November 17, 2013

The Hunting Story

The first time I heard Jack tell this story at a seminar more than a dozen years ago, I got chills. I was sitting in a room packed with other like-minded folks - Budoka, just trying to find their way within this often inscrutable martial art.

The physical stuff he showed that day would change fundamentally the way I approached training. He introduced a new concept to the lexicon: Space. "See the space," Jack kept saying, "Look for the space," as he maneuvered effortlessly to toss or lock up an Uke. At the time, I could not see this "tactical space." I don't think I even knew exactly what I was looking for. Nowadays, many people take this "space" concept and the refinement it brought to training for granted. I will always remember, Jack is whom I learned it from.

This story is the other fundamental I learned from Jack that day. It's a tale of his mentor, Dr. Robert Humphrey, and of his adventures in oversea diplomacy. It's a good story, a parable really, and one worth repeating. It is best told among Buyu during a break in training. If told well, with conviction and sincerity, it can (and has been) profoundly moving. The reason? It speaks to the relevance in ... well, just about everything.

Dr. Humphrey used to tell this story overseas to an auditorium of a 1000 GIs at a time, usually to a standing ovation. He told it to help them relate (and hopefully respect) their host-national neighbors just a little bit more. And from the reports it generated, it normally worked. It works because it lays bare a simple truth, one we don't often even think about. A truth so intrinsic to us we often take it for granted, like the beating of our heart, or the oxygen-rich redness of our blood.

Dr. Humphrey is no longer with us and Jack obviously can't tell this story to everyone, so the video was shot in Chicago and meant to chronicle the tale. Now, watching a video of him telling it will never replace the ennobling and "group ethic" calibration I experienced that first time I heard it from him (and just about every other time too). The story says far more than it actually tells.

Please enjoy it and best of all, share it.

October 21, 2013

Mr. Blackout

Mr. Smith needed to be picked up and put in a limo. Simple enough, right? Except Smith was a notorious drunk; a "blackout" drunk - he would literally drink himself unconscious every time he drank, which was all the time. In fact, security had been informed to confiscate any alcohol he brought into the hotel - he was that bad. One sip and he buys a ticket to ride the alcohol express. Only he winds up shitfaced in the men's room, marinating in his pants, and misses his train. The guy was a mess and could not be trusted. He sounded suicidal to me. I get the duty to pick him up, while my partner, an amiable guy named Matt, stays in the office.

When I knock on Smith's door, there's nothing. I knock again. This time the latch turns - slow. And there's a deliberateness to the door's opening, like something out of a Frankenstein castle flick where they don't get many visitors. Smith peers out and the guy is flying high - eyes bloodshot, skin as red as a runner's, and his BO pours into the hall like a broken bottle of Stoli. Shit - somehow he snuck it in.

He numbly looks at me. I am certain he knew there was a sentient being before him and I was also sure I could have mugged, pantsed, and drawn a dick on his face with a Sharpie with no complaints. I'm also certain I could have exsanguinated and served up his blood "neat," on the rocks, thrown a tiny umbrella in and it's a party.

"Mr. Smith, my name is James, with security. I am here to-" Wordless, Smith turns like he's dog paddling through jello and I follow him in. He faces a small table of half-eaten breakfast and then faces me, like he's looking for approval. It is here he does something interesting. He turns back to the table and as if he's now realized his chance for Olympic gold is at stake, dives face first into his food. Just, wham! It's like the pin connecting his torso to his hips is suddenly removed - he folds at the waist and plows into eggs Benedict.

He hits with the force of a sack of vodka-soaked potatoes. In fact, if this guy were part of the Avengers, this would have been his superpower - drunkenly throw himself at Loki. They could have called him "Blackout," which is a pretty sweet-ass codename. Maybe there could be some rivalry between him and the team and Thor would yell, "Verily! Have at thee, Blackout!" And then proceed to tire as he tried to injure Smith's positively numb body to no avail.

Now, maybe Smith was hungry. Maybe he was doing the worst yoga technique ever - "downward facing what-the-fuck-are-you-doing" (I do not recommend it) - but whatever it was it was not healthy. The second after he plants face, he bobs up like the world's happiest buoy in a sea of gin. I let out an audible and leap to bear hug and hold him up - no good. This guy is bigger, heavier, and way drunker than me, so my control of him is about as graceful as cat sex, but without all the hissing and scratching.

As I squeeze him, he dives again - obviously unhappy with his first attempt and possibly trying for silver - and slams again into breakfast. What does this guy's face have against everyone's favorite meal? The scene was kind of like a John Woo movie - slow motion action, but instead of doves scattering it was Cinnabons and bacon strips.

I quickly reposition and get him up, but his weight settles and it's like someone throws a mattress on me. It is at this moment my partner crackles over the comm, "How's it going up there?" I quickly flash back to the RockPaperScissors we played to decide which of us would deal with Smith. It was his game, best of three - he took paper, I played rock. I realize now I should have hit him with that rock.

I stack Smith on my hip like in Judo and fumble for my mic - "Get up here!" is all I can say before Smith slides off. I drop him onto his back onto the bed. He immediately ... no immediately isn't quite right. Instantly? Directly? Whatever. He's snoring. Sawing logs. Sleeping the blissful sleep of liver failure or something.

See, this changes things. Legally, innkeepers can't put unconscious drunks into the back of a cab and yell, "adios, douchebag!" in the exhaust. Authorities look down on that. My partner arrives along with the front-desk manager - a small, and small-minded woman - and instead of doing the common sense thing, we have to have an actual conversation about whether to call paramedics. Spoiler alert - we won. But then she does something else.

Understand: this guy Smith, he's going to the hospital. As far as we know he's dying of a BAC of zero point oh-my-fucking-god. But as paramedics are carting him off, I say to Ms. Manager: I'll get his contact info and call his family to let them know he's being admitted. You would have thought I said let's draw the dick on his face. "Whoa! You can't do that!" She shakes her head, "Hotel regs. Privacy issue. We're not contacting anyone." Regs? Privacy? This guy's dignity card just expired as did his expectation for reasonable privacy after endangering his own life, lady. When you're unconscious, i.e. you're incapable of making decisions for yourself, and you're being admitted to the hospital, I'd say those are two awesome reasons to contact next of kin. But she was self-satisfyingly adamant - no calls. And I learned something that day about ethics and not being a bitch. Mostly ethics.

See, for 10, 12, 16 hours a day - everyday she worked - she was following the hotel regs. Their rules of conduct. Their version of an ethical compass. Except magnetic north was calibrated to "protect the hotel at all costs." And she was, in fact, habituating those same rules into her own psyche, her own thinking, her own behavior, no matter how awful the rules were. The hotel came first. No matter what. Not a very accurate compass if you ask me. Would she put the hotel first before her own family in this situation? If not, then how is it right to put it before Mr. Smith's family?

I looked at her. "You can sleep tonight, knowing this guy may die, and his family have zero clue?"

She didn't answer.

September 19, 2013

On the Road

Tomoko and I will hopefully see you at this weekend's East Coast Buyu Camp, hosted by Jack Hoban. And later that same week I'll be privileged to take part in the next Resolution Group International certification with some of the very best training in ethics and warriorship around.

Perhaps we'll see you there!



July 31, 2013

Comes a Kanjin

An interview with the founder of Bujinkan Weapons, Carmelo Grajales.

Really, it was out of necessity. I was always trying to find a means to keep my training from the off and on commitment level that hardships kept me in. One of the additional struggles I realized was there was a lot of junk out there when it came to training resources and information - it didn’t matter if it was training or weapons. I had to do a lot of weeding to find any value. But it all brought me to the school I’m at now. Add my background in woodworking and now I find myself in a place where I can craft weapons, solving both problems.

Shidoshi Joe Bunales with the
BW Tsurugi v.2

What’s your process?

First, there’s always the research – finding that authentic line of information to glean off of. Some of the information comes from history and photography books. From there, I rely on my background in graphic studies, which helps with the dimensions and profiles. Then through the training, I start looking for what makes the (weapon/tool) really useful. What do we need to know about this and how do we translate that?

Nata: Hickory handle, Ipe blade.
With the yari, for instance, I decided to create something that had actual weighted ends, like an extra three pounds heavier. That’s a benefit for our training. Creating weapons with specific advantages and weaknesses – length can be an advantage or a weakness depending on one’s ability – we found to be of great use and value. I have to figure out the authenticity and keep it proportional to today so we can understand why things were done the way they were done back then. The challenge continues with getting the authenticity right. 

Yes, this exists.
Otsuchi: laminated Ipe head, Hickory
handle, iron fittings.
It seems as though the process itself is providing insight into the weapon’s actual usage. The otsuchi (war mallet) you are currently making is not a training tool -

It’s not a training tool at all.

This is an actual weapon.  


And as you are researching and crafting you are seeing things about the weapons themselves that relate to their use. You knew the proportions in the photos you were using meant that the mallet itself was over five feet in length. Standing it on end the (20lbs) head could then be set on the shoulder for ease of movement and use.   

Yep. With the war mallet specifically, what gave me greater understanding into its use in combat and warfare was actually looking at woodblock prints featuring the same war mallet. There are quite a few. The prints highlight certain aspects of a battle or story and you would see someone with a war mallet leading a march or breaching an entrance. You could see how they were holding it.

And that‘s when, after doing the math, I realized, “oh, this makes a lot of sense,” as to how someone would wield something so massive and destructive, but remain fluid. It had a lot to do with proportion and finding the point of balance. The person using it (back then) might not have been so big and strong.

Odaka Dengo Tadao pounding the gate
of Moronao's palace with huge mallet.
Kuniyoshi print, 1853-1857.
So, what “treats” haven’t we seen yet? What are you working on next?

Right now, I’m working on some of the larger, exotic, traditional tools that are really rare: bisento, nyoibo, nagamaki, naginata – we get a lot of requests for that. I’ll bring in some of the same design features we did with the yari. I want to inspire people with what these tools were really like, to gain the benefits from training with them.   

You’re trying to get it as close as possible to the actual feel of the weapon.      

Right, the feeling. And I can introduce aspects that weren’t available back in the day for training tools. For instance, I can bring in different wood types and densities that they might not have had access to. They had a limited selection of species of wood. I don’t.

I’m trying to bring back the right feeling for what’s essential in using it with Taijutsu. A bisento, a nyoibo – why would you need something like that? But I like to think I see the connection, even if I’m just carrying my training bag – it’s the size of a nyoibo! I’m trying to inspire people to see the value – not simply some esoteric, historical value, but the need to use them tactically with their Taijutsu to expand knowledge and ability. I’d like to bridge the historical with the contemporary just for the inspiration that it brings. I think it’s important because it opens the door to teach valuable things that I think get left out in our training.


Also, I have an extensive background in high-end remodeling and would love to offer dojos a historical display, an artistic display that features weapons and furnishings that show where our art really comes from, not what Hollywood tells us. My plan is to get into live weapons as well and even have a facility with target ranges and space where people can train with these large weapons.

Jack Hoban and his BW tsurugi v.1
You’ve actually built a kiln, right?

We are building a couple things to help us with steel work. We’re taking that slowly. Things I think that will really be a benefit to training right now is really my focus. I’m careful with the pace we’re growing at. And that is a challenge. We’ve had a lot of requests from all over the world – constantly – for all kinds of classic “Hollywood” style ninja tools that fascinate people at a different level. And it’s tempting, easy money, but I don’t want to abandon the goal. And some of the smaller items that are traditionally popular, I’m not really worried about providing. The market is so saturated with them, that I’m not in a rush to produce them. But to me at this point my priority is with what we want to focus on in our training.

This is ultimately about your training.

Absolutely. It is about my training. I won’t be an effective weapons maker if I don’t understand how to use them. I can replicate anything. I have no issues with that ability. But I don’t understand everything and I think that’s more important.

The better your Taijutsu, the better you’ll understand, the better crafter you’ll be. 

And the better tool I can offer the public. So, it has to have a lot of meaning to me. Everyday something of value is coming to light and it’s adjusting how I craft because it actually matters.

April 12, 2013

Jack Hoban Chicagoland Workshop

On Saturday, April 20th, I'll host Jack Hoban for our annual Chicagoland workshop!

It's always great to see Jack and this time out we've another busy schedule. Aside from the seminar we'll also be presenting at the annual ILEETA (International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association) conference, sitting down to talk ethics and training with leadership from the Chicago Police Department, and filming another RGI training video, this one involving tactics for maneuvering and recovering from the ground.

Join us for training:
Darien Park District Community Center
7301 Fairview Avenue
Darien, IL 60561-3567
12-4 pm

Jack Hoban Bujinkan Seminar in Chicagoland

We hope to see you there!


April 5, 2013

A Scary Situation

Received this recently from a friend. Scary stuff.


Greetings Jim,

It’s been a long time since we spoke last and I've been meaning to message you. 
What prompted me to contact you today is regarding something which happened yesterday that I wanted to share with you and the other Buyu. This is the type of thing that I would have discussed at length with Mark (Hodel).

Yesterday, about 1pm my wife (a stay at home mom), was vacuuming on the second floor of our home. Our kids were at school and aside from our adult black lab, she was home alone. Our vacuum is a Kirby and is pretty loud, so it’s hard to hear much while it’s running. However, she was interrupted by our dog barking on the first level. She looked out the front window and was surprised to see a large Penske truck (the size typically used for moving from one residence to another) backed into our driveway. She then went down to the first floor to put the dog in his cage and retrieve one of my .45s, noticing a black male had exited the driver side door. He lingered around the truck while smoking a cigarette. At this time she could see that there was another male in the passenger side with his cap pulled down possibly to cover his face, apparently talking on a cell phone. She immediately called the police.
Her personal impression was that the driver appeared to be very shady looking, possibly nervous. She was pretty sure the driver saw and heard our dog’s loud barking at them through the glass windows at either side of the front door. Going back upstairs (armed), she waited for the police to arrive. While waiting, she noticed a van pull up at a neighbor’s house with business markings of an HVAC service on it. Fortunately, the presence of activity at my neighbor’s house seemed to prompt the characters in my driveway to get in their truck and leave. Unfortunately, this all happened before the police arrived some ten minutes later. If you recall we live on a wooded, dead end road, which is past a curve, making it hard to see our house until you are right in front of it.

A few things we've discussed since then. We are grateful that ultimately nothing happened and no one was hurt. This is the standard MO for a home robbery. Sometimes if burglars are surprised by a woman at home alone, she is beaten or killed to shut her up and often raped. We are grateful to have had the foresight to place firearms in speed safes in multiple locations within our home. We are grateful that we both have permits to carry concealed. We are grateful that even though we are trying to train our dog to not bark, that he was barking at these characters at this time. We are grateful that our neighbor’s furnace died the night before and as a result, he had come home to meet with the repair service at the time this was happening.

Additionally, we should not be lulled by the fact that we live in a peaceful, quiet secluded neighborhood, where you would not expect any crime. My wife indicated that she caged the dog, because she didn't want to be tripping over him or shoot him if he got in the way. We decided that it would be better to leave him free to attack or dissuade any intruder. If he got shot in the process of defending our lives, he would get a hero’s burial. And finally, I will be discussing this incident with all of our neighbors so that they all are aware of the incident and hopefully it doesn't happen (or worse) to anyone else on our street.

That is all for now. See you at the Jack seminar my friend.

Bufu Ikkan

March 4, 2013

Open Training, March 9, 2013

Been plenty busy this last semester and haven't had time to post much. Hope to get some stuff out soon.

In the meantime, this Saturday, Shidoshi Jeff Patchin will host me for an Open Training workshop in Rockford, IL. Should be great fun. We'll be lucky enough to be training at the Anderson Japanese Gardens - quite a beautiful place.

The focus for the workshop will be bojutsu and kenjutsu, so please bring hanbo, jo, and rokushakubo, as well as bokken and ninjato, if you have one.

See you there.


Saturday, March 9th
12:00 - 4:00pm
Anderson Japanese Gardens Visitors Center
318 Spring Creek Road
Illinois, 61107
Focus: Bojutsu/Kenjutsu
Cost: $40.00

January 10, 2013

Under the Blade 2013

Shinnen Omedeto Gozaimasu!

What a year! Feel like I just popped the cork on '12 and '13 sneaks up and punches me right in the mouth.

I was swamped - classes, papers - my only free time spent with family or training. But I was able to continue the good work of Resolution Group International: Hosting Jack Hoban this past year (look for upcoming seminar news with him soon),

presenting again at the ILEETA (Illinois Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association) conference (and we look forward to it again this year), filming the latest RGI training video, “The Ethical Protector Vol. 2,”

and helping with Jack’s new book, “The Ethical Warrior.” We also had another fantastic retreat at our annual Gasshuku – our 14th year!

Chasing a master's degree is never boring - tedious at times, enlightening at others, but always a lesson. Over the summer I wrote a paper – worked my ass off for it. It was tough, both long (30 pages) and difficult as I argued a values theory within well-known paradigms of philosophy.

I made the case certain values were “non-negotiable” and indiscriminate violation of them (truth telling, prohibition on murder, and valuation for the young) jeopardize the collapse of any valid society. In other words, these particular values are not simply “good,” they are crucial, fundamental, and necessary. But my professor wasn’t buying. In fact, he wrote flippantly in the margin, “Why shouldn’t we let society collapse?” Sure, what the hell, that "Road Warrior" movie was cool, I guess. Such is the university experience - common sense uncommon.
And I'm paying for this.

The phrase, "common sense" is derived from the Latin "sensus communis," (and this from the Greek "koine aisthesis") the "common feelings of humanity." Cambridge defines it, "the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way." If this is true, there must be certain "non-negotiable" presuppositions within the "common feelings of humanity," otherwise how could it be considered "common" or "sensible?"

I don’t find it hard to conclude (provided one is not a university professor) values that protect, respect, and sustain life - both its existence and quality of existence – are not just worthy of valuation, but also necessary to value. In other words, they are moral. This coherence to human nature's Natural Law is the source of “common sense,” and forms our understanding of what we accept as “good,” as well as outlines the disorientation we detest as “evil.”

Explaining all that can be quite a chore and in many cases paradoxical because, like Budo, there is never just one thing that proves it - everything, in fact, proves it. A quote from our good friend GK Chesterton:
… A man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, "Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?" he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, "Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen." The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.
Such is the state between martial arts and ethics - there is not one thing that proves the relationship, everything proves it. So, in response to the question, "why do you train martial arts?" answers are as varied and sometimes incoherent as the multiplicity of training itself: "Why, there is that sword . . . and the culture of ancient lands . . . and discipline . . . and ninjas and stuff!"

I saw a lot written this past year on the topic of martial ethics - encouraging. I also read “pushback” – a denial that character ethics exists in Budo, except whatever one deems prescriptive. It is here the pedigree of Budo is misinterpreted to be a mere “killing art” of survival, which, in effect, unceremoniously diminishes and degrades it by severing the link between martial strategies and their original life-giving principles. The account departs from any sense of responsibility for shared duties to fellow persons and appeals, perhaps unwittingly, to “might makes right.” This inevitably leaves both practitioner and opponent dehumanized and existing in a brutal state of nature only a Thomas Hobbes could love.  

The above appeal is an old one and can be labeled in various ways: Moral pluralism, post-modernism - it’s all just forms of moral relativism, which in my view is basically like saying it’s okay not to do the right thing, because in our “nasty, brutish, and short” lives there is no “right” thing.

But if my assessment is correct, then there can indeed be such things as "right" things, in fact, those "right" things are often the necessary and worthy (existence and quality of existence)  things that inform us of "rightness." So long as one recognizes that the protection of life is both a necessary and worthy value (and society should not be allowed to collapse, professor) then truth telling, prohibition on murder, and valuation for the young are all examples of necessary, worthy, and therefore "right" values.

I'll be bold here: Martial arts are moral. And when we use them, we deal with the ethical - the moral in action. Martial arts are moral because they were not invented like an iPad - they were discovered. They were discovered at different times, in different places, by different people, in different ways around the world because of shared reasons - universal reasons that were and are essential and worthwhile to humans: The protection, defense, and sustainment of life. Ultimately, respect for the value of life. 

How do we know? Does anyone believe that the discovery of fire and learning to create and control it was inconsequential to human existence? On the contrary, humankind as we know it would simply not exist, would not have survived, if not for the ability to control fire. Controlling fire was not just "good” to know, it was crucial to know, necessary to know – worthy to know. The control of fire was discovered at different times, in different places, by different people, in different ways around the world because of shared reasons - universal reasons that were and are essential to humans: The protection, defense, and sustainment of life.

Being able to conjure and control fire was considered sacred. Why? Because humans like to stay warm, eat cooked food, and have our journey lit? In other words, improve the quality of our lives? Sure, but these specifics ultimately allowed the control of fire to protect, defend, and sustain humanity’s existence itself. This is what made it sacred and makes firemaking sacred still today – no fire, no life.

Martial arts were also considered sacred. Because they improved the quality of life? Ultimately, humankind as we know it could simply not exist, could not have survived, if not for the ability to control martial arts. There is no moment in history that does not involve the usage of martial arts, they permeate it, imbued with the instinct of self and others preservation from the Scottish highlands to the American plains Indians - as is the history of fire. Strategy, tactics, and techniques are as varied as the environments and DNA of the people that developed them. As are the thousands of variations to create fire under the conditions it needs to be created.

Only through the rose-colored lens of modernity can society by its bounty and ample security mock and take for granted these once sacred arts, reducing them to a quaint little trick, most applicable to camping, and a savage athletic hobby of “cage fighting.” It is our own self-satisfaction that issues the license to climb atop a soapbox and degrade martial arts as amoral - neither ethical or unethical - but simply the cold, hard, inert tool to make easy the utility to kill.

But just what is so exemplary about killing? The default position of the feudal world was death – people died young, sick, and infirm; they were plagued by plagues, starved, hunted, and massacred between tribes and clans. The brutality of the ancient world is legendary. But the martial art changed the balance of the default position – its knowledge and training could protect and sustain life for those who would otherwise have surely died. Is there any question as to why the warrior class would ascend to the preeminent cultural position in every valid society? It is because the warrior was not renowned for their death-dealing, but their life-giving. Death was commonplace, life was special.    

Arguing martial arts are divorced from the moral and ethical is to misinterpret the motive of their origins and the principles of their study. This degradation calls into question their sacredness, their very dignity, the "why" they exist, for it is the same as calling into question the "why it matters" for them to exist in the first place - the sacredness, dignity - morality - of the protection of the value of life itself. Is the protection of the value of life somehow "amoral," as in, "lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply?" As in, "without moral principles?" Is truth telling, prohibition on murder, and valuation for the young amoral? Of course not - their indiscriminate violation would lead healthy, valid societies to collapse - they must be moral – necessary and worthy. 

Without the control of fire and martial arts, there could never have been any society to collapse. Martial arts must be moral. Their actions speak to the ethical. And habituation to these aspects either orient one toward the “good” and the “right,” or disorient away from them.

Can martial arts be misused? Assuredly. Can the control of fire be misused? Absolutely. Does this mean they are amoral and lie outside the sphere of morality? Not at all. Their unnecessary and unworthy use is prideful renunciation of their gift as a life-protecting source, confirmation of the decadence of our age, and a reproach to the gratitude and humility we take for granted for receiving and using their knowledge. In fact, it is this misuse – this disorientation - that continually re-orients, reminding us of their calibrating morality, their original "right-ness."

The step to amorality is also one step toward immorality. Take heed: If the emotional zeitgeist ever characterizes martial arts as amoral – their existence unmoored to any ethical concern like the majority of MMA is perceived - it will become all too easy to generalize them all as useless, fear-inducing means of destructive violence that can only ever threaten the safety of others. (Anyone believe in today’s America we could establish a martial arts program in schools? Think again. They would just be used to bully other kids, right? First problem: All martial arts are perceived to be the same.) And anyone connected to them will be demonized, shunned, and shamed for training them, teaching them, “owning” them, as well as their “extreme” beliefs in “rights” to do so. We ourselves by our own assent to depict and participate with a so-called “killing art” will have revoked and falsified the actual moral reasons for necessity and worth. Even if we believe in the moral reasons, if we don’t train for them, speak for them, rely upon them, we will have left it to the misinformed uninitiated to shape the argument for abolition. 

When we speak of martial arts, we always speak of martial use. We never speak of martial "un-use" because what's the point? If the only thing that counts is when they are utilized - not just to protect and defend self and others, but also train - then their use is the only aspect that matters. The existence of collections of techniques, while perhaps historically or hoplologically interesting, raises no ethical concern; it is only ever the "why" and "how" of their actual use that engages. Techniques are sets of instructions, procedures that can only inform, telling us what to do to fly our supercool quadrotor camera drone, but not how to do it, i.e. don't fly it outside the windows of pretty girls getting dressed. So, any argument that tries to establish the "amoral-ness" of martial arts is attempting to triangulate a location that has no use because it does not exist. Our destination is one we are actually trying to arrive at, so it is a waste of energy to draw a detailed map to Neverland.

Anytime someone decides to begin training in martial arts the decision itself is of an ethical nature because it is an embodiment, a physical articulation of "why" one wishes to train, akin to answering "why it matters" to train in the first place. Upon this, there are three questions (at least three) inherent to training that anyone who trains answers:

What am I going to learn?
How am I going to learn it?
Who am I going to learn it from?

These questions are ethical questions. They never go away and only gain in importance. In fact, once one becomes an instructor they do not just inhabit our teaching lives, they haunt them, evolving into the far greater:

What am I going to teach?
How am I going to teach it?
Who am I going to teach it to?

These questions are the interrogatives of martial principles. They are inherent, inextricable, and can never be ignored. We answer regardless of our awareness or ignorance of them because, in fact, it is participation, the “doing” of martial arts, that is our "vote" for “what, how, and who." Because of this, no one can do martial arts without answering to the ethical.

Further, these questions call for direction not just for informative martial techniques, but the manner of thinking and action in using them. Manners relate to the qualities of the person. And qualities relate to character. Therefore, no one trains martial arts without subjecting themselves to the possibilities of moral character calibration. In a recent article, David Brooks takes notice:
Smart people who’ve thought about (manners) usually understand that the habits we put in practice end up shaping the people we are within. “Manners are of more importance than laws,” Edmund Burke wrote. “Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.

Remember, there is not one thing that proves the martial and ethical relationship, everything proves it. And our theme for the year will hopefully clarify.

In 2012, our training was about losing our desire to clobber the opponent and force them to submit. Our theme - 念ずれば石をも通づ (nenzureba ishi o mo tsuzu - if one prays, focuses the will, focuses the intention, one can pass through a stone) – was useful to “pass through” our own “wanting” and give way to the opponent, using their own intention against them.

We have three rules in our dojo. The first is “be honest.” The second, “be tactical.” Being honest means one is willing to accept and deliver the personal risk (of failure, of pride, of selfishness) necessary for us to learn higher truths. Being tactical, means being physical only as much as one needs to maintain their honesty; in other words, if you don’t split, you gonna get hit. 

But it is the third rule that will constitute our direction for 2013: Be free. Freedom in training is not exactly free, it must be done within the limitations of the first two rules, otherwise it is irrelevant. A person could decide (and some do) to make up a martial art and begin “training” regularly, but would they ever arrive at proficiency without guidance? Very few, if any. This is like being on a boat with no point of departure and no port of arrival - actions become directionless. In other words, without principles that embody the necessary (existence) and the worthy (quality of existence) we can have no navigating direction, no bearing.   

“Shingitai-ichi” will be our theme for 2013 with the emphasis on the “ichi” (一致) or “agreement” of the Shingitai, the principles of Taijutsu. Agreement itself presupposes there are reasons for such an agreement. And the reasons here are clear: Threats of the variable. Since the variable is in constant flux, there is no way to affix an answer that does not require application. One can only place principles together once one "intuits" how they should form together. This agreement of principles must occur under the conditions for agreement using the uncommon “common sense” of Taijutsu to envelope the opponent into the Kukan, the space of calibration, to shape its necessary outcome and provide it worthwhile meaning.

If humans from the dawn of our existence were somehow physiologically invulnerable to harm, including malnourishment, martial arts would never have existed and fire would only be counted among the other phenomenon of nature. There would be no reason to develop methods based upon instinctive fear of human conflict and our natural inclinations for survival (protection of life) because these inclinations would simply not exist. And therefore, fear of human conflict would not exist either.

But due to their impact, one could expect that if by some cataclysm martial arts were completely forgotten or lost, the potential would still exist for human descendants to rediscover those lost secrets - they may never invent another iPad, but rest assured, stick fighting would become quite popular. And if far in the future, life ever became inessential and inconsequential, one could expect no one would need martial arts any longer, for their life-preserving abilities would no longer be required.

Taijutsu is the gift that protects the “common feelings of humanity” because it was developed from the "common feelings of humanity." The world today is a more abundant, safe, and prosperous place because of the life-protecting contributions of the martial art and its warriors in every age. Let us not use the fruits of their struggle against them. Or each other.

Budo is the martial way (of life)!

Have an inspired 2013!