I know many people who scoff at the idea of budo for personal development. They see dojo training as strictly a means for honing technique. They laugh at all the mamby-pamby talk of personal development. For them, Budo is strictly a place for becoming a better fighter. Which is exactly why they are completely wrong.
Marc MacYoung recently wrote
The act of physically killing someone is easy.
What is hard is having the judgment to know when to do so or when not to.
I wrote in another post that “Budo isn’t just about learning fighting techniques, it’s’ not even mainly about learning fighting techniques. The techniques of budo are tools, but such tools are wasted in the hands of a fool. Teachers worry more about the mind and spirit of a student than about the technique. The mind is the most effective, efficient weapon there is. If you’re not training that in the dojo, what do you think you’re learning? “
Yes, you’re learning how to use techniques. That’s fundamental to the process. You have to learn the stance and postures first. These are are your alphabet. Only after you’ve learned the alphabet can you learn to spell whole words. Once you’ve got your basic postures, stances, grips, etc, you can start learning techniques. But learning techniques is like learning to write individual words. There are lots of people who can spell, but like many people I deal with by email, still can’t write a coherent sentence.
Budo doesn’t really start to become budo until you’ve got enough control of these basic building blocks that you can begin assembling them into simple sentences. In judo these look like the Nage No Kata, with basic attack and response patterns.
Even in the relatively simple budo sentences of the Nage No Kata, complexity starts sneaking in. There are techniques that require multiple steps to set up. Others are attacked, blocked and the defense is circumvented. Start with a simple sentence like “He attacks me with his fist.” Learn to reply with “I drop and throw him.” Simple budo sentences. Like simple sentences in a grammar school reader, are not very interesting.
Once you start learning to put together stances and techniques, you can have a conversation. Mark Law talks about this a little in his book FALLING HARD. Judo randori, or any kind of sparring, is a chance to have a budo conversation where questions are posed in stances and techniques, and then answered with other stances and techniques.
Just like in writing class, even after you learn spelling and basic punctuation there is a lot to learn about creating sentences and then paragraphs and stories in the language of budo. Early on we don’t have too many words in our budo vocabulary, so our sentences aren’t very subtle or interesting.
As we progress along the Way, we learn to choose more and more precisely appropriate techniques. We learn that uchimata is probably not the best technique for us to use on the goliath at judo, but that it works pretty well on the guy close to our size. Against that small, fast lady, the one who’s always catching us with taiotoshi, we’re going to need to polish up our foot sweeps.
We have to learn to recognize these things. The same is true in weapons training. The best technique against the tall, strong foe may be entirely inappropriate against the quick, light one, and the techniques that work in those situations may be utterly ineffective against someone short and solid.
Then, just like at dinner with the family, we learn that sometimes the best reaction is none at all. When we train, we have to consider that not all threats and attacks are equal. I spend a lot of time working with students getting them to make serious attacks. Often I can see that what they think is a serious attack won’t reach me. I can stand there and watch them swing. Their bokken whistles by me. I’ve learned not just how to deal with an attack, but how to distinguish between something that will hurt me and something that won’t (I’m a slow learner, so I got hit a few times before I figured out the real difference).
Knowing the difference between an attack that is dangerous and one that can be ignored isn’t just about technique. Most of the attacks we deal with in life aren’t physical. They are attacks on our mind and ego. If you never train anything but physical technique, how will you develop a spirit sturdy enough to ignore attacks on your ego? Are you learning the control necessary to ignore verbal attacks that don’t need a response of any kind? That’s budo too.
What good is all this budo training if you never train anything but technique? Without training the mind and the spirit you will be a servant of the techniques, applying them without discretion (sounds like most brown belts in randori). You have to have control and discretion about when to use which technique, and when it’s best not to use any technique at all. If all of your training is about how to apply the techniques, you risk applying one when you shouldn’t. In the US, that can put you in jail very quickly.
Truly mastering techniques means that you control the techniques. You decide when a response is necessary, and when it isn’t. You decide what level of response is appropriate and which technique meets that requirement. You decide when a situation is escalating so you can leave before you have to decide what level of response and which technique is most appropriate.
This means you have to work on the mamby-pamby stuff too, not just the cool techniques. You have to learn to self-control, to know that some attacks can be ignored because they won’t hurt you, and that other attacks should be absorbed and ignored because the damage that reacting would do is worse than the damage the attack will do. Do you learn these things? They are part of the strategy of applying martial arts training. Learning the techniques is just the first step. Learning when not to use them is a lot tougher. To be able to know when not to use a technique, first you have to do the tough work of training your mind and spirit to be greater than your ego. If you thought that iriminage or uki otoshi were tough to master, try mastering your own ego.
Are you training technique? Or are you training you?