Thanks to movies and novels such as The Last Samurai and Shôgun, manga and anime, as well as ubiquitous "MacDojos" in almost every strip mall in North America, no one can escape being exposed to the martial culture of Japan. However, even as Westerners have become captivated by budo, the traditional martial arts of Japan, they've become more sophisticated. Once content with instructional manuals or tall tales of martial prowess, many readers today are searching for the deeper concepts of budo. In Clouds in the ...
Thanks to movies and novels such as The Last Samurai and Shôgun, manga and anime, as well as ubiquitous "MacDojos" in almost every strip mall in North America, no one can escape being exposed to the martial culture of Japan. However, even as Westerners have become captivated by budo, the traditional martial arts of Japan, they've become more sophisticated. Once content with instructional manuals or tall tales of martial prowess, many readers today are searching for the deeper concepts of budo. In Clouds in the West, Dave Lowry continues the fascinating, lifelong philosophical journey through the essence of traditional Japanese martial arts that he began years ago in Autumn Lightning and Sword and Brush, and developed more fully in Moving Toward Stillness. Here Lowry addresses a variety of topics that demonstrate how varied and multifaceted are the lessons and insights gained from training, how the budo are integrated into daily life for the serious practitioner, and how they resonate, from ancient times to today.
Among the topics that Lowry explores in Clouds in the West:
Why Zen has very little to do with Japanese martial arts
Why johinsa, or "a cultured refinement," is as important as a good front kick
Gaman, or "perseverance"
Nakaima, or the "Eternal Present"
Austerity-the dominant aesthetic of martial culture
Kosei, or "individualism," in the context of martial arts
What martial arts and the art of flower arranging have in common
And much more, including discussions on the mythic origins of the ninja, creating kata, and kata as a protection against the arbitrary.
DAVE LOWRY has been involved in a study of traditional and modern Japanese martial arts and Ways since 1968, and he is among the most prolific of writers on the subject in the West. In addition to eight books on budô, he has written for Karate Illustrated, International Fighting Arts, and Inside Karate and has written a monthly column for Black Belt magazine since 1986. He has also written for a number of other magazines including Playboy, Cosmopolitan, and Winds, the in-flight magazine of Japan Air Lines. Among his books are Autumn Lightning, Persimmon Wind, Moving Toward Stillness, and The Sushi Snob, A Connoisseur's Field Guide to Sushi. Lowry lives and works near St. Louis, Missouri, where he is the restaurant critic for St. Louis Magazine.
For the martial artist, kata [forms] are a sort of dynamic kôan, the riddles Zen practitioners must grapple with. Even if Tom solved the problem presented by the seemingly impossible footwork of Tekki Nidan (he did), he would soon discover there are even more difficulties in kata training that seem to defy logical solutions. These koan are out there, lurking for every budôka [martial arts practitioner]. As a student goes on his merry way, for instance, assuming that he understands a particular sequence in a kata as a defense against an attack, the sensei [teacher] will--without warning--ask the karateka [karate practitioner] to demonstrate the sequence against an attacking partner. The movement he's carefully practiced will be set up, the attacker will cooperate, but the sequence will fail. It just doesn't work the way the karateka believed it would. This can be discouraging, but it is, in reality, merely another koan that has been put in his path. He may be able to solve this one intellectually, work it out logically. But he may also find that it is another opportunity to develop his kufû [non-logical strategy, device, or scheme].
Seeking an answer through means other than rational reasoning is not wholly foreign in Western philosophy. Approaches similar to kufu occur in a number of realms of Western religions and philosophical systems. The Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard postulated that should an individual believe that he could, on his own, accomplish a lifetime of good, eventually he would be forced to change his mind, dramatically so in some cases. Faced with all the evil around him and within himself, he would have no choice.Confronted with the overwhelming evidence of his own inability to solve the problem of evil, Kierkegaard suggested man would eventually have to take a "leap of faith," jumping into the arms of God, trusting entirely to a higher power in meeting life's travails. What Kierkegaard was describing, some might argue, is a sort of Christian approach to kufu.
Even though examples of kufu exist in Western thought, it is through a serious encounter with the budô [martial ways] than many non-Japanese are being introduced to the concept. Given our heritage of logic and rational reasoning, there can be a lot of resistance to the notion. At every step, when we run into difficulties in the dojo, we are tempted to resort to our comfortable modes of working out problems intellectually. And, of course, intellection has its place and is valuable for us. But when it fails to give us the answer we need, we must press on. We must practice our kata, immerse ourselves in the training as if these constitute our own, personal koan. We need to strive for solutions that cannot be discovered through our logic. This is a much, much more difficult process than it might appear, as people like Tom can tell you. Kufu is, I suspect, the goal sought by a swordsman of old Japan, who wrote this poem, describing his own inner struggle with the Way:
Under the sword lifted high,
There is hell making you tremble.
But push on,
And you will enter a land of bliss.
1. Kufu (Solving a Quandary)
2. Ittosai's Test
3. Igen (Dignity)
4. Nakaima (The Eternal Present)
5. A Matter of Bathrobes...
6. Iai (Unsheathing the Sword)
7. Gaman (Perseverance)
9. What's in a Name?
10. Nangyodo (The Way of Hardship)
11. Mythic Origins of the Ninja
12. To Blossom and Scatter...
13. Polishing the Mirror, Creating the Kata
14. Classical Japanese Martial Arts in the West: Problems in Transmission
15. Confessions of a Navy SEAL
16. Kata as a Protection Against the Arbitrary