Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sumimasen. Daijobu desu ka?

From Wikipedia:

"Dave Lowry is an American writer best known for his articles, manuals and novels based on Japanese martial arts.

A student of Japanese martial arts since 1968, when he began studying Yagyū Shinkage-ryū kenjutsu [the same art taught by Yagyū Munenori, see Hit, Hit, and Hit Again] under Ryokichi Kotaro of the Nara Prefecture of Japan, he has also studied Shintō Musō-ryū, as well as karate, aikido, and Kodokan judo.

He has a degree in English, and has written about a variety of topics related to budō, the Japanese concept of the "martial way." He has written training manuals on use of weapons such as the bokken and jo, a few novels centered on the lifestyle of the budōka (one who follows the martial way), and countless articles on martial practices and traditional Japanese philosophy. He has been a regular columnist for Black Belt magazine since 1986, where he writes on the traditional arts."

In his 2002 book, Traditions, Lowry tells us a story about training with a friend of his instructor and an important lesson he learned from the experience.

"...He was short and thick and powerful. At my sensei's suggestion, after dinner our visitor took me into our dojo to work with me on basics. Against my oi-zuki (stepping-in punch), he shifted like he was on ball bearings and countered with various techniques. We'd been at this for about an hour, gradually increasing our pace. I was still not posing any great threat to him, but Yanagi-san was having to move just a bit faster to avoid my attack. That is when he miscalculated, just fractionally. He pivoted and snapped out his fist as I moved in-and caught me squarely on my nose with the back of his knuckles. There was no kime, no focus, to the blow. If there had been, my head would have come off. The strike was more just a kind of slap. But Mr. Yanagi's timing was perfect, even if there was no force behind it.

Even though he barely grazed my nose, tears squirted into my eyes. My feet and legs, still driving forward, were way ahead of the rest of me. I went down like I'd been sledghammered. The back of my head smacked against the wooden floor. I laid there a second. I knew nothing was seriously hurt, and that I should be leaping back up quickly so as not to put myself at risk of a follow-up attack. But I wasn't sure where "up" was. All I could see were starbursts.

"Sumimasen," Yanagi-san said, "Daijobu desu ka?" "My fault. You okay?"

I'm not sure how I expected Mr. Yanagi to react to the accident. Over the years of my training that have followed, however, I have heard that phrase many more times. I have, due to my own clumsiness and ineptitude, had occasion to use it myself. Ask anyone has who practiced with me much at all. And I have come to realize since that afternoon in the dojo, that what Yanagi-san said to me is really all one can say in a situation like that. More importantly, it is all one should say.

It is quite an awful feeling to hurt someone under almost any circumstances, obviously. This is especially so in the dojo where one's accidental victim is likely to be a friend or a training partner and one feels towards that person almost as if they were a brother or sister. If it is a senior that you have clobbered, you feel terrible because you've repaid the kindness of his instructing you by battering him. If it is a junior, you feel worse; a junior in the dojo is dependent upon you for his progress, not for abuse. The initial response to causing such an accident in the dojo-the unconditioned response of the untrained budoka-is to abandon instantly whatever exercise it is, to rush forward, apologizing profusely and checking for damage.

The dojo, however, is not a place for unconditioned responses. The budoka who go there to practice must be willing to give a great deal of their lives over to the crafting and shaping of very highly conditioned responses. They are seeking to respond correctly to every contingency, in a wide variety of situations. Among these contingencies is the possibility of an accident. The budoka must realize there is a chance, a risk involved, every time he trains. When you allow me, for the purposes of our learning, to uncork punches at your face, or to twist your wrists to nearly the point of injury, or strike at you with a weapon, you are accepting the possibility I might miss, go a bit too far. I assume the same; that I may injure you. We have voluntarily accepted what insurance companies call "assumed risk." Like mountain climbers, big wave surfers, and ski racers, budoka would be fools if they thought the martial Ways were risk-free. That is simply not the nature of these ways.

If we have trained properly and we exercise care for our partner, we can (and absolutely must) cut the odds of an accident or injury. But we can never entirely eliminate risk. So when in the dojo an accident does happen, we should not be too surprised. We should not indulge in a lot of pointless blather then. We should admit it if it was our fault, and inquire if the injury is serious enough to warrant attention. If it is serious, we'd better be calling an ambulance or rendering first aid. These require coolness and a presence of mind. There is no time, and no reason to engage in excessive apologizing which, while it may make us feel better, won't do a lot of good for our injured friend.

This attitude may seem heartless. But remember, Yanagi-sans's first words to me were, "my fault." He accepted the blame for the accident, simply and honestly. Then he asked if I was all right, in a way that was straightforward yet not condescending, respectful of my dignity.

Simply and honestly; straightforward and respectful. This is the best way for the budoka to behave when he has been responsible for an accident in the dojo. He will also find that it is an excellent way of meeting a number of other situations as well."

Lowry's experience here is not unique. You will have an opportunity to say these words many times over the course of your journey in martial arts. And you will hear them as well. When you hit one of your friends or training partners too hard, when you make the mistakes that are an inevitable and essential part of the learning process, the only thing to say is this,

"I'm sorry. My fault. Are you okay?"

There is no shame in this. This is right and honorable conduct. Remember this when you accidentally hurt your training partners, and when you are accidentally hurt by them.

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