Over the years I have changed my perspective on what comprises a good education. I used to think that education was exclusively an intellectual endeavor, but I have come to see this as a fairly limited view. I think in the broadest sense, education can be seen as a process that increases your complexity and diversity by differentiating skills, viewpoints, connections, etc. It is a form of personal growth unlike training which serves a different purpose, that is, a purpose of filling and cutting you into a tool for a specific purpose. As such I see personal finance blogging and personal development blogging as a way of helping other people grow.

You will see that people that practice sports on a serious level are often picked for leadership positions? Why do that? Why not pick a bookworm with a high GPA that spent a lot of time in the library? Because being active in sports imparts other qualities in a person that are more useful that the ability to read and think about books.

I think sports, essentially being a harmless form of warfare or at least hunting, is the activity that covers the widest spectrum of skills that are “naturally” human. It teaches health, balance, mind-body intelligence, strategy, tactics, team play, endurance, persistence, etc.

Obviously some sports focus on some aspects and other sports focus on other aspects. Some are systematic and some are not. Some change you as a person and others don’t.

In this post I will concentrate on the martial arts. What separates martial arts from western sports is in my mind that there is a before and after aspect. In western sports, when you are finished, you crash and relax. In eastern martial arts, you meditate. There is an integrating mental aspect to the latter. Maybe it is fair to say that western sports are focused outwards, not all of them of course, and eastern arts are focused in wards. The former is about effecting change in the world. The latter is about effecting change in yourself.

Martial arts are not all similar. Some are focused on sports and competition, others are focused on tradition. Of the latter, some are frozen in time intended to preserve a culture. Others are still developing. Some require a high level of physical conditioning, others require a high level of mental conditioning. Some have a shallow learning curve. Others have a steep learning curve.

I practice shinkendo. I do not have anything profound to say about it yet, but I do have some initial observations about how it relates to others things I have done.

Shinkendo is the study of the art of the samurai sword. It has five aspects to it: suburi (how to swing a sword), battoho (combative drawing and cutting from a standing position), tanrengata (solo sequences/forms), tachiuchi (partnered sequences/forms), tameshigiri (testcutting with real swords). It is a style that is complete (develops you as a person in as many ways a possible, think lifestyle), non-competitive, developing, and not physically demanding (you do not need to be strong to be “dangerous” with two pounds of sharp steel).

  • In general, when you are stressed by a challenge, you will never “rise to the occasion” but rather “revert to your default”. As a consequence, persistent training is important. The stress comes from having a wooden stick (bokken) coming towards your head and you having to parry or move out of the way (typically both) before it hits you. We do not wear armor but rely on technique and dexterity. Also we do not spar with steel for obvious reasons.
  • Sparring is a collaborative effect like dancing. If you can make your opponent, who is really your partner, look good, you will look good. All sparring is preplanned. You may argue that this does not teach fighting. I disagree. You can never teach how it is to fight real unless you are using real swords with the risk of death—obviously this is not going to happen. Think of how you would simulate a gun fight. 1) You could use paintball guns and try to hit your opponent competitively. Here I think the non-lethality will significantly change the tactics and strategy of the players. 2) You could use real guns but only shoot in predesignated areas, acting out a prearranged gunfight. Either strategy focuses on some aspect of fighting.
  • There are many many sequences to memorize. It is a mental game. We have at least 3 PhDs at our dojo. I have never seen such a concentration of brainiacs in other sports.
  • Sometimes it feels like walking all over again. When we walk, we do not think about moving one leg in front of the other and how much pressure to put from the foot to the ground and so on. Doing so would make walking very difficult. In solo forms, you will be coordinating 3 aspects. The feet, the hips and torso, and the arms/sword. The hips come quickly, but otherwise it is like learning to walk again, but with a sword.
  • In sparring, you will be coordinating four things. Your feet, your partner’s feet, your sword, and your partners sword. “Killing” comes down to inches. The more advanced the student is the better he will adopt to his opponent. I have no doubt in my mind that the black belts (5 years or more) can run in circles around me.
  • Like in golf, lack of focus can completely ruin your performance.
  • Handling a sword is not intellectual. You can not learn from a book and it is hard to write anything but the most obvious down. You are not just training your neocortex. You are training your spine as well (so sleeping on it usually helps a lot). Much of the training aims to eradicate the influence of your brain. You just do the right thing at the right time all the time. Mind of no mind. I have experienced this a few times in hockey—you essentially become a detached spectator to your actions. Time appears to slow down a bit and you move around your opponent, just right.
  • It is not physically demanding. Martial arts will with a few exception not teach you how to win real fights although they will make you a better fighter. However, fighting for real is the only thing that will teach you how to win. Hence, if I wanted to learn to fight for real, I would pick one of the few arts that concentrates on that. Now, I’m getting old and for me it is getting too late to be good in something that requires a lot of acrobatic skills. Hence, shinkendo was a good choice. We have people all the way up to their late 50s practicing in the dojo. The lack of physicality also means that people of all sizes and genders can practice together. It is not one body against the other; it is more like one mind against the other.
  • By practicing, you acquire something that can not be bought for money. This is not a McDojo that hands out black belts at the price of a two year contract. Experience has to be earned with time, not money. We do have ranks but the uniform does not show it. The main indication of experience is how frazzled your belt looks and ultimately how you perform.
  • As I see it, shinkendo has the potential to change you as a person if you treat the practice as something you are rather than just something you do when the mood strikes or for fun. It is rich enough for that.