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Home > Columns > "The Mirror" > November, 2004 - Gone to the Dogs: Comparisons
by "The Mirror"

Gone to the Dogs: Comparisons by The Mirror

This column was written by Emily Dolan Gordon

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"My dog's better than your dog,
my dog's better than yours.. "

If you have ever owned a purebred dog, you probably had an idea of the sort of animal you wanted from the beginning. Whether we need a playmate or working partner, we have created a boggling array of canine companionship.

We have done the same with our martial techniques. We have created guard dogs (Krav Maga), sporting dogs (Judo), trainable companions (Aikido), and creatures whose purpose is not obvious to outsiders (Tai Chi). Please feel free to make your own comparisons, as this is a limited selection within my own experience.

What we forget is that we created both our martial arts and our dogs by a very modern synthesis, mixing desirable qualities. Reaching the desired result, we tend to repeat it until we forget how we got there. Thus, these things we now call "pure" are in fact controlled admixtures. In fact, all of these mixtures, well socialized, can play happily together in the same yard.

The dogs, like martial arts, have no inherent value of good or bad, though some might be more apt to chase cars than others. Consequences vary, depending on luck and politics.

Some of the problem may be that the West is dealing with the spiritual overtones which an Eastern approach traditionally may tend to overlay on all activities. Westerners, raised only to understand a good god and a bad one, treat Western martial arts (fencing, boxing) as a set of physical techiques and strategies only.

Since all of life is a spiritual practice for those Easterners so inclined, such practices become interwoven with the practicalities of martial arts.

Negative is simply a balance for positive, in the Eastern mind. In the West, negative means bad, positive good, and only one is desirable. Rottweilers, when well socialized, are easy going, and small "cute" dogs such as mini-pins can be unacceptably aggressive.

Which is the more desirable animal? It depends on the size of your yard, and the thickness of your skin. Likewise, with so much talk about which is the "superior" martial art, the phrase "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog" comes to mind. How can a value judgement be applied to something so personal? Much of the hype has to do with simple economics: Being the "best" is the most obvious way to market and make money from the enterprise of teaching martial arts.

The martial arts world has become the equivalent of a puppy mill. Various breeds are brought together and pressed into premature and hurried reproduction. Lack of care for the future results in animals with poor temperaments, full of biological time bombs from lipomas to dysplasia, churned out for mass consumption. It's small wonder that these poor pups end up waiting for the gas or needle, when no one cared how they came about, or how they lived their lives, or how they died. It's similar to the life of many a poor soldier, taught mass-consumption budo so that they knew how to hold a polearm and die for their lord. It's no life for the modern consumer, seeking a better existence, unless the life lesson they want is to sign that black belt contract and become another financial statistic for the "McDojo" black belt uniform and status mill. It's what people have been conditioned to be used to, just like all those folks who think you do "karate" no matter whether you do chi-gung, iaido, jujutsu or bagua.

In normal Western society, the presumption is that one thing must be better than the other. If you want a tennis ball fetched, don't ask a chow. If you want an Olympic contest won, don't ask a kyudoka. A golden retriever and a judoka, respectively, are better choices. This distinction makes none of them "better" than the others at anything other than what they are made and trained for.

Aikido is one of the most popular, accessible and successful styles in modern martial arts. It was born as a synthesis of several budo by Morihei Ueshiba during the 1940s, somewhat after Jigoro Kano's distillation of unarmed combat styles (Kito Ryu and Tenjin Shin'yo Ryu, among others) into modern judo (1).

Mr. Ueshiba studied Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, Tenjin Shin'yo Ryu and Daito Ryu (1). He was also a soldier. Shortly after exiting the army, he became a student of the (in)famous Takeda Sokaku.

Mr. Takeda's own background was Ona-Ha Itto Ryu, Kyoshin Meichi Ryu, and Jikishin-kage Ryu (kenjutsu) as well as Hozoin-Ryu (sojutsu or spear) (1).

Construction workers provoked a 23-year old Mr. Takeda for being behind the times and carrying a sword (1). A vicious brawl ensued. Little terrier that he was, Sokaku cut twelve men down and wounded many more before being beaten nearly to death (1). After this, his mentor Saigo Chikamasa advised Mr. Takeda to put down the sword and study oshikiuchi, the unarmed art of the Aizu warriors (1).

Some years later, Mr. Takeda did so, mastered the techniques, and renamed the system Daito Ryu (1). Morihei Ueshiba is probably his best-known student.

Mr. Ueshiba also renamed his own personal synthesis, and in 1938, after interactions with Onisaburo Deguchi and the Omoto-Kyo spiritual path, Aiki-Do was born (1).

This animal Aikido is by no means a purebred, and in fact, there are almost as many sub-types of modern aikido as there are of retrievers.

Most martial arts have a story like Aikido's. Vanishingly few are sufficiently documented and preserved to be recognizable through the ages. The ancestral creature is still about combat, just as dogs are about hunting. The difference between hybrids which are successful, and those which are not, is not a function of purity. It is, rather, a function of integration.

I have the pleasure of acquaintance of one Keeshond/Husky mix (2). She wags her tail furiously, greets you, and then keeps her distance. One may approach only during this window, or risk a courteous growl. Her people explain it this way: "She wants to be 10 feet away pulling a sled, and she wants to be in your lap, but she can't make up her mind. So she sits 5 feet away with her back turned. Don't take it personally, she's just conflicted."

A mixture of Tae Kwon Do and Judo would be similarly maladapted, in some ways. Closer styles of kempo and jujutsu (using these words as generic terms) combine more efficiently. Likewise, wolves are sometimes bred to huskies to increase independence and endurance, though the results are occasionally unmanageable.

Throughout history, martial arts practitioners have trained together and cross-pollinated. Outcrosses are necessary to maintain strength and vitality.

Dojo-arashi, or dojo crashing, is not necessary (and is in fact a modern, economically inspired invention). However, collaboration is.

Like the original camp companion dogs, the original martial arts were not so focussed and marketed as they are today. They just happened naturally. Mixes were controlled by environmental factors, and what worked, simply worked. What didn't work, got killed and eaten by bigger creatures.

By comparison, Olympic Tae Kwon Do and Judo are now engineered around the rules they made to survive and propagate, namely, the Olympic competition. Other arts have their own compromises. Bulldogs, far from their original purpose of grabbing a bull's nose and holding it still, can barely breathe.

If we rarify our martial arts too much, or synthesize them too randomly, we may suffocate them, as well.


1. Modern Bujutsu and Budo, The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan (Volume 3) Donn F. Draeger

2. Personal communication, Wendy Gunther, MD, Re: Kuma (keeshond/husky)

© 2004 Emily Dolan Gordon.

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