Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What's a samurai like?

This is going to be a tad unmartial, but it relates. It's just that I'm going to send to different people from different subsets of mailing lists and I don't want to neither repeat myself too much nor presume I can share their mails with each other.

What's your first image of a samurai? The sober man standing guard near his lords's castle? That lord paying a "courtesy" compulsory visit to the shogun? That same lord at his state? Their attire, their swords, are not going to be the same.

And yet, they are but a small, specific subset, of samurai history. Edo's shogunate. A government system set up by an upstart minor samurai of humble origins that destroyed the martial prowess of the samurai. Yes, I'm serious. The next time the samurai are at war they loose to peasant conscripts, hugely. And he does it willingly, to subdue a threat.

And that's the samurai we know. Martial artists put on a hakama, because it's "traditional", not really knowing when that tradition starts, or what was worn before. The katana becomes "THE" sword of the samurai... never mind that katana had different standards in time, different mountings, different... But the 2+ shaku katana of the Edo period, in compulsory (that word, again) black becomes the one and only. Maybe, if you're lucky, the daimyo's heritage mounting when he wants to impress a visitor.


O... kay. Let's check the Edo period. The urbanization of Japan, the pax Tokugawa, leads to an increased emphasis on what we would call police work. And one of the tools, that dubs as a badge of office, is the jutte. The following pics are from Don Cunningham's Samurai Weapons (Tools of the Warrior), at Tuttle. There are more pics, but I don't want to spoil the book.

See how the complexity of the manufacture increases? Simple iron sticks with wrapped rough fibers become samegawa wrapped hilts with some bronzework and tsuba to end up as gilded precious metal status symbols. There are several engraved ones in that book. I'd prefer, in the heat of the moment, a bare iron jutte to an engraved shakudo one, but that's just me being attached to my arm... and wanting to keep it that way.


However, when we study martial arts or Japanese culture in a more general form, we often kind of see one of the last two sets of examples, maybe two, and we forget the rest as if it was never there. And we're not even aware that Musashi's father was already a renowed expert in this very same weapon several decades before the Edo period even started.

My original point with this, and I've veered way of what I intended, is that Japanese MA practitioners talk about their katana, comission their practice blades. And most of those blades are, basically, the equivalent to the second set of pictures. Sometimes, they veer into the third one. But they never leave Edo. Their saya are predictable. Their sageo, almost always single colored. If not, there are basically two variants, always muted. From what I've seen, I suspect that kendoka have something similar going on. And when you talk about real armors, people visualize the great bif colorful ones, in lacquers and embroidery and nifty braids.

I've tried my hands at Japanese braid making. It's a slow process, and it needs many meters of yarn, and "looms". The basic samurai had neither, and yet you can bet his cords broke. Because of a sowrd thrust or a nasty fall, because it rotted, because it w¡had been used to carry a bundle of wood for the campfire... You name it.

This is a rope for tying up criminals, quickly (yes, I've tried similar designs) braided by hand. Wanna bet most swords used something similar? And armors, and pouches, and... A contraption that requires a whole mat to set up and work in it, plus hundreds of meters of silk for a single sageo, or this, done by the campfire?

Take care.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Shadow does!

I saw someone's shadow tonight, approaching, and it helped avoiding some injury...

No, no night attack. Someone was approaching a street corner without looking where she went. Light as I am, I still think the impact would have toppled her, and she might have gotten hurt. But I saw her shadow approaching.

Some meters earlier, a discarded flexible steel pipe had pinged my attention ("That could hurt"), sometime later, a bo st... sorry, a discarded broom staff next to a container (and they say training with bo is not useful!), and they I reached a hood that collects discarded furniture on Tuesdays...

And yet you'll find those who tell you awareness is paranoid, or weapons defense useless, or...

Well, awareness did save someone from injury (either her or me... or both; doesn't matter). Awareness means I didn't step unto the pipe and sprained my ankle. Maybe someday being wary of rubbish will save me a headache. I don't know.

But it's basic. And it's the kind of skill that can lead to many smiles. The grateful parent when you ask if the teary kid is okay, the bank note someone dropped without noticing, the person you help with the trash because you realize she's overwelmed and the blasted container won't open properly...

But no, let's stick our noses into our mobiles and text everyone how paranoid those people into self defense are. Never mind the approaching truck.

Take care.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Knowing yourself

In theory, MAs are a path to self knowledge. I seriously doubt it, very seriously.

I fact, I don't much believe the "Do" part in most martial arts. CAN it be used for such? Oh, sure. But if you think that someone who's raced the Dakkar doesn't know himself, hasn't reached a maturity in "Do" that many martial artists only imagine, then you're seriously off track. Marathon runners have more Zen than most high level dans. Solo mountain climbers risk their lives with samurai abandon. And so on. In non physical endeavors, painters, tea masters... And most of those don't add a "Do" to their name and end up with something useful after several hours of practice. Martial artists don't.

Many (both of those espousing "reality training" and those following the "Do") can't even defend themselves from a wet paper bag.

So , neither spiritual neither practical. What's missing?

That self-knowledge, maybe?

I just saw a video of a Kaju instructor. And I kept thinking... "Well, not quite. She doesn't quite decide what principle of movement she wants to use and keeps wandering around... Moves too much... Well, if she polishes that, then she could be..." And then I found an interview. 6th dan, director of two branches in a federation.

She's not going to get better. Not if she's reached all that at that level of practice and shows, smiling and satisfied, in the interview.

Now, she's an easy target, obvious. But... How many times do martial artists fall into that? A senpai commented to me some years ago that some character flaws were easier in the veryest of "Do" schools, because you wouldn't be hit back. In boxing, however, being a cretin had consequences. For starters, most instructors wouldn't risk you.

So, are MA good for self knowledge? Only as good as you allow them to be. As you invest on them to be. It doesn't come for free.

And, sadly, possibly the majority of those who approach the MA want a free lunch. No such thing, guys.

Which is, of course, why most of those go away. Still many remain. And they reach a teaching certificate.

Sigh... You can only guess at the quality of their instruction, and what loops their pupils will have to go through if they want to surpass the master (and they'll better).

Take care.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Circular drills

I was watching a documentary yester night (The Bladed Hand). While the opinions in the doc have some strong pitfalls, it's a worthy one, interesting. Would NOT train under some of these people if they paid me for it, but the rest...? Man, they're good.

Now, I think the teaching value of survival is mostly forgotten, and might help explain why the previous generations is so damn good. And I still think that the teaching proficiency itself of many (some of them legendary) teachers needs some work, but there's one thing FMA have that other arts don't emphasize as much.

The doc, at one point, basically says "FMA training has taken over cinema; if you've seen a fight, it's 90% sure it's FMA". Then it sort of extrapolates from there to MA training. I disagree. If anything's taken over MA it's boxing. But...

But the fact is that FMA have some interesting things in them. People get really attached to FMA drills, for example. You'll find people in every corner doing hubud or sombrada. Sometimes with no sense at all, no matter how you measure it. I think that's often a mistake.

The idea of drills isn't. In fact, a lot of arts have them. I can only speak for Japanese arts, but there are such drills there. Unending, partnered, fluid drills... that most instructors forget as soon as they grab the plane back to the West.

And I've been wondering, of late (since before this particular video), how to use the idea of circular, neverending drills in Kaju. Call it sombrada on techniques or hubud on our own "blocks", the idea is there, and it's really accessible. Why isn't it used? Why is most dynamic training I'm seeing a toeing into Boxing waters or some weird ideas on barroom brawls instead of a way to dynamize what you are already training.

Take care.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Bad boxing

Last week, at training, we put on our gloves.

Most of our system went right off the window.

I hate that. I hate that under the guise of learning how to cope with adrenaline we learn, badly, a system that's not our own (boxing, or kickboxing, depending). In... about 8 years in Kaju, I can count with a single hand how many times we've done some adrenal training on our own techniques (basic, kumite-like adrenaline, nothing fancy). "[the class' got] Not enough level" I was told for several years (until I quit asking). But, apparently, level enough for boxing. So, as I was telling a partner, we associate adrenaline with boxing we can't do while we associate Kajukenbo to a stroll at the gim. Not good, by far. It cheapens both systems.

I find it annoying, and worrisome. And my mind keeps trying o find ways around it. Might be finding some.

Take care

Thursday, March 31, 2016

You're an object

At least, you're someone's object. And that reaction you're having right now? Emotional.

We assume, daily, that we're important. That we're not simple widgets. That we matter. Check Eric Flint's 1632 to see how unusual that mindset is.

And it's false. We other people continuously. These days, we live in gatherings far beyond what the human brain can grasp. Multi-million cities and metro areas, electronic relationships, mobility... And yet the mantra "every person is important" remains uncontested.

Despite proof to the contrary. Photoshopping top models to make them even thinner? Othering, both them and their admirers. Selling coffee that endangers lifestyles half way through the world? Othering. Buying it? Too. Almost every single "progressive cause" comes from a response to othering. Terrorism requires othering. So does a certain "progressive" mindset: He's white, ergo he's... (fill in the pet peeve) "All men are rapists". "Bring back our girls"? Othering.

What!? Yes. If someone in your family was kidnapped, would you forget about it when the hashtag faded? Or a friend's child. A coworker's? These events are used to trigger a certain tribal mindset: "we're one and we're good because we all care about this".

How you deal with it is your own choice. BUT if you're not aware of it you'll keep finding people you'll label as enemies when they simply don't care enough about you. That way lies madness (and blog posts and hashtags).

Take care.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Violence, a Writer's Guide

If you're aware of Rory Miller's book, "Violence, a Writer's Guide" it just got translated into Spanish. Possibly not his best known work, it's an impressive resource to get people acquainted with the realities of violence. Martial artists, cop's families and friends, cadets, politicians, writers...

Just in case you happen to know someone who'd be more comfortable reading it in Spanish.

Take care.