> I thought "Do" schools were more for the development of the individual
> regarding her physical and mental capabilities (coordination, focus, and
> determination), as well as her contribution to society. As I have been taught,
> the detailed spiritual aspects (depending on the school) tend to come later in
> training. I would love to hear from other people taking both "Do" sword and
> empty hand arts.(Mr. Taylor (are you still doing aikido, Kim?)
Aw this is one of the few topics that get me going big time, the old
"jutsu" vs "do" thing.
Anyway, as to Aikido, no I don't practice any more, much as I should, I'd
love to see how my technique has changed after a decade of Iai. (Bet I
wouldn't break my posture as much as I used to.) It's a simple matter of
time. As to how it was taught, I don't think philosophy was ever mentioned
in class, at least not for the first decade or so I was there. At the bar
over beers after every single class, sure. But the philosophy doesn't need
to be explained, all you need to do is practice, the philosophy of the art
is contained in the physical techniques of that art. You practice the art
and you change, it's that simple. You don't have to understand it in your
monkey-brain, your body understands.
In order to figure that out I had to first realize that the "Asian Martial
Arts" in their beneficial aspects at least, rely on the "bodymind" the
idea that the mind and the body are not separate. Once you accept that (as
opposed to the idea that the mind and the body are separate, with the mind
being the computer that drives the machine, or the mind being the will
that causes the body to move) it becomes easy to see how the central
philosophical and psychological tenets of a school are contained in the
kata. The mind and the body are not separate, this means they do not
"influence each other" but instead "are" each other. You train the "body"
and you are training the mind. You train the "mind" and you are training
Here's a quick experiment you can try right now. Sit back in your chair,
roll your shoulders forward, hunch them, clench your teeth and your fists,
pull up your knees, now breath shallowly and quickly for a little while.
What do you feel? A bit tense, a bit anxious?
Now straighten up your back, expand your chest, lift your head away from
the shoulders, place one hand on a spot about two inches below your navel
(a place near your centre of balance), and breath deeply while pushing
your lower abdomen out toward your hand on the inhale.
Are you calming down?
How? How could your body possibly affect your mind? It's the mind that
controls the body isn't it? They are separate, we have different words for
them so they must be.
As I write this I'm recovering, I hope, from a terrible bout of this flu
that's going around. For the first day I stayed in bed, the second I
napped a lot, the third a bit less, today I may nap only once. In all
those four days I haven't felt the least bit of guilt that I'm not at work
helping a couple of grad students finish their work, or in the shop
catching up on back-orders, or doing the March issues of JJSA and TIN, or
promoting the May Iaido seminar, or the July Sword School, or taking the
kids out to play, not to mention training with my own fellow students and
working on my own technique or badgering the illustrator for the next two
books or writing the one after that. These are all things that I am
constantly worried about... when I'm healthy. But now my body has
collapsed and I have been finding it hard to stand up let alone work at
something. My "mind" is in the exact same state, the "monkey-brain" can
say (and does) "hey I'm home I should be editing the JJSA at least" but
my true mind/heart/whatever just laughs and nods at it. The body needs
rest, the mind is at rest, simple as that.
Once you accept that the bodymind is real, the connection between studying
a violent art designed to kill, and becoming a better human being becomes
a bit more understandable. When I say "thought cycles" how many of you out
there over 20 years old understand what I mean? Now of those who have been
practicing martial arts seriously for several years, how many of you still
suffer from them? Suppose there's a connection? Learning the precise
control of your body required to do kata has given you the tools to
control those "uncontrollable" thoughts that used to make you damned near
insane, especially at about 2am when the bar was closed down for the
night. I actually can't remember the last time I lost three minutes sleep
worrying about anything. If it needs doing, do it. If you can't do
anything, leave it be. If you have to wait for your partner to attack,
wait, if he's attacking, move as required, no more, no less. When walking,
walk. When sitting, sit. Above all DON'T WAVER! The monkey-brain may think
it understands all that, but standing still until someone swings a three
foot stick at you, and THEN moving only the width of your body so you can
strike him as he is brushing the sleeve of your uniform does wonders to
make the bodymind aware of what's important and what's just monkey-brain
chattering away to itself.
OK let's get a bit more concrete. I've been acused of being a good "mental
aikidoist", of not being driven off balance by people accusing me of being
a bad person or whatever. I think the commonly accepted "philosophy" of
Aikido is to blend with the situation. Anybody out there so far in the
boonies that you can't see that philosophy in the art itself. If so, let
me explain. Jay Gluck in "zen combat" called Aikido "the gentlemanly art
of getting the hell out of there" or words to that effect. The whole focus
of Aikido sometimes seems to be to go around your partner until he gets
dizzy enough to fall down in a faint. Don't let anything hit you. So
mental Aikido is to move yourself (your emotions and your monkey-brain at
least) out of the way of the provocation and to accept the arguments (or
lack thereof) behind them, use them to establish a little dance so that
you and your attacker can both come out the other end just a bit better.
What a smug, superior, self-satisfied piece of writing that sounds like.
And it's true! I am superior, self-satisfied and smug when I think about
what I was like at 20. Almost two decades of hammering my mind into the
mat (Aikido) and forcing my mind into shapes that are dictated by someone
else (Iaido) has made me a pretty smug person I've got to admit.
So what's so special about Asian Martial Arts? Nothing. It's the way they
are practiced, not the practice itself, at least that's what a couple of
researchers have found when investigating aggression and martial arts
training. Nosanchuk looked at "traditional" and "modern" Karate training
(I'm not looking at the papers right now so don't quote me folks, look 'em
up yourself) and found that modern training (focusing on learning how to
fight) had no (or a negative?) effect on reducing aggression, while the
same type of training which also included more traditional aspects (like
discussions of philosophy, bowing, respect etc) reduced aggressive
measures in the students. Trulson did a similar study using TKD and found
Is this really a surprise? Learning how to fight and kill, with the
expressed desire to learn how to fight and kill, can make you a bit more
aggressive. Gee drill instructors around the world will be shocked.
But change the intent of the student, even a little, take his or her focus
away from the "practical" aspects of the art, and you get a reduction in
Is it the "philosophy" that sensei is spouting? Do boxing coaches spout
peaceful slogans at boxers? Studies in the 50s on boxers and wrestlers
seem to indicate that these combat sports are making the students less
aggressive than, say, cross country running. (Yes better at it than
running, that be all and end all of good for you stuff of the 80s).
This is before Mike Tyson was born folks! Think George Chuvallo, Muhammed
Ali, George Forman OK? People with a life, not someone made into a machine
to make money.
What does this imply about koryu and "modern" sword schools then? Well
here's my take on it, and I'll get ready with my mental aikido for another
round of practice.
I don't think Bruce Lee was very impressive.
I don't like the idea of "taking the best and leaving the rest". I've been
to a major ju-jutsu world event (I mean big) and demonstrated iai there. I
watched maybe 50 different groups demonstrate and the only image I had in
my mind was "MUD". It was modern ju-jutsu, the North American type where
you mix up karate, judo, aikido and boxing, stir in a bit of TKD and hang
a sign up that says "FAMILY SELF DEFENCE STUDIO".
It was so bad that when a girl got up to do a TKD kata TO MUSIC, it felt
like a bucket of cool water had landed on my head. (I did TKD for a long
time but I don't think I'll ever agree that kata should be done to music).
You mix a lot of stuff together and you get mud, it's simple.
I just watched a videotape of a North American sword koryu (one of the
ones where a North American fellow learned it from a mysterious asian
fellow back in the 50s or 60s, there's several of them around) and it was
mud. Lord I never saw so many twitches and flips. Who needs 25 different
ways to do chiburi???
No, a true koryu has an underlying philosophy, an underlying theme which
comes out in the kata. This theme serves to unify all the movements in the
school so that I can look at a videotape of someone doing a kata I've
never seen before and often I can say "that's such and such ryu". I've
never seen it before but I recognize the philosophy, I recognize the way
they move. Often, in arts that I study myself, like MJER I can tell you
which organization someone belongs to, and sometimes even who their
teacher is. Their kata, their thinking, their minds are clear, not muddy.
I've thought this way for a lot of years but I'm not the one to write
about it. Karl Friday has already done so, go read his latest book.
JUTSU AND DO
So now we come back to jutsu and do. I have done Tae Kwan DO, AikiDO,
IaiDO, JoDO, Niten Ichi-ryu kenJUTSU, Do Pi Kung Fu, a little boxing, and
a whole bunch of other stuff. I've never noticed any difference in any of
it. Every single instructor I've ever had has attempted to teach me
techniques that were effective (some were better at it than others). Not
one of them ever said "well this one won't work but I teach it this way
because I can't do it the right way, but it doesn't matter because you're
learning to be a better person not a fighter". Mind you I never took Tai
Chi (Eaoww now Ray Sosnowski is going to be coming after me too!).
I do Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu IaiDO. If my sensei told me it was iaiJUTSU
I'd call it that. If he called it Sambo I'd call it that. It's just a
name and names don't have to conform to external definitions.
Therein lies the problem.
Donn Draeger tried to pin down "jutsu" and "do" to stict definitions, and,
if you read him carefully and follow the definitions, they can be useful.
But most people read sloppily and superficially. A hell of a lot of people
read Draeger and think they know something, and what they know is that if
it's a "jutsu" it's battlefield effective and if it's "do" it's modern,
derivative and ineffective.
Drives me nuts, so I've spent a lot of years baiting people, getting them
upset enough to re-read Draeger and then a bit beyond so they could put me
in my place once and for all. It works, I get put in my place regularly
(and usually get an article or two out of it).
Don't try to force anything that's called "jutsu" or "do" into a category
where it obviously doesn't belong. If a school has a "verifiable" (if
there is such a thing) lineage that extends back to the Edo, then it's
"pre-meiji", don't mean it's a jutsu or a do. If it goes back pre-edo then
it's "sengoku jidai" or "momoyama" or whatever, don't mean it's
"battlefield effective". Definitions are tools folks, and like any tool
they can be misapplied. Sometimes I like to get people worked up over
jutsu and do, sometimes I drive a nail with a wrench. That doesn't mean
I'm using the tool for the job it was intended for. Definitions should
clarify not obfusticate.
I like to say it's a koryu if it originated in the Edo period, pre-meiji.
That makes kendo a koryu, and daito-ryu a modern school. I think that's
I like to say kendo is more battlefield effective than, say, Niten
Ichi-ryu. Why? because kendo concentrates on just a few techniques
practiced to split-second refinement against an opponent who is trying the
same thing, all at full power. The techniques have been refined over 200
years. Niten, with relatively few kata, still contains vastly more attacks
than kendo, but that's counter productive.
Anybody think the sengoku jidai warlords trained their spear and
musket-fodder in 50 or 60 different ways to kill with the spear? Hell they
were likely told "hold this end, poke with that, don't get stuck".
I've had a fascinating read in the last year or so, of the knife fighting
books, I was going to do an article on the evolution of North American
knife schools according to the books from WWII to today, with a comparison
of that evolution with the theoretical evolution of a "battlefield art" of
the sengoku to the "koryu" of the edo period. I likely won't get to it
anytime soon so anyone else that's intrigued, go right ahead, I'll even
collaborate if you want.
During and just after WWII you have guys like Fairbairn, Applegate and
Styers telling you "don't get stuck, get in there and stick him". Some
influences from older traditions could be seen, Asia with Fairbairn
perhaps, fencing with Styers (and Biddle) but it was all pretty damned
simple. Get out of the way and stick him.
Then you can trace it a couple more generations and you start getting the
karate/judo/aikido influences, it starts to become possible to do more
stuff with (and without) a knife but it's still pretty standard stuff.
Then the great Filipino invasion hits and suddenly you're defanging snakes
and all sorts of interesting stuff with loads of different grips.
All that in just three or four generations, 50 years from 1948 to 1998,
does anyone really think that there's a koryu out there that stood still
for 400? Is there any art out there that's a battlefield effective
"jutsu"? Anyone going to re-invent a battlefield effective "jutsu"? Why?
(Aside from the obvious commercial appeal to young boys who read the mass
market trades of course).
Which brings us right back to Japanese sword and why you study it. If you
want a battlefield effective koryu-jutsu because you want to learn how to
fight and kill, good luck to you, hope you get a car and a licence for
your next birthday.
If you have been told you're learning good sword form because you're doing
iai-jutsu and I'm doing bad form because I'm doing iai-do, keep it to
yourself please, my ego can't take the crushing.
If you think you can defeat a kendoka because your kenjutsu lets you
strike at the lower leg, go try. Tell you what, since you use a heavier
sword and they just flick around those light things, both of you use a
suburi-shinai, they're heavier than a regular shinai but still of bamboo.
(It's just going to hurt more when it hits your head though).
Enough monkey-brain! Hell that's just what I needed, a good working up.
I'm even hungry.