90. The base: close to the ground

I’ve always had a pet theory that the original founders of various koryu moved their bodies in a markedly different way from us “moderns.” Therefore, part of the problem with us understanding how to properly move in a koryu budo is that we have to deal with different body dynamics, ways of conceptualizing how our body moves, and musculature that are just different from our own everyday lackadaisical use of our physical form.

That goes, too, for modern Japanese. As one tea sensei said to me, “Even in Japan, everybody nowadays sit in chairs, so when I invite young Japanese to experience tea ceremony, for most of them that’s the first time they’ve sat in seiza in a tatami mat room!”

Living so close to the ground (or tatami), like the premodern Japanese, or like a lot of tribal cultures, has got to do something to your body morphology.

Mind you, I don’t think it’s anything mystical, like how some people idealize premodern cultures as being “better” than our “corrupt” civilized Western culture. That is a romanticized and myopic point of view from the whole “Noble Savage” stereotype that has largely been debunked. Any culture has its own problems and issues, and I venture that a superstitious, non-technologically advanced, poorly literate society will have even more social problems than our Western one.

Still, living without modern conveniences, like soft chairs and modern toilets, does do things to one’s body. And eating potato chips while lounging in a soft sofa and exercising only one’s fingers in playing a video game does something else, not at all beneficial to one’s body too.

One of the things squatting does, I think, is that one’s lower limbs by necessity generally become stronger and more ductile. In Hawaii, I still see remnants of such tribal lifestyles among recent immigrants from Southeast Asia and other less developed Pacific Islands.

Without extensive chairs or indoor plumbing, squatting is a way of life.  As ignorant and crude teenagers we used to make fun of such behavior as being “fresh off the boat” but being able to do a full squat down, on one’s haunches, shows that your legs are limber and flexible. Squatting used to be the natural way for all humans to defecate before the modern crapper and sit-down toilet. A Hawaiian anthropologist told me it was also the way women used to give birth. Lying on one’s back was an unnatural position for childbirth, she said, noting that in recording oral histories of Native Hawaiian women, she encountered a story of how one woman gave birth squatting in the fields. She wrapped the baby up in swaddling clothes and then went back to finishing up planting her row of taro in the fields, sort of as a matter of fact.

When I worked summer jobs in the pineapple and sugar fields, I found that squatting was a good skill to develop, as it kept our rear ends from getting muddy while we ate lunch out in the fields. It also helped if we had to defecate out in the outdoors. Falling over into our own poop was not a good option, so we got good at balancing ourselves as we squatted down, our butts close to the ground.

Squatting, or sitting seiza, or even sitting cross-legged, are all body positions that are what I call “close to the ground.” The body has, I think, a more concrete knowledge of its relationship to the floor or ground since it is closer to it, and unencumbered by chairs or sofas. We have to feel comfortable through our own body position and alignment. In doing so, we lengthen and strengthen certain muscles that are hardly ever used if we go through life in a “chair” culture.

I make note of this because I’m trying to figure out why some of my students have such a hard time with movements that I take for granted, like walking in a standing kata, for example. They simply look like they’re ready to topple over. They wobble when they walk. There’s no sense of grounding, of being balanced or “in touch” with the ground under their feet. They just sort of shamble or lurch forward, no matter how I try to explain about keeping balanced and centered.

My suspicion is that, in our convenient society, we don’t need to be acutely aware of our balance and body positions vis a vis the ground because many of us don’t do much physical labor anymore, or play freely as kids outdoors now that we have so many enticing computer games to entertain us.  Athletes and those with a gifted physical ability may not be so cursed, but a lot of people who come through my dojo doors have a significantly hard time working from seiza, or walking in the particular way that our ryu calls for. It all goes back to having weak legs, a weak foundation. And any amount of running or jogging won’t help all that much. It has more to do with the leg flexibility and body mass/positioning awareness in relationship to the ground than sheer muscle mass.

But if you can’t get that solidity of posture, then nothing works. Not from seiza, not from chuugoshi (a sort of half-rising position with one foot planted on the ground, the other knee on the ground), or from full standing. You simply don’t have the base from which to execute a technique.

It’s nothing mystical. Eddie Wu, the current head of the Wu family Tai Chi Ch’uan, loved to break down “mysterious” movements of internal Chinese martial arts, telling me once that “mysterious chi energy” techniques were the only way premodern Chinese masters had to explain their amazing martial abilities. A former airplane engineer, Wu said that it was all about force vectors and subtle body alignment. As he said, to paraphrase, “They didn’t have the technical words to explain it, so they said, ‘secret chi power,’ or something like that. No, it’s not esoteric. It’s just very subtle manipulation of the body, timing and movement, but they didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about it in that way.”

I think, too, that having a strong foundation is not all that mystical. But it doesn’t make it any easier for many students who ignored the lower half of their body for most of their lives. It’s also true, alas, for some young, athletic newbies who walked through the dojo doors. One recent dilettante lingered in my club for a few sessions, claiming he was doing MMA-style jujutsu, karate and judo at the same time, and wanted to try his hand at koryu grappling. But from starting at seiza to locking up close to the ground, to executing his techniques, his grappling was just awful, because he had no lower-body balance, flexibility or strength. He may have had the upper body musculature of a weightlifter, but he simply ignored training his lower body to move, to position the rest of his body, to flex and stretch. Everything from the waist down seemed disconnected. Hence, his application with his arms just looked weak and ineffective.

What to do then? I’m really at a loss. An individual student with shaky body balance could practice postures on his own, such as sitting in seiza, or standing, walking or doing chuugoshi, and try to fix his own posture. Or he/she could take up a study that requires sitting in seiza a lot and moving in a particular manner, like tea ceremony or shakuhachi, or Noh drama. Or doing a lot of yard work and squatting to pull weeds. Or try squatting to defecate in a hole in the ground in your backyard, to lengthen your thigh muscles. I don’t know.

One possible reason why shikko is used as an exercise in a lot of aikido classes, I suspect, is that it works on the lower body for strength and flexibility. Shikko is a kind of moving about without rising up. You do it from seiza by raising up one knee, moving it forward, then planting it down, and then doing it with the opposite knee, at the same time bringing up the opposing foot close to the other foot. It’s hard to explain but easy to demonstrate. It originated actually as a form of etiquette among the warrior class, particularly. When approaching a higher-ranked individual at the head of a hall, a bushi had to move in such a way so as not to elevate his head higher than the person he was approaching, much like how a courtier in Medieval Europe had to approach a seated lord, with his head bowed and knees slightly flexed so as to abase himself lower than the royalty.

Unfortunately, a cursory review of shikko videos on the Internet came up with really, really awful examples. Maybe I’m too much of a stickler for doing things according to their original intent, but shikko was a very formal, controlled movement. The height of the head should barely move up and down. The hands are not flailing around like windmills. They are kept in place on the thighs. The whole body moved as one, without a foot dragging in the rear. The centerline of the body doesn’t sway left to right. It just goes forward, the hip pivoting on the body centerline, with the center of gravity right between the two closely aligned feet, both of which, when moving, on the balls of the flat of the foot. For us “moderns,” it’s hard to do it that way. That’s the whole intent. It IS hard if we’re not used to squatting and moving our legs in that way. It pained me to see so many bad shikko walking, even from supposedly high-ranking aikido sensei. So puh-lease!!! If you want to do shikko, do it right!!! You even run the risk of damaging your knees and legs if you keep doing shiko wrong, I think, so Geez Louise, do it right!!!!

More so than that one exercise, however, is the whole concept about it. WHY do you do shiko, especially if you are doing aikido, which seems to love flagellating its students with it?

It’s an exercise to develop lower body strength and flexibility. There are other ways to develop strength and flexibility in one’s limbs and trunk, but they all start with proper intent and purpose. It’s not just to learn “samurai walking” or as a warm-up.  Judoka will do “frog jumps” and other exercises. It’s the same intent: to strengthen the lower limbs and create a stable base from which to execute the techniques. Sumo wrestlers will do endless squats and stretches, and a drill much like how American football linemen hit a partner in the chest and then try to drive him back by pumping the legs and pushing forward in a straight line, over and over again.

Or, you could try squatting while you watch television. Whatever works. Just do it right.

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42 thoughts on “90. The base: close to the ground

  1. Reading Wayne’s blog and it is great that Wayne has the writing talent and insight to write about something I experienced. Well except giving birth (in a field or anywhere else) and squatting to evacuate my bowels- except when going camping, there are few options to having to
    squat.

    My issue with shiko parallels Wayne’s opinion. I was taught to be level, you don’t move up and down, correct postures, i.e. shoulders blocked and uniform, chest positioned correctly and not protruding like your imitating a chicken. Feet stay together as you move, and proper distance of the knees, and a bunch of other important things not seen in most shiko these days. My sensei and the shihan didn’t care for shiko. We learned it for ceremonial reasons. We learned the same lessons, as those who learn from shiko, but through proper etiquette and other exercises. I don’t know of any other arts than Aikido that uses shiko as a specific learning exercises. I think it may have been introduced to shore up the soft modern body types of westerners and younger generations of Japanese. An assumption on my part.

    For me, modern vs. old body types is a difference of generation and culture. The old strong Japanese are more prone to excel in Budo partly due to their body dynamics. I think it does have something to do with the lack of modern convenience they had. Life was much harder and difficult, a good parallel is American Pioneer life. People where a hell of allot tougher then they are now. Life was far more difficult. This is the same for the Japanese but even more difficult for a greater length of time. Wayne mentions women giving birth in the rice field. I was told back in the 60’s and this wasn’t a stereotype of time, American doctors where amazed at Japanese women who never made a sound giving birth back in the 1950s. American women where the opposite. I asked my sensei about that, he explained it was how Japanese where raised back than with mental toughness. Japanese woman’s life was very difficult he said in the old days. Oddly enough, it was explained to me how tough Japanese life was when I had seen the film “The Naked Island” -“Hadaka no shima” by Kaneto Shindo. It gave allot of truth to the stories and points my sensei was making through his Budo related stories how different people where back then and today.

    Because Japan has changed like everywhere else, and has moved toward an easier life, the result creates a new area of micro teaching proper body dynamics and mechanics that where developed in a time as a result of little or no comforts or conveniences. From that develops a mental disciple that shapes approaches to training. This might be the reason why shiko is reserved for ceremony.

  2. > too much of a stickler for doing things according to their original intent

    Well as a stickler you will appreciate the importance of using the correct Japanese word. When you set out to be an ‘authority’ on Japanese Classical Budo you need to double and triple check everything.

    Incorrect – Shiko – しこ (四股)
    Correct – Shikko しっこう (膝行)

    1. Jim,

      I stand corrected and will change the text. But both of us are off the mark, in a way. It’s shikko, yes, not (as you imply in the hiragana) shikkou, although the kanji usually is pronounced with a long -o as in -kou or -koh. In this case, it’s not. Shikkoh or shikkou means to take a pee. In my weak defense, I imagine my Japanese teachers lessened the harshness of the “k” sound because it would sound too much like the word for urinating.

      Per your other criticism, well, sometimes monkeys fall from trees. Thank you for reminding me of that.

      Oh, also, I did find one video after the fact that is a good demo of shikko:

      –Wayne

      1. No, you are flat out wrong. . There is no long ou sound in ‘take a pee’ it’s しっこ. Nobody ‘lessens sounds’ to avoid misunderstandings – they simply pronounce it correctly.

        I hate these type of wrangles. Simply read the Kanji and pronounce it correctly is what ‘your’ teachers did.

        You wrote it as Shiko and that means four hips (which all martial artists will never understand) I love hearing Karate guys insist Shiko means Sumo stance without every once looking at the Kanji.

      2. Yes, you’re right, and I apologize for it. I am “flat out wrong.” It’s just that in Kyoto, the K’s are lessened in harshness, which is probably why I tended to hear it as shiko, rather than shikko. Perhaps. I could be wrong on this too, but that’s how my aging ears heard it, wrongly, it seems, and wrongly when I tried to reference it. Damn my aging eyes. And my teachers’ Kyotoben. Gomenyasu. You’re right there.

        I’m no longer a “karate guy,” but I tend to think, however, that their understanding of shiko dachi (四股) is actually right, however, although I have no real skin in this game. It makes more sense than shikko dachi (膝行), which describes a method of movement. Although I guess I could be flat out wrong on this too. I do think it’s that term considering that the stance doesn’t seem at all related to moving low to the ground. In any case, my apologies and thoughts.

        –Wayne

      3. Hi,

        On this subject of terms and the associated characters/ideograms, etc. when I first began to try to learn about them as a hobby I found several sources that seem to be expert. They indicated, in short, that even in Japan when conversing they sometimes have to draw the kanji/characters/ideograms to gain clarity.

        It has also been said by these same sources that often there is confusion in conversations in Japanese within Japan if two persons are from different locals. Apparently as you move from one local to another things change even if slightly making this very, very difficult.

        I was also led to believe, tentatively, that to understand it you really have to have been raised under their culture and belief system. Apparently this type of thing reaches back toward the more feudal era and is related to kata or what I was informed of as, “shikata.”

        This is why this type of thing is more a hobby than real translation. I try to find terms used in martial arts, like shikko or shiko, and then search out the characters/ideograms with translations to see if I can understand them a bit better than just hearing the term and someone’s interpretations, etc.

        Even so, this blog has been really good about getting things right or so it is how I see and interpret and perceive it but then again who says I am right?

        I do agree with the consensus I hear on this thread of comments, it is a good thing to study the underlying meaning and cultural history and beliefs of such things so as to understand why we do what we do and why they did what they did so long ago and today.

        I appreciate all the hard work that wmuromoto does on this blog, it is informative, enlightening and educational all on one. Thanks!

        Charles J.

      4. Thank you, Charles. I don’t think I set myself up as a super duper expert, anyway. I’m more blogging away and trying to find answers to stuff I encounter, and think about, and get feedback (supportive or critical, either of which adds to my knowledge), and more food for thought. The pronunciation of the term was my mistake. I owed up to it, but it brought up several other related, interesting points for which I will muse upon in a future blog, including the possible remnants of shamanism in koryu vis a vis the shiko, the happo giri, and other four-sided and eight-sided movements, as well as the relationship to fumikomi (feet stamping) etc…
        –Wayne

  3. Is the modern Budoka doomed to modern body morphology? Will the modern Budoka on the current track of a life of comfort and conveniences end up like the crew of the Axiom prophetically told in the movie Wall-e? Will our bodies become weaker and more softer as we sit behind a computer, and in jobs and life styles that are absent or shun hard demanding physical labor that forged the bodies of ancestors like steel?

    We have over intellectualize the arts, because there is no need for the martial arts to be effectively used as intend. The aesthetic arts like Tea also are over intellectualized because the social need and practice isn’t warranted anymore. Over intellectualizing spilling over to teaching that amplifies the intellectualizing. The focus then is on intellectualizing and not the physical morphology gained thought hard physical work and conditions. The arts have fallen into that aristocratic trap.

    Now there is a tremendous focus on pedagogy and intellectualizing in the arts where there wasn’t before. One new area of teaching is micro teaching to body morphology needed for proper practice and execution of technique. Budo education is teaching to precision and exaction absent from the Zen philosophy. Budo education is getting the student to a model a method of movement that is only gained through a life style and environment of hard physical work; it can’t be taught. The result of such a life gave birth to a mentality that reinforced proper body structure. You can’t teach a wet noodle to be ridge, but we try.

    Modern teaching methods and philosophy that is focused to exacting the desired morphological results form a student, is counter-productive. It is the wrong approach. The right approach is what has been done for hundreds of years prior to the modern way of life. To train the body only requires a change in lifestyle, foreboding the gravitation to comforts and conveniences. It is not exercises that change the body, it is the approach to the work we do, avoiding to make that work physically easier to do. Quick example, to train my body, I don’t go to a gym and lift weights or do special martial arts exercises. I seek out hard physical labor that alone is my greatest Budo teacher as it shapes my body as a result of the natural laws that apply when you physically work. Like lifting heavy lumber for 8 hours a day manually by hand with no aid of mechanical apparatus. I just got done pouring and floating yards of concrete. Next week, I will dig out a large Koi fish pond where a gazebo sat, using a hand shovel, and a 30 lbs striking pole to brake up the concrete and rocks. It will be all done by hand. For the reason it will shape my body, it will train my body.

    Those physical activities teach me more than any Budo seminar on the planet can. The Budo community has over looked that value, and then wonders why the old timers where able to do Budo better than us. They didn’t intellectualize it, they didn’t subscribe to the art of micro teaching, all they did was work physically hard and valued that experience. Modern life is so much physically easier, probably not mentally, than it use to be. Because of that, our body morphology is a result of our modern life style. We don’t walk to locations other than from the parking lot to the store, or to lunch. That shapes our bodies. And we do speciality exercises, take spin classes, weight lift in the most modern stagnated manner, and run to lose weight, and stay healthy. None of which these modern methods lend themselves to the body morphology needed for Budo. I am not advocating removing your toilet so you can squat. What I am advocating is a change toward to the way we approach Budo, if we don’t want to end up on the Budo Axiom.

    1. Jon, you do bring up some strong arguments that I mostly agree with, although asking students to go that extra mile is not going to work, at least with my group. So what to do? I’m not sure.

      It’s a question I pose to all of us, including myself. How do we move like the “old guys” when our entire lifestyle is different? For myself, I balance trips to the gym for weight work weekly with daily physical labor after work: pulling weeds, weed whacking, digging, washing, clipping hedges, squatting, walking for miles every day. On most days, that kind of “simple” daily exercise is enough to tire me out for a good night’s sleep. I notice, too, that it helps with my posture and feelings of health. But I can do this because my work schedule is flexible and much of my work can be done quickly or at night, when I’m resting.

      For most of us, our “work” is to sit in a chair and move electrons around. Or the labor is repetitive and stressful. …Actually, come to think of it, that’s not so much different from pushing the brush (as in accounting or keeping records) or other such work during the Edo Period, when the samurai class was mostly administrators and provincial government managers. So they were busy too. Yet they managed to accomplish a lot.

      So really, maybe there’s no great excuse other than laziness on our part? Or are we getting too lazy as an entire culture? For example, one of my friends is in the US Army and he said one of the biggest problems of the all-volunteer military is that many of the new recruits are incredibly far below the minimum health requirements (mentally and physically) of times past. A lot of people are washed out of basic training because even though they are young men and women, supposedly in the prime of their lives, their physical abilities (and often intellectual capacity) are simply not even at a basic competency level, due to a sedentary, do-nothing lifestyle. It used to be that even a GED (a certificate equivalent to a high school diploma) would enable you to enlist. But the military found out that recent GED-level recruits aren’t smart enough to survive basic training, or are too much risk than they’re worth (not being able to follow specific orders, or break down a weapon, or learn basic safety skills when handling weaponry is a big risk!) so they are accepting only high school graduates and above now. So my friend fears that not only are young people getting dumber (in a kind of common sense way), they’re getting weaker.

      And it’s happening rapidly, only in the past 20 years or so are we hearing about rampant, epidemic levels of health problems based on childhood obesity and other issues that come from a lifestyle of abundant, rich food but limited exercise. America is in the lead, but other developed countries are following up with increasing heart disease, obesity epidemics (China is facing that among their children), and so on. But that’s a whole other gripe…

      1. I love that final quote: “”There are those people who think that multitasking is simply the way life is now and we should be focusing on getting better at it … that we are a bunch of old fogies who don’t understand,” Paul said. “But scientifically, there is no evidence for that. There are fundamental biological limits to what the brain can pay attention to. This is a problem built into the brain.””

        Ha! Oh…gotta take the bread out of the oven and finish my email and make a phone call before I take some sekihan red rice to give to my tea sensei…now, what was I talking about?
        –Wayne

      2. Totally agree our life style is so much different then the old timers. Their life was much more agrarian then ours today. Sure they had officials that never got dirt under their finger nails, but these officials never developed skill or the body type to be good at Budo, I refer to the story of the 47 Ronin. Our society doesn’t value physical activity, thus resulting in apathy. Are the young people dumber… that is a sticky question. Overall, I don’t think our young people are getting dumber. I think because the bar is higher now than it was before. For instance, a 4 year college degree today has become less than what high school degree was say in the 1960s in getting a job. Middle school kids in the 8th grade learn as much or more material when they graduate then the average high school student in the 1970s. High school IB curriculums are identical to the first and second year college classes less than10 years ago. Yet physical activity for our kids isn’t taught or valued as much. Now we have a lot of smart kids who are physically inactive and suffering from it.

        In our society, we demand a higher level of intelligence over physicality because we are a more advanced society, and continue to be. Kids who don’t make the grade are really at a disadvantage into day’s society. Meaning our society promotes ill health because we don’t value physical activity outside of weight loss and improving poor health.

        Because of our high value of intelligence over physicality, it hurts the understanding and learning of Budo as it was developed. We learn and teach Budo from an intellectually platform and that has resulted in less physically demanding classes that target correct Budo development. How many people take karate with the intent being a part of a weight loss program. How many Budo classes focus on teaching to the minutia, and have very weak physical programs. Honestly, how many Budo classes have warm ups, for an example that emulate the physical hard work the old timers did to develop the body and its understanding. Many Budo classes talk too much and do far too less. Thus, creating weak budokas.

        I agree Budo should be far more physical, and people have gotten lazy and apathetic. They don’t want to do the work, but want it spoon-feed to them like someone reading them a set of assembly instructions. Then expect consummate proficiency and skill. Maybe am being unfair, after all we are taught in this manner in school, and come to expect that is how to learn. Yes, Budo in a sense is being lost when it comes to really understanding and learning Budo. As we speak Budo will continue to become a thin shell of what it was. It will be very difficult for the real Budo teachers to find students who don’t demand spoon-feeding and intellectualizing. It will be far more difficult for the good students to find a real Budo teacher. That is my take.

  4. Not to be offensive, but rather as a point moment, like a teaching moment, Shikko or Shiko, preferring Hepburn over another standard or not, is an addition to my comment on the general topic. Here we are dealing with micro correction of styled linguistic. Pointing out what the preferred standard romanization spelling should be.

    With that in mind, I ask do we change the spelling of Ki to Chi? Each of us, who use Shiko, didn’t use the current preferred romanization standard. Yet, we explained and described the activity. I think sticking strongly to the standard adversely shapes our thinking. The standard become what is expected resulting in spoon-feeding where we don’t think. Spoon-feeding leads to soft thinking. Therefore, our minds our less active when we read, it is all precisely given to us in the proper package. No need to work at it. We want standards so we don’t have to work at it. Things are made to be easier and convenient. Holding to one standard truncates problem solving skills and other mental facilities, such as creativity. I am advocating that modern training has gotten to this point of a standard that will continue to make us weak.Here again it is a matter of over intellectualizing results in soft mind, and a soft mind results in a soft body.

    1. Jon, your inadvertent comments actually made me smile. Yes, sometimes we (I, myself too!) do need to lighten up a bit. Then we get tight again. It’s a balance. Too soft is bad, but too rigid is bad too. Oh, oh, another topic for the blog!!!

  5. Wayne, thank you.

    You have delineated well the conundrum in my argument. We can’t revert to the past, I agree. Modern society has made its changes and we are dictated by our environment. It is for me, more of a mentality than what you blog about. I don’t see separating the mind from the body. To get a proper Budo trained body you need a strong mind. I don’t want to sound condescending here, modern applications of teaching Budo, using western teaching philosophy and methods teach to a standard and a standard to problem solving related to teaching. Teaching methods are now moving to micro-teaching. Where everything is explained in precise detail. The student then gets accustom and dependent on this method. When methodologies change that the student expects and accustom to the student doesn’t adjust well. The students rate of learning and understanding decreased, becoming a learning block. We train our students to learn by one standard method that gives them all the information; spoon feeding, learning to the standard. Now the creativity in thought and problem solving skills are squelched. They don’t get past the kihon levels, referring to your recent blog entry “Braking Kata.” Because they lack the developmental skills to proceed to the next level of free form and creativity. They are stuck in dependent learning.

    With that structure of learning dependency, the students mind seeks all learning in that fashion. They don’t challenge (the Japanese idea). They don’t make the connections, because connections are given and they are expect them to be given by default. I hate to quote, the over quoted, so I won’t, but Miyamoto Musashi – (宮本 武蔵) said to study different professions. There was a value to that. He could have, but didn’t explaining in precise detail on why. It was up to you to figure it out. Thought out his lectures he is constantly saying study deeper, think about what am saying more deeply. He could have. He did explain some precise movements. He wanted, obviously, the reader, the student, to figure it out on their own, make those connections. But you can’t if it is all given to you.

    Physical hard work is a matter of a learning methodology, as well as the parallels to Budo morphology. Doing things the hard way, digging a ditch by hand rather than with a backhoe is a productive learning tool. To those who have done it long enough to get that “ah ha” moment where the connection is made. Many don’t have the strength to do such a thing nor the time as a living. Society has modernized and it has changed away from hard physical life styles. We can’t live old style.

    But, we can change our approach, and that is what am saying. The incorporation of physical hard work, and mentality of not getting a dolly for something you can lift yourself, challenging that task, has greater Budo results than going to the gym. Incorporating physical hard work, reducing comforts and conveniences- making things easier- in our modern life styles allows for those essential Budo related connections. I truly believe the greatest secret in Budo is training the body through physical hard work, and lack of comforts and conveniences. We can’t realistic revert to the past. But we can modify our modern life-styles to promote accurate understanding of Budo body morphology where following modern standards and teaching doesn’t. Budo body morphology doesn’t have to become theory, is what am saying. Though it is evolving to that. It is because the way we currently live, the way the student pool is raised and taught.

    Our modern bodies have adapted to and structured to function at a computer, sit in a car to go from point A to point B. We have reduced our physicality greatly. As we are creatures of comfort and convenience. Changing the mentality the results from that, yes is difficult. But not impossible. Here again is where the modern teaching approach fails in Budo, because it creates a soft mind set where the idea of physical labor to train the body is meant with excuses. There is no mentality of meeting that challenge regardless of the perceived difficulties or impossibilities of implementation in modern life. Here again is another reason why those of yore bodies lend themselves to martial arts, and to their development that we today struggle with. Like I said, it isn’t impossible for us today to reap the same benefits, if we make the change.

    I think with your students, maybe they need to do some heavy landscaping, using only hand tools when needed. Pulling weeds by hand as you said in a squatting position. Not only strengthens the legs, but the mind, a guided teaching moment (not micro), and hopefully allows for a connection. to sum it up, it is a matter of not going to a gym, but instead replace that exercise time with physical labor. That is the life-style change.

    Well I hope, Wayne, if you have your students weeding by hand in a squatting position, they don’t curse me out too badly. 🙂 Again it is a privilege and a pleasure to comment, thank you.

    1. Jon,

      Again, thank you for your deeply thought-out posts. I can’t add much more to it except to thank you for extending the conversation in an interesting way. As I might have written in the past (perhaps not?), good arguments, pro and con, or with differences of viewpoints, are always good. Even if we start with the same premise, as perhaps something in my blog, and then people come up with differing POVs, that’s good, as long as we share and exchange ideas. This keeps the discussion going. All too often, on computer chat sites, it’s a matter of myopic computer fans fighting over Apple vs. Microsoft, one is better. Or in comic book sites, it’s Marvel vs. DC, etc., etc., fanboys with nothing much else to do and ingrained prejudices not learning anything in an echo chamber. That’s why I sometimes gripe about different martial arts. I don’t mean to strip them down and say they’re all bad; I want to point out some inconsistencies and see what people think about my opinion about how to make those arts better.

      Hence, I kind of like this format. I write something, people care enough to comment pro or con and in general in a really positive manner, and we discuss. This is great.

      –Wayne

  6. Agreed. I am by no means all knowing or have the right view on things. Am not above throwing my own monkey wrench to all of what I say. As I said before, I have never read anyone who could articulate so well and so many things I have been taught in regard to Japanese martial arts. Honestly, your blog as a primer would have saved me so many headaches, bumps and bruises back when I was first training, and given allot of insight when I had none. Therefore it is good to talk at this level, to bounce around in the conversation. I really enjoy reading the comments, yours and everyone else, it is a thinking moment. The blog content and the comments provide other solutions, other views, giving insight on how others see and approach situations. I can throw out something in the comments and have it checked. I know for me I get stuck in a vesicle in terms of Japanese martial arts, and that isn’t always good. All in all, for my comments aren’t argumentative regardless of how I can sound argumentative, in case they do. they are just comments seeking other’s opinions. I don’t grow with a closed mind.

    I clearly see, Wayne, and respect your comments. You laid out the conundrum, and your right. How do you balance the old and the new, and still get the desired results. In the old days, you didn’t have to make a living, like today. Life is so much more complicated, and our time requires so much more advanced management, than back then. The demands as you pointed out are far different. How many people can stand on a roof in a hurricane to strengthen their Karate stance. Yes, I was being a little of a stone head in my comments, and not realizing the complexity of society and the demands of modern life. Mushashi never had to sit and read through an over whelming amount of emails. If he did his sword fighting career would have been really short.

  7. 四股 Shiko dachi as used by the Sumo and by the Karate means four hips. Although nobody in either sport can ever tell you why. They just say it’s sumo stance.

    It has nothing to do with movement. The four hips 四股 are the left and right sides of the hip and the left and right knees. The stance is meant to describe the position of the two joints. Place the femur parallel to the ground and the lower leg at 90 degrees to the femur.and you are in 四股 4 hips posture.

    As I said I hate these type of wrangles because you will always get some newbie that will say ‘oh that’s splitting hairs’ let’s get on with the training – that’s the important thing’ when in fact they are doomed to failure because they never bothered to learn what they are doing thoroughly, they were too busy ‘getting on with the training’ . It’s like a brain surgeon saying let’s not worry about studying anatomy and medicine let’s just ‘get on with the drilling’

    1. Jim, first we have to look carefully at he movement. Making the assumption, often blindly as well, that it has any magical physical attribute to body modality often leads us to arguing in dead ends. If you look at Sumo, understand it, it is clear why Shiko dachi exists. You can see why other martial arts adopt it as an exercise or drill. If you actually incorporate it into your practice as an exercise even more is discovered…that is if your keen to it. This is something we over intellectualize. Just as Wayne pointed out in his blog concerning Chinese language terms for things. You also have to consider that “4” could refer to navigational direction something born out of the Shinto religion for Shinto purposes. It also must be considered that it was a ceremonial show of intimidation, prowess and strength of the wrestler. It has to be taken in consideration, Sumo was the top dog for hundreds of years. It also has great cultural significance as well.

      Since Sumo is a contest of strength, and is the root, it is said, of all Japanese martial arts. And therefore, being so, Sumo is the bar, is the standard, is the top dog, to which many Japanese martial arts can measure themselves by. The founder of Aikido was associated with Sumo, and his jujutsu sensei as well. They are not only ones, many famous Japanese have used Sumo as a measuring stick. It is not surprising when martial artists write a book or need to promote themselves, bring up Sumo and associate themselves to things like Shiko dachi. Once that happens, Sumo or things like Shiko dachi take on this mystical importance that is blown way out of proportion of its importance. The real context and purpose of Shiko dachi gets warped or lost as people argue intellectually about it.

      I could be wrong, I don’t think establishing a systemized set of symbols to represent ideas has as much importance as the idea itself, so I am lenient on people and less critical in this area. Spelling by doubling a consent or not, doesn’t concern mean because it doesn’t change the context or the object/subject it describes. What concerns me is the changing of the context, the meaning, of the object/subject to something different that is wasn’t intended to be. If that happens now you have problems.

  8. When I tried aikido, we were taught two sitting displacements. The first one was the shikko described here, where the legs stay relatively open. Another one however consisted in stepping in front and then sliding until the raised knee reached the ground again and continue with the other leg. We never did that one much, but recently upon watching a video about Ogasawara ryu, they showed this same displacement and called it shikko as well, with the same movement to go backwards called shittai.
    Does anybody have any experience of this type of movement in aikido? Relating this to Wayne’s post, the demonstration and my own experience lead me to think that it’s much harder than the shikko, and is also an excellent practice to reinforce the whole lower body.

    1. Arnaud, this is really a cool video. I can see how the Ogasawara-ryu elements have filtered into all sorts of martial arts systems. Thank you for sharing! (And if you think that kind of shikko and shittai is hard, try doing it tea ceremony style!!!)
      –Wayne

      1. What is the tea ceremony style? So far, I have been taught only to use my hands to slide on the ground.

      2. Arnaud,
        Oh, man. Talk about self-inflicted pain. Why I still do tea I don’t know. Sliding forward and back using one’s hands is one form of sitting torture. Then when you get into the upper level temae, you have to do a kind of “tea” shikko and shittai…but nothing like the large, relatively grandiose kind you see in martial arts. For example, in some temae, you sit in front of the stand in seiza, but far enough away that you have to slide your knees forward, right, left, right, but you’re holding implements in your hands so you have to do so subtley that you don’t throw the implements out of level. The knees hardly if at all leave the ground, and since you’re usually wearing kimono (often without a hakama), you don’t want the folds to open up showing your underwear, so it’s really heavy duty work on the thigh muscles to slide forward “gracefully.” Shittai is the same, opposite direction, away from the stand, so it’s left, right, left, holding utensils in both hands, and then you stand up, gracefully, without use of your hands. Oh, the pain.

  9. An acquaintance of mine, once having met my grandfather, remarked that he must have been a martial artist. He played kendo for a couple years as a teen, I offered, which at the time had to have been a good sixty years prior. Besides which, he participated in the same vein I grew up playing baseball; whereas “America’s pastime” was the sport of my midwestern upbringing in the 70s/80s, in my grandfather’s Central California rural JA community of the 20s/30s it was kendo. Now, I probably played baseball a good ten years longer than my grandfather ever played kendo, but I highly doubt anyone would look at me with philosophy these thirty years later and say, “that guy must have been a baseball player.” My flags were going up. All stoic Asian males know some kind of martial arts, I figured this guy was figuring. Wouldn’t be the first time I’d experienced this. Add to that our family’s Kumamoto roots like those of Pat Morita, and we have an amusing phenotypic recipe for Mr. Miyagi comparisons.

    It’s his presence and posture, the way he roots himself and how he knelt on the floor instead of going for any of the chairs stacked in the corner, said my friend. Touché! Interesting observations, all! But I still maintained it had nothing, necessarily, to do with two years of training kendo a couple times a week out of his seventy-five years of every day living up till then. My take was that Gramps grew up on a farm picking grapes and squatting next to raisin trays. The home of his youth wasn’t full of couches and lounge chairs and dining tables. They sat on the floor, ate on the floor, slept on the floor, maintained an intimate relationship with the earth. He later in life traded agriculture for industry, becoming a welder. Which is another squat in various positions all day sort of job.

    Interestingly, although they shared the same body structure, his youngest brother by seven years never carried himself the same way as either Gramps or the next eldest, by one year, brother. Their bearing was all similar, but there was this subtle difference I could only chalk up to the youngest having left the farm at an early age, growing up mostly in the city, and entering a white collar profession. Had he been in the room with my friend and me that day, I am certain as naturally as my grandfather took a knee, his brother would have grabbed one of them chairs in the corner.

    Thanks for the continually thought-provoking posts.

    1. Yas, thanks for the anecdote. Yes, observations like that have made me feel that body morphologies are different from the “old timers” and us, to our disadvantage. On the other hand, it’s nice to sit in nice cushy chairs!

  10. My understanding is that the “s” word in Aikido was only done as an exercise post-war, initiated by Yasuo Kobayashi. Of course there was technical practice from that position prior to that – although I think that, generally speaking, there wasn’t as much movement, which makes sense given the level of stress on the knees.

    FWIW…

    1. If I credited the “S” word’s purpose to someone else in Aikido, I stand corrected. Am OK with the “S” word spelled with a single letter K or with the double K. Either way is fine. But, where it gets a little uncomfortable is when the shikko/shiko is spelled with the letter T after the letter I, like in shittaka or shittake. Gotta love James C. Hepburn’s sense of humor.

      1. Not at all – I just threw that out there because it was mentioned in the context of an Aikido exercise.

        IMO, with all of the young people training and the new canvas mats with the smooth surfaces I think that it’s possible that they went a little overboard with that stuff in the post-war era.

    2. Interesting speculations on this particular line. I wonder about it too, and yes, with the canvas mats and smooth surfaces, maybe things did go a bit overboard. I do know that doing stuff low to the ground, like shikko or other kinds of movements/positions are really not a big deal when done on traditional tatami, or even wood planks, over a traditionally sprung floor. But do it too much on hard flooring, even on matted areas but over solid, unyielding flooring, does become a strain on the knees. In Hawaii, a lot of martial arts dojo were in rec centers or the basements of temples and churches, which had poured concrete foundations. Laying a mat over it might help a bit, but in my experience, long-term they really wreck one’s knees and ankles unless you’re really careful. Here, it may not be a matter of us modern folk having weak legs; it may be that the environment is wreaking havoc on our knees.

      1. Concrete certainly makes a difference :). On a related note, when they began the first children’s classes in Aikido, in Iwama in 1949, they first removed all of the tatami so that they wouldn’t be damaged, and the classes were held on the wooden floors. The tatami didn’t come back until later on.

  11. That sounds counter-intuitive, taking out the tatami for a kids’ class, but actually, if the floor underneath was sprung, with wooden joists, taking a fall from a kid’s height on the floor would still be a lot easier than doing one on canvas mats over concrete, I would think. I’ve done breakfalls on that kind of floor and it’s amazing how a “giving” wooden floor is easy to tumble on. The only thing would be, perhaps, slight modifications in the breakfall that would protect one’s ankle bones better. We have that kind of modification in our own ryu, which I found I had to consciously force myself to do, after years of judo and aikido. The difference was that it prepared you for breakfalls on harder surfaces. I suspect it came about as judo, for example, became more sport-oriented, and not planned in any way. When rules or situations change, behavior sometimes changes too. Thanks for the anecdote!

  12. I maybe, with my comment, defining the meaning of trite, and beating a beaten dead horse. Recently, at the 8th National Spelling Bee contest the kid who won spelling ‘knaidel’ correctly according to the judges referring to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. Knaidel is a German word of Yiddish origin. The prestigious YIVO Institute for Jewish Research cried foul, says the correct spelling of ‘knaidel’ is kneydl! Curse you Webster for your rebellious Lexiconian frivolity.

  13. Hello,
    I read Muromoto Sensei’s blog a lot but this is the first time I have felt qualified to actually post something in response. A lot of what is being talked about here is farmer’s strength (although lumberjack strength or stone mason strength might be equally appropriate terms). It unquestionably works to a degree. Lift variable shaped weights over and over and hitting things with hammers or axes over and over does develope almost unbelievable strength. That is why the Okinawan’s love hojo undo. That is why catch wrestlers love macebells, sledgehammers and kettlebells. But, strength is just one part of skill. I was unquestionably the strongest kid on my high school wrestling team, based mostly on my farm workout but I couldn’t break into the varsity lineup most of the time. In fact more than once we met the opposing team in the weight room and the had me show off my bench press then proceed to say I was on the bench for a reason and no where close to the varsity guy who of course was resting prior to the match and wouldn’t be able to demo.
    That is only problem 1 the bigger issue is look at an 80 year old farmer, lumberjack, stone mason etc. Does he look as healthy as an 80 year old college professor. In most cases no. This type of training has a way of getting out of control and being very unhealthy into old age. I know around the time I turned forty I really messed up my hands by going to long and to intensely at a stump with an axe and a shovel. I still get a lot of numbness in my hands. Makiwara never caused that kind of damage. I definitely feel farmers strength training has a value to it, but I would use more caution than I do with any other type of training. Remember old age was rarely a problem in feudal society East or West. Respectfully, Len McCoy

    1. Len,

      Points well taken. Yes. I use the same argument when people talk about the “paleo diet” or some such thing about how the good old days we were healthier and better. People also died a lot younger too, so you HAD to be tough in order to survive, or you would simply die. I also encountered a couple of people who had tough blue collar jobs who ended up in my computer graphics classes in midlife because they simply couldn’t do the work anymore. Bad backs. Wrists all messed up from turning wrenches 24/7. So definitely, we shouldn’t go overboard with any kind of regime!
      –Wayne

  14. Mr Muromoto, I am truly intrigued when you mention Shamanism and the Koryu, especially feet stamping. I would love to read your views on the subject. So please hurry up and write that blog. Thanks.

    1. Kamal,
      Some of the movements, I’ve read in two texts on iai and heard directly from two koryu teachers, are related to superstitious folk beliefs, what we might call shamanism, or folk Shinto. Whether you believe the movements are effective or not on that level, they are often hidden in certain kata and can also have practical meanings as well. I am/was a skeptic myself, but when I read about it and had two sensei mention it, I began to suspect that they were possibly right. The more I thought about it, too, the more I realized that they served a secondary purpose, in a way…Well, let me think about how to write an article. I don’t want to make it seem like it’s all mystical and magical. The way the teachers put it, it was kind of like remnants of old superstitions; curiosities that they mentioned in passing. In the meantime, to whet your curiosity, consider the rituals and symbolism before a sumo match. Then when you do a hono (honno?) embu in a temple or shrine, someone often does a kata with particular movements…anyway…perhaps I’ll discuss it later on after I think about it with more depth…

      1. Thank you for addressing my request, Mr Muromoto. I practice TSKSR and it is considered one of the more esoteric Koryu around. So I am aware that most Koryu tend to have several layers of meaning to various kata. I shall certainly look forward to such an article with your usual erudition.

  15. What’s this Wayne not mystical and magical?
    Ah wel.
    I am not sure if it is the same but in some older styles of Taijiquan there is footstamping as well. I do not know it it is the same as what you mention, or if it serves the same purpose but they do stamp.

    Your writing got me thinking (a slow process – I admit it frankly) about koryu. And then mostly about change and how it occurs. A lot has been written about this on several forums by people far more knowledgeable about koryu than yours truly but nonetheless.
    There is change directed by people (a shihan or at least someone qualified and certified to do so) for instance in the curriculum and change by circumstances (a war in which many lives are lost which means loss of knowledge and experience) but also changing society. Is it not so that learning koryu will become progressively more difficult for future generations because nobody stays low to the ground any more? Something previous generations did and on that habit koryu (or better ryu) were build.
    I wonder if things like the above are taken into consideration by people who teach these arts, how do they view this. or maybe it is not an issue to them?

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