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 some important points about training.
“Budo, studied only with little interest like a hobby, or if emphasis is put on the secondary goal of winning or losing, don’t study like that.
From the teacher’s side, to consider budo the same as foreign sports, will make the study shallow. Naturally, this completely contradicts the study of martial virtue, which excludes selfishness and calculating, bad feeling. Nothing but this will be planted. Truly this is something to worry about.
For budo and the study of martial virtue to grow, the first purpose is first you must train like polishing a gemstone. During this time is born from students’ progress, secondary fruits, as it should be recognized.
Therefore the main result of this brazen time is inviting in unexpected mistakes. Be careful to be aware of these things.”
The 16th Year of Shōwa
Chiba-ken, Katori-gun, Katori-cho
Sugino Yoshio & Ito Kikue (1941). Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu Budo Kyohan.
“Budo, studied only with little interest like a hobby…”
Sugino Sensei is talking about commitment here. If you are going to study budo, do it wholeheartedly, with a serious mind and with intent.
There are people who study it like it’s the latest fad and well, with such little interest in it, it is not surprising that they quickly lose interest in it as well.
“… if emphasis is put on the secondary goal of winning or losing, don’t study like that.”
You get nowhere if you’re thinking only of winning or losing. In a recent article, Form Versus Function, we talked about this very issue. Some students get so wrapped up in the moment that they lose perspective on what they should be doing. It becomes like a game or a mock fight. Each practitioner is trying to best his partner, who by now has become the opponent. They are trying “to get” their opponent: to score a hit or a strike. Of course, their opponent is thinking the same thing or at least is thinking, “I’m not going to let him get me.” It is now about saving face. Egos get in the way at this point. Pride, ego, self-esteem.
One side is trying to win. The other side may be thinking the same thing, “I want to win”. Or they may be thinking “I don’t want to lose.” Or even more, “I don’t want to lose, especially to him!” Or they want respect from their partner, “He’s going to see how good I am”. So they go out to impress the other side. It’s a vanity thing. It’s being too proud.
And I’ve seen it again and again. They don’t want to lose face so they will do everything to make sure they don’t look bad.
There are other students who view kata practice as a time when they are going to impress on you how good they are or how much better they are than you. “I can “get” you so I am better than you”. “You can’t stop me”. This is also about ego and dojo politics and issues about hierarchy and where one is on the totem pole. Some people want to make sure that you know that they are higher up on the totem pole than you.
So what happens to the practice, that valuable and precious time for learning and perfecting these wonderful techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation? It goes out the window. Why? Because egos need to be stroked and vanities, like feathers, have to be preened.
“From the teacher’s side, to consider budo the same as foreign sports, will make the study shallow.”
Sports are concerned with winning and losing and points and a scoresheet. In sports, keeping track of the score, keeping track of points, and keeping track of standings are very important.
Sports are also about competition. Players competing against each other. Name a sport and invariably there will be a tournament and players or teams of players will be competing with others to win.
Sports are about winning and losing. Who won, who lost, who progresses. From this perspective, it is easy to understand what Sugino Sensei is talking about. He is warning us that focusing on winning and losing and competing will make us lose sight of what the true aim and spirit of budo really is about.
“… this completely contradicts the study of martial virtue, which excludes selfishness and calculating, bad feeling.”
Here Sensei is talking about ethics and the spirit of Japanese budo. It is not about “I win, you lose” or “I won this bout”. He is right. It is selfish. As a competitor in a sport, you are concerned about your own performance and your own results ultimately. How do I rank in relation to these other competitors? Am I the leader? Am I in the middle of the pack?
It is calculating too. What do I need to win? What do I need to do to improve my performance (with the ultimate purpose of winning the prize)? Athletes do need to calculate. What score do they need to win the gold medal? How many points do I need to make it to the next round?
I just heard about recently at the 2012 Olympics in London how the badminton tournament went. There were 2 Chinese teams, a South Korean team, and an Indonesian team all involved because, believe it or not, not one of these teams wanted to win. They did all they could to lose their match, even purposefully hitting birdies out of bounds to lose the point. This caused a huge scandal and a big investigation ensued. The reason was because when they all looked at the tournament format, the two Chinese teams did not want to face each other in the semi-final because this would mean that one Chinese team would be out and therefore China would not be able to win a possible two medals from this competition. And medal count was important to them because they were competing with the United States for top spot in overall medal count. The Koreans and the Indonesians knew this too so those two were also trying to lose so that the two Chinese teams would have to play each other. This is calculating.
Bad feeling? I guess he is right. With all the calculating and competing against opponents, it is easy to get that “us against the world” mentality, where you start to hate your opponents. Then the next step down that dark road is where you lose respect for your opponents because you are so wrapped up in trying to win and doing everything to win and thinking only of winning. The opponent is just another obstacle in your way to the top and the glory that awaits you there, like a bug that needs to be squashed.
“For budo and the study of martial virtue to grow, … you must train like polishing a gemstone.”
What a great expression!
Polish, polish, polish. Wipe away the dirt. That is what he is saying. Even if you are good or bad or somewhere in between, it’s the same for everyone. If you want to get better, you need to approach your training with the spirit like you are polishing a diamond. There is no secret to getting better, getting more skilled, in martial arts. It is simply “keep practicing, practice earnestly”. Practice makes perfect so practice, practice, practice.
Like he said earlier, if you study it shallowly, like a hobby or a sport, you’ll get nothing out of it. You need to focus, you need to commit, you need to persevere. It’s dedication, it’s putting in the hard work.
Here is a great quote from Mencius, one of the great Chinese philosophers.
Mencius said to Kau Tzu, “A trail through the mountains, if used, becomes a path in a short time, but, if unused, becomes blocked by grass in an equally short time. Now your heart is blocked by grass.”
Book VII, Part B, Verse 21
“Therefore the main result of this
time is inviting in unexpected mistakes.”
From mistakes comes progress. Mistakes teach us lessons which guide us and help to make us better. I have made many mistakes in budo and in my life. But in retrospect, you learn a lot more from the mistakes you have made. I think about the mistakes I’ve made and say, “never again.”
That’s how we progress. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everyone does. It’s whether you learn from them. That is the key.
“Nothing but this will be planted. Truly this is something to worry about.”
I like this phrase. He is talking about what is going to be planted in the student’s mind and spirit. Are good things, good virtues, going to be planted or bad ones? We can kind of see where he is headed in this discussion. If the study of budo is approached as a sport or a shallow, part-time hobby, what is going to be planted? What kind of outlook, what kind of spirit? The “I gotta win” spirit?
He says it is something to really worry about. Why is this so important to him? I suspect that he is talking to teachers here, advising them about their duty and responsibility to teach correctly and well about budo. Teaching budo is not just about “Here is how you cut; like this…” It’s not about techniques.
I have mentioned before about budo being a living tradition. Wikipedia defines it:
A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes (like lawyer wigs or military officer spurs), but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings. Traditions can persist and evolve for thousands of years—the word "tradition" itself derives from the Latin tradere or traderer literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping.
Traditions are about customs, ways of thinking, ways of living, beliefs. Budo is, at heart, about Bushido. It is a way of life, a belief system, a tradition, a custom. An archaic custom, yes. An archaic tradition, yes. But it is at the heart of what budo is all about, deep down. Budo is not sports. Sugino Sensei is just reminding us of that.
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