Friday, October 12, 2007

Warrior Art

I've recently dropped a term on the blog that has apparently rankled some individuals: "Warrior Art."

I spent enough time in management to know that in instances of miscommunication, it is best to first assume the speaker did not adequately express his point, and explain it again. If the problem persists, chances are good the issue is with the listener...

So what do I mean by "warrior art?"

Martial arts rarely have neat, tidy histories, But broadly, it could be said that some martial arts aren't truly "martial." Most Okinawan karate styles were passed by peasant familes until systemized in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Shoalin Kung Fu was developed by monks for exercise and self-defense. Neither of these instances were specifically intended for use on the battlefield by professional warriors.

Jujutsu (the Japanese original), on the other hand, was developed by the samurai specifically for use against armed and armored opponents. Judo was originally a modernized synthesis of classical jujutsu styles, meaning it was combat effective. By the 1960's, however, the rules had changed and mutating into a sport-oriented system.

This doesn't mean that someone with a bad attitude and mad wrestling skills couldn't ruin your day with his collegiate wrestling technique. It doesn't mean a Shoalin monk wasn't a threat on a battlefield back in the day. It does mean that each art has a set of assumptions that inform it's strategy. These are inherent prejudices that are passed along and affect a practitioner's outlook.

A collegiate wrestler probably has all the skill to disarm a gun-wielding attacker. But has he been trained to do so? probably not. Nor has he been trained to deal with multiple opponents. Even against one opponent, his training has instilled in him that winning is pinning the other guy on his back. This isn't an indictment of the wrestler's skill, it is simply the result of the context in which he has trained.

So when I say we practice a "warrior art," I mean to remind my fellow students that our context is battlefield combat. Anything goes. The stakes are high. Survival is our only goal. Lives are at risk.

Too often, our modern training is colored by action movie fantasies. We bring the notions of sportsmanship and fair play from other athletics into the dojo. We crosstrain in techniques and tactics from other systems. And we sometimes grow so engaged in cooperative training with our friends that we can easily forget the high stakes our training is suppossed to prepare us to meet.

Of course, we aren't meant to kill each other inside the dojo. We'd have very short careers that way. Besides, Sensei says, "Understand? Good. Play!" I'm saying that part of our mind must be focused on the ultimate nature of our martial art: Combat. Otherwise, what we do degenerates into sport at best, dance at worst.

There is another side to this coin. It is a warrior "ART", not a warrior slugfest.

Art means that our practice should manifest more than bonebreaking and manhandling. There is a higher aspect to it all. On the physical side, our practiced tehniques should have some beauty to them. While we might be forced to resort to sweeping, clubbing blows and raw aggression in a real fight, even these will more effective if we have instilled some scientific efficiency into our muscle memory with quality training effort. Training is meant to overcome instinct, so maybe we can present a smidgen more technique than caveman clobbering if we train hard. And technique means we should be able to dish out a little more punishment in each blow than we otherwise could.

Our actions also have a moral and ethical consequence which we need to consider. Historical warriors in many societies adhered to a code of honor and conduct. (Ok, in practice, many of them ignored the niceties, but that's a topic for another day.) Mastering the skills of destruction carried with it the responsibility to use them wisely. The study of these aspects is also important to truly learning a warrior art.

Is there a tension here between the brutality of learning to crush our opponent, and the higher aspects of art? Yes, deal with it. Does it require a little extra brainpower to understand? Yes. Is it easy to decide all we need to do is learn how to break people? Yes; ignoring the tension is risky. It's also easy to go all new-age and learn martial-arts-for-peace and ignore any kind of practicality. That's just as wrong.

A final, brief word: There is a difference between a traditional warrior art, such as ours, and a modern combat warrior art, such as Krav Maga, MCMAP, or any of the "Reality Based" systems. The difference begins with the technological innovation of repeating firearms, and every weapons innovation to the modern day. There is no family in the Bujinkan that can teach you specifically how to disarm a suicide belt bomber. But the key word is "specifically." If you intend to step onto a modern battlefield, you'll need to supplement your training.

But that's okay... Most of us do.

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