What is budo for? Let’s see if I can get this down for myself. Like the cute kitten you got for whatever religious holiday says “give kittens”, it’s for life. Combat arts that aren’t done for a lot of years, aren’t budo. My opinion of course. Boxing and MMA are for money, not for life. Sure you can do them into your 90s but that’s not what they’re intended for. The competitive aspect isn’t really the problem, Kendo is competitive but it’s intended to be for life.
It’s what you eventually bring into it, what develops. Why you start isn’t actually a factor, most people start for self defence or because they like fighting or because they want to be Inuyasha, I suspect. But those who last more than a year find other reasons to hang around. Those reasons are what make budo rather than basic training.
What is budo for if not to improve, to develop, to examine ourselves. To look at ourselves and figure out what is there. That’s why I do it, why I write these essays. It’s also why martial artists have really simple dreams, so I claim at least. If you know why you’re doing things the random images in our brains during sleep can be assigned to their proper sources.
There are other things budo does for you, it can satisfy an urge to perform, to create. It can improve self-esteem (not such a lofty goal as people seem to think, by the way) by being a skill one can show off to others. This can make up for other aspects of a life that may seem (to the martial artist) not quite so prestigious, like doing manual labour for a living. Mind you, I know lots of budoka who do manual labour because it gives them time to do budo.
Budo can give you some things that are not so good for you, like “being a sensei” that is, “being a bigshot”. Being the guy who can order people around, make that bank manager do pushups, make that lawyer do bunny hops. There’s a lot of “do whatever your sensei tells you to do” out there for that very (bad) reason.
A budoka who acts this way isn’t seeing things clearly, which brings us to Metsuke. In iaido at somewhere around 4/5 dan we start to talk about metsuke, about the gaze, the look. Mostly we talk about looking at things, looking at the invisible opponent. First you need to point your eyes in that direction. No problem. Then you need to have something other than a thousand-yard stare (unfocused eyes). You have to roll your eyes from looking inside to looking outside. To do that you have to stop thinking about your next move and start “doing iaido” and then you can start looking at stuff. Mostly the wall or the floor in the direction your opponent should be.
That’s where it can stop, where it usually stops, but metsuke is something more than that. It is meditating while looking in a mirror, it’s staring at your own eyes to see what’s there. That can be a scary thing for some, an ugly thing for others. I find all sorts of nasty things when I look into my own eyes.
The mirror is one of the three imperial treasures of the Japanese. You must, while working on yourself, “polish your mirror”, you must learn to see yourself, your intentions, your motivations, without the smut and grease of everyday assumptions and bias distorting the view. Once you see why you are the way you are, you can fix it. Same as you can fix your hand twitch on noto once you realize it’s there. You have to see it first.
Rememer the manual labour comment earlier? There was an abbot who made a speach about polishing your mirror. He went into the garden and found a worker polishing a brick. “Why are you doing that?” he said. “I am going to make a mirror” said the gardener.
We all know about gardeners in temples don’t we?
What I’m saying is that you can get so caught up in the form, the kata, that you miss the point, the target. The purpose of budo is not to win praise or tournaments. It is to see. To see your opponent, to see him and to see his intent. Further than that it is to see yourself, to see your position clearly, your position in the dojo, on the battlefield, or in society. Even further, it is to see your own intent.
I can’t tell you how many times a day I wince when I hear kids telling me how brave they are to face their demons, how they struggle with cyber bullying, with self esteem issues.
Look, you don’t have time to wait for next year to get out of the house and face life. You are going to die. This is the special characteristic of budo as a meditation practice, budo is first, last and always about death. Your death, the death of everyone around you. You need to see that, and then to see what you’re complaining about. Compare and contrast.
Before someone comes back at me about mental illness, consider those two words, consider “illness”, it means not normal (a very wide range of condition), not healthy, it means there’s something wrong and you should be getting medical attention. There’s a difference between a bruise on your arm and a broken arm. Figure that out. How do you figure that out? Look at your unhappiness, look for the cause, did you find it? Oh yes, I took a hit on my arm last evening, it’s probably not cancer. Stop obsessing about it. If, after a week or two the bruise is bigger, go to the doctor, it may be cancer.
Did your girlfriend dump you? That’s quite possibly why you are depressed and staying in your house. Do you need chemicals? Probably not. Now you’ve been in the house for three months obsessing and driving yourself crazy. Now you may need chemicals.
Spend time, don’t waste it. You wouldn’t throw twenty dollar bills around the streets would you? Why would you spend time indoors being mopey, worrying about what your friends thing of you, seeking approval from your “special friend”. You might, just might, end up with more money than you could ever spend. You will never end up with more time than you can live.
You are going to die. Get over it. If you’re very lucky you will live to be old and everything will hurt, all the time. If not, you won’t. Eventually you will die. In five hundred years nobody will know you lived. How many stories do you know about your great great grandfather? What do you know about his being depressed at 14 because Becky told him she wouldn’t go to the dance with him?
You get one chance to do life, and from what everyone has told us forever, you need to work on yourself. Budo is for that. Metsuke is for seeing things, life, the universe, and you.
If you can’t look at yourself, don’t ask someone else to do it, they’re going to be wrong and you’re going to be unhappy again that they didn’t fix you.
July 6, 2018
To learn, check out the seminars below for the rest of 2018 These are all confirmed.
August 17-19 Calgary/Vancouver Jodo/Iaido seminar and grading
September 8-9 Ueda sensei in Santiago Jodo seminar and grading
September 22-23 Kurogo sensei in Mississauga koryu Jodo seminar
November 23-25 TBA sensei in Mississauga, Jodo seminar and grading
December 1 Etobicoke Iaido grading