Tuesday, January 13, 2009

By Sawai Atsuhiro

(This article appeared in the SMAA Journal in 2005. It is the official publication of the SMAA. To find out how to join the SMAA, and obtain this quarterly, visit http://www.smaa-hq.com/.)

When I was young I studied koshiki suiei-jutsu, which means “ancient swimming art.” The dojo, or training hall, was a small lake surrounded by lavish green trees and a golf course. The American Occupation Army made it in the 1940s in a northern suburb of Kyoto. Although suiei-jutsu was developed by the bushi (“warriors”) of my country in feudal times, and while it is a form of koryu bujutsu, or “old style martial arts,” we practiced it as a do, or spiritual path, in the 1940s. Unlike most forms of swimming, it is unmistakably a martial art, and its training is as hard as judo or kendo. It is definitely different from modern sport swimming as we see in the Olympics.

My teacher’s teacher was from the bushi warrior class, and before World War II, he always kept a dagger in the bosom of his kimono. He was asked why he carried such a thing when he came to teach suiei-jutsu, and he answered, “If any of my students should die in the lake during my teaching session, I will kill myself with this weapon to take responsibility.” Such attitudes are associated with bushido, the “way of the warrior,” and they have few parallels in modern sport swimming.

There are three different primary points that distinguish ancient Japanese suiei-jutsu from modern swimming:

1. There must be beauty as well as effectiveness in the form of swimming.
2. There is no competing with others in speed.
3. You should swim quickly, but you should never be tired when you reach land.

These are the principles of Kobori Ryu, the ancient form of swimming that I studied. There have been many traditional swimming schools (ryu) in Japan, one existed in almost every clan in the Edo period (around 1600 to 1867 AD). However, now perhaps only a dozen remain across the country of Japan. There are no big differences between them. Still, each school developed their own techniques to cope with the unique terrain and geography of the area they lived in. For instance, a feudal clan facing the Pacific Ocean often contrived a way to swim swiftly in the open sea, whereas a ryu situated near a lake typically developed a method to swim there.

When I started to study suiei-jutsu, I found some young girls (of high school age) swimming with marvelous grace and elegance. The teacher whispered to me, “Men should swim with majesty and beauty. Not like that way!” I had never seen swimming like this, as I had learned the usual swimming when I was a high school boy, and I believed we had to swim as fast as possible to be considered talented.

Several years after I began to study suiei-jutsu, I was given the certification of Shihan, or “Master Teacher.” Gradually with practice, I found myself never tired even after many hours of swimming. One day my teacher saw my performance from the lakeside and called out, “Now you’ve got it. There is some beauty in your movement.” More than my certificate, that meant I had truly reached the level of Shihan. I was delighted.

The Techniques of Suiei-jutsu
There are many styles of swimming in suiei-jutsu. One of them is called nukite, which literally means “crawling arms,” and is similar to the free-style crawl in Western swimming. In nukite, we must keep our head and breast a little above the water surface, making it possible to see in four directions in case of a possible attack. This style was contrived for a bushi to swim with his sword and a bundle of clothes on his head.

Another style is called noshi, which literally means “stretching,” and it was devised to swim up a rapid. In doing noshi, you must swim sideways, sliding a little on the back side in order to reduce the water pressure as little as possible, while stroking your arms and legs inside the water like the breast stroke of modern sport swimming. Once you are accustomed to this method, you never feel tired and can swim with a remarkable speed. You can swim slowly if you like, feeling as if you were resting on the water. This was important for the bushi, because if they were exhausted when they reached land, they would be unable to actively engage their opponents.

Bushi also learned a method called soku-geki, which literally means “leg beating.” You hit the surface of the water as strongly as possible with your knees bent. The purpose of this method is to swim in any sort of shallow water. When I snorkel in Hanauma Bay in Hawaii, I use this sokugeki method in the shallow water of the coral bed (about 30 centimeters deep), and I can swim smoothly and enjoy watching the fish. If you do otherwise, you’ll kick the rugged coral rocks and have your knees and legs cut and bleeding. If you practice soku-geki for five to ten minutes at the start of a swimming session, it can effectively prevent you from experiencing cramps. We also learned a way to swim with our clothes on, the aim of which is to rescue someone drowning.

The waza, or “technique,” that impressed me most was the way to swim with both hands and legs tied together by two ropes. This technique was for a bushi, who had broken out of an enemy’s prison, to escape and swim across the castle moat.

An expert shihan demonstrated it first to us. And my teacher surprised us by saying, “You believe you swim with the arms and legs, but you’re wrong. You can swim without them. Look at a fish. Real swimming is using the whole body.” This unified use of the whole body is needed (and taught) in every form of genuine bujutsu and budo.

From Technical Training to a Spiritual Path
The methods in ancient Japanese martial swimming are all very practical and pragmatic at first. But gradually, as you advance in learning the techniques, you reach some level where you produce beauty in your movement, and this process from pragmatism toward formal beauty is similar to any Japanese martial art, or “do” arts such as kendo or judo.

This tendency to progress from pure functionality to beauty and spirituality forms one of Japanese culture’s pillars. We can see this same tendency in other Japanese arts like kado (“the way of flower arrangement”), chado (“the way of tea ceremony”), kodo (“the way of incense”), and others. Why did this tendency arise at all?

The elevation of all Japanese arts, crafts, and skills from their pure utilitarian function toward paths toward beauty and enlightenment occurred during the long period of peace that continued for 300 years in the Edo Period. At this time, the Tokugawa Shogunate ruled my country. Peaceful times prevailed all over Japan, while in many other parts, especially in Europe, many battles were fought for hegemony. The Tokugawa Shogun (supreme military ruler) governed Japan.

Before Tokugawa established control of Japan, many feudal lords, governing each province with military power, had been fighting with each other. This produced a period of unsettled turbulence for three centuries. During this era of constant warfare, few teachers had the time or inclination to see what existed in the martial arts beyond combative effectiveness. Toward the end of this period, Portuguese and Spanish missionaries came to Japan to spread Christianity, accompanied by some people carrying European weaponry.

In 1543 AD, a musket rifle was first introduced to this island country in the Far East. (They ignited the gunpowder with a burning straw-cord and fired a bullet.) After that, many feudal clans competed to produce guns of superior sort and fought with them. In time, the level of production progressed remarkably, with the result that the technical level was heightened in some provinces to the top level in the world. Prior to that, for 300 years, Japan did not manufacture any gun. Some muskets manufactured here toward the end of the 16th century are treasured in art museums and show marvelous artistic and technical skill.

You might think it strange, but since the Tokugawa Shogun came to dominate Japan, he forbade any one, or any clan, to produce Western firearms in order to maintain the peace. This edict, among others, was one of the ways that he ushered in an almost unprecedented era of peace. During this era, teachers of bujutsu and varied Japanese cultural arts, no longer embroiled in war, began to look beyond the purely utilitarian function of these arts.

Besides this, the Tokugawa government closed all Japanese ports to the outside world to hold the peace more securely inside. This is called sakoku, which literally means “the country closed with chains.”

All through these peaceful times, for three centuries, Japanese koryu budo and bujutsu, as well as other classical arts, went through a unique modification, that is, as I mentioned, the process from mere practicality to finding beauty in established forms (kata) or styles (ryu). To seek after beauty in your performance needs discipline and mental training for the practitioner. And so, bujutsu became an art. Some of its techniques lost practicality, and stylish beauty became stressed, which is a reflection of the practitioner’s mind.

The Martial Arts and the Mind
Practicing budo or bujutsu is not only good for our health like physical exercises, but also it teaches people about the relationship between mind and body—in other words, the importance of unity of mind and body. Therefore, some bushi studied Zen Buddhism, because Zen sitting meditation was thought to lead to the realization of mind-body unity that is essential for mastery of the martial arts.

I think what many people find most needed in doing budo is concentration. Once you lose concentration, you are sure to lose to the opponent. And concentration has much to do with the unification of mind and body.

Most people think they just have to make every effort to cultivate the power of concentration. But they are mistaken. Concentration cannot be realized just by tense effort or strained muscles.

Concentration comes to you easily by coordinating mind and body, which is natural in humans and not something to be attained artificially. In a newborn baby, you see its body and mind are one. As we grow old, we find some people losing mind-body coordination, while others sustain it and display their power of concentration in sports and budo. Why?

Some of us, or perhaps most of us, tend to lose concentration because of unneeded thoughts that we allow to enter into our minds while playing a sport or doing some martial art. Why?

This often takes place when illness, unhappiness, suffering, or any other perception that comes from living life visits us. We tend to distract our attention from what we are doing at the moment we become attached to some thought or experience. It leaves our concentration difficult to maintain. Our adult life in modern times is filled with various forms of stress, so distracting perceptions often intrude into our consciousness.

Martial Arts and Unification of Mind and Body
How can we transcend our attachment to varied perceptions that enter the mind via our five senses, and thus maintain concentration? How can we get back to that innocent clear consciousness, that natural condition of mind-body unification? My teacher of Japanese yoga, Nakamura Tempu Sensei, answered these questions and presented us with twelve methods to realize concentration and calmness in the midst of activity. He called this art Shin-shin-toitsu-do, or “the Way of Mind and Body Unification.”

In 2001, most of these methods—eight out of twelve—were written about in English for the first time in the book, Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation (Stone Bridge Press), by H. E. Davey Sensei, my friend and fellow teacher of Shin-shin-toitsu-do. I’d like to encourage SMAA members to purchase this book, as it will help you to master budo. Then, I would like to describe in future essays the remaining four methods and add some supplementary advice to the eight. I think this will interest SMAA members, because Shin-shin-toitsu-do is very efficient for realizing the full potential of any ordinary person in any field of human activity. However, this is especially true for budo, and it was one of the reasons that when I was over 60 years of age, I was able to successfully begin training in Hakko Ryu jujutsu for the first time.

Nakamura Tempu Sensei invented a way anyone can walk. By following this path himself, Nakamura Sensei realized new ways of looking at life, our world, and even the universe. While his realization was similar (to some extent) to that of people who practice Zen meditation, it was still unique in his pragmatic and simply understood explanation of Japanese yoga philosophy and practical methods. Uniting Eastern and Western methods of education, Nakamura Sensei made use of science to explain ancient Asian truths. More than this, his Shin-shin-toitsu-do amounts to a bold affirmation of human instincts and desires, innate tendencies that many teachers of meditation have vainly tried to forbid in the past.

In future issues of this journal, I’ll write about the life of Nakamura Sensei, some of his methods for developing ki (“life energy”), and the amazing power of mind and body coordination. Since I am also a bugeisha (“martial artist”) like many of you, I’ll try to relate these ideas and methods to the bujutsu and budo of Japan, explaining how they can help martial artists in particular.

About the Author: Sawai Atsuhiro Sensei is Professor Emeritus of English for Kyoto Sangyo University. He is an expert in suiei-jutsu, the seldom taught ancient samurai art of combative swimming, and he has training in Nippon jujutsu. He is also a direct disciple of Nakamura Tempu Sensei, the founder of the Shin-shin-toitsu-do system of Japanese yoga, and he holds the highest possible rank in this art form. Sawai Sensei lives in Kyoto, Japan, and he is a Senior Advisor for the SMAA.

By Richard Burkland

(This article appeared in the SMAA Journal in 2004. It is the official publication of the SMAA. To find out how to join the SMAA, and obtain this quarterly, visit http://www.smaa-hq.com/.)

My recent retirement from the Army precipitated an unexpected existential crisis. It caused me to review my life and ask myself certain fundamental questions. Have I served well? Have I upheld and personified the principles that I hold most dear? Was I a good man? A good soldier? As the object of judo training is to achieve balance, growth, and harmony in life, and because judo is a spiritual and personal discipline, I decided to reflect on where I’d been to better discern where I’m going. I hope that these insights will be of value to others…

In the Beginning . . .
I first read the novel, Once an Eagle, by Anton Myrer, in the summer of 1969. It is the story of an American soldier; a career officer who serves during both war and peace and who personifies the highest martial values. I was both entranced and inspired by it. This book would become the essential road map of my life. I’d join the Army, win World War I, then World War II, and then we’d deal with whoever else needed their butt kicked. I would be the next Sam Damon. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they’d already done all that without me! Nevertheless, this was my dream.

In the summer of 1970, I found “the Way.” I began my study of judo and found it to be a lifelong joy and the subject of endless fascination. I was fortunate to first learn from a great technician and kind human being, Otaka Shuichi Sensei, at the Northglenn Judo Club in Colorado. In judo I had found a physical activity that inspired and improved me, and which I also found to be intellectually stimulating as well. My study of judo and my inspiration to be a soldier would combine to carry me forward in life. Judo helped make me into the soldier that I became by teaching me balance, perseverance, and flexibility.
As time and my judo training progressed, I found myself attracted to the profound philosophical aspects of judo. I considered this co-equal in importance with technical training for reasons that I couldn’t quite explain at the time. I had read Donn Draeger Sensei’s three-volume work The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan and was deeply impressed by it. In studying this and the 1956 version of The Illustrated Kodokan Judo, I came to feel that my training was lacking in the essential skills that I needed to become a complete American warrior. I read that kata was a key element of effective martial training and I could see in The Illustrated Kodokan Judo that the forms included practical training in attacks and defenses. Furthermore, I was told of the important mental strength that such training could give. I wanted to study kata but was told that kata was “for old men.” I persisted.

Searching for Classical Judo
At that point I began to drift away from the “sport oriented” judo organizations. In some ways this was unfortunate for me because the positive aspects of hard physical training, the development of superior technique through practice, and the honest self-examination offered by participation in randori (“free practice”) and shiai (“competition”) espoused by the sport enthusiasts are worthy features of their practice. I believed that while these were valuable by-products of training, they were not the ultimate goal of training. I further believed that judo was an effective martial way for self-defense and self-perfection, and I stubbornly stuck with this interpretation of judo rather than switching or compromising.

Therefore, I felt that it was necessary for me to take the path to classical judo, as I understood it according to Draeger Sensei, et al. This was especially important to me as I began my military career. I sought a martial way that would be an essential building block to becoming an effective soldier and officer.

This mental and physical training in judo helped me more than I could have expected. I served with light infantry and special operations forces, which I found both challenging and exciting. Going days without sleep or food, carrying staggering loads of arms, ammunition, and equipment, through the harshest terrain and weather conditions while trying to lead and motivate other soldiers I found myself relying on the strength and confidence that I had gained from judo training.

Time after time I was able to call on lessons learned from judo to help me as a soldier and as a leader. Years later, as I entered more senior leadership positions, I also found judo helpful. I tended to view and respond to leadership challenges and tactical situations in a “judo way”—with balance, flexibility, and by making the best use of my (and my soldiers’) powers.

Freedom in Continuous Change
The three pillars of my life have been my family, the Army, and judo. Now, after over 20 years of service, I am retiring from active duty. I find it difficult to accept the fact that I’ll no longer be an “action guy,” particularly when we are still at war. Being a soldier is not just something that you do, it is something that you are. That is why I find it so difficult to let go. This is true of being a judoka as well. I have just undergone major orthopedic surgery for the fourth time in my career. As souvenirs of military service, I have a steel pin in my ankle, torn ligaments in my knee, a torn rotator cuff, and two ruptured discs in my back.

Because of this, I can no longer run for aerobic exercise, nor do many other strength-training exercises as I have previously. What frightens me the most is that I may not be able to practice or teach judo or jujutsu (which I also practice). Even if I can practice, my ability to perform properly or even well at all is going to be severely limited. I am reluctantly prepared to retire from the Army, but I cannot live without judo. I’ll continue in whatever way that I can.

Insights from a Lifetime of Budo
Since it is the duty of old warriors to teach young warriors how to become old warriors themselves, I shall continue to pass on what I’ve learned. And what exactly is that?

· That there is a personal evolution of training from bujutsu (“martial techniques”) to budo (“martial way”) to bushin (“martial spirit”). Practice of physical technique becomes the vehicle to approach the two higher levels of ethical behavior and spiritual insight.

· That “ju”, the flexibility of body, mind, action, and response, requires a connection to the opponent both as a physical feeling and as a mental state in order to feel his strengths and weaknesses, to blend with his direction of attack and then control it. This enhanced awareness and sensitivity to others leads to greater empathy and ultimately to the making of better a human being. Conflict can be minimized or avoided through this greater empathy; or more efficiently dealt with if conflict is unavoidable.

· That for the leader imbued with ju, his greater insight into the mind of an opponent results in the ability to predict his actions and take steps to shape the battle, gain decision superiority, maneuver decisively, and control his opponent.

· That kan, or “intuitive perception,” goes hand in hand with ju and enables the leader that has experienced this ability to perceive feelings, emotions, and sentiments through his budo training to then exercise committed, caring, and compassionate leadership of his troops, his students, his employees, or his family. Leadership is a difficult balancing act: “Mission first, but men always.” Ultimately, it is an art involving complex human emotions. You must look and feel deeply before you make decisions and take actions that affect people’s lives. The essence of command is to lead not to drive. Only genuine leadership can motivate soldiers to success in combat or people to success in daily life.

· That if you are lucky enough to develop the imperturbable spirit of fudoshin—“immovable mind”—you will inspire confidence and optimism through your example of calm leadership and skillful decision-making during crisis. There may still be several “dark nights of the soul,” however…

Reflecting on the Past, Moving Toward the Future
Being a soldier is a true profession and a way of life. It demands ultimate commitment, and discipline and sacrifice beyond that of ordinary professions. You must develop a “warrior ethos”—a set of values or guiding beliefs. These values should include: Honor and Integrity—doing what is right, ethically, morally, and legally; Courage—overcoming fear, danger, or adversity, both physical and moral; Duty—fulfillment of obligations and acceptance of responsibility for your own actions and those entrusted to your care. The true soldier, guided by a genuine warrior ethos, will dedicate his life to constant study and practice of the skills necessary to wage war. A leader of soldiers will be ever mindful of the awesome responsibility he carries. He must not misuse his soldiers; he must not fail in his mission or in upholding his sacred oath …

Being a budoka is likewise a true and unique way of life. It demands ultimate commitment, discipline, and sacrifice beyond that of ordinary activities. You may also choose to develop a warrior ethos—a set of values or guiding beliefs, if you follow the path diligently. These values will also include honor and integrity, courage, and duty. The true budoka, guided by a genuine warrior ethos, will dedicate his life to constant study and practice of the skills necessary for self-improvement. He will be ever mindful of the awesome responsibility he has to continue and to uphold the living tradition he is heir to.

Sato Shizuya Sensei, judo ninth dan and Chief Director of Japan’s Kokusai Budoin, has said that through judo we learn to maintain both physical and emotional balance while gaining in insight. The true test of a student's understanding of budo is in the way they live their life and by their actions. The contribution a person makes to society is the true measure of their mastery of “the way of flexibility” (judo). I’ve still got a long way to go to true insight, let alone mastery. But the shadows on my path help to illuminate the way ahead.

About the Author
Richard Burkland Sensei is a longtime member of the SMAA’s judo and jujutsu divisions. A valued and frequent contributor to the SMAA Journal, he recently retired from the army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Burklund Sensei also holds a doctorate in history from Columbia State University.

His first judo teacher was Otaka Shuichi Sensei, godan, of Nihon University. Sato Shizuya Sensei, judo ninth dan and Chief Director of the Kokusai Budoin, and Walter Todd Sensei, judo eighth dan and one of the founding members of the SMAA, have also instructed him.