Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, April 03, 2015

Severe Training in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from an excellent post by Chris Hellman, the author of The Samurai Mind, at his blog, Ichijoji. 

The topic is how severe training worked it's way into martial arts during the Meiji era in Japan. Training like the 100 man kumite, for example. 

The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

One of the distinguishing features of serious martial arts training in the minds of many practitioners, is its severity. This is particularly so in the case of Japanese martial arts, and it reaches some of its most extreme forms in the case of swordsmen from the Meiji period onwards.
That warriors training to develop arts used in life and death struggles should train hard seems beyond question, and the ability to do so raises them in esteem in our eyes. Elite units in the modern military often use extreme training as part of the selection process, and much of this is designed to push people beyond their normal limits, both mentally and physically. There is a darker side as well, with instances of hazing rituals and abuse of power, where the pupose is to establish hierarchy and unthinking obedience rather than to develop individual potential.
This latter aspect became an unfortunate part of Japanese budo in the early of the twentieth century, part and parcel of military recruitment and the rise of nationalism, and has been retained in the regimented nature of these disciplines, which dovetailed naturally with the sempai-kohai (senior-junior) relationship promoted in schools, universities and companies to this day.
Of course, it should be stressed that not all clubs and dojos share these negative characteristics, but it seems that there was a major change in the style of teaching and learning that occurred at much the same time as ‘budo’ (represented by judo, kendo, and somewhat later but similar in spirit, karate-do) was being formed as a set of practices distinct from their forbears.
The transformation to the modern disciplines of budo was not a simple process, but it seems that somewhere within it, the concept of mental strength born of a combination of determination, single-mindedness, and an unwillingness to give up became firmly entrenched as a principle feature of budo. To what degree this was present prior to this transformation is difficult to determine – it certainly didn’t appear from nowhere, and there are enough tales of this kind of spirit to show that it was an attribute that was strongly admired, but admiration for a character trait and placing that trait at the centre of  a style of training are different things.
Training in bugei involves the development of skills that require precision and attention to detail. Repetition for its own sake and far less, mass drilling, are not generally a part of this. It seems that karate, of all the budo, perhaps because it is farthest from what are seen to be (however innaccurately) its samurai forebears, tries the hardest to embody these aspects into its training – slots on the News in early January regularly show members of karate clubs training in snow or thigh-high in freezing water, pumping out repetitious punches during their kangeiko (winter training) – but aikido is also notable for its use of aspects of this kind of training.
In fact, it puts one in mind of the religious austerities practised by some groups, rather than traditional bugei training, which is perhaps not as surprising as it might first sound, as the promoters of such training during the Meiji and Taisho Periods had purposely combined their training with some of the attributes of religion.
Budo as 'religion'
It was during the Meiji Period, when the immediate practical use of the sword was called into question, that several influential swordsmen pursued the study of the sword as a method of self development. It was the legacy of these men, more than anything else, that led to the mistaken belief that the study of the sword was inseperable from the study of Zen.
Interestingly, the dojos of both of these instructors were characterised not only by the severe nature of their regular training, but both of them also instituted periods of particularly severe specialised training.
It was also worth noting that in both these cases, the styles were early adopters of shinai sparring, with the consequent loss of teachings requiring the severity of precision and control associated with older styles. The arguments for and against sparring with shinai and bogu not withstanding, it seems that these severe training sessions were aimed at achieving a breakthrough to a different understanding of both mental and physical aspects of martial training; something that normal training did not provide.
Yamaoka Tesshu’s seigan training has become quite well-known in the English speaking martial arts world thanks to John Stevens’ book, The Sword of No-Sword.
Tesshu’s “basic” examination required 1,000 days of consecutive practice, completed by 200 consecutive contests in a single day with other students of the Itto Shoden Muto Ryu.
The second level examination consisted of 600 matches over a three-day period. The highest level examination was a seven day ordeal with 1,400 matches.
Several of his students left accounts of their experiences. This is one:
Yanagita Ganjiro completed the two-hundred-match seigan on the final day of his thousand-day training period. He then practiced five hundred more days in a row and undertook the three-day, six-hundred-match seigan. Blows received from the short, thick Muto Ryu bamboo sword (shinai) were extremely painful. Yanagita recalled: "After the first day my head was full of lumps and my body covered with bruises, but I did not feel weak. On the second day I began to suffer. I thought I would have to give up halfway. I managed to continue and near the end of the day I experienced 'selflessness' - I naturally blended with my opponent and moved in unhindered freedom. Although my spirit was strong my body was weak. My urine was dark red and I had no appetite. Nevertheless, I passed the final day's contests with a clear mind; I felt as if I was floating among the clouds."
            (The Sword of No-Sword, J. Stevens)
Tesshu not only viewed swordsmanship as a way of disciplining the mind; he was also a practitioner of Zen and a master of calligraphy. Only his swordsmanship was passed down directly; the ‘spirit’ of his calligraphy was revived, (and is carried on by the Hitsuzendo) but perhaps it is better to say that it was by his example and spirit that he has most influenced modern disciplines.  

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