As a martial arts practitioner and an instructor, it is often easy to let things get to one’s head and start to think “my school/art is the true way and the best way!”
The world is a very large place and martial arts is never about one school, one style!
For one to bad mouth another, especially as the head of a school, only shows the lack of mental and character training. If one bad mouths other schools in order to retain students or to make him/herself feel good about his/her school, this person is really NOT FIT TO TEACH! 「指導者として失格だ!」
If you feel threatened, re-examine your confidence in your own art. You can either train harder or simply give up. Your choice. Living a life feeling threatened is no way to live at all. Be better, better than others and most importantly be better than your previous self.
Etiquette is the root of all martial arts. We begin and end with a bow. Etiquette is the spirit of respect emanating from the heart. In other words, only deep respect coming directly from the heart becomes true etiquette. “Rei(礼)” comes from within, “Shiki(式)” is the manifested form. Proper decorum nurture the heart and soul, just as a well-cultivated heart manifests itself through proper etiquette. Martial arts is a form of divine art, thus a slack or reckless disregard for etiquette is contrary to way of martial arts. Only etiquette that is expressed from an impeccable and sincere Heart embodies the noble Path.
I have been teaching Iaido for quite a few years now, although Musokan only started about a year ago.
In the beginning, it was more of a sharing of skills and techniques. More and more, I am forgetting what I am supposed to be: a teacher.
My teacher, on the other hand, hasn’t and is exceptionally strict. His standard for me is set much higher than when I was just a student. Rightfully so.
As I upload more videos onto various social media as a form of promotion for my school, I am not just being seen, I am also being judged. People see what I do as a reflection on what I have been taught and who has taught me.
While I am still confident in my own technique, I must remember not to bring shame to the one who has taught me.
Like all activities we do, we look for recognition and approval. We show our achievements to those around us all the time. This partly has pushed the social media phenomenon we come to know in the modern age. It is also because of this urge to “share/show” our achievements, my teacher never pushed me to take any grading exams in the past. In his eyes, it clouds the mind from what is more important – proper training (修行). For nearly twenty years, I continued practising Iaido as Shodan-sha (初段者). It is not something one would go about showing off telling people about other than the first few months of receiving it. (The only reason I took that exam was that I was leaving Japan and was not sure if I would ever go back to continue Iai again. That is another story.)
Iaido, like other Koryu Bujutsu (古流武術), was not developed to be a “show-and-tell”. Although it cannot be helped that we occasionally perform demonstration (演武), we should not forget it is not done to show-off.
One performing the demonstration must bear in mind that it is not a performance. It has to be carried out with the same spirit and mental readiness as in a fight for one’s own life.
As a demonstrator, one needs to convey that sense of purpose. Without that, the demonstration is no more than a series of spiritless motion with a sword.
To demonstrate the spirit of Iai, one must commit to each motion as though his/her own soul is one with the sword. This does not mean swinging the sword forcefully or in haste.
How will one posses that spirit? You start by submerging your entire self into it until your everyday movements, speech and even subconscious thoughts are permanently ingrained with it. Allow me to paraphrase the words of an old master, “you must become a walking, breathing and living sword.”
When you have achieved that, only then will your demonstration be effective in conveying the spirit of Iaido, the spirit of a living sword that is now you.
The term “Bushido” is generally associated with Samurai and how they do not fear death or kill themselves readily in the name of honour. Well, is that true?
In many ways, yes, but only loosely. One cannot deny this image has to do with the samurai’s code of conduct, and much more from movies and semi-fictional stories. If you do travel back in time and meet the actual samurais four to five hundred years ago and ask them about “Bushido”, they would probably give you a blank stare and have no idea what you are talking about!
It is true, there is a certain code of conduct they abided to, but there was no actual “rule book” or textbook with a name “Bushido” written on the front cover. In fact, “the samurai way” was never a “way”! A Samurai was expected to be well educated in ways of combat as well as literary studies including that of Shintoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
Although the term Bushido was first found in records from the early Edo period, however, it is more often referred to as Budo (武道) instead. It generally meant the martial arts associated with warfare or martial arts practised by none other than the samurais. The term Bushido was made popular by a book published in 1900 with the same name (written by Nitobe Inazou 新渡戸 稲造). This book was printed in English and was supposedly read by Roosevelt and JFK! In this book, he described eight virtues of the samurai which Japanese society admired: rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honour, loyalty and self-control.
The samurai in the past had very strict standards of behaviour, true. This is more from the social standard set forth for the samurai-class, passed on generation after generation. These codes of conduct are greatly influenced by the “Four Books”(四書) of Confucianism (儒教思想). I will not (and am not qualified to) discuss the class system of Japan and that of the Samurai. I will, however, discussed the common “misunderstanding” on what the “Samurai Way” should mean.
First and foremost, Samurais do not have some death wish and actively seek ways to “die with honour”! As a samurai is a servant to a master or lord, he is expected to dedicate all that he is to serve, even dying for the master. This is where Movie magic has greatly exaggerated. All samurai are expected to lay down his own life (plus his family’s) to serve his lord. He also understands that he is more useful being alive than dead, thus preservation of his own life not for himself, but to better serve his lord for a longer period (until a time he is no longer needed). A servant who dies in vain is not often seen as an honour by his master or peer, but rather a foolish act that will bring shame or dishonour instead. But when a servant’s death can better serve his master, that is to die with honour.
This concept is quite well illustrated in Hagakure (葉隠) by Yamamoto Tsunetomo (山本常朝) and Book of Five Rings (五輪の書) by Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵). Although both books often (way too often) talks about how “one should die”, the underlying theme is slightly more complex. The better way to express the theme would be, in my opinion, “how to live life well, with courage and honour. To finally face death without the burden of cowardice, shame and regrets.” That, to me, is the way of a Samurai.