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Coffee Break

A little more knowledge for your training in budo

It’s not a sprint!

It’s often said that ‘anything worthwhile doing, is worthwhile doing well’ or that ‘it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey’. Whilst these might be cliché, they definitely apply to our training in budō.

Unlike sports of any kind, budō does not ask us to peak or taper for a bout or big event. Budō asks us to be ready anytime and anywhere and anyhow for what is needed to be done in life. This means, we as budoka do not switch off the martial mindset or physical training. Nor do we intensify training to fulfil an often ego-driven short-term goal (like a game or race as I mentioned above). Therefore, training, or more specifically a life in budō, is and needs to be a ‘slow and continuous burn’ that evolves over time.

By ‘slow burn’, training in budō, as a way of life, needs to be sustainable over a long period of time to reap the benefits throughout your life. Training in budō also should provide the opportunity to get better in all areas of yourself with age, and your martial capacity shouldn’t diminish in efficacy or power as you age. Conversely, sports (including competitive martial arts) promote athletes that are young, physically strong, fast, and/or nimble, and have a career pinnacle that often ends at around the age of 30. Therefore, to achieve at the highest level, practitioners need only become expert in a very specific skill set, at a very specific moment in one’s life, and this skill set is determined by the rules of ‘the game’ in which one competes. This is so that the competitor may excel over another competitor within the same skill set within this ‘perfect age bracket’.

Speaking from experience, when I used to fight competitively, my training was very specific and not overly varied in the number of techniques or strategies that I would engage with. Yes, I had to be physically fit, strong, and fast, and training was arduous and repetitive (and often boring as hell) because I was simply learning to be better at ‘the game’ or ‘ring craft’ than my opponent. I look back now on this and realise that the only thing I really took away from this process was resilience and a sense of athleticism that would later fade over time. I don’t believe I became a well-rounded human from training and competing to be the No.1 fighter in Queensland and 2nd in Australia; nor did I become a well-rounded martial artist, to tell the truth. Since putting away competitive fighting and representative sports, and swapping it solely for a life of budō, I believe my life has become enriched to no end. And I don’t ever see a day in the future before I die that my aging will prevent me from doing well that which nourishes me physically, emotionally and spiritually. Training in budō continues to provide me the opportunity to become a more effective martial artist with confidence in my physical ability, and subsequently provides me with the ability to engage more positively with other humans in all areas of my personal and professional life. That is not to say that I don’t stuff things up and get things wrong often. Just ask Cindy! It just means that I get it wrong less and get it right better with budō. I sincerely hope that your training in the dojo may provide you with the same never-ending benefits.

However, with the benefits of training in budō, and unlike training in sports, one thing that must be considered is that we generally never end a cycle of training for a rest period. Most sportspeople would train rigorously for a season or an event and then follow it with a restful period to recuperate. However, this is not budō. Budoka must manage a sustained and disciplined training regime that finds the personal balance in our lives; this is unique to the individual depending on one’s added demands of work, family, age and body condition. Without continuity in a sustained training regime over time, budoka won’t experience the benefits of their training permeating into all areas of their lives – it will simply remain solely physical and only be with them while they are on the mats. Additionally, you will find that sports people train independently for their own personal (or team collective) gains and accolades. However, budō on the other hand, asks us to work more cooperatively with others and consider the service element of our training: How we can better contribute to society as a result of our training. After all, the word ‘samurai’ actually means one who serves. So, in my experience, if you want more from your training, then it’s not always about intensity and what you will get out of a particular session, but it is about continuity and service! Afterall, the journey is what nourishes and enriches your life, not the ever elusive ‘destination’.

I’m sure as we all age our bodies will ask different things of us in our training. Some students in the dojo are experiencing this now. Despite the gradual diminishing of physical strength over time, personally I am really enjoying the gradual replacement of youthful exuberance and physical (external) strength with the potency of the centre line and focussed concentrated power through consistent and persistent attention to basics (as I alluded to in my closing year demonstration last year). So as the year begins, take the time to return to basics – strong base through low posture; straight back; correct weight distribution; move from your centre; etc., and slow your kihon dosa down. Feel your connection to Uke, move uke, don’t just expect them to move for you, stay low, condition your legs and core. Also, take the time to condition your body gradually and purposefully in a sustained way that you can maintain over the long haul. As martial artists it’s our responsibility to personally condition our bodies diligently so that our martial training on the mats is amplified and that we can minimise injury (although injury is something that can’t be completely avoided due to the nature of what we do). If you expect the martial training to do all the conditioning work for you, you will never access the potential of the technique as you are asking it to fulfil a function that it is not designed to do. If you are unsure of what you could do for your personal conditioning, just let me know or drop it into your goals for the year and I will work with you to provide simple and effective ways to condition your body according to your level of fitness, age and body needs. Also, please feel free to make full use of the equipment in the dojo before and/or after class (see the photo here). Again, if you need help with how to use the equipment effectively and safely, please ask at the desk and I am more than happy to help.

Having said above that training must be sustainable, it also should be age-bound. In other words, to get the full benefit of your training in later years, one must first engage in rigorous and intense training when young. Only then can the hardness give way to softness in later decades with experience. One can’t substitute and expect results in decades to come if never engaged in hard training in one’s earlier years. This is why – as the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido Gozo Shioda Sensei said before he died – there is so much ‘empty aikido around the world’. These people have avoided the rigorous and hard training and started with soft ‘empty’ techniques that have no substance – they have never transitioned from the hard and rigorous where a strong base of technique is felt, developed and understood. Budō (as an artform that goes back centuries) is first developed and felt in the body before it can be intellectualised in the mind. In other words, the hard work has to be done physically and you can’t short-cut the journey – its not a sprint! Now this might seem in contrast with the earlier points of ‘slow burn’, but let me assure you it is not. When we are young, we must use our bodies physically to their fullest capacity, while our minds are still weak, to develop strength of body. And when we are older, we must use our minds to their fullest capacity (utilising our experiences and insights over time) as our body’s physicality diminishes, to develop wisdom and make the next generation even better. As budoka, we are amongst the few in the world best placed to achieve this; we are amongst the few in the world who can maintain physical capacity longer whilst developing mental fortitude long into our older years. In essence, I believe, budō allows for the perfect synergy between body and mind for sustained contribution to society to the day we die.

Enjoy your new year of training everyone!

Osu!

Ryan Slavin

Coffee Break

Fear is good

I was asked to give advice to a man who was troubled by his fear. People, especially men, naturally look up to a person who is seen to be brave and strong. However, when it comes to being a martial artist, being scared or having a fearful nature is a great attribute.

I have a favourite Japanese author, who is also swordsman at the same time, and I benefit from his perspective a lot. He often mentions that being courageous or brave and being reckless (stupid courage in other words) are completely different. A reckless character who runs headlong into danger dies easily in the battlefield. A warrior who is brave in real battle healthily fears unknown aspects, and he carefully assesses and determines the current conditions and circumstances before he moves forward. A man who fears worthily is the brave man who survives through the war. This author thinks that being fearful is an innate quality and because of that he consistently trains hard for his military skills without being lazy. A man who has no fear tends to believe in himself too highly, possesses overconfidence and often neglects diligent training. Great martial artists are more fearful than brave.

Tokyo Riot policemen whom I trained with were all qualified in high rank Japanese budo, in either Judo, Kendo or Aikido and they were training hard daily to keep their mental and physical conditions well. Since they knew that they were strong compared to general people on the street they could face gangs and criminals with confidence. Yet, these tough men changed their perspectives after they joining the Yoshinkan to take the Senshusei Course (riot policemen’s course.) Not only were they scared of the severe training itself but of the top Shihans too – at that time it was Chida Sensei and Takeno Sensei – for their devil-like head smashing techniques. Still, it was natural for Chida Sensei and Takeno Sensei to be strong as they were young and robust. What these policemen were really scared of was the fact that the two Shihans that scared them so much were scared of a tiny, old and withered man, Master Gozo Shioda.          

They were astonished to hear these two Shihans’ scream and see their faces distorted by this little man’s effortless techniques. There, they learned to be scared and needed to be cautious even against someone who appeared to be weak and innocent. The moment they became fearful was the moment when they became the reliable, strong and brave policemen they needed to be. So, if you think you are scared of things, be proud of yourself, as you can be a great martial artist! 

OSU!

Michiharu Mori                     

COFFEE BREAK:

Ancient wisdom locked inside the system

Following on from my demonstration at our 2022 Annual Demonstration, I’d like to offer you a follow-up article on the theme on which I spoke on that day. I hope you gained something from the demonstration in September for your own practice and I hope that this article provides you with some further detail behind my sentiment on that day. (If you would like to review the demonstrations, you can find it on our YouTube channel with all the other demonstrations from that day.)

Traditional Japanese martial arts like those practiced at our dojo employ the ancient teaching and learning methodology of ‘kata geiko’, which literally translates as ‘forms practice’, and ‘Shu Ha Ri’, the stages of martial development. The stages of Shu Ha Ri literally translate as,

  • shu (守) “protect”, “obey”—traditional wisdom—learning fundamentals, techniques
  • ha (破) “detach”, “digress”—breaking with tradition
  • ri (離) “leave”, “separate”—transcendence—there are no techniques, all moves are natural.

In the Shu stage budoka (martial practitioners) are asked to follow the teacher’s instruction with complete and unquestionable adherence. Therefore, it is so important to make sure you locate a teacher that has access to the origin of the martial wisdom being imparted. It does not matter which art or Budo you practice (the one that best suits your personality is always best and over time you will gravitate to it). The teacher and their connection to the source through a direct lineage is most important to assure you are getting an authentic budo experience and accessing legitimate martial wisdom that has been passed down through generations and tested in combat over the centuries. We are lucky at the Yoshinkan Sunshine Coast Dojo to have such access to an unbroken line of martial arts instruction dating back centuries. Therefore, when we engage unquestionably with the ‘traditional wisdom’ in the fundamental techniques during the Shu stage, we can take comfort in the knowledge that what we are doing is authentic budo and not a diminished version of the past that someone has reinterpreted under their own name. Unfortunately, however, many practitioners never persist past the ‘Shu’ stage of training, and they and other commentators and outside observers base judgements of the traditional art (be it aikido, judo, kendo, karate, or jiu jitsu etc.) solely on this early stage. I guess this is in part a consequence of the ‘now generation’ and the need for instant return on the little time some are willing to invest – something that can often be provided by other less all-encompassing pursuits.

Generally, after many years of consistent, dedicated, and intensive training, a budoka would transition into the Ha stage of their martial training. In the Ha stage budoka have a deep understanding of the fundamental techniques (the kata) and begin to ‘tinker around the edges’ and ‘break open’ the kata to explore different ways of applying their concepts and principles. Here budoka begin to digress from the simple ‘blind following’ of techniques and ask questions of the techniques to begin understanding the system more profoundly. Here is where the ‘study’ of the martial art is really evident if you take up the challenge, while unfortunately, here is also where most will stall their development as they are not willing to commit to what is needed to progress beyond this point. Here is where you really begin to realise how much you don’t know! This is what traditional Japanese martial arts call shugyo, or martial journey of spiritual development. Here is when your life and your budo begin to merge and become one… You begin to find it difficult to separate who you are with what you do.

After many decades of continued study of the art(s), budoka will reach the Ri stage in their martial development. This stage is translated as ‘transcendence’. This is where technique looks nothing necessarily like the movements of the techniques in the kata; one’s movements are the result of internalising the concepts found within the kata, they become natural, personal, and unique to the physiology of the budoka. Traditionally, this is when a budoka might leave the dojo to pursue their shugyo and travel in search of further martial learning and spiritual development. Thankfully, Mori Sensei asked me to take part in this of a sort when I moved to the Sunshine Coast. When we discussed my moving away, he prompted me to teach and explore further experiences in my training through the challenges encountered by others. This he said, would provide me with a more profound understanding and expand my capabilities; and if I didn’t, my progress might stall. As a result, I thoroughly enjoy my shugyo and I am grateful to Mori Sensei daily for his guidance and wisdom. But I must be honest, traditionally budoka would study all day every day and that decades of daily training for 8-10 hours do not equate to decades of daily training for 3-5 hours in the modern sense as in my case. We need to put this in perspective. Even though I train daily, my other commitments around work and family mean that I can only train on average about 3-5 hours every day. This is only half of what a traditional budoka would commit to daily. That said however, the effects of my shugyo on my daily life are still transformative, and I hope I can develop further so that I can share more with you all on the mats and off. Afterall, what is the point of my training if I can’t enhance my life and the lives of others – this is budo after all!

As I mentioned in my demonstration, I have come to truly believe that the wisdom is literally locked in the system in which we practice, and that kata geiko (forms training) is the mechanism with which we access this wisdom over time. From my study so far, I have found Kata geiko to display three distinct attributes of ancient genius in its construction that will never lose its relevance:

  1.  Its systematic nature is a matrix of techniques with junctions that allow for unlimited possibilities. Over time, budoka may explore within the Ha stage of their martial development the endless possibilities that each part of a kata provides. At the beginning (in the Shu stage) we see only one level of the matrix, which are all the techniques within the curriculum – the surface level. But over time, the other layers (much like a 3D version of the matrix as opposed to a singular layer) begin to appear. The junctions within each technique expand to show a plethora of possibilities that can be applied when the practitioner is ready to comprehend and explore them.
  2. Secondly, every technique within kata geiko is a vehicle for the learning of key principles and concepts that become applicable in any unique situation after many years of training. It is this vehicle that has been crafted over centuries of battle testing (and in the practice of Minamoto no Yoshimitsu – the developer of Daito Ryu Jujutsu and origin of Yoshinkan Aikido and Gracie Jiu Jitsu – who would dissect dead bodies in the 11th century to study human physiology and apply this knowledge to the development of Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu). These concepts are transmitted from generation to generation via this vehicle and the ancient wisdom is locked in this system ready for exploration and study by the dedicated and worthy budoka.
  3. Thirdly, kata geiko provides ‘hidden sensei’ (or teachers) all throughout the matrix of techniques in all its parts. Budoka in the beginning (and many ill-informed onlookers from the outside) often ‘don’t know what they don’t know’; it takes years of dedicated and continuous practice to develop the proficiency to unlock the learning within the system and gain access to the ‘hidden teachers’ embedded within each technique. Its much like a video game where you unlock new levels after accomplishing new degrees of proficiency. You may find yourself practicing something seemingly so fundamental as shomen uchi ikkajo osae 1 for a decade and then all of a sudden, an insight appears (a hidden teacher speaks to you) that you never saw before, and subsequently it further unlocks new learning across the system for you because you have conceptually comprehended something that was beyond your comprehension due to your proficiency before. This continues forever, so please be patient  The wisdom is locked within the system, and what a system it is!

Well, there is an elaboration on the points I touched on in my demonstration in September. I hope this provides you with an insight into how I feel about our training and the value that I see in what we do. Furthermore, I sincerely hope that this provides you with a little clarity around why we do things the way we do, and why it has been done this way for centuries… And I hope for centuries to come!

Osu!

Ryan Slavin

Aiki Insights Episode 23

This episode is Part 5 of our series on the principle of CONNECTION. In it we explore the role of connection in the application of the tenchi nage (heaven and earth) technique.

1. Discussion about the importance of practicing strong pulls to be pulled off balance and then retaining balance: 01:00

2. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of the mechanics and angles of ryote mochi tenchi nage 1: 01:30

3. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of connection within the technique to enhance its efficacy: 02:00

4. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of an advanced variation of tenchi nage using connection and timing or ‘Aiki’ to bring uke down: 04:20

5. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of suwari waza kokyu 7 using a similar connection application: 07:20

6. Review and summary: 08:30

Aiki Insights Episode 22

This episode is Part 4 of our series on the principle of CONNECTION. In it we explore the role of connection in the application of the sokumen iriminage technique.

1. Opening discussion about the basic mechanics of sokumen iriminage: 01:00

2. Discussion about the responsibility of uke to be able to take ukemi for a strong technique: 04:25

3. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of shomen uchi sokumen iriminage: 05:00

4. Discussion, demonstration and explanation of sokumen iriminage as an attack, not in defence: 07:00

5. Random attacks and demonstration of the versatility of sokumen iriminage: 08:10

6. Review and summary: 09:00