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Old 05-27-2013, 09:15 PM   #1
OwlMatt
 
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Memorial Day and Zanshin

War is sweet to those who have no experience of it, but the experienced man trembles exceedingly at heart on its approach.
- Pindar

Today is Memorial Day, the day set aside in the United States for remembering those military personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. Typically, Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer, the first federal holiday of the year when it's nice enough outside to really enjoy the day off. This particular Memorial Day, though, the weather here in Milwaukee is much truer to the somber occasion than usual (which is why I'm here on my computer rather than, say, outside playing with my daughter).

This past Saturday, I dutifully sent my thanks to all the veterans on my Facebook "Friends" list. One of those thanked, an aikido instructor and former Army Ranger, was appreciative, but made sure to remind me that Memorial Day is for remembering the dead, not just for celebrating the living. My intentions had been good, but I had, as so many civilians do, skipped straight to the fun part of war and glossed over the rest.

Anyone who spends much time on the internet will see a lot of criticism pointed at Americans for being too enthusiastic and too idealistic about war. I'm not sure Americans have a monopoly on such things, but we're certainly guilty. No American my age has ever been pressed into military service or seen his country undertake a war that it had a realistic chance of losing: it's easier than ever for an American to watch a war with the carefree enthusiasm of a fan watching a sporting event.

Such detachment not only dishonors and trivializes the real sacrifices made by real people in war, but it also robs us of an opportunity to learn. Even if we are unlikely to be drawn into war ourselves, we have a great deal to learn from it, as individuals and as a nation. It behooves us, the sheltered civilians, to pay attention, so that we can choose and direct our leaders wisely.

As a martial artist, I like to think of this as a macrocosm of what we in budo call zanshin. In the dojo, even if our training is not an honest approximation of combat (and, frankly, most training isn't), it behooves us to keep in mind the violence from which our art was born. Maybe uke isn't really going to punch me in the face if I give him the opportunity to do so, but it still makes me a better martial artist to be aware of that opportunity and to avoid offering it. Maybe no one is waiting to attack me after I throw uke, but my technique and my stance will be better if I am ready as if someone were.

Zanshin is hard work. Maintaining awareness is not easy, in life at large or in the dojo. This is why we like our war without death our training without the responsibility of risk management. But the benefits of living -- and of training -- the hard way are many.

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Old 05-28-2013, 03:31 AM   #2
Carsten Möllering
 
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Re: Memorial Day and Zanshin

For different reasons I don't think it to be appropriate to compare practicing aikidō or budō to to modern war in which way ever.
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Old 05-28-2013, 07:14 AM   #3
lbb
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Re: Memorial Day and Zanshin

Quote:
Carsten Möllering wrote: View Post
For different reasons I don't think it to be appropriate to compare practicing aikidō or budō to to modern war in which way ever.
I don't think that that comparison is being made.
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Old 05-28-2013, 10:07 AM   #4
OwlMatt
 
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Re: Memorial Day and Zanshin

Yeah, I'm not comparing budo to war. I'm comparing budo to citizenship.

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Old 05-28-2013, 10:50 AM   #5
Carsten Möllering
 
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Re: Memorial Day and Zanshin

I understood that you accept war as a possible means and don't negate war by itself?

I understood that you see zanshin in budō as a parallel to awareness in citizenship?

I understood that civic awareness/zanshin does not mean to negate war by itself, but to get a more comprehensive, a deeper understanding or what war really is?
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Old 05-28-2013, 11:15 AM   #6
Conrad Gus
 
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Re: Memorial Day and Zanshin

Quote:
Matthew Story wrote: View Post
No American my age has ever been pressed into military service
Not completely true. Many young people are pressured into joining the military for economic reasons. It's not the same as a draft, but when you don't have a viable alternative, I would still call that pressure. I would wager that it doesn't happen by accident.
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Old 05-29-2013, 08:23 AM   #7
lbb
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Re: Memorial Day and Zanshin

Quote:
Conrad Gustafson wrote: View Post
Not completely true. Many young people are pressured into joining the military for economic reasons. It's not the same as a draft, but when you don't have a viable alternative, I would still call that pressure. I would wager that it doesn't happen by accident.
Speaking to that, here's a really good essay by one of my favorite authors on this very subject.
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Old 05-29-2013, 11:23 AM   #8
jonreading
 
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Re: Memorial Day and Zanshin

Thanks for the read, Matt.

As a couple of casual observations:
1. I think we could all use a little more understanding of Memorial day and a great appreciation for the scope and sacrifice of our military. In another post I defined courage and bravery for me; our men and women in uniform make courageous and brave acts all the time. Often, they are not recognized for these works. It is a solemn event that we recognize them after they gave everything.
2. I think we live, generally, apart from the reality of war. In part because we work hard to keep fighting off US soil, in part because our foreign interests lie in other places, in part because we receive a narrative that propagandizes our efforts.

There was once a distinction between a civillian, citizen and soldier. While not necessarily unique to combat, it is important that we seek to remain aware of our surroundings at all times. This is actually a documented issue with soldiers leaving active duty who are unable to desensitize their awareness within a civillian setting. When you check windows for a scope or barrel for 2 years, you don't stop just because you hop off a boat state-side.

For the "whatever generation" I think it is important to encourage responsibility and education.

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Old 05-30-2013, 07:23 AM   #9
lbb
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Re: Memorial Day and Zanshin

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
=
1. I think we could all use a little more understanding of Memorial day and a great appreciation for the scope and sacrifice of our military. In another post I defined courage and bravery for me; our men and women in uniform make courageous and brave acts all the time. Often, they are not recognized for these works. It is a solemn event that we recognize them after they gave everything.
My father served in World War II. He was drafted; he didn't volunteer. If "giving everything" means dying in combat, he didn't "give everything": he died peacefully in bed, or as peacefully as cancer allows, at the age of 86. He gave something in the war, that's for sure, but he never sought to be honored for it - probably because everyone in that time gave something, whether they wore a uniform or not. They gave up material comfort and a sense of security and their loved ones, they endured separation and uncertainty. My parents were married at the little church around the corner in New York, before my father shipped out. To hear my mother tell it, theirs was one of a series of weddings that day, all servicemen and their young wives making a pledge in the face of imminent separation of unknown duration, maybe forever. The courage of that act amazes me.

The thing is, everyone did it. That was what everyone's life was like. They said goodbye to their loved ones and worked for the war effort and lived without cars and meat and butter. I'm quite sure there were those who made an ostentatious display of their sacrifice at the time; they were, after all, human. But everyone did it. That was certainly enough for my folks, at least, not to pat themselves on the back for it.

Do our men and women in uniform make courageous and brave acts all the time? For some interpretation of that sentence, yes. At any moment in time, someone in uniform is no doubt doing something courageous. And then there are those who pass their entire military careers and do not one courageous thing. They exist. They're probably not in the minority. They are, after all, human, and saying so does not disparage their service, merely calls it what it is. In this day and age, for some it's a courageous act of sacrifice. For others, it's the only job they can get. For others, it's a bureaucracy where they can safely hide their lack of drive and talent.

Memorial Day has nothing to do with any of that. As has already been pointed out, it honors a certain segment of deceased service members, not everyone who ever put on a uniform. That's the understanding of Memorial Day that I'd like to see.
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Old 05-30-2013, 09:57 AM   #10
Michael Hackett
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Re: Memorial Day and Zanshin

I see no relationship between zanshin and Memorial Day. As Mary said, Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor the fallen men and women who died in uniform for our nation. As I hear the mournful sounds of Taps, flinch at the sound of the 21 Gun Salute, and look over the acres of marble tablets, I feel a sense of loss and of gratitude for their sacrifice.

Zanshin is simply a component of a warrior's training and skills to me. Like his skill in reading the terrain, ability to use his weapons efficiently, or do land navigation, zanshin is simply another skill. A critical skill, but a skill nontheless. Regardless of the generation of the warrior, zanshin has always been a critical skill to soldiers, as it is today to martial artists as well. There simply is no holiday to honor zanshin.

Now if Memorial Day reminds one of the importance of zanshin, so be it.

Michael
"Leave the gun. Bring the cannoli."
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