Our recently ranked 4kyu member Joey put together a nice video compilation of our recent tameshigiri experience. It was our first time, so we still have a lot to learn, but it was an excellent exercise.
This article was written by one of the Moorhead Dojo students, Paul Dyer. Paul has been with our dojo since 2007, and Paul recently acquired a 2kyu in AUSKF iaido. He has a broad background in several martial arts. Paul is the founder of the Fargo All Martial Arts Seminar and Cancer Benefit.
Should It Matter or Not
The statement of nature vs. nurture is a question of questionable debates. The mind, the soul, the universal particles, the whole who and what we are. One day we shall get into that but for now the first question is, should it matter or not? It is a thought I must ask you as I have asked myself countless times in my own personal journey as a martial artist and as a human being. When you first entered the dojo as a young student, I shall say young student because it does not matter what age we start, we are all that young student entering a world of unknown. Many thoughts enter our young minds. I can say what I now know, the thoughts were wrong from the start until I was set straight by my Sensei/Sifu.
The question still rings high to this day, what does it matter? What type of house hold you grew up in, does it matter? What type of environment you were raised around or should it matter how much economic wealth you may or may not have, or what skin color, or religion you practice. Did it matter as you entered the dojo? As a young student when you first started in the 60’s or 70’s, all the schools open in the cities were of Asian decent. Without getting into the climate of the United States and around the world, all I can say is that it was a hostile time for Asian decent /Americans in the United States. The schools that you can go into now are of many diverse climates and that is a just change but the question still remains, does it or should it matter?
Another question, what was the purpose of you embarking on the dojo’s door step? And should it matter or not? From your first day to your second day, and until the time of now, you have to ask yourself the question should it matter what I am? Well I have to say it does matter and it did matter at one time. It mattered then and only then, but when does it stop? Only when you realize the reason it matters no longer exist in your life. As I was told once by one of my seniors “what drives you to be the best is not what is going to get you there”. At the time I had no idea what that meant. Frankly I don’t think I could have cared less. So I remind you should it matter or not? After countless hours of being bruised mentally and physically it all breaks down. All the education that has been given to you finally strikes you like a large clap of thunder in a world of silenced mind. The act of enlightenment starts from that day on, and then when you find yourself in a dojo, it is not just a room of mats and funny writing on the wall with many sayings. You are for the first time not just in a school but a home.
It is not often or at all that we find this awakening in our lives. At this time you can now ask questions and be inquisitive to all actions and start to become part of a history, a life of a destination of endless travel. You were once lost but now found yourself on a journey of peace and comfort with a strong mind and body and now that you are open you begin to understand it never really mattered at all. Now as we grow, we never leave the dojo, the home, even though we might leave the room we never leave the dojo for it is who we are and the path of where it was going all along, and we are now part of the past and the future.
Happy New Year!
I know it's a little late, but it's been a busy couple of weeks.
We celebrated the new year with a member's party at my house last weekend. It was a lot of fun, and we had quite a buffet of foods - everyone brought something delicious, and everyone went home FULL. I'm still enjoying a bit of leftover sake!
A couple of people played the traditional game of GO, and a few of us watched the director's cut of the original Highlander movie. "There can be only one!"
Testing - everyone passed!
Last week, we had 2 candidates for 4kyu (our first rank) and 2 candidates for 2kyu, and all people passed. Congratulations goes to Erik, Joey for their 4kyu, as well as Kelly and Paul for their 2kyu. Omedetto gozaimasu! We still have a couple of people to test for 4kyu, and will probably do that sometime within the next month as well. Members can test up to 2kyu in the dojo, and after that must attend a Kendo Federation event either at the regional or national level to test further. I and possibly a couple of other members will be heading to Cleveland in June for the national iaido summer camp. It should be great!
New cutting blade
We ordered a cutting blade from Nishijin for 56,000 yen. It's got a Chinese made carbon steel blade with traditional Japanese made fittings. It's a bit tip heavy and weighs around 1200g. Can't wait to cut with it!
April- Core Con demonstration
May - Guelph seminar
June 2- AUSKF Iaido summer camp
Mid July or Early August - Moorhead dojo (first annual) MWKF iaido seminar
October - 3rd annual Fargo All Martial arts seminar and cancer benefit
I found this article from Kim Taylor sensei about reishiki and thought it was a good read.
Have a good month!
REISHIKI / ETIQUETTE
Just why, exactly, do we bow to the instructor and to our fellow students when we practice the Japanese martial arts. Is there something here that we as free, equal, democratic Canadians should be offended by. After all, many Canadians will no longer consider bowing down to the Royal family, why should we bow to anyone else. To make matters worse, in some arts we bow down to a picture or even crazier, to a wall. Where did this behavior come from.
Right off, let's make it clear that bowing and the other forms of etiquette in the martial arts do not indicate subservience. They indicate respect which is entirely different. The forms of polite action in the dojo have meaning beyond an acknowledgement of the Japanese root of the arts.
ORIGINS OF REISHIKI IN NORTH AMERICA
It is, of course from their Japanese roots that the etiquette of the martial arts derive. The men and women who first introduced budo to the west also brought the methods of teaching that they were given by their instructors. These methods included reishiki.
After a generation or two in North America the bowing and scraping may be getting to seem a bit artificial. This is only natural since we express our politeness in ways other than the bow. We shake hands, and call people "sir". We open doors for people. We have dozens of ways to express politeness and respect that we think of about as often as a Japanese would think of bowing, not often.
Perhaps we should examine in further detail just what it is that we are doing when we bow in such a perfunctory way, and how we, as Canadians can use these transplanted rituals to our own advantage.
ORIGINS IN JAPAN
In Japan itself reishiki was developed to a high degree in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) with various schools of the art arising. The great neo-confucian movement of the age was a major impetus, infusing the act with the hierarchical meaning that it carries today. The idea that all authority came from above and that everyone had his or her own place in the order of things was reinforced by the degree of bowing between people.
The Imperial court had, from earliest history, always stressed reishiki and the bushi (who were originally country bumpkins) had in the course of association picked up the habit. The court of the Shogunate adopted these manners and from them the samurai throughout the country began to use the forms.
REISHIKI FOR THE SAMURAI
It did not take long, however for the bushi to create their own, distinctive forms of etiquette. Even in the Tokugawa era the action of bowing went beyond a simple acknowledgement of authority into the realm of how to act properly at all times.
Put simply, it was reishiki that allowed the Edo samurai to go about his business without giving or taking offence and without letting his alertness drop for a moment. It was a matter of safety as much as a matter of correct action and courtesy. With constant attention paid to each outward movement, the mind of the warrior could not be other than awake at all times. With no daydreaming the possibility of accidents was reduced and no actions were taken (or accepted) that were not intentional.
It is this aspect of the samurai etiquette that is "appended" to the martial arts in this country. The bows are not a form of submission, but a way of practicing safely and with alertness. "Budo begins and ends with Reishiki". This does not mean that we bob our heads at the start and the finish of a class, it means that Budo is Reishiki. Manners are not "added on", they are part and parcel of the art.
REISHIKI IN NORTH AMERICA
There is nothing wrong with bowing to your instructor for no other reason than to say thank you. He or she has worked hard for many years to achieve the level of skill that can now be passed on to you. That commitment should be appreciated since the work that has gone before makes your learning easier. The bows and the other forms of politeness then, tell the teacher and yourself that you appreciate the effort and that you respect it enough to give your best effort to learn what you can. In this manner, reishiki has the purpose of forcing you to concentrate on what you are doing.
One of the reasons to take up martial arts training is to lose the ego. If you cannot bow to someone else without feeling as if you are submitting somehow to them, then you have no chance of obtaining egolessness. In this case, the bow is a shock on a fundamental level to the idea of yourself as a distinct entity. This shock is even greater in a society that does not bow any more. The greater the shock to the idea of a distinct self, the more open you will be to new ideas and the greater the chance that you will learn something.
Reishiki goes beyond simply bowing in the modern dojo, just as it did two hundred years ago. Etiquette defines how you enter and leave the room, how you move past your fellow students, how you sit or stand and how you practice. If everyone is following the same code of behavior, everyone will know what to expect in a class. What this means, simply, is that nobody is going to step in front of you when you least expect it and you can worry about other things instead. At the same time, the specific actions of reishiki have the effect of giving you a more alert position so that when the unexpected does occur you can deal with it.
Each art and each instructor in the art will establish a distinct code of behavior for the students. The main thing to remember is to act at all times with full awareness of what you are doing and why. What follows is a discussion of several forms of Reishiki that are common to most Japanese dojo.
BOW AT DOJO ENTRANCE
As you enter and leave the specific room or practice area you stop, put your feet together and bow toward the practice surface. This is often described as a prayer to the dojo that you will practice well and hard. If you don't want to pray to a wood and cement structure, make it a small meditation to yourself. You leave the busy and confused world outside and enter the wholly concentrated world of the dojo. This is the first step and is followed by a series of actions that remind you on a subconscious level that the outside world should be left outside.
On a more mundane level, stopping before you step onto the practice surface is simply good sense. Stepping out without looking can get you hit over the head with a sharp object.
BOW TO SHOMEN
This is a bow performed at the start and end of each class which is directed toward the high point in the room, or perhaps at a photograph, scroll, or even toward a Shinto shrine. The bow is another transition step from the outside world to the dojo. It is also a moment wherein students can reflect on the history of their art since this is the time when gratitude is expressed toward the founder and the previous instructors of the art. Bowing to shomen also reminds you where it is, this is important in how you move around in the dojo.
BOW TO SENSEI
At the start and end of a class, students have a chance to make a formal bow to the instructor. This should be done carefully and with full attention since this is your chance to show your gratitude for the patience and ability of the sensei. It also expresses your willingness to learn and your request to be instructed.
At many times during a class you will have a chance to thank the instructor for advice or correction. By making this bow with full awareness you will ensure that you are paying full attention to what is being said. It is all too easy to half listen and say "thanks" and then go right on practicing something badly.
BOW TO PARTNER
If you have the opportunity to work with a partner, you will bow to each other. Again, bow carefully and with attention. You are saying to your partner, "please practice with me" and "thank you for your cooperation". A sloppy bow will lead to sloppy practice and the potential for accidents as one student bows while the other attacks.
Always remember that the senior students, and the instructors can tell a lot about your attitude by how you observe the etiquette of the dojo.
Shoes or slippers should be worn on the way to the dojo to avoid picking up infections and passing them on to your fellow
students. These shoes are taken off at the practice area and should be lined up neatly facing away from the dojo floor. They are lined up neatly and out of the way simply to prevent someone tripping over your mess. They are lined up ready to be put on as you leave so that there is little fuss at the end of the class. By placing the shoes so that you are ready to leave the class you are showing that you intend to pay attention and learn. If you don't learn, you can't leave.
All movement in the dojo should be done with full awareness and control at all times. It is considered rude to flap your arms around and swivel your head about as you look at everything except what you should watch. Look where you are going at all times and you will be safe as well as polite.
Walking politely means being able to stop without falling over at any point in your stride, under control. If you pass other students who are practicing, wait until they are finished and see you, don't disturb them. This is a safety rule as well. If you are moving down a line of seated students, move along behind them, not in front between them and the instructor. This cuts their view and also exposes yourself to attack. In effect you are daring them to attack. This shows that you are not paying attention. If you must pass in front of them extend your right hand and bow forward slightly to apologize for your blocking their view. This places your hand in their view before your body so that they have a chance to stop any potentially dangerous actions. Better to lose a finger than an eye.
A common rule is never to expose your back to the shomen or highest point in the room. High ranking visitors will be seated close to this point and it would be rude to show them your backside. More importantly the rule is an exercise in knowing where you are in relation to the environment at all times.
When you are standing it is impolite to slouch against a wall, put your hands in your pockets, cross your legs or generally to be slovenly. All of these prohibitions are to prevent you from moving into a position that exposes you to attack and injury. It would be paranoid to assume that someone is going to sneak up behind you and attack, even during a martial arts class. It is not paranoid to assume that someone might fall into you from behind. By being polite when you stand you are in the best position to prevent an injury to yourself.
You should be no less polite when you sit down. In Japan it is generally considered rude and ugly to have your limbs spread out away from your body. Think about this cultural foible in terms of sitting with your legs out in front of yourself during a class. Now think what would happen to your knees if someone were to land on them during a practice. On the other hand think how you would feel if you were to trip and injure a fellow student. Again a rule of etiquette is in reality a safety rule. Your legs and arms should always be tucked in and protected from injury.
The idea that it is rude and unsightly to have your elbows sticking out at the sides is also more than a safety rule, it is a good posture training rule. In almost no case is it of
advantage for a martial artist to have their elbows out away from the centre of the body, so why allow students to get into the habit.
The majority of the rules of etiquette in the modern Japanese budo can be traced to the use and practice of the sword. With several students swinging very sharp blades at the same time, certain modes of behavior were developed for the sake of safety. When the swordsman moved out of the dojo the need for a code of behavior that kept the swords inside the scabbards was even more obvious. In fact, one of the excuses for a fight was the practice of saya ate or hitting someone's scabbard with your own as you passed. Passing on the right side of another swordsman thus became a dangerous (and then rude) practice. One passed so that one's sword was out of reach. It also became polite behavior to place your sword a certain way at certain times since this showed your intent, either peaceful or otherwise. The act of touching someone's blade or even of stepping over it was not only impolite but an act of aggression.
Most of the elaborate rules for handling the katana can be traced to the simple need to keep it under control and to make it plain to others that your intentions were peaceful.
Next time you begin to bow during class, take a moment and think just why you are bowing and what purpose the act holds.