Saturday, 16 January 2016

3 Ways that Budo Builds Character

Note: It's been a while since I've posted anything here. Writing is not one of my innate skills, but I've found myself doing much more of it recently at work and in extracurricular activities. This demand for putting words on a screen come from nothing more than my desire to better communicate with others. I actually much prefer in person, open conversations, but will have to make due until I'm able to start a vlog like this amazing Iaido/Kendo practitioner (seriously, do yourself a favour and subscribe to his channel)

Anyways, lets get back to the budo building character thing. Over the past few months, I've been trying to develop a personal mission statement for why I do Iaido and what I want to get out of it over the course of my life. I ended up with the following 3 Pillars, each of which can be carried into your everyday behaviour:

  • Keiko - The All Japan Kendo Federation's Dictionary defines keiko as "the practice or training of budo (martial arts) and geido (arts)... [and] also contains nuances of aesthetic training to forge the body and mind (shugyo). Thus... also has the objective of reaching the ideals of "finding the truth that underpins all of the 'Ways', and contemplating how one should be as a human being". I've mentioned 3 different types of keiko in this post before, but will include regular life examples here: Mitori-keiko (Looking practice - watching a cooking show to learn a recipe and process to make delicious meal), Kufu-keiko (Thinking practice - looking ahead in traffic and deciding your route to maximize safety and time), and Kakari-keiko (Repetition - parallel parking your car again and again until it becomes second nature).
  • Kamae - Def. (AJKF Dictionary) - "A posture or stance. The state of having prepared one's stance or attitude so as to be able to respond to various changes in the opponent's situation.". Examples of the different types of kamae include: Mi-gamae (proper physical appearance - formal wear to a job interview), Kokoro-gamae (proper attitude and mindset - being mindful and present when listening to the interviewer), and Ki-gamae (proper spirit - staying calm when he surprises you by bringing in three mean-looking, senior executives).
  • Kikubari - Roughly translated, it means to "pay attention to others" -- How I spent over 10-years in budo and Japanese culture without encountering this word is a mystery, but as soon as my wife offered it as a suggestion for my 3rd pillar, I couldn't think of a better concept; perfectly showing how Japanese culture is built into the budo. This article does a good job of explaining how it works in more detail.
So where do these pillars fit into building character? Well, it all starts in the dojo.

In budo, the dojo is like a microcosm of society. We have formal hierarchies and informal social structures. We are there to learn (through practice and instruction), but we are also there to teach (through direct instruction or modeling good behaviour). In training mind and body (keiko) to be prepared for any form of interaction (kamae) with the mindset towards others (kikubari), we become better members of society.

I'd like to end with an example about Following Your Sensei:

Today, our dojo held a seminar on the chuden set of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. Ohmi Sensei tooks us through each kata while delighting us with stories of historical fact, rumours, and lineage. At one point, he called me up to demonstrate the way I do my footwork for Kata #9 - Takiotoshi. I did it the way he taught it to me nearly 10 years ago. After I finished, he said something along the lines of "Ok, but I do it this way, but you can still choose to do it that way." At some point in the last few years, he had apparently modified how he did this technique.

Now these were my options:
  1. Do it the way I was already doing it - claiming that his original way was the "proper lineage"
  2. Do it the way I see another recent 8-Dan do it - claiming that it is the closest to how they do it in Japan these days
  3. Do it the way Sensei is doing it now
So how do we decide? Let's go back to the 3-pillars - specifically #2 Kamae and #3 Kikubari. The answer is clear. While my relationship (and scaling up: society) is built on past behaviour, the only thing we can control is how we act in the present. Past Ohmi Sensei doesn't care that as a student I'm still following his way. Present Ohmi Sensei does. 
I changed to do it his way.