In this series of articles, I present a program for leveraging budo’s (Japanese traditional martial art) centuries of accumulated wisdom, principles, knowledge and methods as relevant, applicable and effective tools within an educational framework for our youth. The next articles shall further provide concrete examples of such budo tools and how these can be utilized as part of an educational system for our youth as we carry the big task and duty of giving them tools for life, thus creating a better human society in the future.
The observations and suggestions made in this article are based, among other sources and long term studies, on actual students’ feedback following the delivery of the budo-way program globally, including in various educational environments. The program has been implemented within schools under the name “Personal Leadership” which implies one should first acquire a set of (personal) core skills before being able to lead others. The proposed framework serves as a bridge to budo’s centuries-long accumulated treasure of knowledge, enabling participants to acquire relevant and applicable tools for life.
This first article presents the rationale at the core of the 'budo for education' concept explaining why it places itself in a natural and effective way as an educational framework. The next articles shall provide concrete examples of those budo-derived tools for life that participants of the program shall acquire, including the ability to:
- perform well under pressure;
- reduce external-world fluctuations’ influence over one’s internal mental state;
- be sensitive and responsive to others thus identifying opportunities early on and leveraging those in an effective way;
- use your body most efficiently;
- assess people and set corresponding relevant strategy to connect and influence them;
- employ mental flexibility to instantaneously adjust to new circumstances;
- exercise will power and complete determination for best performance;
- ultimately take control over one’s life utilizing a proactive approach based on self-confidence, optimism and sense of competence.
The founder of modern karatedo, the great teacher Master Funakoshi Gichin, emphasized above all the ultimate aim of martial arts as an educational tool being the “perfection of character.” Accordingly, the program outlined in this article constitutes a bridge that allows participants to access the budo treasure of knowledge to acquire tools, habits and skills. These provide self-confidence and a sense of competence enabling tolerance, coexistence, mutual respect and conflict resolution through dialogue.
In this context the dojo (venue of budo training) serves as a laboratory for life where the individual’s character is actually shaped by creating a controlled environment and simulating situations the student will encounter in life, including: feelings of fear, pride, competitiveness, pressure, pain, determination, and success and failure; the need to respond effectively in real time under stress; and learning to connect and read other people so you can anticipate their next moves in order to persuade or lead them, with an emphasis on empowerment and self-awareness.
The concept of a sensei is central to the learning process and the teacher serves as a compass, guiding and pointing to the right track, giving a balance that connects mental and physical faculties, providing inspiration and a personal example to shape the trainee’s personality. The vision outlined in this article is a next generation high-class character formation, thereby creating a better society and living environment. The unique method proposed for realizing this vision includes creating an environment for learning, support and growth (dojo) provided by teachers for life (sensei) as part of a unique educational project leveraging the budo treasure of knowledge and principles.
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
At the core of the proposed program and its utilization as an educational framework is the concept of proactively taking control over one’s life by setting high and worthy meaningful goals and acquiring relevant tools for achieving those along an ongoing growth path. Life is full of challenges and often we are expected to perform at our best within stressful situations, such as: when being tested; presenting a really important idea we promote to relevant decision makers; convincing someone in a sales situation; when negotiating; when delivering an important speech; or at a competition.
Our mental and emotional state during those situations, and actually at any given moment in life, significantly affects our performance and ability to efficiently handle any external event. Our efficiency and resulting success at handling those, at times stressful, situations highly depend on our ability to keep stable emotions, mental flexibility, creativity and capability to adjust to the ever-changing situations of life. When calm, happy and full of positive energy we would probably handle any situation in a better way than when being upset, sad and nervous or simply feeling down. Therefore, being able to proactively control our emotional state, at will at any given moment, is a life modifying success-enabler skill. In this article I present some budo-derived tools that enable proactively taking control over our emotional state and thus over our performance in any given life situation.
From physiology to emotional state
Some of the budo-based tools for life outlined in this article are acquired through leveraging the amazing human bidirectional body-mind connection as our physiology and mental state are tightly cross-connected and mutually influential. The way we feel and experience our environment is strongly correlated to the way we use our body. Even small changes in our expressions, gestures, posture, movement and breathing patterns shall significantly change the way we feel, experience our life, think and act. It is easier to keep the momentum of feeling good once it’s achieved; the challenge is to bootstrap oneself when we are down and this can be done instantly using our body and movement as emotional state modifiers.
In budo we often use physiology aspects to affect our mental state and these tools are very relevant and applicable to life in general. With training, a corresponding skill is developed, thus gaining the ability to employ those physical tools to instantly influence one’s corresponding mental side as and when needed.
Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.
Shu-ha-ri is a Japanese martial art concept which describes the stages from learning to mastery which are relevant and applicable for any skill-acquisition process that eventually enables or becomes art. In the context of this article as a self-growth human development process within an educational framework, this can be described according to the following three steps or phases:
- Shu (守) (obey): learning the fundamentals, following the rules, imitating your sensei even if just by way of copying or mimicking;
- Ha (破) (detach): breaking with tradition and start your own investigation seeking inner understanding, respectfully questioning the sensei’s teaching. This is a stage or level where the basic principles have been sufficiently mastered to move to the next step, beyond blind copying of the teacher;
- Ri (離) (leave) (separate): transcendence beyond the technique; as the underlying principles have been fully assimilated their application is now natural and can be applied unattended in auto-mode while becoming one with spirit alone without clinging to forms. This is when skill becomes art by integrating your unique personality, imagination and feeling with the by-now embodied skill.
In the context of this “Budo for Education” article, let me further explain and elaborate on the three phases we go through in our educational learning process:
Shu means "to protect" or "to obey" which draws a parallel between the student-sensei relationship in martial arts during the early stages of learning and the relationship of a parent and child. The student should absorb all the teacher provides, be eager to learn and willing to accept all correction and constructive criticism. The teacher must guard the student, in the sense of watching out for his interests and nurturing and encouraging his progress, much as a parent guards a child through its growing years. Shu stresses basics in an uncompromising fashion so the student has a solid foundation for future learning, and all students perform techniques in an identical fashion, even though their personalities, body structure, age, and abilities all differ.
In this phase we repeat the forms and techniques so that our bodies absorb them as we assimilate the underlying principles those forms represent. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. A question I have often been asked and is at the core of our “educational approach” discussion is: does this traditional way of education, symbolized by the shu phase, contradict the modern day often-encountered concept of “listen to your heart to know what’s right?”
Listen to your heart versus follow your sensei’s instructions
At the shu phase we do not deviate from our teacher’s exact instructions even if our heart feels differently, out of trust and belief that our sensei is leading us along the right path. So with time, as we acquire skills and go through inner change, we shall be able to understand why this is best for us. I clearly remember how doing things the way Nishiyama Sensei explained initially felt less effective and powerful than what was at the time natural for me. Yet since I had full trust in my sensei I decided to follow his instructions and not listen to my heart, as I believed that what this great master is telling me must be true and should lead to better results. That is one reason why it is so important to choose a true sensei as you let him metaphorically reconstruct you, breaking old habits to erect a new and better structure, in many ways fundamentally changing who you are.
Student-sensei trust is key for enabling such a process to occur, at times blindly obeying your sensei’s instructions against your best judgement and heart feeling. So at the shu phase it is necessary to follow the exact forms and techniques, not deviating from your sensei’s guidance even if your heart tells you differently, as these serve to enable you to discover and assimilate, to a skill level, the underlying principles.
Ha is another term with an appropriate double meaning: "to break free" or "to frustrate." Sometime after the student reaches dan (black belt) level, he begins breaking free in two ways. In terms of technique, the student will break free of the fundamentals and begin to apply the principles acquired from the practice of basics in new, freer and more imaginative ways. The student's individuality will begin to emerge in the way he performs techniques. At a deeper level, he will also break free of the rigid instruction of the teacher and begin to question and discover more through personal experience. This can be a time of frustration for the teacher, as the student's journey of discovery leads to countless questions beginning with "why." At the ha stage, the relationship between student and teacher is similar to that of a parent and an adult child. So once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire mastery of the forms, we can start making advances in a process of breaking away from the rigid forms, as these were not the purpose but rather the means to acquire and assimilate the underlining principles.
This is the stage at which the student, now a kodansha (high ranking black belt), separates from his sensei having absorbed all that he can learn from them. This is not to say that the student and teacher are no longer associated. Actually, quite the opposite should be true; they should now have a stronger bond than ever before, much as a grandparent does with their son or daughter who is now also a parent. Although the student is now fully independent, he treasures the wisdom and patient counsel of the teacher and there is a richness to their relationship that comes through their shared experiences. However, the student is now learning and progressing more through self-discovery than by instruction and has an outlet for his or her own creative impulses. The student's techniques will bear the imprint of his own personality and character. Ri means "to set free" and has a dual meaning both for the student now seeking independence from the teacher, as well as for the instructor who must set the student free.
Once skill has been acquired and the ri phase reached, you should break free of all restrictive forms and techniques to let your acquired skill manifest and be applied in unlimited new and creative ways. This is when you have reached the level of sensei as you have come full circle to being baby-like in the sense of intuitive mushin (empty mind) ability, based on the treasure of knowledge assimilated by you through your long study and practice phase.
Let me further illustrate the shu-ha-ri concept in different areas of education along a learning process. From basic writing to poetry: first (shu) we learn the ABC and the rules for putting together words from letters. This enables us to create any word we want. Then we learn the rules of putting words together into sentences so that we are able to create an endless number of sentences. Next (ha) we practice, to assimilate the writing techniques so these become a skill that we master and hence can be applied unattended by the thinking mind. It is only when we have sufficiently acquired and mastered the skill of writing that we get to the ri phase, where we can start applying our acquired skill in endless ways to create art: applying our own individual personality, imagination, feeling and memories, creating poetry or other forms of written art.
From basic notes to Music composition: this is yet another example where one initially (shu) learns the set of principles including notes, scales and rules of composition, that once mastered (ha) can be implemented in endless artistic ways (ri) as one applies the acquired skill to actually start creating original music.
If you are thinking one year ahead, sow a seed. If you are thinking 10 years ahead plant a tree. If you are thinking 100 years ahead educate people.
Budo as an educational system is of paramount importance for everybody especially for kids. Budo benefits kids in every aspect of their lives: physical, mental, spiritual and emotional.
- Through budo, kids are creating good habits. In budo training, kids learn to: show up on time; respect their teacher, partners and opponents; practice hard; live a healthy lifestyle; and to take good care of their body, mind and spirit. Once kids get these habits they retain them forever;
- budo training improves kids’ self-confidence. They start feeling good about themselves, they feel special and important. They feel they can do anything in life. They develop the “I can do it” attitude, which ultimately translates across all areas of their lives;
- budo is helping kids to set meaningful and worthy goals. When you have a goal, you pursue it with all your heart and soul. In budo, kids learn that every practice is another step toward their goal; next belt, better technique and getting better;
- budo develops the attitude of “never give up” in the spirit of the Japanese proverb: “fall 7 times, stand up 8.”
Budo as an educational framework provides an effective way for achieving a better life for the individual and a better society for all. In the next articles I shall present concrete budo-derived tools that can be implemented globally within a 'budo for life' educational program fulfilling master Funakoshi’s vision.