, such as tea ceremony and calligraphy to improve my understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the concept of Do in Japanese culture.  Budo did not have any sort of national network and discussion until Kano Shihan created Judo.  Before that, all budo was local, though there were some interesting conversations started in old Edo.  On the other hand, tea ceremony dates to the 15th century or earlier, started to get organized into schools under Rikyu in 16th century, and had organizations that stretched across much of Japan by the end of the 1600s.   Tea ceremony styles, calligraphy schools, and flower arranging were having discussions about the nature of training and personal development on a national scale centuries before budo achieved anything close to that level of organization and discussion.  Since tea ceremony and calligraphy were considered essential parts of the training of a true gentleman in Japan, the ideas developed there appear to have quickly found their way into the writings of budo teachers, all of whom were certainly learning calligraphy, and many who were learning tea ceremony.  One surprise for me has been how little Buddhist and Taoist thought has to do with these, and how much Confucian ideas do.
I’m also learning things about physiology and the body under stress that change my understanding of training.  I’ve often heard that competition in the martial arts is supposed to teach you how to react and control yourself under the stress of a real conflict.  I believed it too.  The only problem is that the stress of actual physical conflict is orders of magnitude greater than anything going on in competition.  You don’t get anywhere near the dump of adrenalin and other hormones during competition that you do in a threat situation.  In a threat, adrenalin and other hormones drop into your system, you heartbeat flies up over 170 beats per minute, your fine motor control vanishes, and a number of other things happen.  A good place to start learning about this is Dave Grossman’s book On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace.  A lot of things I’d heard in the dojo turned out to be completely wrong at fundamental, physiological levels, so wrong that they could get you in serious trouble.  Grossman does a nice job of pulling a lot of research together, and the bibliography could keep you busy for quite a while.

Of course I’m also reading classics of Chinese thought, especially the ones that have had a significant impact on the ideas and thinking of classical Japan where the arts and ways I’m studying and training in were created and developed.  Be sure to read The Art Of War by Sun Tsu, The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tze,  the Chuang Tze, some of the writings of Confucius are essential too (some of Confucius can be difficult.  Start with The Great Learning and some of the Analects.  He seems boring, but he was writing about the essential relationships in life and how to develop as a great human being.  It’s important if you want to understand budo relationships and expectations, especially if you ever travel to Japan).  

I’m going to be reading more about Japanese history as well, so I can place the various ideas within the budo I study in the proper context to be understood.  Things that developed in the Sengoku era of constant war and the early Tokugawa period when people were still afraid that civil war would break out are very different from things developed in the middle Tokugawa era up to about 1850, when the Pax Tokugawa was accepted and expected to continue.  Beyond that, the budo developed at the end of the 1800’s after the fall of the Tokugawa government and the embrace of modern Western technology and the mad dash to overtake the West is very different from all that had come before.  On top of this, if you don’t understand the impact of the US occupation on modern budo, particularly Judo, Kendo and Karatedo, how they are taught and organized, it’s impossible to understand what they really are, and what was jettisoned in the 1950s.  Much was jettisoned, not to make the Americans happy, but rather to please Japanese bureaucrats who were busy crafting a new image for Japan in the international community.

All of this is outside training, but it is vital for my training in the dojo as well.  I admit it, I’m a budo geek, but I believe a basic knowledge of the history of budo, some of its philosophical ideas, and the real physiology of budo and conflict are essential to full growth and development on the Way.  Budo is not just a bunch of movements and techniques.  It absolutely demands a robust philosophical and intellectual framework to give it its proper place in our world.  The only way to get that is through outside training.