Reflections on Budo
K. Chiba Sensei
Shihan, Chief Instructor of the
Chairman, Western Region United States Aikido Federation (USAF)
Introduction by David Birt Sensei ,
Chief Instructor of The
Kazuo Chiba: Well, I liked
budo quite a bit, especially judo. One day I happened to find myself in a
situation where I had to fight a match with one of my seniors who was a nidan. He was a fine person who had taught me quite a
bit about judo ever since I first entered the dojo, and he had been good to me
in matters outside the dojo as well. He had a small body but he did
He used to beat me all the time, but then, for some reason I won a match during a kachinuke shiai (match in which the judoka keeps fighting until he is beaten; he is then replaced by whoever beat him). He was mortified and said, "I can't beat you in judo anymore, but I still have kendo!" (He was also a nidan in kendo.)
Then one night he showed up at my place and told me to come out because we were going to have a kendo match. Now, I had done judo and karate, but never kendo. I figured something would probably work out, so I went along and we found ourselves an empty lot. My sempai allowed me a handicap by letting me use a wooden bokken while he used only a bamboo shinai. He was so fast that I couldn't even touch him, while his shinai smacked into my body again and again. I ended up taking quite a beating.
That experience became one of my first awakenings about budo. Disillusioned, I stopped going to the judo dojo, and I began to think about things. It occurred to me that even if I practiced judo as diligently as possible, established myself as a high-ranking judoka, and had confidence in my judo abilities, chances were that I could still be beaten by a shodan kendoka in a kendo match. By the same token, if some kendo teacher were to don a judo uniform and come to my judo dojo, I could probably beat him no matter how well-respected he was in the kendo world.
After thinking about that for a while I concluded that something was missing, and that some mistake must have been made; true budo must be something else. A budo practitioner, I thought, should be able to respond under any circumstances, whether using sword against sword, whatever. Such simple questions led me to begin thinking about the nature of true budo.
Since I had no idea how to
find the kind of budo I was looking for, I stopped doing any sort of
Then one day in a bookstore I
picked up a book about
How old were you then?
I had just graduated from
high school, so I must have been 18. At the time O-Sensei was living in Iwama
so he usually wasn't at the Hombu Dojo. But I was prepared to sit in front of
the dojo until I was allowed to become an uchideshi. So I did, waiting to talk to
someone. It was the middle of February , and it was cold. It seems the
people in the Hombu Dojo thought I was some kind of crazy person. Three days
later O-Sensei arrived from Iwama. Waka Sensei (the former Doshu, Kissho
O-Sensei said, "Budo training is extremely demanding. Do you think you can handle it?" I replied that I was very sure I could and O-Sensei said, "Very well then." It was a very simple meeting.
You then spent about seven years training as an uchideshi at the Hombu Dojo?
Yes, and there wasn't a single day during that whole period that I considered "fun"—not at the time, anyway. Now 1 look back on the experience rather fondly, but at the time it was pure hardship! [laughter] Of course, it was something I had chosen in order to realize my goal, not something that I was forced to endure, so in that sense it was actually something of a luxury, despite the difficulty.
You must have some interesting stories about your experiences as an uchideshi....
O-Sensei was still in good health when I entered the dojo. Over the seven years I was there I saw his techniques change rapidly. After about a year I had gained enough command of the basics that I was allowed to take ukemi for him.
Training with O-Sensei was really rough! I regularly had the skin scraped off my elbows when we practiced iriminage and the sleeves of my uniform were always caked with blood. O-Sensei's techniques were so fast I could hardly take the ukemi. Even worse than taking the ukemi was that even when he threw you really hard you had to get right back on your feet and you weren't allowed to take your eyes off him. You could feel it at the base of your neck when he sent you flying two meters across the mat. His sword was also extraordinarily fast.
How would you describe O-Sensei's "energy"?
It was like being pressed by some sort of invisible force. O-Sensei used to tell us to strike at him with a bokken at any time. Whenever he stopped and turned to speak to his audience seemed like a good chance to do so, since he wasn't looking our way at all, but even then nobody tried to strike him. He simply had no openings. He wasn't looking at us with his eyes, but we could feel him holding us fast with his ki. It used to make me break out in an oily sweat, so that I could hardly keep a grip on my bokken.
Still, as his opponents we would keep at it, gradually trying to close the distance. Then, for an instant, an opening would appear O-Sensei created small openings deliberately to help us train our powers of perception. He wouldn't use people who couldn't demonstrate an ability to perceive such openings.
The instant O-Sensei slightly relaxed the intensity of his kokyu power we would rush in with an attack; but he was already gone. For that reason it looked pre-arranged. Actually, O-Sensei was already moving by the time we began our attack. We were just too slow or lacked the ability to perceive it. I find that sort of thing extremely interesting.
O-Sensei said that true budo should be executed so skillfully that it looks prearranged. He said it's not budo if you begin your movement only after the strike is in motion. It's only the real thing if it looks set up to outside observers.
Did O-Sensei teach the uchideshi differently from the students in the general classes?
The content of the training was exactly the same, but we uchideshi were also told explicitly that we were not to train in the same way as the regular students. Our training had to be much harder and more intense, not soft and easy. O-Sensei was very strict about that.
The uchideshi rarely received any kind of special technical instruction. Rather, the most intense part of our training was interacting with O-Sensei in every aspect of his daily life—serving as his personal assistant, accompanying him when he traveled, preparing his meals and bath, massaging his back, reading to him, and things like that. People who have never been an uchideshi may have difficulty understanding the significance of this daily contact.
Please tell us more about that.
We used to accompany O-Sensei
when he traveled to places like
Whenever there was a staircase to be climbed we would push O-Sensei up from behind, and going down again we positioned ourselves a step lower to offer a shoulder for him to hold on to. Eventually we would make it onto the train. Occasionally there were uchideshi who couldn't keep up, but O-Sensei would just get on the train and leave anyway, so everyone had to do everything possible to keep up with him and get on the train with the group.
Most of the inns we stayed at had some arrangement consisting of two rooms and a toilet. O-Sensei slept in the far room and the uchideshi crammed into the other. Now, at his age O-Sensei usually got up five or six times during the night to visit the toilet and we had to assist him. I couldn't sleep at all for the first two or three years, because I could never tell when he was going to get up.
When he got up we would open the door and help him into his haori ( a loose jacket somewhat longer in the front, reaching to somewhere between the hip and the knee), then escort him to the toilet, open the toilet door, and switch on the light. Afterwards we helped him wash and dry his hands, then got him back into bed and returned to our own room. Obviously you can't get much sleep with that happening five or six times a night. Everyone would lose eight or nine pounds during the week and we were pretty ragged by the time we got home.
The interesting thing is that after about four years I was able to sleep soundly. Somehow I would sense it in my sleep whenever O-Sensei needed to get up to use the toilet. I would wake up, jump out of bed, slide open the door and there he was! Perfect timing, you know? A sort of wordless communication had developed. In Japanese we say ishin denshin, which means something like "communication as if two people had the same mind."
This is the sort of training that allows you to sense the intention of your partner on the mat. When you and your partner face off holding swords, for example, the important thing is not who is stronger and who is weaker, but rather how clearly you can grasp the other's intention. To be able to move at the right time you have to be able to see the openings when they appear.
I don't know whether this sort of training was intentional on O-Sensei's part, but in any case it did influence my technique in the sense that I became able to act in response to the movement of my partner's ki and the timing of his movement before I had even thought about it. Of course I can't do that all the time.... I wish I could, then I'd really be an expert, wouldn't I? [laughter]
What do you think is the most
important thing for people who are just beginning
People seek so many different
These days there is more diversity. Some people do it for health, others for the philosophical or spiritual aspects—all of these are good.
The important issue today,
however, is that if you think of
In principle 1 think there is no old or new in budo. We have the word "kobudo," which literally means "old budo." It's logical opposite would be "shinbudo," or "new budo," but we don't actually use such a word in Japanese, do we? The modern trend is for new budo to become sport-oriented. It's probably okay to call these sports "new forms of budo," but in the traditional way of thinking sports really don't qualify as budo.
It's very difficult to say to
what extent these things are to be considered budo. But to my way of thinking,
there is no doubt that budo is what forms the roots of
Would you talk about that from a technical perspective?
Within my limited experience
what captivates me most about
This element constitutes one
However, this essential quality is not clearly manifested in the individual techniques so much as it permeates the art as a whole and exists as a latent potential. It allows an approach to an ethic sought by modern spirituality, in other words the "shinmu fusatsu" that represents the highest ideal of Japanese budo—-"to kill not."
Aikido's essence as a budo is
by no means close to the surface, but those with a degree of insight should be
able to discern it. The
I think perhaps one of the
profound and fascinating qualities of
Doshu's approach to
Also, large, round, soft
movements, as well as ideas like spiritual harmony and unity are important, but
too much emphasis on them yields a one-sided or skewed approach to training and
cannot be said to embody the essence of budo. Those things also tend to lack a
certain degree of technical validity. They're more akin to leaves and branches,
and as such perhaps they are better interpreted as being symbolic of the
In this way, O-Sensei opened a path for the many types of people who had in the past, for whatever reasons, been excluded from the world of traditional budo—people with frail bodies, people lacking physical power, the aged, women. He did away with competition and in so doing created a way that adapts to the capabilities and characteristics of each individual, drawing out their latent potential, and allowing them each to find their niche and fulfill their own mission in life. A world in which people can live together is created when everyone is fulfilling their own potential in this way. That is my understanding of O-Sensei's thinking.
It's an epochal way of thinking about budo, isn't it?
Yes, but on the other hand
what I fear most is when those people who have been excluded from traditional
budo find a path in
Of course, it's also
important to keep in mind that if the leaves and branches wilt and die, then so
will the roots. So we really have to think of
I think the facts about why
and how O-Sensei created
I think what we would call a "completed" budo doesn't really exist. (The same may be said of philosophy or religion, or indeed of any human construct.) "My completion of my budo," in other words, completion on an individual, personal level, is as much as there is. O-Sensei completed his own budo, but that is not my budo.
Similarly, I can't simply give or transfer my budo to my students. At most I can invite them into my experience to have them use it as a guide to completing their own budo. In that sense budo is a rather solitary pursuit for everyone involved, because you can't learn, lock-stock-and-barrel, what your teacher has achieved. The various aspects of budo simply won't emerge for you in exactly the same form as they did for your teacher.
That's not to say, of course, that there isn't a need to establish basic teaching methodologies containing theories, doctrines, training methods, and so forth.
In budo there are three stages— shu (protect/maintain/observe), ha (break/ tear down), and ri (separate/part from/release). In the shu stage you absorb what your teacher has to offer and remain absolutely obedient. Self-assertion, creativity, and independent ideas on your part are absolutely forbidden during these years, however long it takes. You have to follow what you are taught absolutely, without interjecting your own bias in any way. This is often referred to as a form of "self-negation." Still, however much you learn, it remains your teacher's art, not your own.
So you need the next stage,
which is ha, or breaking free of what you have learned. In doing so the entity
you call your "self" comes into play. It's a form of creativity, and
as such represents an affirmation of your self. During this stage you discover
your own personal characteristics, your own personality, in other words,
"who you are." You begin to sort through all that you've learned,
selecting and digesting what you need to create and complete something that is
your own. But this is not the end, for this kind of self-affirmation exists pri
Ri is the third stage. Having negated your self in the first stage (shu), then affirmed your self in the second stage (ha), in the third stage (ri) you have to negate even that self-affirmation. Ri allows you to drop out of the relativity that bound you in the previous two stages and becomes a gateway to universality or completion.
In terms of technique, shu is a time for technical mastery in which you pass through the bulk of the art's technical repertoire; ha offers an opportunity to research and apply those techniques; ri is the completion of something that is your own.
In terms of one's spiritual or mental state, shu is negation of the self; ha is affirmation of the self; and ri is transcendence and dropping away from the Self-Other duality and a release from obsession with specifics. All of these intersect and intertwine.
Through my own limited
experience I've been able to touch a part of this world that I've just been
describing. However, interpretations of these things through the eyes of
someone who hasn't actually experienced them inevitably yield little more than
mechanical, dead descriptions. Even something like the concept of shu-ha-ri, for example, becomes absurdly skewed if you try
to capture it within some defined intellectual form. Shu-ha-ri
and the development these terms describe have aspects of a
dialectic. In fact, the existence posited by
The extremely modern quality
Aikido training involves repetitive practice of forms over long years in order to establish a base from which eventually to create something of your own. As such, it's important to try to continue to think about how to do that within the conditions presented by the training. Take kata, or set practice forms, for example. As a matter of form we set up a contrastive relationship in which tori is active and uke is passive, but in the sense that each is training their ability to engage their autonomous freedom, there is essentially no difference between the two. This can be broadened to include the various seemingly contrasting aspects of life itself—life and death, youth and old age, health and infirmity, happiness and sadness, winning and losing, success and failure—and as such has deep significance as a means of conducting one's life.
Budo's original and essential nature, which is deeply connected with Self and Other hovering on the border between life and death, inevitably arrives at the irrationality of existence. However, within this irrationality is embedded an opportunity to awaken to the source of one's autonomous freedom. Zen and budo find an affinity with each other in that both are born of a recognition of the irrationality of life, although they approach the problem from different angles.
Even within Buddhism, Zen in
particular devotes itself exclusively to clearing away ideologies and dogma to
cut directly to the nature of existence. As such it is extremely practical, as
well as existential. For that reason it has significantly influenced the
spirituality of the warrior class in
By the way, rather than
pulling out things like Zen and budo one-by-one for comparison, I'd like people
to look instead at the underlying Japanese spirit that has absorbed and
assimilated them. This Japanese spirit has incorporated elements such as Zen
and budo, along with Confucian, Taoist, and Shinto thought, polishing each to
bring out its distinctive luster, nurturing them and allowing them to percolate
into each other to form a
Anyway, to return to my point, I suspect that much of what happens in the dojo—throwing or being thrown, for example, or the apparent winning and losing during tachiai (which we use in place of actual competitive matches)—is more symbolic in meaning. In reality, the essential problem being addressed is the response of individuals to various conditions confronting them. So as the saying "victory in defeat" (makete katsu) suggests, phenomenal world concepts such as superiority and inferiority or winning and losing are not so important.
Surprisingly, people who have
truly arrived at such a state of realization seem to regard death itself as a
merely phenomenal occurrence. Take, for example, the Chinese Zen priest Bukko, who lived during the Southern Sung Dynasty [ca.
1127-1279]. He was invited to the
The nineteenth century European existentialist thinkers, from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to Jaspers, Heidegger, and Sartre (who eventually arrived at atheistic existentialism), all searched for the grounds of existence/being to the abyss of nothingness. You can see a parallel between what they did and Zen thought, which over thousands of years has also perfected a capacity to respond to the irrationality of existence. That these two emerged from completely different cultural contexts suggests a commonality in a very deep-seated region of the human spirit.
Of course, Eastern and
Western civilization depart from one another in other respects. Eastern
thought, for example, is pervaded by the idea of the unity of mind and body,
which you don't find so clearly in Western thought. This is evident in Eastern
traditions such as Indian yoga, the magical practices of Chinese Taoism, the
In contrast. Western thought seems to me to be essentially dualistic. It demonstrates little unity of spiritual and physical activity, which puts it more into the realm of pure speculation. I think this is a conspicuous difference between Eastern and Western thought. A clear example of the differences between these two styles of thinking may be seen, for instance, in the contrast between Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker" and that sculpture in Koryu Temple in Kyoto of a half-seated Bosatsu (Bodhisattva), said to represent the figure of Prince Siddhartha before he attained buddhahood. The difference in approaches to speculation is quite evident when you compare those two.
Please don't misunderstand me and think I am suggesting that the Eastern way superior. After all, since the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the 1770's, the purely speculative approach of the West has formed the basis of the applied sciences that underlie our entire modern lifestyle. From the standpoint of human history, now more than ever there is a growing need to integrate the two.
That's another reason why we
need to seriously consider how to approach disseminating and developing
The same may be said of the whole of traditional Japanese budo. In all honesty, I think that if the goal were simply to fulfill the physical activity requirements of modern people, then there would be no real need for budo. Sports and other such activities would serve just as well. But budo has qualities that go beyond mere physical activity to offer contributions to society and I believe we need to think more seriously about those.
I think Japanese budo,
Kazuo Chiba Profile