Showing posts with label Shinto Muso Ryu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shinto Muso Ryu. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Budo Law Of Conservation Of Movement

Tendo Ryu. Photo copyright Peter Boylan 2019


Most people don’t know it, but there is a  Budo Law of Conservation of Movement. Budo is conservative at its heart. We want to conserve movement, conserve energy, conserve time. The Budo Law of Conservation of Movement is:

One movement to do a hundred things, not a hundred movements that accomplish the same thing.

Why learn a hundred ways to do something when one will do the job? There are a number of different ways to cut with a sword, but I don’t know any classical art that teaches more than one of them. The same with sticks. There are lots of ways to swing a stick, but I don’t know of any martial art that teaches more than one (to the Shinto Muso Ryu people who are raising your hands to object, all those different strikes utilize the same body mechanics. There’s really only one strike and one thrust in Shinto Muso Ryu).  

Each koryu has its own way of doing things, and a real student of the ryuha imprints that way into their mind, their muscles and their bones. This is true whether you’re doing Shinto Muso Ryu, Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shinryu, Sekiguchi Ryu, or any other koryu. You won’t find classical systems with an overabundance of techniques or principles to master. Each ryuha takes a few basic concepts and teaches you to apply them to a variety of situations. Again, look at Shinto Muso Ryu. It’s commonly taught that there are four strikes in SMR, but all of  them are variations on the same strike. That’s it. One strike. Add one way to thrust and one trap and you have it.

Each ryuha has one way of doing things. Shinto Muso Ryu and its fuzoku ryu incorporate jo, tachi, kodachi, jutte, tanjo, and kusarigama.  That’s a wide variety of weapons, yet the principles and movement are the same. The student isn’t learning six discrete weapons. She is learning to apply one set of principles to a variety of weapons. Once the principles of movement, spacing and timing are internalized, it doesn’t matter what she picks up. She’ll apply the principles she learned on the jo the first time she picks up a tachi. Working with the tachi deepens the understanding developed while training with the jo. By the time she picks up a tanjo or a jutte, the teacher doesn’t have to teach her how to hold the weapons or how to swing them. She already knows the principles. She just needs a little practice to get used to the specific spacing and timing required by the new weapon, along with the specific patterns of movement that make up the kata. By the time she’s practiced with all of the weapons, she can pick up just about anything and intuitively understand how to use it applying the principles of Shinto Muso Ryu.

At that point the techniques just happen. The student has soaked herself in the principles of the arts. There isn’t any thought.  To move in a manner other than that of Shinto Muso Ryu would require concentration because by that point the Shinto Muso Ryu principles have been absorbed so deeply that they have become part of  her natural movements and responses.

The same thing can be found in any effective koryu. There will only be a few active principles that have to be mastered to apply to every scenario imagined by the founders and their successors. A friend of mine does a sogo budo with a strong jujutsu element. They use a different technique for cutting with a sword; a tighter motion done closer to the body than I’m accustomed to. My first thought when I saw it was that they were giving up some of the potential range of the blade-- a reasonable comment on their sword work.  They don’t take advantage of every centimeter of reach that the blade has to offer, but this isn’t necessarily a weakness.

Cutting while using a tighter motion may not be  considered a weakness because the sogo budo group doesn’t just do sword work, or even just weapons work.  They also do a lot of jujutsu. In their jujutsu they use the same principle for throwing and joint locking that they use for cutting with a sword. They are conserving the number of motions and principles they have to learn. They have just one movement that is applied in their weapons work and their empty hand techniques. No time wasted learning different principles for weapons and another for jujutsu. One and done.

Training time is precious, even for people who are training full time. Their training time is valuable, and they need to get the most out of it. The highest return in training is to have a few principles you apply to everything, instead of many different discrete techniques that can be applied to the same thing. It takes thousands of hours of training to master any budo. Where is the good sense and efficiency in increasing the time it takes to master your training by having different principles for different activities and multiplying required training time as you add discrete principles and skills?

It makes no sense for a ryuha to have different principles for different activities or weapons. It would be a tremendous waste of time, and few people have the time to develop more than one body. If you have not absorbed the set of principles so deeply that they’ve stained your bones you’ll never express those principles under pressure. You’ll always do what has stained your bones.

Koryu training, real koryu, is about absorbing the principles of the art into your body and mind so that they color the core of your being. A key to how koryu do this is by reducing the essence of the art to a few powerful principles that can be applied to any situation. No unnecessary movements or ideas. 

One movement to do a hundred things.


Special thanks to Deborah Klens-Bigman Ph.D. for her editorial support and contributions.





Tuesday, April 14, 2020

How Stable Are Koryu?

 
Gekikenkai No Zu by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 1873
 
I was asked recently how much I think koryu budo has changed over the generations. After staring at my drink for a while, I answered “I think it has changed a lot, and not much at all.”  This goes for most koryu that were founded during the Tokugawa Era (1604-1868). They had a relatively stable world in which to grow and develop, so radical change wasn’t required.

Why would I think that a 400 year old martial art has changed a lot and not much at all? I think they would change a lot in that successive generations would add to the arts. In Shinto Muso Ryu, for example, various fuzoku ryu (affiliated arts) were attached to the system, and new kata were created. From an art that started with just staff and sword, it grew to encompass jutte and torinawa jutsu (apprehending and binding), kusarigama, and most recently walking stick. That’s a lot of additions.

So the original arts didn’t change much, they just had more and more stuff grafted onto the original trunk.  And if people are really learning a particular art, it won’t change much. Why is that? Koryu bugei students are taught using the pedagogy of kata. In sports there is always room for change. A new way to do the high jump didn’t make it stop being high jump.  A new ski jumping form didn’t mean it wasn’t ski jumping anymore. These can easily be changed because they are defined by the activity and not how the activity is done.

However, classical martial arts systems, koryu bugei, are defined by their principles as much as their techniques. If you change the principles, you’re doing something different. Not that this didn’t happen - there were so many ryuha (schools) during the Tokugawa Era because senior practitioners had new ideas and wanted to develop them.  Generally they didn’t change the school they were in; they created a new school instead. The ryuha that lasted centuries were the ones whose principles survived the pressure testing of time and application. Not competition, but application in combative situations. Shinto Muso Ryu was practiced by samurai whose function was public security and safety. Other arts were susceptible to being used in fights and duels as well as to put down peasant revolts and otherwise maintain order. 

Ryuha survived the centuries because their teaching methodology was remarkably well suited to teaching physical principles and skills, consistently, generation after generation. The fundamental teaching pedagogy was, and is, the two person kata. (Solo iai kata are the exception that demonstrates the rule. Working with live blades is too dangerous for partner practice, but systems with iai nearly always also include paired kenjutsu kata as well). In the classical arts, one partner wins the encounter, shitachi, and the other loses the encounter laid out in the kata, the uchitachi. Unlike a sporting encounter where the more experienced player is expected to win, in classical kata training, the more experienced person is expected to take the losing side. The uchitachi’s job is to guide the junior, the shitachi, so they learn how to do the techniques embedded in the kata without leaving any openings. 
Musings Of A Budo Bum
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Those who think that kata training is just repeating rote movements have never done proper kata training. For example, in weapons kata, If shitachi does the kata incorrectly and leaves an opening, uchitachi is quite likely to seize the opening and put their weapon in it. This can be a harsh way of correction, but it’s an effective one.  These lessons are rarely forgotten. Kata are only meant to be done to their completion when they are done correctly. I know if I leave an opening for my teacher, he will show me that opening in the simplest, most direct way available. He will counter my attack. You might think my teacher is breaking the kata. He isn’t. I’m the one who broke the kata by leaving the opening. He simply went with the new situation that I created by leaving the opening.

The kata that last are robust. They have to be done certain ways or openings are left and the student gets whacked. Quickly the student learns to spot their own openings and close them. The kata don’t change much because they can’t be changed much. They are structured in very particular ways for good reasons. If you deviate from the form you create openings that allow counter attacks to succeed. Just doing the kata is its own test. If you do it correctly it will work. If you deviate from the principles that are embedded in the kata you will find your situation changes from victor to vanquished in an instant.

As an incorrigibly American student, I can’t seem to stop myself from experimenting with the kata I’m taught. I always seem to think that I’ll somehow learn something new from experimenting. I do learn things. I learn how not to do the kata. I play around with the timing or the spacing or something on my own, and then my experimenting surfaces in the dojo and Sensei nails me, then yells “Who taught you that!!!”  Happens every time.

Since the kata serve as their own form of checking and correction, they are exceedingly durable.  I don’t doubt that the kata of Shinto Muso Ryu or Shinkage Ryu or Ono-ha Itto-ryu swordsmanship are close enough to the way they were done 400 years ago that a modern student who found themselves 400 years in the past could walk into one those dojo and participate without difficulty. Kata are that stable. 

This stability can also be seen at the various enbu held around Japan. Lineages that split as far back as the 17th century and had no contact with each other for hundreds of years until recent times can now be seen and compared in modern enbukai. Besides the main line of Shinkage Ryu taught by the Yagyu Family, there are numerous other lines that were founded by their students over the centuries. When you watch and compare them, it becomes clear that they haven’t drifted far from each other. The same goes for the various lines of Yagyu Shingan Ryu, and other arts that have lasted through centuries. 

The kata that comprise the core of any koryu bugei are stable and solid. Upstart students like me are always trying “what if” experiments and getting clobbered because our “what if” just isn’t effective. Even when we no longer have a culture of duels and taryu shiai (inter ryuha matches) we still have students who want to prove they are smarter than 400 years of experience. These students cheerfully challenge how kata are done and the sensei is always ready to show them that their new idea doesn’t work as well as the one that’s been passed down to them. 

This helps keep the kata alive even when we don’t have duels and challenge matches. However, just because the kata are stable doesn’t mean that they are fossilized and frozen in time. Different teachers will place more or less emphasis on particular aspects of the kata. Even the same teacher, over decades of practice, will place different emphasis on different aspects of the kata. This leads to students saying things like “But last time you said do it this way.” The teacher isn’t changing the kata. They are exploring different aspects of the kata. The teachers know where the limits of each kata are, and they don’t exceed those limits.

This stability means that bugei ryuha can travel through time and across cultures with their principles and their form essentially unchanged. Kata practice allows students to make mistakes and see why their ideas are mistaken. The students learn the techniques and principles through a small set of kata. The kata don’t need to be changed. In fact, they can’t be changed without losing the ability to teach the principles of the art. The stability of the teaching method means that the ryuha change very little over time. Ryuha may acquire new kata and new weapons, but their essence remains the same.



Grateful appreciation to Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D. for editing what was a scary mess.

 
 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Budo: The Art Of Living



I was watching an otherwise excellent documentary by NHK called “Real Samurai” about modern practitioners of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. It’s a very nice look at the modern practice of a great koryu budo. One thing bothered me though. The narration kept referring to budo in general and Katori Shinto Ryu in particular as the “art of killing”. I think this may be the biggest misconception about budo as it has been practiced since the Pax Tokugawa took effect in 1604.

The documentary repeatedly talked about Katori Shinto Ryu as an “art of killing” and emphasizing the potentially lethal aspects of what is taught and studied. It seemed unable to deal with the  contradiction offered in nearly every frame and comment by the practitioners themselves, that Katori Shinto Ryu practice informs and transforms their way of life.

For me, the fact that the skills we study can result in killing is outshone by their usefulness in living, and living fully. I find it hard to imagine that even during wartime the focus of bujutsu study was killing. Despite a few folks like Yamamoto Tsunetomo who were obsessed with dying, budo has always been about living.The reason for studying these arts, even five hundred years ago, was less focused on killing than on surviving horrible circumstances and going on living. Perhaps budo is not really an art of killing. If it’s not an art of killing though, then what is it?

Without the constant threat of warfare, there would be little reason to study arts of killing. Peace encourages us to consider not just living, but how to best live. Budo as an art of killing isn’t relevant to a life of peace. But budo is just as  much about living. Life is filled with conflicts of all sorts, and all forms of budo are intense studies of conflict, both physical and non-physical.  Methods of dealing with  conflict can also be applied throughout life.

 In budo, the first things you practice are things you’re already doing all the time. You learn how to hold your body, breathe well and move powerfully. What’s more essential to living than breathing? The building blocks of good budo turn out to be the same ones used to build the foundation of a good, healthful life. 

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Enjoy the blog?  Get the book!
 
Budo reminds us, every practice, of our limits. We stare death in the face with every kata we practice. Most koryu budo kata are paired, and being off just a little for either person can result in a nasty whack that would be deadly with live weapons. Crucially, someone always loses in these kata, and losing equals dieing. In the paired kata we learn to see just how narrow the difference between success and failure, life and death, really is. Learning this is solid preparation for life outside the dojo. The lessons about moving enough, but not too much, emphasize the need to respond appropriately to whatever happens. I can think of many kata in Shinto Muso Ryu where action is essential to not getting hit in the head with a weapon, but where overreacting is nearly as bad as failing to act. When uchitachi thrusts during Sakan, if you don’t act you will be stabbed in the gut. If you overreact you block the thrust but leave yourself open to a number of follow-up attacks that flow smoothly from your excess movement. If you do everything right, you move when uchitachi has committed to the thrust and you deflect the sword tip just enough to miss but not so far that the sword can come in through a new opening. Action must be appropriate to the situation.

I’ll say this again and again. Breathe well.  

Remain calm and relaxed. Budo practice emphasizes this. It doesn’t matter if someone is trying to throw you across a room, split your head open, or choke you. You still have to be calm and keep breathing. It’s amazing how often people in the dojo have to be reminded to breathe. Under stress they start holding their breath. It happens so often I have to wonder that people aren’t passing out right and left in their everyday lives. Budo practices teaches us to relax into stress.

Tightening up only makes things worse.  Stiff arm a judoka and the result is a beautiful throw or an elegant armbar. Tense up while holding a sword and you’ll be much too slow to respond to whatever your partner chooses to do. A lot of practice is required to overcome our bodies’ natural tendency to tense up under stress so we can relax into difficult situations. Someone yells at us at work. A deadline gets moved up. Our uncles get into an argument over politics at the family dinner. Things that can cause us to tense up are everywhere.

Breathe. If you find yourself getting tense, let go of the tension. Don’t cling to it. Budo practice is the only place I’ve found that practices the essential art of relaxing into stress. Having someone try to throw or choke or hit you is stressful. If you can learn to stay relaxed and calm under this pressure, you can do it anywhere. When life tries to hit you over the head, relax, breathe, and move just far enough to avoid getting hit, but not so far that you can’t hit back.

As a kid, I always thought that being “grown up” meant that you were finished becoming you. Budo has a way of reminding me that I will never be finished becoming myself or becoming a better person. I’ve been at this budo stuff for over 30 years and every day I make new discoveries about myself and how much I can improve. It is often said, and always true, that budo is a path, not a destination. We’re never done learning. We’re never done polishing ourselves.

It’s easy to forget that we’re never done changing, so the opportunities for improving never cease. We can keep working on our technique, and ourselves, until we die. My iaido teacher is 94. My jodo teacher is in his 80s. When Real Samurai was filmed a few years ago, Otake Sensei was 88. One of the saddest things I hear people say is, “That’s just the way I am,” as an excuse not to change and improve. It’s the way you are today. Whether you want to or not, you will change and be a little different tomorrow and each day after that.

The difference that budo makes in my life is that it teaches me over and over again that I don’t have to be satisfied with what I am today. I can influence how time changes me. I can passively receive the way life molds and shapes who I am, or I can actively participate, choosing how I want to change and who I become. This is the art of living that budo teaches us.

I’m not finished. My teachers aren’t finished. They still practice. They are still changing and improving. That time spent refining my kirioroshi and my hikiotoshi uchi is not just time spent learning an obscure skill with an archaic weapon. It’s also about refining who I am. That practice breathing calmly and deeply is useful wherever I am, whatever I am doing. Teaching myself that my default condition is calm and relaxed even when someone is actively attempting to throw me across the room, and especially when they succeed in throwing me across the room applies to dealing with “all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Budo is not an art of killing.  Budo is an art of living.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Being Senior In Japan

 
Iseki Sensei in his dojo.  Photo Copyright 2016 Peter Boylan

I was in Japan in November to take my 5th dan test in jodo. I arrived a week before the test so I could prepare. My friend Bijan had come along to take his 4th dan test. There are so many people who’ve been training for decades in the dojos in Japan that I’ve never really had to think about what seniors have to to.

Bijan and I had arrived at Iseki Sensei’s dojo and we were ready to go. The regular class has a variety of students; from 5th dan-holders like Mr. & Mrs. Fujita all the way to unranked beginners. I’m still not really used to being on the senior side of the room in the dojo in Japan, but that’s where I am.

Matsuda Shihan visits a few different dojo around Osaka that look to him for leadership and teaching.  Iseki Sensei’s Yoshunkan Dojo is one of them. Hotani Sensei’s dojo in Shonai is another.  Both Iseki Sensei and Hotani Sensei are 7th dans who were highly ranked before I started jodo.  The nafudakake (name boards) in their respective dojo are loaded with senior students ranked 5th, 6th, and 7th dan. All these high ranking students in a dojo where they aren’t the teacher. What are they doing?

Traditional dojo, especially koryu bugei dojo, aren’t run the same way dojo for modern arts like judo, kendo and aikido are. The teachers don’t demonstrate techniques and have everyone try/copy/follow along. They don’t run them like drill sergeants with the teacher barking commands and all the students leaping to do what is called out. All those high ranking students are wonderful resources that traditional dojo make frequent use of.

Practice in the dojo may start out looking familiar. In Iseki Sensei’s and Hotani Sensei’s dojo we start with the basics, but it’s once we’re warmed up and past the basics that things start to change from the more well-known models of practice. We pair off, each junior with a senior student, never two juniors together.  In traditional dojo one of the key responsibilities of senior students is working with beginning and junior students.  Developing good fundamentals is too important for the dojo and the future of the art to allow beginning and junior students to flounder without strong, experienced supervision.

Even in a small dojo, the teacher can’t be everywhere. Senior students are responsible for a lot of the learning that happens in a traditional dojo. In traditional dojo like Iseki Sensei and Hotani Sensei lead, the seniors have a lot of responsibility. They aren’t there just to polish their own skills. Being a member of a koryu bugei comes with a broader responsibility than just paying your monthly dues and getting your lessons from sensei.

During my last visit, when we lined up to bow in, it was clear that I was well into the deep end of the dojo. I can’t pretend to anyone that I’m one of the juniors anymore, not even to myself.  The juniors get embarrassed if I try to line up below them, and the seniors don't wave me away anymore when I offer to help take care of things in the dojo. After the warm-ups, the seniors lined up one side of the dojo and the juniors lined up on the other side of the dojo.

We worked our way through the paired kihon practice, with the seniors acting as uchi tachi (as uke is called in Shinto Muso Ryu). Iseki Sensei called out the techniques and the seniors guided and directed the juniors’ practice by adjusting the spacing and offering the correct opening for each attack being practiced. As the juniors practiced honte uchi and hikiotoshi uchi and maki otoshi  and the other fundamental techniques, the seniors were responsible for helping them learn the spacing and range of each technique.

After working through the kihon, we moved on to the kata. The Kendo Federation’s standard jodo is made up of 12 kata done as a pair with jo and tachi. For this part of the practice, each junior was again paired with a senior. This time the senior’s responsibility was to guide the much more complex application of the kihon  techniques in the kata themselves. For this the senior had to know both the jo and tachi side of the kata deeply.

This, for the seniors, meant not just going through the motions of the tachi side correctly. The senior had to adjust the speed and intensity of the attacks to match the lessons the junior was learning. Too slow or gentle would have resulted in  the junior not being challenged. Too fast or hard and the junior would have simply been crushed under the power of the senior’s attack. Either way, the junior would not have had  the opportunity to learn anything from the practice.   

The junior I was partnered with only knew the first 7 kata, so when we got up to the eighth one we cycled back to the first kata and worked through that again. Sensei will decide when a student is ready to learn a new kata. On the senior side, I had enough work adjusting the way I performed the tachi’s role to suit the learning level of the particular person I was working with.

My technique was challenged when it was time for the seniors to practice with each other. Then my partners pushed me to the edge of my skills and made me reach for a little bit more. The week  before the godan test, Fujita San, one of Iseki Sensei’s godan students, worked with me almost every day, acting in the role of senior so I could learn the lessons Iseki Sensei, Hotani Sensei and Matsuda Shihan wanted me to learn. Fujita San kept the intensity and power of the practice at a high level so I was always challenged to do just a little bit better.

The responsibility of being senior in the dojo doesn’t end with helping juniors learn to practice. In Japan, the seniors make the dojo function. Sensei doesn’t worry about taking care of the dojo or introducing new students to the routines and jobs around the dojo. At the end of practice, it’s not the newest students who are running to grab a broom and sweep the dojo.  It’s the seniors. Just as we are training in a martial way, each dojo has its own way of cleaning up, taking care of the dojo, and running practice. It’s not Sensei’s job to introduce new students to customs and rhythms of the dojo. That’s the job of the seniors.

When I go to Hotani Sensei’s dojo in Shonai, it’s the seniors who run to get the covering for the tatami mats unrolled and secured before class. After the class the seniors run to roll it up and put it away. When a new student starts, the seniors quietly explain the proper formalities of bowing in to the dojo, and the starting and ending formalities for practice. The seniors help new students figure out what sort of equipment they need, and give advice as to where to get it.

Often someone will have brought some omiyage (souvenir or treat from a trip), or some other treat to share with the dojo. After practice is over, it’s the senior students who get the cups out, pour the drinks and distribute the treats, not the beginners. When it’s all done the seniors make sure everything is cleaned up and put away.

One of the signs that you’re really a member of the dojo is when people start letting you help out with a lot of these things. There’s no hard and fast rule about this, but until you’re allowed to help, you’re sort of on probation with the members of the dojo. You can offer to help, but more often than not your assistance will be politely declined.  When people start letting you help, it’s a good sign that you’ve been accepted. When people start looking at you like you know what you’re doing and they are looking to you to lead something, you know it.

Helping out and taking care of things for Sensei is one of the best ways of saying “Thank you. I appreciate you teaching me.” Being part of a dojo in Japan is not simply an economic exchange. All budo in Japan, not just koryu budo, have a significant social and cultural aspect that may be quite foreign to someone who trains in a commercial dojo where you simply pay your dues and come to class. When you join a dojo or a ryuha, you’re joining a living group with traditions and ways of doing things that you are expected to learn and contribute to. Everyone takes care of the dojo, sweeping and cleaning and washing. Everyone finds ways to take work out of Sensei’s hands so she doesn’t have to worry about all the details of running the dojo.

Just as the seniors are the ones that Sensei relies on to help the juniors get the most out of practice, they are also the ones Sensei relies on to keep the dojo running smoothly. The seniors in the dojo don’t get to rest on their rank and seniority. Instead they are expected to assume more responsibility, whether that is by guiding junior students’ practice by being effective partners, or helping clean up after practice, or coordinating an enbu (demonstration) or some other dojo activity. I’ve been around Iseki Sensei’s and Hotani Sensei’s dojo for so long that I really am one of the seniors. Now I have to live up to that responsibility.