Showing posts with label endurance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label endurance. 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.  



http://www.budogu.com/Default.asp



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.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nin: Perseverance



 (にん, Romanized “nin,” pronounced “neen”
This is character for patience, endurance and perseverance.  I was going through some calligraphy my iaido teacher, Kiyama Sensei, had done and given me and came across one piece that was just this character. It’s a popular subject for calligraphy in budo circles, and Kiyama Sensei seems to have a special fondness for it.  He does it often, and he frequently includes at least one copy of it when he gives me batches of his calligraphy.

We’ve never talked about it, but I’m starting to get the message Sensei is sending me. There is a lot of talk about the important characteristics of a good martial artist.  This is certainly one of them. Good budoka all have by the bucket. They don’t expect to master the art in a week.  They keep at it whether they feel like they are progressing or not. These are the students who show up week after week whether the weather is beautiful and practice is comfortable and pleasant, or it’s summer and the only way we survive practice is to drink a gallon of water along the way, or it’s winter and the dojo is so cold that everyone is eager to start just so they can stay warm.  It’s not a flashy characteristic.  This is a quiet characteristic. It’s boring and doesn’t call attention to itself. It can be invisible because others become so accustomed to seeing those with it show up for practice week in and week out that they stop thinking about them.

Most people with nin don’t think they will ever master the essence of their art, but they still come to practice and work at it.  They are patient with themselves and their progress. They keep working at it, grinding away at their technique and polishing their basics. They aren’t inhuman machines that never feel frustrated because they are still working on the same movement they first learned 10 or 20 years ago. They’re quite human, and will often be heard moaning into a post-practice beer “I’ll never get that strike/throw/lock/technique right. It’s impossible.”  They show up next week anyway.

These students aren’t always the most talented. Often they are remarkable for being so very average in their talent. Occasionally they are remarkable for their lack of talent. What they do have is perseverance. They come to practice and they work hard. They go home and work hard there too. They don’t let the little things in life get in the way of training.  In the words of Nike, they “just do it.”   Training happens like the hands of the clock going around and around.  It’s just what they do.

They collect bumps and bruises and sore joints, but the keep coming.  Like everyone, life gets in the way sometimes.  This doesn’t stop the student with from training. They may not train as much as they like but they train when they can. Other aspects of life definitely can be more important than training. Family and friends are critical. Without family and friends, budo is just play, so when the need presents itself good students delay their training or rearrange their schedule so they can train in the spaces in between other obligations.
When these students find themselves traveling down a bumpy stretch of training where progress is elusive and difficult to see, they don’t trade budo for something easier or shinier or newer. They slog away at it, plodding down the path no matter how difficult it seems to be to make progress. There is no final destination on the Way that is budo, so they take satisfaction simply in being on the path.

I have met people who exemplify the spirit of 忍。One of my students stands out. She has had any number of medical issues that would have stopped most people. Each has been a hurdle that she found a way to pull herself over rather than a roadblock that stopped her from moving forward. The most recent is a badly damaged shoulder. Instead of giving up and stopping training, she has turned around and made training her physical therapy. She couldn’t raise her arm. Her range of motion was severely limited. The shoulder was too weak to support her sword. To top it off, the dojo is very difficult for her to get to.

She still shows up every chance she gets. When she couldn’t use a sword, she still worked on the kata.  Then she found a bokken light enough for the weak shoulder to handle. Where the shoulder’s range of motion was limited, she used the training to stretch and slowly extend the range of motion. The doctor said that she was healed. She said “No, I still can’t do my martial arts.” and it was back to PT. This didn’t take weeks. It didn’t take months. It’s been. Now she’s been cleared for all training. It took a couple of years, but she was patient and dedicated and embodied 忍.

Looking at my teachers, I see the same spirit exemplified over and over.  They are the generation in Japan that maintained the budo traditions even during the difficult years after the war when Japan was rebuilding and renewing itself. This was a time when most of Japan didn’t have any use for budo. Kiyama Sensei and many other people worked patiently and persisted in their practice. Today every town in village has at least one public dojo, many have more than one.  60 years ago there were almost none, and there were no funds to support such luxuries. People trained wherever they could. Even 25 years ago when I first went to Japan, there were lots of places without nice facilities. We trained judo in an aging gymnasium left behind when the elementary school attached to it was torn down. No air conditioning in the summer and no heat in the winter. There were a few leaks too. No showers, no changing rooms and no toilets. You better have gone before you arrived. That was where we trained every week. The mats were real tatami with canvas covering. Can you say “hard?”

People trained. It wasn’t comfortable, but if you wanted to train, you put up with the uncomfortable facilities and did your best. The people who maintained the many budo styles and ryuha persevered in their training when any kind of facilities were difficult to find, and training time was even more difficult to come by. They were literally rebuilding their country, and free time for personal activities like budo had to be fought for with care and delicacy so it didn’t interfere with more critical activity. My teachers and their peers had to work hard just to have the chance and time to train. Summer and winter, they trained regardless of the fact that the temperature inside the dojo matched the temperature outside.

http://www.budogu.com/Default.asp

Now, more than 60 years later, Kiyama Sensei is still training. He had knee surgery. They kicked him out of rehab after he was caught walking up and down the stairs for extra exercise. Just being able to use stairs was the doctors’ goal. Here he was doing laps of the stairs in the building.

For all of us, training takes that combination of patience and perseverance that is 忍. There are good days when it’s easy to get up and go train. There are other days when it seems to take almost everything I’ve got just to get to the dojo. Those are the days when I’m really training, because I’m battling myself to get there. What happens in the dojo is secondary. The battle with myself to get out of that soft, comfortable and seductive La-Z-Boy chair, put on a dogi and go is the real training. It’s in doing this that I realized that patience and perseverance are not necessarily qualities Kiyama Sensei and my student were born with. They are qualities I can develop and strengthen within myself.

Instead of just giving in to the seductive call of my La-Z-Boy recliner, the more often I fight with myself over going, the more often I have a chance of winning the fight. The more I struggle with myself, the more I win, and the more likely winning becomes.  Now I win the fight with my chair with ease most days, though this wasn’t always so. I’ve learned tricks and techniques for defeating the part of me that longs to lay back in my chair and lounge away the evening. Tricks like this one for just showing up.

We show up and we train. If we don’t show up, we generally don’t do anything. The seduction of my recliner is dangerous. It calls me to sit back, relax, take the evening off and watch some TV. If I do that though, I don’t gain much. I have days in my schedule when I can relax, so I don’t need to add an extra one. As for the TV, this isn’t 1978. We’ve got DVR and Netflix and Hulu. We can watch the box any time we want to. Perseverance, like patience, is it’s own reward. I can’t remember an occasion when I didn’t feel much better after practice than I did before before.

I follow the examples of those around me, my teachers and students. I show up for practice and do as much as I can. It feels good. Even when I’m not quite getting it, when the technique isn’t quite there, it feels good. I feel like I’ve done something worth doing. That’s a feeling I’ve never gotten from watching TV. At best I make a little progress. At worst I have good training and polish my self.. Either way I go home feeling better than when I arrived. If I had to fight with myself to get there, I have the satisfaction of winning another round against myself.

忍is a quiet trait. It's not flashy like strength or speed, incredibly flexibility or great dexterity. It's only noticeable because people with it are there, doing what they need to, without anything from anyone else. Patience, endurance and perseverance don't shout about themselves and don't call attention to person who has them. The seem to plod quietly down the road. The special thing about them though is that they keep plodding down the road. The progress may be slow, but it continues to happen.

That’s the big secret of budo and 忍. Perseverance makes good budo happen. It keeps your feet going into the dojo, which is the only way you get better. If you don’t get into the dojo, you’re never going to make any progress. Patience helps keep you there on the days you don’t improve as much as you’d like. The good news is that these traits aren’t static qualities you are born with. Just like your throws and strikes and joint locks are polished with practice, perseverance and patience can be improved with practice. Any improvements you make with them, will be reflected in the quality of the rest of your budo.