The Iaido Journal  Dec 2002

Budo: A calling, recreation or something completely different?

by Chuck Gordon

Over the years, I've pondered and questioned just WHAT the martial arts are for ME.

When I first started training, back in '73 (or '74?), it was simple. I wanted to be able to kick butt. No question about it. I wanted to be Bruce Lee, Kwai Chang Kane, Bruce Tegner and James Bond (all fictional characters, more or less) all rolled into one.

Fortunately, I survived that and moved on, mostly due to my having come under the tutelage of my uncle in '75. He'd been a Budo Bum since 1946, when he took his first jujutsu lesson as a young Marine. And before that, he'd been a boxer and had seen his share of scraps in the street growing up in St. Louis.

As I began training under him, I realized something was different, but it took a long time to really sink in. He let me have a glimpse at something more, hinted that budo was something more than fighting/self defense/combat, and gave me the tools to explore the ideas he offered.

Over the years (with and without his blessing), I delved into competition (no-contact, full-contact, pads, bare knuckles, etc etc., etc. ... fun stuff, but only a very small part of what budo can be. I sought combat-efficiency, I distilled and modified what I was doing in terms of developing a solid system of self defense, I explored the historical, spiritual and philosophical aspects of the arts and I continued to train, learn and seek.

Eventually, however, I found myself drifting away from discussions of close-quarters combat, improvised weapons and self defense. I found myself turning once again to the 'simple' things ... the kihon, kata and core philosophies.

The 'practical' aspects of my training ceased to revolve around combat and began to center on the personal journey.

Today, nearly 30 years later, am I still interested in self-defense, combat-effectiveness, fitness, reality-based MA training? Hell no. I posted a bit of a rant on recently about this very thing, in fact. Someone there pointed out that boxers are in great shape compared to most MA folks and suggested that we should train more like boxers so we'd be 'better' MA practitioners.

Torque that. I like my beer and good food and I hate running. And I'm 45 years old. I can't, don't want to, will not, train like I did when I was 20 or 25. Hell, I've been shot at and missed, stabbed and sliced, stitched up and stapled and have determined (for me, anyhow) that the best defense is not to be there in the first place.

The benefits of training in the martial arts have little or nothing to do with self defense or combat anymore. Some 'serious' martial artists would say that I've wasted those years, and continue to do so. I disagree.

In some circles, there is debate about why people train, and for me, the answer is too complex for simple labels. And the very question and exploration thereof is as intensely personal as religion might be to some.

Was my training recreation? In part, yes. Budo training has always been a great deal of fun; I truly enjoy the physical and mental exertion as well as the community and social aspects.
Is it something NOT recreational? Again, yes. For me, I can truly say that my budo training has saved my life. Probably more than once. And not necessarily because I fought my way out of a life-threatening situation, either; far more the life-lessons I've learned (and yeah, learning how to fall half-way properly helps). It has been as much a spiritual journey as a physical one.
Is budo recreational for me today? Hell yeah. Is it part of my life's work? Yep. Is it a part of my spirituality and personality? Oh yeah.

That, to me, makes it more an avocation than recreation, but it's all semantics, I suppose.
When I retire (someday, please Lord?), I'll probably teach full-time, do more research, do some writing, do lots of training (gently and quietly, mostly, thankyouverymuch). Budo has been very much a life's work for me, as opposed to my job, which is that 8-9 hours of annoyance I endure every workday in order to live the life I do and to be able to practice, train and teach budo. When I no longer have to keep the job online, I will make budo my full-time vocation. Until then, I still have to pay the bills ...

I guess the bottom line for me, anyhow, is that it's far too complex a piece of my life to simply classify as recreation (in which category I place hiking, playing games, bicycling, sampling various beers and whiskys, the occasional racquetball game, reading novels and watching movies).

Yes, I think that nearly 30 years worth of effort, pain, joy, love, distraction, sweat, tears and frustration in the dojo means more to me than a trip to the gym or library.

Does that make me arrogant? Some folks are pretty convinced I'm an arrogant SOB anyway (and they're probably right). I've been accused (mainly because I don't accept as a student just anyone who comes to the dojo) and am just mainly amused by the accusation.

Am I a koryu snob? Sort of. I think of it more as being a koryu proponent. I also like much of what gendai budo has to offer and believe that the individual must find an art in which he or she is comfortable. Koryu isn't for everyone, and neither is gendai budo. However, I also believe that folks who do either ought to be aware of what the other side has to offer and how they relate to each other.

My road is the middle one. I practice an art that is arguably neither gendai nor koryu. We've got roots in some of the old styles (the subject of my research projects), but we also have direct and strong ties to gendai folks.

I think it's shortsighted to say one is better than the other, because they are (all historical wrangling aside) not all that different, in the end.

TIN Dec 2002