11. Web Dojo: Jiyushinkai

Image swiped from the Jiyushinkai web site.

…Just buzzing around the Internet today, avoiding final grading for the nonce, and I happened upon the Jiyushinkai (http://www.jiyushinkai.org/) web site. Chuck Clark, the main instructor, is a frequent poster here at the Classic Budoka and a longtime supporter of my writing efforts. So I thought I’d give him a shout out. It’s a nice site.

Jiyushinkai focuses on aikido and Shinto Muso-ryu jo, and has some very good connections to some great aikido teachers and Phil Relnick and Nishioka Tsuneo sensei of Shinto Muso-ryu.

Chuck has several dojo in various states, including Renshinkan in Arizona, Aishinkan and Shakokan in California, Ken Nin Dojo and West Coast Aikikai in Florida, Yobishin Dojo in Indiana, Gentle Wind Dojo in Louisiana, Shobu Aiki Dojo in Oklahoma, Portland Jiyushinkai Dojo in Oregon, Jita Kyoei and Kitae Dojo in Texas and Jiyushinkan in Washington.

I’ll be posting sites of other friends’ and acquaintances’ dojo web sites from time to time in no specific order, rhyme or reason.

10. Karate–An Incomplete Art?

karate kick
A karateka executes a kick...or is it a kick followed by a throw?

—Got your attention, didn’t I? –Especially all you karate folk out there, I bet.

Actually, I’m not casting aspersions on karate; far from it. The same could be said of several other popularly taught martial arts, but in particular, I wanted to note that karate as taught nowadays may be only half the art it was when it was first developed. Or one-third, come to think of it.

First: if there is no weapons training in karate, then a whole lot of stuff is just lost. In Hawaii, there are a plethora of Okinawan and Japanese style karate schools that do include Okinawa kobudo, or traditional Okinawan weaponry. Although taught somewhat separately, as a wing of Okinawan martial arts, it augments and reinforces “empty hand” techniques. Some schools eschew weapons work, for whatever reason. I think that’s a bad idea. Working with weapons is fun, first of all. It’s a great switch from the usual karate training. Secondly, as anyone who has done unarmed and armed training will attest,  weapons work sharpens your unarmed skills in terms of greater understanding of force projection, distancing and timing.

Many Shotokan schools appear to have no weapons work at all, for example. That’s unfortunate. I recall seeing the late Shotokan master Asai Tetsuhiko give a seminar and he pointedly encouraged the karate students to study traditional Okinawan kata outside of the usual Shotokan oeuvre, as well as pick up weapons work. (And he showed some amazing defensive techniques which utilized almost aikido-like movement and throws, more on the grappling part a bit later in this article.)

So that’s one third of karate. The other third is, of course, what people are currently doing: Karate kata, arranged or free form sparring, basics. Auxiliary training, such as hitting makiwara, bags, other people. That’s basically karate as we know and love it.

But…and here much of the following is my opinion, reinforced by two threads of thought, one based on observation and research, and the other anecdotal: If you don’t become cognizant of some form of grappling, you’re only doing half-assed karate, not the full-buttocks version.

Here’s the more salient argument: Last summer (2009), I was advising Charles Goodin (http://hikari.us) on putting together a show on Okinawan karate in Hawaii at the University of Hawaii. Charles is the founder of the Hawaii Karate Museum and the Hikari Dojo, and practices a very traditional (but innovative) form of Okinawan karate. The show was commemorating his donation of hundreds of priceless books on karate to the Asia Collection of the UH Library. Goodin, besides collecting books from all over the world, spent years interviewing and collecting artifacts and photographs of karate teachers and their training in Hawaii.

Among the many historical photos on display, Charles had several photos of prewar Okinawans known for their karate participating in Okinawan sumo. Some of the photos showed them posing, bare-chested, with trophies, or in judo-style outfits. Other photos were of them actually grappling with each other on the turf, using grips on each other’s belts, Japanese sumo-style.

Charles said he discovered that many, many Okinawan karate players of the prewar era were very much involved in Okinawan sumo. The Okinawan version of sumo was much more like a form of freestyle wrestling than the current style of sport sumo. Or, it was a lot like judo, with a multiplicity of sweeps, trips and hip throws. When he probed further, the really, really old guys (or their descendants) said, yes, many of the old masters would note that in order to truly understand karate, one had to know grappling. Karate kata wasn’t just punching and kicking, it was also imbued with a lot of grappling techniques, and to not know how they were applied is to not know half a kata’s meanings.

That was a revelation to me, although I suspect Charles and other highly trained karateka knew this.

So not only is a block in a kata not necessarily a block, it may not even be a strike! It could be a lead-in to a throw. How would you know? Only if you practiced some form of throwing and grappling.

My other argument is more anecdotal. In my jujutsu class is one student who is a high ranking karateka. He said that many times, a light bulb goes on in his head when we are doing a kata and he realizes the movements and setups are exactly the same as some odd, problematic (like, “what the heck does this MEAN?”) movements in many karate kata. Sometimes previous breakdowns of the kata using only punching, blocking and kicking explanations are insufficient or forced, but when he studies some jujutsu techniques and sees how it mirrors a movement in a single person kata, he says it all makes a whole lot of sense.

Those two examples, now that I think about it, are not isolated arguments. In a recent documentary program, Morio Higaonna showed some higher level Goju-ryu methods.  They involved blocking and trapping a strike and dislocating the limbs of the opponent; very, very jujutsu-ish, but all apparently part and parcel of his Okinawan Goju-ryu style.

Even when I was training in karate, many decades ago, before karate sparring became more regulated and rules-bound, my Japanese-style karate sensei thought nothing of grabbing a slow or errant punch or leg of mine and then sweeping me to the mats, to be followed by his gleeful use of some judo pins, chokes or arm-bars. He said that in Japan, sparring used to be just that kind of rough-and-tumble affair. When you closed the gap and got up close, nothing kept you from throwing your partner to the ground and grappling.

I don’t think karate folk need to return to that kind of sparring, which led to a lot of concussions, sprains, chipped teeth, black-and-blues and all sorts of abrasions and black eyes. But I do think that if you leave out a study of grappling: throws, locks, pins, etc., you leave out half the knowledge contained in karate kata. You run the risk of forgetting how to follow up a punch or block with a sweep or lock, as one smooth and wholistic methodology of combat.

The best karate teachers, such as Charles or Higaonna sensei, will incorporate grappling as an integral part of learning the bunkai (explanations) of the kata, and introduce separate training lessons regarding break-falls, throwing, locking and dislocating techniques.

The problem is that so much has already been lost, and so many karate folk don’t really know this. It has to be recovered. The good thing is that it’s all there, right in plain sight, in the kata.

9. Dan and Kyu…and You’re Welcome!

Ranking in Budo

The subject of ranking terminology in martial arts has been repeated several times by other writers and commentators, but it bears repeating, if only because there are always new students entering the fold. If you are a beginner, the mystique of that cloth black belt around the waist of your teacher may be fascinating. Fraying at the edges, it seems a mark of the “master,” something that you aspire to gain some day as a visible token of your physical prowess, perhaps. Belt colors are the visible symbols of the dan-kyu ranking system, a tradition that, actually, is not all that old.

In what are called the “modern” Budo, such as Kendo, Aikido, Judo, Karatedo, and so on, ranks are based on the dan-kyu system. As far as most researchers can tell, the system was devised (or if not totally devised, then adapted and wildly popularized) by Kano Jigoro, the founder of Kodokan Judo.

By all accounts, Kano was quite an intellectual. As Japan rapidly modernized around the turn of the 20th Century, Kano strove to recast the traditional grappling arts, collectively called jujutsu, into a universal, systematized, and popular physical activity akin to a Western sport. Kano’s professional career was as an educator, trained at the best Westernized institutions of learning in Tokyo, and he saw much that he thought was dangerous, nonsensical, and/or backwards in the attitudes and training regime of many jujutsu schools of his time. The general public, enamored of all things Western and foreign, looked down upon these schools as being backwards and furukusai, having a rotten smell of the old. Moreover, as Kano described, many schools taught without rhyme or reason regarding their training system, bullied and beat up beginners, fought in the streets, and even engaged in bloody public matches in front of drunken audiences looking for cheap thrills. Hey…sound familiar?

Kano wanted to change all that. There was much that he felt was worthwhile in the Japanese grappling arts, and much that he thought Western sports culture could offer to the Japanese public. Thus was born his Judo, a system of sport, physical activity, and to a relatively minor level, self-defense. Kano and his top students took what they thought were the best techniques and ideas of many different jujutsu schools and incorporated them with what they thought were the scientific and logical process of Western sports and wrestling to create Judo.

Kano systematized the training into a progressive system of learning, from ukemi (tumbling) to nagewaza (throwing), to newaza (ground grappling), to atemi (striking). He encouraged the tightening of rules of contest, within his school and without, held frequent lectures to encourage not just the physical aspect of Budo, but also the intellectual and philosophical parts as well.

Kano had, unusually for anyone in any culture, a broad outlook. Kodokan Judo was his gift to the world. His top students regularly engaged in heated contests with representatives from traditional jujutsu schools. However, he continued to seek the advice and input of jujutsu teachers, and he encouraged the spread of other martial arts, such as when he supported Funakoshi Gichin’s introduction of Karatedo to Japan, and when he encouraged Shimizu Takaji to spread the art of Jo (a short staff) in Tokyo.

Well, one of the innovations of Kano’s was the dan-kyu ranking system. Previously, rankings in the old jujutsu schools were a mish mash. Different jujutsu schools would rank their students according to different criteria, and award ranks with differing names and titles. There was no national standard. Kano wanted to change that. By creating a national uniformity to Judo ranking, he probably knew that the standards could be expanded to include international ranking standards, thereby helping to spread Judo worldwide.

The older system, called the menkyo kaiden system, is really not one general, universal set of ranking. For example, my own school of the Takenouchi (or Takeuchi) –ryu ranks students according to shoden mokuroku (meaning you know the “entry level” methods), chuuden mokuroku (“middle level” techniques) and okuden mokuroku (“secret” techniques). But there is a parallel ranking system that defines what you can teach and how independent you can be, and a third system adopted from the dan-kyu system to make some sense out of this whole big gorilla.

Other schools may have other terms, such as oku-iri sho, kirikami, menkyo kaiden (license to teach based on you knowing all the methods), etc.

In the menkyo kaiden system, when you joined a school, you were a nyuumon; a student who had just entered the school. Then you trained for a while before you attained shoden mokuroku or its equivalent, which is like wearing a white belt for years until you were suddenly rewarded with a black belt.

Kano probably felt it was rather discouraging for beginners not to see visible signs of advancement until you got a black belt, so he devised several gradations of ranking leading up to the black belt, and grades after attaining the black belt. From white to the first rank black belt, you were either a white belt (no rank), or sankyu (third level), nikyu (second level) and then ikkyu (first level), progressively, with ikkyu being just before black belt. Sankyu to ikkyu were designated by a brown belt. Maybe. I’m not sure if Kano devised the brown belt or not. And I don’t really trust some web sources enough to state definitely yes or no.

Upon reaching a physical and mental level that showed you understood the basic principals of Budo, you were given a shodan (“beginning” dan), the first rank of black belt. In Japan, having a shodan is laudatory, but it’s not the big deal we in America sometimes think it is. A shodan simply means you “get it, sort of.”  So now comes the REAL training. That’s what a shodan means. You are actually only beginning the real stuff.

Subsequently, you work towards a nidan (second level), sandan (third level), yondan (fourth level), and so on.

Kano created ten dan levels, awarding juudan (tenth dan) to only the very best of his students. Very, very few Judoka (Judo players) in history have reached juudan. One of the few was the famed Mifune Kyuuzo. If you see videos of him, you may realize that his skill and teaching level was extraordinary. So juudan was a big deal indeed.

In most cases, by the time a Judo student reaches godan, his best competitive years are over and the rankings are awarded based more on technical mastery, teaching ability and contributions to the sport.

The system worked so well, and was so easy to understand, it was adopted by the newly formed systems of Kendo and Japanese Karatedo, and then with Ueshiba Morihei’s Aikido.

So the main demarcation was the shodan, or beginner’s black belt. You either had a black belt (yudansha) or didn’t (mudansha).

You will see, sometimes at seminars, some Judo teachers donning a red-and-white belt in lieu of a black belt. This belt is often worn by instructors who are godan and above, with acknowledged teaching capacity. Since a hakama obscures kendo and aikido teachers, wearing this red-and-white belt is unnecessary, and in fact, kendo teachers don’t wear a colored belt other than their usual cloth obi under their hakama to hold their jacket together.

Whence came the other various colored belts for the other kyu ranks below sankyu? In all likelihood, it probably came from the judo teacher named Kawaishi Mikonosuke, according to researchers more versed in Judo history than me. Kawaishi taught in Europe before and after World War II.

By all accounts an innovative instructor, Kawaishi felt that he needed to add more ranks, especially in the lower levels, to motivate and inspire his European students. Hence, the green, yellow and purple belts to denote yonkyu, gokyu, and rokkyu and whatever else is now used. Quite possibly, he also introduced the brown belt, but of this I’m not sure based on my cursory search online. (He was also one of my Judo sensei’s original instructors, and through that connection I think I learned very strong groundwork, a characteristic of Kawaishi-style judo.)

The thing with adding more rankings, of course, is that if you charge for ranking, you can fill up your coffers more by adding more ranks, each with a fee for being promoted. When I trained in a community Judo club, we paid a few dollars for registering our sankyu and above rank with the Kodokan. That was it. When I joined a for-profit Karate studio, I found there were a lot more ranks I had to pay for and a lot more money involved. Well, the studio had to pay rent and pay its instructors. I don’t begrudge them. But creating more ranks is a clever way to generate more income.

I have heard of some martial arts schools even expanding the ranking past tenth dan. and way past gokyu (or fifth kyu). You can get 15th dan, for example, in their schools. What they do is up to them, but frankly, in my opinion, at a certain point too much ranking starts to reek of money grubbing. What’s next? 22 and ¾ dan? 49th kyu?

So I remain deeply ambivalent about how ranking is done these days. It’s necessary to recognize the skill level of the practitioner. Officially recognized ranking also verifies that the person is in proper standing with some certifying board. On the other hand, it can get out of hand in terms of money involved, and it can also become politicized, and the worst effects can occur when you combine money and personality politics.

My own iai sensei, the late Ohmori Masao, was highly ranked by the All Japan Kendo Federation. That gave him political power to shield me, I found out, when there were some xenophobic voices in the iai world that wanted me and other foreigners out of Iaido. On the other hand, one of Ohmori sensei’s own teachers, Oei Masamichi, never held a Kendo-sanctioned dan rank. Yet, because of that fact, Ohmori sensei viewed Oei sensei, who passed on the once-secret Tosa province art of Eishin-ryu iaijutsu so it could become the Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu and Muso Shinden-ryu, as a superlative teacher who did not bow down to partisan politics. In addition, he held the greatest respect for his contemporary, Iwata Norikazu. At a certain point, I read that Iwata sensei decided that he wouldn’t seek any higher rank from the Kendo Federation. He would simply teach anyone regardless of affiliation, as long as they were interested in learning. Without the need for ranking and approval or disapproval by any governing agency, he is free to teach whoever wants to learn from him.

Not seeking ranking, in those cases, freed such teachers from being beholden to certain political bodies that govern ranking. While in general such bodies are good for maintaining standardized levels, as I said, sometimes when co-opted by the wrong individuals, the whole system can be distorted to serve money and personalities. By circumventing ranking, teachers with established and unassailable credentials like Oei sensei or Iwata sensei sidestep those pitfalls.

I am not recommending that everyone abandon ranking, however. I am simply stating notable exceptions to the case, and these two teachers can be considered as being so good, they were “beyond” ranking. Kano also envisioned, probably, that the whole concept of the juudan in Judo originally was that at that point, you were beyond ranking entirely. Not many of us other mortals can claim such skill and teaching level.

Thus the “tradition” of the black belt and dan-kyu system is relatively new. It began with Kano Jigoro at the turn of the 20th Century so it is about 100 years old. –Not that old, considering that various forms of the menkyo kaiden system goes back maybe some four centuries-plus.

A friend of mine who does research in karate history has also told me that prior to the 1900s, Karate apparently had no Japanese-style ranking system. That makes sense, since Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate, was originally its own kingdom, separate and apart from Japan proper. And, the dan-kyu system, as explained, was actually taken from Kodokan Judo and applied to Karatedo much later in time as part of the Japanification of Karatedo.

So what, you may ask, was the ranking system of ancient Okinawan Karate? Well, my acquaintance thinks there weren’t any. If you were good, people knew you were good, and that was that. Word of mouth spread quickly in a small country like the Ryukyu kingdom. Practice would be performed bare-chested, in loose trousers, without any belts or other forms of visible ranking. The teacher would observe your training and when you attained a certain skill level, he would tell you to go study with his best friend, who specialized in another set of kata. Circulating among the different karate masters and gleaning the best of all of them, you eventually became a master in your own right and were recognized as such because everyone else knew your skill level. Then you began to teach others. It’s a simplified description, but in any case, in “ancient times” your level in Karate apparently wasn’t decided by the color of a cloth belt.

More or less, the same free form, communal method of teaching was embedded in other Okinawan arts such as sanshin (the stringed banjo-like musical instrument of Okinawa) and Okinawan udui, or dance. And just like Karatedo, all that changed under the influence of Japan, when the Ryukyu kingdom became annexed as part of Japan. So now you have distinct, separate schools of Okinawan dance and sanshin, with teaching licenses and rankings bestowed by certified teachers.

Where do you stand in all of this? Well, you stand with whatever your school and system does in terms of ranking. No more, no less, unless you run away and make your own system. Then you can do whatever you please, I suppose.

If I demystified the whole “black belt” mystique, then my job is done. Ranking, as a guide to your level of skill, should not be the primary goal of your training, else you get too wrapped up in the ranking and color of that cloth belt around your waist and not the true goal of the ranking, which is to indicate mastery of training; mentally, physically and spiritually.  A black belt, after all, means nothing if the rest of your life is a shambles, or if it doesn’t help you develop health, happiness and inner peace. There is no profit in attaining a black belt if you end up a vicious, narrow-minded thug. You may have gained a colored cloth belt but lost the world. One needs to have some perspective regarding the black belt and ranking in martial arts.

As the late actor Pat Morita said in the movie, “Karate Kid,” his belt was from Sears Roebuck and he used it to hold up his pants.

8. But…Does it work? –The “Warrior’s Mind”

The other day I walked past a dojo where a group of earnest karate students were practicing their kicks and punches. They looked pretty good in their nice, white, traditional karategi, but after a few seconds of observation, I surmised that none of them, not even their black belt instructor, had a kick or punch that would keel me over with one “killing blow.” And that’s not saying much, because I’m an aging old geezer over 50 years old.

So…does traditional karate NOT work? Is it true that the only really practical martial arts are the ones where you “rock and roll” and mix it up, like judo or Brazilian jujutsu, or the MMA type stuff?

Well, since it’s my blog and it’s my opinion, I’d say for the majority of people in a dojo like the one I saw, not really. But lest you think Wayne-o has gone over to the Dark Side, I’d say maybe almost the same percentage of practitioners in MMA and other nontraditional martial arts are also incapable of really mixing it up.

Here’s the sad truth, as I see it. Whether it’s MMA modern cage fighting or traditional budo, the majority of students in the United States (I can’t say my observations are any good outside of the US) are probably going to be mediocre when it comes to a high stress, truly combative situation. Will they be better off compared to if they had not had ANY training at all? Perhaps. And that goes for myself. I can’t truly say I’d be the last man standing in a violent confrontation, and I’m not talking a drunken brawl over spilled beer. I’m talking a life-and-death situation.

I would say, however, that all things being equal, MAYBE a judoka or MMA practitioner might have a slightly better chance of survival because of the high level of endurance training they undergo, and that on average active judo, karate and MMA players are younger and more reslient, and being younger they are able to train harder and longer. But take out factors of youth and training time, and I’d say any kind of martial arts training, on average, will give you only a marginally better chance of survival.

UNLESS…(there’s always a caveat with me)…unless you train with real intent. I don’t mean coming at each other with a beer bottle in practice and cracking your partner’s head if he/she fails to properly block your swing. I mean with real focus and mental intensity. In other words, you really, really think about what you are doing when you are practicing, and you don’t waltz around like two contestants in “So You Think You Can Dance.”

If you read books by folk who do real research in survival and combat stress situations (and not books by “wannabe’s” posing with camo pants and short little weenie knives), books by folk like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (On Combat, at http://www.killology.com) and Ben Sherwood (The Survivors Club), you will note that in many high stress combative and extreme survival situations, the major factor for survival is not physical (although repetitive combat and survival training does help), but mental. You have to have a “survivor’s mind,” or a “warrior’s mind.”

For some illiterate, ignorant nutcases, that means being a stone cold psycho killer one step away from lawlessness. You know, like those bad guys in the old “Karate Kid” movies: “Yes Sensei! No mercy, sensei!” There are, unfortunately, people in our midst who don’t have a mental barrier that keeps them from hurting other people. They have no compunctions when it comes to killing, maiming, stealing or hurting other people. That’s not a warrior’s mind. That’s being a psycho.

But that’s not the case at all when you dissect what writers like Grossman and Sherwood are saying. What they are saying is that through proper training, the mental as well as the physical is conditioned to be prepared and to react properly under duress, without freaking out. Under high stress situations, our body goes through documented physical changes, including the release of hormones that can stimulate our brains in different ways. Our nerves react with either the fight, flight or freeze as stiff as a board impulse, brought on by thousands of years of genetic imprinting. Our breathing gets faster, our vision narrows, our heartbeat speeds up and our blood is flooded with hormones that move us to either run as fast as we can, flail away at our attacker, or freeze in disbelief because “it can’t be happening, it can’t be happening!”

Unsticking our body and minds and then getting them to move in the right way in order to survive a combative or survival situation requires two things: preparation and proper mind set. As far as preparation goes, that can mean proper budo or martial arts training. Whether it’s classical budo or MMA type training, if your body has been properly trained in repetitive combative or semi-combative situations, you should be somewhat physically prepared to do something. Preparation in a survival situation, as Sherwood culls from actual incidents, can be as simple as knowing where the exits are on an airplane before an accident happens, or buckling up your seat belt before you drive on that really accident-prone stretch of highway, or avoiding a darkened alleyway because you heard that it’s frequented by muggers late at night.

Having the proper mind set, what Grossman calls a “warrior mind,” is being able to have some amount of control over your instinctive, subconscious impulses with your cognitive mind, even in the midst of the chaos and “fog of war,” violence or traumatic incident.

Sportive type martial arts advocates often decry “traditional” martial arts practice because they see kata geiko (practice of preset “forms”) as “unrealistic.” However, you could classify a lot of training that modern law enforcement and military units undergo as kata geiko. Running through a simulated urban environment shooting at targets is a form of kata geiko, for example. Repeating evacuation procedures for flight attendants is kata geiko. If, therefore, kata geiko is not any good, why are they still used as a major form of pedagogy in modern systems of combat and survival training?

In budo, kata geiko performs the same function, more or less, as in more modern systems of training. Sans being put in actual danger, kata geiko offers a modicum of safety while the student performs physical movements that may be necessary in high stress situations. By repeating the training over and over, the movements become almost instinctive. Having the movements be instinctive is a good thing, because in actual situations, the cognitive brain can “freeze” or lock up. So if you take too much time thinking, “Well, I’ve got to make a fist. Let’s see, close my fingers together, thumb over other fingers, thrust out the fist, strike the guy with the knuckles of my fist just below his nose…” That’s too much thinking, especially when a part of your brain is screaming, “Oh my God, Oh my God, he’s trying to kill me! I can’t believe it! Let me out of here!”

No. You just have to punch your attacker in the face without having to think about HOW you are going to form a fist and make a strike.

The weakness of kata geiko for classical budo students is that it can become a dance. It can be shorn of their combativeness, their intent, their seriousness. If you don’t practice a karate kata with proper focus and intent, and then you try a half-arsed punch at your attacker and he’s still standing, you are in real deep poo poo.

Lest the MMA and sportive crowd snicker at the kata folk, there is also a danger in too much sportive training done the wrong way. Again, if you treat your training too much like a sport, while you may gain a lot of physical conditioning, you may not gain the proper mindset for a combative or survival event. An actual violent or survival confrontation is not a sport. There are no rules, no out-of-bounds targets, no neutral corners. “Playing” at a martial art like it’s a game doesn’t help in the development of a proper mind set.

That’s why, I suppose, when I was a young judoka, judo was treated a lot differently than it usually is today. I talked about it once with an old-timer judo instructor. We both mused over the differences in intent. In the old days, he said, we never could just amble off the mats to drink water and lie around in between matches. We had to sit up straight and focus on the practice. That was because, I now realize, judo still retained a sense of  budo-ness; it was still trying to develop a warrior mind, not a sports mind.

The judo sensei shrugged his shoulders and commented further. Nowadays, he said, students think nothing of walking off the mat, sucking on Gatorade or water from water bottles, lying on their backs and talking amiably with each other. “Well,” he concluded. “It’s a sport. What can I say? It’s not like the old days. We can’t force them to endure, to do shugyo (severe mental and physical discipline).”

It’s even worse if you talk about the kinds of aerobic exercises that use martial-artsy moves like kicks, punches and blocks. All the examples I’ve seen have not convinced me that they have any shred of real utility in a combative situation. The intent of those exercises is mainly for sheer aerobic exercise. In most cases, I see most of the practitioners executing movements with terrible form, poor kime (focus) and with very little delivery of real force at the point of attack.

One famous movie star testified that after doing a form of aerobic kick-boxing, he felt confident that he could “kick ass.” I don’t think so. He looked pretty good in spandex tights hopping around, but as far as really stopping someone in their tracks with his bare hands…Uh, nope.

Unfortunately, whether it’s classical budo or modern MMA type martial arts, you can’t FORCE someone to develop a “warrior mind.” You can encourage them to focus on training, but it’s hard to outwardly judge intent, focus or mental preparedness. You can only suggest it to others, and prepare your own self, mentally, for such real life situations.

Going back to that karate club with the bad techniques: What I will say is that the members appeared to be trying hard. Some kind of training is better than nothing, and perhaps given where they started from, the members may have come a long way in their physical dexterity. I couldn’t say. So they were crappy. But maybe they are better than if they had done nothing at all. I have to give them that much.

But the biggest fallacy for any martial arts student is to be smug. Performing kata half-assed or “playing” at randori or groundwork without focus and intention are both detrimental to the development of the “warrior’s mind.” I’m not saying that everything should be stoically, deadly, boringly serious. No, what I’m saying is that practice, whether kata geiko or free “sparring,” should be focused and thoughtful, and one should never be satisfied with what you can do. You should always strive to get better in some way. By striving, the mind is actively engaged in honing the movements, in paying attention to what’s going on. By focusing on practice, you focus on training the mind and body to have the proper movements and reactions “stick” to you mentally and physically, with less and less effort.

That, for me, is to have a “warrior’s mind.” And maybe, just maybe, your techniques MIGHT work.