This year’s buyu camp at the Marin Headlands was immensely fruitful. Like every year, we met, trained, and discussed what it means to train in a warrior art. This is a very important distinction. When most people think of martial arts, visions of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or, in my case, Toshiro Mifune, leap to mind, as do a variety of graceful and deadly movements. While this is certainly a facet of martial arts and can act as a powerful motivator, it can also act as an unfortunate diversion from Budo’s real nature.
Over the weekend, I realized how important compassion is to my art. A warrior must be willing to protect others as much as him or herself. This not only includes friends and loved ones, but in some circumstances, the people also acting as a threat. It dawned on me that if I were to dehumanize those who are threats, then I am dangerously blind to one aspect of a given situation—how could I ever hope to de-escalate a situation, were I to immediately have compassion for only those threatened? And from a very pragmatic perspective, how can I respond naturally and efficiently to conflict, when I cannot understand my opponent?
This leads to another idea—principle versus technique. A budoka’s technique may be flawless, but if he or she does not comprehend the principle behind it (and by extension, the underlying “principle” of any given conflict) then the budoka’s technique is hollow.
This year, a lot of pieces finally came together conceptually for me—they’ve probably been rustling about in my unconscious for a while, but finally after years of training they decided to stroll out into my consciousness. And this is immensely humbling; suddenly I realize how very little I know. Hatsumi Masaaki Soke once told of how his teacher, Toshitsugu Takamatsu, told him that he was only a small bug, but that even a bug, holding onto a horse’s tail, can travel far. For this I am grateful.