Dojo

 

Old Butokuden in Kyoto. Photo copyright Peter Boylan 2015

I started training in
the university judo dojo in Western Michigan University’s Oakland Gymnasium.
 But I was really looking for tai chi. Now don’t laugh too hard, but from
what I could find in Kalamazoo Michigan at that time, I thought judo was the
most similar to tai chi. Back then there was no internet and no YouTube, so
most of the information I was relying on was bad martial arts movies and descriptions
from books. I didn’t have the first glimmer of understanding what I was getting
into.
Judo was offered as a
physical education course at the university. I showed up for the first class
not really knowing what to expect. The classes were taught by Earl Bland and
Robert Noble. It was a university physical education class, so it was filled
with young, healthy students, most of whom didn’t know any more about what they
were getting into than I did. I don’t remember much of that first day except that
I bought a judogi and after class talked my friend Frank into coming to class
because the teacher said everyone was welcome, whether they were paying for the
class or not (I’m pretty sure the university administration would have had a
stroke if they’d found out the teacher was inviting people to attend without
paying for the class!).
I was more comfortable
in the dojo than anywhere else on campus. It had been a dance room decades
before and had mirrors along one wall. The mats were ethafoam sheets with a
green canvas cover stretched over the top, with two competition areas marked
out on it. You could always spot our people at tournaments because our dogi had
a green tint from doing groundwork on the green mat cover. I took my first
steps on the budo path there and I am still friends with many of the people I
trained with at that time.
The atmosphere was
relaxed and light. We learned how to fall down safely, and learned to call the
act ukemi. We learned how to throw each other, how to do the arm locks, strangles
and pins of judo. We had a great time, and we kept showing up for the classes
for years after that first semester. That dojo was my favorite place on campus
and I spent more time there than anywhere else except perhaps the cafeteria.
Every semester a new crop of beginners would show up for the first class, and
Frank, Sam, and other friends that I made stuck around.  We became the
seniors in the university club. I hadn’t taken up judo looking for a
competitive sport, but for the first time in my life I found one I enjoyed
immensely, even if I was no better than average.
When I moved Japan a few
years later, I discovered a lot more of the variety that dojo can come in. I
trained with the local high school judo club in the high school dojo, and I
joined a nearby adult dojo that trained in an old gymnasium. The high school
dojo is pretty typical for Japan. When I was introduced, the entryway had a
bunch of faucets and under each one was pot of barley tea, chilling for after
keiko. The dojo was a lot larger than the one in college was, but only half of
it was covered in tatami, the traditional style mats for judo. The other half
of the room was a smooth, wooden floor filled with people in kendo armor
swinging bamboo swords and screaming. There were at least four kendoka on the
floor for every judoka on the mats. The judo club was small, about eight kids,
but they trained five or six times a week, and most had been doing judo longer
than my four years. I learned a lot from them.
The old gymnasium, where
the adult group met, was all that remained of an old elementary school.
The school was long gone, but the gymnasium was serving as a community gym.
People used it for kendo and volleyball and other things.  On Sunday
evenings a group used it for judo. This was a few train stops from my apartment
and the closest group of adults doing judo. That the gym was an old elementary
school gym meant that it wasn’t heated in the winter or air conditioned in the
brutally hot, humid Japanese summers. The mats were old-style tatami with
canvas over it. Over time, the tatami had become compressed and compacted until
it had only slightly more give than the wooden gym floor we put it out on each
week. It was remarkable how fast my ukemi improved when I started getting
thrown on this. At the end of practice, we didn’t do a cool down.
 Instead, we picked up all the mats and stacked them behind the stage at
one end of the gym.
It was the antithesis of
a modern dojo, and was totally lacking in comforts and conveniences. No
showers, no locker rooms, no changing spaces. Even the toilets were in a
separate building. It was a great place to train though. Everyone was there for
the judo. When I first moved to Japan it was the only place I felt truly, 100%
comfortable. I spoke very little Japanese, but my judo was pretty fluent, and I
knew most of the cultural cues around the dojo. I was certainly lowest-ranked
student in the room, but I was welcome and comfortable and they worked me over
hard every week.
Sunday night practice
started with a class for the kids, and was followed by an adult practice for
all of us who had made it to adulthood and still wanted to get thrown around.
After bowing in and warming up, all the adults would line up on one side of the
dojo, and the senior high students who stuck around to train with the adults
would line up facing us.  We lined up by rank, so I started out on the far
end of the mat. Every week we would start with uchikomi practice (throwing
practice without actually throwing) and the junior side would rotate around the
mat so they trained with many different partners. After a break we lined up
again for randori. This time both lines rotated so we ended up training with
both junior and senior people. After that, it was open randori time.
 Anyone could ask anyone else to do some light fighting. Of course, the
younger guys idea of “light” was different enough from what the seniors in the
dojo thought of as light to make some of the practice interesting indeed.
Eventually that old gym
lost its roof in a typhoon and had to be torn down.  We moved to training
in an old dojo attached to a Hachiman shrine for a few months before we settled
in the very new, very lovely community center. I still practice there when I go
to Japan.  It’s a beautiful new building, and a pleasure to practice in,
but it just doesn’t have the atmosphere of the old school gymnasium. The people
are the same though, so the feeling on the mat during practice is much the
same, with the added bonus that my feet don’t go numb in the winter during
keiko.
Dojo can be anywhere,
literally. I’ve trained in parking lots and backyards and on the grounds of
shrines and temples and churches. Maybe the most interesting location for dojo
is Hotani Sensei’s jodo dojo in Osaka. It’s on top of an office building. Not
the top floor, but a separate building that sits on the roof of the office
building and is strapped down to prevent it blowing away in a typhoon.
There are a few dojo
that stand out as iconic. There is a wonderful dojo attached to Kashima Shrine
that I have had the honor and pleasure to visit on a number of occasions.

Then there is the
grandfather of dojo, the Butokuden in Kyoto. It was built in 1895, and the
builders seem to have wanted to create the most impressive dojo possible.
 They succeeded. The columns supporting the roof are massive, and the
whole building has been polished and worn with use to a lovely patina that
feels neither old nor tired, but alive with the energy of the people who have
trained there.
That is the essence of a
dojo. It’s not the place. It’s the people training and studying there. For me,
dojo space is sacred. A dojo is a place for putting aside my ego and everything
I think I know so that I can learn and grow and polish what I am. It’s often
said that “you should leave your ego with your shoes” when you enter a dojo,
and in good dojo, everyone does. A dojo is a place to study the Way. Whether
the Way is Buddhist, Neo-Confucian, Taoist, a mixture of all of these, or
something else is up to the students who study there. The important thing is
that we are all there to learn and grow.
I have fond memories of
many dojo. There was the one above a fish monger’s warehouse. Another in an old
side building. Hotani Sensei’s on that roof in Osaka, and Iseki Sensei’s on the
ground floor of his home. I can’t count the number of school dojos I’ve trained
in, nor the number of gymnasiums I’ve been in for tournaments. The Kodokan in
Tokyo has a gorgeous and thoroughly
modern dojo on the 7th story of its massive building. Then
there was the parking lot in back of Hashimoto Sensei’s house where we would
practice and try to avoid sliding too much on the loose gravel scattered across
the asphalt.
What I remember most
about all of these dojo is training with the other students. At every dojo I’ve
been to I’ve been welcomed warmly. It is the people who make each dojo special.
Each has honored me by letting me join them and train with them. We’re all there
to learn and grow, and we’re all there because we want to be. This makes any
dojo a wonderful place to be. The physical location is a distant second to the
gathering of people who are there to train and grow. That always makes space
sacred. Even old gymnasiums and parking lots.

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Dojo

 

Old Butokuden in Kyoto. Photo copyright Peter Boylan 2015

I started training in
the university judo dojo in Western Michigan University’s Oakland Gymnasium.
 But I was really looking for tai chi. Now don’t laugh too hard, but from
what I could find in Kalamazoo Michigan at that time, I thought judo was the
most similar to tai chi. Back then there was no internet and no YouTube, so
most of the information I was relying on was bad martial arts movies and descriptions
from books. I didn’t have the first glimmer of understanding what I was getting
into.
Judo was offered as a
physical education course at the university. I showed up for the first class
not really knowing what to expect. The classes were taught by Earl Bland and
Robert Noble. It was a university physical education class, so it was filled
with young, healthy students, most of whom didn’t know any more about what they
were getting into than I did. I don’t remember much of that first day except that
I bought a judogi and after class talked my friend Frank into coming to class
because the teacher said everyone was welcome, whether they were paying for the
class or not (I’m pretty sure the university administration would have had a
stroke if they’d found out the teacher was inviting people to attend without
paying for the class!).
I was more comfortable
in the dojo than anywhere else on campus. It had been a dance room decades
before and had mirrors along one wall. The mats were ethafoam sheets with a
green canvas cover stretched over the top, with two competition areas marked
out on it. You could always spot our people at tournaments because our dogi had
a green tint from doing groundwork on the green mat cover. I took my first
steps on the budo path there and I am still friends with many of the people I
trained with at that time.
The atmosphere was
relaxed and light. We learned how to fall down safely, and learned to call the
act ukemi. We learned how to throw each other, how to do the arm locks, strangles
and pins of judo. We had a great time, and we kept showing up for the classes
for years after that first semester. That dojo was my favorite place on campus
and I spent more time there than anywhere else except perhaps the cafeteria.
Every semester a new crop of beginners would show up for the first class, and
Frank, Sam, and other friends that I made stuck around.  We became the
seniors in the university club. I hadn’t taken up judo looking for a
competitive sport, but for the first time in my life I found one I enjoyed
immensely, even if I was no better than average.
When I moved Japan a few
years later, I discovered a lot more of the variety that dojo can come in. I
trained with the local high school judo club in the high school dojo, and I
joined a nearby adult dojo that trained in an old gymnasium. The high school
dojo is pretty typical for Japan. When I was introduced, the entryway had a
bunch of faucets and under each one was pot of barley tea, chilling for after
keiko. The dojo was a lot larger than the one in college was, but only half of
it was covered in tatami, the traditional style mats for judo. The other half
of the room was a smooth, wooden floor filled with people in kendo armor
swinging bamboo swords and screaming. There were at least four kendoka on the
floor for every judoka on the mats. The judo club was small, about eight kids,
but they trained five or six times a week, and most had been doing judo longer
than my four years. I learned a lot from them.
The old gymnasium, where
the adult group met, was all that remained of an old elementary school.
The school was long gone, but the gymnasium was serving as a community gym.
People used it for kendo and volleyball and other things.  On Sunday
evenings a group used it for judo. This was a few train stops from my apartment
and the closest group of adults doing judo. That the gym was an old elementary
school gym meant that it wasn’t heated in the winter or air conditioned in the
brutally hot, humid Japanese summers. The mats were old-style tatami with
canvas over it. Over time, the tatami had become compressed and compacted until
it had only slightly more give than the wooden gym floor we put it out on each
week. It was remarkable how fast my ukemi improved when I started getting
thrown on this. At the end of practice, we didn’t do a cool down.
 Instead, we picked up all the mats and stacked them behind the stage at
one end of the gym.
It was the antithesis of
a modern dojo, and was totally lacking in comforts and conveniences. No
showers, no locker rooms, no changing spaces. Even the toilets were in a
separate building. It was a great place to train though. Everyone was there for
the judo. When I first moved to Japan it was the only place I felt truly, 100%
comfortable. I spoke very little Japanese, but my judo was pretty fluent, and I
knew most of the cultural cues around the dojo. I was certainly lowest-ranked
student in the room, but I was welcome and comfortable and they worked me over
hard every week.
Sunday night practice
started with a class for the kids, and was followed by an adult practice for
all of us who had made it to adulthood and still wanted to get thrown around.
After bowing in and warming up, all the adults would line up on one side of the
dojo, and the senior high students who stuck around to train with the adults
would line up facing us.  We lined up by rank, so I started out on the far
end of the mat. Every week we would start with uchikomi practice (throwing
practice without actually throwing) and the junior side would rotate around the
mat so they trained with many different partners. After a break we lined up
again for randori. This time both lines rotated so we ended up training with
both junior and senior people. After that, it was open randori time.
 Anyone could ask anyone else to do some light fighting. Of course, the
younger guys idea of “light” was different enough from what the seniors in the
dojo thought of as light to make some of the practice interesting indeed.
Eventually that old gym
lost its roof in a typhoon and had to be torn down.  We moved to training
in an old dojo attached to a Hachiman shrine for a few months before we settled
in the very new, very lovely community center. I still practice there when I go
to Japan.  It’s a beautiful new building, and a pleasure to practice in,
but it just doesn’t have the atmosphere of the old school gymnasium. The people
are the same though, so the feeling on the mat during practice is much the
same, with the added bonus that my feet don’t go numb in the winter during
keiko.
Dojo can be anywhere,
literally. I’ve trained in parking lots and backyards and on the grounds of
shrines and temples and churches. Maybe the most interesting location for dojo
is Hotani Sensei’s jodo dojo in Osaka. It’s on top of an office building. Not
the top floor, but a separate building that sits on the roof of the office
building and is strapped down to prevent it blowing away in a typhoon.
There are a few dojo
that stand out as iconic. There is a wonderful dojo attached to Kashima Shrine
that I have had the honor and pleasure to visit on a number of occasions.

Then there is the
grandfather of dojo, the Butokuden in Kyoto. It was built in 1895, and the
builders seem to have wanted to create the most impressive dojo possible.
 They succeeded. The columns supporting the roof are massive, and the
whole building has been polished and worn with use to a lovely patina that
feels neither old nor tired, but alive with the energy of the people who have
trained there.
That is the essence of a
dojo. It’s not the place. It’s the people training and studying there. For me,
dojo space is sacred. A dojo is a place for putting aside my ego and everything
I think I know so that I can learn and grow and polish what I am. It’s often
said that “you should leave your ego with your shoes” when you enter a dojo,
and in good dojo, everyone does. A dojo is a place to study the Way. Whether
the Way is Buddhist, Neo-Confucian, Taoist, a mixture of all of these, or
something else is up to the students who study there. The important thing is
that we are all there to learn and grow.
I have fond memories of
many dojo. There was the one above a fish monger’s warehouse. Another in an old
side building. Hotani Sensei’s on that roof in Osaka, and Iseki Sensei’s on the
ground floor of his home. I can’t count the number of school dojos I’ve trained
in, nor the number of gymnasiums I’ve been in for tournaments. The Kodokan in
Tokyo has a gorgeous and thoroughly
modern dojo on the 7th story of its massive building. Then
there was the parking lot in back of Hashimoto Sensei’s house where we would
practice and try to avoid sliding too much on the loose gravel scattered across
the asphalt.
What I remember most
about all of these dojo is training with the other students. At every dojo I’ve
been to I’ve been welcomed warmly. It is the people who make each dojo special.
Each has honored me by letting me join them and train with them. We’re all there
to learn and grow, and we’re all there because we want to be. This makes any
dojo a wonderful place to be. The physical location is a distant second to the
gathering of people who are there to train and grow. That always makes space
sacred. Even old gymnasiums and parking lots.

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Discipline and the Martial Arts in Japan


Martial
arts and self-discipline are nearly synonymous in modern American
culture. The benefits of developed self-discipline are heavily touted
in advertisements for many martial arts, from karate to judo to
Brazilian jujutsu to kung fu and Taekwondo. Popular images of ranks
of martial artists performing technique after technique in perfect
unison; “Senseis” who bark commands and students who leap to
comply.




This
is the image of discipline in U.S. martial arts, and if you travel to
Japan, you’ll easily find more examples of this sort. Gendai budo
culture was forged in the first half of the 20th century in the heat
of Japanese nationalist fervor that saw the martial arts as a means
of instilling “samurai values” into the masses of Japan. Modern
budo that were systematized during this period often are run in a
strict, formal manner. This is most clearly seen in karate and kendo
dojo, especially in school
dojo.
These arts were molded to the service of the military culture of the
day, and so they adopted many practices that are suitable for large
numbers of people to train together.




Pre-modern
budo, or
koryu
budo
,
in Japan weren’t designed or intended for training large numbers of
people at the same time. They were, and are, about individual
transmission, teacher to student.  As such, they don’t really
lend themselves to large group instruction, and so the military
tended to ignore the classical budo.




But
there is one crucial difference between US budo practice and practice
in Japan: Regardless of whether the art is classical or modern,
students in Japan are expected to have self-discipline before they
start. I can’t imagine anyone trying to get their child into a
koryu budo so they could learn discipline.  It’s even more
difficult to imagine any koryu budo teacher accepting a student in
those circumstances.




In
modern budo as well, Japanese students are expected to arrive with
self-control. Teachers of modern and classical budo in Japan expect
to be teaching their art, and helping their students forge
themselves, not working on developing the basic self-control and
focus students need to get through class. Learning self-control and
focus starts at home in Japan, and it starts early. Children are
encouraged from an early age to sit with a stillness that seems
unnatural to an American. Behaving well in any public situation,
whether it is riding the train, sitting in class at school, or
practicing a sport, a martial art or a hobby, is emphasized and
socially enforced from from the age of 3 or 4. It’s not that
parents enforce good public behavior, but that society does it.




Japanese
groups are self-regulating. School children are allowed to regulate
their own social interactions, and they can be harsh. Kids who don’t
play well soon find themselves ostracized and alone. Peer pressure
isn’t just a thing in Japanese society.  It’s the only
thing, and children learn to behave in public very quickly without
much interference from adults. Teachers don’t usually need to
enforce discipline, and from what I’ve seen they really don’t
know how enforce it when it is needed.


Japanese
society is quite ruthless about excluding anyone who can’t follow
the norms of good behavior. There are stories of seeing children
being allowed to fight or quarrel among themselves over toys or some
such, and later, when the observer returns, he discovers the child
who had been aggressive and pushy is ignored and alone while the rest
of the children play together.




Even
when students start budo at an early age, there is an expectation of
self-control. The judo dojo in Omihachiman always had a few toddlers
just out of diapers running around in dogi. The toddlers were gently
encouraged to copy the older children, but if they went off script
and sat in Sensei’s lap, that was greeted with an indulgent smile.
By the time they were about 4 years old, they were capable of taking
part in class, sitting at attention when called for without anyone
having to yell or make a fuss. They learned self-discipline within
the culture of the dojo and society at large.




In
Japan, by the time most people start a martial art, usually in a
junior or senior high school club, they are expected to have
self-discipline already. Anyone without it won’t last. It won’t
become an issue the sensei has to deal with. Their fellow students
won’t put up with them. Japanese groups won’t tolerate
undisciplined members. For self-discipline, it doesn’t matter
whether the budo is old or new in Japan. Students are expected to
enter the gate with self-discipline.




Discipline
in the traditional dojo is modeled by the members, not dictated by
the teacher. All that is required of a new student is that she
sincerely work to learn the proper etiquette and behavior. I’ve
been in dojo in Japan long enough to have been through the process
myself and to have seen new Japanese students enter the dojo and
learn.
Enjoy the blog, get the book! The best essays from the Budo Bum! Signed copies at budogu.com



New
students in Japan don’t come into the dojo with arrogance, or even
an air of confidence. New students are expected to enter the gate
with sincere humility and a sincere desire to learn. As long as the
student is sincerely working at learning the way things are done in
the dojo they won’t have problems and mistakes will be forgiven and
gently corrected. One thing you will NEVER hear from a new student or
guest is “In my dojo we do it this way.” If you’re in a dojo,
you’re there to learn, not show what you know or how you’ve done
it somewhere else.




This
applies not just among Japanese children ostracizing kids who won’t
play well, but also to large, socially awkward non-Japanese as well.
I’m surprised at how generously I was tolerated as I blundered
around the judo dojo when I first moved to Japan. I think I was
regarded much as one of the toddlers in
dogi
running
around the dojo were regarded; I was too lacking in proper learning
and development to know how to behave.




By
the time I moved to Japan, I’d been doing Judo for 4 years, so I’d
sort of learned the basics of good dojo behavior. But in the years I
spent in Japan I absorbed much more. I learned to really appreciate
the simple respect and expectation of self-discipline that was
embodied by everyone in the dojo.


Arriving
in Japan fresh out of college and quite full of what I thought I
knew, I made more mistakes than I can bear to remember in these sorts
of things. I lacked the awareness of what everyone else was doing and
what they would think of me that is an essential part of learning and
entering the dojo as humbly as students in Japan should. The patience
which my teachers and fellow students showed me as I slowly learned
humility and emptied my cup amazes me still.




If
dojo in Japan enforced discipline in the harsh way movies often
imagine I would have been beaten into silence any number of times for
my cocky, heedless behavior when I first arrived in Japan. I was
greeted with calm patience instead. I did eventually learn to
sincerely try to see what was going on around me, but it took longer
than I care to admit.




The
big, bearded
gaijin
was
treated with much the same sort of indulgence as a toddler when I
first showed up at the dojo.  I knew the some of the basics of
dojo behavior, like when to bow, but I was completely lacking in the
finer points of good behavior, of good self-discipline. I didn’t
know how to properly receive an answer to a question or a particular
point of instruction. I remember Hikoso Sensei teaching me about
footsweeps one day. I had asked something about the timing, and
Sensei carefully showed it to me once. Then he turned to someone
else.  I was disappointed because he hadn’t gone into the
details and spent time working with me until I “got it.”  What
I didn’t understand then was the expectation between teacher and
student that the teacher would show it, and then the student would go
off on their own and work on the particular point rigorously by
herself. The teacher or coach doesn’t expect to stand there making
endless small corrections.  The student is expected to woodshed
the point until she understands it deeply and fully.




My
endless questions about things that I could have figured out for
myself with enough work on my own were handled with what I realize
now was a touch of disappointment that I was 23 years old and still
so immature. I’m lucky I didn’t find
koryu
budo

until
I’d been in Japan for several years.  By then I had started to
absorb some of the Japanese ideas about personal dedication and
effort. I learned that if I asked a question about
maki
otoshi

in
jodo one week, I’d  better show that I was listening to the
answer by putting in a few hours of polishing the technique before
the next practice so Sensei could see that I was paying attention.
Japanese children learn to apply themselves in that way very early
from their parents. If a child is taking piano lessons or shodo class
or karate, she is expected to be as dedicated in her practice away
from the teacher as she is when the teacher is standing next to her.




The
common image of the Japanese sensei yelling and berating their
students isn’t false, but it’s not as common as the mythology
would have it, and it’s missing the necessary context.. A Sensei
doesn’t start yelling and berating students until she feels the
students are dedicated to the practice already. Most of my teachers
in Japan have not been fond of yelling.  They just don’t give
you any energy if they think you won’t do anything with it.
Whatever you do is “good” because they don’t want to waste time
on you. When the teacher starts paying attention to you and tearing
apart your technique you know you’re doing something right.




I
do have one or two who like yelling. The funny thing is they never
yell at new students. They seem to base their attention on who they
feel is the most dedicated, and one sure way to show dedication is
travel six thousand miles to train with them. Then you really get
some attention. It can be disconcerting and downright frightening to
have a senior teacher yelling at you with this kind of intensity. He
expects you to have the self-control and dedication to knuckle down
and do what he’s demanding.  If you don’t already have it,
you’re not going to survive in the dojo. Those who don’t have it
tend to leave at the end of the night and not come back.




The
English idea that discipline is, as the Cambridge Dictionary defines
it “training that makes people more willing to obey or more able to
control themselves, often in the form of rules, and punishments if
these are broken, or the behaviour produced by this training”.

In
Western society
,
discipline
is something imposed from outside to train   Discipline is
assumed in budo in Japan, whether it’s
koryu
or
gendai.
It’s
just there when the student enters the dojo, or they aren’t
welcome. The situation in the USA is vastly different. Society
doesn’t assume children can have discipline. There is no real
expectation that everyone will learn to follow the group and behave
accordingly. This puts a different requirement on budo teachers in
America if we want students.  We have to be ready to impose a
certain amount of discipline from the outside because we can’t
automatically assume that our students come with it built-in.  What’s
thought of as “teaching discipline” in the US just doesn’t
exist in Japan.  Japanese students learn that sort of
self-control and develop the ability and maturity to apply themselves
with dedication very early. Martial arts teachers don’t have to
teach that; they expect discipline to be there before the student
knocks at the gate.









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In Memoriam: Nakagawa Taizoh Sensei

Nakagawa Taizoh Sensei at his forge circa 1997 photo copyright Peter Boylan 1997
My dear friend and mentor, Nakagawa
Taizoh passed away on November 16, 2017. He was 85. Nakagawa Sensei
was an artist and teacher of the first rank. He was a swordsmith who
made swords that were exceptionally beautiful, and exceptionally
functional. He was also one of the most knowledgeable people I have
ever met regarding Japanese art and culture. [It would be nice if
you included here another sentence summing up some aspect of the
essay to follow.]
I met Nakagawa Sensei in the spring of
1992 while working on the Jet
Program
in Japan. My sister and I were riding our bikes home
after getting haircuts in Yokaichi, Shiga, Japan, where I was
living,when I noticed someone sharpening something on a huge, old
fashioned grinding wheel It was the biggest grindstone I’d ever
seen. We stopped and stared at the grinding wheel for a while when it
occurred to me to look at what was being sharpened. It looked like a
sword. Of course that couldn’t be, because guns and swords were
illegal in Japan, weren’t they? As all of this was going through my
head, the guy doing the grinding looked up and noticed us. He waved
for us to wait for him.
He finished what he was doing shortly
after that, and introduced himself as “Nakagawa”. Then he invited
us upstairs for tea. He lived on the second floor of the two story
metal building behind the workshop where he’d been working; up a
steep set of metal stairs on the outside of the building.. Inside was
a small room filled with books and antiques and yumi (Japanese
bows) and posters for sword exhibitions and cats – and swords. Mostly
it was filled with swords. He had a pile of unfinished blades in one
corner of the room that quickly convinced me that swords must
actually be legal in Japan. 
Nakagawa san made some tea for us and
we started to talk. He took out a finished sword and started pointing
out some of the features. Other than the fact that this sword was
amazingly beautiful, I couldn’t appreciate it because I didn’t
know what I was looking at. Remember that, up until a few minutes
before, I’d thought swords were illegal. He showed us a couple of
other blades and pointed out the pile of blades that were his
experiments as the cats walked across the unfinished swords and
flicked their tails against the finished ones.
Nakagawa Sensei cleaning one of his swords photo copyright Peter Boylan 2018
I don’t remember nearly enough of
that first meeting, partly because I’d only been in Japan for a
little over a year, and conversations were still difficult for me. I
was still looking up a lot of vocabulary in my cool, new, electronic
dictionary (a godsend after hauling around a paper dictionary all the
time). I do remember that he gave me one of his business cards,
which helped my understanding and gave me his first name, “Taizoh”.
It also confirmed for me that he was a swordsmith! I was still quite
green at figuring out Japanese etiquette on the fly, but I decided
that a guy who was licensed to make swords deserved more respect than
to just be called “Nakagawa San”, so I upgraded the honorific I
was using to “Nakagawa Sensei”, which seemed more fitting. When
we left he invited us to come back any time (at least that’s what I
understood). As a parting gift, he gave us a pair of antique soba
cups from the Edo period.
Nakagawa Sensei’s business card
After that, I started visiting Sensei
whenever I could. I was teaching English in the local junior high
schools, so I’d visit after work and on the weekends. Sensei’s
patience with my poor Japanese amazes me to this day. If he was
working in his forge, he was happy to let me watch, and I was
thrilled to be able to. I got to see a lot of incredible swords
through Sensei. People would often bring him swords to look at and
appraise. Sensei was friends with many sword collectors in the area
and sometimes we would visit them together. I wanted to understand
more about all the beautiful swords I was seeing and handling I found
a copy of Leon Kapp and Yoshindo Yoshihara’s The
Craft Of the Japanese Sword
and started reading. Our
conversations about swords quickly become much more interesting and
complex as I added to my sword-related vocabulary, but Sensei was
still very patient with me as I looked up words in every other
subject we discussed.
I had been training in Judo since 1985,
but Sensei introduced me to the world of koryu budo as a result of
our discussions; and the opportunity to handle so many fine blades
made me want to understand them even more. I eventually decided that
to fully appreciate these swords, I would have to understand how they
were used.
Nakagawa Sensei was always happy to
meet people and share his love for Nihonto. I introduced him to
administrators at the local extension campus for Michigan
universities (JCMU). The students
were very interested in meeting Sensei, and learning about his art,
and he was completely open to the idea. We arranged for a group of
the university students to visit Sensei’s workshop to see him work
and learn about swords, and Sensei arranged a side trip to see the
collection of a great sword collector in the area. He happily shared
an amazing experience with them that very few people anywhere can
have.
Sensei shared his knowledge and passion
for Nihonto with anyone who was interested and respectful. He also
freely shared his swords. Shortly after starting iaido with Takada
Sensei, I mentioned to Nakagawa Sensei that I was thinking about
grinding a blade to use in trying tameshigiri. Nakagawa Sensei was
dismissive of the idea. Instead he got up from where we were sitting
on the floor of his front room and disappeared for a minute. When he
came back he had a long, purple cloth bag in his hand. He handed it
to me and said “If you want to do tameshigiri, use this.”
I opened the bag and took out a heavy
sword in a shirasaya. As I drew the blade from the saya, Sensei told
me “I made this but I won’t sell it. I think the steel is a
little too soft. It’s good for you to do tameshigiri with though.”
I protested that I couldn’t possibly use the beautiful blade I was
holding for tameshigiri, but Sensei assured me repeatedly that it was
fine for me to cut with this sword. I let Sensei convince me that it
was ok.
At the next practice, I talked with
Takada Sensei about doing tameshigiri and explained that I had a
sword we could use without fear because it didn’t matter if I
damaged it. Takada Sensei was excited by the idea and we started
planning. A couple of weeks later we had everything we needed put
together: sword, tatami omote rolled and soaked, some bamboo stalks,
and stands to hold everything. Oh – and Nakagawa Sensei.
Nakagawa Sensei offered to come to
keiko on the night we did the cutting. He picked me up in his car and
drove to gym where we trained. Just in case there were any problems,
Sensei brought along a couple special tools he had for straightening
bent blades. Takada Sensei had a stand in which we could stack
rolled mats horizontally. We set up the stand and stacked mats
three-high on it. Takada Sensei went first, swung a big kiriorishi
and cut through the top two mats with ease. Then it was my turn. I
had only been doing iai for a few months. I raised the sword up and
took a huge, muscular swing into the mats and managed to cut through
two of them. I also managed to put a rather extreme bend in the
blade. Fortunately, Nakagawa Sensei told the truth when he said it
was ok for me to cut with the sword. He just smiled, took the sword
from me and started straightening it out with tools he had brought.
Then he handed it back to me and we did some more cutting.
Nakagawa Sensei had very high standards
for what made a sword good enough to leave his forge. The sword we
haad used for tameshigiri, for all its beauty, strength and
flexibility, did not live up to his expectations. He felt the steel
in the blade was a little too soft for a proper sword, so even though
he went to the expense to have it polished and mounted, he would
never consider selling it. The sword wasn’t quite good enough.
As I got to know Nakagawa Sensei, he
began to let me help around the forge. I did all sorts of little
things like cutting charcoal to size (I never dreamed that charcoal
has to be the proper size for various operations in the forge to go
well. I still have a scar on my index finger where I managed to cut
myself instead of the charcoal once.) Even though he had a power
hammer that was mechanically precise, he would have me swing the big
hammer for him from time to time, as much for me to experience doing
it as for the pleasure of working as a team, I think. The big hammer
differs from a western sledge hammer in that the haft is offset in
the head. Instead of coming into the middle of the hammer so the head
is balanced on the end of the haft, it comes in on one end of the
head. This makes the hammer unbalanced and more difficult to control,
but the offset head almost swings itself, making the strikes stronger
with less effort. I wasn’t very good, but Sensei never seemed to
mind my lack of skill, and I did get better over time.
In 1998 Nakagawa Sensei established a
forge in Ihara-cho in Okayama prefecture. I was beyond honored when
he asked me to help out with the dedication ceremony. The ceremony
was to include a Shugendo priest and anoffering of traditional dance
by a young boy. In addition, offerings would be made to the deity of
the forge. Sensei would also ritually smelt and work the first piece
of steel assisted by a group of deshi swinging the big hammers.
Sensei asked me to be one of a pair of deshi swinging the hammers for
him. No power tools would be used for the ceremony.
The new forge decorated and fired up during the dedication ceremony. Photo Copyright 1998
In the days before the ceremony, we
prepared the new forge by sweeping it repeatedly and hauling up
chairs for people to sit on. Ihara-cho is on top of mountain in
rural Okayama Prefecture, and the forge was difficult to get to – up
a steep slope that defeated some cars. We set up a platform for the
altar with offerings, including kagami mochi (rice cakes),
fruit and sake. We also hung traditional rice paper
and erected standing green bamboo around the forge.
The shugendo priest blessed the forge
and we hammered away at a fresh piece of ore. It’s difficult
working the hammer by yourself but working in a man team also
requires cooperation and coordination so only the hot ore is hammered
and not anything else. Sensei directed the deshi where to strike and
in what rythm by tapping with his hammer. After we had worked the ore
into steel by hammering and folding it a number of times, Sensei
quenched it in some water and we placed it on the altar as an
offering. Then the young boy performed a traditional dance for the
gods. The ceremony finished with us cutting up the kagami mochi
and opening the sake for everyone to share.

Working the first steel in the new forge with Nakagawa Sensei Photo Copyright 1998 Peter Boylan
Sensei loved to discuss art and
politics and culture and history. Because of my passion for martial
arts as well as for swords, we spent a lot of time talking about the
relationships among traditional arts in Japan, budo and
swords. Being surrounded by swords while talking with a master
swordsmith who also practiced classical Heki Ryu kyudo and was
also very familiar with many of the classical sword arts and much of
their internal politics didn’t leave much room for me to hang onto
illusions about the world of swords and martial arts. I traded my
myths about unbreakable swords that could cut through anything for
the fascinating truth of swords carefully crafted by smiths, polished
so finely that the grain of the steel becomes visible, and wielded by
people who may be masters of the art of swordsmanship but are still
quite human.
What else can I say about a man who was
a talented sculptor and a university professor before he became an
incredibly skilled swordsmith? As a skilled practitioner of Heki Ryu
kyudo, Nakagawa Sensei had participated in some extended endurance
shoots. Though he never tried the 24 hour shoot, he successfully
completed some of the shorter ones. He owned a Ming Dynasty bowl
while living with three cats. The bowl got broken. The cats were
excused and forgiven.
Nakagawa Sensei in his living room, the pile of swords in front of him, and his Ming bowl on the bookshelf. The cats were hiding. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2018
He enjoyed Japanese green tea and soba
noodles. He worked in a charcoal dust covered forge and got
absolutely covered in charcoal dust himself when working.
Nonetheless, when he cleaned up to go out, he was one of the most
stylish people I have seen, with a personal sense of elegance that
was wonderful to the eye. We would visit art museums in Kyoto and the
Tokugawa Museum in Nagoya to see the paintings and sculpture as much
as to see the beautiful swords they often had on display.
Nakagawa Sensei was a great smith. I
once watched him turn down a commission for five swords because it
was a boring commission. The buyer wanted five matching swords, and
the idea of making five nearly identical swords didn’t interest
Sensei at all. On the other hand, he made a beautiful omamori
tanto
and gave it to my wife and me to commemorate our wedding.
He could tell you the carbon content of a piece of ore by looking at
it (really! I challenged him on this once and he fired up his
grinder, handed me a book with spark patterns for steel and proceeded
to accurately identify every piece that he sparked on the grinder).
One of the things he allowed me to help
him with was gathering old steel to use in making swords. When old
temples and shrines were being renovated we would go and gather up
the old nails and iron fittings with a huge magnet. Then we would go
through and sort the pieces into traditional Japan-made steel and
western-made steel. With a little study, you can tell the difference
between the two easily. I spent many pleasant hours collecting and
sorting steel while Sensei did things that took far more skill than I
ever acquired.
I will always treasure my memories of
helping Sensei in the forge and sitting with him in his living room
surrounded by swords and cats and yet more swords, talking about
everything under the sun.
I miss you Sensei.

via Blogger http://ift.tt/2rrMJay

Nakagawa Taizoh Sensei: In Memoriam

Nakagawa Taizoh Sensei at his forge circa 1997 photo copyright Peter Boylan 1997
My dear friend and mentor, Nakagawa
Taizoh passed away on November 16, 2017. He was 85. Nakagawa Sensei
was an artist and teacher of the first rank. He was a swordsmith who
made swords that were exceptionally beautiful, and exceptionally
functional. He was also one of the most knowledgeable people I have
ever met regarding Japanese art and culture. [It would be nice if
you included here another sentence summing up some aspect of the
essay to follow.]
I met Nakagawa Sensei in the spring of
1992 while working on the Jet
Program
in Japan. My sister and I were riding our bikes home
after getting haircuts in Yokaichi, Shiga, Japan, where I was
living,when I noticed someone sharpening something on a huge, old
fashioned grinding wheel It was the biggest grindstone I’d ever
seen. We stopped and stared at the grinding wheel for a while when it
occurred to me to look at what was being sharpened. It looked like a
sword. Of course that couldn’t be, because guns and swords were
illegal in Japan, weren’t they? As all of this was going through my
head, the guy doing the grinding looked up and noticed us. He waved
for us to wait for him.
He finished what he was doing shortly
after that, and introduced himself as “Nakagawa”. Then he invited
us upstairs for tea. He lived on the second floor of the two story
metal building behind the workshop where he’d been working; up a
steep set of metal stairs on the outside of the building.. Inside was
a small room filled with books and antiques and yumi (Japanese
bows) and posters for sword exhibitions and cats – and swords. Mostly
it was filled with swords. He had a pile of unfinished blades in one
corner of the room that quickly convinced me that swords must
actually be legal in Japan. 
Nakagawa san made some tea for us and
we started to talk. He took out a finished sword and started pointing
out some of the features. Other than the fact that this sword was
amazingly beautiful, I couldn’t appreciate it because I didn’t
know what I was looking at. Remember that, up until a few minutes
before, I’d thought swords were illegal. He showed us a couple of
other blades and pointed out the pile of blades that were his
experiments as the cats walked across the unfinished swords and
flicked their tails against the finished ones.
Nakagawa Sensei cleaning one of his swords photo copyright Peter Boylan 2018
I don’t remember nearly enough of
that first meeting, partly because I’d only been in Japan for a
little over a year, and conversations were still difficult for me. I
was still looking up a lot of vocabulary in my cool, new, electronic
dictionary (a godsend after hauling around a paper dictionary all the
time). I do remember that he gave me one of his business cards,
which helped my understanding and gave me his first name, “Taizoh”.
It also confirmed for me that he was a swordsmith! I was still quite
green at figuring out Japanese etiquette on the fly, but I decided
that a guy who was licensed to make swords deserved more respect than
to just be called “Nakagawa San”, so I upgraded the honorific I
was using to “Nakagawa Sensei”, which seemed more fitting. When
we left he invited us to come back any time (at least that’s what I
understood). As a parting gift, he gave us a pair of antique soba
cups from the Edo period.
After that, I started visiting Sensei
whenever I could. I was teaching English in the local junior high
schools, so I’d visit after work and on the weekends. Sensei’s
patience with my poor Japanese amazes me to this day. If he was
working in his forge, he was happy to let me watch, and I was
thrilled to be able to. I got to see a lot of incredible swords
through Sensei. People would often bring him swords to look at and
appraise. Sensei was friends with many sword collectors in the area
and sometimes we would visit them together. I wanted to understand
more about all the beautiful swords I was seeing and handling I found
a copy of Leon Kapp and Yoshindo Yoshihara’s The
Craft Of the Japanese Sword
and started reading. Our
conversations about swords quickly become much more interesting and
complex as I added to my sword-related vocabulary, but Sensei was
still very patient with me as I looked up words in every other
subject we discussed.
I had been training in Judo since 1985,
but Sensei introduced me to the world of koryu budo as a result of
our discussions; and the opportunity to handle so many fine blades
made me want to understand them even more. I eventually decided that
to fully appreciate these swords, I would have to understand how they
were used.
Nakagawa Sensei was always happy to
meet people and share his love for Nihonto. I introduced him to
administrators at the local extension campus for Michigan
universities (JCMU). The students
were very interested in meeting Sensei, and learning about his art,
and he was completely open to the idea. We arranged for a group of
the university students to visit Sensei’s workshop to see him work
and learn about swords, and Sensei arranged a side trip to see the
collection of a great sword collector in the area. He happily shared
an amazing experience with them that very few people anywhere can
have.
Sensei shared his knowledge and passion
for Nihonto with anyone who was interested and respectful. He also
freely shared his swords. Shortly after starting iaido with Takada
Sensei, I mentioned to Nakagawa Sensei that I was thinking about
grinding a blade to use in trying tameshigiri. Nakagawa Sensei was
dismissive of the idea. Instead he got up from where we were sitting
on the floor of his front room and disappeared for a minute. When he
came back he had a long, purple cloth bag in his hand. He handed it
to me and said “If you want to do tameshigiri, use this.”
I opened the bag and took out a heavy
sword in a shirasaya. As I drew the blade from the saya, Sensei told
me “I made this but I won’t sell it. I think the steel is a
little too soft. It’s good for you to do tameshigiri with though.”
I protested that I couldn’t possibly use the beautiful blade I was
holding for tameshigiri, but Sensei assured me repeatedly that it was
fine for me to cut with this sword. I let Sensei convince me that it
was ok.
At the next practice, I talked with
Takada Sensei about doing tameshigiri and explained that I had a
sword we could use without fear because it didn’t matter if I
damaged it. Takada Sensei was excited by the idea and we started
planning. A couple of weeks later we had everything we needed put
together: sword, tatami omote rolled and soaked, some bamboo stalks,
and stands to hold everything. Oh – and Nakagawa Sensei.
Nakagawa Sensei offered to come to
keiko on the night we did the cutting. He picked me up in his car and
drove to gym where we trained. Just in case there were any problems,
Sensei brought along a couple special tools he had for straightening
bent blades. Takada Sensei had a stand in which we could stack
rolled mats horizontally. We set up the stand and stacked mats
three-high on it. Takada Sensei went first, swung a big kiriorishi
and cut through the top two mats with ease. Then it was my turn. I
had only been doing iai for a few months. I raised the sword up and
took a huge, muscular swing into the mats and managed to cut through
two of them. I also managed to put a rather extreme bend in the
blade. Fortunately, Nakagawa Sensei told the truth when he said it
was ok for me to cut with the sword. He just smiled, took the sword
from me and started straightening it out with tools he had brought.
Then he handed it back to me and we did some more cutting.
Nakagawa Sensei had very high standards
for what made a sword good enough to leave his forge. The sword we
haad used for tameshigiri, for all its beauty, strength and
flexibility, did not live up to his expectations. He felt the steel
in the blade was a little too soft for a proper sword, so even though
he went to the expense to have it polished and mounted, he would
never consider selling it. The sword wasn’t quite good enough.
As I got to know Nakagawa Sensei, he
began to let me help around the forge. I did all sorts of little
things like cutting charcoal to size (I never dreamed that charcoal
has to be the proper size for various operations in the forge to go
well. I still have a scar on my index finger where I managed to cut
myself instead of the charcoal once.) Even though he had a power
hammer that was mechanically precise, he would have me swing the big
hammer for him from time to time, as much for me to experience doing
it as for the pleasure of working as a team, I think. The big hammer
differs from a western sledge hammer in that the haft is offset in
the head. Instead of coming into the middle of the hammer so the head
is balanced on the end of the haft, it comes in on one end of the
head. This makes the hammer unbalanced and more difficult to control,
but the offset head almost swings itself, making the strikes stronger
with less effort. I wasn’t very good, but Sensei never seemed to
mind my lack of skill, and I did get better over time.
In 1998 Nakagawa Sensei established a
forge in Ihara-cho in Okayama prefecture. I was beyond honored when
he asked me to help out with the dedication ceremony. The ceremony
was to include a Shugendo priest and anoffering of traditional dance
by a young boy. In addition, offerings would be made to the deity of
the forge. Sensei would also ritually smelt and work the first piece
of steel assisted by a group of deshi swinging the big hammers.
Sensei asked me to be one of a pair of deshi swinging the hammers for
him. No power tools would be used for the ceremony.
In the days before the ceremony, we
prepared the new forge by sweeping it repeatedly and hauling up
chairs for people to sit on. Ihara-cho is on top of mountain in
rural Okayama Prefecture, and the forge was difficult to get to – up
a steep slope that defeated some cars. We set up a platform for the
altar with offerings, including kagami mochi (rice cakes),
fruit and sake. We also hung traditional rice paper
and erected standing green bamboo around the forge.
The shugendo priest blessed the forge
and we hammered away at a fresh piece of ore. It’s difficult
working the hammer by yourself but working in a man team also
requires cooperation and coordination so only the hot ore is hammered
and not anything else. Sensei directed the deshi where to strike and
in what rythm by tapping with his hammer. After we had worked the ore
into steel by hammering and folding it a number of times, Sensei
quenched it in some water and we placed it on the altar as an
offering. Then the young boy performed a traditional dance for the
gods. The ceremony finished with us cutting up the kagami mochi
and opening the sake for everyone to share.
Sensei loved to discuss art and
politics and culture and history. Because of my passion for martial
arts as well as for swords, we spent a lot of time talking about the
relationships among traditional arts in Japan, budo and
swords. Being surrounded by swords while talking with a master
swordsmith who also practiced classical Heki Ryu kyudo and was
also very familiar with many of the classical sword arts and much of
their internal politics didn’t leave much room for me to hang onto
illusions about the world of swords and martial arts. I traded my
myths about unbreakable swords that could cut through anything for
the fascinating truth of swords carefully crafted by smiths, polished
so finely that the grain of the steel becomes visible, and wielded by
people who may be masters of the art of swordsmanship but are still
quite human.
What else can I say about a man who was
a talented sculptor and a university professor before he became an
incredibly skilled swordsmith? As a skilled practitioner of Heki Ryu
kyudo, Nakagawa Sensei had participated in some extended endurance
shoots. Though he never tried the 24 hour shoot, he successfully
completed some of the shorter ones. He owned a Ming Dynasty bowl
while living with three cats. The bowl got broken. The cats were
excused and forgiven.
Nakagawa Sensei in his living room, the pile of swords in front of him, and his Ming bowl on the bookshelf. The cats were hiding. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2018
He enjoyed Japanese green tea and soba
noodles. He worked in a charcoal dust covered forge and got
absolutely covered in charcoal dust himself when working.
Nonetheless, when he cleaned up to go out, he was one of the most
stylish people I have seen, with a personal sense of elegance that
was wonderful to the eye. We would visit art museums in Kyoto and the
Tokugawa Museum in Nagoya to see the paintings and sculpture as much
as to see the beautiful swords they often had on display.
Nakagawa Sensei was a great smith. I
once watched him turn down a commission for five swords because it
was a boring commission. The buyer wanted five matching swords, and
the idea of making five nearly identical swords didn’t interest
Sensei at all. On the other hand, he made a beautiful omamori
tanto
and gave it to my wife and me to commemorate our wedding.
He could tell you the carbon content of a piece of ore by looking at
it (really! I challenged him on this once and he fired up his
grinder, handed me a book with spark patterns for steel and proceeded
to accurately identify every piece that he sparked on the grinder).
One of the things he allowed me to help
him with was gathering old steel to use in making swords. When old
temples and shrines were being renovated we would go and gather up
the old nails and iron fittings with a huge magnet. Then we would go
through and sort the pieces into traditional Japan-made steel and
western-made steel. With a little study, you can tell the difference
between the two easily. I spent many pleasant hours collecting and
sorting steel while Sensei did things that took far more skill than I
ever acquired.
I will always treasure my memories of
helping Sensei in the forge and sitting with him in his living room
surrounded by swords and cats and yet more swords, talking about
everything under the sun.
I miss you Sensei.

via Blogger http://ift.tt/2rrMJay

Budo: The Art Of Living

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I was watching an otherwise excellent
documentary by NHK called “Real Samurai” about modern practitioners of Tenshin
Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. It’s a very nice look at the modern practice of a
great koryu budo. One thing bothered me though. The narration kept referring to
budo in general and Katori Shinto Ryu in particular as the “art of killing”.
 I think this may be the biggest misconception
about budo as it has been practiced since the Pax Tokugawa took effect in 1604.
The documentary repeatedly talked about Katori
Shinto Ryu as an “art of killing” and emphasizing the potentially lethal
aspects of what is taught and studied. It seemed unable to deal with the
 contradiction offered in nearly every frame and comment by the
practitioners themselves, that Katori Shinto Ryu practice informs and
transforms their way of life.
For me, the fact that the skills we study can
result in killing is outshone by their usefulness in living, and living fully.
I find it hard to imagine that even during wartime the focus of bujutsu study
was killing. Despite a few folks like Yamamoto Tsunetomo who were obsessed with
dying, budo has always been about living.The reason for studying these arts,
even five hundred years ago, was less focused on killing than on surviving
horrible circumstances and going on living. Perhaps budo is not really an art
of killing. If it’s not an art of killing though, then what is it?
Without the constant threat of warfare, there
would be little reason to study arts of killing. Peace encourages us to
consider not just living, but how to best live. Budo as an art of killing isn’t
relevant to a life of peace. But budo is just as  much about living. Life
is filled with conflicts of all sorts, and all forms of budo are intense
studies of conflict, both physical and non-physical.  Methods of dealing
with  conflict can also be applied throughout life.
 In budo,
the first things you practice are things you’re already doing all the time. You
learn how to hold your body,
breathe
well and move powerfully
. What’s more essential
to living than breathing? The building blocks of good budo turn out to be the
same ones used to build the foundation of a good, healthful life. 
Enjoy the blog?  Get the book!
Enjoy the blog?  Get the book!
 
Budo reminds us, every practice, of our limits.
We stare death in the face with every kata we practice. Most koryu budo kata
are paired, and being off just a little for either person can result in a nasty
whack that would be deadly with live weapons. Crucially, someone always loses
in these kata, and losing equals dieing. In the paired kata we learn to see
just how narrow the difference between success and failure, life and death,
really is. Learning this is solid preparation for life outside the dojo. The
lessons about moving enough, but not too much, emphasize the need to respond
appropriately to whatever happens. I can think of many kata in Shinto Muso Ryu
where action is essential to not getting hit in the head with a weapon, but
where overreacting is nearly as bad as failing to act. When uchitachi thrusts
during Sakan, if you don’t act you will be stabbed in the gut. If you
overreact you block the thrust but leave yourself open to a number of follow-up
attacks that flow smoothly from your excess movement. If you do everything
right, you move when uchitachi has committed to the thrust and you
deflect the sword tip just enough to miss but not so far that the sword can
come in through a new opening. Action must be appropriate to the situation.
I’ll say this again and again. Breathe well.
 
Remain calm and relaxed. Budo practice
emphasizes this. It doesn’t matter if someone is trying to throw you across a
room, split your head open, or choke you. You still have to be calm and keep
breathing. It’s amazing how often people in the dojo have to be reminded to
breathe. Under stress they start holding their breath. It happens so often I
have to wonder that people aren’t passing out right and left in their everyday
lives. Budo practices teaches us to relax into stress.
Tightening up only makes things worse.
 Stiff arm a judoka and the result is a beautiful throw or an elegant
armbar. Tense up while holding a sword and you’ll be much too slow to respond
to whatever your partner chooses to do. A lot of practice is required to
overcome our bodies’ natural tendency to tense up under stress so we can relax
into difficult situations. Someone yells at us at work. A deadline gets moved
up. Our uncles get into an argument over politics at the family dinner. Things
that can cause us to tense up are everywhere.
Breathe. If you find yourself getting tense, let
go of the tension. Don’t cling to it. Budo practice is the only place I’ve
found that practices the essential art of relaxing into stress. Having someone
try to throw or choke or hit you is stressful. If you can learn to stay relaxed
and calm under this pressure, you can do it anywhere. When life tries to hit
you over the head, relax, breathe, and move just far enough to avoid getting
hit, but not so far that you can’t hit back.
As a kid, I always thought that being “grown up”
meant that you were finished becoming you. Budo has a way of reminding me that
I will never be finished becoming myself or becoming a better person. I’ve been
at this budo stuff for over 30 years and every day I make new discoveries about
myself and how much I can improve. It is often said, and always true, that budo
is a path, not a destination. We’re never done learning. We’re never done
polishing ourselves.
It’s easy to forget that we’re never done
changing, so the opportunities for improving never cease. We can keep working
on our technique, and ourselves, until we die. My iaido teacher is 94. My jodo
teacher is in his 80s. When Real Samurai was filmed a few years ago, Otake
Sensei was 88. One of the saddest things I hear people say is, “That’s just the
way I am,” as an excuse not to change and improve. It’s the way you are today.
Whether you want to or not, you will change and be a little different tomorrow
and each day after that.
The difference that budo makes in my life is
that it teaches me over and over again that I don’t have to be satisfied with
what I am today. I can influence how time changes me. I can passively receive
the way life molds and shapes who I am, or I can actively participate, choosing
how I want to change and who I become. This is the art of living that budo
teaches us.
I’m not finished. My teachers aren’t finished.
They still practice. They are still changing and improving. That time spent
refining my kirioroshi and my hikiotoshi uchi is not just time
spent learning an obscure skill with an archaic weapon. It’s also about
refining who I am. That practice breathing calmly and deeply is useful wherever
I am, whatever I am doing. Teaching myself that my default condition is calm
and relaxed even when someone is actively attempting to throw me across the
room, and especially when they succeed in throwing me across the room applies
to dealing with “all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
Budo is not an art of killing.  Budo is an
art of living.

via Blogger http://ift.tt/2knhqaL

Budo: The Art Of Living

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I was watching an otherwise excellent
documentary by NHK called “Real Samurai” about modern practitioners of Tenshin
Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. It’s a very nice look at the modern practice of a
great koryu budo. One thing bothered me though. The narration kept referring to
budo in general and Katori Shinto Ryu in particular as the “art of killing”.
 I think this may be the biggest misconception
about budo as it has been practiced since the Pax Tokugawa took effect in 1604.
The documentary repeatedly talked about Katori
Shinto Ryu as an “art of killing” and emphasizing the potentially lethal
aspects of what is taught and studied. It seemed unable to deal with the
 contradiction offered in nearly every frame and comment by the
practitioners themselves, that Katori Shinto Ryu practice informs and
transforms their way of life.
For me, the fact that the skills we study can
result in killing is outshone by their usefulness in living, and living fully.
I find it hard to imagine that even during wartime the focus of bujutsu study
was killing. Despite a few folks like Yamamoto Tsunetomo who were obsessed with
dying, budo has always been about living.The reason for studying these arts,
even five hundred years ago, was less focused on killing than on surviving
horrible circumstances and going on living. Perhaps budo is not really an art
of killing. If it’s not an art of killing though, then what is it?
Without the constant threat of warfare, there
would be little reason to study arts of killing. Peace encourages us to
consider not just living, but how to best live. Budo as an art of killing isn’t
relevant to a life of peace. But budo is just as  much about living. Life
is filled with conflicts of all sorts, and all forms of budo are intense
studies of conflict, both physical and non-physical.  Methods of dealing
with  conflict can also be applied throughout life.
 In budo,
the first things you practice are things you’re already doing all the time. You
learn how to hold your body,
breathe
well and move powerfully
. What’s more essential
to living than breathing? The building blocks of good budo turn out to be the
same ones used to build the foundation of a good, healthful life. 
Enjoy the blog?  Get the book!
Enjoy the blog?  Get the book!
 
Budo reminds us, every practice, of our limits.
We stare death in the face with every kata we practice. Most koryu budo kata
are paired, and being off just a little for either person can result in a nasty
whack that would be deadly with live weapons. Crucially, someone always loses
in these kata, and losing equals dieing. In the paired kata we learn to see
just how narrow the difference between success and failure, life and death,
really is. Learning this is solid preparation for life outside the dojo. The
lessons about moving enough, but not too much, emphasize the need to respond
appropriately to whatever happens. I can think of many kata in Shinto Muso Ryu
where action is essential to not getting hit in the head with a weapon, but
where overreacting is nearly as bad as failing to act. When uchitachi thrusts
during Sakan, if you don’t act you will be stabbed in the gut. If you
overreact you block the thrust but leave yourself open to a number of follow-up
attacks that flow smoothly from your excess movement. If you do everything
right, you move when uchitachi has committed to the thrust and you
deflect the sword tip just enough to miss but not so far that the sword can
come in through a new opening. Action must be appropriate to the situation.
I’ll say this again and again. Breathe well.
 
Remain calm and relaxed. Budo practice
emphasizes this. It doesn’t matter if someone is trying to throw you across a
room, split your head open, or choke you. You still have to be calm and keep
breathing. It’s amazing how often people in the dojo have to be reminded to
breathe. Under stress they start holding their breath. It happens so often I
have to wonder that people aren’t passing out right and left in their everyday
lives. Budo practices teaches us to relax into stress.
Tightening up only makes things worse.
 Stiff arm a judoka and the result is a beautiful throw or an elegant
armbar. Tense up while holding a sword and you’ll be much too slow to respond
to whatever your partner chooses to do. A lot of practice is required to
overcome our bodies’ natural tendency to tense up under stress so we can relax
into difficult situations. Someone yells at us at work. A deadline gets moved
up. Our uncles get into an argument over politics at the family dinner. Things
that can cause us to tense up are everywhere.
Breathe. If you find yourself getting tense, let
go of the tension. Don’t cling to it. Budo practice is the only place I’ve
found that practices the essential art of relaxing into stress. Having someone
try to throw or choke or hit you is stressful. If you can learn to stay relaxed
and calm under this pressure, you can do it anywhere. When life tries to hit
you over the head, relax, breathe, and move just far enough to avoid getting
hit, but not so far that you can’t hit back.
As a kid, I always thought that being “grown up”
meant that you were finished becoming you. Budo has a way of reminding me that
I will never be finished becoming myself or becoming a better person. I’ve been
at this budo stuff for over 30 years and every day I make new discoveries about
myself and how much I can improve. It is often said, and always true, that budo
is a path, not a destination. We’re never done learning. We’re never done
polishing ourselves.
It’s easy to forget that we’re never done
changing, so the opportunities for improving never cease. We can keep working
on our technique, and ourselves, until we die. My iaido teacher is 94. My jodo
teacher is in his 80s. When Real Samurai was filmed a few years ago, Otake
Sensei was 88. One of the saddest things I hear people say is, “That’s just the
way I am,” as an excuse not to change and improve. It’s the way you are today.
Whether you want to or not, you will change and be a little different tomorrow
and each day after that.
The difference that budo makes in my life is
that it teaches me over and over again that I don’t have to be satisfied with
what I am today. I can influence how time changes me. I can passively receive
the way life molds and shapes who I am, or I can actively participate, choosing
how I want to change and who I become. This is the art of living that budo
teaches us.
I’m not finished. My teachers aren’t finished.
They still practice. They are still changing and improving. That time spent
refining my kirioroshi and my hikiotoshi uchi is not just time
spent learning an obscure skill with an archaic weapon. It’s also about
refining who I am. That practice breathing calmly and deeply is useful wherever
I am, whatever I am doing. Teaching myself that my default condition is calm
and relaxed even when someone is actively attempting to throw me across the
room, and especially when they succeed in throwing me across the room applies
to dealing with “all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
Budo is not an art of killing.  Budo is an
art of living.

via Blogger http://ift.tt/2knhqaL