Martial Training for a Peaceful Life
Demands the sensei at the start of our Kendo (Japanese sword) training, to free our minds and meditate. Firstly, to ground ourselves in the moment and secondly, to remember that we are here to dedicate ourselves entirely to the practice of Kendo.
It is fitting that we start and end each session with time dedicated to honing our mind. Bruce Lee was famous for emphasizing the need to train both mind and body. He often philosophized that we must apply the same dedication used in training our muscles to train our mind.
It may not be obvious to understand that our pursuit as a school learning martial arts was not for physical benefit. Over the past seven weeks, my students and I have partaken in a variety of martial arts to assist us with learning values and principles that far transcend the physical realm.
Similarly, learning ‘bushido’ (the way of the warrior) is about living a good life to assist in welcoming a good death. The philosophy behind bushido was beautifully summed up by Ken Watanabe’s character, Katsumoto, in The Last Samurai when he speaks of “life in every breath.” While our pursuits are way less connected to bodily death, as travelers we pursue life in a similar manner.
Life in every breath. How do we take advantage of every experience that we are blessed with?
We also sought to apply our Japanese core value of Kaizen, continuous improvement, in learning Aikido and Kyudo. We began our journey in the timeless pursuit of self-cultivation; a dedication to perfection that involves complete focus and attention without a need for external validation.
Erroneously, many people pursue the martial arts for external rewards (belts, tournaments, victories over opponents), but the true martial artist will tell you that the only person they try to defeat is themselves.
An example of this was witnessed in Kyudo (Japanese archery) when a Kyudo 7th dan master archer said he did not have a good showing, despite hitting a target 28 meters away with a certain poise and grace that left us in awe. He further explained that he didn’t have a good showing because he was thinking about hitting the target. In his mind, his thoughts, and thus his actions, were not pure.
Kyudo archers steady their breath and focus before letting their arrows loose.
To remove everything external from your focus.
To focus within.
How many of us can truly do this?
Look beyond the target and look internally at our intentions, at our own inner stillness. One goal of martial arts is to seek an internal calm, despite any circumstance.
So as contradictory as it may seem, we practice the martial arts to cultivate and fortify an inner peace. When practicing we apply focus and discipline to carry out the movements that we learn. Internally, we strive for inner calm to permeate our thoughts. Chinese Taoists refer to this as ‘wu wei’ or effortless effort, and modern psychologists like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refer to this as a flow state.
Martial artists, like global citizens, seek an understanding of themselves and their role in the world. They read the actions and listen to the words of others. Not to judge but to understand. Practitioners of martial arts do not see other people as threats but instead as individual case studies to better understand humanity.