Original Post Date: Sep 23, 2016
I would like to thank Prof. Moonsil Kim and History Dept. Chair Prof. David Espinosa, Ph.D. for this wonderful opportunity.
Today I had a chance to talk to a class of Japanese History students about martial arts. It was a blessing for me and I am deeply gratified.
Based on the response that I got to my question of “what would you like me to talk about?”
I ended up talking about marital arts a lot. Luckily this is a topic that I am deeply interested and invested in. I talked about the way martial arts related to day to day life of the samurai class in feudal Japan; concepts and reasons behind its philosophies and its roots – very superficially and trying not to bore anybody to death.
Bushido, Iaido, Aiki / Siljundobup, Daimyos, Shogun, rice, peasants (they had just finished the Tokugawa period and hadn’t done the second Mongol invasion yet and I didn’t want to dive too much into the history of the civil war and how it shaped the art side of war and fight and death. These are all my favorite subjects 🙂
I compared Eastern Martial Arts to Western Martial Arts, again very superficially, tying it with resources management: islands, not a lot of land; not much iron to work with; no full metal body armors for soldiers and horses; steel is very expensive so it is of highest quality; death is imminent. And then tied this with the way the society divided, the land utilization, the first movers into Japan and how ‘divine right to rule’ invented; the palace; the land lords; the soldiers for hire; rice as payment; land as payment… Then tried to bring it back to the Bushi way of life (BushiDo) and how it shaped the Samurai landscape. And from there tried to tie it with the way we practice martial arts, both as an exercise for the body and exercise for the mind, for the soul; how meditation comes into play; how martial arts – by my description – is about raising your awareness: of the situation, of yourself, of your body, of your abilities and how this brings forth an understanding of life / living things and peace (The Art of Peace Begins With You) I always try to supplement these talks with real life examples, from NY streets, Istanbul streets, or of current surroundings.
When I said “the awareness that comes with practicing martial arts with sincerety and with knowledge is something that transcends the dojo; has very little to do with technique, the punch, the kick, the lock, the sword strike. It’s about seeing, knowing, being aware – of the person who is yawning, the one who keeps looking at the watch, the sunshine reflecting from the rain drop on the tree leaves, the man sitting on a chair opposite side of the corridor trying to peek through the glass on the door trying to understand what is going on in the Japanese history class… ” people started looking around to check for these details. Like Sherlock Holmes said to Watson: “it’s elementary” and it was a great feeling to see the smiles and the nods and the interest.
Then we walked outside, about 20 or so people and I talked about the sword dynamics, comparing it to other sharp blades, the way it cuts, the way it is wielded; about etiquette – again tying it with the eastern society, philosophy (soul reflects in the sword) demonstrated a few cuts and then had a group practice with 6 interested fellows with bokkens under the sun.
One of the best days of my recent memory. I am, deeply gratified, and honored for this opportunity.