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A New Year

Well into the new year’s training, but numbers are still down.

I have never quite understood why that is always the case. Of course, some people are still on holidays, and others have ongoing health issues, but surely the attitude should be one of, cannot wait to get back into the dojo.

I remember many, many years ago when I would close the dojo for the christmas – new year break, one of the senior students would always say, “But you are not going to stop training are you?”
They were right, I did not; I would always meet up a number of times with my teacher over the break and continue to train. Not sure whether the student was angling for an invite, or simply pleased to know their seniors never really stopped. Ironically, both that student and my teacher have since left the Path.

Which brings us yet again back to the old cliché that martial arts is a way of life, not a hobby. Too many people see it as little more than something they do one or two nights a week for fitness, or to feel cool amongst their friends, or whatever ephemeral reasons they might have. Too few have the courage to make a Real commitment. Without that Genuine commitment, however, your ‘martial arts’ training is destined to go the way of the stamp collections of your youth.

Make a worthwhile new year’s resolution this year and look deeply into the value of true martial arts training, then, actually make a True Commitment to the Way.

Kai Cho
www.warriorway.net

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Summer Grading 2017

Gradings are usually predictable affairs. Rarely are students even given the opportunity to grade if they were not ready to do so. That said, occasionally they will surprise you and exceed expectations. This is good.

This week’s end of year grading everyone on the mat, even those that were not grading, managed to do that.

It was a delight to watch and an excellent way to end the year’s training. Well, end the year’s official classes, at least, training will continue, just not in the dojo.

www.warriorway.net

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Demigods

My nine year old has decided to become a demigod. On making that decision, she asked us what was the first lesson.

Focus, she was told.

Laser sharp focus, (not razor sharp, she is a Star Wars child).

I felt compelled to relate this to students in a recent kihon battojutsu class, after watching their minds repeatedly drift away during solo kata practice.
One of the most valuable skills that can be learnt from sword work, is mental focus. Hopefully, the students are not there because they plan to take their katana into actual battle. It is the non lethal benefits of studying battojutsu that make it so useful in today’s world.

This is not to say the original practical purpose should, in any way, be neglected. To do so would render it no longer a martial art. No one wants to be served bad tea from a Sado master.

For the rest of the night, l referred to kata as demigod practice. They smiled at me, but I also like to think that there was a marked improvement in their focus.

Kai Cho
www.warriorway.net

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Student mind and kata

Not beginner’s mind, which is a good thing, but student mind.

This is when a student feels they must know why they are doing what they are doing in the kata, instead of simply trusting and copying exactly what they have been shown.

Rarely when first learning any kata is a student given all the information that the kata contains.
So the student mind fills in the blanks, it comes up with its own explanation and the student then subtly and gradually, changes the way they perform the kata, believing sincerely that this is what they were originally taught.

All based on their mind’s misunderstanding, stemming from an unnecessary, rational, need to ‘know’.

There are reasons detailed explanations are not given in the teaching of kata.

To do so would deny the student real understanding when the inevitable moment of realisation comes, through their own continuous practice of the forms in the correct manner.

Also the kata, as it is first shown is often just the first layer, tailored to the level of the student’s ability and understanding. Once that has been mastered then, and only then, the next layer is revealed. It is tortoises all the way down.

If you are genuine in your desire to study a traditional martial art, you and your brain need to shut the fuck up and trust your teacher. Just do as you are told and nothing else, stop trying to second guess and understand.

Once you reach a certain level of real mastery, perhaps then you can question your teacher, but until then, all the student mind does is prevent real progress.

Kai Cho
www.warriorway.net

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A Tale of Two Demos

We did two martial arts demonstrations this week, with very different responses.

One group, the younger, was very engaged and asked endless insightful questions.
One child was even physically and emotionally moved by what they saw, to the point they had difficulty speaking when they approached us after the presentation, to ask about regular children’s classes and how they could learn the art.

The other group barely asked anything and when they did it was all focused around how much did it hurt and had we ever injured anyone.

Essentially the same demonstration was given to both groups – we do a lot of such presentations and have a well honed format.

Perhaps our target audience should be primary school children, who have yet to suffer the Weltschmerz of teenagers.

Kai Cho
www.warriorway.net

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Time in the Dojo

Kai Cho

“Much learning does not teach understanding”
Heraclitus

In terms of martial arts there are many ways to approach the element of time.

Maai is an obvious starting point. While often translated as correct spacing between uke and nage, it really should be viewed more as harmonious time and space. Always being in the correct time and place to carry out both offensive and defensive moves.

Hyoshi is another obvious area. Hyoshi is timing and rhythm. This is about discerning your opponent’s rhythm while being fully aware of your own and then using this knowledge to your advantage.

Of course simply being centred must also be mentioned. By “simply”, I do not necessarily mean that this is simple to achieve, though it can be.

While the Japanese terms for this are various, perhaps the best one for us as martial artists is mushin, or no mind. If you can achieve this then time itself becomes still. Multiple attack randori becomes achievable because your uke are not moving in the same time zone as you.

There are more ways to examine time within our art, but these three are the most obvious and most important. They play key roles in Ten Shin Sho Kai Tactics and Strategy Principles program, that the School runs on special occasions.

So, how do we achieve these keys to temporal mastery? Once upon a time I would have said that all you need to do is turn up for training and eventually you will reap the rewards.

But I no longer believe that.

Yes, you do need to turn up to training as often and as regularly as classes are offered to you. Yes, the more you train, the more you learn. But that is not enough. A Dojo is not a gym, where if you keep exercising regularly you will develop those particular muscles. To fully understand, to fully comprehend a martial art, to develop true and meaningful insights as to the how and why of what you are doing, you need to do more than simply be physically present in the class.

That will only take you so far. It will train your body to move correctly, it may even teach you to perform an impressive array of impressive techniques. But that is all. What this produces is not a martial artist, not a warrior, but a fighter.

When you train, you must engage more than just physically. You must commit you mind and spirit to each and every moment of your time in the dojo.

You must train as a conscious and direct act of Will.

As both uke and nage you must approach you time on the mat as a life and death situation, not as “Oh I wonder what they will teach me tonight? I hope it’s really cool.” To even begin to fathom the spiritual aspects of what is available through traditional martial arts, you need to develop a focussed intensity of mind and spirit.
This is not easy, this is exhausting.
That is as it should be.

If you think such an approach is too difficult, then you need to examine your reasons for being there.
If it is just to accumulate physical techniques, then that is fine, but you will also need to accept the limitations that entails. If you think you can achieve the higher levels of the art by simply spending time in the dojo, then you are destined for disappointment.

There are exercises, largely, but not solely, based around breathing and meditation that can be practiced to help hone the non physical requirements, but ultimately it comes down to the individual student and your attitude to training.

So, my final word on time as it applies to how you use it in the dojo:

Do not waste it.

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Here it Comes Again

‘Practice makes perfect’ as the saying goes and there is no denying that.
Nobody, no matter the discipline, can expect to progress without practice.
However, practice requires particular constraints.

Accuracy is a big one. This means reproducing as accurately as possible what it
is you have been shown. This means you must both watch and listen carefully. If
you do not watch and listen, please note CAREFULLY, you cannot hope to be
accurate. You may be thinking, “I watch and listen” (?). I would say that you may
be watching but not seeing. Listening but not hearing. Otherwise the same errors
would not be occurring. Being accurate or practicing to be accurate has two
important functions, both complementary. Firstly, being accurate ensures
reliability and gives guaranteed strength and depth to what you do. Secondly,
and more importantly, being accurate is your most important tool for overcoming
your ‘self’. Self will always settle for second best or less. Self does not want you to
be accurate otherwise self diminishes and ultimately disappears. In the field of
martial arts, ‘the consciousness of self is your greatest hindrance’ to quote the
late Bruce Lee. When we listen to self, we run into all kinds of problems. The
thing is ‘Self’ is a sly opponent. “Don’t train today, it’s raining”. “Do it this way. It’s
easier” and nine times out of ten, you listen.

Many, I know, enjoy martial arts training for a variety of reasons, none of which I
have a problem with. The Ten Shin Sho Kai was founded on the basis of
discipline as a means of achieving a higher goal through the sound study and
practice of a martial art. An art that would produce new warriors who in some
small way would improve the quality of the society in which we live.

The warriors of old needed to pay constant attention to their skills in order for
them to be sound. Weather conditions and making do played no part in their
training. Fear of losing Self, weakness in technique would ensure a speedy exit
from existence. I have said on many occasions that the blood stained battle fields
have gone, but battle fields remain and we fight on them every day. If we/you are
not prepared there is little hope for survival and like the inattentive warrior we too
will exit in some way or another.

Whatever we do or whatever positions we find ourselves in are a result of
choices we make. If you are making the same errors whose fault is that? “I have
no time to practice” is what I often hear. I do not accept this. You/we can always
find the time and space IF WE SO WISH TO DO SO. Get up earlier. Practice
after work. Twenty minutes before going to bed. But this takes discipline, Self
Discipline. The discipline of Self.
Your teachers with their skill, knowledge and experience are your guides along
the Aiki path, but they cannot walk for you. This you must do yourself.

Listen. Watch. Practice. Be accurate. Or as Musashi would put it: “Be like water
on stone. Practice this well”.

Kaiso

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The Lone Samurai William by Scott Wilson

“What Musashi established with the sixty-one years of his life was a legend and an ideal for the Japanese people for which there is no equivalent in Western culture.”

Much has been written about Miyamoto Musashi, he is perhaps the most famous samurai from Japanese history known to Westerners.

This short book is one of the best I have read detailing his life.

The author has gone well beyond the Five Rings and examines in detail all that can be gleaned about Musashi from the extant records.

As well as the usual biographical information and sword duels, the work looks at his art and calligraphy, his evolving philosophy and spirituality, his influence and influences. It even has a Musashi filmography; the first dates to 1908 – Miyamoto Musashi’s Subjugation of the Lustful Old Man, by Yoshizawa Shoten, done with puppets.

Wilson’s admiration for Musashi is clearly evident throughout, however, this does not prevent him from putting in those negative stories that other works on the subject tend to ignore. Indeed, most modern works on Musashi take his later title of kensei to be a literal truth, not so The Lone Samurai.

If all you know about the historical Musashi is what you read in the preface to your copy of the Book of Five Rings, or you think that everything you read in Yoshikawa Eiji’s novel is real, then this is an excellent book for you.

“In the end we cannot fully know Musashi’s character. . . . . If we need a final image of him, however, we might see him . . . . . . seated informally on the tatami in a ten-foot-square tea room in Kumamoto Castle, speaking respectfully but openly in his low, quiet voice with the daimyo Hosokawa Tadaoki and the young Zen priest Shunzan. It is a crisp autumn afternoon, and of the three men, only Musashi can identify the bird that sings in the garden outside.”

I leave the final word to Musashi and his twenty-one maxims, for as Wilson points out, they “read like a bare-bones outline of Musashi’s life, both historical and spiritual”:

Do not turn your back on the various Ways of this world.

Do not scheme for physical pleasure.

Do not intend to rely on anything.

Consider yourself lightly; consider the world deeply.

Do not ever think in acquisitive terms.

Do not regret things about your own personal life.

Do not envy another’s good or evil.

Do not lament parting on any road whatsoever.

Do not complain or feel bitterly about yourself or others.

Have no heart for approaching the path of love.

Do not have preferences.

Do not harbor hopes for your own personal home.

Do not have a liking for delicious food for yourself.

Do not carry antiques handed down from generation to generation.

Do not fast so that it affects you physically.

While it’s different with military equipment, do not be fond of material things.

While on the Way, do not begrudge death.

Do not be intent on possessing valuables or a fief in old age.

Respect the gods and Buddhas, but do not depend on them.

Though you give up your life, do not give up your honor.

Never depart from the Way of the Martial Arts.

Sensei Eacott

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The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts by Issai Chozanshi

“How could there be no one else in the world who knows what I know? Secret things are for the sake of beginners. If they were not kept secret, beginners would not believe in them. This is one of the expedients of teaching. Thus, the things that are kept secret are just the tail-ends of techniques. They are not in some deep principle. Beginners understand nothing, listen arbitrarily, grasp things poorly, and decide ‘This is it!’ on their own. So contrary to what you might expect, they cause damage when they speak with others.”

I rarely read any book twice, this one I have read many times, and will read many more.

The book is a discussion on the nature of martial arts and self transformation through an understanding of the principles of yin and yang and the development of ki. It begins with a collection of short parables on life from a Taoist perspective. It then moves on to the main body of work, which is a discourse delivered by a group of Tengu on swordsmanship and its deeper meaning and significance. (Do not know what a Tengu is? Shame on you!). The final section is another parable, this time about a cat, a master of wu wei.

The premise of the book is that the purpose of swordsmanship is the discovery of your true self nature and that to learn martial arts simply to become a master of technique is to miss the point. That is not to say that mastery of technique is not vital to the process, rather that it is not the essential telos of Budo. The Tengus’ discussions point the way to achieving this ultimate goal.

What Chozanshi has provided us with, is a Taoist handbook on martial arts; I recommend it be read by everyone.

Some quotes chosen at random:

“Swordsmanship is the practical application of the self-nature of the essence of the mind. Coming, it has no form; going, leaves no trace.”

“Technique is given life by principle; what is without form is the basis of what has form. Thus it is the order of things that technique is trained by means of ch’i, and that ch’i is trained by means of the mind.”

“When your spirit is settled and your ch’i integrated, when your action and response comes with No-Mind and techniques follow naturally, you will have reached the deepest principles.”

“The person without desire who simply exerts everything he has will have no empty space to be struck.”

Sensei Eacott