(Just kidding about the ‘no problem’ part – the results were pretty much a foregone conclusion. Thanks to Greg Holmes, BJJ Black Belt under Relson Gracie).
A few weeks ago my girlfriend and I decided to stop in at a used book store. This, from the start, was not a cost effective idea. We both figured that since the books were so reduced in price, we might as well buy indiscriminately. Therefore our “bargain” visit quickly resulted in a basket full of impromptu books.
Over the years I have trained my eye to catch anything that might be martial arts related, or even roughly relevant to Asian culture. Although such finds are frequently fruitless, I’ve come away with a few gems in the past. This latest trip provided one such find.
Sticking out amongst a sea of miscellaneous novels was a paperback entitled “Kokoro”. From my martial training I knew what the term meant so I was immediately drawn to it. As I soon discovered, this “Kokoro” was a novel written by Natsume Soseki, and was in fact a very famous story by a very famous writer.
The term kokoro is generally translated as “the heart of things”, which is the most fundamental and easy way to express the complex range of spirit, emotion, mind, courage, resolve, and intensity that the origin word encapsulates.
Natsume Soseki was not a martial artist (as far as I can determine), nor did this turn out to be a martial arts book. However, it was an exceptional study of the inner workings of Japanese thought and emotion.
I’ve always believed that understanding the culture upon which a martial art is built helps in comprehending the full execution and meaning of the art. While one needn’t don a hakama and queue in everyday life to practice budo, gaining a deeper understanding of the culture (in this case Japanese) can build a rich context within which we might train, learn, and grow.
“Kokoro”, the novel, is set just as the Meiji Era is ending. The story follows a young man who is trying to graduate from college and find his way in life. The young man encounters a withdrawn but studious older gentleman whom he immediately takes to and wishes to learn from. The novel proceeds to study the boy and his new mentor in great depth, examining their emotional and social baggage.
Understanding the Japanese from an external western perspective can be very difficult. This novel is a rare insight into the subtleties of some of the more “peculiar” Japanese obsessions with loneliness, self sacrifice, social etiquette, and emotional withdraw. These cultural characteristics, which are many generations old and deeply seeded, have been integral to the development and formation of budo.
Interestingly, if you are so inclined, you can read the entire novel online for free here. Apparently it has become part of UNESCO canon and has been reproduced fully with permission. That much reading can be difficult online though, so if you’d like you can pick up a paperback copy here…or just visit the nearest used book store and hope you get lucky like I did.
Thanks to reporting by Dojo Rat, I recently learned the sad news that Erle Montaigue has passed away. He was 62 years old (1949-2011).
If you’re not familiar with his work, Erle Montaigue was a strong voice in the Taiji (Tai Chi) community and a proponent of the combative elements of the art. He was most well known for his theories on Dim Mak and vital point striking.
In regards to the circumstances of his passing, I’d like to provide a few details from TaiChi Renegade, and then send you over to that resource if you wish to read more. This passage is from Eli Montaigue, Erle’s son and style successor:
“As most of you know he [Erle] had diabetes, and was controlling it with Diet and his training. And doing a bloody good job! As anyone who trained with him would tell you, how much energy he had, and how fit he was, no one could hit as hard as him!
Mum Ben Kathleen and I were all with him, I’m so glad I was here, as I live in Swansea now about an hour away.
We had just had a band practice the night before, and he was working on a song with Kathleen in the morning. Then I had what turned out to be my last lesson from him only about an hour before he left.
He was fighting fit, and had just ran up the road to catch up to Mum Kathleen and I walking the dogs, a few minutes after we were all walking back down and he just said “hold me” As he sat down on the road, he was out in only a couple of seconds. I sprinted back to the house to get his diabetic kit, and Kathleen to the house near us to get some sugar. Ben was down at his house only 1/4 of a mile away, so Kathleen called him and he ran up.
When he got there we’d already started CPR, the paramedics got there in a helicopter, we were trying for about 15 minute, then the paramedics for another 20 or 30. I was pushing all the points I could think of, and even tried the old Pen through the foot trick! The paramedics gave me a very strange look! Haha! But as it happened it was a clogged artery that caused the heart attack, so nothing would have worked.
But he got his wish, never to get old and to go out with a bang. He didn’t suffer at all, and was in his prime.” – read more from Eli here.
Although Taiji is a widely spread art these days, it is often just the energy enhancing movements that are passed on. Not too many practitioners have worked to preserve the original combative elements as well. Erle was a rare resource for individuals looking to take that next step.
Interestingly, Erle was also a source of controversy due to the scope of his work. There have been other individuals in his and other martial fields that have not agreed with his methods and conclusions. This is inevitable, for better or worse, when creating anything related to martial arts.
Personally I’ve found Erle’s work very informative and thought provoking, and I have borrowed from it to better inform my own art. Erle always seemed ready to share and demonstrate, but made sure to do it safely. He offered many books and dvds on his subject matter, but created many more that he spread for free. one quickly got the impression that he was an artist at heart with business on the side.
I’d like to say more, but I’m simply not the right man to do so. I keep a list tucked away of all the great martial artists I want to do interviews with. Erle was on that list, and unfortunately my chance is gone. Instead, here are a few videos that others have been kind enough to preserve and post, including Erle himself: