May 8, 2014


Growing up in a Western culture, along with its values and what not, I seemed to learn a kind of “sports” mentality to the doing and practicing of things. “Practice makes perfect,” I often heard. Later I was told that wasn’t quite right - “Perfect practice makes perfect.” 

It’s well understood that if we’re intent on mastering something we must do it a lot, like, 10,000 times a lot. But there must also be a kind of "perfection" to this repetition, in that, we must do whatever it is we are doing “perfectly” 10,000 times. Here’s the problem: Neither of these can be relied on when it comes to the training of Budo.

I’d say for many things, perhaps even most, this strategy works just fine. A baseball player, provided they wish to be a good player, must hit the ball 10,000 times to get the feel of hitting the ball well. But when it comes to the training of Budo and Bujutsu, this strategy can actually work against us.

The reason why is pretty simple: The baseball player practicing to hit the ball 10,000 times is unconcerned that at any moment and without warning the umpire will pull a knife and stab him. He’s not concerned that as he runs to first base he’ll be shot from the stands with a high-powered rifle. He’s not concerned about these things, and rightly so, because they are not part of the playing of baseball. If the ballplayer misses the first pitch, there is a second. If they miss that, there’s a third. They may even wind up walking to first base.

Because it’s intuitive, it’s easy to understand how we can infuse this kind of "sports" mentality into the training of martial arts. Don't get me wrong, practicing 10,000 times will get you to do that thing more dexterously than you were doing it before. But whether or not that thing will actually be more effective depends on how well we can apply it into the context of training. 

The ballplayer is working within a set of rules and regulations. Provided he understands those things well, he can play the game better. But to that end, what exactly are the rules or regulations in Budo/Bujutsu? The bizarre, banal, crude, charming, and brutal ever-changing reality of life is the only basic “rule” I am aware of that creates the complexity for being able to "play" well as a Budoka.

In other words, the only "rule" I know to be true is this: Change is coming. That is the only constant we can understand. That coming change may be good, bad, or indifferent. But the best response to that unknown is to be spontaneously adaptive in creative, life-preserving, viable ways.

There are plenty of folks that can do the "what" of training - the techniques - and do them very, very well. They should be - they’ve practiced them 10,000 times. This may mean they can perform these techniques under stress, but the bigger challenge is always in creating a viable strategy to overcome life or death challenges when we are using techniques. If we are constantly focused specifically on hitting the ball, instead of hitting the ball in a tactical way - a way that compromises the ump’s chances of stabbing - it may, in fact, contribute to striking out.

We can wind up training this way because we imagine a continuum where sports is at one end and Budo the other. But we should erase this notion that the opposite of sports is martial arts, let alone warrior arts. It is not. Sports are not the opposite of martial arts and just imagining they are can fool us into complacency. 

Sports are real - just like martial arts - but exist in a kind of measured reality – there are rules for winning. So, a more proper opposite would have to be something like a no-holds-barred measured un-reality, akin to video games or “Calvinball” (thank you, Jason), where the rules are made up as you play. To this end, the better opposite of warrior arts and its training is to take its immediate, no-second-chance reality and imagine it in the unreal – coordinated reenactment, movies, plays, and performance. “Faking it” is more properly the opposite of warrior arts and this is the great concern of mixing up our training.

The Budoka’s job is not about being reactive to the conflicts of life with pre-programmed responses. If this is the end goal of training, the Budoka is all but dead. Repetition is important in Budo, but responses must be measured, thus training is geared to seeing, shaping, and even making the tactical space - the creation of a tactical moment. For every one of those 10,000 times we train something, the Budoka must apply it into seeing, shaping, and making the Kukan viable. 

This is literally to “make time” so we can best do the one thing that makes warrior training worth training at all: Recognize our ethic - protect ourselves, protect others, and if possible, even our enemy. 

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