Shoshin: Picking Up the Sword

Continuing my meditation on walking the martial path and whether (or when) our journey allows us to set the sword down (in a metaphorical and actual sense).

The utilitarian aspect of martial training is encompassed by the label Satsujinken–the Sword that Takes Life. It’s an acknowledgment that this particular skill set is, at its heart, functional. The use of a weapon implies a world where conflict exists, mortality is ever-present, and the individual is challenged to find a way to navigate through these perils. One strategy is, of course, to arm yourself with the tools, the abilities, and the mind-set to deal with violence and danger.

So: martial training as self-defense.

Now for most of us not professionally engaged in careers in law enforcement or the military, the need for such skills is not usually great. And if we’re studying some of the more esoteric martial systems of Japanese koryu, the likelihood that we’ll need to engage in a duel with swords is virtually nil. And, as I have said before, if the likelihood of shinken shobu is a real one in your life, you are hanging round with the wrong people.

So there has to be more to this than simply self-defense. And it is widely admitted by martial artists that this is so–the experience of disciplined training, skills acquisition, and mental and physical integration is a positive dimension to our training. And psychologists who write about flow experiences would suggest that at some level we are “wired” to seek this type of integrative experience.

As a consequence, we come to the realization that walking this path is not just about self-defense, but also about experiences that create the possibility of greater integration of our physical and mental aspects. This is a good thing in and of itself, but is it enough?

Skill acquisition: good. Flow experience: good. But as we train, should be be thinking about good not simply as an adjective, but as a noun?

Here’s the challenge of a limited, purely functional, and overly individualized focus on martial training that is summarizedby this little saying I crafted years ago:

Q: What do you get when you take a jerk and train him for years in a martial art?

A: A highly skilled jerk


This, of course, is not what we’re walking the martial path to accomplish. So the question that we need to constantly keep in mind is the following:

How do we leverage our training to assist us in a journey with more profound ends in mind?


2 Comments Add yours

  1. jacobcav93 says:

    Very good article!

    1. johndonohue says:

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it

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