Sunday, 16 June 2019

Hidden In Plain Sight: Book Review

I have finally got around to reading Ellis Amdur's revised and expanded edition of Hidden In Plain Sight: Esoteric Power Training Within Japanese Martial Traditions. After all the hype this book has received in certain martial arts circles, my overall impression was less enthusiastic than I expected. 
Now, that is not to say there are sections of this book I enjoyed immensely and I will write about those. It just felt at times that Amdur was reaching in places to thicken this book about a topic that has a lot of hearsay and 'what ifs' surrounding it.

As with my other reviews I will work through chapter by chapter and please remember these are just my opinions - those of an amateur martial artist with a very limited exposure to Japanese culture. The act of writing this review lets me look at the book a second time with a different lens. Sometimes I discover or rediscover gems in the writing this way. 

The book contains 16 chapters split into four sections.

Section 1 - The Cultivation of Power.

Chapter 1: Physical Culture.
A dancer's skill, the lifestyle of a hunter-gatherer, herder's strength, wrestler's skill, farmer's strength. What links these ideas together are that they are all within the human capacity to produce. People create bodies designed to help them survive in whatever conditions society (or nature) place them. People get very good at these specialised endeavours, what then of warrior's strength and skill? If your survival depends on fighting or killing other humans then this requires another kind of body. Amdur digs into these ideas finishing with flow states and ascetic power.

Chapter 2: The Development of Specialized Martial Skill and Power.
Amdur lays down the idea in chapter one that older cultures have bodies already primed for fighting. What then is the type of power generated in the martial arts? The author looks into ambiguous terms such as qi and internal strength. I myself have to admit that I have been intrigued and excited about what these terms could mean for my martial practice. I think it very brave of Amdur to try and define these terms. Other skills in a warrior's toolbox are bracing strength, whipping strength, axle strength, and coiling strength. Read the book to find out how Amdur breaks down some important physical skills found in internal power traditions. What interested me the most in this chapter were his definitions of grasping smoke and listening skill. I have experienced first hand training with someone with these two skills and I thought the author explained them well. Finally he talks about gravity and the ground as two forces the martial artist has at his disposal to help amplify the power of techniques. I enjoyed the systematic approach to these skills and found this chapter very enjoyable to read and ponder. 

Chapter 3: Six Connections - Comprehensive Power Development.
Known also as the six harmonies in English speaking martial arts, What a topic to try and tackle! Amdur admits that were he to really do it justice he would write a whole book, rather than one chapter on the six connections. We now come to an idea where the body is used as a coordinated, connected unit. The six connections are broken down into three external connections (feet and hands, knees and elbows, hips and shoulders) and three internal connections (intent, breath and waist/dantien/tanden). Amdur equates the internal connections to essential power components of a car. Intent is the skilled driver, breath is the engine and waist is the gearing system that allows power and intent to get to the wheels, even help amplify it. 

Section 2 - Heaven And Earth Within Man.

Chapter 4: The Chinese Connection.
It is commonly known amongst historians that Chinese culture influenced early Japanese history. Amdur explores this from a martial artist's point of view by speculating that some sophisticated practices found in Japanese martial traditions may have been brought over from China at some point in history. Amdur reminds the reader that ryuha or bugei were codified combative practices studied primarily by the warrior-elite from the 14th century onwards. Therefore, they concentrate predominantly on individual combat and leadership. Over centuries of warfare most of the esoteric training methods such as Mikkyo (esoteric Buddhism), Taoism and Shinto were incorporated into the martial traditions. These esoteric practices have links to Chinese religious rituals that were then, in turn applied to combative purposes. Amdur states southern China as the main source of these practices. 

Chapter 5: Kito-ryu: Rising and Falling.
Amdur gives us more history lessons. The influence of Chinese martial arts became significant during the Edo period and the martial tradition of Kito-ryu features heavily. According to one record, three wandering samurai were taught grappling techniques from a Chinese scholar living in Japan. One of these men was the founder of Kito-ryu. Considering the founders of Kito-ryu were already capable grapplers and sumo existed, Amdur suspects that what these men learnt from the Chinese scholar were in fact internal power skills. 

Chapter 6: Yoshin-ryu: A Garden of Willows.
Amdur looks into another martial tradition with strong Chinese roots. Throughout this chapter Amdur looks at the stories and evidence that links Chinese internal martial arts to Yoshin-ryu and its off-shoots. Amdur references Tobin Threadgill Sensei in this chapter as he writes about Shindo Yoshin Ryu. As a student of TSYR I was interested to see what Amdur found useful or important to relation to this chapter. It was a good read.

Chapter 7: Tenjin Shinyo-ryu: Heaven and Man.
This chapter takes a look at a martial tradition that is an off shoot of the earlier Yoshin-ryu. Along with Kito-ryu, Tenjin Shinyo-ryu was studied by the founder of Judo. Ki development is discussed and Amdur states that the three principles of will, ki and power were common in many Japanese ryuha and links back to Chinese ideas. 

Chapter 8: What Happened To Jujutsu?
So the logical question to ask now is if the skills and methods of internal training were so common in the Edo period, why do they appear lost in today's modern budo?  Amdur places the blame squarely on Judo, or more correctly on its founder, Kano Jigoro. I won't go into the details here, Amdur puts a good argument forward as to why the popularity of Judo in Japan saw a decline in the internal skills that were documented in earlier times. 

Section 3 -  Daito-ryu: The Past is Future.

Chapter 9: Aizu Bujutsu: Takeda Sokaku's Birthright.
After speaking of the loss of training methods that develop internal power, Amdur now turns to Takeda Sokaku's skill and how this man in the 20th Century reintroduced a level of power in martial arts circles that people thought was lost. Where did Takeda get his Daito-ryu from? What made so many martial artists of the time go and train with him? This is an interesting chapter about martial arts in the Aizu domain and how they could have influenced what we now call Daito-ryu.

Chapter 10: Takeda Sokaku: Opening Our Eyes To True Budo.
Amdur dives into this chapter exploring Takeda's character, his relationship with his father and his early training in martial arts.

Chapter 11: The Heart of Aiki Is The Sword: Takeda Sokaku's Legacy.
Amdur discusses a period of Takeda's life that is largely unknown, about seventeen years where he must have travelled about. This was a time of the gekiken kogyo (free-style competitions) and Amdur assumes Takeda had the opportunity to learn a variety of styles or techniques as he wandered about. Dojo breaking was common so it is safe to assume Takeda may have done this. While 'collecting' techniques and principles, Amdur states that Takeda would still have had a base martial art from which he had a reference with the sword. This he names as Ono-ha Itto-ryu. 

Chapter 12: Aiki Nito Hiden.
Amdur discusses and speculates reasons behind Takeda adopting a one-handed sword style. I found this chapter tiresome and sometimes fruitless, I can see what Amdur was trying to do by linking some ideas back to internal power but this is one area where I think it is stretched a bit thin. Read it and decide for yourself. 

Section 4 -Aikido and Ueshiba Morihei: More Than A Martial Art & More Than A Martial Artist.

Chapter 13: Is The Heart Of Aikido The Sword?
OK, I have a background in Aikido training, I have also read many books on Aikido and the founder. I have also read Amdur's book, Duelling with O'Sensei so I was interested to see where this section would go. There is no doubt that Ueshiba was one of Takeda's best students and most of the world will now agree (despite what the Aikikai was saying back in the day) that Ueshiba's Aikido had roots in Daito-ryu. Takeda had the goods as far as internal power goes and its very likely Ueshiba did as well, however, Ueshiba was not formally taught weapons by Takeda as far as we know. Where did Ueshiba learn to use the spear, sword and staff? Amdur attempts to answer this question here.

Chapter 14: Aikido is Three Peaches. 
Amdur looks more into Ueshiba Morihei's thinking by breaking down a book of Morihei's private lectures between 1958 and 1961. Things get quite esoteric and vague in this chapter. Amdur attempts to interpret Ueshiba's quasi-religious jargon and mysticism as it relates to Aikido. This is a big challenge and even the author admits that he is not very fluent in modern written Japanese, let alone the classical forms. He does mention those who helped get through this information but notes that the opinions are all his own. It becomes apparent that Amdur believes part of Ueshiba's power was in his strict, almost spartan approach to his beliefs. Prayer and the gods played a vital role in Ueshiba's psyche and Amdur insists this was one part of the puzzle that gave Ueshiba his internal strength. 

Chapter 15: Hidden in Plain Sight.
Ah, here we are! At the very crux of it! Or are we? Amdur tries to get to the heart of Takeda's and Ueshiba's power by looking at eye-witness accounts of their abilities and what similarities their performance of their martial arts share. He talks about aiki and that it seems to have two aspects - a shocking electric force to one's opponent and the ability to cause the opponent to fall down without knowing how. Is Ueshiba's aiki the same as Takeda's?  Where did Takeda's teaching stop and Ueshiba's creative genius continue? This is a long chapter with many twists and turns. Good luck!

Chapter 16: Triangle, Circle, Square: How To Be O'Sensei In Sixteen Easy Steps.
This chapter starts by discussing the impact Ueshiba Kisshomaru had on modern aikido. Then the author talks about lost moments that students should have paid attention to to get the 'gold' on internal training. The rest of the chapter is a tongue-in-cheek approach on how to actually be O'Sensei. 

The book has a huge glossary so you can check up on Japanese terms used throughout the book. If you include this then the book sits at around 470 pages.

If you have read down this far then, good on you. Maybe you are ready for Amdur's book!

Happy training and/or reading.

Monday, 3 June 2019


In my previous post I briefly mentioned a classical Japanese text about tengu, mythical creatures often depicted in mountain forests, mischievous masters of the martial arts. It is said that Takamura sensei had a fondness for tengu masks. This has lead to them being quite popular amongst TSYR practitioners so I thought I would write a discussion of them here. 
The large tengu head in Kurama village.

The area around Mount Kurama, north-west of Kyoto, is considered one of the primordial centers of Japanese combatives (Ellis Amdur, Old School). According to Threadgill sensei, a young Takamura Yukiyoshi was taken on a pilgrimage by his grandfather. They began at the base of Mount Kurama, walked up to the Yuki Jinja and then on to Kurama-dera near the summit. This area of Japan has a deep history concerning the famous mountain goblins. It is said that Minamoto no Yoshitsune was sent to Kurama-dera to be a priest. However, while staying on the mountain he encountered Sojobo, a tengu king. Sojobo was willing to teach Yoshitsune martial skills and strategy so he could defeat his enemies.
Whatever Takamura saw or heard while on his pilgrimage, it had a profound effect on him. Throughout the rest of his life he would return to Mount Kurama regularly until his death in 2000. Having been to this mountain myself I can vouch for the spiritual significance of the place. The walkway up to the Yuki shrine is bordered on either side by numerous smaller shrines. I would guess that the Yuki Jinja is about half way up the mountain. As you climb higher the steep forested mountainside is quiet and tranquil. More shrines are exposed as you climb the twisting path towards Kurama-dera. Eventually you step out upon the temple grounds. The buildings here are grand and the view over the countryside is magnificent. It is easy to see how a young Takamura would have been awed by the place. A smaller trail climbs higher past the temple until you reach the true summit of the mountain. Here resides a small shrine and a fenced off standing stone called the Yoshistune Sekurabe Ishi (Yoshistune Height-Comparing Rock). According to the legend, the young Yoshistune would measure his height while he was at Kurama being instructed by the tengu. 

Standing stone on the left of the shrine. 
Allow me to speculate somewhat at this point. Takamura's interest in tengu must surely have been encouraged by his grandfather's stories and his trek up Kuramayama. Considering the young man was living in an area that is responsible for many old martial traditions, the stories he heard over the years must have soaked into his psyche. I must talk with Threadgill sensei next time I see him and find out what other tales are told about this time of Takamura's life. 

Tengu come in more than one form. Sojobo is usually described as being dressed like a yamabushi, a Japanese mountain priest, with an unnaturally long nose and a white beard. However, this description is relatively recent in Japanese folklore. They are first mentioned in a classical Japanese text called the Nihon Shoki, written in 720, but its not until a collection of tales written in the late Heian period that the tengu are introduced as troublesome bird-like spirits. Known as kurasu tengu (crow tengu), these creatures are considered inferior to the daitengu (great tengu) who are said to be more knowledgeable, such as Sojobo. 

It appears that it is not until Yoshistune's tale that tengu are related with martial prowess and knowledge. Up until this time they were opponents of buddhism and mischeivous spirits that stole children and caused havoc (this is especially true of the lesser, bird-like tengu). 
It is my understanding that founders of some ryuha attributed their new found skills and principles to training with tengu in forested mountain regions. The region around Kuramayama is but one example of this. One founder, Nakata Hikozaemon named his school Kurama Yoshin-ryu to link it to the mountain where esoteric training took place. It is no coincidence that the art Takamura studied was Shindo Yoshin ryu, a composite of two jujutsu lineages, the Akiyama Yoshin-ryu line and the Nakamura Yoshin Ko-ryu line (T. Threadgill and S. Ohgami). He lived in an area of Japan well known for esoteric practices and these practices can be found in Yoshin Koryu lines. 

So now Threadgill sensei has carried on Takamura's tradition of collecting tengu masks. At hombu dojo, the visage of Sojobo peers over the entrance of the dojo. The rest of us do the same. In the Hamilton dojo where I train, two tengu keep an eye on practitioners. I even have a small red tengu face, brought all the way from Kurama village, to ward of evil spirits and judge the intent of those who walk onto my mats. 

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Injuries and Walking with the Tengu.

Today's post is just an update post about where things are in my training.

In my first post of the year I wrote about an ongoing injury I have been trying to train through. It was an inflamed tendon in my leg that just wasn't healing. In fact, I ended my last two training sessions off the mat with an ice pack. So I reluctantly decided to take the first term of training off. I hadn't had an extended break from TSYR training for about eight years. It was the best thing I could have done. One term is about ten weeks and in this time I stopped all martial arts training (aikido included). I am now two weeks back into my training and my body is feeling strong and resilient and more importantly...pain free!

It is an important lesson for me. I have written about working around injuries in training before but I simply couldn't work around a leg injury - everything in budo requires your legs! It is also a lesson about getting older. I am over 40 and my body reminds me now and again that it needs treating with respect. I can't rip into activity like the twenty year old Dean used to do. I was also feeling a little jaded towards my training and the 10 weeks off kick-started my enthusiasm for budo. 

During my ten weeks away from the mat, my family spent 10 days in Japan (see previous post). To be immersed in a culture that my budo practice stems from affirmed a lot of things for me. This certainly rekindled my interest in my martial studies. I also discovered a new podcast to listen to. It is called Walking with the Tengu and you can have a listen for yourself here. This podcast is about exploring classical Chinese and Japanese texts for the modern martial artist. I have found these episodes to be engaging and thought provoking. The main text that is explored is a translation of "The Tengu's Discourse on the Martial Arts" by Issai Chozanshi. I own a copy of this book so it was interesting to hear another's opinion on the concepts written within. 

Ushiwakamaru (Minamoto no Yoshitsune) training with the tengu at Mt. Kurama.

So having been to Japan earlier this year and listening to podcasts on classical texts to and from work, my enthusiasm for my training has increased once more with a more resilient, reliable body to work with. 

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Japanese Sojourn.

I have recently returned from my first trip to Japan. I spent ten days in the country and my first impressions of the land and people was very positive.

For years I have dreamt of going to Japan. I have studied Japanese Martial Arts since 2002 and have followed certain cultural customs in the dojo without having the full context of what I was doing or why. I had read about Japan, eaten the West's version of Japanese food and worn a keikogi and hakama. However, I had not immersed myself in the culture of the country...until now.

I had read differing stories about how the Japanese treat westerners, some stories spoke of subtle and deep-rooted racism, others spoke about having the best time of their lives over there. I went with an open mind and with great excitement. From a martial arts point of view I have heard that you can't truly experience koryu bujutsu without living in Japan. I have heard that this is not necessarily the case as well. Having been to Japan I now have a better understanding of why living in Japan would enhance some aspects of koryu training. However, the modern Japanese person does not train in this archaic pursuit anymore than a modern westerner. As mentioned by Threadgill sensei, Takamura sensei believed that modern Japanese culture is almost as divorced from Japanese feudal culture as is modern western culture, therefore the location of training is irrelevant. With this reasoning in mind, provided you have a good teacher that follows key cultural customs then it can probably be done outside of Japan. Being immersed in the culture, even for a short time like I was certainly helps though. 

The reason my family and I went to Japan was due to my wife, Ricci, and her research in physiology education. She had been asked to create a science poster of her results and present it at an international conference in Kobe, Japan. Of course, I said that if she is going to Japan, then I am coming as well. We had already discussed taking our two daughters overseas when they were eleven and eight which was this year. So very quickly we decided that Ricci's two day conference would turn into our family's ten day holiday.

We decided to do most of our holiday prior to the conference so we started in Tokyo and stayed two nights. We then took the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto and spent three nights there. While in Kyoto we did a day trip to  Kurama. After Kyoto we went to Kobe for Ricci's conference and then we took an indirect route back to Tokyo via Fuefuki (near Kofu) for a night in a traditional Japanese room with onsen.

There were many highlights to the trip and the experiences exceeded my expectations. To actually see things and try things that I had read about for years was hugely satisfying and in some cases affirming. The walk up Mount Kurama was of particular significance as this is the same pilgrimage Takamura sensei would do on a regular basis over the years to pray at Yuki Shrine which is on this mountain.

Shrine Gate of Yuki Jinja
To pray at the same shrine as Takamura sensei was an honour and a privilege. The area is charged with energy and the day we went it was quiet and peaceful amongst the trees of the surrounding forest.

Near the top of the mountain is a large temple called Kurama-dera. Many smaller shrines can be found during the climb to the top and I also prayed at a shrine dedicated to a water kami right beside the main hall of the temple. It really is a spiritual experience climbing this mountain.

Kurama-dera main hall.
One thing that really became clear to me, beyond a mere theoretical stand point is how Buddhism and Shinto are so entwined in Japanese life. Even in the most densely populated urban areas of Tokyo, temples and shrines can be found alongside hyper modern buildings. In fact, the first shrine I prayed at was a very old shrine called Shiba-Daijinju shrine in Tokyo. At Atago shrine (also in Tokyo) we even had the luck to witness a Shinto wedding. Our guides said that was unusual as most Japanese get married with a christian ceremony.

The steep stairs are a famous feature of Atago Shrine.
The importance of bowing, the kamidana and the Japanese terms used in the dojo were put into context in Japan. It is a society built on politeness and rules as well as spiritual practises related to Shinto and Buddhism. Experiencing life in Japan (even for the short time that it was) made things I have been doing and thinking about in my martial arts practise fall into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I feel proud to be carrying on these traditions in my own way in my small dojo here in Te Miro, NZ.

What was also very clear is that my martial practice follows a very old way of thinking. The traditional parts of Kyoto and Kurama village speak to my heart. It is here where I feel most at home. The modern Japanese landscape is a different experience altogether. 

The Japanese people are incredibly polite. Despite the large population density in the cities, we were never bumped or pushed in large crowds. We learned the Japanese phrases to greet people and say thank you. These phrases were very useful. 

I happened to be sitting next to another kiwi while travelling on the shinkansen and he lived in Japan ten years ago. He said the place had changed a lot in this time. When he lived in the country there was no English signage and hardly anyone spoke English. Japan wasn't interested in foreign tourism. However, since the bubble of their economy has burst they realised that the foreign tourist can support their economy and change began to make Japan more friendly to the western visitor.  I certainly felt welcomed as a tourist in Japan. 

It is a place I hope to travel back to some day.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Hitting the reset button

So it is 2019.

As usual this is a time to reflect on the year that has been and the year to come. For me, it feels like I'm hitting the reset button on parts of my life. I have had a very busy year in my teaching career, too busy to think at times. This year that changes and it will give me space to be creative in my job. Personally, I was faced with the death of my mother in August and that month was pretty much a write-off. As far as my martial arts endeavours go, I still train, I still get on the mat but I have an ongoing injury that is becoming more and more of a nuisance and needs dealing with. Things are feeling a little stagnant on that front.

I started 2019 by getting up early (as I always do) and exercising. Then I changed the offerings at the kamidana and cleaned my sword and re-oiled my bokken, setting up for the year ahead. I am going to see an osteopath for my back in two days and hopefully I can make some progress. 

I am happy with my life right now, with my family, my nutrition, my lifestyle but I know that will change when work kicks off again. So I am thinking about how I can incorporate some of the good lifestyle choices of today into the more hectic lifestyle of tomorrow. 

Its time to reset my life. 

I have been reading a book called "The Okinawa Way" written by Bradley Willcox, Craig Willcox and Makato Suzuki. It is based on a 25-year study of centenarians in Okinawa. It reveals the diet, exercise, and lifestyle practices of these long-lived people.
Book Cover

It is well-researched and has been an amazing read for me. It has helped me evaluate my own lifestyle and I have made some small changes. One of the key components that these researchers believe contribute to these people living a long time is their ability to manage stress. They strongly advocate for people to have good social networks, meditate and get outside. The lessons for me here are around being social. As a school teacher I am forced into intense social interactions daily so that when it gets to the end of the day or week, I can be very antisocial. I am naturally introverted so I am drained after a day of teaching. However, it is good to have close friends and those relationships must be fostered. So moving into 2019 I need to find ways of keeping my social network strong. 

Of course, TSYR is an important part of maintaining friendships. My fellow deshi are very important to me. So I head into 2019 with a bit of a plan. 

Train safe.


Saturday, 20 October 2018

Aikido: the next generation.

For those of you that have been following my blog for a while you know that I have a private, 12 mat dojo on my property. This is a space used for my own TSYR training but for over two years I have also taught aikido to children in this space.

Recently my daughter and another local girl graded for their 6th kyu (yellow belt). I invited my own aikido teacher, Clyde,  to be on the grading panel. This was a proud moment for me as I have not spoken to Clyde, face-to-face for a long time. TSYR has become my focus these past years and although aikido is dear to my heart, I don't have the time to practise both martial arts. However, by teaching aikido once a week in my own dojo it is keeping my aikido waza fresh and I feel like I am passing on what my own teacher has taught me and in this way, aikido moves on to the next generation.

The girls were nervous on the day but so was I!
How the girls performed was also a reflection of my own teaching and I didn't want to let my own aikido sensei down. As it turned out, both girls passed their test and Clyde had some positive things to say about their performance. 

My proud yellow belts and Clyde Sutton sensei

One of the things he mentioned was how both girls moved from their feet. What he was saying was that the girls had good posture and moved strongly using the ground rather than focusing on their arms and shoulders which beginners often do. I was very proud of this comment because I have tried to instil solid principles into the girls' training and not only do I want them to know the appropriate waza for the grading I want to know that principles are being internalised. The fact my sensei could see this was a great achievement. 

I also asked sensei for critique and areas we could work on. This became the focus of my next scheduled training session with the girls. Each girl had a point to consider. My own daughter moves very well and this would mostly be from her ballet training (I can't take all the credit for that one) but sensei asked for a more martial approach, ensuring kuzushi at first contact and making her waza more positive. The other girl naturally rounds her shoulders forward, and although she has worked on this she was advised to keep thinking chest up and forward during her practice. 

What I really liked was how focused our next normal training session was. The grading had re-set their minds and cemented what they were doing well. The girls moved strongly across the mat with good posture and positive technique. 

Now considering these girls are only 11 and 12 years of age, I have the opportunity to turn them into magnificent martial artists provided they keep at it for the next few years. 

Sunday, 2 September 2018


I originally had this piece of writing in another blog post I am drafting but then I realised it deserves its own post. I wish to write about the mindset of our koryu ancestors.
Samurai Mask.
There is an excellent article written in this book "Koryu Bujutsu - Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan" Where the mindset of the Japanese combatant is discussed. Ideally the mindset of a warrior should be cool and calm, with a predator's focus. A story that highlights this mindset well is one told to me by a fellow TSYR deshi. He works for the Australian military and he volunteered to be a "hostage" on a training exercise where he and others were on a bus taken over by "terrorists". The Special Forces guys had to take the bus back. This was one of two activities he was involved with. A  prior activity found my friend seated in front of one of these SF gentlemen who looked like he had not had much sleep and had circles under his eyes but was completely focused and ice cold. Upon starting the siege of a grounded plane these soldiers dominated the space with precision, aggression and speed. When it came time for the exercises it was like the special forces guys exploded into action and while things were done quickly there was no discernible haste, just well-practised actions performed without hesitation. To give you an idea of just how aggressive and uncompromising these SF guys are, my friend experienced being "arrested" so quickly and so aggressively he thought he had broken his arm and cheek bone. The SF men are a perfect example of the modern day warrior who still faces the reality of dying suddenly. They still have the warrior's mindset. 

The Japanese term to describe this cold-blooded mindset is fudoshin. It describes the ability to overcome the typical reactions to sudden violence and stay calm under stress. Where many of us may panic, freeze, or be overcome with rage, the trained warrior remains calm and doesn't hesitate. This allows the warrior to continue to access the movement patterns that will keep him or her alive. When I read about fudoshin in modern budo, it sometimes seems to me that the concept has become romanticised or diluted. Words that are often used are; staying strong in the face of attack, retaining composure or a quality that lets no outside influence affect your mind. While I believe this is true and is a great way to describe the concept to the modern budo practitioner, I don't think it is exactly the same thing to a true combatant that must face the reality of sudden violence and death. If I am to understand the mindset of the feudal Japanese warrior then the uglier, cold-blooded version makes more sense to me.

I know some of you reading this might say, "Hold on a minute. TSYR and many of the koryu founded in the Edo period were founded in times of peace. The Japanese warrior-class did not face death on a daily basis." I would argue that they still faced the prospect of death in the form of ritual suicide or seppuku. To face killing yourself by disembowelment would have required an incredible strength of will. Although killing yourself to follow your lord into death was banned during the Tokugawa period, seppuku could still be ordered of you by law and was often held in the presence of officials. 
The well-known samurai classic, Hagakure (written sometime in the early 1700s) has this to say,
"The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance."
It is clear to me that Fudoshin still very much applied to the 'peaceful' samurai.

Fudoshin is not the only component to the mindset of a budo practitioner. To be able to keep a relaxed vigilance in everything you do is important for a warrior. The Japanese term for such a state is zanshin and can be explained as being constantly aware of your mind, body and surroundings while remaining calm. Zanshin can be practised by being alert from beginning to end of a kata. It can be practised in the simple art of bowing. Zanshin would have had to be highly refined in the Edo period samurai as the society of the time demanded knowledge of many daily rituals. Should this etiquette not be observed, the samurai could find themselves in trouble quickly. By being constantly alert and observant, he or she was watching what others are doing, watching body language and looking at their surroundings to make sure they didn't act in an impolite manner.

Even a person who has trained their minds to exhibit fudoshin and zanshin would still not have the complete mindset of a warrior without one last component. In my martial study I have heard it called "intent", in the article I referred to earlier, it is called "volition" I would go further to say it is "permission" (a term from this article). It is the motivation the combatant has to see his or her actions through. In samurai stories it is common to have two swordsmen square off. Neither attacking, both waiting and watching. Suddenly one withdraws and bows, knowing he would have lost the encounter. This rather dramatic scenario illustrates that if your intent is stronger than your adversaries, then you will win. For me, this is one of the most challenging psychological lines to cross. To intentionally harm another person is difficult when you have had years of societal conditioning about what is right and wrong. It is against the law to assault someone. Yet, a warrior's mindset must allow a time for a switch to be flipped, a moment when you give yourself that permission to do harm without hesitation.

In the dojo environment, my training partners have given their consent for me to practice on their limbs and bodies. Yet we all know no one is out to really hurt the other. No matter how good I think my waza is getting, no matter how much I train fudoshin or zanshin, we all know that this is not a fight to the death. This is why it is up to me and my training partners to increase the intensity. To challenge the other person so they build skill under stress. Only then can we get a glimpse into the mind of a feudal Japanese warrior.