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 ~

Sunday, October 08, 2023

The Principal Lesson of Budo

Over at the Budo Bum blog, was an article about the most essential lessons of Budo study. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Koryu budo schools teach many things: strikes, throwing techniques, joint locks, strangles, weapons, defenses, counterattacks, proper breathing, proper walking, techniques for receiving attacks, ukemi. However, the one thing every koryu budo school that I have encountered spends the most time teaching and practicing isn’t any of these techniques. It’s awareness; self-awareness, spatial awareness, temporal awareness, and awareness of others.

I’m purposely limiting this to koryu budo because gendai budo spend most of their practice time drilling competition techniques and sparring. Koryu budo schools spend most of their practice time on mental focus and awareness. If you give it a little consideration, it is clear that the amount of time spent on technical skills is second to what is spent on awareness and mental development.

The bulk of koryu budo training is kata. Pick any koryu budo ryuha and watch some of their kata. A kata might take anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds from the start to finish of one repetition. The technique practice in the kata will generally last from 1 second to around 10 seconds. The rest of the time is spent practicing awareness and focus. This is true whether it is iai or kenjutsu or jojutsu or naginata or jujutsu or anything else.

If we look at the first iaido kata in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Muso Shinden Ryu, the kata starts while the practitioner is standing. She takes the time to sit in seiza carefully and attentively. Once she is sitting, she does not rush into drawing her sword. She stays calm and focused. She begins moving carefully, being fully aware of what she is doing and what her kaso teki (imagined opponent) is supposed to be doing. She begins drawing her sword slowly, completely focused on the situation, and does not rush anything. When everything is right, she finishes her draw and cuts quickly across kaso teki. She pushes forward and raises the sword over her head, then cuts quickly down through kaso teki. She pauses. Focusing and extending awareness, she considers if kaso teki is still a threat. She shifts her blade and pushes it slowly out to her right, then brings it in close to her head and drops it across her front for the chiburi and rises to her feet, all the while remaining focused on kaso teki, just in case the threat has not been completely eliminated. She pushes her right foot back into a relatively deep stance. Maintaining her focus on kaso teki, she brings her left hand to the koi guchi, and the tsuba close to her left hand. She pulls the back of the sword along her left hand until the tip drops into the opening in her hand and then slowly brings the saya over the sword tip and begins sheathing the sword, still staying focused on kaso teki. As she sheathes the sword, she slowly lowers herself to her left knee. Once the sword is sheathed there is a pause while she continues to focus on kaso teki. She rises, still focusing on kaso teki. Only after all of this, does she lift her eyes from kaso teki. Maintaining her mental focus, she expands her awareness to the whole space around her, and then she returns to her starting place with deliberate care and focus.

That’s a lot of time and effort to practice two cuts. The most important lesson isn’t the draw or the cuts. It’s the focus and awareness. Awareness combined with the ability to focus on what is critical are the most important skills in koryu budo. That’s why we spend more time practicing them then everything else combined. Awareness will keep you out of more fights than any technique can win, and focus will prevent distractions that cause losses.


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