Tag Archives: self-development

martial art or art form?

I find Kyudo an interesting art and an interesting subject for discussion of the term “martial art”. While Kyudo has its roots in combat archery and does use a weapon, it is obviously a spiritual and meditative pursuit rather than a combative skill. While Kyudo is called a “martial art”, I doubt that any Kyudo practitioner has delusions of being “combat effective” or believe that they are training in an art that will provide them with “street survival” skills. However I do believe that there are practitioners of various stylistic, meditative and “traditional” arts that DO believe such things. These are the people who believe that working on their “Chi” rather than their punching skills or physical conditioning will help them survive a confrontation. They are the people who think that a fight will somehow adhere to the protocols they follow at the dojo. These are the people who equate “martial art” with “combatives”.  A Kyudo practitioner is not the same as a historic Japanese combat archer. A sport fencing master is not automatically someone who could survive a real sword fight and a master in a “martial art” who has never faced a resisting opponent should not be presumed to be more likely to prevail against someone who has.

mental bearing

Samurai.jpg (Photo credit: Andy Heather)


A quote that I use as a signature on an internet martial arts forum goes as follows:

“Mental bearing (calmness), not skill, is the sign of a matured samurai. A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant.”
– Tsukahara Bokuden

I think that the author makes an interesting point. I interpret this passage as saying that all Samurai have the same “basic training”. One can expect that a Samurai has skill with the sword, the bow, a spear, horseback riding and so on. The mature Samurai though, he possesses the presence of mind and calm demeanor that allow him to apply those skills freely and at the opportune time.

I’ve often thought about how this applies to modern combatives. An average practitioner is expected to have some training in basic combative skill. The thing that will set that student apart from others will be that “switch” between the physical techniques and “mental incorporation” for lack of a better term. A black belt with an encyclopedic knowledge of technique that “tweaks out” under stress is worthless. An untrained person who can stay calm under stress, grab a ball point pen and stab an attacker “about the head and neck” with it is a successful survivor. Mental bearing, willingness to commit and a pre-thought “action plan” are key. I honestly believe that successful martial arts training has more to do with getting a person to ACT when the time comes to act, the technique or system is secondary to this. I think that the advantage being seen in MMA is due to their training program vs any “technical superiority”. They train to take and deliver blows. They train against resisting opponents. I think that almost any martial art can reap these benefits through a re-evaluation of their training protocols. However, not everybody studies martial arts for this purpose. Studios that depend on the children’s programs, the fitness pitches or the “hobbyist” martial arts students will not attract or retain as many people as they would like if they make the training too demanding. It comes down to the instructor and his goals.

On another point, people who take this business seriously need to “pre-plan” for as many situations as they can dream up. Even if the solution is as simple as “I will never allow myself to be forced into a car and transported elsewhere. I’d rather fight and die quickly on the spot than be taken somewhere to die”. The survivor needs to have a basic “mental flowchart” already downloaded into the brain. This will foster this “mental bearing”.

I think that the pursuit of this state of mind is what attracts many martial artists to Zen and meditation; but while that can be a substantial aid I don’t see it as a “magic potion” unless it is made into a part of ones everyday life. Often it seems that westerners look at things like Zen as a “martial arts supplement”…take your daily dosage and watch the amazing results. I think that benefits like these are cumulative and the changes so slow and subtle that a person will rarely notice a change in themselves. Taking that route requires a life long commitment and a permanent shift in ones concept of reality.

The best way to learn to control your mind under stress is to “inoculate” yourself against it. Face the small battles everyday. Push yourself physically and mentally. Train to work through fatigue, fear and stress. Another thing I have often read about mindset is paraphrased as “you are how you choose to think”. In other words “act calm” under stress, even if you don’t think you are calm. For all intents and purposes, you will be controlling your mental state and if done long enough you will find that you really do start remaining calm under stress. Life rarely has “magical transformations”, most change comes from consistency. The formation of good habit is key.

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jack of all trades?

Japanese helm and armor, from Metropolitan Mus...
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I just read this passage from the Hagakure:

There are many people who, by being attached to a martial art and taking apprentices, believe that they have arrived at the full stature of a warrior. But it is a regrettable thing to put forth much effort and in the end become an “artist.” In artistic technique it is good to learn to the extent that you will not be lacking. In general, a person who is versatile in many things is considered to be vulgar and to have only a broad knowledge of matters of importance.

The way I read it, Yamamoto Tsunetomo was saying that some people look at teaching, practicing or dedicating themselves in a martial art as the pinnacle of “warriorship” but that becoming an “artist” and being a “warrior” are two different things.

He furthermore says that when learning “artistic technique” it is good to learn only enough to be proficient, but he says that only having a broad knowledge of matters of importance is “vulgar”.

I am a bit confused by this passage. The first part, where he says that it would be “regrettable” to become an artist, I think I understand. It seems to me that he is saying “look..a warrior USES martial arts to accomplish his goals…martial arts do not define the warrior. Don’t get so involved in practicing the martial arts that you forget what your job is.”

I tend to agree with that sentiment. I have stated repeatedly in my writings here that I think that simply teaching or training in a martial art doesnt place you in the “warrior class“. If you want to BE a warrior, you have to get out there and put your ass on the line FOR something. Enlist, become a Fireman, an EMT, a cop, join the Peace Corps…get out there and DO something. Even if you have no martial arts experience I believe that you are closer to being a “warrior” than someone who goes to the corner dojo twice a week.

The people who hone their martial skills, the citizens who attend every firearms school from Blackwater to Gunsite…they are training in the “warrior arts” or perhaps trying to live “AS a warrior”, which is perfectly fine and honorable. Many of them are simply enjoying a hobby, some are preparing themselves to be self-sufficient in defensive skills, and myrid other legitimate reasons. Then there are some who think that practicing the skills of the warrior somehow “makes” them a warrior, but paying to learn all the skills and techniques of a Navy SEAL isnt the “same as” BEING a Navy SEAL.

So I agree…being an “artist” and being a “warrior” are different things. Then again, perhaps I am simply interpreting this writing to match my opinion because Tsunetomo goes on to say:

In artistic technique it is good to learn to the extent that you will not be lacking. In general, a person who is versatile in many things is considered to be vulgar and to have only a broad knowledge of matters of importance.

I can read the first part  in two ways. Either he is saying; “when you are an Artist you can “get away with” learning enough so as to not be lacking”. Or he is saying; “when you are a warrior who is learning an artistic technique it is best to not waste your time honing it too much to the detriment of other skills”.

I think that the last sentence tends to support the first interpretation. As if the writer is saying “well..if you are an Artist then learning enough to get by in many skills is all well and good, but being a generalist is vulgar.”

That tends to run contrary to my understanding of what “artist” means though. I would think that the “artist” would be concerned with refining and honing every minutiae of technique, while the warrior has many skills he/she needs to do their job.

Then again perhaps the authors “artist” was different than our modern interpretation of the term. Maybe he was saying; “Martial Artists are interested in learning anything and everything to do with their art so they tend to learn just enough to be skillful in those many things. The Warrior should not worry about gaining many mediocre skills, he should focus on becoming expert at his necessary skills (i.e. swordsmanship, archery, horesmanship etc.).”

To make a modern military analogy, this is like saying a “military artist” would be someone who tries to learn about everything; artillery, airborne operations, naval operations, intelligence, infantry tactics, armor etc. As such the “military artist” gains a broad but shallow knowledge of all these skills. Its as if Tsunetomo is saying “dont be a Military Artist…focus on your infantry skills. You may not know squat about Tank Warfare but you will be an Infantry expert.”

I wish that Tsunetomo was around so I could ask him to clarify. Does anybody else have an interpretation of this passage that differs from mine?

Any way you interpret it, this passage raises some interesting thoughts about the relationship between your “mission” and your training goals.


what exactly do you think you are doing?

Professional golfer Tiger Woods shoots a handg...
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A theme that keeps popping up in discussion with my like minded friends revolves around the issue of firearms training and it’s sometimes over-emphasized place in (some) peoples lives.

While “overtraining” in weapon skills is obviously NOT a problem in comparison to all of the people who are undertrained, and constant practice IS important; it’s also important to realize that there are MANY other skills that are as or even more important than being able to doubletap a target while on the move.

The author of Vuurwapen Blog has recently posted an interesting piece about this, he says:

However, pistol and carbine training courses – and shotgun courses, and precision rifle courses etc. – are all essentially based on, or grew from the concept of, providing law enforcement and military personnel with a greater ability to use their issued weapons. What we see now in the firearms community are essentially the same courses marketed to civilian shooters, perhaps with some limitations or restrictions. This is all well and good, but there is a major disconnect between the skills of a civilian shooter who has attended many carbine and pistol training courses and the skills of a Marine infantryman who has never attended training outside that which is provided by the military.

It is almost a foregone conclusion that the civilian shooter would be more proficient with the rifle/carbine and the pistol, at least within 50 to 100 yards. However, the Marine possesses skills that would make him much more valuable to an infantry unit, and, I daresay, more valuable in a firefight. Unfortunately, the skills that make him so valuable are not cool enough to draw dozens of paying clients.

Some – certainly not all – civilian training centers draw students by telling them how after only a few days of training, they will become as good a shooter as “a SWAT cop or a Navy SEAL.” Yes, Front Sight, I’m looking at you. Even when this is not stated outright, it is implied – most often not by the instructors, but by the students. For some people who have never been in the military, and are seeking a little excitement, putting on all the gear and getting on line to practice shooting drills is a really fun way to spend a weekend. I certainly don’t wish to put down what they have chosen to do too much, for as I said above, anyone who wants to own an AR-15 should know how to use it. However, while there is a massive jump in skills and proficiency after the first few training courses, the 5th, 10th, or 15th course is of relatively little value.


He’s saying exactly what I always say in reply to the “many cops are crappy shooters” cannard that pops up in many shooting related discussions. Yes, some (perhaps even too many) are, but do you know what skill they should spend even more time working on? Driving. And after that? Unarmed defensive tactics.

Sure you may be a better shot than a Marine , but can you land nav to an ambush site and lay an ambush? Can you call in artillery? Do you know combat first aid and tactical radio communications? Nobody is saying that shooting isn’t of vital importance, but once you have that skill checked off and you have a maintainance plan to preserve what you have learned, don’t stay in a rut.

For the “civilian” who wants to be prepared? Is there really any more skill improvement that they need past the 3rd or 4th training course? Not that there is anything wrong with participating in classes simply because it’s fun and its “your money”, but in terms of useful skills how about getting some first aid training instead of dropping 2-5K on another trip to Front Sight? Or maybe take up running or some sort of fitness training. THAT will pay off far more in the long run of your life than another weekend burning through a case of .223.

PS- The same goes for YOU, my martial arts class taking “warriors” out there. One or Two classes a week at the local dojo does not a “warrior” make. How many $200-$300 seminars do you REALLY need to take?

If you are doing it as a hobby or simply because you enjoy it (so go @!$% yourself Tgace) that 100% A-OK with me. But make your decisions in full awareness.

when to meditate

Saigo Takamori (upper right) directing his tro...
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From the beginning it’s best to do zazen in the midst of strife and confusion. A samurai, in particular, must be able to do zazen while uttering his battle cry. Guns are firing, lances are flying, and amidst the confusion , you send up a battle cry. It’s here that you can clearly make good use of your practice. What use can there be for a zazen requiring a quiet place? However appealing Buddhist teachings may be, the samurai should throw away anything he can’t use when the moment for his battle cry arrives.

-Suzuki Shosan

the little tests

Wimberley zip lines- a recreational destinatio...
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I have mentioned in previous posts that I subscribe to the idea that:

A man’s ordinary life at peace reflects his courage or cowardice just like a mirror…Having the least bit of spare time, he will put his mind to Learning, and not be negligent in his practice of the martial arts…He will protect his health fully and will keep in mind the desire to perform at least once in his life a great meritorious deed.


It’s my opinion that a person should, on occasion, test themselves. Large, life altering tests are not as necessary as frequent, smaller tests.  These “little tests” can be as simple as; speaking up when you see something wrong, being the person who takes the lead when it’s obvious that everybody else is looking for someone to make the first move, making a public speech, etc.

In this day and age there are also many opportunities to test your “gut” in a relatively safe manner. There are numerous adventure and X-sport opportunities out there to test your mettle; rock climbing gyms, skydiving schools, SCUBA courses, etc. I recently had the opportunity to do a high angle “adventure” course. You may have seen them, cargo net climbs, wire/plank bridges between elevated platforms, zip lines.

Now, I’m not claiming that doing stuff like this is somehow going to guarantee that you will perform well under stress, or make you magically courageous (my daughter and niece went on this course with me btw) but any opportunity to associate that little twinge of fear with fun is an opportunity that you can use to prove to yourself that you CAN override fear and do what needs to be done.

I look at opportunities like this as a chance to “practice” those things that you don’t/cant practice by shooting at targets or even by trading simunitions with another living person. There is no (or very little) pushing past actual fear in a lot of tactical/weapon training, you get to fantasize about what you “would do” in real life, but it’s still just training. There is a reason why most military boot camps run their recruits through “confidence courses” and obstacle courses…and it isn’t to train them to perform common soldier tasks.

What I found interesting in this latest excursion was the ratio of young people to adults. It’s somewhat amusing how many parents will let their kids do the course but will pass on doing it themselves. Granted, youth has long been known to be more adventurous, but where is the line between adventure and the over-cautiousness of adulthood?


why do you serve?

Swiss longsword, 15th or 16th century
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Naganuma Muneyoshi (1635-1690), was a Japanese neo-Confucian and military scientist of the Koshu or Takeda school. He had this to say about faith and service.

Faith is critical to both culture and warfare. Without faith, humaneness is a mere expedient, courtesy degenerates into flattery, intelligence is decorated with deception, duty serves adventurism, and bravery deteriorates into violence and depredation. None of these are virtues.

If a knight has faith, then in times of peace he can assist the process of civilization, while in times of disturbance he can eliminate what injures the people. Then he is able to be a protector of the nation.

Knights keep their discipline to the death. Those whose aim is justice are best; those whose aim is honor is lesser. The custom of knights in Japan is to be extremely desirous of honor, so there are those who mistakenly think the desire for honor is itself justice. All in all, to carry out justice and thus achieve honor is good, while to perform exploits hoping to get honored is lowly. Even more so is aspiring only to get paid-even if you perform feats in battle, you are not worthy of being considered a knight.

-Naganuma Muneyoshi

The section on faith seems to echo my previous post on fact and faith. A Tokugawa Japanese man’s definition of “faith” is most likely different from any Christian or other Western flavoring of the word, and that kind of supports what I was trying to say in my own post. “Faith”…as much as the atheist may like to pigeonhole it…doesn’t necessarily have to come with a denomination or a fundamentalist worldview.  Faith has to do with believing in the things worth believing in. If you want to believe in a world where honor, courage, justice and love are nothing but chemical reactions in the brain…have at it. I choose to believe otherwise and would rather live out my time on this earth in that sort of world. That doesn’t mean that I reject science by any means. That is the typical rebuttal…”you are a Luddite who still believes in a geocentric universe”…uhhh. No. Just as science is constantly discovering that there is more to existence than we previously thought, I believe that there is more to life and it’s meaning than science can prove.  If the knight chooses to believe in expediency, flattery and deception in order to serve his own self interest, because that is how he thinks the world works, that is due to how he CHOOSES to see the world. What sort of knight would you aspire to be?

The last part, the part about aspiring only to get paid, that sort of spoke to me. It made me think of the reasons people serve, in particular within my chosen profession of law enforcement. I have to be honest, I have a family and I couldn’t do this job for minimum wage. The money and the benefits were a major factor as was the status and “honor” of the profession. However, Muneyoshi said “aspiring ONLY to get paid” and I think that is the key. Money and honor are far from the ONLY reason that I love my work, but there are, unfortunately, some people within the ranks who seem to look at the job as ONLY that…a job. I, like Muneyoshi, believe that they are not worthy of being considered “Knights”.


warrior fitness

Thanks to Warrior Depot for this vid:

If you are going to watch any of this video, watch the one leg “box jump” this guy does. I do a little plyometric work myself and let me tell you I don’t know if I will ever be able to do THAT! This dude is a machine. Special Op’s will do that to you I guess.