Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
David and George,
Please do not misunderstand my talk the real and the ideal. Plato is not at all my favourite philosopher: he is too much in his ideal world and not sufficiently rooted in everyday life. Aristotle is more down to earth and his ideas have been the spur for much interesting contemporary thinking about actions, intentions, motives, and the ethical dimensions thereof.
In my opinion, attacks in the street and attacks in the dojo are equally real, or ideal, depending on one's "working definition", as Dave put it.
Thus a gang member who specializes in street fighting or assassinations might well have a very sophisticated concept of an 'ideal' attack, as a pattern which is constantly being tested and refined (providing he/she survives the odds to fight another day). Of course, there is a randomness and clarity of intention to kill or maim which is not seen in a dojo, but this random element does not nullify the real/ideal paradigm, nor the viability of training for such attacks.
I myself would not say this form of training is humanly enriching (because of the wider dimensions involved than simply trying to match the pattern), but some of the literature on the Japanese yakuza presents a different opinion. However, I think no one would deny that attacks in the street, even though they might fall short of some ideal, are very real indeed, especially for the victim. Thus, it is very dangerous, in my opinion, to make overly sharp distinctions between training, as applied to the dojo, and training, as applied to the street.
Equally, someone training in a dojo can execute very real attacks, but they are also attacks which conform more or less to an ideal pattern or form, which they are trying to match (which, incidentally, is at root a Platonic/Aristotelian concept).
In a dojo, however, there is an essential element of 'artificiality', drama even, which is an essential component of the concept of training. I think this concept of artificiality overrides the distinction between real vs. ideal attacks.
In one of my university classes I am using the movie "Gladiator". The historical bases of the movie have been attacked by scholars, but what is not in any doubt is the existence of gladiatorial schools in the Roman Empire, usually organized round a ex-gladiator turned 'Master', who taught his deshi the skills he had learned of attacking and defending.
There was, however, a dimension which probably was not reflected even in the most rigorous training of the Japane samurai in the pre-Tokugawa era: (1) being a gladiator was not a voluntary activity and (2) the line drawn between the training ring and the 'real' result (i.e, death or survival in the arena) was much more finely drawn than in a dojo, even a Muromachi-era dojo, if there were such.
Note also that the master of the gladiator schools had to teach real skills, otherwise he would lose too many of his deshis in the arena. Thus, the training would be artificial, in the sense that it was never a fight to the death in the school, but had to be realistic: to come as close as possible to that potential life/death situation—or to come as close as possible to the Master's ideal patterns of training, whichever was closer, in order to ensure that in a fight to the death, his deshis had the best possible chances of emerging victorious.
Note that a point made by Dave Valadez is covered here. Attacks in the arena were 'in(de)finite' or unpredictable, in the sense that they were conditioned only by the weapons the attackers happened to be using (if I have a trident, I would be unlikely to attack by kicking, but the fact that I attack with a trident channels the unpredictability somewhat, wide though it still is). But the gladiators had little idea beforehand of which of attacks they would actually face, so they had to be prepared for anything—and had to cover this possibility in their training.
The point I want to make here is best made by introducing another concept: authenticity. To what extent can an essentially artificial training situation be authentic?
There are at least two possibilities: (1) How close does the training situation have to match the 'real' situation, for which the training is intended? This is a huge question. (2) How close does the training situation have to reflect the original skills, or blueprint for success, of the master of the school.
In all the previous examples, the training is parasitic on a 'real' stituation which tests the skills acquired by the training. But another interesting question: can you have an authentic training situation in which skills are taught which will hardly ever be put to use in a situation for which the training is intended, which I think is the case in aikido? Obviously you can, but what is the factor which makes the training authentic?
Thus, to generalize, the question arises: what is the ideal form of an attack, understood generally? Well, of course, it depends on the context. No one would really want to compare an infantry battalion in Baghdad with a kitten and a ball of wool, or a gladiator school with a contemporary martial arts dojo.
A better question perhaps would be: what is the most authentic form of attack in an essentially artificial situation. I am with George here: it is as close to edge as possible, but given a very clear sense of the very different capabilities in the dojo and outside the dojo.
Finally, earlier I mentioned the element of drama in a dojo situation. If I were an aikido master training uchi-deshi, I would require them to read the classic works of tragedy, especially Sophocles and Shakespeare. Aristotle has much to say about catharsis in tragic drama. An audience watches—actually participates in—a stage performance which re-enacts a certain sequence of events. As such it is artificial, in the sense I suggested earlier, but the audience experiences a process of catharsis by going through a similar process as the characters which the actors are portraying. To my mind training in a dojo is a cathartic experience: to the extent to which it brings the participants closest to the edge.
I learned this, as I learned how to attack, from a very famous Japanese shihan, now residing in San Diego, USA, and from his father-in-law, who gave a differnet view, equally authentic, in my opinion.
Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 05-12-2003 at 08:02 AM.