Yes Virginia, There Is Sexism In Budo

Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D. doing Shinto Hatakage
Ryu. (Photo copyright 2018 Deborah Klens-Bigman)

 

This is a guest post by Deborah Klens-Bigman, PhD. and Jun
Shihan in Shinto Hatakage Ryu. A martial arts practitioner and
teacher for more than thirty years, she has seen a great deal of the
budo world, and experienced its good and bad. We as budoka are not
perfect, and this seems like a good time to consider one area where
the budo world could improve. Budo has never been a male-only
practice, as can be seen most clearly in the number of women led, and
lead, martial ryuha in Japan. Klens-Bigman Sensei is addressing an
issue that should be of concern to everyone in budo.


First,
I would like to point out that most of my teachers in my 30-plus
years of training have been men – good, talented men.  And the
vast, vast majority of my colleagues in budo are also men – honorable
people I am pleased to associate with. But sexism in budo needs to be
addressed; and I feel the need to address it very specifically, and
right now.


The
public discourse of the past two years has allowed for what pundits
refer to as “tribalism” to come out into the light.  I
think it is too early to know yet whether this is a good thing (what
comes into the light can be confronted, and refuted), or a bad thing
(normalizing behavior that many of us had hoped no longer existed).
 All the while there have been some voices all-too-quietly
pointing out that misogyny is ever present for all to see, regardless
of “tribe.” Perhaps it is its perpetual “there-ness”
that allows misogyny to be continuously overlooked, or disregarded.
 Or, just perhaps, no one is very comfortable discussing it, so
no one does.




Since
I was a little kid sneaking out of the children’s library into the
grownup sections for further adventure, I was interested in hand
weapons.  Not guns, but swords, knives, glaives, spears, battle
axes, bows, maces – if you could hold it in your hand and wield it at
someone, I was ON IT – at least in the bookly sense.  I lugged
home books on arms & armor that were almost as big as I was. When
I was traveling with my parents, nothing thrilled me more than
climbing around castle ruins or forts, or (the best) going to a real
medieval armory.  


My
parents thought I might become a historian.  


Through
all of this fascination, it never occurred to me for a single moment
that my interest was weird or should be circumscribed in any way.
 That is, until I decided to actually do something about it.


I
tried fencing, which I enjoyed, but I was not happy with the
competitive aspect of it (there was no historical fencing available
like you can find now).  Likewise, I was not happy with the
theatrical fencing I encountered in college; not just because it was
fake, but because there really was no opportunity to take part in
fight scenes featuring women.  I decided fight choreography was
a waste of time.


When
I first encountered iaido, I was very fortunate that my teacher, an
Osaka native, had three daughters.  He had no problem whatsoever
with training me. There have been few times in my life when I felt
that I really found something important.  This was one of them.


Deborah Klens-Bigman, Jun Shihan, Shinto Hatakage
Ryu (photo copyright 2018 Deborah Klens-Bigman)


Unfortunately,
my sempai did not agree.  My first few months of practice, one
of them told me that it was “not proper” for women to study
Japanese swordsmanship.  I decided that was silly. My Japanese
teacher was perfectly happy with me being in the dojo. However, this
sempai arranged for me to miss a demo that my teacher wanted me to
take part in.  Everyone else was there. The experience was
mortifying. It was designed to make me quit. That was the first time
I realized that not everyone had the same attitude when it came to
women training in budo.


I
should point out that most of the resistance to my practicing
swordsmanship came from a number of my American sempai.  During
my many training trips to Japan, I rarely encountered the feeling of
being excluded. But more about that later.


I
didn’t quit.  I was stubborn. I kept going to okeiko.  I
volunteered to organize demos (a job no one wanted) partly so I could
not be left out again.  I trained hard. I watched. I listened. I
learned. And I put up with a lot.


Budo
training for women involves more than just wanting to improve your
skills and develop your personality.  It involves
enduring.
 Enduring sempai who, instead of being willing to help you, try
to hinder you, because something about being an
onnakenshi
just
doesn’t feel right to them.  It’s walking into a seminar where
you are the only woman (hint: You have to walk in like you own the
place).  If no one knows you, it’s getting the puzzled look as
the guys try to figure out whose wife/girlfriend or (after awhile)
mom you are.  It’s also enduring looks at the inevitable banquet
when wives and girlfriends eye you with suspicion because you are
there by yourself.  It’s being told you are “gender
non-conforming,” and that’s supposed to be a compliment. 


 I’d
like to say the situation improves for women who teach, but it does
not.  I’ve had men walk into my okeiko and immediately look to
one of my male students as the teacher, because it’s not possible
that could be me.  I’ve taught seminars and offered correction
to a male student who ignored me while taking the same correction
from another man. I’ve encountered fellow budo teachers who implied I
should be teaching women, or children, but not
men.
 Sadly, I gave a demo once and had a woman in the audience ask
if there are “any restrictions for women” in learning budo.
 Because she assumed that there are.


Klens-Bigman Sensei leading class (photo
copyright 2018 Deborah Klens-Bigman)



 And
it’s rare, but it happens – someone being just a little too rough as
a training partner, landing a tsuki in jodo with the intention of
knocking you down, or knocking the wind out of you, at least.  Or,
as a senior student, having a sempai publicly humiliate you in front
of the whole dojo, because you “just don’t know your place”
(and having the kohai silently agree with him). The fact that I was
correct in that situation was meaningless.  


One
wonders why we bother.  Indeed, I have wondered, from time to
time, why
I
bother.


There
are a lot of reasons for persisting.  For one thing, not all
budoka behave in the ways I have mentioned (though more of them do
than I’d like).  Just like the guys, there is the fun of
learning new things and gaining new skill and confidence. And I have
been to seminars in Japan where I am
not
the
only woman; indeed, where several of the women have menkyo and
everyone treats me as though I have the same potential.  As I
said, while I can’t say that I never encountered male hostility in
Japan, I can say that, generally speaking, when it comes to okeiko,
people have treated me like any other student.  And most of the
groups I have trained with are at least 1/3 female.


And
that is all women want.  We want to be just like everyone else.
 We want to be taught. We want to learn.  We don’t want to
be hit on. We aren’t looking for dates.  We want to be taken
seriously. And we want our expertise to be recognized.


Now
and then, a young woman comes to the dojo, with a look in her eyes
like I had so long ago.  It’s my job (and my pleasure) to make
her feel welcome. To help her understand that
yes,
you can do this.  I will help you.


And
there are good memories, like the time my teacher gave me a bear hug
after a class (in front of the sempai!) and said, “You’re doing
VERY WELL.”  


I
do this to keep my teacher’s faith in me.  I do it for myself.
And yeah, I do it for women.


Deborah Klens-Bigman doing Shinto Muso Ryu.
(photo copyright 2018 Deborah Klens-Bigman)



 

via Blogger https://ift.tt/2NWbdnd

Advertisements

The PItfalls Of Budo

Budo
is personal. I talked about that in my last
essay
. Budo practice can indeed transform who we are. If we’re
not careful though, that transformation can take on aspects and go in
directions that we shouldn’t want it to go. A lot of ink is spent
detailing the marvelous benefits of budo practice, and the benefits
are great: at the most basic, physical fitness, and moving upward to
physical skills and confidence in high stress and conflict
situations. Then there are the mental benefits; becoming calmer, more
mentally strong and able to maintain an even mental keel even when
the world is pushing you towards rash action.







These
are all great. But what happens when you take a wrong turn and start
acquiring attributes from you training that you don’t want? What
if, because of your budo training, you become an arrogant, abusive
jerk?







Judging
from the many arrogant, abusive people I’ve met in the martial
arts, the ones who don’t have any interest in the aspects of budo
that have to do with more than just hurting other people, becoming a
jerk seems to be far too common an outcome.







I’ve
met the arrogant ones who will hurt you just to prove they are better
than you, in some way only they understand. I don’t know how being
happy to hurt someone so you can say you defeated them makes you
“better”. I’ve met the abusive ones who feel entitled to harm
those around them simply because they have more powerful technique.
I’ve met the vindictive ones who will hurt partners that don’t do
exactly as they want, or take out their frustration at missing a
technique on their partner. I’ve been to seminars and met jerks who
feel entitled to only train with senior practitioners, and pout when
they have to train with anyone they feel isn’t “good enough”.
Then there are teachers who only pay attention to their favorites and
ignore everyone else. There are teachers who abuse their students
with extreme training under the guise of making them tough.







Somehow,
through all of the training meant to polish their skills and
humanity, the jerks only polished their skills, not their selves. The
lessons of budo are intensely personal. Instead of learning “mutual
benefit and welfare” or “loving protection” they learned only
to care for themselves and what they want. 


 

The
first lesson in any dojo is etiquette, which is a formal means of
expressing respect for your teacher, for your fellow students, and
the art you are practicing. Etiquette and respect are fundamental to
all of budo. Without it, we’re only learning how to hurt each
other.  Some people manage to ignore this cornerstone of budo
training and continue to think only of themselves. They can usually
be spotted because they toss off their bow to the dojo casually and
without feeling. Their bows to training partners are perfunctory at
best. They don’t realize it, but their lack of respect for the
dojo, the art and their training partners is clear to anyone who
watches.







The
most obvious lesson in budo, and the one that everyone is clear on
before they walk into the dojo for the first time, is that budo
teaches personal, physical power. The power to protect yourself and
inflict damage on others is fundamental to making a practice
budo.
Less clear to people is that respect, discretion and self-control are
also fundamental to making a practice budo. I’ve met too many
people who sought to acquire the power without acquiring any
discretion and self-control, much less respect for their fellow
travelers on the path.







Acquiring
physical power like developing skill in budo, often comes along with
an elevated feeling of self-confidence. If this self-confidence isn’t
tempered with a sense of humility while the budoka is training, that
self-confidence can turn into arrogance and disdain for those less
skilled or powerful. This arrogance and disdain is a poison that
pollutes everything it comes in contact with. Arrogant, disdainful
budoka aren’t worried about the health and welfare of their
training partners or their students because they perceive that such
people aren’t powerful enough to command their respect.







Budo
training takes time, sweat and the collection of not a few bruises.
For some reason, there is a tendency among budoka to think that just
doing the physical part of  budo training makes them superior
people. There is no magic in budo training that automatically
transforms anyone who does it into a spiritually perfected and
superior human being. It doesn’t just happen.  You have to
work at anything you want to improve, whether it’s strike, a joint
lock, or being a better you. All of these take work. Without it, none
of these skills will improve.







It’s
easy enough to forget about working on who you are when you’re busy
acquiring powerful physical skills. The first time you realize that
you really can dominate someone physically, there is a rush of thill.
The danger lies in seeking that rush by dominating other people in
and out of the dojo. There can be a thrill when you crank an armbar a
bit more than necessary, just enough to make uke yelp a little. If
you  to go after that thrill, you’ll develop yourself, but not
in a way anyone else will like. You’ll become a bit sadistic and
dangerous to be around because you want that thrill. What happens
when you meet someone you can’t dominate? Do you turn up the
strength to fill in for the technique that isn’t good enough? Can
you see how this might poison someone?







I’ve
seen teachers who brutalize their students because they can. I’ve
seen others who are worse, and damage any student who gives them the
least resistance. Often this is cloaked as “hard training that will
toughen you up”. It’s not.  It’s abuse and it is strictly
to feed the diseased ego of the teacher. These teachers tend to leave
a trail of broken students who gave them a little too much
resistance, and they are surrounded by students who make excuses for
their teacher. “He’s just teaching discipline.” “It doesn’t
hurt that much, and it makes you tougher.”  He’s not
teaching discipline, and that’s not how you get tougher. It’s how
you get broken.







My
teachers have done their best to make me as skillful as possible. Not
all teachers are like that. I’ve seen talented and dedicated
students driven out of the dojo when they became too skilled. These
skillful students are a threat to the teacher’s ego, because they
might equal, or worse, surpass, the teacher. Anyone who gets too good
is perceived as threat that could challenge the teacher’s spot as
the dojo alpha. These students could become more popular, or they
could start their own dojo and steal the teacher’s students away.
These teacher’s insecurities can destroy a dojo, and will certainly
mean that the dojo will never develop a healthy group of senior
students who can support the teacher and perhaps take over the dojo
someday when the teacher is ready to retire. Instead, anyone like
that is a threat and has to go. Such a student might get hurt in a
training accident with the teacher, or the teacher might start
completely ignoring them. I’ve even seen students simply driven out
of the dojo and told to never come back. These teachers have become
addicted to the adulation and honor they receive as “Sensei” and
they can’t risk having anyone around who might draw some of that
attention away.







In
budo practice, as in most things, you get out of it what you put in.
If you work hard at the techniques you can become a skilled
technician. If that’s all you practice you won’t be much of a
person though. The people who work at all aspects of budo, polish
their etiquette and their spirits, these people make themselves into
fine human beings.





via Blogger https://ift.tt/2LDfDJt

Budo Is Personal

Budo is personal. This seems like an obvious
thing to say, but it is a truth that often is forgotten in a world filled with
all sorts of ranks, titles, tournaments and awards. Budo isn’t about those.
Budo is about developing your skills, and if you’re lucky, finding a Way that
you can follow. Budo, in way that can seem quite selfish, is about you. We are
not ranks, titles, tournament victories or nifty awards.   Those are
things that hang on us like ornaments on a tree. Take away the ornaments, and it’s
still a tree.

I run into people who are so hyped up with worry
about their rank or passing their next test that their budo becomes a
stress-filled mess. Budo practice should lead one to be calmer and to have a
more balanced perspective. It’s easy to forget that when so much time can be
directed towards preparing for a rank test, and even more money and effort
spent getting to the test site in some far-flung city.

Much of practice can be consumed with getting
ready for tests.  In the Kendo Federation, there are tests to pass every
year when starting out, so it seems like new students are always preparing for
a test. Forgetting that iai, for example, isn’t about testing and rank can get
lost in the whirl of test preparation and test taking. Rank should be a
recognition of how much you’ve learned, instead of a validation of ego. It’s
hard to make the distinction though when you’ve worked for a year or more to
prepare for a test. Pass or fail, with that much effort invested in the
process, the results of the test can overshadow the results of all the time
spent practicing and improving.

In budo, as in any do , or way, there is no ultimate goal that
can be reached. The point is to practice each day, and each day be a little bit
better at budo and living. The process of improving doesn’t have an end point.
In a world focused on results, where we check off the accomplishment of each
item on our task list and where results are emphasized, sometimes to the point
of ignoring everything else, this sort of thinking is easily overwhelmed and
washed away.

Budo isn’t limited to a finite goal.
 Implicit in the vision of practice as a way, a path, is the idea that
roads don’t really have an end.  You can always continue, sometimes in the
same direction, and sometimes in a different one. The path doesn’t have an end
point. We practice. We train. We polish ourselves. As people, we’re never
finished growing and changing. One of the ideas of do is that we can
influence how we change. We’re not just stuck with the random influences that
life throws at us. We can make conscious choices about how we are going to
change and grow. Each day life changes us. Are we simple clay molded by our
experiences with no input into what we become? Budo, and all ways,
insist that we can choose how we change and influence what we become.

Normal
0

false
false
false

EN-US
JA
X-NONE

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:8.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:107%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,sans-serif;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

Musings Of A Budo Bum by Peter Boylan
Enjoy the blog?  Get the book!!

For each of us, the journey is personal.
Practice is personal. The lessons are personal. The changes are very personal.
Hang around a good dojo for a while and you will see new students, timid and
unsure of themselves, transform their minds and their bodies. If we let it, and
focus some effort on it, keiko, training, can profoundly change who we
are. The most common transformation is for someone meek and physically unsure
of themselves to become skilled and confident in physically dealing with other
people. That’s the obvious transformation. How else might budo training
transform us?

I find that budo can help change almost any part
of me. All I have to do is bring the part of me that I want to change into the
dojo. Just as the only way to change my skill with a sword or stick is for me
to take what I want to change with me and train with it, if I want to change
something that is not as easily seen as a sword cut or staff strike or a punch
or a throw, I have to take it into the dojo and begin working on it.

In Kodokan Judo, one of the core principles is
the idea of jita kyoei
自他共栄, often translated as “mutual benefit and welfare.”  I
haven’t seen many people come into the dojo looking to change themselves to
consider how their actions can create mutual benefit for them and their
training partners, but I’ve seen many people implicitly learn this and begin
incorporating it into who they are as they spend time in the dojo.  They
begin to  consider how directly their
thoughtfulness or carelessness impacts the people they train with, who
trust
each other to train together without harming each other.
I’ve seen people who were strong, powerful and disdainful of
others train themselves to strong, powerful, gentle and considerate of others.

The story of a weak, timid person coming into
the dojo and learning to be a powerful, confident fighter is common (and
true!), but what other ways can we change ourselves through training? The
wonderful thing about budo keiko is that it is a time set aside for changing
aspects of ourselves that we want to change. That’s what makes training so
personal. We are taking time and effort and directing it towards changing
ourselves in some way. The potential for personal development and
transformation is tremendous.  

We’re not simple clay molded by what happens to
us. We have choices to make about what we become and how we change. Those who
work at developing their entire self, who work on humility, graciousness,
kindness and compassion usually succeed in becoming more humble, gracious, kind
and compassionate. Budo is a way of interacting with the world. It’s
about how we deal with the world around us. It’s about how handle the stress
and mess of life. Practicing budo impacts how we relate with all the people
around us.

Budo is personal. It’s about developing and
refining who we are. It’s not about the flashy stuff on the outside. It’s not
about the ranks and belts and trophies and the awards. It’s about who we are
and how we deal with the world and the people around us. Ultimately, that
creates a lot more satisfaction than any rank or case of trophies.

Normal
0

false
false
false

EN-US
JA
X-NONE

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:8.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:107%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,sans-serif;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

via Blogger https://ift.tt/2mi2ICp

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.

Normal
0

false
false
false

EN-US
JA
X-NONE

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:8.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:107%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,sans-serif;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

via Blogger https://ift.tt/2Hud6Dp

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.

Normal
0

false
false
false

EN-US
JA
X-NONE

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:8.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:107%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,sans-serif;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

via Blogger https://ift.tt/2Hud6Dp

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.









via Blogger http://ift.tt/2BGdN9E

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