March 2, 2009

The Past and Present Future

Is the nature of Budo a collection of kata and waza, to be learned solely for historical accuracy, in the hopes one might find some eventual illumination from its practice? Is it a memorized system of living, to be performed everlasting in the pristine confines of the dojo? A curriculum of ranks and compartmentalized knowledge all geared to teach us what to think?

The past has a way of haunting the future under these perceptions, where knowledge is both reward and sentence; an invitation to seek further “secrets,” but without a practical perspective to practice and pass them on. I don’t believe training in this manner allows Budo to fulfill its directive – to guide the instincts of warriors and warriorship.

When real or perceived cultural controls invisibly shape the training conversation by tipping the balance toward entrenched doctrine, the incredible contributions of enlightened individuals throughout history are ultimately cheapened, staving off future discovery, all for the sake of preserving the past. Modern martial sports fare no better when training bypasses the moment of confrontational truth and compensates with a fleeting reliance on speed, power, and strength.

Tradition is important, and should be respected, but I don't think it supersedes a way of seeing the world that concentrates on the ‘how’ rather than ‘what’ as we manage our protection of it. We must reconcile the past with the “present future,” or the evolving nature of our training today. In fact, the best way to honor the past is to heed the rallying call within the densho and decipher its principles for improvisation in modern scenarios, the very reason it was written. Historians and trivia experts are alike in one sense, they tend to know lots of stuff, but only historians can make use of it to predict the future, while trivia experts are subjugated by the very knowledge (technique) they claim to command.

To survive, knowing ‘what to know’ is not as important as knowing how to create, ‘what we don’t know.’ With a changing world full of far too many variables, the established technique becomes less valuable than the ability to surpass it, step boldly into the creative void, and imagine an unknown answer - knowledge acquiescing to wisdom.