Sunday, 29 May 2016

Masakatsu Agatsu

Lately, I have been thinking about a quote from Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido.
He once said, "masakatsu agatsu or "true victory is victory over oneself."

Like many of his quotes, this can be interpreted in many ways. I often find my self thinking about this quote in my own training.
During my aikido practice I often thought of the quote to mean if I had control of myself emotionally and had a calm approach to an assailant, then I could control the situation. In other words, if I had self-control then I could control others. This is of course true in a verbal confrontation, in fact I use this idea everyday in my job. I'm a high school teacher in a state-funded school and staying calm with teenagers is very important. Teenagers will often resort to verbal abuse like put-downs and swearing to disrupt your influence. Being able to use body language, precise wording and a calm demeanor is important.

I find one flaw in my own logic here. Even if I could be calm under a physical assault I would still have to be technically proficient to survive such a confrontation. Just because I could be calm under pressure does not guarantee success. 

When I began practicing Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu an important aspect of the training focused on correct alignment of my body, 'structure' is the term we use often. The more I train, the more I realise that without proper structure I cannot possibly control others. If my structure is not correct, then it becomes more difficult for me to take control of my opponent. So on a simple, physical level masakatsu agatsu applies. 

While in the draft stages of this post I came upon this blog:

In this blog the author talks about how anyone who studies martial arts, studies violence. There is no other way to look at it. We can wrap it up in soft fluffy philosophy but at the end of the day, the definition of martial arts is forms of self-defence or attack. We learn how to use physical violence to get an end result. So the author then goes on to say, "How does this make us any different to bad guys?"  
It is an interesting point. People who rob, rape, assault or kill use violence or at least the threat of violence. How do we differ? The author's point? We use violence to protect while the bad guys use violence to prey on others.  He then goes on to say that in order to protect we must be better at violence than the bad guys. What a thought.

A quote from the blog:

"So it is imperative that GOOD people be skilled at violence.
What does that mean?For the most part it is helping good people give themselves permission to do what is necessary.
Unless they are competing for the same resources, it is rare for a predator to hunt another predator.
So protection can also be achieved by helping folks remember that they are also predators.  The confidence that brings can remove someone from some victim profiles.

The author continues to say that should you allow yourself permission to do what is necessary and be violent, then how much is too much? When do you turn the violence off? How do you turn the violence off? Masakatsu agatsu. True victory is victory over oneself. This mental level is something I have been chasing all of my martial arts journey. As I have trained I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone, then once that was comfortable I looked for more discomfort. The problem I had was if the people around me didn't want to amp things up like that I was left with no one to train with. When I started aikido, taking a physical risk might mean taking a high break fall or letting someone twist on my arm. As that fear disappeared, I wanted faster attacks and to dance more on the edge of what I was capable of. Unfortunately for most of my training partners, they weren't interested after a certain level of stress. 

Then I started TSYR. Here my training colleagues were more capable and used to higher levels of stress in the dojo. The training involved committed attacks often with wooden training weapons. I know at even higher levels of training, shinai and armour are used and permission is given to move away from kata and really try to make the hits land. Sensei has a systematic approach to amping up training and getting the adrenal dump to occur in the participants. I am not at this point and Threadgill Sensei has said that not everyone wants to go there. I want to go there. 

One of my TSYR buddies is an Air Force Medic. He had the opportunity to train with the Australian Special Forces at one point. Members of the Armed Forces were asked if they would play the part of terrorists on a Special Forces exercise. My friend put his hand up. One thing he noted when he meet these men is the absolute confidence they had in their abilities. It was a quiet confidence, no bravado what-so-ever. The exercise simulated a takeover of a bus. The Special Forces guys were to storm the bus and take down the 'terrorists'. My fiend said he had never experienced anything like it. The Special Forces guys went from quiet, confident men to aggressive, violent soldiers in a second. They moved with absolute precision, with calculated violence. My friend found himself taken to the ground with a knee on is chest in seconds. He said there was nothing gentle about how they dealt with the situation. He said these men carried  a presence that none of the other soldiers carried. One of utmost confidence in their abilities in moments of high stress. They had gained victory over themselves. Masakatsu agatsu.

I have read many articles by Ellis Amdur. He wrote this one:

How can I, a civilian studying martial arts ever get to the level of calm efficiency that the Special Forces guys get to? Should it even be a goal for me? A part of me wants to find out what I am capable of. What happens to me, psychologically if I really feel threatened? Ellis Amdur's article addresses his own training under stress and one of the outcomes for him. It is sobering reading. 

Part of me wants to go into this psychological space. To see where my breaking point is. To see what demons lurk within. And then quell them. 

Then, and only then do I think I will have achieved masakatsu agatsu.

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