Welcome to the Japanese Sword Game! Exciting, right? I was thinking about going into a detailed explanation regarding the differences between various sword arts, but this is the age of web 2.0. We should get a little interaction going here. So, instead, I’m going to describe to you a scenario (pictures will be provided), and you try to figure out which of the multiple choice answers is the correct art (answer key will be provided at the end).
Since I’m your host today, please consider me this guy -
(Grand Host of Iron Chef – Takeshi Kaga. He Rules.)
The first art presented is considered a sport. In fact, it’s one of the most popular pastimes in Japan with about 7 million participants. The action is fast and furious, and yet very much like a chess match.
Players of this sport don very recognizable helmets and body armor to protect themselves from the bamboo strikes of their opponents. In very spirited matches, the players can be found screaming at each other in an effort to unbalance or disturb.
This sport runs many tournaments and competitions, but still manages to maintain a high level of traditionalism.
Name that art!
This next art is not for the feint of heart. Bamboo is rarely found in play here; instead, participants use wooden swords called bokken, or metal swords. Beginners tend to use unsharpened blades called iaito, while experts will use razor sharp blades called shinken.
Cuts, strikes, blocks, and all other manner of technique will be found in use here. There are no designated hit zones and no rules (except to win, of course). Despite its combative nature, this art still makes time for the building of mind and spirit, with the intent of overcoming one’s opponent and one’s own weakness.
Name that art!
The third art in question is more serene than the first two…at least, on the surface. Often performed from a kneeling position, this is the method of drawing a sword. Few people realize that the act of drawing a japanese katana is an art all by itself.
Unlike other sword practices, this ‘way’ is used for perfection of character moreso than combative effectiveness. That being said, the techniques used are still quite effective, and in some Ryu, maintain a high level of aggressiveness.
Meditative, empowering, and woefully difficult, this art makes you think twice about hurrying (lest you lose a finger).
Name that art!
What would this be -
***ANSWER KEY***ANSWER KEY***ANSWER KEY***
Question 1 – b.) KENDO. That’s right, this is the sport of kendo. Popular, aggressive, and exasperating.
Question 2 – a.) KENJUTSU. Kenjutsu makes up a bulk of what we see in swordplay, but is hardly the only art involved.
Question 3 – c.) IAIDO. It seems so easy…until you try to kneel with grace and poise in a hakama for the first time. Then there’s the sword to deal with…
Question 4 – NONE. Actually, that’s not true. It’s sort of a trick question – one practitioner is doing kenjutsu (the drawn sword) while the other does iaido (the sheathed sword). Did I trick you? Probably not, but maybe I kept you on your toes.
How did you do? Let me know in the comments below and thanks for playing!
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We always hear about ‘martial arts spirit’. But what is it? Is it intensity? Is it faith? Is it Anger? What an elusive concept!
Consider this clip-
Even eclectic guys like Bruce Lee concerned themselves with martial spirit. It’s very universal.
If we analyze the above scene from Enter The Dragon, we see that Lee is quite unimpressed by his student’s first kick. It was merely a technique. When kicking the second time, the student showed ferocity in his face and kicked with greater power. Again Lee was unimpressed. This anger was not what we wanted. Upon his third try, the student briefly achieved what Lee calls ‘emotional content,’ a kick exhibiting the true character of the student. Unfortunately, the success is short lived and the student must suffer more taps to the head. So what’s the difference between an angry attack and a spirited one?
Experiencing Anger and Spirit
Let’s start by analyzing both states-of-being. Anger is a primal urge that we all understand. When angry, we feel our temperature rise and our face redden. Adrenaline strikes our system and we are prepared to lash out. In many ways, being angry enhances our readiness for the rigors of combat.
Unfortunately, it also comes with some serious side effects. When very angry, we experience tunnel vision and lose some of our fine motor skills. The worst symptom is the clarity of thought we forfeit. How many times have you heard, either in person or on tv, ‘I don’t know what I was thinking…I was just so angry…I flipped out!’
Martial spirit is not the same. Sometimes referred to as kiai – focused or concentrated life force. Sometimes referred to as aiki – united spirit. Martial spirit is the lightning expression of everything that makes you you. When exhibiting martial spirit, you will still feel signs of physical stress. It’s different for everyone, but some tunnel vision and adrenaline pumping are likely to occur. The difference is, when utilizing martial spirit, you forfeit no clarity of thought and no consciousness of action. There is no ‘flipping out’ here, only dominant intent.
Let’s take things one step further. After suffering from a bout of sever anger, how do you feel after all is said and done; after you’ve taken a walk and cooled your head? Generally speaking, you would probably feel very drained. A small amount of depression is likely to set in, both in regards to your actions and the situation in general. You would also likely feel a burdening amount of stress, and desire to be alone. (Please remember these are just common results, you may experience anger differently).
But if you were to use spirit instead of anger, the result would be different – you would feel invigorated! You would experience a sense of power and forcefulness, as if you could have handled a situation twice as bad with no regrets. You would also feel appreciative of those people around you – both the friends who are behind you, and the opponent whom you dominated.
The Taking and Giving of Life
There is another concept in the martial arts that relates to what we are discussing. In Budo, there is such a thing as Satsujinken and Katsujinken – The life dealing sword and the death dealing sword.
Katsujinken – The sword that takes life. If a Samurai were to kill for the sake of pride, ego, or out of agitation, it was considered Katsujinken. This killing was not meaningful, and protected neither family, nor honor, nor state. Anger can be considered Katsujinken in that it is fueled by that which is negative. Even more perplexingly, sometimes the action of the Samurai (or an angry individual) is correct – but he still has followed a negative path to achieve positive ends.
Satsujinken – The sword that gives life. Often Samurai were called upon to perform meritorious deeds that involved murder, espionage, and warfare. Furthermore, there were occasions when a Samurai took it upon himself to slay bandits or dangerous Ronin (rogue Samurai). These are the same violent acts as an angry, vengeful Samurai might commit – but when done with Satsujinken, right reason, the Samurai knows he may have saved many lives by his actions. This Samurai proceeds invigorated by his martial spirit and will likely show his opponent full respects.
People often wonder how Samurai acts of suicide and dueling could be done ‘respectfully.’ This provides a small peak into that mindset.
Cultivating Martial Spirit
Luckily, you and I rarely have to make such monumental, life and death decisions. Most of the time, like Bruce Lee’s student, we just have to figure out how we want to express ourselves.
In order to cultivate martial spirit instead of anger, jealousy, etc., it’s important to keep the end feelings in mind. After training, if you feel powerful, capture the essence of that training session as best you can. If, after training, you feel bitter, let it go as best as possible. Before you know it, you’ll be able to summon that forceful spirit when you need it.
And when you do, I see it going a little something like this -
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Common phrases you’ll here for totally-awesome-get-skill-quick programs:
“Forget all that bowing and scraping. I’m going to teach you the no-holds-bared, real-deal version of what the martial arts are all about!”
“Wanna become a street killer in 6 months? Sign up now for our intensive program that gets rid of all the fluffy nonsense of antiquated martial arts!”
“Instructor _____ _____ has studied the martial arts for over 30 and has black belts in _____, ______, ______, ______. In his revolutionary ‘power of the tiger’ program, he takes only the best techniques from each style and teaches you how to be the best!”
Marketing is fun! Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of schools are selling these days. Somewhere along the line, the stripping down of martial arts got obfuscated and cafuddled. Nowadays, we seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Originally, paring away layers of your art was a very traditional thing to do. Unfortunately, you could only start doing it after years of practice. In the old interpretation of stripping, one begins to investigate the deeper levels of meaning found in kata, practice, movement, and violence. This investigation of your art could reveal -
1. Bunkai. Intepretation of what kata movement actually means
2. Increased efficiency. How to change your body movement so as to decrease time and energy wasted.
3. Purpose. Why are we doing what we do? What relevance does this have to daily life?
4. Improved disposition. With a natural and healthy outlet for stress, overall lifestyle can improve.
5. Plenty else.
In a tricky way, digging deeper into martial arts helped practitioners dig deeper into themselves. The ultimate goal being “perfection” of body, mind, spirit.
The unnecessary fluff, such as structure, bowing, stancing, etc. were all tools to lead students down the proper path.
Nowadays, there seems to be a lack of patience for all that. The goal seems to be finding out the best way to punch someone in the throat (hint: they’re all pretty good.) What we have in these modern students is a sudden increase in technical ability with no sense of control or compass of when to use it. Furthermore, beyond that basic technicality, there is no knowledge of the intricate aspects provided by many years of quality training.
The martial arts of the old masters was leisurely, peaceful, ferocious, and lightning quick all in the same few moments. This was complete integration of art into lifestyle. If one just learns how to kick and punch and grapple, they risk losing that very special quality of classical art.
Devil’s Advocate – As I like to do, I want to poke a few holes in my own theory here. There are situations where pretense, or pomp, takes over an art. This obsession with ranking, military style structure, and hollow technical perfection of kata also drains away key aspects that classical arts try to instill.
It’s a really fine line between b.s. technique collection and b.s. procedure obsession. No matter what you study though, be it Goju-Ryu or BJJ, there is always room to pursue those lofty ‘classical’ goals.
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