Thursday, August 27, 2009

Some Thoughts on Culture...

On Culture...

As a new student, one quickly realizes that there are various different cultures within the martial arts community. Some schools have a very sport-oriented culture. Some are almost preservers of history. Most are in between. Martial arts taught in America are generally accepted to be trans-pacific; in other words, we understand that we are westerners that have a certain way of teaching, learning and living that may be different from 16th century Japan for example; however, there are also aspects the older culture that we still keep as tradition.

In reality, in most schools of good repute, it is not simply tradition; there is value to learning distinct and key pieces of the cultural aspects of your art. One of the most valuable aspects is that there are concepts that simply do not translate well verbally into our western language, although our culture has plenty of examples of these similar concepts. By using some traditional language appropriately, provided we have gained a correct understanding of its use, we can essentially model a concept that may have taken extensive trial and error to reproduce ourselves. This allows us to more effectively and efficiently use the time we spend training, fosters a deeper understanding of our art and, ultimately, leads us down the path of success in our endeavour.
Today I would like to discuss the term "Do" (pronounced "Doh") or "Tao". This concept is so fundamental to the martial arts that it is in much of the general terminology and should be understood. Over the years I have heard terms such as budo ("Martial Way")(Pauley, 2009, p. 9), judo ("Soft Way")(p. 61), and karatedo ("Empty Hand Way")(p. 74) used by people in the context of activities. I have also seen hybrid marketing for things such as "Combat-Do"(combat-do, 2008)...your guess is as good as mine on that. I think any of us that have grown up in the West and practice Asian based arts can figure out the intent of the term "combat-do", however, the use reveals a gap in knowledge that occurs when one does not have some level of cultural understanding regarding the material that one is studying.  Let us fill that gap regarding the term "Do". Dave Lowry explains it succinctly in the article that follows:

Do: The Way
by Dave Lowry
Japanese culture is best represented in the "Way" paradigms such as kado (flower arrangement), shodo (calligraphy), budo (martial exercises), chado (the tea ceremony), Shinto (the Way of the gods), Shikijima-no-michi (the Way of poetry), and so on. These Ways are the common product in their respective lines of the creative efforts of many masters, generation after generation, accumulating progressively the best forms and techniques as well as the correct spirit to serve an education purpose on the one hand and the acceleration of the creative urge on the other. It is, therefore, nothing but a waste of time and energy to neglect the existence of these Ways. A casual glance at the Ways of Japan gives one an idea they are nothing but so many different formalisms. But a further practical analysis will enable one to find them as the most effective composition of the most carefully observed and the most logically related facts avoiding through the most careful scrutiny all possible shortcomings as well as extravagances. Each step has its definite meanings and logical reasons and a careless neglect of even one of them will spoil the whole affair, no matter however completely the rest is carried out. Every step of the Way is systematically organized so that anyone can attain to the degree of skillfulness according to his personal capacity with the least loss of energy. Only a master genius can add something to a given Way, thus contributing to the progress of the Way through the combined efforts of masters of all ages. Therefore the Way should not be regarded as a mere gathering of forms, and techniques since it is the spiritual symposium of the great masters enlightening all ages with their accumulated cultural inheritance.
The training of disciples in the Way is very severe, following painful discipline and trials so that only those people who are really worthy enough to receive the secrets from the highest master can follow it. The intention is to test the disciples in a way that a parent lion tests the strength and courage of its cub by kicking it down a ravine. The kind of discipline and trials is of course different according to the lines of culture, but they have something in common as a prerequisite before becoming masters. The prerequisites are: complete obedience to the higher masters, the death-defying desire for learning and the complete self-responsibility for the Way. The masters also have something in common among them, such as their complete negation of the sense of ego. They share an identification with the larger community life. They share a complete detachment from their own technical achievements. They share a recourse to Nature as the best ideal type of their cultural creation and so they realize a stage of achievement where their art identifies maker and community, the Gods and nature, as indivisible entities.
These masters, no matter what line of culture they belong to, are usually indistinguishable from the rest of the people until they are required to express themselves through their creations just as a drum is made to produce sound which varies according to the degree of strength applied by the beater. This strange return of the masters after a long journey of painful discipline together with technical acquirement, back to Nature and humanity, is one of the most typical characteristics of Japanese culture. A purposive expression of their own personal acquirement and abilities is regarded as a shortcoming to the perfection and is branded as snobbish. It was out of this tendency that there came into existence the so-called "Furyu culture" as the most superior form of cultural enjoyment which can be shared by masters and common folk alike. Thus the masters, long after their existence of complete detachment from Nature and humanity, have found the way for the common people to achieve unity with Nature and humanity. These Ways are welcomingly open, as much to the outsiders as to the Japanese themselves.

The Ways lead us to the very center of humanity and Nature itself, through the process of transcending both. That is because the Ways are transcendental and at the same time immanent by nature, neither platonic nor merely material, but they are the ways of creative action for building up a world of culture of their own. The actual creation of a world of culture is what constitutes the real value of the existence of humanity and nature. It is their raison d'Ítre. Thus, humanity and Nature have been discovered and rediscovered, created and recreated, again and again by masters who have an infinite love for these two and a death-defying desire to put their love into practical form. The culture we enjoy here on this plane is nothing but the image of the transcendental world which the masters reveal through their creative action. Each step of the Way leads us nearer to the summit and opens up new perspectives of the lower planes. The steps of the Way are the result of undaunted efforts of masters who are able to catch eternity in a moment and the universe in a small spot through their creation. The higher we rise on those steps of the Way of cultural creation, the higher the world also rises with us.

About the AuthorDave Lowry is a writer and historian specializing in Japan and traditional Japanese culture. He has been a student of the modern and classical martial disciplines of Japan since 1968 - including karate, aikido, the bo and kenjitsu. His columns have appeared for years in a variety of martial arts magazines and he is also an accomplished calligrapher. His books include "Sword and Brush - The Spirit of the Martial Arts" and "Autumn Lightning: The Education of an American Samurai".
This article was edited. Printed with permission of Dave Lowry. Copyright © Dave Lowry. All rights reserved.
Lowry, Dave. "Do: The Way". Online accesses on August 27, 2009 <>
Pauley, Dan C. "Pauley's Guide: A Dictionary of Japanese Martial Arts and Culture". 2009. Anaguma Seizan Publication.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Modeling and The Martial Arts

Before I begin this discussion, let me assure you that this is not the type of modeling that is done on a runway or at a fashion event.

Modeling is a term that I first heard used in this context by personal development expert Anthony Robbins. Robbins uses the term as a "Western explanation" to conceptualize what has, for centuries, been stand practice in the dojo ("Training Hall")(Pauley, 2009, p. 20).

As a primary means of teaching in the dojo, one's sensei ("Teacher")(Pauley, 2009, p. 145) demonstrates movement, be it kata ("Prearranged Pattern")(p. 76) or waza ("Drill")(p.194). Students are discouraged from intellectualizing to learn and encouraged, instead, to imitate the movement exactly in order to "feel its flavor". Robbins uses the term "modeling" to describe this process of learning. One may characterize the intent to be the discouraging of analytical learning in favor of experiential learning.

Since Robbins has articulated this so well, we can simply summarize his work on the matter. In his personal development program, Robbins states that "motion creates emotion". He uses the example that if one were to describe an individual as being depressed to someone who did not know that individual, that person would still have an idea of the physiology of the depressed individual - a fairly accurate assessment of posture, gait, cadence of speech, breathing, use of eye contact, etc. This is because there is a particular physical ritual that must be modeled in order to create/convey depression (or excitement or any other state of being)(Robbins).

Robbins then proposes what martial arts training has been doing for centuries: if one changes ones physiology, one can alter one's psychology. Robbins has his students physically smile while attempting to recall an event that makes them feel poorly. It is obviously not possible to do both. In this way he illustrates the overwhelming impact of physical ritual on one's state of mind and, ultimately, quality of life (Robbins).

Returning our thoughts to the dojo, the emphasis on posture, breath, cadence of step, etc take on a significance beyond the goshin jutsu ("self-defense")(Pauley, 2009, p. 31) training. It is the process by which a physical "ritual" anchors a psychological state. The state of mind (perhaps heart is a more accurate word) that it creates can be described as empowerment in the face of adversity. This is a key process that contributes to creating a positive impact in the "non-dojo" activities in one's life as well.

Have you ever questioned the cliches that state martial arts will make you a better academic student, get you promoted at work and make you more attractive to the opposite sex? Modeling and the subsequent states that result from the "motion and emotion connection" is the process by which success in martial arts extrapolates into success in all areas of life.

There is a catch, however, and that is being selective in your choice of who to model. The better understanding that both teachers and students have of this process and connection, the greater the impact of this strategy.

Below is a video that I encourage you to watch as well as a link to visit the Robbins website.



Director, Midwest Academy of Martial Arts


Pauley, Dan C. "Pauley's Guide: A Dictionary of Japanese Martial Arts and Culture". 2009. Anaguma Seizan Publication.

Robbins, Anthony. "Personal Power II: The Driving Force". compact disc.

A Leadership Development Thought...

During a recent class in graduate school I had the opportunity to read "The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make" by Hans Finzel. This post is regarding a point that was well phrased by this author and I believe is worth sharing with you. In Finzel's book, he describes it as leadership mistake number two:

"Putting Paperwork Before People Work"

To summarize Finzel's thoughts on the topic, he observes that most of our leadership roles tend to be very task oriented. The combination of the role (environment) and the tendency for 'type A' personalities to be drawn to/fill those roles tends to foster an environment wherein leaders can lose their way and focus more on results and not the methods/process by which those results are obtained.

Since leadership is insignificant without followership, a major component of the process that a leader influences is his/her followers. In fact, without followers, there can be no leadership of scale. Therefore Finzel says that, "Leadership is essentially a people business" (Finzel, 2007, p. 49).

I would like to make an analogy to Monday evening's classes at our dojo ("martial arts training hall")(Pauley, 2009, p. 20). Monday began our "back to basics" review following a few months of working the technical aspects of various nage ("throws")(Pauley, 2009, p. 118). Reviewing the basics of how to make a proper fist before delving into the general mechanics and kinesiology of ate waza ("striking techniques")(Pauley, 2009, p. 6) may have seemed trite at the beginning of class considering the experience level of those in class (approximately half of the student body in class that evening were experienced martial arts teachers with years of teaching and training experience), but by the end of class, everyone had grown immensely at a technical level by reviewing "the basics".

So what do reviewing choku zuki ("straight punch")(Pauley, 2009, p. 14) and leading people have to do with one another? One answer...process. As skilled martial artists, we tend to overlook the basics in our study until our teacher (or a life lesson) calls our attention to a gap we have. As leaders it is incumbent upon ourselves to continually check our leadership practices in the same way we check our technical practice in the dojo.

But rather than viewing this as a process of continually returning to square one, let us place this discussion within the context of our learning analogy (the theory that all learned activity progresses through the following stages):
  • Unconscious Incompetence - you don't know what you don't know
  • Conscious Incompetence - you are aware of what you don't know
  • Conscious Competence - you can "do" as long as you are consciously thinking about it
  • Unconscious Competence - you can "do" without consciously thinking about it
By continually returning and reviewing the basics (of striking or of leadership for example), we can ensure that our practice/behavior is "perfect practice" moving the skill/behavior closer to unconscious competence.

Leadership is the process of creating influence and the "basics" of that are people. As a Special Operations Team Leader, I've come to learn that listening is an important skill to develop as a leader. Listening means creating space where we can focus on those we are leading. In a world of constant communication through cell phones, e-mails, text messages, etc, the creation of space is not easy, but it is important.

I'd like to offer you this challenge/assignment and hear your feedback. Create 10 minutes of space at the beginning of your day where you sit and concentrate on nothing but your breathing. Turn off the TV, step away from the computer, etc and sit someplace that is quiet. Do this everyday and see if you feel any different by the end of the week. If you do, what do you feel differently about? We begin with ourselves on this assignment because leadership begins with us.

The second part of this assignment is that I challenge you to not multitask when speaking with someone in your work environment. This may be a challenge so begin with what is achievable if you tend to multitask - set aside a set time (perhaps 30 minutes) where, if you interact with another person, you will focus on the interaction fully. Again, evaluate the quality of these interactions against the more routine interactions we tend to have.

Leadership is people work. That is as basic as the elements that go into making a proper fist.



Director, Midwest Academy of Martial Arts


Finzel, Hans. (2007). The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make. Colorado Springs, CO.
Pauley, Daniel C. (2009). Pauley's Guide. Dolores, CO. Anaguma Seizan Publications, Inc.