Last month I realized that this site would be hitting its 1 year milestone on September 10th. Then I promptly forgot as I was focused on other things. Well, I do feel I should write a post about my first year and thank everyone for their support (No, really. Thank you!) instead I want to write about something else. I want to write about my real passion, which isn’t Gunpla, but instead is Japanese martial arts or Kobudo (古武道). It may seem odd to write about Japanese martial arts on a site dedicated to Gunpla but, in my life anyway, these two are related.
To give a brief rundown of my history with the martial arts I guess it started at about age 12 or 13 when I begged my parents to enroll me in Karate. While it was fun and I did well, it wasn’t enough to satisfy my interest and I gave it up within a year. I didn’t participate in martial arts again until my mid-twenties when I attended a Brazilian Jiu Jutsu grappling school combined with Escrima stick fighting and some Jeet Kun Do (created by Bruce Lee) concepts. But even this wasn’t enough for me. I wanted something with a lot of meat to it. A lot of history. I found myself studying in a Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu school (an amalgamation of 9 different old Japanese warrior arts schools). I loved it right from the start and pursued it with a passion, training as much as I could at the dojo and even more on my own while attending different seminars in different parts of the country. But even then, it wasn’t enough. I wanted the whole package. And for that I needed to be in Japan where the top people are. So I sold my possessions and hopped on a plane. And here I am.
Of course, life can sometimes get in the way or cause you to lose focus on certain things. I now have a four year old daughter who occupies a huge amount of my time and almost three years ago I started working for the company I am presently at, quitting the english teacher life that saw me working 25 hours a week. I also discovered Gunpla and that has done more than its fair share to interfere with time I should be spending training. That is why I am writing this post. To remind myself of what’s important and create some accountability.
Hichou no kamae (飛鳥之構)
Life is all about balance. Choosing where to allot your resources (time, money, etc) while not shortchanging one of the aspects in your life. Budo is also about balance. It’s unrealistic to think that you can be training 24 hours a day 7 days a week, but you can’t use that as an excuse not to do a sufficient amount of training. You may not be able to attend the dojo every day but you can definitely take some time yourself to work on the small things, the basics, the kihon (基本). If you have good basics then you’ll be in a good place when it comes time to train.
Juumonji no Kamae (十文字之構)
The basics are what we need to continue to live our lives. We need food and shelter, for that we need jobs, etc. In budo, the basics are things like footwork (ashi sabaki 足捌), structure (kamae 構), proper use of your skeleton, and understanding of distance (maai 間合). It also includes things like the ability to receive an attack or take a fall (ukemi 受け身). The basics are what make everything work and should be the focus of the majority of your training. A lot of people skip the basics because they want to do the ‘cool’ stuff like throwing someone or using weapons. Unfortunately, when pressed for time, basics are often passed over to work on other things. Personally, I feel I have a good understanding of the basics, but I need to refocus my attention on training them. I need to spend more time on them. Recommit in a way.
Conditioning the body is a huge part of training. You need to be strong enough and flexible enough to deliver a variety of strikes while at the same time being able to receive them. There is a range of stretches found in the teachings of the schools I train in that allow you to develop the required flexibility. Back when I was working 25 hours a week with no daughter I spent 30 minutes to an hour a day stretching. Of course, things change and I am not committing that time to stretching and, to be honest, I notice the difference in my body.
Tsuki (突き） a forward thrust/stab
Yes, this is me. Recently at the dojo we were discussing proper form when using tsuki. A tsuki isn’t a punch, it’s an attack driving the entirety of your body weight into your opponent via your hand. It’s used to take his balance or bring your entire body close enough to allow you to grab a hold of your opponent and start grappling, etc. It also is the same form you use when thrusting with a spear or knife.
My senpai (先輩 student senior to you) continually states that when practicing tsuki you should shift forward to the maximum your body allows. This way when it comes to using it in a real life altercation, you have a large range of motion your are comfortable using it in. For fun we got out our cameras and took pictures of each other practicing tsuki and then used the pictures to examine our form.
Looking at the picture, my form seems pretty good, however I myself know that I am not as flexible as I was only a couple years ago. I should be able to shift forward more. Flexibility in the lower legs is very important for the movement found in these martial arts.
The strike is also delivered with a partially open hand, and not a completely closed fist like you find in boxing for example. In order to effectively strike in this way you need to have strong hands. A good judge of whether you have the strength/form required for this is to do pushups with your hands in this position. A couple of years ago, I could do them. Now, without trying, I know the answer.
Amusingly, when I first started training back in Canada, I wanted to condition my hands for striking and so I taped a piece of cardboard to the cement wall in the corner of the warehouse where I worked. Each day during my break I would repeatedly hit that cardboard. At first it was bloody as my unconditioned hands weren’t prepared for the impact but over time my hands grew to be able to take it. When I first met my teacher in Japan, I asked him how he conditioned his hands. (His hands are truly terrifying. He plays guitar in a band so his fingers are very flexible, but when he hits you you know it.) He told me how, as a young man, he would hit a tree a few hundred times every day, or would strike the asphalt with his fingertips. It made me feel like a wimp in comparison.
A flexible body is essential and without one you’ll never be able to move correctly. A great many people adapt the movement of the martial arts to the condition of their body but it should be the other way around. You should condition your body to be able to perform the movement.
My level of flexibility is still above average for my age range and I can attribute that to my training and the lifestyle in Japan, however even I know that there are some areas I have let slip. While a good part of someone’s range of flexibility is determined by one’s body type you can’t really use that as an excuse. Get stretching.
One’s own journey
Seigan no Kamae (青眼之構)
Despite having a teacher and fellow students to practice with Budo is, in the end, a personal journey. It’s up to you to determine your level of training and your level of commitment. It’s up to you to grasp what is being shown by your teachers and practice it to make it your own. Nobody else will make you better.
There is old Japanese expression Musha Shugyou (武者修行) which means traveling about to gain skill in combat. Japan has a long history of combat and even after peace was found with the establishment of the Tokugawa regime, warriors would still travel the country testing their skills. This is an important part of a life involving martial arts and it’s an aspect I have been giving more and more thought to.
I am already aware that I should be training more than I have been these last couple of years and that I need to get back the flexibility and conditioning that I’ve lost but now I’m realizing more and more how training is a personal journey.
I’m lucky to be training where I do. I’m ahead of the majority of foreigners who train in this art. I have the best teacher in the world (and I say that in complete sincerity). But even having the best teacher won’t make me the best martial artist. I have to become that myself. Now that I am 37 years old and I’ve past my physical peak it becomes so much more important to have proper form and technique. To establish if my technique is correct it needs to be applied. It’s been something I’ve been contemplating for some time. The first part of training in a martial art is study and replication but you can’t do that forever. You eventually have to move onto application and integration. There’s a Japanese expression for this. Shu Ha Ri (守破離) The best explanation for this expression I have found is this:
“In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebearers created. We remain faithful to the forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.”
I feel I am at the stage of my training where I can move away from the first stage and go on to the second stage. I am nowhere near the last stage but it should be the goal.
So there it is. Basically what I am writing here is a confession that I have been lax in my training and that I want to rededicate myself to it. Of course, this means that I won’t be building as much Gunpla, but I do plan on updating gaijin-gunpla.com frequently, just not every second day as before. I’ve actually got a lot of content ready to go that was done in the past so there will still be plenty to see here at gaijin-gunpla.com
Ihen no kamae (異変之構)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go stretch.