Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The difference between a 'jutsu' and a 'do'

The difference between a 'jutsu' and a 'do'

      In Japanese martial arts there is a division between '-jutsu' and '-do' arts; as in jujutsu and judo.  To those not familiar with the arts the difference would be superficial.  They would generally look the same, they would share many techniques, and the practitioners themselves would most likely be dressed the same.  However, there is a difference.  The difference is why they were given different names in the first place.

kenjutsu as practiced in armor
      To illustrate the difference, let's look at the contrasting examples of kenjutsu and kendo.  With ken being the word for sword in Japanese, their names translate as "sword techniques," and "way of the sword" respectively.  Kenjutsu was the formalized training in Japanese swords in traditional system (koryū).  Depending on the age of the system, it may or may not be intended to be used against an armored individual.  Regardless, the goal of a kenjustu system is to dispatch with an opponent, or multiple opponents as quickly and lethally as possible.  The same could could be said for most '-jutsu' martial arts.  They were designed for warriors in specific life or death circumstances.  There was no margin of error.  Either the techniques worked and you survived, or they didn't and you died.  As they warring period of Japanese history continued, the samurai found that they didn't need the life or death situations as much, and began to focus on the other benefits of martial training.  These were the rise of the '-do' arts.  The '-jutsu' arts still survive, and are still just as lethal, but are more like a historical artifact, in that they are not supposed to grow and change.

kendoka in bogū and using shinai
      Kendo is probably more familiar to most western martial artists.  Kendo is a Japanese martial art where the practitioners don armor, called bogū,  and attempt to hit each other with strips of bamboo connected together to resemble the look and feel of the Japanese sword (shinai).  The use of bogū and shinai was started in the early 1700's, but it was meant to be a safer way to train in kenjutsu. Modern kendo is a competition with points awarded for not only strikes, but proper strikes. The samurai realized that the training had other benefits besides being able to defeat an opponent.  They learned that in a time of peace, the physical fitness benefits and the spiritual benefits were more useful to themselves and to society.  It order to open the art to a wider clientele, they removed many, if not all, of the lethal or debilitating techniques.  The same thing was done by Professor Kano in making judo out of jujutsu.  O-Sensei, was trying to do the same by making aikido out of aikijutsu.  Even Funikoshi sensei called his art karate-do.  Their goal was to make better people, not better warriors.

      In the end can you call one aspect better than the other?  No.  I don't plan to get into many mass battles with two armies of sword wielders, but I do plan on having to deal with stress and a lack of physical fitness that modern life has thrust upon us.  It is good to be an aware, spiritual person, until a mugger comes at me with a knife.  Like anything else, I have to blend my own combination of the two.  I hope your training in your art(s) allows you to do this as well.  Now, I have to go train some more...

By J. A. Wilson

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

5 stars for "Aikido Ground Fighting: Grappling and Submission Techniques"

Aikido Ground Fighting: Grappling and Submission Techniques

Authors: Walther G. von Krenner, Damon Apodaca and Ken Jeremiah
Copywrite Date: 2013
216 Pages
ISBN 978-1583946060

I bought my copy on amazon and the book has a cover price of $19.95.

Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)

      This is a book that the aikido world needed to have.  Many schools of aikido have lost their martial heritage to the point where they cannot be called martial arts anymore.  Mr. von Krenner, Mr. Apodaca, and Mr. Jeremiah have written a book that justifies the claims that aikido CAN be a genuine martial art.  However, most schools do not practice the correct methods or ideas to make it such.  In that way, this book is intended for aikido students (and maybe more specifically aikido sensei) who have some knowledge of aikido already.  Through well-researched examples and methodology, the authors dispel many of the myths around many modern schools of aikido and argue that in order to fully comprehend aikido, as O Sensei intended, you HAVE to have the martial aspect intact.  These full aspects need to include all martial ranges and aspects, including striking -- both offensive and defensive -- weapons, and ground fighting.  They argue that because he was challenged by so many different types of martial artists, O Sensei had to at least be able to defend himself from these types of attacks using aiki principles.  This book, which is supposed to be the first of three, deals mainly with the ground fighting aspect of aikido.
O Sensei grappling from 1936
      I know ground fighting and aikido seem to be the antithesis of each other; however, what the authors do is show how aiki principles can be applied to ground fighting situations.  In fact, they argue that by mastering the principles of aiki, they can be used in any situation.  They show how suwari waza are a sort of half-way step to ground fighting, and then show and describe specific ways to apply aiki while on the ground, in a vulnerable position.

Pros: This book presents wonderful arguments for making aikido a martial art again, including an honest, non-political history of O Sensei and aikido complete with O sensei's original art, Daito ryu Aikijutsu, and his teacher Takeda Sokaku.  Because Mr. von Krenner studied with O Sensei and took extensive notes
Author von Krenner showing aikido groundfighing
while there, it lends first hand credibility to their statements.  They also use many different sources to detail how aikido came to be what it is today.  Furthermore, they show you, who's presumably a high level aikidoka (or aikidoists, if that is your preference) how to incorporate these new ground fighting aspects into your aikido that is already there.

Cons: Apodaca , von Krenner, and Jeremiah’s reasoning is very clear on the why ground fighting should be done in aikido; however, it lacks somewhat in the description of how to incorporate the fighting.  For example, there are very good descriptions on the way it should be done, which include pictures, but like most martial arts books and articles I've read, the pictures seem to jump a bit too much.  It is sometimes hard to see between the steps.  I know martial arts in general, and aikido in particular, is a dynamic art, so I do give them some leeway on this one.  The only other issue is that this is not a book for beginning students.  A pretty good knowledge base of aikido is required to understand the principles presented in this book; a fact which really isn't the fault of the book, but it is not explicitly stated anywhere either.

Conclusion:  I read this book and immediately wanted to go try out the aiki principles on the ground.  I also loaned it to the other instructors at the dojo.  I wanted everyone in aiki arts to read this book because I want aikido to be a martial art again.  I gave this book five stars (out of five) because the intent and thoughtfulness of the book easily outweighed the minor downsides.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review of "On the Warrior's Path"

                I am an avid reader of martial arts books, much to the detriment of my wallet, my bookshelf, and my wife.  I break the books I read into two categories: Classics and Modern.  Classics include The Book of Five Rings, The Art of War, Hagakure, and other such ancient and complex writings.  Modern covers all the books written by people trying very hard to show martial arts in a modern light: what they are, why they are, and what use they are to modern man.  However, even among the modern books are a few important tomes that I label as modern classics.  These are books that describe the process of becoming a martial artist or use martial arts philosophy in a way that make the esoteric ideas readily accessible to modern students.  Living the Marital Way by Forrest E. Morgan and Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hymas are the two that immediately come to mind.  I would like to add another to my list of modern classics, On the Warrior’s Path by Daniele Bolelli. 
                It is an honest, humorous, and extremely human way to look at martial arts.  Mr. Bolelli does an amazing job of describing the path of a modern warrior, what is a warrior (in his interpretation), and what that warrior should do.  He uses quotes from everyone from Fredrick Nietzsche to Pearl Jam to explain the very personal philosophy of the warrior.  He talks about the guilty pleasures of all martial artists, the UFC and martial arts cinema.  Specifically, he describes martial arts movies in terms of warriors, by classifying the warriors as one of six archetypes based on motivation.  There are many sections in various chapters devoted to how Bruce Lee changed aspects of martial arts movies and how some movies are more than just flashy wire works and actually exemplify warrior philosophy.  The last two chapters are devoted to how to apply the lessons learned through martial arts to other aspects of life.  He also describes the Taoist teaching of how martial arts should not be a separate part of your life, how one shouldn’t compartmentalize your life.  There should simply be life.
                His writing style is a wonderful mimicry of his personal hero, Nietzsche, constantly voicing the presumed questions and opinions raised by the reader.  Doing this creates a very open atmosphere throughout the book, including maybe the most unorthodox paragraph in the English language where he compares the UFC to going down on a woman (but he does it in the beautiful, artistic, deeply Italian way… uh, the comparison, not the cunilingus.)  It feels more like you’re having a beer in a pub with him, rather than listening to a college professor lecture on martial arts philosophy.  You also get the feeling that the questions he is raising are ones he has encountered on his journey and that these are his answers – not everyone’s – but if they help you, have at it.  He alternates between the humorous and the serious seamlessly; and in fact, in the last chapter, he discusses why this should be done in all aspects of life.  My one small critique is I think you have to be an experienced martial artist to fully understand a lot of his discussions.  This book is not written for a beginning martial arts student, but for a reader that can share in some of the examples that he presents.
                Overall, however, if you are looking for a good martial arts philosophy book, I would highly recommend this book to everyone regardless of martial arts style.  I cannot give this book enough high praise and compliment.