Below you will find an insightful window into Mori Michiharu Shihan’s life as uchi-deshi at the Hombu Dojo in Tokyo while Master Gozo Shioda was alive. I hope you too can find little gems of wisdom hidden between the lines of his writing to help you further in your training.
Air-conditioning in a dojo?
Around the time when I became an uchi-deshi, I heard people saying that the dojos in US were all fully air-conditioned. Americans seem to like things for rational reasons: training in bad conditions in the heat or the cold disturbs one’s concentration and thus it is not an effective way to learn something; training in a good condition mentally and physically can improve the quality of training and thus it is faster to master techniques. Thus, the dojo should be fully air-conditioned. Well, I did not know whether it was true or not, but it made sense. High standard gyms are well air-conditioned, and members can concentrate on their workouts in a pleasant condition. This is absolutely right if their purpose is just to build mirror muscles!
Yet, what about for the purpose of Budo training? Is it better training in comfortable conditions? No one really likes training in the extreme cold or heat as it is simply hard. I know that everyone has thought of not going to the dojo to train because of severe weather (hot or cold etc.) once or twice at least. What Master Gozo Shioda told us uchi-deshi’s was, “If it was a real battle. Think in that way always.” He meant that if we really had to go to war there was no excuse really to be made. No samurai could escape battles saying, “I cannot fight as it is too hot/cold/humid/rainy/windy/snowy.” Or, they could not make an excuse that they lost the battle because the gravel ground was slippery as it meant a death for them. A pleasant environment does not aid you to train both physically and mentally. Besides, even if your skills improve, you cannot display your skills fully in an emergency if your mind is not well-trained. That is why samurais appreciated various mental training like Zen to overcome their fear and earn the mental strength which was critical in the real battle.
In the Headquarters, we had special training periods to develop mental discipline in the hottest summer season and in the coldest winter season, one hour from six to seven every morning for ten days in a row. Having no break for ten days was quite tough physically and mentally but because it was very hard, we developed mental strength when we achieved it. We know that this is not an efficient method of training scientifically, but from my own experiences I believe that inefficient training is a great means to toughen your spirit.
Since the purpose of training in Budo is about strengthening and polishing not only techniques but the spirit at the same time, I think that training in an easy environment where one eases the burden will not achieve this purpose. However, I do not mean stopping all the fans in the dojo to create adverse conditions under this Queensland hot weather, but take the days of bad or severe conditions (such as an extremely hot and humid day) as a great opportunity to train one’s body and spirit more effectively, and still enjoy the challenge! So, a day when you think, “Ah, I don’t want to sweat, I don’t want to go to the dojo,” is the perfect day to toughen up your spirit. I’ll be welcoming you and praising your brave will power.
Now let me share an episode from the ten days cold winter training, one of my fond memories with my Master. I know it was meant to be cold training, but there were about seventy people training on the mats and I was young in my early twenties full of energy. Thus, I was so hot and sweaty like in a shower as I was exercising my best performance with speed and power in each technique. So, I took off my hakama (then, uchi-deshis were training with hakama on), opened the front of my dogi top, and opened the windows to keep training hard. Then, after the class finished and I went into Master’s room to serve him a cup of tea, he said, “Mori~~, it was cold…” You know, he was taking the class but not actually training. He got very cold when I opened the dojo windows and rather wanted to keep them shut. Yet, he could not quite blame his student who was training with his full spirit, yet he still wanted to complain just a little and show implicitly how he was troubled. I was surprised at his word in the back of my mind that even this iron man felt cold. And at the same time, I felt good in some way, as if I had won in the cold competition being stronger than him. What an inconsiderate disciple Master had!
Time has passed and now I am in my fifties, I have begun feeling the cold even in this warm winter of Queensland. As I endure the cold wind coming in from the dojo window numbing my left side body in June sogo shinsa, I belatedly understand my Master’s trouble and his feeling who was in his seventies then, and I apologise to him sincerely in my mind.