In this series of articles, we examine parts of Master Yoshio Sugino’s seminal book Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan (A Textbook of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Martial Training), published in Japan in 1941.
In this passage, Sugino Sensei talks about manners in budo.
Courtesy is worshipping the gods, respecting people, revealing your heart because, according to this, various virtues grow in you. For example, always be in a humble state of mind. If you are like this, you will have martial virtue naturally without trying. From the beginning, the roots of the Japanese spirit can be said to be worshipping the gods, belief and respectful worship from a thankful heart, coming out. If you are Japanese, do not for a moment forget courtesy, what you are supposed to do.
Courtesy for the Emperor’s house’s gods, for the next teacher, for senior people, for the same level people, for juniors, it applies to all. To everyone, you must show courtesy, according to their position. But of course, these thoughts of respect do not have thick and thin. Respect everyone equally, but show it differently according to their rank. ”
The 16th Year of Shōwa
Chiba-ken, Katori-gun, Katori-cho
-Extract from: Sugino Yoshio & Ito Kikue (1941). Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan.
Wow, what a passage. And what a message. Let’s examine some of the things Sugino Sensei said.
“During the study of BUDO, courtesy enters into technique.”
In other words, you can see courtesy in the performance of the technique. Attention to manners, attention to small matters, attention to detail. This is the hallmark of the really skilled practitioners. They don’t bang swords together. They “place” the sword. And they can “place” it wherever they desire. Their control is so good and so precise. They can stop that blade on a dime. In other arts, they may refer to this type of precision as “point control” or “blade control”.
How does courtesy enter technique? In partnered kata, you are really doing a disservice to your training partner if you are fighting with your partner, trying to best him. Why do it? What does it prove? And what does it accomplish in the end?
Courtesy towards your partner is performing the kata correctly, precisely, so that it enables him to practice his techniques better. If your cut is sloppy or your block off-angle or your body position offline, you screw up your partner’s technique as well. So you both lose in the end. Sloppiness just creates more sloppiness.
If you don’t care if it is a little sloppy, then you really don’t care to do it right, precisely right. Your attention to detail is lax. Consequently, your partner will suffer due to your bad technique. Are you being courteous to your partner? No.
Also, when we perform kata, we must think of our partners, always. Especially when using wooden or steel weapons. Otherwise someone will get hurt. Thinking about the welfare of others is courtesy. If you don’t really care about others, get out of budo. Budo training is not about hurting others.“If you lose it, you become a gangster, strong without brains.”
Allow me to paraphrase:
If you lose courtesy, which is that sense of thinking of others and their welfare, you will become a villain. You might be strong, but you still lack a soul…“Courtesy is worshipping the gods, respecting people, revealing your heart…”
Let’s review what courtesy means to Sugino Sensei:
Worshipping the gods.
Revealing your heart.
About #1, worshipping God or whatever gods you believe in. He is talking about belief, faith, trust.
About #2, the issue of respect. In budo, it’s all about respect. You give respect, you get respect. What goes around, comes around… It’s very simple.
Budo is all about respect.
aikido teachers paying their respects to Sugino Sensei & Nakamura
(and vice versa) at an IFNB** association bonenkai.
You will notice that they pay their respects in the traditional Japanese manner, namely za-rei (sitting bow).
* Nakamura Sensei is soke of Takeda Ryu- Nakamura-ha. For more information about this style, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takeda_Ryu_Nakamura_Ha
** IFNB = International Federation of Nippon Budo.About #3, what does revealing your heart mean? Be honest. Be genuine. You have heard of the expression: He wears his heart on his sleeve.* In other words, showing your emotions openly and honestly. Now, I do not mean openly as in professing verbally to the world how you feel but showing it through your actions, honestly, without deceit or ulterior motive.
* This phrase originally came from the play Othello by William Shakespeare, in a famous line spoken by Iago, the villain.
"But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve. For daws to peck at. I am not what I am."
Othello, Act 1, Scene 1, 56-65.“From the beginning, the roots of the Japanese spirit can be said to be worshipping the gods, belief and respectful worship from a thankful heart,…”
The key idea here is: “from a thankful heart”. Like in religion, saying grace before a meal. Here are some examples of what some denominations utter when they say grace before a meal:
what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.
“Let us pray. Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy/your gifts, which we are about to receive from thy/your bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
And we should be thankful. Thankful to be alive. Thankful to be healthy. Thankful to have the opportunity to learn from a good teacher. Thankful to have the opportunity to study such a wonderful art. Thankful to have good training partners and good dojo friends. Thankful to have a good place to train and not have to train in the snow (it snows a lot in Canada!). We have many things to be thankful for, that others in less fortunate circumstances do not have. We must not forget how really fortunate we are. Thank God, thank Providence, thank whatever you believe in. But be thankful because remember, your life could be a lot worse.“Courtesy for the Emperor’s house’s gods, for the next teacher, for senior people, for the same level people, for juniors, it applies to all. To everyone, you must show courtesy,…”
Respect those who have come before you. Respect those who study with you now. Respect those who come after you. Respect is a two-way street. Maintain your dignity.Finally, remember these important words from Yoshio Sugino Sensei as some good advice to guide you on your budo journey:
“BUDO training begins with courtesy and ends with courtesy.”For an excellent treatment of the various techniques expected in typical Japanese sword dojo etiquette, see this kendo site: Japanese dojo etiquette
For an interesting examination of general budo etiquette, see: Reigi-saho and Reishiki
A good explanation of Reishiki in iaido: Reishiki
Mr. Tong can be contacted via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Tong also writes many articles on teaching martial arts. You can read them at: Physical Training: Fitness for Combatives Electronic Journal