May 14, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Taijutsu is Bojutsu is Taijutsu

Recently I had a question from a relatively new student, who's been training almost a year. She was lamenting as to how awkward she felt using the Bo, whether it was a hanbo, or jo, or whatever. The Truth here is that if one is un-confident with the Bo, one cannot gain broader ability in Taijutsu. It's that simple.

The essence of this truth lies in the fact that Taijutsu, in its broad usage of tactical space and interval, is in reality a physical metaphor for the broad usage of tactical space and interval within Bojutsu, since anthropologically, weapons came first. At the dawn of man, Grog didn't wallop Gorg with a "Judo chop!" and then figured he could do it even better with a stick. No, sticks came first. The descendants of Grog would later discover how to deliver said wallop without said stick. This would lead to our larger understanding of the martial means and ways, which always returns us in some form to the Bo. Thus, "Bojutsu" here does not just mean art of the "six-foot staff," it means to use the Bo, the stick, in all its forms and lengths.

Yamamoto Kansuke (1501-1561) was a retainer of Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), who was one of the most successful and feared warlords in Japan. Kansuke developed a school of strategy called the "art of certain victory," which was adopted by the notable Miyamoto Musashi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who would ultimately pacify the country's warring ways.

In his seminal work, "Secrets of the Arts of Warfare," Kansuke writes about the Bo in a section called the "Chief of the Arts":
The pole is the chief of the arts. The explanation for this is that, for the spear and the halberd techniques, you cannot do without the pole too. So those who would acquire the techniques of long weapons first make this art the basis, learning the ways of using the body, hands, and feet, so they might attain the expert use of all the weapons in a warrior's arsenal. 
Kansuke killing a giant boar. 
It's quite a statement to say that learning the Bo is to learn "all the weapons." And it's true. The fact is nearly all weapons and martial tools were either refined from the Bo or relate to it directly in some way. Swordsmanship is directly related to Bojutsu. And Bojutsu was the initial stage of understanding for sojutsu, the art of spear, and all halberd arts. Even the bow and arrow was derived from the Bo - a stick configured with a taut string to propel other sticks with pointy ends. Hell, one could ever argue that the rifle is a Bo with a barrel mounted to it. Kansuke goes on to say that the pole is "approximately eight to eight and a half feet long" - a little longer than the standard "Bo staff" six-footer one picks up in a Chinatown gift shop.

If weapons and tools represent a conundrum for the practitioner, and a gap one is not likely to bridge, then something is truly wrong. Wrong because a firm understanding of Bojutsu in all its various forms - hanbo, jo, rokushakubo, yawara, tanbo, sutekki, and every other iteration (and length) one can think of - is required if we are to make the kind of wise decisions it takes to use Taijutsu successfully under conditions of conflict and stress.

Without the studied use and familiarity of Bojutsu we can wind up learning a false sense of positioning and leverage within the interval of conflict. Without the proportionality Bojutsu affords, (Another Truth: how does an average man of maybe five feet in feudal Japan command an eight and half foot Bo? Proportionality.) we cannot learn to habituate our observations, decisions, and actions on a naturally earlier continuum than that of our opponent. As a result, our unarmed Taijutsu is late instead of early, reactive instead of adaptive, and reliant upon physical might to force, rather than use of the body as a shielded fulcrum to compel compliance and deny the opponent's countermeasures.  

Bojutsu should not be thought of as simply a "good idea," but a necessary ideal. Recognizing that "Taijutsu is Bojutsu is Taijutsu" is to make a poignant discovery about the reality and use of Taijutsu because the Bo has played such a vast role in its design and our internal comprehension of that applicability.

Intuiting this truth means familiarizing oneself consistently with Bojutsu in all its iterations. Make it a daily habit to move with the Bo and integrate it often into training proper.

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