Showing posts with label Yagyu Munenori. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yagyu Munenori. Show all posts

Monday, March 30, 2015

Budo Isn't Life

Young lady walking through a train station in Japan with a sword across her back.
Photo Copyright 2015 Girgoris Miliaresis

Budo Isn't life.  It's training for life.  

I was reading an article about a writer who became a carpenter, but didn’t stop writing, and it made me think about the mistake I sometimes see people make with budo.  Budo is a Way, and as ways go, I think it is a great one.  You can explore strength and conflict, peace and stability, action and quietude, moving with things without being moved by them, and many other points that are important in life. For all that, budo is not life.

I’ve see a number of people over the years who become so involved with training in budo that they let the rest of their lives go to hell.  They often become fabulous martial artists, but their personal lives are train wrecks, with disasters everywhere. These are people who make the mistake of putting budo training above everything else in their life. Budo is training for life. When you let the practice become so large that it squeezes out everything else, including the application of the training to your real life, you have completely missed the point. In fact, you’ve failed as a budoka.

Budo only has meaning in the context of a complete life.  When your training gets in the way of a complete life, you should be asking what’s wrong. If your only friends are people you train with, why don’t you have time for anyone else? If budo has replaced all your recreational activities, why are you becoming so one faceted? If budo is the only thing you enjoy, why is that?

Budo is difficult. Training is hard work. That’s fine, it should be. If you are training so hard that your only relationships are with your training partners, maybe something’s wrong there.  One of the lessons of budo is not that training is hard work. The lesson is that life is hard work, and if work hard at it, you can do good things. Good relationships take hard work. If you’re spending all your time in the dojo, you’re avoiding the relationships that you need to be working on. Good relationships with friends, family, coworkers and partners takes at least as much hard work as training in the dojo.  

Letting budo training squeeze all other relationships out of your day-to-day life is a sign that there are things you need to work on. The problem can be lots of different things. You could be avoiding difficult situations that you’re not good at and you don’t feel comfortable with. You could be focusing on doing something that makes you feel good and gives you a sense of accomplishment to the detriment of maintaining healthy relationships.  I admit, maintaining healthy relationships isn’t something you can brag about. You don’t say “Yeah, I put my wife’s wishes ahead of my own and did those dishes instead of an extra set of kata last night.”  It just doesn’t sound as cool as “Dude, I pushed myself and squeezed in two extra kata sets last night.  I was completely wiped out!”  Maintaining good relationships just doesn’t work as bragging and ego building material.

Budo training is hard work and the returns are slow and difficult.  If you are letting budo training muscle everything else out of your life though, what are you really getting out of your training? If you are learning it for self defense, but you’ve given up every other part of your life to train, what’s left to defend?  Make a full life so you have something really worth defending, friends and relationships and people who love and value you. A life with nothing but dojo training in it doesn’t build anything of value, and all that training never has a chance to contribute to the world. Budo is a Way, a Do, 道, that reveals better ways to travel the path of life. You can’t travel that path in the dojo. You have to go out the door and interact with all parts of life, even the boring ones, the ones that don’t do anything for your ego, and especially the ones that are hard for you.  The lessons of the dojo aren’t really learned until you start applying them.

Girls heading to Kyudo practice in Japan.
Photo Copyright 2015 Grigoris Miliaresis

Budo training should help us conquer our egos. Budo training is an ongoing lesson in doing the hard work that doesn’t have quick returns and isn’t glorious. I’ve been beating my head against the wall of kata that make up Shinto Muso Ryu lately.  It’s not easy to remember all those kata, and to keep each branching straight in your head so you don’t accidentally slip from one kata into another at a juncture that is similar in more than one kata. On the other hand, this is so fundamental to the art that nobody is ever going to pat me on the back and tell me “Good job Pete.” just because I remembered the proper sequence of steps. If I can’t remember those, we can’t get to the real practice.

I don’t get any ego polishing from this. It’s just part of the training.  In fact, the longer I practice, the less ego polishing I get from any of the training.  It’s something I do because of the way it informs and improves the rest of my life. Budo is about dealing with conflict in it’s rawest, most straightforward form.  The same strategies and tactics and practices apply to life though, both in the way we train in budo, and what we are training.

We go to the dojo and we train. Training feels good and I enjoy it just for its own sake.  That’s a lesson right there.  Enjoy things for their own sake. It’s something that’s easy to forget to do.

The training teaches me to deal with the discomfort and pain and exertion required to get good at budo. This is perhaps the most basic lesson we should be getting out of budo practice. It’s also the easiest to ignore. It’s a lot easier to put forth the exertion, to put up with the discomfort and the pain, for something I really enjoy doing than it is to apply that lesson to something that doesn’t have the immediate reward of being something I love to do. Having cultivated that ability to endure pain and discomfort though, it becomes an ability I need to make use of nearly every day outside the dojo.

The effort necessary to maintain good relationships isn’t easy. Sometimes it is downright uncomfortable, and even emotionally painful. If I can exert myself in the dojo, than I can put similar effort into being a good human being with those around me.  It’s not easy.  I know there are several people in my life that I would love to smash, or at least be rude to and then ignore.

That’s not good budo though. Good budo extends those lessons everywhere in your life. You take that ability to exert yourself, and you make effort to endure emotionally uncomfortable and even painful situations and treat people well. Every practice we work on remaining calm and undisturbed while people attack us physically. Shouldn’t we be making the same effort to remain calm and undisturbed when people attack verbally and emotionally? Is it any wiser to allow someone to manipulate you verbally or emotionally outside the dojo than it is to let people manipulate you physically in the dojo?

If your focus is only on getting better at your budo so you can defeat others in competition, you’ve completely missed the point.  Budo training isn’t about defeating others in any sort of competition, it’s about improving yourself.  If your reason for training is only to defeat others in a game, you have already defeated the purpose of the training. The lessons are not lessons about winning a game.  They are lessons about life.

If you’re only applying the lessons about structure and ma’ai and timing in the dojo, you’ve missed out. All situations have structure and ma’ai and timing. A good life really requires that we apply the lessons of perseverance and endurance and continuous effort for improvement to all aspects of our lives, not just the ones that we are comfortable with. In fact, that’s probably a good clue about where you need to apply the lessons you’ve learned in the dojo. If there is an aspect of your life that you’re not comfortable with and that you keep avoiding, it might be time to apply the lessons of budo to that area of your life.

The newly revised and hugely expaned edition of Old School by Ellis Amdur
If you’re doing budo all the time because it’s what you’re good at, I’ve got bad news.  You’re going to to have to get good at other things to be a good budoka.  Even in ancient Japan people recognized that someone who is only good at budo isn’t a well-developed person.  The phrase 文武両道 bunbu ryodo stretches back to at least the Kamakura era. It means roughly “martial and academic are both of the Way.”  Even then it was recognized that a person who only mastered martial arts was not complete.

In the dojo, we train to be able to handle someone trying to crush us with their strength. We practice remaining calm as our partner is trying to hit us with their hands, a stick, a chain, a sword. We strive to remain cool and relaxed while people attack. If we can do that in the dojo, but we can’t do that in stressful, uncomfortable situations outside the dojo, we’ve completely missed the point our our training. To be true to the training of budo, we have to strive to apply the same lessons we practice in the dojo to every corner of our lives.

Budo should compliment all the other aspects of our lives, and help us improve them. It should never become so dominant that it squeezes the rest of life out. Even professional martial artists need a life beyond the dojo. It’s worth noting that one of the greatest martial arts teachers of all time, Yagyu Munenori, was known not only for his budo, but he was also known for singing and performing Noh theatre. Many budo teachers in Japan are known far outside budo circles. Kaminoda Tsunemori of Shinto Muso Ryu is recognized for the excellence of his calligraphy.

If you do budo right, it is very much that dangerous road that Bilbo Baggins told Frodo about ““It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  It will creep into every corner of your life and force you to face those parts you aren’t confident about, and work to polish them just as much or more than it demands that your polish your strikes, cuts, and throws.

If you’re serious about doing budo, you have to get out of the dojo and have life. You have to work at making that life a good one, and making yourself better in each aspect of your life. Real budoka don’t hide from the world in the dojo. Real budoka train, take a shower, and then go out and engage their life and the people in it, while applying the lessons of the dojo to all the difficult, uncomfortable parts to make them better.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

States Of Mind: Fudoshin

A while back I wrote about mushin 無心, usually translated as “no mind” in English.  It’s an aspect of the mental development we strive for in budo.  Another aspect is fudoshin 不動心, which is usually translated as something like “immovable mind.”  It’s quite a concept, and the main source for most of us who are not Japanese is a letter from the Rinzai Zen monk Takuan Soho (1573-1645) to the sword master and daimyo (regional lord) Yagyu Munenori. The letter is known as the Fudochi Shinmyoroku 不動智神妙録, and a convenient version of it with the original 17th century Japanese and modern Japanese side-by-side can be found here. I used a copy of the translations by William Scott Wilson in the volume THE UNFETTERED MIND as the source for English translation.

The budo community has adopted the term quite strongly, but reading the actual letter reminds you that this was not a conversation between two martial artists.  Though the main portion of the letter deals with the concept of fudoshin, Takuan is giving a lesson in the value of the Buddhist teaching regarding fudoshin, and not in how to do martial arts. The letter even includes a section where Takuan is remonstrating Yagyu Munenori for being proud of his ability as a dancer and Noh performer.  For all that, what Takuan has to say about fudoshin is certainly of value to those of us who study budo. He took the term fudo, from the name of one of the Bodhisattva, Fudomyo,不動明王, literally “immovable wisdom lord”.  Lucky for budoka this bodhisattva is a fierce warrior bearing a sword for cutting through ignorance and rope for binding demons, and not a merciful, gentle bodhisattva like Kannon.

Fudomyo-o. Photo Copyright Grigoris Miliaresis 2015

Takuan was a Zen Buddhist monk, so of course he had to speak in seeming contradictions.  Early in the letter he says

Although wisdom is called immovable, this does not signify any insentient thing, like wood or stone. It moves as the mind is wont to move: forward or back, to the left, to the right, in the ten directions and to the eight points; and the mind that does not stop at all is called immovable wisdom.

 A mind that moves as it is wont, and “that does not stop at all is called immovable wisdom.”  Takuan comes from Rinzai Zen, a sect that loves koan, and this feels a lot like a koan.  It’s not, though you have to do a lot of thinking and reading of the letter to get it.  Clearly, given that he say “the mind that does not stop,” Takuan is not talking about sticking your mind on one thing and making it unmoving, even if he does call it  “immovable wisdom.” So what on earth makes it immovable?

When I read it in Japanese, immovable wisdom, or fudochi is written 不動智, which is far too close to the word for real estate,  fudosan不動産 for me to easily separate the two  Real estate implies something that not only doesn’t move, but something that can’t be moved by human power.  I got stuck on the immovable part, and had trouble grasping “the mind that does not stop at all” portion. Without both though, you can’t really grasp fudoshin.

The mind of the common man sees something and stops on whatever catches his mind’s attention. Even in English we use use words that point up this condition.  We say that something “catches our attention.” If our mind is caught, it stops.  If our mind stops on something, it is caught. Takuan uses the example of looking at the leaves of a tree to describe the effect.

“When the eye is not set on any one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing at all in mind, any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit. But if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there.”

For the budoka, this is critical. Takuan goes on for quite a while about the mind getting stuck in different things; in our hand, our sword, the opponents sword, even which attack we want to use.

If our mind can get stuck, it’s not immovable. It still seems like a contradiction. This contradiction goes away when we give up the association of unmoving with immovable. If you walk up to an M1 Abrams Battle Tank, you aren’t going to be able to move it with your body.  For you, it is immovable. But the tank itself is amazingly mobile and agile.  Immovable is not unmoving.

We don’t want our mind to be caught by any particular thing.  With mushin, we are not imposing our ideas and preconceptions on the world. Fudoshin goes beyond that. With fudoshin you are not imposing your preconceptions and assumptions on the world, as that would be one trap where your mind got stuck on something from within you. Beyond that, your mind cannot be captured by what your opponent implies, suggests, feints or does. Takuan puts it “Glancing at something and not stopping the mind is called immovable.”

Takuan Soho's Grave in Tokyo. Photo Copyright Girgoris Miliaresis 2015

You can see something your opponent does, but you’re not trapped by it. If she moves her sword, you see movement, but you don’t get caught by it and miss how she changes her footwork. You see her move to your left, but you don’t become fixated on trying to figure out what the move means.  You accept it and move on.  Your opponent cannot catch your mind and fix it in one place. Your opponent cannot move your mind.

Your mind is moving, but immovable. In kata training, even in Aikido (all those prescribed attack and response drills are kata. Really.), there are many places where the action can branch in any of several directions. If you are fixated on one, perhaps the primary action of the kata, you can get walloped by one of the other branches. This is a particular trap in any sort of training drill, whether you call it a kata or not.

It’s a prescribed drill.  You and your partner both know what you are supposed to do, and you do it. Simple. A very simple trap. Your mind gets caught on what is supposed to happen. Then your partner does something easily imaginable but not what they are “supposed” to do, and you get walloped with the floor, or a stick up side the head, or some other equally unpleasant result. One example is a common Aikido technique, iriminage. There is a point where uke is directed down towards the floor. In the drill, uke stands back up instead of staying down, and is then thrown when they rise. What if uke doesn’t stand up? What if uke scoops nage’s leg as she is going down and throws you? This option can be blocked, but you have to be aware that it exists and not get stuck on what is supposed to happen. In kenjutsu, there are plenty of feints and movements to draw your partner off balance. Koryu arts are filled with startling kiai, stomps, and motions whose main purpose is to move your mind away from the real attack and fix it on something unimportant.

If your opponent can move your mind, you have lost before she is close enough to do anything to you. This is what you want to avoid.  It’s not enough to master mushin. Mushin is only part of  the mental battle. With mushin, you aren’t trying to force your preconceptions on the situation. Mushin doesn’t stop your foe from trapping your mind with her tricks and subtle distractions from the real threat though  You want to be immune to traps that will catch your mind and stick it in one place, making you vulnerable from every other angle.

If you are doing that iriminage mentioned above, you have to do the technique, but you can’t focus on it. You have to let your mind move along each of the options for uke, and negate them. You can’t get stuck on any one of them though.  For your mind to stop moving at any point is to lose because at the next branching uke can reverse the situation and attack you at a point you aren’t defending.  

My Shinto Muso Ryu teacher is brilliant at trapping my mind. He can change his stance, or adjust his balance or take an unusual breath and pull me into that action, then he attacks whatever point is open because my mind is fixed in a place of his choosing. I’m getting better. He used to trap my mind every time. I don’t know what the percentage is down to, but every once in a while I finish a kata with him and realize that I didn’t get caught by something he did. I’m making progress.

Mastery of your mind is a journey, just like everything else in budo. It is after all, bu-do 武道, martial way. We don’t get there all at once.  First we learn some physical movements, then we start adding in mushin when we can manage it, and later we begin to learn to let our mind float free in a state of fudoshin. Neither bound by our own intent, nor caught by our foe’s, our mind floats here and there, in our hands, at our sword, at our enemy’s eyes, and then upon their sword, at their feet, then back to our feet or arms or weapons. Never stopping, never caught, always moving to be aware of everything without fixating on anything. Fudoshin doesn’t happen instantly, but with plenty of mindful practice, it will grow and you will relax. Instead of being tight because your mind is focused on your legs and how you hold the sword, you’ll be loose and aware of how your opponent holds her sword, how she stands and how she moves, adjusting your sword and your stance and your position naturally without focusing on what you are doing, and without focusing on what she is doing.

Takuan said “Completely forget about the mind and you will do all things well.” That is fudoshin.

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