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 discusses the issue of budo training in public schools.
“Traditionally, the teaching of traditional budo was from teacher to student, heart to heart without words. Or done with words not written down. Speaking to others, or allowing other styles to see, was strictly prohibited.
But recently, in modern times, at school, budo has been taken into the curriculum. As a result, the division of technique was made and explanations, also of the various basic movements through training. Gradually, deep profound budo, if not all, then a part, is acquired by the students.
In this way broadly, children and students are given the opportunity to study the truth of budo.
Truly, this country should be pleased for that. But now, whether or not correct budo is being spread, is a little question.”
The 16th Year of Shōwa
Chiba-ken, Katori-gun, Katori-cho
Sugino Yoshio & Ito Kikue (1941). Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan.
What a superb passage. We see a few of the big questions that concern teachers of budo and may provide some answers for those students who have been pondering on it. Let’s look at them.
“Traditionally, the teaching of traditional budo was from teacher to student, heart to heart without words.”
I love this quote. Heart to heart. Like Spock says (for you Star Trek fans), “My mind to your mind.” This is the way it has always been in traditional budo and in koryu schools. Direct transmission.
done with words not written down.”
There are two issues here:
1) do we want to write it down?
2) can we write it down?
As regards the first issue, do we want to write it down (i.e., record it for posterity), some people say, yes, you should record it for all posterity. Some people want to record it on DVD, capture it on film. It’ll last longer. We should capture it on film.
A captured record, in other words. Static. You would have the record of it as it was at a certain time and date. As a record of the tradition of the art at a certain time and place, sure this is a good thing. As something to define the art for all time, saying this is the absolute model of the art, this mode of thinking we have to be careful of.
There are other people who argue that budo is a “living” art. To have it captured would be like putting it under glass and placing it in a museum. It would become a relic, an antiquated artifact, a fossil, like a photograph. Captured, static, immutable.
This reminds me of a great scene from an old movie I like, called Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. John Clayton (Tarzan) comes back to his ancestral home and becomes one of the nobility. As a rich patron of the Natural History Museum in London, he is to preside over the inauguration of the Africa exhibit. To his horror, he sees all the stuffed animals of the exhibit, animals he played and lived with in Africa. While the visitors saw amazing lifelike representations of wildlife, he saw death. The museum and its exhibit, for him, were not a capturing of life but a pronouncement of death.
On the other hand, a living art keeps changing, evolving, keeps living. It doesn’t die off.
As regards the second issue, can we write it down, that is a good question. Can we accurately describe it in words? Even a video record has its limitations. We can see the gross movements, the sequence of movements, the techniques performed but we cannot “feel” it. We can see it or read about it and understand it in an intellectual sense but we have no “sense” of it, no sensation. What does it feel like to have this technique done to you? What does his sword “feel” like when he makes contact with you? The emotional quality is missing.
So yes, some things we can capture, other things (like nuances), we cannot. The recording is good and useful but only to a limited degree.
“… heart to heart without words.”
It is a gift from the teacher to the student. Your own private gift. It is not for the whole world to share.
Also, budo is about spirit. We have talked about that many times. Spirit can only be conveyed directly, not through a book. By feeling, emotions, by living examples; these cannot be captured on paper or film.
Finally, budo is about ethics too. Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, the code; transmitted from teacher to student through example. Each teacher has a great gift to give to the student. It is a private affair, a personal connection. It is another way that the teacher is speaking to the student, another avenue of communication. Ethics, using the sword wisely, responsibly, justly; these things must be communicated directly to the student. And ethics does not apply only to using the sword or weapons. It also applies to how you live your life.
“… allowing other styles to see, was strictly prohibited.”
An old idea in martial arts. The whole secrecy issue. Techniques meant the difference between life and death in some cases so the secret techniques were closely guarded. Some think of a swordfight as consisting of “moments” or even “one moment”. One technique, unexpected or unfamiliar to our adversary, may decide the moment.
“But recently, in modern times, at school, budo has been taken into the curriculum. As a result, the division of technique was made and explanations of the various basic movements…”
Different times, different expectations. A school curriculum looks to divide subject matter into discrete, focused subjects (i.e., topics) and to structure the learning into digestible chunks.
“Gradually, deep profound budo, if not all, then a part, is acquired by the students.”
In other words, they will learn it in chunks, in parts, in bits and pieces. The whole has been broken down into parts and modern students learn the parts. The question is when will they assemble it again back into the whole?
“In this way broadly, children and students are given the opportunity to study the truth of budo.”
The key word here is broadly. They study budo broadly.
“Truly, this country should be pleased for that.”
At least, they are learning some of it. Better than none of it.
“As a result, the division of technique was made and explanations of the various basic movements…Gradually, deep profound budo, if not all, then a part, is acquired by the students.”
I want to focus on this issue. According to Sugino Sensei, technique was broken down into pieces. Explanations were given for each movement. Many would think that this would be a good idea.
But it seems, from what he says, that this division only allows a part of a deep understanding of budo to be acquired. It seems that he is implying that to understand budo, you need to see it or experience it in its entirety. Not a piece here, a piece there.
That’s interesting. I wrote an article talking about this very issue: A Little Magic.
You can break it down and analyze it all you want but it won’t help you win a swordfight. It’s like breaking down the human body into cells and chemical elements. That’s nice and all. But it doesn’t help me to understand why Johnny is so different in personality and motivations than Bobby. It doesn’t help me to control Johnny. Dissecting things is fine for dead frogs. But for living frogs, you need to watch it and feel it and experience it.
Same with budo. You need to “feel” it, feel it flowing, moving, living. Budo is a living thing. Not a dead thing.
Some students (and teachers too!) love to analyze it, break it down, give rationales for everything, for every move. If the opponent does this, I do this. If the opponent does this, then I can do this. Sure. In a perfect world. In a clean laboratory. Under perfect conditions. Reality is not so clean. Try doing the kata fast. Try doing it with beginners! Now, there’s a dose of unpredictability. All that perfectness, perfectly analyzed and broken down, clear and clean, goes out the window.
I agree with old Sugino Sensei. Budo learned in pieces is literally in pieces. At some point, you have to put it back together again. And we all know what happened to Humpty Dumpty…
“But now, whether or not correct budo is being spread, is a little question.”
A good question. Learning it in parts and dribs and drabs, piecemeal, are students really learning budo correctly? Put another way, are they learning the spirit, the feeling, of budo in its entirety?
Finally, Sugino Sensei talks about ‘correct budo’. In mentioning this, this leaves the impression that for him to talk about ‘correct budo’, there must also be ‘incorrect budo’. If we think about martial arts now and what is on TV (e.g., MMA) and in the films and what is currently in vogue, is it ‘correct budo’, in the sense of the original purpose of budo?
A very good question.
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