Martial artists are fond of talking about how training has improved their lives and themselves but they are not very good at explaining just how that is so. All the talk about confidence, focus, discipline, commitment, persistence and the like is real enough but it actually undersells the benefits. The Bujinkan arts can be a vehicle for personal development – even when you do not realise it is happening.
A good dojo is a very special place. It’s a place of learning. It’s also a place where our higher selves are in control. There are etiquette standards about how you should conduct yourself and treat your teacher and training partners. These are standards we must not so much adhere to – but hold ourselves to – whether we find that day’s training fun, frustrating, exhilarating, tiring and painful or whether we are happy, sad, tired, angry or stressed. A good dojo is a microcosm of life – a place where you can experience a huge range of emotions in a challenging yet controlled environment.
That means we have to find a way to manage these feelings while continuing to train productively and be at our best. That mirrors what we need to do in many other aspects our lives but the dojo allows us to learn to do this in a safe yet challenging environment.
In a dojo you’ll experience the frustration of being unable to perform new skills, the frustration of watching others learn and progress more easily than you, the physical and emotional challenge of picking yourself up off the floor again and again (literally and metaphorically) plus the pain (and shock) of being struck.
But you’ll also experience the thrill of learning a technique that you could not do two weeks ago, the joy of rolling effortlessly to your feet after going to the ground and the realization that the strike that hurt you last week was actually no big deal and not something you need to fear in the future and that you can defend yourself.
A dojo also has people of different skills and dispositions. There will be people you love to train with and people you dread training with and people you really don’t like training with at all. All of these people are our teacher. You can wonder what it is about that person you find so annoying that you do not enjoy training with them. But you might grow more by asking what is it about you that makes you respond negatively to them.
And then there is the philosophy that runs deep through the Bujinkan arts and this does not refer to the fortune cookie wisdom of Hong Kong kung fu films. It includes learning to value yourself so you can defend yourself, learning to live and move naturally, understanding that limits of strength as a tool, appreciating the moment and the power of taking things as they come.
The longer you train the more aware you become of the huge number of ways training grows us – many more ways than there is scope to explore here,
These are big things, and at times they will feel big, but the really cool thing is that often times the opposite is true – you become so involved in your training that you might not even be aware that they are going on at all. That’s why people often struggle to articulate how martial arts have improved their lives even though they know it surely has. For them it has just kind of happened.
It’s a kind of magic – the kind that comes from consistent training in a good Bujinkan dojo.