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Thread: Budo and literature

  1. #1
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    Nov 2008
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    Default Budo and literature

    Over the years I have heard different Chinese martial artist suggest if you want depth you should read Heroes of the Marsh, Journey to the West etc. Also study the Tang poets. It will not help with actual techniques but the depth of culture will aid your understanding. Most of the the recommendations I get from Japanese martial artist are more like study Book of Five Rings or look at the kanji for the techniques or something like look at flower arranging. Does anyone think their martial arts will have more depth by studying Tale of Genji or Basho's poems? Len McCoy

  2. #2
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    Aug 2000
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    My take -- if you're studying a martial art strictly for combat skills and self-defense, or health and wellness, then it's not necessary to have a deep understanding of the culture or origin for the art. After all, look at all of the other traditions from other cultures that people embrace without much concern for the roots. Japanese baseball has made the sport its own, for example.

    But if you have a wholesale interest in the culture, and want to embrace traditions that aren't really critical to "making the art work," then reading up on the philosophical materials, religious and spiritual literature, etc. can enrich and deepen your understanding and appreciation.

    From my own view, it's important to understand the basics of a culture, etiquette and protocols, and some of its language outside of martial terminology, especially if one plans to visit and train in the country of the art's origin. But I personally wouldn't be too concerned about reading "Journey to the West," or even Sun Tsu's works, to gain a deeper understanding of, say Bagua or Taiji Chuan. Maybe read up on the Tao (not Taoism, though -- just Tao) to get a sense of Yin and Yang and its role in the practice of a martial art. Likewise, you don't need to read the Kojiki to be able to effectively practice, use and represent a Japanese art. It would make one able to speak more eruditely on esoteric topics tangentially related to their practice, however.

    All that said, I do think it is useful to read the Tai Chi Classics AFTER you have some actual skill and knowledge in the internals of taiji chuan or in aikijujutsu/aikibujutsu. Morihei Ueshiba quoted them in his doka. i believe that Saigo Tanomo/Hoshina Chikanori drew from them and knew the neigong they described. They provide practical information, though couched in an abstract poetic form from which an inexperienced martial artist would not be able to extract meaning.
    Last edited by Cady Goldfield; 3rd February 2021 at 03:57.
    Cady Goldfield

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  4. #3
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    May 2005
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    Depends on what you study, and how deeply you want to engage with it.

    Modern arts and sports - probably makes little difference. Jiujitsu has less of a connection to the Japanese (not Brazilian) culture that birthed it than the international sport of Judo and this has no bearing on what most people gain from practice.. There may be some advantage knowing what some terms mean - jiujitsu seems to be increasingly recognizing its Japanese roots and using more Judo terminology, for instance, but beyond that, no.

    I think differently in terms of classical or traditional arts... but perhaps not in the way others might.

    First, there is a lot to be said for gaining some insight into the perspective of the culture and people who created and lived the tradition: how they viewed things like martial virtue, killing, what they thought martial arts were for, what martial artists are "about," etc. etc. While reading Water Margin or Journey to the West is going to be more a popular perspective (which would be like watching Chinese opera or Bruce Lee movies to glean the attitudes of the Chinese people and culture toward their martial tradition....), the perspective you are getting is very different from that of historical figures or people who actually practiced the arts.

    Remember too, if you are reading in translation. Words can mean different things - Chinese characters are full of nuance, and particular characters used to write something will give different shades of meaning than when other characters are - with Japanese and their kana system even more nuance and difference can be added whether using kanji or intentionally writing in kana to add more nuance. This can mean that a translator - perhaps not initiated in martial traditions, or even the martial tradition specifically at hand, may have the translation wrong, or lack a key difference when a certain word is chosen without reference to other meanings. Never mind that modern language is different than Classical Chinese or Japanese.

    Things that help here are learning to read the target language, even early on it opens up meanings and nuance, and looking at scholarly works with lots of footnotes. This is especially true with things like the Chinese Military Classics or translations of Takuan's or Musashi's work. You find tons of little gems in the footnotes that in my experience DO help in understanding, and even practical understanding when say you see that different words mean "strike, hit, cut" etc. and that though "cut" was chosen to translate "hit" is the actual word used...

    Last - read scholarly work as far as historical background. I tend to avoid martial arts research any more, and go with trained historians. So much of martial tradition is in fact invented tradition, and in the Japanese martial arts more a product of Edo period educational developments and government regulations (and invention) quite different from the pre-1600s martial culture - likely even the pre-1600 versions of the arts that continued through the Edo period. That adds a lot of nuance and, in my experience, has changed my understanding and perspective on "martial arts" versus combative discipline versus martial culture.

    Might be more background work than you'd wanna do, but it does pay dividends, in my experience.
    Last edited by Hissho; 3rd February 2021 at 01:49.

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