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.