We often hear about breath control in the martial arts and how important it can be. Proper regulation of exhalation and inhalation can help a practitioner strengthen their technique, defend their body from attack, and center their mind on the objective at hand. Truly breath control is critical to becoming a skilled practitioner.
Less talked about is spirit control. It’s unfortunate that in an equal arc of body-mind-spirit, one component can be overlooked so readily.
What is Meant By Spirit Respiration?
Spirit, in the martial context, refers to a strength of character and personal “being”. Will, confidence, determination, and fortitude are all pieces of this larger concept. Spirit respiration is the cyclical rising and falling of spirit throughout our day to day lives. For instance:
There are certain times when we need great strength of will to persevere. Examples can be as monumental as childbirth or as menial as a grinding day at work.
Other times we feel as if we are gaining strength and resolve. Some catalysts for this could be a good night’s sleep, a promotion, or even an unexpected compliment.
It is this constant flux that creates spirit respiration – in and out, in and out, autonomously without our conscious control.
The Dangers of Bad “Breathing”
Consider breath again for a moment: if you exhale too much, you become weak. The body cannot sustain itself for long after the initial push. If you inhale too much, the body becomes weak. The oxygen begins to deplete and the body needs to expel the toxins brought in with the oxygen. It is only through the repetitious inhale and exhale that breath powers the body.
Much in the same way, the spirit cannot be pushed too far one way or the other.
If you must constantly exert yourself, the power of spirit breaks down with no chance to regain itself. This is often seen when soldiers come back from difficult wartime. They’ve spent so much energy and concentration on survival and completing their missions that long term (even permanent) damage can be done.
On the contrary, some people who spend their lives getting their ego inflated with compliments, easy success, and luxury soon become poisoned by it. They turn to destructive behavior and habits to try and expend that energy.
Without the flux of good energy coming in and the healthy release of effort and will, people cannot sustain themselves to their maximum capacity.
The Dojo and Spirit Respiration
Regular breathing and spirit “breathing” occur all the time, but it is in the dojo that we can learn to understand and maximize the potential of the two. Some people wonder why ‘crazy’ martial artists put themselves through rigorous training week after week. And when the martial artist tries to explain it, they are often at a loss. After all, there are thousands of easier and more quickly rewarded hobbies out there.
What many martial artists feel but can’t put into words is the satisfaction of effort. In a civilized society, there are few quests to be undertaken. There is no way to travel from town to town, testing your skill and proving your mettle. There is an inherent part of the human condition that wants to test limits, to see how far we can push ourselves. The martial arts are one of the last proving grounds of that human spirit.
Unfortunately, all too often people get caught up in their own enthusiasm and don’t realize that they are “exhaling” too much. The martial arts can be a rush and it is easy to overtrain. When this happens, burnout quietly sneaks up and takes ahold of an otherwise great practitioner. Someone who was training 5 nights a week for 2 years will suddenly realize that their will to continue is gone, and they will be gone.
That’s why it’s critical to find ways to “inhale”. Many traditional dojo would have tough workouts, but they would also have times of meditation. They would quietly sit and listen to stories from the Sensei about years past and martial arts theory. They would take serene walks through undisturbed nature.
Unfortunately, with everybody having less and less time to inhale and more time required to exhale, there is an off-balancing occurring. This is true both in day-to-day life as jobs are demanding more hours, and in dojo life as classes are being squeezed in with just enough time to practice techniques and then run off to the next task.
However you decide to do it, find time to inhale. Find what it is that fills you, and use the dojo to its fullest potential.
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You gotta hand it to the guys at DW, they keep changing things up. This week, instead of general warriors, they have selected two specific individuals – William Wallace vs Shaka Zulu.
Let’s take a quick peek into both of these warrior’s histories, and then discuss if a one-on-one of this nature is a smart idea.
It turns out that William Wallace is more than just Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart. He was an actual dude – and a pretty impressive one at that. He started out as a landowner but became a resistance leader during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, the right to the Scottish throne went up for grabs around 1300 a.d. Kind Edward of England capitalized on the ensuing confusion and bickering provinces by trying to force his hand and become ruler himself. Although many of the Scottish lords acquiesced to Edward’s pressure, a resistance grew (led by William Wallace).
As far as can be determined, Wallace used traditional Scottish weaponry. Most famous was the claymore or great sword, wielded by Mel in Braveheart. I’m not a period expert, but this is generally what they looked like:
In addition were broadswords with basket hilts and smaller dirks. The Scots were also known to utilize rounded shields, bows and arrows, and battle axes. So look for those weapons to make an appearance.
Much like Wallace, Shaka Zulu became a military leader and was a brilliant tactition. However, it would be a stretch to consider these two men parallels. Zulu was a slaughterer of the weak and a uniter by force.
Starting out as a warrior underneath the chieftain Dingiswayo, Zulu distinguished himself as a fighter of great courage and valor. After many years learning combat, Zulu (with the aid of Dingiswayo) became a chieftain in his own right. Through great political maneuvering and military acumen, Zulu grew his sphere of influence. Upon the death of Dingiswayo (by way of assassination), Zulu swore revenge on his killers and begun his accelerated growth into expansion and conquering.
Ultimately, Zulu united the Nguni people and took over a great amount of territory in Southern Africa. In doing so he created great social, military, and technological change.
A weaponry traditionalist, Zulu will likely bring old-style weapons to DW. Definitely expect to see the shield and spear combination.
Zulu (as a people) were also known to use clubs, throwing javelins, and knives.
Is the Individual Concept Smart?
The big question for this matchup: is it smart to use individuals over general warrior styles? On one hand, you can talk more accurately about what weapons they both used historically and how they behaved in battle. You also have some general idea of their physical prowess and intelligence.
On the other hand, how can you really test two individuals without letting them literally fight it out? With the general warrior model, you could test weapons and broad physical characteristics and make assumptions. With specific people, you don’t have that wiggle room.
In general, I have to say that I prefer the general warrior method. It allows the imagination to enjoy the possibilities of different warriors, whereas using specific people is going to get me hung up on the logical flaws of the tests.
That being said – I’m going to pick William Wallace as the winner due to better weapon technology and the advancements in metalurgy.
What do you think?
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I recently acquired a new Nunte Bo. This was a very happy occasion.
Buying a Nunte Bo is tricky because you have to balance price against quality (not to mention scarcity). It is relatively impossible to go to one of the big distributors like AWMA or Century and get a lesser known weapon of this nature.
Luckily I’ve gotten to know the owners of Crane Mountain Weapons and have done business with them before. They hand make all of their weapons and provide personalized detail, from the kind of wood they use to the length/width/taper of the weapons.
For my Nunte, I selected Jatoba wood with a stainless steel Manji Sai on top. The wood is hard and durable, but not too heavy so as to make the weapon cumbersome. Also, it has a nice natural color and grain pattern.
The Nunte (Nunti) As a Weapon
Let’s talk a little bit about what the Nunte is and where it came from. As you may know, the Okinawans developed their karate and kobudo arts from the very nature of their day-to-day lives. As fishermen and farmers, they utilized the tools of their trade to develop easily hidden yet still practical weapons.
The Nunte is one of those tools converted into a weapon. Although much of Okinawan history has been passed down orally and is therefore vulnerable to exaggerations and shifts in truth, the generally accepted explanation for the Nunte Bo is that it was a fisherman’s gaffe.
Using the straight point (which would have a sharp tip but would not be bladed), the fisherman could stab any wayward fish and toss them onto his boat. Furthermore, he could use the inward “pronge” to help pull up fishing nets. The outward pronge could be used to push off from the dock, or really anything else he needed. It was a really great multipurpose tool.
Uses of the Nunte Bo
The Nunte is a very versatile weapon and important in the lexacon of Okinawan weapons (in my opinion). The value of having a long, spear-like weapon should never be underestimated. When dealing with a sword wielding opponent (almost every culture had some sort of sword, the Japanese Samurai included), a spear is very beneficial in keeping them at bay.
Using a weapon like the Nunte allows the practitioner to stay away from the razors edge of the sword while dealing significant damage through pokes, thrusts, hooks, and percussion hits. Let’s look at a few:
Standing in for an angry attacker is Yuki, our kendo assistant. One of the great things about the Nunte is the ability to get behind armor and body parts and hook inward. While an opponent may be suspecting forward thrusts, they could very easily be taken off guard as the weapon passes their field of vision, hooks into them, and lurches them forward (and creating extreme pain as the pronge digs in).
By thrusting and returning the Nunte bo provides excellent flow – much more than you would expect from a seemingly bulky weapon.
In addition to the “pointy” end, the Nunte can capitalize on it’s long back end. If the opponent’s attention is focused on avoiding getting speared, they might forget how quickly the shaft can spin around and deliver a percussive strike:
The centerpoint of gravity is higher toward the Manji Sai, as you would expect. But by using that point of balance the long back end can swing around at surprising velocity.
The forward prong provides an excellent safety net in case your spear technique misses. It also is invaluable when it comes to catching opponents weapons and using a torquing twist to lock them into place. When utilizing the leverage of two hands twisting and locking, you can essentially control your opponents weapon enough to create an opening, throw him off balance, or otherwise disrupt his game plan.
All in all, I am a big Nunte Bo fan and I think Kobudo practitioners can really benefit from it’s unique qualities that you can’t quite get from a bo.
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