Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Art, Martial Art, and Life

I'm a martial artist. I train in several different budo. What does it mean to be a martial artist? For me it means that I'm constantly training to become myself. Not that I'm training strikes or cuts or throws or joint locks, but myself. I'm polishing who I am and how I interact with the world around me, and how I am connected to the world. It is training in the art of life.

I'm working on how to move in everyday life. The iaido kata I train aren't really about how I move with a sword. They are about how I move in the world. It's about how I get out of my car and how I move down the hallway. Most importantly, it's about what sort of face and posture I present to people I deal with. In iai, we spend a lot of time focused perfecting our movement. It's very similar to dance in that there are limited number of fundamentals that we drill and drill and drill. We drill until proper movement has become ingrained in our bodies so that we express it with every movement in or out of the dojo. A dancer is graceful on and off the stage, and a martial artist should be too.

In judo and jodo and other arts that emphasize paired practice, the focus shifts from perfect movement, thought this is still critical, to perfect timing and spacing. This is where the art of living in the world is practiced. In the dojo it's all about moving in time and space to be in the right place to dominate and control an opponent. Outside the dojo life is about moving in time and space to be in the right place at the right time for whatever is happening in our lives. The awareness and understanding of when and how people will move that we cultivate in the dojo is something that should be drawn on all the time. Moving through a crowd, dealing with a customer, a coworker, a boss, or a friend, what we can read from their body, and what we can accomplish by maintaining the relaxed, ready state we train for in the dojo makes budo relevant to every encounter, even ones we don't know we've had.