25 Jul

The Sharpend Blade And The Truth

Ronim

Think of your opponents hands and feet as swords.

-Gichin Funakoshi

There have been a number of times in human history when a newly created technology would forever change life thereafter. The knowledge and ability to utilize fire is one such development, the development of agriculture another, and the use of electricity can be seen as a more modern example of this kind of revolutionary leap. It's through these leaps forward in technological prowess that civilization is made possible. I tend to think it's important to also note how technology moves forward due to an ever increasing body of knowledge. For example it's not reasonable to think that the jet plane could have existed before the motor car, or the internet could have existed before the light bulb. So if modern life is the result of thousands of years of human  progress then one tool stands out as a truly fundamental pillar of civilization and that is cutting blade. Archaeology claims that as early as 50,000 years ago our ancestors were using flint and obsidian blades.  The incredible range of uses a sharp blade provides should be obvious and so it's no mystery why early humans would seek to develop better and better blades. Slowly over many thousands of years flint and obsidian would give way to copper, then to bronze, then to iron, and finally steel and modern alloys were developed. These developments were fundamental to our progress as a species. So much so that we name the some of the epoch's of human history after the technological level of the metallurgy being done at that time such as the Bronze Age, Iron Age etc. The advantage of a cutting blade would have been wholly revolutionary to an early humans and two main types of weapons would be created with these blades that would remain vital to humanity right up until modern times. They are the sword and the spear. Both weapons have been made in numerous styles and sizes throughout history and exist in virtually every society and civilization that has ever existed. Between the two weapons the thing makes the sword unique is that it is better suited to be an individual fighters weapon, whereas the spear is best utilized by groups of solders in rank and file. This has lead the sword to become synonymous with personal power and in the end it became an anchor in our collective unconscious as a symbol of both strength and justice. Truly no other weapon commands such an important place in both history and myth as the sword. From the legends of King Arthur's sword Excalibur to the incomparable Japanese Katana, from the Roman soldier's Gladius to the great sword Andúril in the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. Swords are everywhere and play a fundamentally important role in both fiction and real life. This is an interesting phenomenon in that despite the glowing high place swords keep in life and ritual/symbolism the job they do is really quite gruesome. It begs the question of how a tool designed to hack people apart came to be a symbol of Justice. Originally I think it was spears that really changed our ancestors lives the most directly. A spear could allow a person to fend off an attacking wild animal and generally gave early humans a huge boost in establishing humanity at the top of the food chain. Swords really are built much more towards human on human violence. They are largely the ultimate individual weapon and as civilization grew so did the concepts of empire and conquest. This meant the idea of self defense took on a newly important role in the life of the average person. Its here that the doubled edged nature of technology presents itself. If someone was viciously attacking me with a bladed weapon then I would definitely prefer to have a similar weapon to use in my defense. If not then I would prioritize taking the attackers weapon away and using it against them if necessary to bring the attack to an end. So the sword can do great harm or it can prevent great harm from being done. But a world without the cutting blade is one where we could not have developed society very far. So this issue cannot be resolved by getting rid of blades. It's for this reason that a good martial arts school will devote some amount of time to training with blades both in the sense of how the blade is used and also how to disarm a bladed attacker. Of all the kinds of weapons that get used in assaults a bladed weapon is the most common. At this time in history such attacks are almost always one kind of knife or another. Anything from a pocket sized switch blade, to a hunting knife, or even a common kitchen knife can be a deadly weapon. However regardless of which one is being used they all must be wielded within limitations of what a human being with two arms and two legs can do with a cutting object. This means if you learn to deal with any kind of knife you will have developed a fighting chance to deal with any other bladed weapon as well. To be sure though any fight with a cutting blade is absolutely deadly serious and should be treated as such. There is an old saying in Japanese Kenjutsu/sword fighting schools that a person going into a sword fight only has a 33.3% chance of surviving. Not good odds and not something to be taken lightly. Much of martial art training is purposefully directed towards absolute worst case scenarios and this is a prime example of that. This means that standing and fighting someone with a blade is the last possible thing one should do. Get away, give them your wallet or whatever else, anything else than can be done to avoid a blade being swung towards you is priority. However that being said if there truly is no other option then one must fight such an assailant in a severe and deadly serious way in their defense. So by now we can see that cutting blades are an intrinsic part of the human world. And since people do not seem likely to stop attacking each other any time soon then it is distinctly advantageous to know how blades are used as weapons and how to defend against such attacks.  This truth is exactly the kind of truth that martial arts are built upon. Seeing things as they are and working tirelessly towards the best possible result within the constraints reality presents. It's like the old head on the sand analogy, if your heads in the sand then you have no real chance of surviving a hurricane. However if you face the storm and do what you can to avoid getting killed then you at least have a chance. This is the truth of the blade. Things are as they are, so how are you going to respond, that is what matters. It is a very delicate truth. In the Aizu Clan of Japan from which the Takeda Family  and the Daito Ryu comes from there is a old saying that the truth lies on the cutting edge of a blade. This makes the truth a precarious thing that must be treated with delicacy and great care just a real live blade is. If this can be understood then it can finally be understood how the blade can be seen as the perfect embodiment of the truth. Like the truth it cuts deeply and when used carelessly can do great harm but without it the world could not exist as it does. It is for this reason that the way of using a blade has been of enormous value to me. It has given me what I feel is a deep insight into life and so I am honestly grateful to have come to know the cutting blade and because of that to have gotten a glimpse of the truth it reveals. I hope you find the same for yourself someday.          
18 May

May 2016 Seminar and Grading With Sensei Douglas Mortley

collage pic Twice a year my teacher, Sensei Douglas Mortley, travels to the Vancouver Dojo to teach a series of seminars and oversee a Karate grading. Sensei Mortley has been teaching Shorinji Ryu Karate, Old Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, Okinawan and Japanese Kobudo, and Daito Ryu AikiJujutsu for over 30 years. His seminars are open to any interested Martial Artists. This time the Dojo was honoured to also have Sensei Tom Leahy join us along with Sensei A.J. Dowla of Usagi Jinja Yo-Shin. For information on upcoming seminars please contact vancouverdojo@gmail.com The class had been training for several hours. Every person had perspiration gleaming on their face, the Dojo was quiet expect for the sound of breathing. You know its a good class when all you hear is muffled breathing and the silence of concentration. Sensei Mortley was walking around watching people as they worked in pairs on the technique he had just demonstrated. Someone made a comment about how the technique seemed miraculous and almost like magic. Sensei turned and narrowed his eyes at the comment. It was time for a story...... It was years ago, Sensei Mortley was training directly under Sensei Richard Kim. He had been asked to pick Sensei Kim up from the airport and drive him to the seminar being held due to his visit.  On the way from the airport the two of them happened to drive by a park where a public Karate demonstration was in progress. This was in the 1970's and Karate was still quite obscure so Sensei Kim asked to stop and view the demonstration. The two of them mingled into the crowd and watched as a man in a Gi and wearing a black belt proceeded to chop the tops off wine bottles with his hand, punch downwards at bricks and break them, he had a volunteer lay in their back then placed a watermelon on their belly and cut through it with a sword without touching the skin of the volunteers belly, he performed several other feats of "Karate power". After some time watching this demonstration Sensei Kim looked at Sensei Mortley and said, "C'mon Doug let's go, tricks are for kids". I think it's in those words that one of the most important lessons Mortley Sensei teaches is perfectly spelled out. In so many ways it is the point of martial arts training. The skills Martial Arts develop are truly exceptional. A highly skilled practitioner can do things that might seem hard to believe by the individual who has no idea what rooting or the concept of Aiki means in the martial arts context. These skills are hard earned and developed directly out of a thorough understanding of human body mechanics, psychology, and other important studies like combat reality and instinct response programming. They are a form of knowledge, not magic, and they can be understood by those who earn their way to knowing them through sweat and time. It is in this sense that training with Sensei Mortley is always so worthwhile. I could watch as everyone in the Dojo took in more than they knew from the time they spent with him.

The seminar was divided into three main parts.

Friday night we went over the Two Person Tai Chi Form. The Two Person Form is very much like the single person form most often seen when people train Tai Chi in the parks. It is like a endless method of countering any kind of grab or strike. It was developed by the Yang Family but largely kept secret. I consider the Two Person Tai Chi Form a jewel in the study of Tai Chi. Saturday in the first part of the session Sensei Mortley taught a Tanto or Knife Kata. This form is taken from the Daito Ryu Tradition and it another fairly rare form. It covers all the fundamental concepts of knife fighting and self defense including blade positioning, cutting angles, drawing the blade, disarming techniques and more. The final session was on a Traditional Karate Kata called Hangetsu. This Kata to a large degree represents a halfway point between the Naha-Te and Shuri-Te traditions respectively. The Kata translates as Half/Crescent Moon which refers the the stance used in the form, called hangetsu dachi. Hangetsu stressed breath control and strongly rooted stances. It is related to the Kata Seisan and uses a few similar movements. After everyone had absorbed as much information as they could we all took a  break for lunch. It was beautiful day and the walk outside refreshed our minds and allowed for some hearty conversations. Once the meal was finished we returned for the grading. Gradings are always worth watching as they show people in their truest form. When you step up in front of a panel of black belts and perform your Kata there's no way to hide. It's a very important part of a persons development to grade. Unlike the seminars they are open to the public so if your curious about viewing one feel free to contact the Dojo and we can arrange that. Then it was over. Sensei Mortley and Sensei Leahy left to catch a ferry back to the island and I cleaned up the Dojo. The experience left me feeling uplifted and reflective of the deep gratitude I have for being able to walk this path. It is in that spirit that the way continues. Domo arigatou gozaimashita to everyone who walks their path in the spirit of compassion and humility. See you on the Dojo floor 🙂    
03 May

Tournaments And Paths To Follow: Part 2-Different Reasons

gate   "Whom do you serve?" asks the hero in the epic fantasy novel as they confront a stranger on their hero's quest. The stranger's face pales and the tension between the two increases dramatically. Such a question is not lightly answered.  It might as well be, what do you truly want? or what are your ultimate intentions? All these questions end up basically meaning the same thing. They ask what are the core beliefs motivating an individual to do the things they do. Not a small question at all. Like the hero in the story we all would be benefited to ask the same question but instead of asking it of others we should take the time to ask ourselves who or what we are serving. Does anxiety rule your mind, or does peace and passion? Years ago Sensei Mortley first told me that I must be able to look in the mirror and feel good about what I saw. A person might be able to put on a nice smile for their boss or partner but there is no way to truly be dishonest with themselves. What's more any attempt at doing so does great damage to the person in the end. . In the previous article I painted a picture of the two basic camps in the ongoing debate within martial artist community about the role competitions play within training. I admittedly used very broad brush strokes so as to more easily differentiate the two camps. Despite that I certainly don't mean to say that all practitioners of the numerous martial arts in the world are wholly committed to one side of the debate or the other. I personally find watching highly skilled competitors in the UFC octagon fighting with passionate and fury a fascinating display of human capability. But as intense and dramatic as such fights might be, for me, there is always a shadow underneath it all. That being a very strong personal dislike for violence. So even my personal position on this issue is heavily nuanced and hard to pinpoint. It would also be foolish to say that combat sports are anything less than written into the DNA of society. The Romans had the Gladiators and most other cultures throughout time had their own equivalent spectacles. I would imagine that even back in the early Stone Age humans would gather around and watch people argue and fight using their hands and feet and other weapons. In fact it can be said that all sports are to some degree based off either fighting or hunting. Both fighting and hunting in the early Stone Age would require a great deal of skill and precision. There was also great risks as the hunts and fights would likely often end with the death of the participants. Today there is still lethal consequences to many sports. NFL Football and NHL Hockey are plagued by concussions and other similar injuries. Just recently a UFC fighter named Joao Carvalho died after a bout from what seems to be the head injuries he received in the fight. Professional Boxing has it's deaths as well. These fighters don't go into the ring planning on being killed but it does happen and it's considered one of the costs of such activities. The question then is why are the participants engaging in these activities.  Well for the most part it seems to be for rewards of wealth and personal glory. Now I know there are many people who have gained tremendously from training in all the combat sport arts and that is a great thing. However at the highest levels of achievement in these systems winning is the main goal and what you win is personal glory and cash. Of course money is a necessity in our society and few people have enough of it to live comfortable lives. I can easily understand the desire to make the heaps of money world champions seem to do. Years ago I toyed with the idea of entering into some local competitions for just that reason. Then there is the glory of being known as a champion. This is also an easily understandable desire. All people are driven to some extent to receive recognition from their fellow humans. Becoming the "best" at something is the human equivalent of becoming the alpha of the pack. And to be sure becoming highly skilled at any activity is a noble goal and one I highly recommend. My Sensei has often reminded me that one should become world class at something they love. Whatever that may be it will serve you well to truly seek out becoming as good as anyone can be at whatever skill/art/craft you wish to pursue. So it is with world champion combat sport fighters. These men and women has worked endless hours honing their skills and have paid a heavy price for their achievements. They have sweated buckets and even bled on the training floor and I definitely respect them for it. Far to often people mistake differences for value, especially on this point. If one person happens to find their path in life leads into the triumphs and defeats of the professional fighting world and another person's path leads into a Traditional Martial Art practice, avoiding violence at all costs and never making a public spectacle of their skills, then who is really following the true path?  Neither, both, in reality such comparisons diminish both Sport Fighting and Traditional Martial Arts. Having totally different reasons to do a thing fundamentally changes the thing you do. In the Traditional Martial Arts the goals are completely different than are the goals of the sport fighter. A Traditional Martial Artist will go to great lengths to avoid any violent encounters. Even if forced to defend themselves they never do more than is necessary to avoid harm. Seeking to "win" against another is an act of the ego and pride no matter how you look at it. Most Traditional Dojo's speak out against the dangers of pride and are adamant that it is never acceptable to use the skills they develop to intentionally harm another.  This means in Traditional Martial Arts there is no rewards of glory to be found, only endless effort. The true goal of the Traditional Martial Artists is to live a long, healthy, and honourable life. It is a simple goal but one far from easy. My Sensei has asked the question of how compassion and humility can coexist with competitions that make people either winners or losers. If the six words of compassion, humility, honour, loyalty, gratitude, and patience are truly observed then one cannot claim superiority over any other person, or animal, or plant, or anything else that exists. So in the end the questions is what do you want, or to put it more poetically, what do you wish to serve. Does the idea of defeating other people for cash and glory excite you, then a Sport Based Competitive Dojo is where you ought to go. If the pursuit of personal self defense and individual/spiritual growth is what you seek then a Traditional Dojo is where you will want to be. Both are valid choices but both travel utterly different paths. I wish you well no matter what path you take.            

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