© 2012 Jeff
I was thinking about the idea of budo and self-improvement. This is
something that people talk a lot about but I don't think has been
clearly elucidated very often. Exactly how is it that martial arts make
you into a better person?
I think it has a lot to do with the sempai-kohai relationship, and the
student-sensei relationship. When the sempai-kohai thing is abused,
it's pretty bad; it essentially boils down to a master-servant
relationship. But I think, at it's best it is the key to
You enter into an art and, acknowledging that your seniors know more
than you do, and recognizing the years of dedication they've put into
the art, you voluntarily take on the role of "junior" and all that goes
with it, in exchange for the chance to learn what they know. You
develop your sense of social awareness and try to respond appropriately
in any given situation - for example, a good kohai jumps to his feet to
help when he notices somebody struggling to carry luggage into the
dojo, and offers a helping hand. And he is constantly on the lookout
for such situations. How can I help somebody else? What should I be
doing right now?
Ideally, this mindset continues outside of the dojo. It is not
something that we do because we want sensei to notice our efforts and
promote us at the next grading. We should have this mindset towards
everybody, everywhere. It is exhausting and I can only maintain it for
a short time, but the goal is to think this way all the time, and to
extend this feeling to strangers, to society in general, to other
countries, to the world...
I dunno. Kind of hippy-dippy, I know. But there have been lots of times
when, in the course of helping out with a seminar or something, I've
seen beginner or intermediate level students just wandering around the
gym with their heads in the air, meanwhile there are dozens of little
jobs that need doing. Iai is about being ready for any situation, all
the time; how can somebody expect to develop a mindset that will
prepare them to defend themselves if they aren't even looking around
them or thinking about their place in relation to their surroundings?
Just something that occurred to me recently...