No class for almost two weeks because of the holidays, and now I’m 34,000 feet in the air heading northwest from Atlanta to Portland—a five hour flight and enough time for me to finally crack open Ki and the Way of the Martial Arts by Kenji Tokitsu, a Shambhala Publications book I picked up last week in the city.
As for the physical elements, I’ve practiced on my own several times a week since class ended, but not as much as I could have. I am eager to keep up my studies while I’m away, but time will be the true test. If I can set up a regimen at the residency, for instance, that will really help me on my way.
The initial premise of this book is that Westerners inherently approach martial arts differently than Easterners. More specifically, it addresses the limits of the Japanese martial arts masters in conveying the concept of budo to foreigners, in large part, because such a concept is wholly a part of whom they are and cannot be separated into a digestible, single-sized nugget of information. Likewise, the author surmises that Westerners have difficulty fully understanding concepts such as budo because we are not raised in a culture that has a parallel “way” of being in the world.
But all is not lost, says Tokitsu. There is a middle ground and he attempts to articulate this in his text. Translated literally, bu means the martial arts and do means way. Together, they mean the way of the warrior, but this way is “neither archaic nor mystical” (3).
With regard to the Japanese perspective, here is what Tokitsu says: “The majority of masters draw the energy that is needed to nourish the practice of budo from the sensation of seeking perfection, even when they do not do so concsciously. For masters of the generation that lived through the Second World War, this sensation derives from an approach that aims at reaching the state of perfection represented by a syncretistic fusion of the image of Buddha and an image of the Shinto gods,” (5-6).
That being said, budo does not discriminate. For example, the author mentions that he knows several Christian, Japanese martial arts masters. It’s not a faith we’re talking about per se, though there is faith involved. “All people have the potential, by raising their human worth, of changing the quality of their being and attaining a level of merit that is inseparable from a form of the absolute…Every person is considered capable of the aspiration of seeking perfection by traveling the way. In budo, this quest is pursued through intensive training in physical techniques. Through this process, the practice of budo, in a sense, leads Western students, like Japanese masters, to doubt and question their way of being,” (11-12).
Of course, this is why I’ve fallen so quickly and fully in love with karate. The power it has to teach me and help me become more grounded in the present moment is at once terrifying and invigorating. So, what is budo? “It is when your practice of the physical discipline spontaneously contains this striving toward the cultivation of yourself as a whole person, the striving that is proper to the way, that it becomes budo. Your practice will then begin, through the technique, to become inseparable from seeking meaning in life,” (17).
As if that weren’t enough to chew on, all of this is a brief prerequisite to get to the concept at hand, ki. Ki is a sort of inner certainty. It is like the Jimmeny Cricket of budo; the litmus test for genuine action, if you will. As the author states: “How can you be sure that your martial arts practice is becoming budo and that you are not creating an illusion? There is an element that serves to indicate this, that makes budo budo and at the same time supports you in your progress. This is ki,” (20).
Voracious training of the mind and heart through the body. Refining our natural tendencies so that we may experience the benefits of their full power. Living with genuine intention in body, mind, and spirit.