But thanks to your support in 2010, the Shingitai-Ichi Dojo is going strong. Yes, we had our own oil spill – olive – in the kitchen, which was capped immediately, by the way, and yes, we probably did buy too many goods from China – turns out these words were made in China! Man! But we did not get drunk and threaten the sovereignty of South Korea. Totally not us.
Soke’s use of poetry here is another reminder that the basics are anything but basic. We would be wise not to study the Kihon Happo as answers to our most prolific physical questions, but rather as a smarter means of solving for them. In other words, relying on a particular set of answers is not as useful as a better method to solve questions that continually fluctuate. In an old issue of Tetsuzan, Nagato Sensei writes of Kihon Happo, “If you train for a long time, you become able to see at a glance whether someone’s basic movements are correct. They don’t have to all be the same, they must just be correct. That’s the feeling I want everyone to grasp. It takes time to understand this mindset. To a certain extent, the longer you train, the more you understand the basics and Budo itself. But it is precisely when you are devoting yourself single-mindedly to mastering the basics that you can’t understand the wider principles.”
|Soke's "One enlightenment, One meeting"|
Overt defensiveness contracts the kukan, implying mistrust and disrespect, forcing others to feel an urgency to react. This can lead to spontaneous, dangerous action on the part of the opponent, forcing us to react violently, instead of leading, and shaping the moment to our advantage. But it all comes down to our perspective and how we define our martial training. It is said the highest form of Ninpo is to “win” without fighting, but what does that mean? Just like our Kihon Happo (季翻初崩), we must return to our beginnings for an answer.
This past year, Soke had us training Rokkon Shojo - less about a particular school or technique and more about the process, giving us chance to reflect on our journey and its ability to purify through endurance; begging questions: Who have we become? What compels us to volunteer our time, energy, and money to this physical pursuit? Why do we train? Asking why we train martial arts is the same as asking why it is important enough to train them. It may seem easy to answer because everybody’s got an answer: spiritual refinement, self-confidence, health and fitness, and the biggie - self defense. But are these answers good enough to keep us training? After 30 years, if I’ve learned one “secret,” a secret that trumps all others, it’s that we have to stick around long enough to learn something. But the numbers for longevity are not good - they stink. See, it’s not the beginning that’s hard – lots of people try martial arts - it’s the staying that is. And experience has taught, most who begin training will not stay.
For many people who decide to train, martial arts will only ever be a pop-culture hobby, a semi-mysterious pastime engaged for a period, when not busy with other hobbies or bar hopping. As Eastern culture, medicine, and religion continue to gain foothold in Western society, there will never be a shortage of people coming through training’s revolving door, which is great news for all the business-seis out there, bad news for those who are actually searching for meaning. So, if we plan on sticking with training, we better understand how to define it sustainably, but there’s the rub.
If we had to summarize the core philosophy of a major religion, could we do it? Say Christianity – model one’s life after Jesus Christ and be ushered into his heaven for all eternity. Can we do the same with other religions, Buddhism or Islam? How about the core philosophy of a political ideology? Conservatism – the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen. Liberalism – the bigger the government, the better off the citizen. We’re on a roll. Now, let’s summarize the core philosophy of martial arts - of Budo Taijutsu, Ninpo Taijutsu. What is its main teaching, its core values we aim to follow throughout life? We should endure? We should be patient? We should live? To what extent? To what end? Are we clear enough to provide ourselves enough direction to follow throughout our lives?
Training is what we do, it’s how we define ourselves. Shouldn’t we be able to iterate a simple, single sentence that encapsulates and explains why? Religion is a philosophy of divine faith, politics, of social contract. And Budo? Is it just self-centered personal development? Then get a freakin’ life coach! Hit up a Tony Robbins seminar! We’re studying an ageless warrior art, from the last ninja alive, with lessons from stained battlefields and the survival of whole communities across the continuum of history, and all we can think of, all we can figure as the best answer for why we train is ourselves? It’s for me? That kind of thinking may be okay to begin with, but in the long run, it’s not sustainable - it’s too selfish.
|Kuniyoshi's Rabbit Helmet "Shinozuka Iga no Kami"|
Soke recently spoke of the art fulfilling its role as ‘Jin no Budo’ – Budo of humankind. How can we ever live up to this auspicious, noble thought if we are confused about the nature of our own martial nature? Can we respect the life of our opponent as equal to our own, even when their behavior is not? Can we extend our protection to them the best of our ability as the situation merits? Can we release ourselves of the soft prejudices of our relative values, detaching from the form and rule of those me-and-mine-centered beliefs and recognize our inalienable universal values? Can we melt the walls made of ice? Can we ‘make the broken form, our natural state?’
I believe Soke’s message is clear - in learning to become part of the ageless history of Budo, we are bound to the intrinsic responsibility of learning to use its knowledge ethically or risk repeating the mistakes of history in our own future. For me, training is a self and others value – we begin for ourselves, but ultimately must balance it with the sake of others, teaching, coaching, providing the best opportunity to extend the art’s message of protecting and saving life.
Thirty years ago, I could think of no better reason than myself to begin training. Thirty years later, I can think of no better reason than others as to why I "keep going."
Let’s all keep going - we’ll make it!