Here at Shoshin Dōjō, we host a library of nearly 500 books pertaining to Japanese martial arts, history, art, and culture. It is easily one of the largest collections in the state (outside of Illinois University). The books in the photograph occupy a small but very significant place here. No, these books do not relate directly to Japan or the martial arts, but for Yamate-ryū and Ittō Tenshin-ryū yūdansha (black-belts), they are profoundly important.
You see, these are not generic martial arts—these are martial traditions, carefully maintained and passed down through generations. The yūdansha are the officers of the Ryū, and as such, are expected to conduct themselves as ladies and gentlemen. It is a responsibility that is not to be taken lightly.
Most of us that had the good fortune (or dumb luck) to be accepted into one of our dōjō were looking for effective fighting techniques with historical provenance. We certainly got that. But it was the seniors of the Ryū—watching them comport themselves as simply that—seniors of the Ryū—that quickly made me realize how much more these arts provide.
These were dangerous, capable men; their technical efficacy was at times painfully obvious. But even more obvious was their firm patience and generosity. Most striking to me, was that there was no fall-off when they left the mat; their comportment did not change when they donned their civilian attire. These gentleman-warriors embodied the Ryū.
The seniors that I picture as I write this are gone now, but their example and influence lives on. This little group of books, seemingly out of place to the uninitiated, reminds me of them. They also remind me of what I am ultimately trying to impart to my students.
Technical skill is very important; there are physical gates that must be passed on the road to seniority. But every in needs a yō (yin and yang), lest there is imbalance. Skill alone gives you only one type of power. It is when you begin to approach other aspects of your life with the same attention to detail that you do your techniques, true change begins. This is what I try to pass along.
I want my students to have power, but power alone is not enough. I want them to move through this world with power and GRACE.