Showing posts with label philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label philosophy. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

So you do budo? What does that mean?

So you do budo?  What exactly does that mean?   It’s some kind of moving zen right?   Or maybe Taoist philosophy?  After all, the character for “do” in budo is the same as the “tao” in Taoism.  Does studying budo mean you practice a system of killing people descended from ancient Japanese warrior arts? Does it mean we dress up in old-fashioned Japanese clothes and use a bunch of Japanese words that native Japanese don't understand? Does it mean your art has a sophisticated set of moral, ethical and philosophical teachings?  Does it mean that your regular practice of techniques for maiming and killing your fellow human beings are supposed to make you a better human being?  Purer? Holier maybe? 

For most of us, myself included, we’re doing something we enjoy.  Stop.  End of discussion.  We enjoy it.  Just like other people enjoy paddle-boarding, bird watching, and exclaiming over the latest super-hoppy beer they’ve discovered.  What we’re doing in the dojo is something we enjoy.  Unless you are involved in law enforcement or security of some sort, you’re probably doing this because you enjoy it.  That’s the main reason any of us keep doing this for 10 or 20 or 30 or 50 or 80 years.

As much as I love all the great, high-minded benefits and lofty ideals that budo training can potentially provide, I have to recognize that what keeps me and everyone else coming back year after year, decade after decade, is the fact that we really enjoy it.  Admitting that up front lets us get on to those high-minded benefits and lofty ideals honestly.

Martial arts training provides a lot of benefits.  People get out and get exercise.  We learn potentially useful fighting skills of various applications, self-confidence, and coordination.  These things you can get from any sort of martial art though, not just budo.  So what does it mean to say you do budo?

To start with, it means you’re doing a Japanese tradition.  Sorry guys, but I would say that arts from other cultural traditions shouldn’t be called budo (except in Japan when the term is being used in it’s broadest possible meaning of “martial art”).  If it’s not Japanese, it can’t really be budo.  This isn’t to say that budo is some sort of superior concept that only the Japanese have access to.  

Budo includes hundreds of years of philosophical development about individual and social responsibility and the responsibility to fully develop the oneself.  The majority of this comes from a combination of Neo-Confucian ideas and native Japanese ideas about self and society, but there are a few chunks of Buddhist philosophy, a liberal dose of tea ceremony theory and practice, and a dash of Taoist mysticism sprinkled on so lightly most people don’t even realize it’s there.  It is the presence and more importantly, the application of these Japanese cultural ideas that makes something budo.  Without them, you’re not doing budo.  You’re doing something else.

Not doing budo is not a bad thing.  Chinese arts like Wing Chun, Paqua and Hung Gar all have rich cultural traditions of their own, as do arts like Escrima from the Philippines or Pencak Silat from Indonesia.  To try to make any of these arts into Japanese budo would be an insult to the traditions, ideas and philosophy that have nurtured and developed those arts.  There is no reason to try to force other traditions into the mold of Japanese budo. Show those traditions real respect and let them be the Philippine or Indonesian arts that they are.  Respect them, don’t try to make them something else.

This brings up a reasonable question.  If Japanese budo is the result of Japanese culture, can non-Japanese truly learn it?  The simple answer is yes.  That’s part of the brilliance of these traditions.  They encapsulate so much of these philosophies and other ideas in their practice that if you train in a well established dojo in Japan, you’ll absorb most of them without even being aware that you are doing it.  You’ll learn about properly fulfilling your roles in society as you occupy a variety of different ones in the dojo.  You’ll be a beginner, a kohai, a sempai, an assistant, a leader and even a teacher as you stick around longer and longer.  You’ll learn about Confucian ideas of self-development for the betterment of society.  You’ll discover things about mental development and calm from the training.

This is not to say that you have to go out and specifically study about Neo-Confucianism or Buddhism or Taoism or tea ceremony or anything else outside the lessons of the dojo.  The lessons about these ideas are already built into the practice. In many cases these ideas are so deeply embedded in Japanese culture at this point that most native Japanese can’t tell you the origin of the specific ideas and practices.  They are just part of the cultural atmosphere of Japan.  In budo they are often contained in the expectations that surround how you train.  These ideas will show in the way lessons are taught and how members of the dojo are expected to act and treat each other.

Even in Japan it’s possible to just go to the dojo, train and go home without doing anything else, but then you won’t really be a member of the dojo, and you won’t really be learning budo.  You’ll just be practicing the physical techniques without getting anything else.  You probably won’t even be getting the real techniques.  If you aren’t showing any serious commitment to the dojo family, the real members of the dojo aren’t likely to make an effort to teach you anything beyond the surface movements of the art.

I can hear the people saying “OK, so you can learn budo if you go to Japan.  Fine, but what about those of us who can’t travel all the way to Japan and spend years living there? Are we doing budo?”  Well, if the dojo is a good one, with teachers and senior members who have absorbed the lessons and the way a dojo operates in order to maintain those lessons and ideals, then certainly it is possible to learn budo outside Japan.

The problem in many places outside Japan is that the dojo were not established by people with a rich understanding of all the facets of budo.  In the US, often dojo were established by people with enough understanding of the techniques to teach in a limited capacity, but without the depth of experience in the dojo to really grasp all the other things that go into making budo.  Budo is a Japanese cultural tradition, and even if we come from different cultural traditions (and hey, I’m a rustbelt America, it doesn’t get much more different) it is possible to learn and even internalize the ideas about relationships and responsibility and the responsibility to develop oneself so you can fulfill your duties to your fullest ability that is wrapped up in the concept of 武道.

Budo is a term loaded with cultural baggage Budo 武道 is a way, as is distinctly shown by it’s second character 道 (michi), meaning “way.”  This Budo concept implies a great way of self development, going back to The Great Learning of Confucius.  The first 4 characters in Chinese are (very roughly) “Way of Great Learning” 大學之道.  That fourth character is pretty familiar.  It’s this idea of learning and self-development that budo is an expression of, captured and built around the particular and almost contradictory practice of studying how to hurt, maim and kill our fellow members of society.  To be doing budo we don’t have to have mastered all aspects of the martial, philosophical or cultural portions of the particular style of budo we study, but we do have to be working at mastering them.  

Budo incorporates a lot more than just broad principles and specific techniques for fighting and killing. It’s build on traditions of thought that predate it by by nearly 2000 years.  It incorporates ideas about self-development and fulfilling your role in society (in this case the dojo society) grounded in 17th century Neo-Confucian teachings.  The pedagogy teaches fighting concepts specific to conditions in Japan at various times in history.  Some arts go back to the 14th or 15 centuries, some were founded in the 20th century.The arts teach and maintain traditions of fighting originating with their founding and some have additions or modifications to adapt to new features in society and fighting that may be only a few decades old.  They are all filled with Japanese cultural expectations about how one behaves, learns and grows, the role of the individual in the group and how one develops into various roles within the group.

That’s the path, the way of budo. Budo styles and traditions are Japanese traditions of combat that incorporate ideas and expectations for the development and actions of the individual members of the tradition. If we’re only learning the physical techniques, then we’re not doing budo. If we’re not trying to to learn and implement the ideas about personal development and responsibility in our lives, then we aren’t doing budo.  Dressing up in funny looking, archaic Japanese clothes and using some Japanese terms isn’t enough, or even necessary.  We have to be working at learning the ideas about self development and responsibility and seeing how they apply to our lives while learning to maim and kill people, then we are doing budo, whether we started yesterday or have been working at it for 80 years, or anywhere in between.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Budo Training and Budo Philosophy

There is a lot of philosophizing that goes on in budo circles.  I know that I am in the first rank of those guilty of it.  There is far too much of philosophizing about budo by a lot of people who don’t have the depth to do a good job of it.  This might be a symptom of the internet age though.  Everyone who trains should be thinking about the ethics and values of Budo, but not everyone’s thoughts are ready for prime time.  With the advent of the internet bulletin board and personal blogs (like this one) any fool (like me) can expound to the world.  That’s probably not a great thing.  However, budo without a philosophy of well considered ethics and honor is just another way of hurting people, so I’m glad to see there is so much time and effort being put into thinking about it.

Having said that, I think you need a ratio of at least 100 to 1 ratio of practice to philosophy, although it might need a lot more practice than that.   Consider that the Tao Te Ching can be read in an hour, and then you can spend years discovering new stuff from it.   All the good budo that I have encountered has been deeply thoughtful and filled with philosophical content, but the bulk of that content is written in the kata and application, not in words.  The kata and application are structured so they teach nearly everything about an art, whether it is a koryu bugei such as one of the branches of Yoshin Ryu jujutsu, or a modern art like Kodokan Judo or Aikido.

The kata and applications practiced don’t just teach how to do a technique.  They teach what the art values and thinks as well.  If you haven’t studied the kata and application of the art deeply, any written or spoken lessons about the art will be meaningless.  In Kodokan Judo there are 9 sets of kata, and they teach a full range of techniques for throwing, pinning, joint locking, choking and disarming.  But the techniques taught are just the beginning.  The kata teach how to apply them from a variety of ranges and attacks, so you can also learn something about when to apply the technique.  

When studied properly the kata teach a student to see how close someone has to be before they are dangerous.  The kata also teach an arts philosophy on how strongly to respond and what level of damage to inflict on an assailant.  Some arts believe in preemptive strikes (Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Muso Shinden Ryu share the same assassination kata Tana No Shita. One of the first kata in Araki Ryu is an assassination kata).  Other arts don’t include surprise attacks but are willing to strike first once they have been threatened (Shinto Muso Ryu’s Tachi Otoshi).  Still others refrain from action until actually attacked (Kodokan Judo).  This is philosophy at a fundamental level that is embedded in the kata of the particular systems.  These kata all make an ethical statement about what is acceptable behavior in the eyes of the people who crafted the system.  

Studying an art’s kata teach you what the system approves of and disapproves of.  It also teaches about things such as how strongly to respond to a given situation or provocation.  Some systems always respond with lethal force (see pretty much any koryu bugei from before 1604 c.e.).  Others have a variety of responses that range from killing or crippling an attacker down to simple restraint.  Shinto Muso Ryu has a variety of responses in the kill, cripple or seriously injure range, while arts like Kodokan Judo and Aikido tend to focus on the range from causing injury down to simple restraint.  These are all philosophical statements, but without deep practice of the art, the philosophy of the arts cannot truly be understood.

Most arts also have written or verbal teachings that supplement the physical training, but the physical training is the core of the system and really teaches what they system believes.  The associated writings help one to better understand the art, and provide some guidance in the form of things to think about while practicing. However, without intensive training in the systems kata and application, the writings and verbal teachings are nearly meaningless because they lack the proper context for understanding their intent.

Kano Jigoro Shihan, the founder of Kodokan Judo famously crafted two guiding principles for his art:
自他共栄   Jita Kyoei often translated as Mutual Benefit And Welfare
精力善用 Seiryoku Zenyo often translated as Maximum Efficiency Minimum Effort

These are simple statements, but the true depth of their meaning and intent can only really be understood through intensive practice of the system that embodies their meaning.   Mutual Benefit And Welfare sounds very nice, but actually practicing it in the dojo while you train is much more difficult that the simple phrase suggests.  The dedicated student has to learn how to do this even when they don’t like their training partner, even when they are tired, angry or annoyed, and even when a partner may have actually harmed them in some way.  The principle is not easy to implement, and it isn’t meant to be applied just during keiko.  

Seiryoku Zenyo is even more difficult to understand, though perhaps it less emotionally difficult to implement.  It starts out in technique, but grows quickly after that.   All Kodokan Judo students soon realize how important the principle is for doing the techniques of the system properly and effectively.  That is quickly obvious when you see a 60 year old judoka doing randori with a 20 year old, and you notice that the 60 year old is relaxed and breathing easily while the 20 year old is stressed, stiff and gasping for air.  Same techniques, same art, but the 60 year old is doing a much better job of applying Sieryoku Zenyo.  While the 20 year old tries to use strength and youthful energy, the 60 year old is doing only as much as is really necessary, resulting in the 60 year old being fresh and relaxed after a few minutes of randori while the 20 year stands next to him exhausted and panting for breath.  The difficult secret is that you are supposed to be able to scale the application of Seiryoku Zenyo to everything else you do in your life. It’s not meant just to be hidden in the dojo.  Without dedicated practice in the dojo though, the real depth of the concept will never be revealed though.  There are lots of things that seem efficient at first but that the trial and error of practice reveal to be mistakes.

As a student advances deeper and deeper into a budo school, they slowly discover more and more depth to the teachings, both the practical, physical teachings of the system and the written teachings.  The core of any budo system is the physical teachings of the art, the kata.  The writings associated with the art help a student to understand what is embodied in the kata, but without extensive practice of the kata and deep appreciation for their contents, the writings will just be so many scratches on paper.  This is true whether they are Kano Jigoro’s writings about mutual benefit and maximum efficiency, Ueshiba Morihei’s writings about the circle, square and triangle, Shinto Muso Ryu’s shiteki bunsho about the nature of the jo, or some of the esoteric teachings of other styles like Yagyu Shinkage Ryu or Araki Ryu or Miyamoto Musashi’s writings for Niten Ichi Ryu.  If you haven’t studied the physical portion of the curriculum deeply, the philosophy will be meaningless.

Now get out there in the dojo and study your art’s philosophy.