Some of you might know of an author by the name of Ellis Amdur. He writes books and articles on the martial arts, the Japanese ones in particular. In one of his articles he asks, “What is natural movement?” then goes onto talk about how the primitive rage-terror that resides in all of us kicks in when we are panicked or sense immediate serious danger and we try to defend ourselves. He says, “When anyone, even a trained professional fighter, is in panic, one tends to grab and/or flail in downwards strikes, whether armed or unarmed.”
So as martial artists we may be trying to establish a ‘new’ way of reacting in those critical moments. Ellis again, “The trained fighter is someone whose retraining of the nervous system extends deep into the more primitive areas of the nervous system. Adrenaline no longer activates chaotic or panicked response – instead, it is the “on-switch” for a calm, exquisitely focused state, functioning at tremendous speed and power.”
One way of trying to re-wire the fight/flight response is internal strength training. What exactly are we training? Is it Ki? Is it mind-body connection or is it simply re-wiring the nervous system in conjunction with the muscles and surrounding tissue? It could be any or all of the above. Whatever the reasoning, the outcomes certainly draw people in (me included). The martial artists who spend hours and hours training in internal skill can maintain their balance in very awkward positions, can throw others with the slightest of movements, or in some cases no noticeable movement and redirect incoming force without losing their own base/centre.
It appears like the stuff of martial arts movies but by itself is only a part of the whole. Superimposed on top of this ‘budo body’ must be the waza, the techniques that we can apply in martial situations. This is still not enough. Finally, and I think, most importantly, a serious martial artist must uphold a personal integrity second to none. What good is a person who has internal skill and wonderful technique but still beats his wife? I was drawn to TSYR because I had heard of what Toby Threadgill could do, that was the internal skills stuff. However, once I started to read into koryu and had spoken to my current instructor, it became clear that personal integrity and duty were highly valued. I train alongside some very honest and genuinely pleasant people at the dojo. They are there for the training and are committed to each other, the instructor and the Ryu. This is the glue that holds me there.
So, internal strength. Necessary? Sure. Hard work? You bet. The be-all and end-all of martial arts? I don’t think so.