KARATE WAY

Given the pro­lif­er­a­tion of so­cial me­dia in the mar­tial arts com­mu­nity, one sees all sorts of posts nowa­days re­lated to Ja­pa­nese budo and the “war­rior spirit.”

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aave iowry claims the phrase “war­rior spirit” has taken on a mean­ing that’s out of sync with what it re­ferred to dur­ing the age of the samu­raiK fn a nut­shell: It had noth­ing to do with be­ing a peace­ful war­riorK

here are blogs de­voted to the way of the peace­ful war­rior and the de­pic­tion of en­light­ened samurai fol­low­ing a path of peace. One even has a pair of spar­rows rest­ing qui­etly on the hilt of a katana. It seems the in­ter­net is over­flow­ing with inspirational apho­risms and in­sights about over­com­ing con­flict.

Some­times this can make it sound as though the samurai were New Age “path­seek­ers” on a quest for in­ner har­mony and cos­mic con­scious­ness. It’s lovely to think so. And it’s flat­ter­ing to imag­ine our­selves as in­her­i­tors of a tra­di­tion of seek­ing a no­ble, spir­i­tual truth, of pur­su­ing the path of self-per­fec­tion, of ded­i­cat­ing our­selves to be­com­ing pure. It’s like Gan­dalf meets Mr. Miyagi. We can al­most con­vince our­selves that the in­stru­ment that was on the samurai’s hip was a magic tal­is­man, meant to cut through dis­cord and bind the uni­verse in a big, beau­ti­ful knot of love.

1DC 8C F0BN½C It was a sword. The Ja­pa­nese katana was de­signed to, among other things, cut in a way that slashed flesh and mus­cle but also opened gap­ing wounds that could not heal. Even a shal­low cut could be­come in­fected and cause a slow, hor­ri­bly painful death.

That is the aw­ful re­al­ity of the way of the war­rior in feu­dal Ja­pan — and the re­al­ity of all war­riors. Yes, you can ar­gue that the killing was done in the name of good. Per­haps so. That didn’t make the suf­fer­ing of those who died — and those who did the killing — any less dif­fi­cult to en­dure. Or any less dif­fi­cult for those who had no choice but to ac­cept it.

8 A424NC;H B0F a so­cial me­dia post that fea­tured a quote from Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi (1584-1645) is, for many, an ex­am­ple of the ul­ti­mate

samurai war­rior, an icon­o­clast, a philoso­pher and all-around ro­man­tic fig­ure, un­de­feated in bat­tle (even if there is that in­con­ve­nient fact that in the only real bat­tle in which he par­tic­i­pated, he was forced to limp off the field af­ter scram­bling up a slope and hav­ing a rock dis­lodge and hit his leg).

“The ul­ti­mate aim of mar­tial arts is not hav­ing to use them,” was the quote on the post. It has a nice sound. It is, how­ever, lifted from a text Musashi wrote and taken some­what out of con­text. Musashi was writ­ing about the var­i­ous strate­gies to be em­ployed against en­e­mies. In the orig­i­nal Ja­pa­nese, the quote con­veys a dif­fer­ent thought than the peace­and-love sen­ti­ments it has in English. It makes the point that one can be suf­fi­ciently in­tim­i­dat­ing in pos­ture and at­ti­tude that an op­po­nent is fright­ened, dis­turbed, thrown off his game and there­fore more eas­ily slaugh­tered or beaten be­fore phys­i­cal con­tact is even com­menced.

Musashi wasn’t talk­ing about har­mony with the uni­verse. He was lay­ing out a strat­egy for over­com­ing an en­emy, for con­sol­i­dat­ing or ex­pand­ing the power of one’s lord.

That is a key el­e­ment in un­der­stand­ing the samurai. “Samurai” means “to serve.” The samurai were ser­vants. Mar­tial ser­vants, as well as, given their level of ed­u­ca­tion com­pared to the pop­u­lace, ser­vants who ran the bu­reau­cra­cies of the fiefs. Their job was not to cul­ti­vate in­ner or world peace, but to make their clans and their lords more pow­er­ful. Ja­pa­nese feu­dal­ism was of­ten cruel; it could be sti­fling and co­er­cive. The way of the war­rior, at least in that age, meant that your life be­longed to your lord and that your own feel­ings, dreams and plans were al­ways se­cond to that.

WHEN I THINK of Musashi, I of­ten re­flect on Miki­nosuke, one of his adopted sons. Musashi came across Miki­nosuke when the boy was work­ing at a sta­ble. He saw some qual­ity in the boy that he liked. Miki­nosuke at first de­clined Musashi’s of­fer of adop­tion; he had par­ents who de­pended on his earn­ings. Musashi ar­ranged pay­ment, how­ever, and Miki­nosuke be­came a protégé. In time, Miki­nosuke be­came a samurai in the em­ploy of Honda Tada­toki in what’s now Hyogo pre­fec­ture. (Scenes from the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice were filmed at Honda’s cas­tle.)

Honda died in 1626 of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis. On hear­ing of his death, Musashi is sup­posed to have said, “Miki­nosuke will soon be vis­it­ing me.” He was cor­rect. Musashi’s adopted son ap­peared; the two shared a din­ner, with lots of sake. At the end of the evening, Miki­nosuke raised a glass to his fa­ther and said, “Let’s drink to my farewell.”

Musashi un­der­stood. He had un­der­stood what was go­ing to hap­pen as soon as he’d heard of Honda’s death. Although it was not as com­mon as once it had been, many samurai still, on the death of their lord, com­mit­ted jun­shi, rit­ual sui­cide meant to demon­strate loy­alty. Within a few days, word came that Miki­nosuke had killed him­self.

TO US, such be­hav­ior seems bizarre. We have no con­text for it — which is my point. It’s very dif­fi­cult for us to un­der­stand the world of the samurai. It’s easy to ro­man­ti­cize the way of the war­rior, to glo­rify the brav­ery and sto­icism and gal­lantry of what many re­gard as the Ja­pa­nese ver­sion of Euro­pean knights and all their won­der­ful chivalry.

This episode from the life of Miyamoto Musashi, how­ever, shows what the way of the war­rior was of­ten about. It was about a man watch­ing his son walk away, know­ing that he would never see him again. This is what the samurai faced again and again dur­ing this era.

Are you sure you want to fol­low the real, his­tor­i­cal way of the war­rior? If so, you’d better be ready to put your­self in the place of Musashi, stand­ing at the gate and watch­ing as his son dis­ap­peared for­ever in the dis­tance.

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