As a civilian security professional and a martial arts practitioner for many years I’m always dwelling on the ways in which we use power. The recurring questions arise: where are the boundaries and what amount of force should be used? are translated into particulars: should I storm forward the aggressor or just try to contain the situation?
Or maybe a different reaction should be used?
After many years of on field experience I still have many questions and uncertainties.
Daily life make us meet different kinds of people, every one of them will have his own insights according to his experience and the way he deals with it. Accordingly his reactions to the events will be unexpected.
I can not expect a behavior that suits my caprices, and I can not judge a person. We all have good and bad days, but inside this cauldron I hang on to some sort of guiding principle written in Pirkei Avot by Rabi Hilel Hazaken: “In a place where there are no men strive to be a man”, or as I see it: to try and be humane at the most basic level when I need to do my job in front of impolite or aggressive behavior.
Every time when things are boiling around me (and in my profession there are many times like this), I see myself being tested in three areas: ethics, personality and self control. These situations are the best places to check myself.
What does this mean? From my point of view it means two things: paying attention to the surroundings, the human environment, and being aware of my own feelings inside the complicated situation.
The need to use force is sometimes necessary in a confrontation; in this case I do not have time to hesitate. Afterwards I look at the “emotions after” and have many questions: did I use force properly? Was it to satisfy myself, to prove something? Was it for protection? Was I hot-blooded? Was I afraid?
Last years have seen me react better, in a suitable way. In situations I encountered I did not fret too much but remained attentive to my inner principle. For me, this kind of a motto is like an inner Kamae.
“In a place where there are no men strive to be a man”
The defense and attack positions in the Budo Ninjutsu are an internal state of mind that we project using the body. Like many things in our school, the meaning, the importance, are hidden behind tough physical work.
First the practitioner learns the mechanics: how to stand correctly, what is a straight back, how the feet stabilize the pelvis and the most efficient position of the hands in front of an opponent. When stances and the transitions between them are preformed well and become instinctual, the student is ready to learn other important parts of Kamae.
The positioning of the hands, the tension in the face and abdominal muscles, breathing and especially the intent turn each stance into a seal of fighting emotion.
The warrior’s state of mind has utmost importance, as important as technique. A perfect technique dwells in a winning frame of mind. A proper inner state wins battles, good technique, alone, does not. A warrior who finds himself in real combat must know that winning or loosing is not only the outcome of physical ability. Budo Ninjutsu Stances are an internal seal of emotions that helps us put things in order during chaotic situations.
Our waiting and attacking positions where designed hundreds of years ago and are continually practiced to this day to face a variety of situations: fighting against many opponents and fighting along inner fears.
Preserving a fighting tradition is like gardening; The knowledge that the warrior receives must be rooted and nurtured in a supportive environment and under proper conditions. Our knowledge lives.
The essential conditions are: an instructor, real contact sparring and outdoor practice. With these a trainee progresses from practicing the physical aspects of stance in front of an opponent to creating and maintaining a proper inner state in life.
In our daily life we can aspire to be decisive but calm. Every action that we will do in this frame of mind will be simpler and correct. We can see a simple example for this in a test we attempt to answer. If we encounter a difficult question and stress accordingly we will perform below our abilities.
As practitioners of martial art it is important that we get acquainted with the inner feelings in a violent confrontation and aim to be in the best inner attitude to deal with these situations.
Soldiers who fight professionally learn very few techniques. A soldier learns a limited number of rote reactions to many situations. It seems to me as the basic level of being a warrior; it is most suitable to armies where you never have enough time to learn a large variety of techniques. Sometimes in this sort of fast military training, the warrior acts from an emotional base of fear and anger and not from real understanding. Misunderstanding and lack of insights in military training, and training that duplicates it, can leave a residue of negative emotions and fix the warrior in a sub-professional techniques, reactions and behavior.
A warrior or martial art practitioner who practices for a long time should be based in understanding so he can work out the optimal reaction to the many possibilities of violence.
Myamoto Musashi – a legendary Japanese swordsman from the 17th century, wrote in his book that a warrior should step into battle when his spirit is clean. In battle the warrior is under life threatening pressure that has physical and mental aspects. In this situation it is better to stay calm and sharp so the best solution will not be obscured. So better not to fight with fear, anger, hatred or any other strong emotion that might cloud our senses and affect our decision making. That, in my opinion and experience, is the ideal we should aspire to.
To understand fighting and have the correct fighting spirit we must train many years. Many training situations and various tests and encounters will promote our professionalism and give us the best set of tools to deal with violent situations. These tools can later be “left”, be “broken” to leave a clear no-mind attitude according to our individual insight and character.
By Shay Dill
There’s always someone telling me I’m being childish. Of course, it starts with my mother who usually says, especially after an injury: “What where you thinking? When will you stop with this Ninjutsu stuff? When will you act your age?”
And it goes on with my wife who thinks that my version – “only those people who participate in some discipline or have a hobby are interesting” is a bit of a childish exaggeration.
Maybe one of the main characteristics of children is that they see things in either black or white. When you grow up you understand there are some grays. I stayed with my black and whites, somebody is either good or bad, I love something or hate it. Of course there are embers of grey. Grey is mostly an uninteresting color.
Some weeks ago I had a conversation with a remarkable lady. I told her that sometimes, when I look at people who do not practice, their lives look very boring. On the other side, when I look at people who train or have some discipline, their lives look more passionate, more involved.
There are many anecdotal contradictories – I met a guy who runs diligently and he’s a bore, or a girl riding a bicycle for triathlon that was even more dreary.
To go back to the interesting woman, she commented on my childish observations and said that her goal in life is to do whatever she does the best, perfection. I can honestly declare that I do not share this goal. I know that in order to do something perfectly you have to invest much more than if you aim for doing it 90% good. I’m sure that this post contains some mistakes but it doesn’t bother me enough. Maybe it’s because I never have spare time. My attitude is that once I get to the core goal, perfection is not that important.
The woman I was talking with, the one whose aim is “doing whatever she does perfectly” is the best mother I know. Alas, she does not understand a thing in martial arts. Does this mean she has uninteresting life just because I don’t see her at the dojo twice a week? Probably not; I stand corrected.
To get back to where I started, am I childish? Being childish is fun!! Life is simpler, colors are clearer and you sure have good time. In every instance someone tries to pin me back to the ground (not a training mattress but the grownup ground) I desist (unless it’s my wife. In that case I tell her she’s right, I’m sorry, I’ll try to be more mature – there’s no end to what a person has to do for a peaceful home).
Probably there is no clear-cut conclusion here. I gather now that other people have interesting life even though they do not train in martial arts, but when I immaturely compare, I see: we people have a common interest, a forward moving skill and we really do have fun. Maybe this is because martial arts in our school and in similar places attract people that essentially posses young spirit. Hey, just look around and see, so many people smiling. This is not the way adults look!!!
Last year has been dotted with minor scuffles with friends and relatives. These people know I have been training for many years in Budo Ninjutsu; they want to check my abilities, even if it’s done jokingly.
Almost all the confrontations looked like this; a friend was talking to me and then suddenly charged forward with pushes and shoves that end with my back to the wall, meters behind me.
All these incidents happened in the gym I work at, and the machinery and free weights lying around make every throw an imminent danger for my opponent. Now, if this was a regular confrontation against someone I don’t know I would deal with it rather easily, but when my fight vocabulary is restricted because of safety reasons my response will always be lacking. I did not mention this, but an important fact is the weight difference, all my friends are very muscular bodybuilders, and weigh at least 90 kilogram (180 pounds) thatâ€™s much heavier than me. The weight and strength differences are a major factor, because it makes “playing” the confrontation very difficult.
In all these cases I was pushed against the wall and only then, when the wall countered the push and helped my position, I managed a guillotine or carefully went down to the floor with my friend.
I recalled what yossi said: “you shouldn’t be in these situations”, but for me not to reach this situation means being tense and ready all the time, even with my friends, and that’s a lifestyle I do not want to adopt. A tense state of mind is not something I am willing to experience all the time. At this phase in my life these confrontations are a given, my close social circle know I am an AKBAN veteran so friends will check my abilities.
Technique is not the main point here, as my abilities can be shown only against an experienced practitioner or maybe in some severe, real-life situation. The main point is the attitude.
When you lose you learn to deal with your surroundings, it is a problem. Some martial arts systems do not prepare the practitioner for different grades of confrontation and the shame that losing carries with it; so even in sparring people tend to come on strong, to try to “win”. This is not our way here, in this school; I can see all the time veterans spar and intentionally lose â€“ they play. If someone is just looking from the side, if someone does not initiate him or herself into this intentional playful loosing frame of mind then there is no way to understand the real world usage of this behavior, but I know.
”’By Karmit Sagiv”’
Up to a time, not so many years ago, women were completely dependent on men for their livelihood and safety. In order to gain independence, they were required to separate themselves from the men and make their own living. Virginia Wolfe claimed that “a room of one’s own and a certain sum of money” would suffice and lead to women’s independence. In fact, Wolfe stated that women would have power once they could stand on their own and not be dependent both financially and mentally on their man. Is this in fact so?
Even today, in a world where there are increasingly more independent women, financially and mentally, they still have trouble gaining significant power in the face of men. Why, then do women have trouble catching up? Why are they distinguished from men? Why are there still fields that are “for men only” while others are for women only?
Numerous sociological theories provide answers for these questions, while pointing out a process of socialization, or social structure, as the key to understanding the phenomenon. Women, from the moment they are born, are expected to act in a certain manner – “feminine” gentle, submissive, as a wife, etc. In fact, they are expected to function in a world which is a product of male thinking, a world where men of power and influence define concepts and attitudes. Since the world, in all its aspects: social, cultural and political, is a product of male creation, it is only natural that it be fitted to the needs of the male population more than to the female ones. The latter is required to live according to the male rules of play.
And what happens in the field of martial arts?
This analysis may explain the relatively small number of women participating in martial arts. It is a known fact that the number of women is significantly lower than the number of men, especially in advanced levels. In order to understand why the situation in this field is so grim, we need to look back in an historical scale to try and find out the root of the problem. It seems to me that focusing on sociological analysis combined with a psychological one, might clarify the picture: The field of martial arts was made property of men, similar to military systems, for example. However, why specifically men? Sigmund Freud’s interpretation on the differences between the sexes may help in this case. Freud speaks of the urge for competition as a male characteristic. The first and most shaping competition is the struggle of the son with his father over the mother’s affection. This struggle ends in the healthy situation, with the experience of defeat, from which the child continues acquiring new tools for coping with struggles. Is it possible that this primary male struggle never ends, and that it yields into fuel for a subconscious need to be stronger, better and with higher endurance (and I mean the spiritual meaning of the term)?
If it is indeed so, that the urge for competition in women is lower, as Freud suggests, it would be likely to assume that women would find less interest in fields that combine significant competitive elements. Even if Ninjutsu is not, in essence, a competitive sport, groundwork, throws and stand-up fighting insert certain competitive elements into the groups.
Even so, we are still faced with another riddle: Based on the previous paragraph, we would expect the number of women in Ninjutsu practices to be similar to the number of women in practices of Judo, Karate and other forms of martial arts. Things, however, are not so. I believe the explanation to be, that fields such as Judo, Tae-Kwon Do and Karate, have adapted themselves to female audiences. This adaptation is seen in numerous areas, for example in separating men from women in the competitions themselves. This situation encourages women to remain in the field, and steers them away from fields that do not act in the same manner, such as our non-competitive combat Ninjutsu.
In addition, it’s not just that the number of women who begin training is relatively low in comparison to the number of men, there’s also a higher dropout rate for women from Ninjutsu. A claim stated not once in the groups, relates the high dropout rates to the inability of women to understand the field in depth. Such a claim is one that removes all responsibility from those who build and characterize the entire field. It is possible that these key players are unaware of the power they have as ones who pave the way and set the policies. As leaders, they can choose training concepts that either include or exclude women. Inclusion may be reached in many ways, from adapting training hours, through emphasizing exercises “not solely for men” taking into consideration the female anatomy, as well as combining feminine terminology in training. In summary for this part of the conclusion I will add: It is easy to find guilt in the women, but the problem, I believe, is not with them, but rather in the surroundings, that distance women due to the male ethos in Ninjutsu and in AKBAN for women.
As stated before, the field of martial arts is a ‘system’ built by men, and is thus adjusted to male audiences, and so is inhabited mainly by men. This situation repeats itself. It is a male magic circle, which is unbreakable by a foreign power (women). Thus, a woman who succeeds in penetrating the circle and comes to practice still has small chances of persevering, since she will have to adapt herself to the rules of the male world. Let’s take, for example the setting of practices: The hours of training are the hours of the afternoon to late evening, a woman who is also a mother can not persevere and come to practice while the kids are waiting for her at home. Also, the warm up at the beginning of practice emphasizes groups of muscle that require strengthening in men, and neglects muscles women need to work on more in order to reach the level of a fighting man.
In order to persist in the training program over time, I feel, support from the trainers as well as from the veterans, is needed in all the practice groups. The organization must understand the special needs and gender differences, internalize these differences and needs and adapt the transfer of information to different audiences. So long as the organization does not take these measures, women will continue to be a strange rarity in AKBAN.
The AKBAN way of doing martial art is intricately connected with training outside. Martial arts training, whether it is Ninjutsu or other Koryu from other parts of the world, took place outside. This background was so clear and obvious that it was not spoken of, just as we do not speak about going and opening a tap to take a shower. But there was a time, not long ago in the lifespan of our species that the Dojo was the outside, not a mattress in a training hall.
In our core martial art, Budo Ninjutsu, one cannot understand many techniques and moves without training and validating the system in the setting it was designed in. This is so well understood that the instructors and veterans in our martial school have this as a rare consensus; one cannot be qualified in AKBAN without spending time outside.
Ancient systems (Ryu) that went into the Bujinkan and other Takamazu-den schools were created in a natural outside setting and not in a dojo or even urban environment (some techniques in Takagi, Koto and Gyokko Ryu might be an exception).
We know this not only from researching old Japanese manuscripts but from watching and doing reverse Kata analysis on the existing curriculum we practice.
Many things that once were obvious, like walking from one place to another, necessitate an extra effort today. Being outside, moving through the terrain out there was not so long ago one of the prerequisites that surrounded the warriors and other people, people lived with less protection and padding from the outside. Today, we control our water with a twist of the tap; we set the temperatures of our protecting cube and light up our nights with the flick of a switch. This is news, people used to go to the river or well, isolate themselves with garments, not air-conditioning and move – a warrior that wanted to train with an instructor had to walk there, a warrior going to battle had to actually go, and everybody had to sleep outside every once in a while.
The outside abilities we resurrected in our school were once the common and very important background for every human being, warriors included.
Urban outside and forests
In some martial arts and systems the practitioner learns how to conduct himself in society, in a conflict happening with other people. In Budo Ninjutsu we try to teach the imperative human confrontation but we never forget the nights, the clouds and the outdoors.
In Israel we have many things different from current day Japan; the people are different, the animals, the sun, many things; but we take what we learned from the essence of our martial art, we might adapt the ingredients but not the essence. So we will drink water from springs, make tea in an old wabi sabi kettle, eat some biscuits, carry our weapons according to our walking style, eat more dust in one day then the whole Iga prefecture village might eat in a year, put on a big brim hat or Kaffiya. We adapt the details to the surrounding, but not the essence – the outside is not for the romantically inclined – it’s too tough, the outside is for everyone willing to pay the price of feeling free, the price of hard work.
More then twenty years ago one of my teachers told me: “Sheriff, don’t reveal everything to your students”. Such a Japanese thing to say, the proper thing to say would probably be: “tailor your teaching to the student”. Maybe this is what he meant, maybe I misunderstood.
I’ve been thinking about it recently, mainly in the context of my knowledge in martial arts, knowledge that is starting to unfold in our martial arts encyclopedia, the AKBAN-wiki. I thought: “would that teacher be happy with our project?” that’s a big question, I’m not sure, probably not. I know that most of the instructors in AKBAN had doubts about opening up our vast databases. They probably thought about the old Sufi proverb adopted by countless esoteric doctrines: “Knowledge revealed is power lost”.
Probably this is what my teacher was thinking about, maybe he wanted to protect me from loosing power.
I can side with him and raise several other points: some people that have problems with giving, people that actually feel weakened by giving, should not disclose what weakens them. And more, if the receiving party, the student, is not ready for learning, then knowledge should be given only according to his level of being. As we say here: “thou shall not feed steaks to babies”.
If our knowledge, our dear “secret esoteric knowledge” can be found in two clicks in the World Wide Web, then it’s probably not so mysterious, we will not be snitches of the truth; the internet did it for us. (In a separate thread I must add that if a teacher thinks of the student as enemy then he is not suitable for teaching).
This is not the main point, “knowledge revealed is power lost” does not deal with protection of the weak, or preaches abstaining from teaching students that are not ready; It is an absolute, overriding insight, a proverb that belongs to a certain state of mind, the state of mind of those who know.
I did not assume my teacher’s advice. I know the surface of my experience and the volume of the proficiency that stems from it, but I never thought that the knowledge I have is complete, quite the opposite, even in good times I feel lacking in knowledge and correct actions.
In my place and, and I can safely say: all of the instructors of our martial arts school, AKBAN, in this place there is a lot to learn. Our diverse martial knowledge is just scaffolding, a skeleton, upon which new insights can be built. Thus one of the main cornerstones of the AKBAN method is dialogue.
There is immense value in giving away knowledge. Sometimes I don’t know what I will say at the next moment. Speaking, the action of the language, makes magic and creates, in response to the attention of the listener, a new knowledge.
I am addicted to this process, if I must name it I’ll call it “Open end“, just to differentiate it from “Guru-izm”, from a place where someone professes to know some absolute truth. With “Open end” nobody knows what will happen in the next moment, what we will know then. We only know our path. Our path has clear boundaries; it is lined with professionalism, humanity, usability and investigation. We know not were it does lead; instead we emphasize the excitement, the experience of discovery, the sharing of private thoughts with another.
I sat the other day with Navot – a Judo Shodan and an old Akbanaut – to a coffee. Navot is also a top notch patissier and since I like baking I quoted “knowledge revealed is power lost” and we sat there, thinking, how the best cooks and patissiers are willing to reveal knowledge. Pierre Herme teaches in several schools, has apprentices, writes books and of course sometimes appears on television.
Of course, some important parts of what Mr. Herme knows is not transferable, this part is the sum of all what Mr. Herme is plus his somatic knowledge. Maybe this I why he is willing to teach all he can, because he holds the essence, and not only this, he gets back all he gave consciously. These are the mathematics of knowledge.
Knowledge should be given. We will get more knowledge in return. Students will probably need a path, a qualified guide and years of experience to make it work. Bur knowledge should be given.
So the suitable proverb here should be one that I have walked with for many years: “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.”
In every visit to Sinai, I felt that this desert carries a different and sometimes enchanting flow of life. Good karma goes a long way there. Nir Unger and I were on our way to Muhammad’s family near Santa Katrina, when we met on the beach with an expert on finding water, a real dowser, there by invitation of the Egyptian government. He was invited to help locate water in the arid expanses of Sinai. He was also on his way to meet Muhammad, who is known and respected throughout Sinai. Andre, Nir and I were in a minibus loaded with groceries for the family when it started to drizzle. Water came down from the sky after a dry spell of years. Although not a torrent, the drizzle signified to me that this visit will be extraordinary.
There are states in which we perform well, with accuracy and correctness and there are states in which things are done in true harmony with others and the environment. Not unlike a Jazz jam session or sparring with and old friend, like a song that resonates off distant cliffs or a physical structure which blends with its surroundings and reflects its location.
Shortly before sunset, after tea and a rest from the drive, Muhammad asked Andre the dowser to come down with him to his wadi behind the family’s home. He suspected there was water there and wished to know what Andre thought of it. Andre can describe where the underground water stream starts and ends, he can determine the kind of rock that will be dug up and the salinity of the water below, as well as the depth of the water basin. We went down to the wadi, Muhammad, Andre, Nir, Salah (an old friend of M) and myself with a camera to record the search for water.
After returning to Tel Aviv I was editing the footage while in the background Caetano Veloso was singing “Maria Bonita”. The song somehow felt right for the piece and I simply pasted it into the clip. The result was beautiful. First, I saw how Andre was actually dancing his explanations to Muhammad while sensing the water below in eerie synch to the music. Next I noticed that all persons present (including the cameraman with his pans and zooms) were “dancing” in a kind of non-verbal communication and without audible music, but in a harmony that cannot be ignored.
3 things were common to everyone present there: Firstly, all were types of warriors – Andre having an extensive background in Aikido, Nir in Ninjutsu, Muai Thai and various Chinese internal martial arts, myself and the two Bedouins whose very lives in the desert represented the warrior’s way. Secondly, I think it was a common love of humanity and nature. Thirdly, we were all there to give some kind of service, Andre, Nir and myself to Muhammad and Salah, and vice versa.
Trying to narrow it further, I could say that all were persons connected to themselves. People who feel at peace in their inner homes, whether from living a spiritually clean life in the desert as our two old Bedouin friends, or by learning Maharaji’s meditations(as I did) or through whichever spoke of the wheel they traveled to get to the center.
If we use the wheel as an analogy to life, then outside, furthest away from the center, life is fast and turbulent but closer you get to the center, things slow down. At the very center the movement stops altogether and, in fact, a new reality presents itself, one that is different from the one we are used to experiencing in our daily lives.
The wheel has many spokes leading from outward within. The paths are many but in the center all differences are removed. That is the moment we experienced in this video clip.
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.