DF: Japanese Martial WAY as opposed to ART

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Sep 11, 2006
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Japanese Martial WAY as opposed to ART
By Mike Brewer - Tue, 15 Jan 2008 22:47:32 GMT
Originally Posted at: Deluxe Forums


I couldn't think of what to title this thread, so forgive me for the ambiguity. I have been talking to a friend that I respect a great deal, and who is highly accomplished in Japanese martial arts. I've read a lot on the old ways of training in Japan, particularly the samurai texts, and I've noticed something I find very interesting. However, not having been a student of Japanese martial arts, I am not in a position to be able to tell if my reading reflects the realities of the arts in question. If you're educated in Japanese martial arts and their history, I would really appreciate your input on this topic.

Near the end of the shogunate, when the culture of Japan opened itself to outside influences, martial arts there underwent a fundamental change. In its isolation, Japanese arts evolved according to societal values every bit as much as the needs of warfare. The training itself mirrored the values of the warrior class. This is clear when you read texts such as the Hagakure. The retainers in a samurai "society" were expected to view themselves as resources, and they were expected to view their training as a way to make them more valuable resources. This was likely NOT the view of the upper class, but it was certainly very important for the subordinates to think along those lines. After all, it was their willingness to die for their superiors that kept those superiors in power.

Along those lines, there evolved a very distinct philosophy that I haven't found in such pronounced manner anywhere else. The philosophy to which I am referring is the importance placed on the whole of an action - the beginning, middle, and end and the mindfulness of all three stages - be it martial or otherwise. For example, at the end of the festivals people would attend to look at beautiful flower arrangements, it was routine to cut off the heads of the flowers and trample them, destroying the artistry of the displays. This was to signify the importance of the end. Samurai retainers placed as much value on the way a life ended as they did on how it began and how it was lived. There appears to be an emphasis not only on the "journey" as we so often hear, but also the destination. In other words, the philosophy as a whole seems to transcend the idea that it's not the destination, but the journey alone that matters. Japanese arts, although I've never heard it phrased quite this way, care deeply about the journey but also about how that journey ends. In other words, they see that if you don't put something to use, then it truly is useless.

Finally, the notion of warriors spending their time learning things like poetry or flower arranging or calligraphy. In many other cultures, we see the warrior elite putting a premium on enlightened education and culture, but with the Japanese arts, each of these pursuits was considered integral and of considerable importance to one's worth as a warrior. In cultures such as the European courts, these peripheral pursuits were what made a gentleman, but they didn't necessarily reflect on a man's quality as a warrior. In the Japanese arts, there appears to be no distinction. That led me to the belief that the Japanese martial culture viewed the entire process of training differently. Whereas some cultures may practice martial arts, the samurai appeared to take pride in practicing everything. They appear to have taken every bit as much pride in practicing the way they maintained their hair, the way they made tea, the way they arranged their homes, and the way they wrote down their ideas as they did in their abilities with a sword or bow. This is a fundamental difference from most other cultures, who expected their warrior elite to be cultured, but not necessarily to the same degree as the ruling class.

All of that leads me to the real question in this thread. According to Japanese martial thinking - I don't care about western thinking here - once a man has learned what he needs to know to be an effective fighter, should he begin to place an equal importance in learning to be effective at everything else? In other words, once a man could prove his competence and worth at defending the kingdom, did it become acceptable to pursue purely artistic endeavors? And perhaps even more compelling, did those endeavors help him as a warrior?

I appreciate any and all input here as the traditional side of martial arts really is out of my league. There's more to this story, but I want to get some input before I expound on things. Once again, I appreciate the input.


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