Guelph School of Japanese Sword Arts, July 21, 2000
I wish to dedicate this paper and presentation [21 July 2000] to the memory of the late Mrs. Enrica (“Marie”) Moranski, the mother of my very good friend Mr. John J. Moranski, Esq. of Bridgeport, CT, who passed away quietly on 10 March 2000, a few weeks shy of her 92nd birthday. Through the latter half of grade school and throughout high school, she was like a second mother to me. She was a woman of strong opinion – vocal only when appropriate -- and tremendous Faith. She “taught” by example; in reflecting back on her during her funeral service, it occurred to me that she embodied the general concept of the term samurai, literally “one who serves.” She always had a kind word and a helping hand for everyone. She taught me much; she will be greatly missed.
“Spirituality” is a loaded word in Occidental culture; this is especially true in light of our cultural predisposition to compartmentalize and categorize in an exclusive manner. In our secular society, we have forgotten that philosophy and ethics have their origins in sacred traditions. In Asia, however, this is not quite the case. Comparatively speaking, Japan has only recently emerged from feudal times, and still retains many religious and quasi-religious customs and practices that are considered archaic in the Western world. Similarly, in the rural areas of mainland China, Communist ideology takes a back seat to those customs and practices common during the last dynasty and before.
In this light, the spiritual, philosophical, and ethical are all manifestations of the same basic aspect within the martial arts. In fact, since the term “martial arts” is so broad, incorporating purely physical practices without any spiritual, philosophical or ethical content, let us refer to those arts that incorporate more than just physical practices as budo, using the Japanese term in a broader sense.
Consider too the fact that arts taught in Asia were already embedded in cultures that were intertwined with Shinto, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and the like (1). These aspects were already in place, and did not need to be taught to the practitioners. Given the cultural differences, as well as the language barriers, transplanting these arts to the West was not very straightforward. The physical part was easy; however, the cultural aspects were more difficult. Many of those occidentals who brought the arts to the West simply chose to ignore them for a variety of reasons (for instance, they either did not understand them themselves, thought they were unnecessary, or thought that they were just “too foreign” [read: “weird”]). So there was a great lag between the arrival of the arts to the West and the availability of the cultural aspects of these arts.
ITF TAE KWON DO
Anyone who is old enough to remember Tae Kwon Do (TKD) as “Korean Karate” is also familiar with the purely physical approach to training. There was literally no time for philosophy. About the only things available in those days were the writings of Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), the founder of Shotokan Karate-do, which is the foundation of TKD in spite of all the rhetoric from Korea to the contrary (see Funakoshi 1975; also see Stevens 1995a). From Funakoshi, we learned the dojo-kun (guiding maxims of the training hall): 1) seek perfection of character, 2) be faithful, 3) work hard, 4) respect others, and 5) refrain from violence. Similar ideals were expressed in the Five Tenets of TKD: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. We learned that Budo has an ethic.
In addition, there are the “20 Principles,” of which the first two made a tremendous impact on us. The First Principle, “Karate always begins and ends with a bow” impressed on us the importance of respect in particular and of reiho (etiquette) in general. The Second Principle, “There is no first strike in Karate,” impressed on us the defensive attitude of Karate (analogous to the Fifth Commandment in the Judeo-Christian tradition). Several other principles highlighted the fact that Karate was a “Way of Life” (not a casual sport or a mere hobby). The idea of ikken kissatsu (“one blow, one death”) instilled in us the perfection of techniques, and training hard to achieve that. Another development was the implication that somehow the mysterious aspect called “Zen” was incorporated in Budo.
Competition, which Funakoshi personally disliked, was a personal test of self under pressure. It was never about winning for the sake of winning; it was not an ego trip. While in the ring, we were fierce competitors; outside the ring, we were all friends. Competition highlighted the need for control, both physical and mental, while being immersed in a controlled combat situation. It is unfortunate that these lessons, which we learned, are now considered archaic by the popular Sport Karate and Olympic TKD movements, in which instructors have been replaced by “coaches,” practitioners are now “athletes,” and the only techniques taught are those that “win” in matches.
T’AI CHI CH’UAN.
The philosophy of T’ai Chi Ch’uan (TCC) is heavily influenced by Taoism. Practitioners are generally familiar with Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, (“The Way of Life”), the T’ai-Chi Classics (Liao, 1990), and possibly the I Ching (“Book of Changes”) (2). What Karate and TKD did for external development, TCC did for internal development – it was sometimes referred to as “meditation” or “Zen (sic) in motion” (it was not until recent times that I heard Karate-do referred to as “moving Zen”). Together they are the Yin and Yang, the Soft and Hard, the Internal and External. But they are complements, and not simply opposites.
In TCC, I came across teachers, some of whom were martial artists, who
did talk about aspects other than the physical, such as lineage (legends
and histories), philosophy, internal energy, and the associated body of
literature called the T’ai-Chi Classics. TCC is the only art I know
of that has associated sets of poems, proverbs, and essays, along with
a variety of commentary on these classic pieces. Coming from a hard
style, the essence and principles of TCC were paradoxical at first.
“Investing in a loss,” “using soft to overcome hard,” and “using defense
as offense” were initially very peculiar ideas. In the end, I came to realize
that the difference between the hard and soft arts were their starting
points for training: both end up going toward the same goal. Furthermore,
“the path is the goal;” it’s a martial pilgrimage that has no end.
Taoism comes through in TCC by the imitation of nature; for example, water overcomes rock by flowing around, and by leaving no void in the interface. Many postures have animal names, not to imitate the animal per se but rather the “spirit” of the animal.
TCC changed my whole approach to Budo – each Budo must be looked at as a system with associated external and internal manifestations, and each one has a spiritual aspect that is either an obvious part of the curriculum or a hidden facet that must be teased out. Through TCC, I was introduced to the Chan Chuang (standing meditations) of I-Ch’uan, especially Yu Chou Chang or “Universal Post” (Diepersloot, 1995, 2000; Lam, 1991, 1999; Kuo, 1994); this was my first practical introduction to meditation. The Japanese also have standing forms of meditation or ritsu-zen. Through Yu Chou Chang, I was able to approach za-zen (seated meditation), and be comfortable with it as a personal practice (3).
The philosophy of Aikido comes almost directly from Omoto-kyo, one of many egalitarian neo-Shinto religious movements from the latter half of the nineteenth century. While it is not necessary to be a believer, the concepts have a wide appeal (for a detailed presentation, see Stevens, 1993, and Stevens, 1995b). The concept of “aiki” is not unique to Aikido - there is aikijujutsu and aikibudo, both precursors of Aikido, and it is a term used in several koryu (classical styles) as well.
The founder, Ueshiba Morihei, said that Aikido was “love/harmony.” Many modern exponents use Aikido principles as models for conflict resolution. My personal reflection is that Aikido (with the emphasis on ki) is “applied TCC.” Indeed, one of my mentors, the late Masatake Sekiya (1917 - 1996), stated that the best way to improve one’s Aikido was to study TCC (for my Dedication and other remembrances, see Sosnowski, 1997b). Although the philosophies are different in name, they do encompass the same set of principles.
Through Aikido, I attended a regular Dojo. The following relates
how I came to understand the above principles:
Every Dojo has its own reiho [etiquette]. As a general rule, one removes their shoes before entering a Dojo, and performs tachi-rei (standing bow) when entering and leaving [this is a good practice when visiting any dojo – it shows good manners, and reflects well on your instructors]. It is common to perform za-rei (seated bow) when entering and leaving the mat area. Buki (wooden weapons; in Aikido, the bokuto and jo) have their own reiho as well. You will learn them all in time. For the beginner, reiho seems to be yet one more set of things to learn, but reiho is one of the most important – the roots of reiho are respect and safety. Without reiho, there is no dojo; it’s just a gym, a court or a room. With reiho, any enclosed space (or even an outdoor space) becomes special, a place to study the Way (the -do in Aikido, Kendo, Iaido, Jodo, Karate-do, and Kyudo). (Sosnowski, 2000a).
Aside from TCC, the only art to specifically bring non-physical aspects into the curriculum is Kyudo, in particular, with teachers from a koryu [classical style/school] background (see DeProspero and DeProspero, 1996). My own teacher, Mr. Kanjuro Shibata XX, soke (headmaster) of Heki-Ryu Bisshu Chikurin-ha Kyudo, has not joined the ZNKR (Zen Nihon Kyudo Renmei). As he puts it, we do “Mind Kyudo” and not “Sports Kyudo” (4). As such, this style of Kyudo may be referred to as “standing Zen,” based on the fact that the kihon (basics) are contained in a basic standing form called Shichido (“seven coordinations”). I will quote from my own articles several relevant passages with respect to Shibata-s.’s teachings:
...our 8:00 P.M. lecture began at 8:30 in the Shambhala Room, one of several auxiliary meditation halls in the main complex [at Karme Choling]. ... We began with an 11-minute film clip of Shibata Sensei teaching Kyudo at Karme Choling (Barnet, VT) in the fall of 1986 that was filmed by National Geographic (K-C [Karme Choling] had fewer buildings, everyone looks younger, and there was no azuchi [target house] yet).... Mr. [Sam] West and Ms. [Emily] Bower-Lahaye [chief instructors for the intensive] emphasized that the twin themes for the weekend intensive was contained in the video clip – Shibata Sensei indicated that the requirements of Kyudo were 1) “discipline to oneself,” and 2) “kindness to others.” They went on to explain that the former meant a joyful commitment to oneself and working with the mind, and that the latter meant having a “heart” and “working together” (Sosnowski, 1997a).
In somewhat of a tradition [for the beginning of our Kyudo program], we began the lecture on the first evening with the 11-minute film clip of Shibata-s. teaching Kyudo at K-C [Karme Choling] in the fall of 1986 .... Even after many viewings it is still quite inspirational. One line that seemed especially telling to me this time was the voice-over of Sensei’s translated comment, “A man discovers his true nature at the instant of the release.”...The central theme of Sensei’s talk was the difference [the “gulf” from Sensei’s perspective] between Meditation- or Mind-Kyudo and Sports-Kyudo; in fact, it was a recurring theme throughout this Intensive. Sports-Kyudo focuses on the “outside” elements, competition and rank (generally granted in exchange for money); Meditation-Kyudo focuses on “inside” elements, where “the target is the mirror.” [To hit the target is to shatter the mirror, that is, to destroy the self/ego, but only in an egoless state can the target be hit consistently.]. In Meditation-Kyudo, the results of shooting reveal the inner state of the archer. The result of Meditation-Kyudo is eliminating the ego; Sports-Kyudo has the rather unfortunate general effect of enhancing the ego. (Sosnowski, 1998).
Sensei continued [his talk saying] that in 1980 he was invited to the United States by the late Trungpa Rinpoche to teach Kyudo as an active meditation to augment za-zen. At first, the Vidyadhara [aka Trungpa Rinpoche] would only allow Buddhist practitioners to learn Kyudo, but later allowed all people. In comments primarily directed at the beginners, Sensei pointed out that in Shichido, tenouchi ([left hand] grip [on the yumi (bow)]) and hanare (release) were most difficult, but that our first task in learning Kyudo was to have “good style.” Sensei continued that this was the first of three stages of Kyudo practice, fumo or “form,” kokoro or “heart-mind,” and sanshin or “dignity;” this process takes twenty to thirty years to achieve." (Sosnowski, in press-a).
Sensei remarked that the most common problem affecting beginning kyudo-ka
(1 to 2 years of experience) was “too much thinking.” He continued
that the necessary aspects for the Kyudo forms are balanced proportions,
softness, and awareness; for the release to be sharp, we use kirigoe or
“cutting voice,” that is, kiai. (Sosnowski, in press-b).
During the 2000 Intermediate/Advanced Kyudo Intensive at K-C [Karme Choling] (Sosnowski, in press-c), Sensei stressed the three Samurai qualities of chi, jin and yu. Chi is the understanding of others; jin is helping others. Yu is indomitable spirit, which is related to “gambatte” (usually translated as “good luck”), which refers to clenching the back teeth to endure the coming trials. Sensei also voiced the idea that Kyudo is actually ritsu-zen (standing meditation).
KENDO and IAIDO.
Iaido teaches us batto (sword drawing) and tameshigiri (test cutting), that is, ultimately, the use of a “live blade;” Kendo teaches us ma-ai (distance/timing) and heiho (strategy) in a mock combat situation with another person, and includes a kenjutsu component that we know as Kendo [no] Kata. In both Kendo and Iaido, however, all my teachers have strongly emphasized reiho. It is hard to speak of Iaido without Kendo; but, unfortunately, they have been separated into two distinct and separate disciplines. To my mind, they are two sides of the same coin, and an individual misses a lot by doing just one.
The classical literature such as Sato (1985) and Takuan (1986) deals with Japanese swordsmanship prior to the above artificial split; they address both kenjutsu and battojutsu. The Yagyu family was greatly influenced by the Zen monk Takuan Soho (1573-1645); their family writings, Heiho Kaden Sho , contain many recognizable Zen principles (Sato, 1985). Takuan’s letters to Yagyu Munenori (1571-1646) directly address Zen in swordsmanship. Various aspects of Kendo can be found in Sayama (1986) and Kiyota and Lee (1997), and aspects of Iaido can be found in Shimabukuro and Pellman (1995). Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) also knew Takuan. With regards to Musashi’s own writings, we know the following:
Miyamoto Musashi is known to have left three written works with respect to kenjutsu and training. The first, Heiho Sanjugokajo (“The 35 Articles of Swordsmanship”), is the initial compilation of Musashi’s ideas on swordsmanship from February 1641, and written simply as a list of 35 articles. The second work, Gorin no Sho, (“Book of Five Rings”) was written later, from 10 October 1643 through 12 May 1645. Gorin no Sho is a much more mature work than Heiho Sanjugokajo; the latter tends towards the tactical aspects whereas the former tends towards the strategic aspects. The Dokkodo or “The Solitary Way” is the final work of Musashi, his ideas on life and training (Muromoto, 1994). The Dokkodo is dated 12 May 1645, the same day that Gorin no Sho was completed, and is a set of rules or orders (19 by one count, 21 by another) that contains Musashi’s last admonitions to his students. Shinmen Miyamoto Musashi Fujiwara Genshin, born in 1584, died on 19 May 1645 at age 61.… (Sosnowski, in review).
The spiritual nature of Gorin no Sho (Miyamoto, 1974, 1982, 1993) is addressed by Mr. Masayuki Imai (1994/5), the tenth headmaster of Heiho Niten Ichi Ryu, one of two major branches of Musashi’s two-sword school. Imai says that we need to know the Buddhist sutras in order to understand Musashi’s work. My only comment is in reference to the “Prologue” of Gorin no Sho: the only deity Musashi ever mentions is Kannon (Kwan Yin in Chinese, and Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit – the bodhisattva referred to in the “Heart Sutra;” see Soeng, 1991), the Buddhist “goddess” of mercy. I find it amazing that the unkempt, unorthodox, rogue samurai, who was a battle-hardened individual, would have an affinity for a deity such as Kannon.
Actually, it is not as simple as that. Kannon was enormously popular in Japan, but not to the extent that Kwan Yin was in China; however, tradition in Japan has it that Kannon has thirty-three manifestations as did Kwan Yin (Palmer and Ramsay with Kwok, 1995). There are human, monster and animal forms, both male and female. The most popular form in Japan is the human female; however, one of these manifestations is an armed, female monster form, which is a variation of the thousand-hand form (each palm with a central eye, which comes from the Hindu pantheon), representing the goddess as “protectress” and “combatant in the struggle against evil, demons, and ignorance.” This is quite a contrast to the popular “White Clad” form, which evokes the image of the Madonna (this is no coincidence here either). In any event, Musashi’s devotion to Kannon could certainly have been to one of the less-than-popular manifestations, which would be more fitting to his personality.
Closer to our time, the great nineteenth century swordsman, Zen master, and master brush calligrapher, Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888), was also devoted to Kannon. An anecdote in Stevens (1989) draws an interesting connection between Kannon and kendo (“the way of the sword,” not to be confused with modern, post-WWII Kendo): when Tesshu is asked the secret of swordsmanship, he tells his inquiring friend “to seek the guidance of the Asakusa [a Tokyo/Edo-area shrine] Kannon,” and he eventually finds his answer in the calligraphy plaque above the shrine’s statue, “Giver of Fearlessness.” This is embodied in Tesshu’s writing – “If single-minded determination is absent, one will never advance regardless of the years in training … technique has its place, but spiritual forging is far more important (p. 39).” – and in his sword school, Muto (literally, “no sword”) Ryu, which had three formal and rather severe levels of shugyo (“austere training,” see Sosnowski, 2000b); see Stevens (1989, pp. 22-27) for a description of those three levels.
JODO and NAGINATA.
With respect to jo and naginata, I have studied both gendai budo or the modern versions, Seitei Jo and Atarashii Naginata, as well as koryu bujutsu or the classical versions, Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo and Tendo Ryu Naginata-jutsu. There has been nothing spiritual overtly expressed; however, my Japanese instructors are living expressions of Budo. They are ladies and gentlemen of the “old school” – formal, traditional and sincere. They all have that quiet dignity that comes with spiritual maturity, and they embody those characteristics, which, I believe, we all aspire to as Budo-ka. As students, we are expected to follow the Japanese customs and traditions with respect to behavior and attitude in order to follow in their footsteps.
To quote a line from a popular song of my youth, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” I certainly did not set out to take a spiritual pilgrimage via Budo. But once I began training, I found myself on the Way, and so I continue on this Path that has occupied most of my adult life. And along the way, I have met and continue to meet some of the most interesting people in the world.
During my close to three decades years of martial arts practice beginning in 1973, I have been blessed with fine instructors, especially my initial ones, who provided a firm foundation to build upon in the subsequent years, no matter what the martial art was. Many taught by example – they just “walked the walk” – only after building up an experiential knowledge base could one actually begin to translate these experiences into words. Having been an instructor myself at various times in various arts, I can appreciate the awesome responsibility that one has in this position of authority, as well as what my teachers had to put up with from me. I have also had many fine “informal” instructors, both sempai (seniors) and kohai (juniors) alike; all have had something to contribute.
I would like to thank my family, especially my wife Valerie and my daughter Janet, for their support as I pursue my various Budo. Finally I would like to thank my friend and fellow Budo-ka as well as professional associate, “Sgt.” Walter W. Harms (former U.S. Army Special Forces “Green Beret” decorated in Southeast Asia), for being a sounding board for my ideas and opinions as well as for being a Renaissance warrior in his own right; we have touched on many of the above subjects in extensive personal conversations. For all this, I am grateful.
(1) A streak of Shinto seems to permeate many Japanese Budo (Ono, 1962). The classical dojo (“place of the way”) has a kamiza (seat of the kami) located at the shomen, the front of the dojo. When we bow to the shomen, we honor the kami. Generally mistranslated as “gods,” kami are spirits of sorts; in the case of the dojo, the resident kami include the spirits of dead teachers who make up the lineage of the art along with spirits who embody abstract qualities of the art such as Aiki. These kami are witnesses to our practice.
(2) For example, see Wing (1989), Liao (1990) and Wile (1996); for a
review of the T’ai Chi Classics, see Sosnowski (1999).
(3)Zen seems to be grafted onto all the Japanese martial arts. In truth, this is a strictly modern development – Zen is compatible with everything. Even as a practice, Zen is as compatible with Christianity as it is with Buddhism, yet it is not the original philosophical source of anything (Enomiya-Lassalle, 1990). I refer to this as the “Zen filter” (Sosnowski, in review), and I believe that the source of this phenomenon has been identified in Victoria (1998).
(4) For a representative selection of Shibata Sensei’s ideas, visit the Zenko (“All Tiger”) International website <www.zenko.org>, especially the following web pages: <www.zenko.org /kyudo.htm>, <www.zenko.org/yumi_talk.htm>, and <www.zenko.org/the_way%20of_kyudo.htm>. Also see Dr. Deborah Klens-Bigman’s interview with Shibata Sensei in Journal of Asian Martial Arts Vol. 10, No. 1 (2001).
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