Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Self Defense practice

5 weeks ago I attended a Black Belt test in Auburn. 

Yoshukai Karate testing includes a pre-arranged self-defense demonstration. Two partners attack the testing student who demonstrate in front of the judges his ability to get rid of them.

Over the years I have seen improvement in the level of proficiency students display. However, there are still too often people perform highly impractical moves, techniques that would result in getting their asses seriously kicked - or worse - if they were to use them in the street to actually defend themselves. 

Often  the problem lies with their instructors who may either not be very knowledgeable on this matter, (Yes, it happens...) or might not be demanding enough of their students when they let them test.

If your instructor lets you believe that you are sufficiently proficient in your art to be  able to actually defend yourself, when you actually are not; he is actually failing you, and if your goal in practicing Martial Arts is to be able to defend yourself, you should look somewhere else for better instruction.

However, at the end of the day, no matter how talented your instructor is, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure you can actually defend yourself by using proper techniques. You, and only You can train and make sure you are up to the challenge.

So how do you know ?

There is a very easy way to test your self defense. Once you have decided what move you want to use on which attack, find someone - if at all possible 50 lb heavier than you - who has no idea what you are going to do, and ask them to attack you. As he or she does not know what you intend to do, he or she will not be able to help and you'll see if your move would actually work or not.

If it works, keep it. If it does not work, change it. Your move might be a valid one, in need of some adjustment - timing, distance, angle, to make it work. Figure them out.  It might also be totally out of touch with reality, in that case, simply drop it and find something better.

One last thing... Remember that no matter how good you are, there will always be someone better than you. Don't be cocky. 

Taido o imashimubeshi

(be prudent in actions...)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Terminology : Katana, Tō, Tsurugi and Ken


         The complexity of Japanese terminology is a constant source of aggravation and wonders... The same Character can very often be pronounced in very different ways (Also 2 different characters may have the same pronounciation...)  When it comes to sword, 2 words come back very often "To" and "Ken"
They are found for example in Junto sono ichi (First waza of the Batto-ho set of MJER) and in Shinmyoken (9th waza of the Tachiuchi no Kurai set of MJER).
However, to make things even more complicated for us poor Gaijin, other words such as Katana and Tachi come up on a regular basis...

Let's try to clarify some of this :

The Character reads Katana in Japanese and Tō in Chinese. It is found in the Japanese words :
  • Bokutō (木刀) : wooden Sword.
  • Iaitō (居合刀) : sword to practice iaidō
  • Nihontō (日本刀) : Japanese swords
  • Battō-jutsu (抜刀術) : art of sword drawing

The Character reads Tsurugi in Japanese and Ken in Chinese. It is found in the Japanese words :
  • Bokken ( 木剣) : wooden sword.
  • Shinken (真⁠剣) : live (sharp) sword.
  • Kendō (剣道) : way of the sword.
  • Kenshi (剣士) : swordsman.

Originally (Chinese Ken; Japanese Tsurugi ) was used to designate a double-edged Sword, and (Chinese Tō; Japanese Katana ) a single-edged one. 

Type of Sword

Naginata - Tsurugi - Tanto - Uchi Katana- Tachi

Although the single-edged curved blade has been used in Japan for over a millennium, the usage of (Chinese tō ; Japanese katana - single edge sword), is much less common in pre-modern Japan (before the 1868 Meiji Restoration)  than the usage of (Chinese ken ; Japanese tsurugi - Double edged straight sword). Thus, in pre-modern Japan, swordsmanship was more often referred to as kenjutsu, kendō, kengi, gekken, and other terms rather than tōjutsu, tōhō, etc.

After the Meiji Restoration, the modernized variants of Japanese swordsmanship have been referred to exclusively with the character (ken ).

The Tsurugi  is the Japanese version of the Chinese Jian Sword - It was originally used in Japan until the Single-edged saber (Katana) was introduced around the 11th century. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Studying the Sutras...

In one of his exchange with the assembly, Master Bankei was asked by his disciple Itsuzan :

"Is it helpful for students to look through the Buddhist Sutras and Zen records ?"

Bankei's answer was :

"There is a time for reading the Zen records. If you read them or the sutras while you are still seeking the meaning contained in them, you'll only blind yourself. When you read them after having transcended that meaning, they become proof of your attainment"

Some people are very knowledgeable about the Bible, the Diamond or the Heart Sutra. They can quote them, it is always impressive. In fact, as I am not as knowledgeable as they are, I would not know if they lied, were simply mistaken, or  "mis-spoke" as I heard a politician say not very long ago...

One day some guy says something that sounds interesting to those who hear it. They repeat it, change it, transcribe it, translate it... There are errors in translations and values, ethics or uses evolve. And little by little things can become pretty poorly understood. This happens all the time. 

I read last week a short essay entitled "The Myth in Zen in the Art of Archery" by Yamada Shoji. 

"Zen in the Art of Archery" was originally written in German by Eugen Herrigel, a German professor who taught philosophy and studied Kyūdō (the art of the Japanese bow) in Japan between 1924 to 1929.

In 1948, back in Germany, Herrigel published his book about his experiences.  Translated into English in 1953 and Japanese in 1955, it became the international reference about the philosophy of Kyudo. In it, Herrigel explains - very convincingly - how Zen is central to the practice of Kyudo. 

The only problem is : Master Awa Kenzo (The Kyudo instuctor) had never practiced Zen, and in his essay, Yamada Shoji explains how in 2 specific and crucial occasions, Herrigel wrongly interpreted the sayings of his instructors due probably to the fact that he was not totally fluent in Japanese. 

So on the base of false assumptions beautifully detailed by Herrigel in his book, generations of Martial Artists have firmly believed that Zen is central to the practice of Martial Arts.

Not that Zen cannot help the martial artist improve; actually, it can. But Zen is not necessary and numerous great Budo masters were or are not Zenists. But if this kind of things can happen between 1924 and 1948, you can imagine what may have been lost, or embellished between the 6th century when Boddhidharma went to China, and our 21st century...

This maybe why Bankei had strictly forbidden anyone to transcribe his teachings. To avoid this kind of mistakes. Of course they did transcribe them...

Scriptures are good, they are however simply the recording of something that happened in the past, in a situation that was not exactly the same as your situation today. It is your responsibility to figure out things for yourself. It can't be helped...