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In order to master any form of art, whether martial or aesthetic, consistent everyday training is crucial. It is well known that in the world of traditional Japanese Kabuki theater. The actors who portray female characters on stage (there are no actresses in Kabuki; male actors alone take all roles) maintain their feminine mannerisms even in daily life off stage.
What is the appropriate attitude for martial artists concerning consistent training? Bufu-Ikkan, or “consistent warrior living”, is my only advice. Naturally, this is all I can say no matter how the question is put to me – Do not give up. Keep going!
From my earliest years in the world of martial training, it was my goal to be truly good. In striving to attain that goal, I trained in the physical techniques three times as hard as a normal student. I devoted three times the normal mental effort in coming to a living understanding of the martial arts. I invested three times the normal amount of money that most students would spend in order to obtain the insights I needed. I trained fanatically and consistently and I became strong. As I found myself attaining the strength I had sought, however, I curiously enough came to discover a subtle new form of weakness in myself. I searched diligently for the roots of this suspicion of weakness. But I could never seem to get to the bottom of the question. I was truly at a loss. Nonetheless, I firmly believed in the validity of the teachings of the martial tradition behind my art, so I was sure that my continuing consistent training would eventually lead me to the enlightenment I sought. I just kept on training. I kept going.
One day, an invisible insidious enemy attacked, and I found myself struggling against a serious illness that had set in against my body. I knew in my heart that I faced a survival situation so dangerous that the outcome would literally be life or death. Simply standing up straight required a huge amount of energy. At times, my vision failed completely. I struggled to regain my health for five years. Sometimes, the demands were so great that I found myself thinking that death would be a much easier route than living.
In the depths of that dark period, I discovered that my previous strength, the vital and virile martial power that I worked so hard to cultivate, was indeed a false strength. My previous power depended entirely on my being in peak health. When my health began to decline, my power began to vanish with it. Power that is at best conditional or temporary is not true power at all. It is merely the illusion of power.
Despite my weakened condition, I kept going with my training in the warrior arts. I never quit. Slowly, I began to regain my health. Eventually I recovered from the illness that drained me so for five years of my life. Looking back on my period of illness and recovery, I came to realize that I had consistently kept at my training the whole way through, no matter what my condition, no matter how weak or drained I had felt.
From this experience, I learned the value of consistent training – adjusting the methods, pace, and focus to fit my body and mind no matter what the state of my mental and physical health. I now know that there is in consistent training a series of developmental stages appropriate for all the stages of life. There is an appropriate way to train when you are young and vigorous. There is an appropriate way to train as you enter the advanced years of your life. There is an appropriate way to train when you are ill, and there is an appropriate way to train when it seems that no training will fit. Even facing death at the close of life is a form of training; most people get caught between their fear of death and their hopes for immortality. Accepting the inevitability of death as something natural at that moment is a form of training for the warrior. Consistent training, ever fitting the goal to the means at hand, is the only way to cultivate the true strength that transcends all limitations.
Five years of struggling with illness led me to discard any concern with comparative values of what others would conventionally brand as strength as opposed to weakness, speed as opposed to slowness. In the grander scheme of things, from the higher divine levels of vision, the ultimate form of strength is a totally relative concept. I learned the power of “natural and fitting technique” a higher form of strength that transcends the conventional strength of raw physical power or even mental willpower that is so often the only thing taught in conventional martial arts schools.
In your training career, there may come a time when you find yourself frustrated and disgusted with what you feel to be your own dullness. You just can not get the techniques right. Your training just does not seem to go the way you want it to. I consider this slump period to be absolutely necessary for your own growth. Your sense of frustration and constriction leads you to the breakthrough you need for advancement. Like a snake that struggles to shed it’s skin so that it can grow larger, the martial artist too must pass these inevitable stages of molting for growth.
This moulting period can be a dangerous time for the unwary, however. Because of the frustration experienced in working through your current training barrier, no matter what it is, you can become an easy victim to the seductive allure of all the other martial technique systems that suddenly seem to appear to be so much more desirable or more glamorous than your own system. Just as one child is always more impressed with the toys of another child, it is a common weakness for students of our art to reach a point of “tough going” and then suddenly look to the other martial arts as a form of distraction. Anything and everything else suddenly looks so good.
Use your commitment to consistency to work through these difficult periods. Keep going. On the other hand, however, it is of course necessary to realize that not everyone is destined to be a master of this art. You have to know the difference between working through a difficult period as part of the growth process, and struggling pointlessly with a hopeless goal. If your feelings of frustration and constriction stretch out for ten years, it is perhaps wise to re-evaluate your commitments. Perhaps this is not the art for you after all.
Train from the beginning with a sincere heart directed by proper motivation. It is pointless to work at the martial arts with the mere intention of collecting as many techniques as possible. This form of consistent concentration of course lacks the counter balance of the power of observation. Training for experience without awareness will only produce a martial arts scholar – one who is no more than a walking technique catalog with no real heart.
By Masaaki Hatsumi Sensei
(Contributed by Shidoshi Mats Hjelm, Sweden for Ura & Omote Newsletter, September 1995)