Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: martial arts

Unarmed Combat in Full Armor

January 28, 2022

…In fact, if there was one thing I thought they needed, it was more drill in full gear. A [modern] soldier in the field would probably be wearing body armor that weighed about twenty-five pounds. Plus a field pack and other equipment that could mean he’d be carrying sixty pounds. Throw in gloves and goggles, elbow and knee pads, and what you got was someone who had to move in completely different ways. Balance would be a problem. Nobody was going to do much kicking—it’s hard enough to carry that weight on two legs, never mind one.

I was reminded of one of the more obscure kata in judo—kojiki no kata. The moves are odd and stilted, very different from the other forms that judoka practice. But that’s because that particular kata rehearses movements that would be made in full armor. It’s a holdover from the days when the samurai in armor still stalked the battlefields, and a recognition that the mechanics of fighting can change technique considerably.

John Donohue, Tengu, Chapter 9

Don’t Look For Your Opponent

January 12, 2022
Stick:
Don’t look for your opponent. Know where he is. I’m blind, and I see more than any of you. Because I don’t look.

— “Elektra” (2005)

There Is No Block

December 19, 2021

There really is no such thing as a block in traditional martial arts, at least not in the commonly understood sense. You see, the Japanese word uke means “receive” rather than “block” as it often incorrectly translated, a very significant difference both mentally and physically. Your defensive technique receives the adversary’s attack and makes it your own. Without this vital context you’re merely fending off a blow knowing that another is on its way, staying behind the count, whereas a “proper” block can end the fight all by itself without the need to throw what is commonly thought of as an offensive blow…..

There Is No Block – Kris Wilder

The First Martial Arts Schools in Japan

November 27, 2021

Conventional martial training did not follow a common structure throughout [feudal] Japan; every clan had its own methodology and philosophy. Many clans had certain individual soldiers serve as group teachers, working with younger, newer troops. As a comparison the modern army, where new recruits learn from more experienced veterans on a fairly informal basis, is a similar system.

Some clans actually took the next step, establishing formal dōjō, or martial arts schools, to provide instruction to their men. Veterans of many campaigns, whose skill had been noted, would serve as instructors. This became their duty, and they lived to perfect their skills. They were more like drill instructors training recruits rather than modern teachers of martial arts. These sensei were teaching their charges how to kill and survive, not how to score points with flair and panache.

The philosophies that became a major part of martial arts as we now know them may have been in place, but only nominally. The subject of instruction was tricks and strategies to be used in defeating the enemy, not inner peace and self-control.

Another unusual martial art still practised in small numbers is armoured wrestling. Grappling with the enemy while in full gear is very different from conventional wrestling, and it needed practice. Related techniques included seizing and dismounting a rider while passing him.

Anthony J. Bryant, Samurai 1550-1600, pp. 15-16

Emphasis mine.

True Masters Are Both Brutal and Refined

September 3, 2021

In the martial arts, the really good teachers cultivate in their students an acute sensitivity to various stimuli. Your nerve endings are teased and jolted, your reflex actions made more subtle, and, for some of us, the result is a change in the ways we see the world and exist within it. The true masters are both brutal and refined, compassionate torturers, and guides who lead you to places where you will stand alone, confronting age-old fears that snarl in the abyss.

Once you’ve gone into that void and come through to the other side, it changes you. You glimpse it sometimes in people who’ve had a similar experience. I see it in my teacher’s face in his rare unguarded moments. And I see it in the mirror. It doesn’t make us better than other people, just different.

John Donohue, Tengu, chapter 2

Willing to Act as a Guide

June 18, 2021

The martial arts sensei is very much like a Zen master; he has not sought out the student, nor does he prevent him from leaving. If the student wants guidance in climbing the steep path to expertise, the instructor is willing to act as guide—on the condition that the student be prepared to take care of himself along the way. The instructor’s function is to delegate to the student exactly those tasks which he is capable of mastering, and then to leave him as much as possible to himself and his inner abilities. The student may follow in the footsteps of his guide or choose an alternate path—the choice was his.

The instructor first teaching technique (waza) without discussing its significance; he simply waits for the student to discover this for himself. If the student has the necessary dedication, and the teacher provides the proper spiritual inspiration, then the meaning and essence of the martial arts will finally reveal themselves to him.

Zen in the Martial Arts, p. 5

A Ruthless Model

September 25, 2020

“The selection of a primary disciple is not an easy thing. It is often marked by blood.”

Yamashita looked at me significantly. The founder of his style, Ittosai, dealt with this issue centuries ago and had left his successors through the generations a ruthless model. The master, blessed with two remarkable students of apparently equal skill, had brought them together. He had placed the scrolls of the style and the document of succession on the ground, along with a ceremonial sword. Then he had calmly informed the two disciples that the individual who left the room alive would be his successor.

Sensei, Epilogue

To Train in the Martial Arts

August 17, 2015

To train in the martial arts is like being apprenticed to frustration, to the burn of effort, and the unattainable criteria of perfection. There’s no glamour, no reward beyond the ones you create in your own heart. You struggle along the path and your teacher goads you or challenges you, always three steps ahead and always waiting, his eyes betraying nothing but demanding everything. And you try to give it.

John Donohue, Kage, chapter 2

Haragei

December 22, 2014

The nonverbal elements of communication and perception are highly valued by the Japanese; they prize their ability to grasp the essence of people and things using methods we can only guess at. They call this ability haragei. Yamashita has it. He can cross swords with a complete stranger and know the skill level of his opponent before they’ve begun. You can argue that it has to do with subtle physical clues people give off: a look in the eye, posture, breathing rates. The longer I train, the more I tend to agree. But there’s also more to it than that.

On days when he’s really cooking, it seems as if Yamashita can actually read your mind. What’s scary is not that he knows what you’re going to do before you do, but that he does it by getting inside you somehow.

I’ve experienced hints of it. The feeling is a weird, emotive certainty that washes up from the base of the neck and creeps over your scalp. It is often totally unexpected. And distracting.

Sensei, chapter 7

Any Sensei Is a Bit Mercurial at Times

December 22, 2014

Any sensei is a bit mercurial at times—they do it to keep you guessing. Part of the mystery of a really good martial arts teacher is the way in which you’re perpetually surprised by things, kept just slightly off balance. I had a karate teacher years ago, and every time I thought, OK this guy has shown me just about everything he’s got, he would waltz in and do something I had never seen before. Then he would look at me like he could read my mind.

Sensei, chapter 4

In the Martial Arts, Nobody Owes You Anything

November 28, 2014

In Japan, white is the color of emptiness and humility. Many of us had started our training in arts like judo or karate, where the uniforms known as gi were traditionally white as a symbol of humility. Most mainline Japanese instructors I knew frowned on the American urge to branch out into personal color statements with their uniforms. The message was clear: a gi is not an expression of individuality. People wanting to make statements should probably rent billboards and avoid Japanese martial arts instructors. They are not focused on your needs. They are concerned only with the pursuit of the Way. You are free to come along. But your presence is not necessary.

You have to get used to that sort of attitude. In the martial arts, nobody owes you anything, least of all your teacher. The assumption is that you are pretty much worthless and lucky to be in the same room with your sensei. You do what he says. You don’t talk back. You don’t ask rude questions. You don’t cop an attitude—that’s the sensei’s prerogative.

Sensei, chapter 2

Emphasis mine.

Dojo Storming

February 24, 2013

“In the old times…a young warrior would learn all local sensei could teach and then seek out ‘instruction’ at another dojo. A truly skilled fighter could go from school to school, challenging the best students and even the masters.” A sip of air as he paused. “It was known as dojo arashi.”

Dojo storming. I could imagine what it must have been like: hard young men clomping down the packed dirt roads of Japan with battered armor and well-kept weapons slung over their backs. They churned up the miles like hungry predators, hunting down new masters to defeat and new towns to prove themselves in. The good ones earned reputations. The less skilled, in the best of situations, learned to limp away quietly. Sometimes, only their ghosts moaned in phantom processional down midnight crossroads….

Sensei, chapter 17

A Dojo Is a Miniature Cosmos

December 9, 2012

A dojo is a miniature cosmos where we make contact with ourselves—our fears, anxieties, reactions, and habits. It is an arena of confined conflict where we confront an opponent who is not an opponent but rather a partner engaged in helping us understand ourselves more fully. It is a place where we can learn a great deal in a short time about who we are and how we react in the world. The conflicts that take place inside the dojo help us handle conflicts that take place outside. The total concentration and discipline required to study martial arts carries over to daily life. The activity in the dojo calls on us to constantly attempt new things, so it is also a source of learning—in Zen terminology, a source of self-enlightenment.

Zen in the Martial Arts, p. 4