Monday, September 26, 2011

Romance & Reality

"It is a principle of the art of war that one should simply lay down his life and strike. If one's opponent also does the same, it is an even match. Defeating one's opponent is then a matter of faith and destiny.

".. Every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai."
The Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai:

"At night we don't shoot, we use (our) Bolo knife. When the crazy Japanese start charging without concern for their health, they are easy to chop down. Because they are not concerned about death".*
Leo Giron founder of the Bahala Na system (describing fighting the Japanese in the PI during World War II):

* - From The Dog Brothers DVD: The Grandfathers Speak Vol I


Josh K. said...

The way of the Samurai or Bushi? Servant or Warrior?

Never liked The Hagakure. The last example is exactly what he was looking for in the Samurai spirit someone who would throw their life away at the order of a superior.

To the Samurai life is cheap. To the Bushi life is worth dying for if need be, but not needlessly.

I always liked the "Bushido Shoshinshu" by Daidoji Yuzan translated by A. L. Sadler.

My 2 cents,

Dragan Milojevic said...

I always try to look at things in the most pertinent context. Same here, both the samurai and Filipino guerrilla fighter have achieved their goal...after all the attitude of the samurai was not so different to that of juramentado in the Philippines.

I guess the real issue here (for us in the martial arts) is whether the goal in battle actually reflects the goals in training. It still baffles me to this day, why was then the samurai so committed to his martial practices, if the actual moment of performance was pretty much all about pure determination, not about skill. So far, the only "answer" I have come up with is that the entirety of his training was aimed at a duel - encounter with another individual of his rank, as in those cases the samurai was not always representing anybody/anything else; on the other hand, the ultimate sacrifice and proof of loyalty was reserved for the battlefield, when two warring armies collide, each in the service of some demi-god type of lord.

Or, I could be totally off the mark...

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

We should bear in mind that the hagakure and a number of the other texts the embody to us what bushido is, date from the time after the need for a warrior class, when it was felt that there had been a loss of martial and appropriate focus for the "warrior" class. As such the texts, written by people themselves had no experience of true martial culture, were promoting ideas they "thought" were appropriate. In fact the whole concept of bushido post dates the era of true warfare. So one has to be careful in retro fitting ideas expressed in such works to the mind set of warriors in the 15th and 16th century. In the same way as one looking at 18th or 19th century european concepts of knighthood as a basis for how people thought or behaved in the 15th.
Even when looking at contempory writings we have to consider whether they are observations of actual behaviour or whether they represent the expression of ideals or if they are fullfilling a propoganda role.

Maija said...

Indeed - and therein lies my point. The 'romance' of the title does not imply that Japanese warriors throughout history did not understand reality or tactics, but that those who romanticized the 'ideals' perhaps did not.
As I understand it, the Hagakure was written by a bureaucrat who had never seen battle, and those soldiers facing Leo Giron during WW II were probably more immersed in this same myth due to the prevailing zeitgeist back home than any real training they had received.
Ultimately the point I am interested in is how to stay away from 'myth creep' in training nowadays, particularly for sword work as most of us are so far removed from the realities of what it means.
What the Filipino Arts have going for them is a closeness to these realities - WW II of course and challenge matches fought by my teacher's generation, and possibly still now. This puts them ahead reality wise of many more 'historic systems' IMHO.
However training changes, times change - you can see it in the evolution of how much is practiced nowadays and I think it is a shame.
Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, European, all systems have great information within them - The 'what' to do is plentiful and worthy ... it's just the 'when', 'why' and 'how' that seem to be missing.
And if the logic goes, then the myth creeps back in.

Ken said...

Perhaps there is a fine line in the psychology of the blade. Look for death too much and find it. Fear death too much and find it. Perhaps a norse is truly only heroic when I knows their time is at hand and chooses to act to the utmost. A last act of power.Some Japanese sword systems certainly had the skills. A friend of mine, Peter Nicholas, was a student of Ben Lo and also studied Japanese short staff in Hawaii. He told me about a class where a kenjitsu elder arrived. Ten students were told to attack him at once with their short staffs, my friend among them. He parried my friend's attack and using the point of his bokken fa jinged him away. The others did no better. Perhaps the authetic skills ebb and flow with their need and recognition.