Spike TV has a new show out called ‘Deadliest Warrior’. It pits two historical fighters against each other in mortal combat. Tonight is Samurai vs Viking at 10 pm Eastern (check your local listing for your time).
I’m such a sucker for these shows! I really liked Human Weapon, but also watched things like Fight Science and Dhani Tackles the Globe. I don’t know, they intrigue me. The thing about this new show ‘Deadliest Warrior’ is that they bring in experts from whichever fighting style is on the episode and they examine the ballistic and cutting ability of their weapons. Then, taking various mathematical and logical factors into account, they program a computer to run 1,000 fights between the two combatants and see who comes out on top more often…and why.
Last episode an Apache Warrior bested a Roman Gladiator. It was a little controversial since the fight was one on one and that is what Gladiators specialized in. This week the stakes are even higher because my boy the Samurai is taking on the fierce Viking class.
One thing that seems obvious is the sword advantage the Samurai will have. The katana is definitely going to outperform the viking style spatha. I’m willing to bet my hat on that. But it’s possible the Viking will use a shield in combination with his sword, which could complicate things for the computer.
In the picture above we see the Samurai using a naginata while the viking uses a long axe. I would have to give the samurai the edge here as well as the naginata has longer range as well as various striking methods, including stabbing, cutting, and striking where the axe only really has striking.
The Viking chainmail is probably going to cause a problem for the Samurai. Chainmail is designed to resist cutting and the Samurai is sure to rely on that heavily.
All things considered, when it comes to a one on one fight, I don’t believe any warrior throughout history was better developed than the Samurai. My vote officially goes to him.
How about you?
Something interesting happened to me the other day. During Kenjutsu training, we have a formal Rei (respect) ceremony before starting and ending class. The basic steps involve:
Chakuza – kneeling down into seiza
Placing the sword in front
Two bows, one to the sword and one to the shinza
Two claps (to awaken the kami to our training)
a final bow.
Normally I’m pretty mechanical throughout the process, trying to keep body and mind in sync. The minutaie of bowing and paying proper respect in a classical martial art is as intricate and detailed as anything I’ve ever discovered, so attempting to do things the “right” way is a full time gig.
During a recent class though things went differently. We were training in iai, which tends to be more mentally strenuous than physical. At the end, we all lined up as usual and went through the bowing process.
My mind was tired from the focused training we had done, so instead of the intricate self assessment I usually go through during Rei, I simply allowed my body to do what it wanted. I went on auto pilot, assuming that I had done the routine enough not to screw it up or stand out in a bad way.
Much to my surprise, my body took over and my mind retreated into what I would call emptiness. By emptiness I don’t mean a lack of attention or caring, but more of a quiet, uninterrupted allowance of events to unfold.
My bows clicked into what felt like perfect position and only the muscles I needed were being used – everything else was relaxed. Afterward I got up and thought to myself “hey that felt pretty good!” (and just like that, emptiness was gone).
Nike Was Right – Just Do It….after a lot of practice
The Rei experience was great, but also fleeting. These little moments of success are what drive us forward as artists and keep us hooked on an otherwise demanding lifestyle. What I did right during the Rei ceremony, purely by accident, was letting go of my efforts to do something perfect.
When actively TRYING to accomplish something, our brain works in overdrive. We are computing angles, thoughts, concerns, feelings, and a whole lot more. This mental traffic inevitably causes jams and hesitations. If we can turn off all the unnecessary lanes of thought, the only thing left is a clear, smooth path to effectiveness.
The problem is this – if all it took to be a martial arts “master” was not trying, we’d all be as good as Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, we are not. A person has to burn a particular skill or technique into both their psyche and muscle memory before it can be relied upon by itself.
During my bowing, when I allowed my body to do something it had been trained to do over time, the muscle memory and instinct of the act kicked in and performed just as it should. But without years of fretting and concerning over the exact angles and methods of bowing, that info would never have found a permanent place in my mind and body.
Technique, Kata, and Breaking Out
In order to learn and program ourselves with effective techniques, we have to utilize a few reliable methods of training. First, when learning self defense or any other kind of attack/defense, it’s good to use step-wise “events”. By that I mean, two partners line up and one attacks the other. The defending person tries his technique on the preset attack. This can be done slowly at first and quickly as both partners gain experience.
The other useful method of training is kata. Kata is a limitless tool that allows you to train wherever, whenever, and still work to properly program technique. Although you don’t always have live opponents during kata, the mental and physical growth that comes with forms training is priceless.
Finally, you have to give yourself a chance to break out of the preprogramming and allow your body to function reflexively. Many people consider sparring the only potential method for doing this but it is not. For martial artists who have learned control there are a plethora of drills where the free exchange of techniques can be allowed.
Personally, I like drills that don’t involve excessive padding and promote a feeling of normalcy in the practitioner. By recreating as close to street environments as possible, we can better prepare ourselves for the reality of combat in today’s world.
Through extensive drilling and opportunities to express ourselves naturally, we greatly increase the odds of experiencing those moments of intuitive competence.
Continuing from Part 1 of the Nicklaus Suino Interview:
MA: When you visit Japan these days, do you return to Yamaguchi Sensei’s old dojo, or do you travel around to different locations (or perhaps both)?
NS: Yamaguchi-Sensei passed away in 2006 and his dojo is actually no more. When I visit Japan, I train in iaido with a few of his contemporaries and/or students. I also try to visit other instructors with whom I have trained over the years, either socially or for training. Luckily, I have good martial arts contacts in Tokyo, so I’m able to visit a variety of instructors.
MA: It’s quite sad to hear that Yamaguchi Sensei’s dojo has closed its doors. It’s a bit like losing a second home, no doubt. Could you talk a little bit about those contemporaries who have helped shape your martial arts training? Who would you say have been your main influences?
NS: I try to pick up something from every martial arts teacher I meet, and many, many people have helped me along the way. A few of the most notable figures have been the following:
Mike Kroll, Ed Fronczak, and Tony Springfield at the Ann Arbor Y Judo Club in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s, who taught me to have fun with training and to have confidence in my abilities.
Karl W. Scott III of the Asian Martial Arts Studio, who taught me how to analyze martial arts techniques.
The late Walter Todd, one of the early pioneers of martial arts in North America, for his irreverent attitude and deep understanding of the principles of judo.
Sato-Shiyuza, Chief Director of Kokusai Budoin, IMAF, for his undying devotion to the ideals of his martial arts forefathers, and his enormous patience.
Tabata-Sensei, former President of the Fuji Judokai at the Kanagawa Kenritsu Budokan, who could tell you which technique he was about to throw you with and then do it, every time (I threw him 3 times in 4 years).
John Gage, highest-ranking Nihon Jujutsu deshi of Sato-Shizuya, training partner of many decades, who I have thrown and by whom I have been thrown as many times as we have hoisted beers together.
MA: What made you decide to become an author, and has the process of writing books been a large challenge?
NS: I wrote THE ART OF JAPANESE SWORDSMANSHIP mainly to help me remember the major checkpoints of the techniques of Eishin-Ryu Iaido. Three major publishing houses expressed interest in it, so it was fairly easy to get the book out. It turned out that AJS became a hot seller, so Weatherhill approached me about writing a practice drills book (which became PRACTICE DRILLS IN JAPANESE SWORDSMANSHIP).
When that book also did well, it was easy to convince them to publish BUDO MIND AND BODY and STRATEGY IN JAPANESE SWORDSMANSHIP. I’ve been lucky that a lot of martial artists have taken an interest in my writing. With all the positive feedback and support, it’s easy to get motivated to write. Of course, you have to be prepared to put in a few hours every day for a year or more to get a book written.
MA: I’d like to switch gears just a bit and ask you some concept questions. We have a lot of budo and sword practitioners out there and I’m sure they’d love to hear your take on these issues. First – Do you believe swordsmanship should be studied as a combative art, an art of character perfection, or some mixture of the two? (The focus on jutsu vs do).
NS: I believe the best benefits of martial arts training come from training very hard over an extended period of years with the combative aspects informing your practice. When an art is practiced as a pure movement art, without the implicit goal of defeating an opponent, it becomes decadent.
At the same time, when one has reached a fairly high level of expertise, only careful reflection about the relationship between character and practice can help one further improve. In other words, there is no “do” without “jutsu” and “jutsu” cannot be fully realized without “do.”
Iai demonstration where both killing strokes and mental stillness are exhibited:
MA: You stress great importance on duty and selflessness in budo. Are there any guidelines or rules that you constantly remind yourself in order to stay true to the way?
1. Every person is a manifestation of the universal spirit. Therefore, treat others well.
2. Nothing in martial arts (or in life) is possible without the help of many other people.
3. Being a “Sensei” is a privilege that must be earned every day, not a right.
4. Extraordinary skill requires extraordinary effort.
5. Avoid self-deception; truth is the best teacher.
MA: Although swordsmanship doesn’t bear directly on modern day self defense needs, have you found it useful in increasing your day-to-day martial abilities?
NS: Absolutely. Effective martial arts requires a clear understanding of how the human body generates force. Iaido is a highly systematic method for applying force with a sword through proper alignment of the body. The principles learned in iaido can be directly applied in every other martial art I have learned, including karate, jujutsu, and judo. Likewise, practice of those martial arts has helped me become a better swordsman.
MA: In your mind, what can Americans do to better follow the original intent of budo and the study of martial arts?
NS: There are some really extraordinary Americans in the martial arts. In general, however, we don’t seem to have the patience to get really good. While martial arts training can be a lot of fun, the most profound benefits of training come only through years of concentrated hard work and selflessness.
The old rules still hold true: find a really great teacher and practice ceaselessly your whole life!
MA: Suino Sensei, thank you again for taking time out for us! This peek into the world of budo is extremely valuable for those of us trying to follow the way!