The Lesson of a Rainstorm
By Shaun Banfield
There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.
- Yamamoto Tsunetomo, ‘Hagakure – The Book of the Samurai’
Above is a quote extracted from Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s world renowned manual ‘Hagakure’, a series of anecdotes and reflections which give an ‘insight and instruction in the philosophy and code of behaviour that foster the true spirit of Bushido’ (the way of the warrior).
Over the last 9 years of interviewing karateka from all around the world, from a variety of backgrounds, with different perspectives, objectives and ideals, the philosophy of Bushido makes a repeated appearance. Mikio Yahara, when interviewed for THE SHOTOKAN WAY in 2008 stated:
‘The concept of Bujutsu is to defend your life and body against attack with martial techniques, and each technique is a Bujutsu. The word Bu includes the meaning of protecting yourself while simultaneously defeating your attacker. Do is supposed to be a very steep and tough path you have to climb to practice and perfect those techniques. This path is the practice, the long repetition, the forging of technique, of body, of mind’. (M. Yahara, Interview with The Shotokan Way, 2008)
As the rear-cover blurb of Hagakure states, this philosophy connected to the Samurai is perhaps ‘far removed from our modern pragmatism’, and within the context of Feudal Japan, this does indeed seem true. There are however modern day manifestations of the philosophy that make them more than relevant to contemporary living.
Yamamoto Tsunetomo [1659 – 1719], a samurai retainer of the Nabeshima Clan, included the reflection at the beginning of this article within his text ‘Hagauke’, a historian’s invaluable insight into the philosophy of the Samurai. This is just one of Hagakure’s entries, but one that caught my attention as I lay reading whilst in the bath.
The entry explores the notion that when you know what are facing, when you know what to expect, you cannot be taken by surprise, highlighted in the statement ‘When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking’. This clearly highlights that in spite of ‘knowing the outcome’, which will inevitably remain the same as it is unavoidable; one is able to mentally ‘deal’ with the situation. Within the context of the Samurai, this denotes and promotes the clear objective of the warrior in facing realities, acclimatising to that reality and consequently coming to terms with it. It is therefore about acceptance and resignation. This resignation does not imply ‘taking it lying down’, but in fact means that sometimes it is better to ride the storming wave, than fight it and consequently drown.
I have always lived by the idea that it is better to know what I am facing, so I can face it head on. I have never been a ‘bury the head in the sand’ kind of guy. This goes from me being a skinny fourteen year old refusing to walk around the bulky gang of bullies outside my school gate, to sitting and working out my debt and defining a strategy to deal with it. I try my best to face things, especially as I religiously listened to Tori Amos’ poetic piano empowerment, singing ‘You can’t stop what’s coming, can’t stop what is on its way’.
Within a modern context – an age of recession, an age of social and cultural ongoing destruction, the idea of facing reality can of course be not only difficult, but sometimes complex. Wales, for example, has recently (the last 4 years) decided to re-embed its cultural identity within the educational curriculum, which they call Curriculum Cymraeg due to it diminishing in recent decades and facing the threat of absolute disappearance. They are facing the reality that the Welsh culture has been under threat of being lost, and is now – after too long of ignorance – facing the issue head on.
The reason I provide such broad and differing contexts – of the adultery-victim and the Curriculum Cymraeg – is to demonstrate the breadth of this philosophy within a very modern framework. My interest in this concept however relates to my passion – Karate-Do.
I remember being sat, as a 17 year old karateka talking to a Muay Thai instructor. In his typical arrogant way, he pressed his opinion of karate to me, without my request, stating ‘The problem with karate is that it breeds over confidence’. My initial reaction was to bite, not only because he was criticising a passion of mine that – at this point – I had dedicated over a decade to, but because he was generally a plonker. In the subsequent years that followed however, I learned that he wasn’t too far wrong.
My biggest criticism of most karate dojos is the lack of ‘context’ and reality provided to its ‘contextually real’ fighting settings. By this, I do not refer to Kata, and Kihon as they are – as designed – extremes of reality. They are exaggerated forms of movement to co-ordinate the body. Exaggeration by definition removes facets of reality.
My discussion focuses on the training that is designed to reflect the threat of reality based conflict. This encompasses a vast array of factors. Now within a situation of conflict, you are – of course – dealing with an attacker(s), and we study strategies for dealing with these attackers, sometimes impressively, thinking about defence, counter attack, pre-emptive attacks, distance, and the vast array of other factors. We as karateka however, whilst knowing the factors that make up the reality of conflict rarely ‘live’ it within the dojo. I will take one example to explain.
In any fighting situation, if you are being attacked by someone determined to hit and hurt you, then in spite of being physically prepared for them, there is a huge chance and likeliness that a ‘stray’ punch may get through, in spite of the level of defence being incorporated. This stray could completely dash out all of the preparation you have made. Shock, disorientation and panic sets in, and whilst you are trying to ‘regain’ yourself, they are hitting you with their second, third and fourth attack. Now within the context Tsunetomo’s entry in Hagakure, if we never experience getting hit and having to ‘regain’ ourselves, or even coming to terms with the possibility of it, how can we ever be fully prepared? It seems a fallacy within karate that because we practice blocks, we will ultimately block the opponent’s attacks. Bull. This is not reality, this is almost as far removed from reality as the Power Rangers and their protection of the world from the bad, evil monsters conspiring for world domination.
However, if you are prepared for the fact you are going to get hit, if you face that fact, if you – like Tsunetomo – become ‘resolved’ to the fact you will get hit, then you are one step closer to being able to ‘regain’ yourself.
But simply facing that fact is not enough. Tsunetomo did not say ‘be resolved, but stay inside until the sun comes out’. You must face it head on. Therefore we, in the process of practicing our defence, must have experience of encountering ‘stray’ strikes of ranging impact levels. Within the controlled and safe confines of the dojo, this of course remains contrived, but it edges closer to replicating the reality for the karateka to face.
I will now give an example of what I mean, to help illustrate my karate-context interpretation of Tsunetomo’s entry:
- [REALITY] We often work in special dojos with sufficient space to allow for excellent levels of movement, without the concern of where we are going, or what we could be bumping into, or tripping over. The reality is, as said above, conflict can take place in rough, squalid spaces where there are tables, chairs, pool tables, curbs, lamp posts, broken glass etc. Therefore, being aware of the space you are operating in is of huge importance, encompassing spatial awareness and an ability to operate within this space as falling over a curb or chair could mean the momentary disorientation and distraction that could cost you your life.
- [LEARNING STRATEGIES] I pair my students into partners and get them into close proximity fighting ranges. Then I use masking tape to mark out a designated space upon the floor. I then get the students to work within that space upon the floor. Every time they step onto the masking tape represents them bumping into a wall, falling over a chair, or walking on glass. I – as the instructor – vocally make them very aware of this, and repetition and working in this way, being incredibly concerned with the space they are working with brings home the reality of unsanitised conflict.
These examples (Stray punches, and space) are just two of the features we should be further preparing ourselves for, but there are numerous others that could and should be explored within our study of reality conflict. We all want to think our fights are going to look like a scene from ‘Blood Sport’ or ‘Karate Kid’, but that’s just daydreaming.
In Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s entry within Hagakure, he reflects on the importance of being prepared, knowing the potential consequence of going out on a grey, miserable looking day. Knowing the reality of something means you can deal with it better. Within the context of knowing your culture is dying out, you can put strategies in place to better the problem. In karate, knowing what could and potentially will happen can only make you a better fighter, and potentially save your life.
Therefore, be ‘resolved’ that things won’t work out perfectly, come to terms with the fact that it is going to get messy and not go to plan, and you are one step closer to winning.
Therefore, ‘When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking’ but you will be in a much better mental position to deal with it.