The art of being together

by Sean Hickey (From The Iaido Newsletter, #11 March 1991)

"What is it that makes the Budoka?" It is this question that begins a recent column by "Black Belt"'s Dave Lowry and it is this question he addresses. Lowry attributes the defining quality of a Budoka as "sabi-shiori" -- "solitary aloneness". Sabi-shiori is that quality which separates Budoka from each other, that quality which brings the realization that martial arts (Budo) are in essence a solitary pursuit. It is what brings a lone Iaidoka to do his forms in an empty dojo, or a karate-ka his kata alone in a field somewhere.

Certainly, everyone realizes that it is not the physical side that makes Budo different from sports. Boxers punch. Wrestlers throw and pin. Fencers wave swords. But they are never mistaken for Karateka, Judoka, or Iaidoka.

But, I feel that there is a whole attitude to being a Budoka that goes beyond, but does not include, sabi-shiori. There is a balance to be achieved that creates a lifestyle, and awareness, a way of thinking. If you watch a football game, you will certainly spot one player who has that concentration and thought, that separateness, that marks sabi-shiori; but you will not mistake him for a Budoka, for he is still missing much.

Professor Kano, the founder of Judo, stressed the idea of "mutual welfare and prosperity", an idea absent in sports. This idea is strong in Japan, where it is not uncommon to see rival companies sending each other gifts for being such good competition. They realize that without competition their edge would be lost.

This figures prominently in the experience of the Budoka as well. Without others, our training would bring little. "Mutual welfare and prosperity" means that as your partner's attacks improve it forces your defenses to improve, which forces your partner to improve his attacks. While sabi-shiori recognizes the solitary in the Budoka, "mutual welfare and prosperity" recognizes the social. As we train for ourselves, we train for others, who in training for themselves, train for us.

There is a whole range of attributes that make a Budoka Awareness develops through the years of training. Budoka are made sensitive to body language through their time spent recognizing attack from feint. This awareness gives you a split second edge if someone hostile is threatening. If you are an "Aikidoka" or Judoka, pay attention to how you get up from kneeling or how you turn around. Most likely, you use the same "tai sabaki" in regular life as in the dojo. Training has incorporated certain things into your daily life and made you aware of the mechanics of your body.

In a very real sense, Budo, is training for life. You develop awareness of body and spirit, yourself and others through Budo, and yes though it sounds a cliche, as we strive to be better fighters we strive to be better people. I titled this "the art of being together" partially to to contrast it with Dave Lowry's title "the art of being alone". But by "being together" I do not mean as in a group, but in "having it all together". Being together is being able to draw in those influences and aspects that are part of being a Budoka and striking a balance between them -- the best balance possible. There is both physical and mental in Budo, neither can be neglected. Neither can sabi-shiori, the aloneness, and "mutual welfare and prosperity", the social nor any of the other diverse elements that I couldn't even begin to name. When it all comes together, and is balanced, is the time we look and say "this is who Budo is all about".