Philosophy

How to Use the Combat Concepts of Legendary Swordsman Miyamoto Musashi in 21st Century Self-Defense

Ask a martial artist who’s up on his history to name the greatest warrior of all time, and chances are he’ll say Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary Japanese swordsman who cut down 60 men with his blade. No doubt there have been many other fighting men — both before and after Musashi’s day (1584-1645) — who killed more enemies, but undocumented knowledge seldom outlives those who possess it. What makes Musashi special is that he accumulated an incredible amount of experience and committed his wisdom to paper in the form of a timeless classic titled Go Rin No Sho. We know it as The Book of Five Rings.

On cursory examination, the text appears to be a simple work designed to educate young swordsmen. Yet it embodies a plethora of between-the-lines observations and advice that will enthrall anyone who reads it with a warrior’s eye. Its prose captures an old warrior’s perceptions of the world around him and conveys the lessons the master deemed essential for a young warrior’s survival. It’s important to remember that when Musashi put pen to paper, he was very old. He knew that for him, there would be no more battles and, therefore, no need to hold anything back in an effort to keep enemies from learning secret fighting methods and using them against him.

Much of the content of The Book of Five Rings is specific to combat in old Japan, yet Musashi has plenty to teach 21st-century martial artists. We may carry a tactical folder and a Glock instead of a wakizashi and a katana, but fighting is fighting regardless of the year, and much of Musashi’s wisdom still applies.

His text is divided into five parts: Ground, Water, Fire, Wind and Void. A full discussion of their modern applications is beyond the scope of this article, so I’ll focus on the most poignant lessons.

Ground

“Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest and the deepest things as if they were a straight road mapped out on the ground,” Musashi wrote. His meaning is clear: Success in combat requires planning.

A lesson frequently learned early in a martial artist’s training is that those who are destined to win do so by first studying and then fighting. Those who are destined to lose tend to fight first and then study why they lost. Although no one can accurately predict the outcome of every battle and prepare specifically for it, you can certainly stack the deck in your favor.

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You must develop a realistic understanding of your skills and capabilities. Study the dynamics of conflict until you possess a basic understanding of how combat unfolds. It’s crucial to approach this with a 21st-century focus since modern-day assailants don’t always use weapons that existed in ancient Japan.

Musashi compared the way of the warrior to the way of the carpenter. The carpenter plans everything with great specificity, and you, as a martial artist, should do the same — both inside and outside the dojo. You may know exactly how you would spar with a classmate who likes to lead with a roundhouse kick, but do you have a plan in the event of a home-invasion robbery? How about a car jacking or mugging? Being prepared means you’ll never be a deer in the headlights, frozen by the savagery of the world. Leave nothing to chance.

Water

In the second section of his treatise, Musashi wrote: “Water adopts the shape of its receptacle. It is sometimes a trickle and sometimes a wild sea. Water has a clear blue color. By the clarity, things of [my] school are shown in this book.”

One of the most difficult attributes to develop is adaptability. A wise martial artist uses techniques and tactics that fit the circumstances of the fight. His goal is to hit his adversary, not necessarily to execute his favorite technique. Knowing which kick or punch to throw as a fight begins — and being able to change course at a moment’s notice — is essential.

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The ability to become a tactical chameleon requires exposure to different fighting styles. Witness the generally poor showings made by one-dimensional fighters who enter MMA competitions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In that kind of limited-rules environment, the fighter that triumphs is the one who has trained in every conceivable method, from ground grappling to kickboxing and all ranges in between.

Musashi’s moral: Study everything, keep what is useful and do not limit yourself to any one system.

Fire

“This book is about fighting,” Musashi wrote. “The spirit of

Wisdom of the Martial Arts: Advice for the Dojo, Advice for Life!

For cerebral students of self-defense, a favorite facet of the fighting arts is the accumulated wisdom that’s conveyed in class, in books, in magazines and on television.

These comments and observations tend to sum up much broader concepts, putting them in bite-size chunks anyone can digest. The following are a few faves from some martial artists you know, as well as some martial artists you probably haven’t heard of.

Mas Oyama

Karate is not my hobby. It is my life.”

— Mas Oyama, founder of kyokushin, from the Summer 1963 issue of Black Belt

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“As instructors, we’re teaching children and young adults to respect others and their elders. We focus on discipline and doing the right thing, not just how to injure someone.”

— G.K. Lee, chief master of the American Taekwondo Association

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“The only way to become a skilled martial artist is to learn how to perform automatically.”

Jhoon Rhee, taekwondo pioneer

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“Karate, as a method of combat, isn’t a bag of tricks or specific responses; it’s a series of principles, physically enacted, that allow for the freedom to implement a wide range of responses that are spontaneous.”

— Dave Lowry, Black Belt contributing editor

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Bong Soo Han

“Without the philosophy and spirituality, martial arts become meaningless and just a dangerous sport.”

— Bong Soo Han, hapkido pioneer

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“Gain ground with every punch, kick and block. You don’t train to fight one way and then perform kata another. Your kata should support your fighting; all your movement should support the hit. You’re only as good as your ability to hit.”

Gary Alexander, isshin-ryu karate

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“Channel the power from your back leg through your body and into your punch.”

Ted Wong, jeet kune do instructor

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“The development of physical attributes, psychological conditioning and legal knowledge for the purpose of personal protection. The goal is to escape physical harm and protect loved ones by using whatever means are necessary within the boundaries of the law.”

Kelly S. Worden, when asked to define self-defense

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Ed Parker

“What is true for one person may not be true for another. The real truth for both lies in the moment of actual combat.”

— Ed Parker, American kenpo pioneer, as reported in Black Belt, 1979

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“Each instructor is naturally biased toward his own style. Each will naturally say his style is superior. As has been said so many times before, however, an instructor is only as good as the students he turns out.”

Chuck Norris, writing for Black Belt

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“Violence is rarely the answer, but when it is, it’s the only answer.”

Tim Larkin of Target Focus Training

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“Rules of engagement should apply to romantically involved couples, not battlefields.”

— Louis Awerbuck, firearms instructor

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“Success boils down to having a reflexive response to an attack.”

William Cheung, wing chun kung fu master

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Jigoro Kano

“There are two types of judo. Small judo is concerned with only techniques and the building of the body. Large judo is mindful of the pursuit of the purpose of life: the soul and the body used in the most effective manner for a good result.”

— Jigoro Kano, Black Belt, February 1971

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“Without balance, there’s no control.”

— Gary Alexander, isshin-ryu karate

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“A bokken (wooden sword) wielded by a more experienced swordsman might defeat another less skilled or less lucky swordsman who’s using a shinken (steel sword). Miyamoto Musashi defeated many swordsmen using only a bokken, but it was Musashi who defeated them, not his bokken.”

Masayuki Shimabukuro and Carl E. Long

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“The ability to free-spar or fight well is the result of training and should not be the primary means of training.”

— Robin Rielly, sixth-degree black belt in shotokan

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“So-called advanced techniques are really just basic moves coupled with speed and accuracy. Advanced training comes from one source: the performance of many, many repetitions.”

— Jhoon Rhee

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Mas Oyama

“The best reason for learning karate is to develop character — to make a good man first and a strong man second. This must be understood to advance.”

— Mas Oyama, Black Belt, Summer 1963 issue

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“Force your opponent to make his body rigid and lose his balance, and then when he is helpless, you attack.”

— Jigoro Kano, Black Belt, February 1970

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Meditation Benefits: How Meditation Techniques Can Help Increase Martial Power Through Stress Reduction

Meditation Benefits: How Meditation Techniques Can Help Increase Martial Power Through Stress Reduction
Meditation is an integral part of many Asian systems of self-defense. As martial artists, we understand that meditation techniques can bring a sense of calm and centeredness that’s especially crucial in chaotic situations. Whether we’re talking about training, real-life combat or just everyday life, having the right state of mind in the face of adversity is something we all desire.

Like with any other skill, our ability in meditation techniques improves with practice. Those who practice meditation techniques regularly say they feel calmer, more resourceful and more prepared to handle whatever challenges they encounter. For centuries, martial arts masters have taught their students that meditation fosters an optimal state of mind and helps increase martial power. They’ve also preached meditation benefits such as improvements in overall health by bolstering stress management and even combating disease.

These meditation benefits that masters have always known are getting closer to being proven by science.


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A team of psychiatrists from Harvard Medical School is researching how meditation techniques can affect the genes and the brain activity of people who suffer from chronic stress. Through a rigorous five-year study using the latest neuroimaging and genomic technology, scientists are investigating how mind-body harmony through meditation techniques can turn on and off genes that have been linked to stress and immune function. This research into meditation benefits is exciting because it takes us deeper into the relationship between meditation and human physiology.

Other studies have reported the discovery of meditation benefits, but those findings were based on variables such as participant-reported feelings, heart rate and blood pressure. The Harvard study regarding meditation benefits is enabling us to examine on a deeper level the effects of meditation techniques on the human body. The evidence indicates that the reason we feel less stressed and healthier when we meditate is the genes that control stress and the immune system are being manipulated.

Inflammation and stress are generally bad for the body — particularly if they’re present for sustained periods. We know that stress is a natural part of life, however. As martial artists, we face it constantly in the dojo. What enables us to cope — and even thrive — is the subsequent recovery period during which the stress is removed. We desperately need time to recuperate so we can be ready and refreshed when we have to tackle another stressor. Meditation seems to control our genes in a way that helps shut down stress, thus allowing us to consciously bring about that recuperation period.

Need more evidence regarding meditation benefits? You’ve probably wondered why masters who meditate appear healthier, more vibrant and younger than others their age. Well, scientists at UCLA found that engaging in 12 minutes of yoga meditation daily for eight weeks increased the body’s supply of telomerase, which they’ve dubbed the “immortality enzyme.” Telomerase actually slows the cellular aging process.

As we live our lives, we should remember that although pharmaceuticals are necessary for the treatment of many illnesses and conditions, meditation techniques are a tried-and-true way to help us reduce stress and — when combined with proper nutrition, rest and exercise — avoid those illnesses in the first place.


About the Author:
Robert Wang, M.D., is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He’s an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine.

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Samurai Training Philosophy: Be Thorough in the Disciplined Practice of Martial Arts

Excerpt from Budoshoshinshu: The Warrior's Primer of Daidoji Yuzan.Editor’s Note: The following text is an adapted excerpt from the samurai training philosophy e-book Budoshoshinshu: The Warrior’s Primer of Daidoji Yuzan, translated by William Scott Wilson (who also translated the samurai training philosophy e-book Ideals of the Samurai: Writings of Japanese Warriors.) Budoshoshinshu: The Warrior’s Primer of Daidoji Yuzan is a collection of 56 essays promoting the ideals of the samurai class, which were fading from favor during the author’s lifetime (1639-1730).

It is essential for men who would be warriors, even if they are of low rank, to select a respected instructor of military affairs, receive instructions in the martial arts, and to come to a deep and detailed understanding of even the secret principles of military strategy.


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Although it may be thought by some people that the study of military principles is unsuitable for a warrior of low rank, this is a great misunderstanding caused by a lack of inquiry. The reason is that, in both past and present, among the men who were looked to as territorial or provincial leaders or received fame as great generals, there were any number who rose from obscurity and isolation to do great things. This being so, there could be warriors from this time forth as well who could come up in the world from low ranks and become generals.

Thus, it is desirable that even a warrior of low rank be given the knowledge and virtues of one of high rank. If a man will take a liking to and enter military studies, he will develop both wisdom and ability. By these means, a man who is clever from the beginning will become increasingly so.

There will also be a good effect for the man born a bit thick-witted, for if only he will study the martial arts for many years he will not be so slow after all.

If this is so, there would appear to be nothing that surpasses the martial arts in the studies of a warrior.

However, when a man abuses or practices amiss in the martial arts, he will be arrogant about the extent of his own ability, look down upon those around him, speak nothing but unreasonable and high-sounding theories, leading unpracticed youths astray and injuring their casts of mind.

Although such people speak words that seem just and correct on the surface, their innermost feelings are largely covetous, and their real intentions founded on measuring what will be profitable for them and what will not. Thus, their character gradually grows worse, and later they lose all sense of what it means to be a warrior. This is an error that comes from going only halfway in the discipline and practice of martial studies.


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At any rate, if one is to study military matters, it is essential that in his practice he should not stop halfway, but by all means at one point or another, go as far as the secret principles of the martial arts, at last returning to his former “foolishness” where he will have serenity of mind.

It would be extremely regrettable, however, for those of us who do study, to pass our days in going only halfway in military investigations, letting the deepest principles of the martial arts slip through our grasp and becoming confused in our own halfwayness, and finally leading not only ourselves but even others astray in an unavoidable sequence.

What was stated here as “returning to foolishness” means something like one’s state of mind while he has not yet studied the Way of the Military. Generally, phrases circulated like “miso smelling too much like miso” and “a martial artist that reeks too much of the martial arts” come from old times and carry the meaning of “intolerable.”

These words are for the understanding of those intending to be warriors.

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Shito-Ryu Karate Trailblazer: Fumio Demura

Shito-ryu karate legend Fumio Demura, as photographed for Black Belt magazine.Ask the average karate practitioner to name the main styles of Japan, and chances are he’ll rattle off shotokan, goju-ryu and wado-ryu with no trouble. But unless he’s really up on his art, there’s a good chance that he’ll stumble over the name of the fourth major style, snap his fingers and ask quizzically, “What’s the name of that other one, again?”

That other style is shito-ryu, and any karate student’s puzzlement about it is somewhat understandable.  Shito-ryu is relatively unknown outside Japan, even though it’s perhaps the most interesting of all the Japanese systems. Shito-ryu is really a combination of several styles. For instance, it adopts the quick, strong moves of shotokan and blends them with the slow, heavy breathing aspects of goju-ryu. Another noteworthy feature of shito-ryu is the emphasis that some of its instructors place on making their students proficient in kobudo (traditional weaponry), including the bo, sai, naginata and nunchaku.


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Probably the biggest reason shito-ryu is still relatively unknown is that until quite recently, few attempts were made to export the style. Certainly, its practitioners haven’t been nearly as aggressive in sending sensei to other countries as have the followers of shotokan.

The results of this stay-at-home policy are apparent: Few martial artists know it abroad, and the other Japanese styles dominate the foreign field. In the United States, shotokan is the most widespread. In Europe, wado-ryu is very strong. Meanwhile, goju-ryu is well-known — in good measure because of the worldwide publicity given to two of its most prominent, and flamboyant, practitioners: the longhaired Gogen “The Cat” Yamaguchi and the barrel-chested Mas Oyama.

In the United States, there’s only one shito-ryu instructor. That’s surprising in view of the fact that America has more karate players by far than any other country outside the Orient, and there’s such a profusion of styles taught here. (Estimates of the number of U.S. karateka run as high as 50,000.)

A few years ago, we were discussing this point in Black Belt’s offices with Fumio Demura, a muscular fifth dan who’s shito-ryu’s sole representative in the United States. Although little-known abroad, he’s one of the more recognized karateka in Japan. He won the All Japan Karate Championship in 1961 and serves as his style’s representative in Tokyo, where he operates five dojo. He’s also much in demand to give demonstrations with the bo, sai and other weapons because of his advanced skill.

“I think the big reason why foreigners know so little about shito is that the style is most prominent in the western area of Japan, a good distance away from Tokyo,” Fumio Demura said. “Foreigners who come to Japan tend to concentrate in Tokyo, where they are not exposed to the style. In Tokyo, it’s the shotokan and goju styles that are strong, and it’s these styles that visitors usually pick up.”

Fumio Demura got to the United States almost by accident. Running true to shito-ryu form, he’d been content to stay in Japan and build up his style in the Tokyo area. But he was temporarily sidetracked by a persuasive American karateka who coaxed the reluctant Fumio Demura to cross the Pacific and introduce shito-ryu in the United States.

The American responsible for Fumio Demura’s odyssey to the New World is Dan Ivan, a jack-of-all-trades of the martial arts who operates several dojo in Southern California. Dan Ivan holds a first-degree black belt in karate, kendo, judo and aikido. He learned the arts in Japan, having spent half a dozen years there. Dan Ivan accompanied Fumio Demura to our offices and explained how he happened to run into the man who’s now head instructor at his schools.

“I had gone to Japan last year to look for another instructor for my dojo,” he said. “My black belt is in shotokan karate, so naturally I was looking for a shotokan man. But everywhere I went, people kept talking about Demura. Finally, when I got to meet him, I was impressed right from the start. I was especially impressed by his fine attitude. I have met some karate men who were excellent technicians but whose attitude left much to be desired.

“But you take Fumio, now, he has a fine outlook. For instance, when a student who’s had some previous karate training comes to the dojo, Demura always asks them what they learned first in karate. Usually, they tell him that they learned stances or exercises or techniques. Then Fumio tells them that the first thing they learn in his dojo is good manners. I consider myself quite fortunate to have gotten Fumio to come to this country to teach in

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