Cut Without Arms

It’s a funny thing when you have to learn how to not try in order to succeed in something. It is, after all, the American dream to work hard in order to improve your situation, the idea of working yourself to death has become glorified; the glorification of always being busy. When we have a goal to reach for, we stress and strain for it. very few of us give out 120% but that’s another though for another time.

It has become a lost art to do without trying, to get out of your own way to perform. Thus what was once a natural art, becomes a learned science.

When we grapple, there is the tendency to grip the opponent’s keikogi (training uniform; 稽古着) and push and pull, twisting and turning, exerting yourself to advance to a strategic position to defeat the opponent’s balance and defeat them. However, this muscular tension reduces one’s ability to disseminate information through tactile feedback. And then you suddenly have dependency on using your eyes to fight, to perceive the opponent’s position; tension stops information. This is far from the notions that the very terms judo (the gentle way; 柔道), jujutsu (science of pliability; 柔術), yawara (suppleness; 柔), and all the branches of Japanese grappling infers.

In the case of percussion practices, such as boxing, karate, and so on, the tension commonly implemented in the training, creates a threefold problem:

  1. the torquing of the body in order to generate power places a huge strain on the skeletal structure, and used within a biomechanical framework that is simply not ergonomic, and thus we see issues such as tendonitis, arthritis, aches, sprains, and numerous other issues, as well as psychological tension, and the ailments that may arise in that (usually with a predisposition of course).
  2. muscular tension will reduce the range of movement (interfering with flexibility; 柔), and reduce the response time of musculo-synapse with the brain, ie. you move slower.
  3. through living in the kinds of body cultures predominant in the world today (globalization increasing stress, producing bodily tensions, and thus even the most menial movement is done with an overabundance of effort), the human being has unconsciously learned to passively read aggressive movements generated with torque, tension, and superfluous movements. the sympathetic nervous system responds to this very quickly; your opponent will unconsciously pick up on the attack, and their flinch reflex (commonly called the fight or flight response) will reduce the efficiency of your attack.

The classical theories of yawara (柔) circumvent all of the above with minimal effort, for those who are able to relearn how to move effortlessly:

  1. be gentle with yourself to prevent self-injury and promote longevity in your practice;
  2. relaxed movements deliver techniques way faster than conventional, modern body-mechanics;
  3. subtle and direct movements circumvent the opponents sympathetic-nervous system and thus reduces their capacity to effectively respond appropriately.

As yawara makes up the nucleolus of many composite traditions of Japanese martial arts (sogo bujutsu (綜合武術); systems that combine numerous weapons and stratagems into a cohesive system of warriorship), the above principles apply directly and effectively to any and all weapons, implements, or tools one may manipulate with their body. It may feel like you are cutting or thrusting without arms. of course the weight of the implements plays a role, which is why the entire body is utilized, and not just the arms.

Now what if we apply these ideas to living in general? We do not after all pursue archaic systems of violence because we expect to get in to a sword or spear fight, but there is the recognition that the founders of the traditions didn’t simply live through an eclectic set of fighting skills, but instead somehow unified them into a unified paradigm or worldview. When one “lives by the sword” this means that they are exploring and expanding the perception of what the ideas of heiho (strategy; 兵法) is for them. When you put your life on the line continuously, you start to develop perceptions of how the world works, patterns that pop up both in conflict as well as peace. Then one realizes that the grip of the sword is the same as the grip of the brush, of a cup, of a gardening hoe, and so on. the study of heiho is in fact the study of the human, and the paradigms thereof.

Thus the masters of old applied heiho (strategy), yawara (appropriate force), kenjutsu (the science that makes up the sword; 剣術), and everything – to everything. When you have a task before you, no matter how steep or tedious , the process is the same: devise a strategy (heiho), apply the appropriate effort (yawara), and not feed the extra drama of the task onto yourself (which is what makes everything more difficult). Then you can approach the task as any other task in an unperturbed or without discouragement way (fudoshin; 不動心).

When a fight to the death is dealt with at the same capacity of pouring your morning tea – then you have arrived.

What’s the difference between training and practice?


One thought on “Cut Without Arms

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  1. Classical martial arts was learned on the battlefield, and reflected upon after; not spoon fed in the dojo. thus more work has to be put into bringing the training to life (practice), where in the olden days, there was no difference. training is swinging a sword in a safe place, practice is the realization that one holds the brush the same way they hold the spear, sword or archery bow. the practice can’t come alive through training, only through practice, and it is through practice that technique becomes art – martial arts.


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