Why do you train?

Discussion in 'Japanese Swords and Sword Arts' started by Supra Vijai, Dec 27, 2010.

  1. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    Hey,

    I know there's a few questions floating around as to why you started MA or what keeps you motivated etc but I'm asking this specifically for those who train Sword Arts - Japanese, European or otherwise.

    Especially with JSA, it's been said over and over that you are not going to run into a Samurai on the street armed with a Katana while carrying one of your own (At least I hope not! That'd make for an interesting neighbourhood....)

    The wartime application as such is non existant so to speak and from what I've read in other threads Iai is extremely boring and tedious, so why do you do it? What's the appeal?

    For me personally I like swords. In fact I like most sharp pointy things. It's part of my personality as it currently stands - as I discovered during a defensive tactics workshop we did recently. The scenario was a street attack, 3 aggressors with one person defending with either a bat or a baton of some sort. My instinctive reaction after deflecting the incoming attack was to cut, stab, slash etc rather than "club" or strike to bony targets like you would with an impact weapon. Speaking to my Sensei later he said it was one part of my personality and making a mental note to train in other weapons etc would help me to expand myself and truly learn to be a generalist rather than a specialist which is what our system teaches. That being said, for the time being at least, while my skill is extremely low, holding a sword feels... comfortable if that makes sense.

    Anyway, I'll stop rambling now, looking forward to your replies :)
     
  2. Ken Morgan

    Ken Morgan Senior Master

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    Because chicks find it cool......
     
  3. Ken Morgan

    Ken Morgan Senior Master

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    I started training because I was interested in the manufacture of Japanese swords, not the mystical BS stuff, but from a craftsmanship point of view. I have the highest regard for anyone who, out of necessity puts in hundreds of hours of effort into one lone piece of superb workmanship.

    My sensei puts on swordsmithing seminars, I went in and chatted with him, and 12 ½ years later I’m still there. It’s become like an extended family to me, we all generally have the same interests, we look out for each other and we would all do anything for each other.

    Iai is boring, it’s like watching paint dry, but practice it for a few years, and you just won’t feel right unless you’re swinging a sword. When I take a few weeks off, my first night back practicing is like drinking water after being out in the desert for a few days, I feel my body relax, I feel the cuts flowing, By my third cut I hear myself let out a sigh, I feel my bodying moving and reacting before my brain has any idea as to what is happening.

    JSA become part of what you are.

    Oh and swords are cool, and chicks dig them……:)
     
  4. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    ROFL at your first response :D

    Nice, so you had exposure to the craftsmanship at the outset and that respect fuelled the passion which has you where you are now. For me it's the opposite, I've always liked blades even at just a visually and aesthetically pleasing level and until about a couple of weeks ago had no real idea of how one was traditionally made. I was lent a book by my Sensei called "The craft of the Japanese sword" and it was a total eye opener!

    I haven't been able to look at a generic sword online now without realising how "inferior" it is compared to something of true quality. I use that term loosely too by the way to refer to the workmanship involved.

    Good to hear that JSA becomes a way of life... It's similar to a lot of JMA then. I know Ninjutsu for one embodies that philosophy quite well.

    Thanks Ken :)
     
  5. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    First of all, it's fun.

    Yeah, it can be dry and boring. But it's boring in a good way, if you take my meaning. Yesterday I was working on kenjutsu. So there I was with my bokuto in the back yard, doing one cut over and over again, probably for about an hour. Just that one vertical cut. Then I worked on my thrust for about a half hour. Just one thrust, again and again. But it was still FUN. I enjoy the "ritual" of getting something right. Probably instilled in me during my music career... practice until you can't get it wrong. :)

    Then I did some work on German longsword, most of it the Zornhau (diagonal cut) and the Zwerchhau (high horizontal cut with the back edge) against a pell (wooded post). Whack. Whack. Whack. My neighbours likely think I'm insane. Maybe about an hour.

    The other reason I do it is because I think it needs to be done. I think it's an important part of our Western cultural heritage that European MA be reconstructed. The idea of the cloddish knight with poorly made weapons needs to be put to bed once and for all.

    I also think the Japanese ryuha need to be preserved. Unfortunately, many Japanese are losing interest in their classical martial traditions. They are not learning from what happened to sword arts in the West. Just as in the west we were left largely with boxing, wrestling, and sport fencing, in Japan all that are going to be left are kendo, judo and sumo if they aren't careful. Many koryu are on the brink of extinction, and I just want to help keep that from happening in my own small way.

    By the time I die, I just might become a mediocre swordsman. :)

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  6. Joe1957

    Joe1957 Yellow Belt

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    I know I haven't started training yet but, would like to add my thoughts....
    As strange as it sounds, I am looking for something. Not really sure what it is but, like I mentioned once before,,, Relaxation, inner strength, belonging to something, insight in the history, again not really sure but, I know something is there.

    And also, it interests me, the history of Japan, culture, ways of life.
     
  7. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    Wow... humble much? ;)
     
  8. Bruno@MT

    Bruno@MT Senior Master

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    True. And it's hard to find people who seriously study it. I found a group in Belgium, but they seemed to be interested mainly in stage fighting / reenactment from what I could see.

    So true. And this is a real problem.
    If you look at the master level instructors list of Genbukan, you'll see that only the top level shihan are Japanese. These are the guys who switched to Genbukan when it was founded. Apart from those guys, there is not a single Japanese person in that entire list. Luckily Kotaro shihan has taken after his father to preserve the arts and the heart of Genbukan.

    Other than that, the most awesome people in Genbukan are all westerners. Tanemura sensei has even mentioned in his introduction in the jujutsu book that he is opening the traditional arts to the west because there they seem to thrive, and it seemed to him that this is the only way to guarantee their survival in the original, traditional form.
     
  9. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Why do I train in swordsmanship? For a number of the reasons listed above, really. Most in particular Langenschwert's comments about preserving the Ryu-ha and their knowledge. But more to the point (ha!) there are certain attributes that are found in serious sword training, specifically a certain mindset and discipline that sword training contains. There is a form of purpose to training a single kata without variation (or as close to as you can), seeking to perfect the movement, moving at just the right time, entering at the perfect angle, judging the distance exactly, having full control over both yourself and the weapon....

    In terms of the mindset, swords are by necessity weapons for killing. So training the techniques of them forces you to confront life and death as reality, more than hitting and kicking arts do. So the reality of the situation creates a mindset that is unique in martial arts, being at a distance that is confronting and scary, and facing it and moving through it. All these things are found in Kenjutsu practice, and though they exist in other places, Kenjutsu is unique in the way they come together.

    That, and swords are shiny...
     
  10. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    Look at it this way: a knight started training at about the age of 8. That was a full-time job until he was 18 or 21 and knighted. That's 10-13 years of training: the equivalent of a doctorate in "killing other folks", with training provided by people who did kill other folks as their profession. And the trainers werer trained by those who fought for real, going back generations upon generations. That's a lot of accumulated knolwedge that got handed down to a warrior back then. No modern training can really touch that as far as archaic weapons go. A 16-year old squire from such a background would be more than a match for even the best of us today. And that's just swordsmanship... I haven't even touched armoured combat, mounted combat, lance, dagger, etc! :)

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  11. billc

    billc Grandmaster

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    I have been in the sword based martial arts for a while and have to say they are the only ones that have kept my long term interest. I have gravitated to he Filipino sword arts for most of my life because they blend real world application and access to sword techniques. Any of the sword arts just seem more fun, interesting than their empty hand counterparts. At least to me. For fans of the sword arts, try giving the sword based FMA a try. Look up "Tatang Ilustrisimo" in particular. From all accounts, this man used his art for self-defense, and the students he trained had the benefit of his real world experience. Check out John Bednarski over at FMAtalk.com at the DTS site. He trained with a Jerson "Nene" Tortal, another iron man of sword based FMA. John has a lot of interesting stories from the actual combat experience of these master swordsmen. It keeps me going to class because there is a real quality to the knowlege.

    Another reason that I train in the sword based FMA is the thoughts I have had on self-defense. As an adult, if you experience a life changing or life ending violent assault, that assault will either be against several un-armed attackers or one or more armed attackers. The "drunk" at a bar or sporting event who swings on you is less likely to end or change your life. Experience with weapons is the only way to learn how to deal with them. The empty hand arts, some of which only allow weapons training at the higher levels of the art, do not always have the best knowlege of weapons. That is one more reason i like the sword arts from the Phillipines. They deal with swords, knives and clubs right from the start. What is better than walking into a class and starting with weapons training right away.
     
  12. Ken Morgan

    Ken Morgan Senior Master

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    I’ve known of Hanshi Hachidan who have practiced for 65+ years who have said, “just once before I die, I want to do a correct Mae”.

    With the odd exception everyone who stays in JSA/WSA tend to be very humble in their abilities.

    If you ever think you did a kata perfectly, then perhaps you’re not as knowledgeable about JSA as you think you are.
     
  13. kegage

    kegage Green Belt

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    When I started it was a combination of a fascination with the history and the mystique of the samurai and the katana. The bushido code, the way the sword was constructed and the overall symmetry, form and beauty of the katana fascinated me. As did the movement and form in its use. I got to compare both the katana and European swords, and the difference, to me, was astounding. Where the European swords felt clumsy and more like just another tool for combat, the katana became a part of, and an extension of me. The gracefulness of its motion was, and is still, enthralling. When I take it into my hands it begs me to cut something.
    As I seriously began to study and train I started to become intensely aware of the impact that it was having in other areas of my life. I was increasingly more perceptive and aware of what was happening around me as opposed to being completely focused in one direction and oblivious almost everything else around me. Yet, I also found that my abilities to focus on a particular task to its completion had improved. My reaction time in everything from driving to avoiding people in a crowded mall improved significantly. My training led me to study Gorin No Sho, Aikido, Zen, and other disciplines which all have had various impacts on the way I see the world and how I live in it. I have more patience, tolerance, and understanding than I used to. I believe I am, overall, a calmer person who does not have a tendency to overreact in a crisis, or tenuous situation.
    Then there are the outstanding people I have met, trained, and interacted with that I would not have had I not started training, all of which have had some sort of impact on my life, and continue to do so to this day. Now, after so many years of my training and the self discoveries I have made, I am passing on what I have learned to others, albeit a small number of folks.
    All of the above is why I train.

    Then, of course, there is the whole “It’s just freakin fun.” aspect.

    However it hasn’t been the chick magnet had hoped it would be.
     
  14. Bruno@MT

    Bruno@MT Senior Master

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    I read an interview with a 9th or 10th dan kendo, who said that he spent about 50 years getting the basics right. By then he was 8th dan, and his legs started to go. So he spent 10 more years working to understand the topic of positioning so that he didn't need to move so much. By then he had a 9th dan and his shoulders started to go. So he worked to increase his understanding about anticipation of the attack and judging intentions, so that he achieved the '1 strike, 1 hit' ideal.

    That sort of attitude is imo what separates the hobbyist from the dedicated practicioner.
     
  15. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    @ Sensei Parker - I seem to recall something else you mentioned about "cutting away" at your personality and trimming it? That symbology works quite well for me.

    @ Langenschwert - That's a good way of explaining it! A doctorate in killing other folks lol, I wonder if I can get that from my University....

    @ Ken - Similar to most/all TMA then? Believe you are good and you'll stop progressing, believe you keep doing it wrong and you will keep striving to perfect... at least if you're stubborn I guess. Some people would just give up I'd imagine?

    @ Kegage - Maybe you need to be swinging the sword around when there are more chicks watching?

    @ Bruno - Getting back to both your posts. First the Kendoka... wow that's impressive. Even with dodgy knees and shoulders and age against him, what's the bet that he could take on the majority of sword practitioners without getting out of breath? Also, what is the average starting age of a Kendoka? I know Japanese high schools offer it but do they start much younger than that?

    With the comment about the majority of the really good guys in the Genbukan being Westerners and how that was the only way to ensure the survival of the art, why do you think the shift is? I see it in a lot of other aspects. For instance being Indian, I know that in India, the culture is shifting to become more western etc but in the west, people embrace the eastern philosophies and ways. Seems to me to be a case of "the grass is always greener"...
     
  16. billc

    billc Grandmaster

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    THe grass is always greener. People also sometimes look for the foriegn because it seems more exotic and interesting compared to what they have grown up with.
     
  17. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Hi Supra,

    First off, you don't need the honorific here. This is a discussion board where peers come together to discuss ideas, learn from each other, and hopefully help each other along, not the dojo. So don't worry about being so formal, it's really fine.

    The idea of "cutting away" at aspects of your personality (traits that are not really helping you in the grand scheme of things) uses the metaphor of sword training, but is not limited to or even particular to that area of martial arts. You could view any kata training the same way, even the Tea Ceremony, which really is all about such things (rather than just feeling like a cup...).

    Another old metaphor is to "polish your heart like a sword", refering to getting your heart (your spirit, your resolve, what may be called your willpower) focused and shaped, ready to be used at need, as well as having the meaning of working out impurities, and bringing out the inner strength and beauty (which is one of the results of polishing a blade).
     
  18. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    Yeah sorry about that. I've tried Chris Parker and Chris and both just feel weird when typing... Maybe I'll stick with Mr. Parker from now on then. Can't quite drop the student/teacher mindset so easily ;)

    So would this be the same as any art? This example is straight out of the movies so apologies if it's completely incorrect but Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto in The Last Samurai spends a lifetime searching for the "perfect" ending to his poem. Or even things like calligraphy and flower arranging, origami etc. Could they all be looked at along the same lines or is it for "martial" studies only?

    I must remember that one. The philosophy behind all of this is extremely fascinating. I'm actually in another thread at the moment where the conversation is discussing different personality types and their view on MA. According to my score on the Keirsey test, I'm a rational (ENTJ) and as such will be drawn to hierarchy and formal traditions as well as the underlying concepts behind things as opposed to the techniques themselves. Seems to be right for the philosophy side of things at least...
     
  19. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    It is present in any art, depending on how it is trained, really. There are some I could point to that don't employ this concept, but in the main it can be present in most.

    The concept of Katsumoto's Haiku, Shodo (caligraphy), Ikebana etc is perfection. In martial arts (particularly Japanese), two of the most associated with this dedication to a perfect action are Iaido and Kyudo... although it must be remembered that that is not universal across the board. Katori's Iai for instance is about being practical first and foremost, as are many Koryu forms. Modern, or Seitei Iai, is far more about perfection of form, although again that can change depending on the student's focus!

    When looking for perfection, it's best to think of it along the lines of travelling towards the horizon.... no matter how far you go, aiming towards it, you'll never actually reach it. And that's fine, as each step takes you closer to it. It really is about the journey, and the more you think you have skill, the further you probably are from it. It's a matter of how far can I go, not how far have I come.

    Ha, yeah, I tried that quiz. I stopped before completing it as about 90% of the questions I could answer with "yes". "Are you more likely to A or B?" "Yes". So I could have ended up as anything, and it would have had as much relevance to me as any other. I've run through Meyers-Briggs a number of times before, though, but really don't put too much emphasis on my results. It can be interesting, though, and it's something I put into practice when dealing with people.... as I said, interesting.
     
  20. Supra Vijai

    Supra Vijai Black Belt

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    What would be an example of an art where you don't strive for perfection? I keep thinking along MA or sport lines and both keep going in circles with the martial artists/sportspeople seeking the perfect form or technique.

    With the horizon reference, in reality wouldn't it be a case of no matter how many steps forward you take, the horizon seemingly moves back the same number of steps. While I get that thinking about it as getting one step closer could serve as encouragement to keep going rather than thinking "this is pointless, I'll never get there"; the reality that I'm getting from that is perfection is actually not a tangible destination. There is no such thing as perfect, only the eternal quest/journey. Not to say that the journey isn't the most important part. I mean on a much smaller scale, I originally always believed that having a black belt in martial arts meant you were the best. Now after training for some time (albeit a short while in the scheme of things) and reading through posts on here etc, I'm starting to realize that all a black belt means is that you have a black belt. If I recall right, it was even said that a black belt meant you were finally considered a serious student and that's when your real education in the art began. By that logic then, how far can I go is infinite. There is no end to the journey, just more and more experiences and knowledge along the way. Am I sort of on the right track here?

    Quick Edit: I realized recently I have a black belt in my wardrobe at home. I got it for a costume party a couple of years back to go with my shozoku... I know, it's terrible.... Put it on the other day and it did NOTHING to improve my Bo technique :)123
     

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