Monday, August 10, 2015

Ugly Reality

I recently had the chance to spend the evening sipping pints of beer with an old friend of mine. Perhaps we sipped too many, but it happens. Right? Anyway, the subject of my friend's youth came up, and suffice it to say, my friend grew up in a not-so-passive environment in a big city. He had to fight, a lot, and lives now with the demons associated with past fears and violence. Too many times he had to defend himself—admittedly because he often put himself in bad situations—and he became, well, experienced at it. The cliche is this: he seems like he wouldn't hurt a fly. But he would, if he had to. And he has. So never be deceived by appearances or preconceived notions.

My friend was bullied and beaten up many times when he was young. It is tragic, really. He says the violence he encountered was “life changing” and “horrible,” and that eventually he hit that point. The point where he knew he had to become “tough.”

It is truly a burden he has to live with now. Even though he hurt people who wanted to hurt him, he speaks of it as if he should do some sort of penance for his actions. Yet, his stories hold value to anyone who wants to avoid violence or survive it if the time comes. He knows what it is really like. And it sucks.

Once, for example, I naively asked him what his reaction would be if someone grabbed him and he was about to be punched. It's a drill martial artists do repeatedly.

“If someone grabs you,” he said bluntly, “they don't know what they're doing.”

That's not to say you'll never be grabbed. A lot of people might do so. He was just suggesting that there are many people who might sucker you without so much as a tell. “You have to read people and react accordingly,” he added.

Awareness, my sensei used to say, is ninety percent of self-defense.

But all said, and despite lessons learned, I feel terrible for him. He lives with demons. He knows how ugly true violence is—but almost like a soldier—he became adept at it. It will never, ever leave him.

And that is the biggest lesson of all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kids Behaviour

In the dojo, just like the classroom, the children who interrupt, act out, and pay no attention to the lessons end up costing the diligent and eager students precious learning time. In turn, these eager students often get bored, feel like they are not learning enough, and resent those who are disruptive and are getting all the attention of the instructor. I've seen kids get fed up and not want to participate anymore. In both school, and karate class.
And the martial arts is full of children who have parents seeking discipline for their unfocused youngsters. This can be a good thing. Sometimes it works. However, there is a notion that a martial arts instructor can mystically transform any student. Or that the discipline of a martial art is going to “force” a youngster to “fall in line” as it were.
But it's not the army. And misbehaving children, while some are just seeking attention, many have genuine problems focusing and/or behaving, especially in a situation that is not one-on-one. The situation needs understanding, to be sure.
However, having a dojo full of students watching one or two children do push-ups for half of the class is not ideal for anyone. And truly, the eager students pay the price for this behaviour.
I think the parents need to be more involved. Often, they just drop off the child and come back after the class is over. Like it's a babysitting situation. But they need to watch what is going on from time to time. After all, there may be a bigger problem here that needs to be addressed.
Likewise, instructors need to have open communications with the parents. Many also need to learn more about childhood behaviour and attention disorders.
And lastly, other students in the class, even though they are young, need to feel comfortable speaking up and identifying problems. The instructor needs to listen to this and work things out accordingly.
Because there is room for everyone when it comes to learning, but sometimes a little extra work is required by everyone involved.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Five Years

Yup, this little blog has been active for five years this month.
I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, sifting through my thoughts and ideas, and posting small articles that help me make sense of the martial arts and philosophical landscape around me. It has become a part of my training path, so to speak, to use words in order to focus my mind and analyze what I see going on in my little world. I find it helps break down the chaos of my mind; it helps me calm the waters, and see to the bottom, if you will. I feel writing about something can be a useful tool, not unlike visualization, and may help the seeker attain whatever it is he/she seeks. If you don't blog, you might discover that keeping a journal, or even scrawling now and then on a scrap piece of paper can be an invaluable practice. It's not only good for present insight, but also provides a good way of checking back to how you used to feel and if that has changed along the way.
Anyway, thanks to all who drop by for a visit at Bujutsu: The Path.

Friday, February 27, 2015

"Long Quiet Highway"

There is a book from the early '90s I recently re-read, called: Long Quiet Highway by American author Natalie Goldberg. It is a autobiographical memoir of a writer who is immersing herself in Zen study while maintaining a career as an author and writing instructor. In the book, she reflects upon many aspects of Japanese Buddhism, including, in one passage, what it is that makes a good teacher. The fact that Goldberg is referring to Zen isn't necessarily the point. The skills and ideals are transferable to instructors of any kind.
"That is the work of a teacher, not to get caught in the likes and dislikes of a student, but to come forth always with the deepest teachings. Often the student does not like this, thinks the teacher is mean, unfeeling, but a good teacher knows that if he or she plants a real seed, someday, maybe years later, even in the most ignorant of students the seed may sprout. So the teacher's job is to close the gap between the student's ignorance and the teachings, but often the student does not understand any of this. That is why the student is the student. The teacher understands this. That is why the teacher can have abundant patience."
In the next paragraph the author discusses being a student, and what pushes us to want to expand our minds.
"But if the student doesn't know about the gap, how can she learn? There is something in us, an urgency to meet the teachings on the other side, that gnaws at our ignorance, that desires to meet our own true face, however lazy and comfort-loving we may seem to be. This something was working in me, albeit slowly, and often underground."
As a student of martial arts, I understand this. As a student of life, I also understand this. That is why finding the right teacher is so crucial, no matter what it is you wish to learn. And the responsibility of being a teacher is maybe even more immense. One has to be selfless, patient, and look at everything as a whole. After all, a teacher is really a student as well, as in the end, teaching and learning are one in the same.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Confidence is good. But overconfidence can lead to a disconnect when it comes to real life violence. It is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking aptitude in the dojo means one is automatically safe in the real world.
I've seen this in adults, from time to time, but where I've really noticed it lately is with teenagers who have put in a couple of years, and achieved some level of success when it comes to class. You see the confidence increase, which is good, but sometimes there develops a slight arrogance, and a belief that a high belt colour means you can hold your own with anyone, in any type, of situation. But it's just not true. It's not the way life works.
Unfortunately, sometimes, depending on the student (and to a large degree the teacher), success in the dojo can be comparable to being book smart at school. Good grades don't necessarily mean intelligence outside of the classroom.
Once, for example, I was watching a class where the teenagers were having semi-formal grappling/wrestling matches. A new kid was there, and he, because of his size, was paired up with an experienced brown belt in the class. Everyone was thinking, he's going to get destroyed by the senior student, and the group gathered around in a circle to watch. However, within seconds of the beginning of the match, the new kid pinned the brown belt on the mat and the match was over. And then he did it again.
Luckily, it was just a friendly match in the dojo.
In fairness, most of us who have put in any amount of time training have likely felt increased confidence because of our increased abilities. I get it. But what some students don't yet realize, and it may take many more years of training and real life experience to understand, is that humility needs to be one of the key attributes discovered along the road of training. Use your confidence, but don't waver from caution; don't think yourself invincible, because no one is. After all, if we are to never underestimate an opponent, it means to never overestimate yourself.
Real life violence cannot be duplicated in a dojo for the sake of training. Real violence is ugly and unpredictable. It should be avoided, if possible.
I guess I just worry some of these students, with their new-found confidence, will put themselves in bad situations because of, well, being a bit naive. Because confidence can only take one so far, and some of the book smarts have to be interpreted and/or translated into realistic thinking.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Balance

I am returning to the philosophy of circles.
When I began martial arts, it was with the focus on the circle. Techniques were always completed with this concept in mind; defences were based upon rounded movements, such as jiu-jitsu usually is. This philosophy became the basis of my training. And while I haven't forgotten this, somewhere along the way I started to take my own philosophies for granted.
You see, as I grew to be a more experienced striker, I learned the value of a linear approach to defence to complement the circle. I learned about centre lines, jabs, and crosses. Attacking on angles and doing kata in line formations. Often, it seemed, the quickest route to reach an opponent was in a straight line.
My circles never went away, though, I just didn't focus on them in the same way I once did. But my mind is returning to it, now, albeit in a more layered manner than before.
I like to look at a karate reverse punch as a good example of combining straight lines with circular movements. The punch, to be quick and effective, must travel directly at its target – in a straight blast of power. The foot, also, lunges into a forward stance, aimed in the same direction as the arm. But, the circle is still there. The fist corkscrews as it is extended; the hips turn in order to generate power. It is a perfect balance of both concepts at work.
Lately, I have been hoping to increase my jiu-jitsu training once again. It's like going home and I'm excited. I am once more thinking in circles both small and large. And I am applying the philosophy to what I have learned in the meantime, blending the two, hopefully, into seemless, coherent actions.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Becoming Immune

In the realm of frenetic commercialism, those who wish to find a quiet mind must work to develop a sort of “materialistic immunity.” Just as the body can become immune to certain diseases, so, too, can the mind subdue the unwanted “noise” of the world.

It is hard enough, I've discovered, to find moments of peace without countless billboards pouring crap into my conscious and subconscious mind. Life, it seems, is challenging on its own, without omnipresent television screens with ego-filled actors telling me what I “need,” and how to be happy. And when I walk down a city street it feels akin to running a gauntlet of materialism, and I know it impacts us all deeper than we think on the surface. After all, that's the point of advertising, isn't it?

But peace can still be found. I try to become consciously aware of my surroundings, and take my power back by holding an internal place of focus amid the chaos.

The martial arts world, an argument could be made, has become increasingly commercial in recent years as well. Some dojos want to sell you what they have to offer, and many teachers and students flaunt their knowledge as if advertising their self-importance, unaware of the impact it may have on other students with whom they train. While most instructors and students I have met have been humble and approachable, there is always that one guy or girl who fails to check their ego at the door.

Again, we need to focus on ourselves. Martial artists train daily to cut out distractions, to breath, and to redirect the energy of an attacker. In this case, the attacker may be ego, materialism, or just unwanted attitudes of negativity. I just try to redirect the unwanted energy. I try to become immune to negative surroundings, and hopefully add a bit of positivity in the process.

It is my way of trying to find a quiet mind in a world that often seems out to confuse and distort what life is all about.