, the Japanese martial ways, have their origins in the age-old martial spirit of Japan. Through centuries of historical and social change, these forms of traditional culture evolved from combat techniques (jutsu) into ways of self-development ().
Seeking the perfect unity of mind and technique, has been refined and cultivated into ways of physical training and spiritual development. The study of encourages courteous behaviour, advances technical proficiency, strengthens the body, and perfects the mind. Modern Japanese have inherited traditional values through which continue to play a significant role in the formation of the Japanese personality, serving as sources of boundless energy and rejuvenation. As such, has attracted strong interest internationally, and is studied around the world.
However, a recent trend towards infatuation just with technical ability compounded by an excessive concern with winning is a severe threat to the essence of . To prevent any possible misrepresentation, practitioners of must continually engage in self-examination and endeavour to perfect and preserve this traditional culture.
It is with this hope that we, the member organisations of the Japanese Association, established The Charter in order to uphold the fundamental principles of .
ARTICLE 1：OBJECTIVE OF
Through physical and mental training in the Japanese martial ways,exponents seek to build their character, enhance their sense of judgement, and become disciplined individuals capable of making contributions to society at large.
ARTICLE 2：KEIKO (Training)
When training in , practitioners must always act with respect and courtesy, adhere to the prescribed fundamentals of the art, and resist the temptation to pursue mere technical skill rather than strive towards the perfect unity of mind, body, and technique.
ARTICLE 3：SHIAI (Competition)
Whether competing in a match or doing set forms (kata), exponents must externalise the spirit underlying . They must do their best at all times, winning with modesty, accepting defeat gracefully, and constantly exhibiting self-control.
ARTICLE 4：(Training Hall)
The is a special place for training the mind and body. In the , practitioners must maintain discipline, and show proper courtesies and respect.
The should be a quiet, clean, safe, and solemn environment.
Teachers of should always encourage others to also strive to better themselves and diligently train their minds and bodies, while continuing to further their understanding of the technical principles of . Teachers should not allow focus to be put on winning or losing in competition, or on technical ability alone. Above all, teachers have a responsibility to set an example as role models.
Persons promoting must maintain an open-minded and international perspective as they uphold traditional values. They should make efforts to contribute to research and teaching, and do their utmost to advance in every way.
Member Organisations of the Japanese Association
(All Japan Judo Federation)
(All Japan Kendo Federation)
Zen Nihon Renmei
(All Nippon Kyudo Federation)
(Japan Sumo Federation)
Zen Nihon Renmei
(Japan Karatedo Federation)
(Shorinji Kempo Federation)
Zen Nihon Naginata Renmei
(All Japan Naginata Federation)
Zen Nihon Renmei
(All Japan Jukendo Federation)
(Nippon Budokan Foundation)
Established on 23 April, 1987 by the Japanese Association (Nippon )
After deciding to post this, I've thought a lot over the last week about what to say about this. So many things have weaved through my mind. In a sense, tens of topics come to mind, all of which deserving of their own post. And yet I can't put that all down here at this moment. I don't think it's necessary, or even beneficial to do so. The topic of budo is best studied in small bits over long periods of time. To that end, I suppose my small words here and there in this manner should suffice.
That said, this document, the Budo Charter, is no small tidbit. Size-wise, it's not so long, and probably didn't take you more than two minutes to read and yet, this document is the product of well-experienced bodies who have come together to bind the core elements of the Japanese martial arts practiced today that can fit into the realm of budo, and that is big.
Coming to Japan I sought to discover the roots, reasons, and existence of martial arts. I have read, practiced, and thought what I have thought. After reading this document, I affirm its credibility as an accurate depiction and explanation of what budo is.
Perhaps the most powerful part of this document is that it illuminates what budo is not.
Budo is not about winning. Budo is not about being the best. Budo is not about destroying the self and transcending reality. Budo is not about killing. Though I will say Budo is not about these aforementioned qualities, it does involve them all on a deep level. We follow the threads of effort in existence. Budo has it's roots in violence. However that is not what it is about.
To give my small opinion in a small manner, budo is about putting our efforts in the right places, widening our ability, all to the effect of functioning well in the world.Much of the world is society. In a lot of ways I used to think, and perhaps still do from time to time, that peace and society were lower than the victorious individual amid life-threatening situations, but I believe that it is quite the opposite now. Peace and society are the most relevant realms to our existence. We should seek to accept and contribute to peace and society by being here now, doing what we decide to do, not concealing ourselves away in dark caves waging war against ourselves.
So that's basically it.
In the last post I said I would talk about why budo is best understood in modern Japanese culture, and here I will mention some things that come to mind.
The budo charter was written in modern history by modern masters of various arts in Japan. This is not a secret text hidden within the castle of the greatest warrior in history some hundreds or thousands of years ago. The Budo Charter was drafted by modern minds, in modern times, for modern life.
The Budo Charter is not a decree about life, but a document about specific practices related to martial arts. One can interpret the document any which way they like, making connections to unrelated aspects of life. This is fun, incredibly helpful, and perhaps the unwritten goal of budo, but, it is what it is: a document about specific practices of Japanese martial arts.
This has been my personal experience in budo in Japan: you go to the dojo and work on specific techniques in a general unsaid way specified by the Budo Charter, and then you go into your life. All the general philosophical benefits will slowly grow in your life and you'll have small epiphanies at random times, but one's effort is wasted without physically concentrating on what exactly one is doing, which is practicing techniques within the budo atmosphere. The Budo Charter is something to check in on every once in a while, not chant 1,000 times at every sunrise. Although I guess you could do that if you wanted.
I believe budo is best understood in modern Japan because modern Japanese society operates under a lot of the same guidelines.
People in Japan do in fact revere their religions as sacred, yet seem to neglect their existence in daily life. This is similar to the ideas in the Budo Charter: practitioners believe the details as most-important, but they are rarely talked about, probably because they are not often directly thought about.
The vast amount of effort in Japanese society goes into work. One's job is where the majority of effort is focused, so much to the effect that Japan is famous for it's work ethic, or rather it's overworked populace. Without getting into that discussion, this is similar to budo in that we must put our effort into what is in front of us, the specifics of our technique.
Perhaps the most glaring characteristics of the Budo Charter are related to one's partners. In budo, what is more important than self-advancement, is the harmony of the group. This is often put to question in subtle ways, but generally if one cannot follow the pre-determined etiquete and get along with the other members, budo will not exist.
Got it? Apologies on the terse explanations on such vast subjects. I'm really not cut out for journalism. But my words here are not important. Just read the Budo Charter and judge for yourself. For me, it makes a lot more sense in modern Japanese culture, but if you don't see that, or have never experienced Japanese culture, then what the hell, that has little meaning. Budo doesn't need modern Japan, but I believe it's best understood there, or here, rather.
What do you think?! Budo Charter: a good base for understanding budo? A big pile of unko?
What is budo? I use this term more than any other in my blog and have never taken the time to explain it. One day I just threw it out there and expected everyone to immediately realize what a perfect fit it was. Funny thing is, I practiced martial arts for over five years before I really knew what it was. I don't mean that I "knew" what the meaning was and just didn't "understand" it. I literally mean that if someone said, "Hey, Zac. What do you think about budo?" I'd say, "Eh? What's that?" A few years later, this word defines much of my life and I could spend hours, pages, blogs, years, talking about the subject, perhaps because of it's ambiguity.
You see, budo isn't so easy to define. If it was a concept with one clear definition, we could just say what it is, all agree, and move on to the next puzzle. For example, I think "martial arts" is pretty easy to define:
Practices related to potentially violent circumstances that could be described as art.
Ha! What do you think of that? I'm guessing the martial artists who just read that are not perfectly content with that definition. Obviously it is my own, made on the spot, in about 30 seconds. I hesitated at a couple parts, but I'm not going to get fussy about it because it's not all that important. The term "martial arts" covers such a vast array of activities, thoughts, and beliefs, I don't think it can be defined much better than I just wrote. Like "not enough butter spread over too-much toast" (thank you Bilbo Baggins), the topic is just too broad for a single happy definition, so to me, such an endeavor feels like a waste of time.
Instead, I think we can have a more interesting conversation with the term, budo. It's just specific enough we can start laying concrete blocks without smashing too many flowers, and yet nebulous enough to never really be able to find a finishing point. In a way, it is a sub-genre of martial arts, but deep and wide enough to blow the term, martial arts, out of existence.
So we're probably not going to mention "martial arts" again in this discussion. There is another term however, which acts as a great foil and base for comparison with budo: bujutsu.
I'm here to embellish in interesting feelings and stories about budo, not give definitions, so for all of you who have been reading this waiting for some substantial facts, or at least clearer explanations than I am used to delivering, I'm going to cite the main beef of Wikipedia's entry for budo, which also explains this newly introduced term of bujutsu:
"Budō is a compound of the root bu (武:ぶ), meaning war or martial; and dō (道:どう), meaning path or way. Specifically, dō is derived from the Buddhist Sanskritmārga (meaning "path"). The term refers to the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a 'path' to realize them.Dō signifies a "way of life". Dō in the Japanese context, is an experiential term, experiential in the sense that practice (the way of life) is the norm to verify the validity of the discipline cultivated through a given art form. The modern budō has no external enemy, only the internal enemy, one's ego that must be fought (state of Muga-mushin). Similarly to budō, bujutsu is a compound of the roots bu (武), and jutsu (術:じゅつ), meaning technique Thus, budō is translated as "martial way", or "the way of war" while bujutsu is translated as "science of war" or "martial craft." However, both budō and bujutsu are used interchangeably in English with the term "martial arts". Budo and bujutsu have quite a delicate difference; whereas bujutsu only gives attention to the physical part of fighting (how to best defeat an enemy), budo also gives attention to the mind and how one should develop oneself. Modern budo uses aspects of the lifestyle of the samurai of feudal Japan and translates them to self-development in modern life."
-Budo has it's roots in warfare.
-Budo is different from bujutsu.
-Do = way. Jutsu = technique
What necessary givens were forgotten in the entry?
-Budo comes from the Japanese language (duh)
-Budo is understood five billion times better in the context of Japan
I wanted to say something about Japanese culture, but when I say that, my mind is flushed with images of temples, tea, monks, and swords and stuff ... and that's not what I mean.
Modern day budo is understood best in modern day life ... in Japan.
Well ... mmmmm ...
Modern day budo should be understood in the context of it's root in traditional Japanese culture, and one doesn't have to be in Japan to understand it ... BUT ... in my expereience I'll say again,
Modern day budo is understood best in modern day life ... in Japan.
So I guess that will be my tint on the discussion. This is a conversation to visit here and there in pieces, not to be just stripped down all in one go, so I'll leave it at that. Please check again later, for the continuation of "What is Budo?".
The other day I participated in a kyudo tournament at my dojo with all of the members from Takaoka City.
If I hit two out of the eight arrows, then I could participate in a big Prefectural tournament.
I hit zero arrows.
Sensei said I can go to the tournament anyway.
That morning was a new low in kyudo. I went into the tournament after a couple weeks of frustrating but kind of good kyudo practice. It was frustrating because of two reasons: the thumb on my left hand which holds the bow hurt, and I wasn't hitting the target much. All of that compounded on the morning of the kyudo tournament: my thumb really hurt and I hit zero arrows.
I talk a lot about humility on this blog. I talk about how it's not so important to win and that it's OK to realize that we are really just a small piece of the world. But, I really ... hate ... failure.
I've had a few experiences in kyudo of not hitting the target while standing in front of people to the point of embarrassment. I feel like I've done that already and really need to do that anymore. But that's not how kyudo works. I guess that's not how the world works. Kyudo is simple cause and effect: If you do this, that will happen. Just because you don't want it to work like that, doesn't mean it will change for you.
The only issue with cause and effect in kyudo, is that I don't understand what they are. Why does this happen? Why does that happen? Sometimes these questions are easily answered with technical corrections in your form. Nobody has perfect form, so this is an issue that concerns everyone. But you certainly don't need perfect form to hit the target, most definitely not. I've gone through periods where I feel like I can't miss the target at all. That was in the past, when my form wasn't as good as it is now.
How do you explain that?
Isn't that cause in effect? I put this much time into practicing form which enhances my ability to put the arrow where I want, and yet I'm hitting it less.
Do I not want to hit the target?
I remember in practice I asked sensei if he saw anything strange in a shot I made seconds earlier.
"Sensei, did you see anything strange in that shot?"
"Not really, I'm suprised you didn't hit the target."
"Well, why didn't I?"
"I don't know. I can't see what's going on inside of your heart."
Why don't I hit the target, especially after I've practiced so hard, want it so badly, and really need to? My initial response to this has been to just go harder.
I've learned I'm really good at putting a lot of effort into something. I can focus all of my physical and emotional will into something, even at the expense of damaging other things like health and peace of mind. But now that I see that, it's really not all that special. Putting that kind of effort into something is like pushing a button: it's a "yes" or "no" question. It's clear, and doesn't require much thought. I guess that's the answer I wanted. I wanted an answer that didn't require thinking or problem solving, just a pure, "Yes, Zac ... just try harder."
Kyudo cause and effect doesn't work like that. Maybe it does, just not how I want.
More effort = less hitting the target.
But that's too simple as well.
Kyudo requires a great balancing of things. Generally, there needs to be a balance between physical and mental ability, an ability of the kind which is not just strength. Achieving this kind ability will not come about by blind effort.
After the tournament I started talking to one of the other sensei in the changing room. He's another sensei who trains in the morning at the same time as me. He's not the main one that works with me, but he is a great man who's company I enjoy and someone who has given me a lot of advice to fill in the cracks. My main sensei teaches me by correcting technique. He's also strict. I go to practice, sensei watches me, tells me something I should fix with my technique, and will focus on it until the problem is fixed. It's a very practical approach, and I like it. This other teacher I was talking with in the changing room though, has a much more philosophical approach.
"Sensei, did you see anything strange in my technique today?"
"Not really. Your technique is generally fine. Maybe something with your hanare (release)"
"Really? Like I should do it like this?"
"No, it's not really just what you're physically doing. If you were my student, I would give you less advice and say JUST DO IT!"
"You are your own greatest teacher. We other teachers will come in and give you little pointers here and there, but your body is what teaches you the most. Learn by doing, have fun, and don't care so much."
Personally, I listen to my main sensei give me advice about my technique, and then focus all of my energy into fixing it. However, these problems cannot be fixed in a single surge of effort, and instead require a long period of constant small effort. Furthermore, focusing on one particular thing takes your mind off other things that need your attention. One's focus of effort is important, but that alone will not save your kyudo soul. Actually, such blind effort will make you a demon.
I looked around at all of the other people in the tournament. Why did he hit the target so many times? What makes her so special? Chaos reigns in hell where cause and effect cannot be seen.
On the day of that tournament, I understood I didn't need to care so much and just have fun, but my desire to "win" was stronger ... so I was unconfident and shaky. I was relaxed, but my hands still fumbled with everything they touched throughout the morning, my kyudo gear, my train ticket, my coffee. My will powered through the pain in my hand, and my technique was adhering to all I learned, but something kept me from hitting the target. It was impossible, and I understood this before I even finished. I lost before I even finished. Maybe I wanted to fail. Maybe I wanted to die. Maybe I didn't want the satisfaction of earning my way to this next tournament.
When I finished shooting and still had a lot of time before the tournament was over, I moved with my thoughts and confirmed, "Yes, I wanted this to be over. I have died, and will be resurrected to shoot again, but this is over and will be forgotten." At the end of it all before everyone went home, my main sensei gave an announcement to everyone who will participate in the next tournament and said something about me. I was nervous and didn't understand what he said, and just nodded in agreement like I usually do when I don't understand what's going on in Japanese and immediate recognition doesn't seem to be important. Everyone laughed and we all dispersed. Afterwards, one of my training partners came up and said that it's great I get to join in the next tournament.
"What!? I'm going to the tournament even though I didn't pass?"
"Yeah, sensei says you can, so it's all good."
I went up to sensei and asked him about it, talked for a bit, and thanked him.
I am happy, but it somehow made me sick, like I didn't deserve it.
"Sensei, just let me die!" I thought to myself.
I want things to change. But that will alone will not be enough ... no ... it's not about being "enough". Just do what you do. When you hold your kyudo equipment, you don't grip it with all of your strength, you hold it softly, and thorough enough to complete the job.
What's my job?
Enjoy my life. Enjoy my practice.
Strength and success is not about winning. It's about not being able to win, it's about failing, and still being OK. This may be the ultimate secret of budo:
No matter what happens, you're OK.
This is invincibility, and it isn't about strength. It's also not just about intelligence, or effort, or luck. It's invincibility even though you are going to lose, freak out, make mistakes, do incredibly stupid things. It's invincibility even though you are going to die.
Who are we to choose when we fail or succeed?
Who are we to choose when or how we die?
I'm going to take the week off to rest my hand. Then I will go back to kyudo.
When I walk to the door of the dojo, I will not swing it open shouting "I am going to win!"
A clear body of water moving through another clear body of water. Floating, gliding, being the flow of nebulous movement. Stasis does not exist, but is washed away, spiraled into the next infinite swirl. No stopping, no flexing, no trying, no fighting. Just movement, and that movement is nice. It smells like natural perfume and soft bright colors shifting into each other. It's just water, always has, always will, nothing needs to be here. It isn't strong, it's invincible. Or rather, immortal. Not not-mortal, but simply is.
This is my tai chi today, and it's what I want. It is a practice only for me. Nobody sees my tai chi but the inside walls of my apartment and classrooms. Nobody feels my tai chi. Because of it's lonliness, I often neglect to visit, and so it hides in these spaces. Why would I forget it such? Tai chi isn't what it simply is, but whatever I want it to be. I can use that most powerful weapon of the mind, and mold tai chi to be exactly what I want it to be. But no, I don't always see that.
I've been away to war in kyudo, and aikido as well I suppose. I don't know how it starts, but all of a sudden I'm smashing my fists against the wall demanding the power I desire. They are bloody now, and useless: weak. I had to have it, but I couldn't, so I cried and scream and fought. I still don't have it, and so I'm disappointed in myself, the world. My failure reveals my weakness, thank kami I didn't actually get what I wanted, those false declarations of success.
That need is not strength, and niether is a stance. The movement, seeing, flowing, understanding, not-understanding, contentment: these are signs of strength.
Quite literally, I have hit kyudo hard enough lately to injure my left hand that holds the bow. When you hold the bow with your left hand, the bow turns slightly in your hand, and you focus all of your energy into a single point in your hand near the base of your thumb. I've been doing kyudo lately to the point where I've got pain when I push with that point against the bow. If it hurts, you shrink away from the pain crumbling your kyudo form to uselessness. No longer is that single point in your hand winning against the bow, but the bow beats you, and that point becomes some smudge of broad contact, putting pressure in your shoulder, your right hand holding the string, caving in your chest, and imploding upon release instead of expanding.
I suppose this happened due to an upcoming tournament. In order to hit the target as much as possible, I have been training harder and harder, putting more pressure into my kyudo practice. It's fun at first, but when the pain begins, it all falls apart, and my mind is always one step behind when I put on the blinders like that.
If the choice was to die or shoot an arrow, I could pull that bow, but I don't think that's the purpose of what I'm doing.
Training to the point of injury:
Time to rest and remember the flow. Maybe when I go to that tournament I will hit the target everytime. The truth is I don't know. In that darkness, anything can appear.
Kind of a big dude. Not fat at all, but big: broad shoulders. He was taller than me, but maybe not six foot. He's bald, so it kind of gives him a Mr. Clean kind of aura. Also, his wrists were notable large, which changes a lot when you do techniques with him, both as uke and tori. He mentioned this about himself, and that it's good to practice with different people to get used to different bodies. How should you hold someone's wrists when they're large? How about when they're skinny?
Kuribayashi Sensei's techniques were simple. This is something I notice about all great teachers. Many teachers will have their own flavor, favorite techniques, and maybe some special techniques that other teachers don't do, but what is most important, especially when doing a seminar, is emphasizing the basics. His technique is good ... no, excellent, because he minds the basics 110% percent. That means doing proper ukemi, keeping a solid stance, turning one's hips enough in the right positions (correct hanmi posture), relaxing unnecessary muscles, keeping the spine straight, utilizing correct timing (especially not rushing through a technique), etc. Every great teacher I've watched in a demo does this, be it my own teacher, the doshu (head honcho in the aikikai hombu dojo and descendent of the founder, Ueshiba Morihei), or with these various other teachers I've seen. He didn't do any special techniques, but rather emphasized the ukemi explanations given before by Oyama Sensei, and pointed out why the basics are so necessary in the simplest of techniques.
This is interesting and important to practice, no matter your level ... I think.
What was special about Kuribayashi Sensei were his talks between techniques. His background is in physical education (I don't think I'm using the right term exactly), and so a lot of his talks were about the specific properties of the human body.
Our human body is home to over 200 different bones and over 300 different muscles. When we move through aikido techniques, and life in general, it would be advantageous to move using as many as possible to achieve various tasks. When we jump up and down, we aren't just using the knees and lower leg muscles, we are also using our upper legs and upper bodies and everything else to enhance the action and reduce the stress on the body. When we move in aikido, executing both techniques and ukemi, or when we do anything in life, we should strive to use all of our muscles and bones as one single unit.
Of those 200+ bones, 47 are in each hand. Along with all of those bones, are tendons connecting them together and with muscles, making our hands extremely sensitive to sensing the outside world. When someone grabs our hands or wrists, we are very sensitive to the amount of movement and strength the owner of the hand is employing. Vice versa, when we grab someone's hand or wrist, we are aware in a second of that person's use of muscle or movement. This is why we must relax our hands and arms while executing techniques, so that our partners won't notice our movements. Furthermore, we often guide partner's along the lines they are already moving in order to trick them into your technique. They are falling further and don't react to your movements because they don't feel them. Then, all of a sudden they have fallen into your technique and are defenseless.
This use of stealth is why people wear wear hakama (traditional pant-legged-skirt-looking clothing on the lower body), it's to hide the movement of one's feet. If an opponent can't see or feel what you are doing, then they don't know what is happening and you can move into the most ideal position catching your opponent unawares.
Again with the bone talk, the largest one is your pelvis. This giant bone is what we use to guide our movements and direct our partners where we want. By stacking the pelvis behind our actions, we are utilizing our greatest asset of stability the body can provide. By unbalancing another's pelvis, we rob them of their greatest ability to gain control.
Aside from such theories utilizing the condition of the human body, Kuribayashi Sensei was a very friendly and funny guy. He liked to joke with the other practitioners and laughed a lot through the seminar.
He said one conversation you won't hear in aikido is:
When faltering in a technique, you probably won't hear a teacher scream, "Try harder! Push it!"
Instead, he said you'll probably hear:
"Ganbaruna!" Stop trying.
When things get hectic in aikido, we need to relax, stop trying so hard, and think instead about what is going wrong and how we can fix this. In this kind of conversation, we transcend the limitations of our bodies and start using the greatest asset given to humankind:
Though he started training after O'Sensei had already died, he said people often say that he would change his techniques everyday. The technique he had done yesterday was wrong, weak, inferior. Today's technique is what's happening, what's real, and what is built upon work done before. There's no use in practicing what was done the day before, because today's is better. Though we practice set techniques and may respect tradition for various reasons, tradition in and of itself has little affect on quality technique. If you can improve the technique, then you should.
It's OK to change techniques, as long as it is an improvement.
This leads me to a point concerning the other teachers in the seminar from Toyama Prefecture. I don't mean to offend anyone, and I do not hold ill-feelings toward anyone, but there are qualities to these teachers' techniques that I believe are less than ideal for practicing aikido. By bringing light upon them, we ourselves can learn better about the nature of aikido and learning it's principles.
The first teacher told us it was his 67th birthday on the day of the seminar and that he's been practicing aikido for over 40 years. He talked at length about various stories in aikido in a very quiet voice that most people couldn't hear. I think most people were aware that he was telling a personal story, but couldn't hear the details, and were just waiting to do some aikido. One thing I remember him saying was that he often got confused with the varieties of different techniques when he was younger. To get caught up in this is confusing and a waste of time, and instead we should look at all of the techniques as one. I agree with this. But when we started techniques, I didn't see any kuzusu (unbalancing the partner), and little regard for ukemi. Without these two, aikido is lost, and you're just moving around with someone else. He used techniques that locked the muscles and went contrary to everything I believed to be aikido. I talked to my sensei about this, and this is why he can't work together with such teachers. He seems to be happy doing what he's doing, and has students of his own. I tried his techniques, and just don't think they help mine. No offense, I don't think what he is doing aikido, and it's not for me.
The second teacher emphasized the connection between aikido techniques and the bokken and jo (wooden sword and short staff). I was excited about this, because it's a very important part of aikido, and one you don't see all that often. We use bokken and jo in our dojo, but not nearly as much as open-handed techniques, and for some reason I haven't seen a lot lately.
He pulled out his bokken (wooden sword) and began to show us techniques with a partner. He was very fast, very controlled, stopping the sword just before the opponent, and moved around a lot. It was like a whirlwind of movement around the partner who would only move slightly. The partner would raise his sword and come down in the time the teacher had already cut him three times. It was mystifying; confusing and alluring. He would then show the related empty-hand technique, and have us practice that. The result, was a lot of people standing around getting stuck with the first movement.
"What did he do?"
"I have no idea!"
Some people got it, some didn't. But all of us who weren't familiar with the techniques spent most of the time just trying to unravel the movements he made. He would come over and correct mistakes, but they were difficult to remember, and couldn't be replicated in a handful of tries. He then started showing us the execution of the technique while holding the bokken, and then had us practice with our own, which was helpful, and interesting at some points. Perhaps we should have done that more.
We kept practicing, and after a half hour I still wasn't getting used to his techniques, and just saw flailing bokken movements at still-standing opponents. At one point, I started to practice the techniques with Kuribayashi Sensei (the point of such a seminar!) and found myself doing the right movements, but merely moving around in circles while holding his wrist as he stood there motionless starting at me. This is the sign of a failed technique. If you're supposed to be manipulating your opponent, but instead are doing a lot of excess movement without affecting the partner, you're just wasting time and leaving yourself open to counter attack. I remember apologizing to him:
"Sorry, I have no idea how to do this."
But he leaned over to me and replied smiling, "I have no idea, either."
This made me smile, and so we both struggled to find a way to unbalance each other through these strange movements.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe the two most important characteristics of aikido technique are ukemi (proper reactions to techniques) and kuzusu (unbalancing your partner), and this sensei's techniques involved niether. Instead, we were left with an excess of unnecessary movements. As far as building technique, it felt like a waste of time, and I felt a bit embarrassed. These two incredible teachers from the Hombu Dojo came all the way from Tokyo to spend half of the weekend seminar listening to personal unrelated stories and trying to do aikido via defunct techniques.
"So this is what people are doing in the country when they say they're doing aikido..." He must have thought.
In a way it's true. What the teachers in Toyama said was that a lot of these techniques were the product of a past teacher. This past teacher had learned aikido, but mixed it with separate sword techniques, and in the end made his own. I can dig that. Kuribayashi Sensei even said we should change our techniques if we seek to advance them. But I do not believe these changes to be desired. Instead of effective methods of combat, they were products of an ambitious imagination, and became traditions to be revered. Perhaps there are museum pieces such as these that should remain behind glass unchanged by the turning generations. I remember reading such a statement in David Lowry's books about the kenjutsu he practiced. The moment I read that was the moment I lost respect for his budo. That's cool, I guess. But it's not what I want to do. I want to practice techniques that improve my life. More specifically, I want techniques that improve my ability to work with outside forces in life. In other words, I want to sense my level of strengths and weaknesses by interacting with outside forces. My practice is not time to make me feel better about myself, but to learn about the world.
So yeah, enlightening experiences, though often at the hands of less-than-desired events. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to attend such seminars, and happy to do so with so many other enthusiastic members. We all came with the purpose of improving aikido, but each of us left with different impressions, none of which are better than the others. My impressions fit me just as others fit others. I say that my ambitions are motivated by a desire to improve my technique, and thus improve my life. Perhaps many others feel the same way, but react differently. Who are we to judge? I leave my impressions subconsciously and hope to rectify misunderstanding with effort. Forgive any mistakes, but I must put my foot somewhere.
For all of you budo practitioners, I wish you best and hope you may cross hands with many other partners. For those who have no interest in budo, I hoped you enjoyed the article!