Virtue of the Sword by James Williams

March 18, 2008

Training in various, seemingly antiquated, military arts is becoming increasing common in our 21st century society. Why pursue these arts that require so much effort, discipline, and often pain? Why do we seek to test ourselves in struggle and training for combat? What brought us to these arts, and what do we hope to get out of this training?

I am frequently asked why I practice and teach classical warrior skills and adhere to a philosophy that appears outdated to many. The sword has defined the warrior for thousands of years. It has defined the power, ethics, duty and self-defense of a class of people who have shaped the face of civilization on this planet. The skill, exercise, mental development, and sheer pleasure of using a sword is unique. Hand-to-hand combat with edged weapons is the most demanding form of human physical combat. It not only requires the most skill, both physical and mental, it develops in the adept abilities that separate him from others and elevates intuition, reflexes, and technique to the highest degree. For the warrior, the sword represents his duty, his honor and his responsibility.

This is, for the most part, no longer a society that values the warrior and his virtues. Ours is a society that has forgotten the sacrifices and struggles of so many who came before them, the fruit of whose effort and sacrifice we daily enjoy; it is a society that will ask of its military, but not honor or care for its men. It is a society where virtue is often looked at askance, where character is not required of those who would seek to lead us. A society that enjoys enormous plenty yet denies its military the necessary munitions to train to protect this very wealth. Why do a significant number of its citizens seek training and embrace virtues that seem passe? Perhaps not all have forgotten that less than 60 years ago the entire world was involved in a great struggle to determine if a free nation could exist. And most of us know someone who participated in that struggle and through whose efforts we have the gift of choice and plenty which seems to be taken so lightly by so many.

“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival”.

Winston Churchill

“For without victory there is no survival.” These words define the role of the male in history, his service to life. The harsh reality of freedom in a nation—a fact that is overlooked or denied by many—is that our freedom is the direct result of our strength. It was by struggle and conflict that we became free and have kept ourselves that way. We have received from our ancestors, at great cost, a precious gift that must be cherished and nurtured if we are going to pass it on to our children. It must be protected, fought for if necessary, and we must not let this gift be taken from us by those whose rhetoric and actions are nonsense. These are people who seek things for themselves at the expense of the whole.

“Freedom means responsibility and that is why most men shun it.”

George Bernard Shaw

Everywhere that you look in history this is the case. When our strength goes we will no longer be free. We will be dictated to and ruled by those stronger than ourselves. Does this mean that it is necessary to cultivate aggression and belligerence? Absolutely not! It does, however, mean that we need to cultivate in ourselves those virtues that guide a free people: courage, honor, truthfulness, responsibility, perseverance, charity, strength tempered with compassion, discrimination tempered with tolerance.

Virtue as a prerequisite for freedom

It is the very cultivation of virtue that ensures the will and ability to be a free people. A society degenerates with the loss of virtue and the high regard in which it is held. This has been the lesson of history. It is always surprising to me that the events and lessons learned from the past are so quickly forgotten. It is as if we deliberately purge them from our memory. Human history is fraught with the folly of this peculiar mechanism, yet we continue it at our peril.

“If you lose the past,” the 9th century Chinese poet Meng Jiao says, “The will easily crumbles.” This blurring and removing of the past is a valuable tool of social architecture as is evidenced in modern China, one of many such examples in the 20th century. The misinformation and disinformation that make up so much of our current social and political agenda separates us from our past. This deliberate perversion of truth should be anathema to those who value virtue. It is anathema because those who use it seek to change the order of society with falsehoods. As warriors we do not have to go far back into history to find instances where the courage and sacrifice of a few have so benefitted the whole.

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Spoken by Churchill in reference to the debt owed by the British people to the RAF during the Battle of Britain.

The reason we are called to cultivate classical warrior skills and virtues is out of a feeling of duty to the whole of society. We prepare ourselves for those times when we may be called upon to protect and defend. Any other reason is selfish and ultimately self-destructive. Being tough and a good fighter is not in and of itself noble. For me, training in kenjutsu and related military arts prepares me to be a good citizen. It enables me to be of assistance when it is necessary to protect and defend. It teaches me self-discipline that I may moderate my behavior. I learn perseverance and courage in the face of difficulty so that I am not easily deterred. All of this adds up to the courage to live life not just for oneself but also for others. For me, teaching is giving to others what has been given to me. Like having children, it is the completion of the cycle. What a benefit it will be to society as a whole if those of us who aspire to a noble nature strive to imbue society with care, commitment, and positive action! Look out for and protect those in need! Support each other when faced with those of evil nature who would prey on the weak and defenseless!

The noblest aspects of human consciousness, our virtues, become passe ever more quickly as we find substitutes for living a life connected with the reality of our existence. The less we grow, hunt, and gather our food, the less directly involved we are in protecting ourselves and our families and nation, the more readily we lose our virtue. The less we know of and value our past, the less we honor those who, with their courage and sacrifice, have bequeathed to us our current state of freedom and plenty, the less likely we are to pass this enviable state on to those who follow us. Are we so self-absorbed that our decisions are made on the basis of our personal wants and our ease? Are we as a people so easily bought that we will sell our freedom and that of our children for comfort?

Warrior as protector of society

The warrior protects and defends because he realizes the value of others. He knows that they are essential to society and, in his gift of services, recognizes and values theirs. This responsibility translates to children as well. When in a public bathroom, keep an eye on any children that may be in there. Even wait an extra moment or two to make sure that they are safely out of the restroom before you leave. It is an unfortunate fact that public restrooms are frequented by pedophiles and potential kidnappers. Being a father myself I feel a serious responsibility to all children and hope that other males will help look after mine when I am not present. I cannot count the number of times that I have seen nervous mothers waiting outside of a public bathroom for a young son. Make a point, even to telling the mother, that you will keep an eye on the safety of her child in an area in which she cannot go.

There are other ways in which we can be of daily use. For instance, take the extra moment in dark parking lots at night to make sure that a woman gets into her car safely before leaving yourself. Daily involvement in acts such as these are as much a part of training as time spent in the dojo, and indeed should be the reason for that time spent training.

The role and ability to protect and defend does not give the warrior-protector the right to misuse this strength and knowledge. You are not superior to nor do you have the right to take advantage of others by means of this strength and ability. If you breach this trust and your sacred responsibility then you are not a warrior-protector. Over the centuries this power has been misused all too often in societies to dominate and control others. This is the dark side of power and has no place in the life of the warrior seeking to live a life of virtue.

When faced with a woman or child in a situation in which they are vulnerable, there are two types of men: those who would offer succor and aid, and those who would prey upon them. And in modern society, there is another loathesome breed who would totally ignore their plight

I remember the first time my friends and I read about an incident that happened in New York City where a woman was attacked and eventually killed over an extended period of time. This was in the early 1960’s, and I think the duration of the attack was 15 to 20 minutes. Neighbors in the area could hear her calls for help, however, no one had the courage to go to her aid. My friends and I were incredulous that something like this could take place in America. How could anyone, most especially men, hear a woman being murdered and not involve themselves in her defense. Many current laws actually place the person who would come to another’s aid in legal jeopardy. Is this a sign of social and psychological health in a society?

In 1977 I was teaching and competing in boxing and kick boxing and teaching women and seniors self-defense through the Institute for Better Health in Santa Rosa, California. An incident took place in Rancho Cordova, California that had a big impact on me both as a man and a martial artist. This incident was a home invasion rape and murder. A husband and wife were both home when they heard a noise in the master bedroom. The man went to investigate and was confronted by an intruder with a knife who had entered through the bedroom window. Being threatened with the knife the husband capitulated and allowed himself to be led into the front room and tied to a chair. The criminal then raped the wife in front of the husband who could do nothing but watch. After finishing with the rape, the criminal got a hammer from the garage and proceeded to beat the husband to death in front of the wife. After he had brutally killed the husband he turned the hammer on the wife leaving her for dead. The wife, who was not dead, managed to crawl out of the house where neighbors heard her mewling and came to her aid. She suffered physical and emotional scars that marred her for life.

I often wonder what would go through a man’s mind when he fails through fear and lack of training to fulfill his responsibility in such circumstances. We all have fear. That is why it is necessary to prepare, to train, to understand the part that we play in the dance of life. How much more honorable, more noble, to have engaged the assailant, even if there was slim chance for personal victory, and in doing so give your wife the opportunity to escape! Preparation for such an eventuality could have provided a better outcome for both.

In 1984, a good friend of mine, Toby Threadgill, who now teaches samurai arts in Texas, was faced with a more difficult situation. He was wakened from sleep by two men who had followed his wife home from her nursing job late one night with the intention of raping her. One held a gun to his head while the other went looking for his wife. Realizing their intent, and at the risk of his life, my friend managed to disarm the gunman by driving him through a sliding-glass door. Then confronted by the knife wielding second man he managed, although sustaining a serious wound, to disarm and incapacitate him. Although a likeable and easy going person, Toby had prepared himself mentally and physically so that when faced with a dangerous situation he had both the tools and the courage to use them. How much better the outcome!

Society becomes vulnerable to every kind of threat when men no longer feel the need to prepare themselves by acquiring skills to protect and defend society, especially women and children. When men no longer take responsibility for being male and when a sense of duty is replaced by self-concern and self-indulgence, society looses its greatest strength—the mutual caring and commitment of its citizens for each other.

Courtesy: a show of respect

Courtesy is an essential element for the warrior. It should be a defining act that can be practiced daily

“To be a samurai is to be polite at all times.”

Hojo Nagauji

Chivalry frames an ideal of heroic character. It combines invincible strength and valor, justice, modesty, loyalty to superiors, courtesy to equals, compassion for the weak, and devotion to God; it is an ideal which, even if never achieved in real life, has been widely acknowledged as the highest model for emulation.

These acts of courtesy are first and foremost for yourself. The respect and care that you have for yourself can then extend to other human beings. This altruistic value and most virtues are being sacrificed to the right of the individual to every form of indulgence. And, in that very process, the individual is then pressured to conform to the mores of the current political thinking of the State.

Showing courtesy is indicative of inner strength and security as a male. Courtesy is the lubricant of a culture, and should be the hallmark of the warrior. No situation is made worse by the exercise of courtesy and many situations are made the better for it. I enjoy showing courtesy towards women in the many ways that are available. When I hold a door open for a woman or help her carry an object, it is not that I think that she is not capable of doing it for herself. I do it in recognition of her intrinsic value to society and to me. Men are respected and shown courtesy as they earn the right. This process of earning respect is an important part of its value. The word loses its meaning and value in an atmosphere where many think that respect should be given just because a person exists regardless of his actions or value to the society.

An attitude of self-concern has grown more prevalent as our lives have become easier. Risking oneself for others or for a principle is less and less common. We have become less committed to each other and have created a world in which we seemingly do not need each other to survive. Virtues such as courage, honor, and integrity even carry a stigma in some circles. The very foundations of character are under attack by those who do not understand that there is nothing noble in being human without these virtues

It is not the role of everyone to be a warrior, however, those of us who respond to this calling should train and study to be the best that we are able. The are many guides and heroes that we can look to as warriors, and not all are male. One of mine, Mother Teresa, has just recently died. I find great inspiration in her life. Here is someone who found her life purpose and lived it steadfastly and, from my standpoint, even gloriously by giving to those too wretched for others to even consider. The courage, love and selfless sense of service that she displayed should serve to inspire us all. If I can live my life while giving just one fraction of what she gave to others it will be an accomplishment.

Teaching then becomes a means whereby we can pass on to others the knowledge and wisdom acquired from those who have preceded us. It is not about self-aggrandizement or superiority. It is not about titles and rank, or organizations or profit. Most of the time I feel that I am learning more from my students than they are learning from me. The teacher becomes the student and the student the teacher. Neither can exist without the other.

As human beings we are all different. Having different skills, strengths, or abilities does not mean that an individual does not have abilities that benefit himself and society. I shun the sameness that is a part of much of modern social theory. It is abhorrent and detracts from what makes us human. I am a large, strong male, over six feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds who has spent the majority of his adult life involved in military and combative activities, studies and training. My wife is a foot shorter and over 100 pounds lighter. We are physically suited for different tasks in life. I respect and cherish her strength and femininity. And the more so because I have been at her side, in what limited capacity a man may provide, while she bore our two children with only her courage and my meager assistance and encouragement to sustain her.

“When the choice is between cowardice and violence, I would strongly recommend violence.”

Mohandus Ghandi

We are no longer training our children, especially our young men, to deal with pain, defeat, and discomfort with a brave heart and stoic spirit. We seem to think that by removing consequences for their actions we are actually benefiting them. They do not build true character based on trial and effort.

When there is no pain, no death, no challenge, no struggle, no adversity, and no disappointment we will lose the best part of being human. When we structure a life and society devoid of every human challenge there will be no courage, no perseverance, no honor, no compassion, no caring, and no commitment. We will have lost the best parts of who we are because we will have let our fear steal them from us. We will no longer need each other and this will be the greatest tragedy.

Being a warrior means being committed to making the ultimate sacrifice and also committing the ultimate act. The gentleman warrior must take responsibility for his actions and use his power for the good of society and his fellow human beings. As the old samurai saying goes, “To kill when it is right to kill and to die when it is right to die!” In a similar vein, the code of the Sumerian warrior-king stated that he was to act as the shepherd of his people. The role of the warrior as a stabilizing influence in civilized society and protector of the weak is as old as civilization itself.

Sparta vs. Greece

Many, women more often than men, feel that being a warrior means being an oppressor. History, however, does not necessarily bear out this idea. In Sparta, the strongest warrior culture that the Greeks produced, the woman had the most freedom of any Grecian woman of the time. The women received much the same education as the young men, and shared a life with their men far closer than did the women of Athens.

In sexual matters, the Spartans, true to their nature, seem to have had the highest rate of monogamy in all of Greece. They held their woman in high esteem and Spartan women had greater equality than their Grecian sisters who were treated according to the more Oriental standards towards women of the rest of Greece.

The Spartans were also renowned for their virtue and being the most pious of all Greeks. There is a story told by Plutarch about the Spartans at one of the Olympiads. In the crowded throng at the Olympic games, an old man was looking in vain for a seat from which to watch the events. His stumbling attempts to find one were noticed by many Greeks from other states, who mocked him for his age and difficulty in finding a seat. When, however, he came to the section where the Spartans were seated, every man among them rose to his feet and offered him their seats. Somewhat abashed, but nevertheless admiringly, the other Greeks applauded them for their behavior. “Ah,” the old man is reported to have said with a sigh, “I see what it is. All Greeks know what is right, but only the Spartans do it.”

Woman also fared well in other warrior societies. Viking woman owned their own property and could divorce their husbands if they were mistreated. The Celts of Britannia often had women as rulers and many tribes were matriarchal. It is false to think that because men are warriors that it follows that they look down on women.

“He experienced that the ultimate ethical values, on which all human existence is based, must, as a last resort, be defended even by force and with the sacrifice of human lives…”

Max Born on Albert Einstein’s realizations prior to the Second World War.

“Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, according to her laws we lie.”

Epitaph written by the poet Simonides at the ancient monument celebrating Spartan courage and sacrifice at Thermopylae

Virtue must be taught and practiced; it must be nurtured and passed to each generation. Freedom must be taught and practiced as well. If not, it easily perishes. Virtue and freedom go hand in hand. Not to cherish the one is not to cherish the other. A society that looses the warriors’ virtues is the poorer for it and will soon be a society whose freedoms are lost. The male has a genetic prime directive—a service to life—to protect and defend. In this service he is historically more expendable than the female and the children. Every man is responsible for defending every woman and every child. When the male no longer assumes this role, when he no longer has the courage or moral responsibility, society will cease to value honor and virtue. Neither laws nor government can replace this personal caring and commitment. In the absence of the warrior-protector, the only way that a government can protect a society is to remove the freedom of its people. And in such a society, the sons and daughters of lions become sheep.

 

The Psychology of Combat by James Williams

March 18, 2008

I was pleased to see a review of the book “Bloody Iron” in Volume 24, No. 3 of Aikido Journal. Here is a book that speaks plainly about the reality of conflict with edged weapons in circumstances involving lethal force. The authors, both long time residents of some of Americas finest prisons, describe in detail the prison environment as regards to the edged weapons conflict that is a part of daily life. The nature of such situations is presented graphically so that there will be no mistake as to their grim reality. There is much to learn in this volume and perhaps some of the information can give insight into the training that was necessary for the feudal era warriors of Japan.

With this insight we can further define the difference between most modern training and classical samurai training. And from that more clearly define what training for “real” entails. The classical samurai arts are military arts-arts designed for war. The original purpose of arts such as kenjutsu and jujutsu was to train for “real,” that is, to train for war. Wars arising from the necessity of circumstance, involve men killing and dying. This fact is not pleasant to contemplate. Man has engaged in warfare throughout history. It is no less real in the present era than it has been in the past. Practicing martial arts for “real” from this classical perspective, is practicing them with a military intent. Ours is a society born and maintained by force of arms, yet the majority of the population is as removed from this reality as they are removed from the need to hunt for food.

It is perhaps for this very reason that I find “Bloody Iron” valuable. Much of its value lies in the fact that it deals with the reality of edged-weapon combat from an in-depth personal perspective. No drum rolls or spiritual edification, just the grim reality of living and dying at the edge of a blade.

Living, killing, and dying at the edge of a blade defined the existence of the samurai. It defined their conduct, technique, art, and philosophy; it defined their entire culture. The military techniques of this warrior class were based first on the need for successful deployment of edged weapons in lethal force engagements. “… cutting down the enemy is the Way of Strategy…” Miyamoto Musashi. Everything else stemmed from this grim reality, including their jujutsu arts. The mental, emotional, and physical skills the samurai strove to attain emerged from the demand of their environment. Much of the technique and philosophy that has carried forward into the modern era is a product of the Edo period (1600-1876) of Shogunate control and extended peace. This later development is not a matter of right or wrong, it merely changed the prime purpose of the samurai’s training in a later era.

To train for combat in the classical, pre-Edo sense meant to train for a lethal-force, weapons-based, environment. The samurai’s focus was on how to bear himself in battle, methods for achieving victory by destroying the enemy, and for dealing with the physical, emotional, and moral consequences of both victory and defeat. This did not just mean that weapons were dealt with in the training, it means that weapons defined their training.

Training for “real” today is training for a weapons based environment, the same as it was during the Samurai era in feudal Japan. The problems that need to be solved in this combat environment demand solutions that parallel the solutions required of the ancient samurai. Training for self defense in the modern sense, as it is usually taught, is a different paradigm.

The lessons, behavior, and attitudes presented in “Bloody Iron” are not the norm for society as we know it in America. The environment presented in this book does, however, closely parallel the society of feudal Japan. “Bloody Iron” describes situations, actions, and a mind-set that many practitioners of modern martial arts find repellent. I would suggest that it was this very reality that spawned the military arts of the samurai in all of their many manifestations, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. This body of knowledge, that has come to us from antiquity, is the legacy of the samurai. The changes that have occurred in these arts over a long period of time are due to their being removed from a reality absent the constant threat of killing and dying.

In sharp contrast to a prison environment where the prime directive is self-survival, the warriors primary concern was the protection and defense of society. Such a focus molded and shaped the warriors’ character and morality. Honor, courage, and integrity, although not politically correct nowadays, are the very foundations of character upon which a strong, moral society is built. When we study for “real,” this character becomes the basis of our training. It defines our duty and service as well as the essence of male bonding.

In the classical samurai arts, soldiers were prepared for combat. The difference between what we call “marital arts” and the classical military arts of the samurai is that the former was designed for combat while the latter are sports or esoteric practices. Some are, of course, violent sports requiring skills that are effective in physical confrontations. However, the prime directive of the classical samurai was combat while this is not at all the case with the modern “do” arts. It seems that the majority of the koryu now practiced in Japan are also removed from the lethal force reality of the military sciences studied and applied to combat by the samurai.

In the military/combat situation, the ability to apply knowledge instantly, without conscious thought is critical to survival. The intangibles are the most important factors controlling the outcome of an engagement, the technique applied being of much less importance. Combat is about damaging human beings to preclude their ability to function. The means may be gun, sword, club, knife, or hand; the end, however, is the same. The training in preparation for this task is very to the point. There is nothing taught or practiced that is not essential to the final outcome of the conflict. The person undergoing training must be constantly presented with combat problems to solve. These problems inherently involve weapons-based attacks including attacks with firearms. There is no substitute for practicing in as realistic as possible situations. In this regard, I agree absolutely with the authors of “Bloody Iron.” I instruct my students that if they want to learn how to hit people hard and effectively, then they must practice hitting people, not the heavy bag or makiwari. This same applies for dealing with being hit hard and effectively. Training in the use of knives and guns is no different, except that a non-lethal, albeit often painful, form of training is employed to simulate the actual environment as closely as possible.

My perspective here is based on my military experience, training in a classical art, and now through my involvement in the Surefire Institute and Combative Concepts teaching military and law enforcement personnel to prepare for engagements where lethal force is present. The lessons learned by the ancient samurai are totally applicable to modern warfare just as they were in ages past. Speaking from personal experience, the training administered to military and law enforcement personnel is seriously deficient in many crucial areas. This is especially true with respect to investment in the development of the individual. The tendency in modern military and police training approaches is to attempt to solve problems using technology. This approach has, however, proven woefully inadequate. We have found that an individual’s ability to perform and survive in a lethal-force engagement is greatly enhanced by adopting the mind-set, philosophy, and techniques proven through long centuries of warfare. How many individuals in this modern day have the depth and breadth of experience and knowledge that these ancient warriors acquired through long centuries of warfare?

The trained and experienced warrior came to display certain attributes. These include enhanced awareness, calmness in the face of danger and death, perception, emotional control, objectivity, integrity of character, and the ability to make rapid, accurate decisions followed by proper and timely action even in situations that would horrify and mentally overwhelm most people. This adds up to an ability to think and act at one’s maximum capacity when the danger is greatest. In the high intensity training environment that Combative Concepts provides we have seen the results of improper and/or lack of training time and again. People become overcome by events when placed in a high stress combat environment. The attributes of the trained warrior, although they may be taught to some degree in the dojo, are learned under duress. The warriors’ courage and ability in such circumstances are a direct result of proper training. To quote from Flavius Vegetius Renatus written in AD 378, “The courage of the soldier is heightened by the knowledge of his profession.”

It is necessary in a difficult, life-threatening environment to maintain mental stability and the ability to function. Events or situations that would shock most people must be dealt with in a calm, aware state of mind. An emotional approach would soon leave the warrior with the inability to survive such an environment. The situation is no different in prison, surfing life-threatening waves at Peahi on Maui, or in a combat situation.

Fear is an ever-present factor in a dangerous situation. The reasoning human being, understanding his comfort level, begins to feel fear as the situation exceeds that level. It is not the absence of fear, but an understanding of it that allows the body to continue to function or, indeed, increase its ability to function when fear is present. Fear demands that one call on all of his resources, to function at the maximum. The fight-or-flight mechanism is for animals or the untrained, not the warrior prepared for danger or death.

The belief that we are controlled by our bodies is an inferior understanding. Here is a superior perspective on fear written by Dave Kalama who puts himself in harm’s way on a regular basis. “Fear, in a physical sense, to me means tightening your muscles in preparing yourself for impact or fighting. I still have fear obviously, because I have a fear of dying, but I’m trying not to let the fear have control over my body. Usually, when you experience fear is when you need to be as loose as you can possibly be and focused on the task rather than tightening up. Your movement needs to be as agile and spontaneous as it possibly can be. Fear just exists. That’s the way it is. The better you can deal with it the more prepared you are for any situation.” This quote by Dave was taken from the book Jaws-Maui about the monster waves that only a very few are capable of riding and surviving. The attributes acquired in this environment are a matter of necessity. One must place himself in such an environment to acquire them.

Jerry Head, one of the principals of Combative Concepts and an Irvine SWAT officer, was recently involved in a shooting. The standard operating procedure for most police departments is to have the department psychologist debrief the officer. Typical questions pertain to the officer’s adrenaline level, tunnel vision, and sense of time distortion. These symptoms are indicative of an untrained mind incapable of dealing with a situation involving duress. Jerry, who is experienced and trained, displayed none of these negative symptoms. The fact that these symptoms are expected in officers involved in shootings should give us an insight into the lack of proper training and preparation that most receive. We have come to perceive as normal behavior certain characteristics that are detrimental to optimum performance under duress.

Whether we like it or not there are still bad people in this world. There is still violence and war. There is still the need to protect and defend ourselves and, even more importantly, the women and children in this society. Honor, courage, integrity and capability are still necessary attributes, whether or not politically correct, if society is going to continue. This fact was well understood in feudal Japan. The Chinese character for “bu” in the word “bushi” or warrior, means “to stay the spear,” that is, to protect and defend society. It is tiresome to hear those who are being protected in turn disparage those who are protecting them. Nations rise and fall by force of arms; this is the lesson of history. The ancient Chinese proverb, “When the world is at peace, a gentleman keeps his sword by his side”, has as much validity today as it did two millennia ago.

What training then is most appropriate for military and police applications? Aiki applied jujutsu principles and techniques born of battle, along with tanto jutsu, are two of the tools we use at Combative Concepts when training military and police. These same aiki heiho principles carry over into our gun fighting tactics and techniques. Unlike modern derivatives, battle-oriented jujutsu approaches are directed towards combat in an environment where weapons dictate tactics, techniques, and strategy. This is different from the fights that one sees at the Ultimate Fighting Championship events. As skilled and courageous as the participants in these events are, and as dangerous as this form of fighting is, the sport does not represent a lethal-force engagement environment. The tactics, strategy, and techniques that are successful in that arena are quite different from those needed to prevail in a weapons-based situation.

Battle-oriented jujutsu is derived from and complements kenjutsu, the foundation of the samurai military arts. To fully understand, develop and apply aiki based jujutsu techniques, one must also understand and be proficient in the use of the sword. As is so well explained in the book “Legacies of the Sword,” an absolute must read for anyone interested in classical military arts, kenjutsu is the omote or outward manifestation of strategy and jujutsu is the ura or inner manifestation. In the classical sense, the two cannot be separated, jujutsu and kenjutsu are like two sides of the same coin. Breath control, subtle movement, an understanding of physical reality, human physiology, and psychology, coupled with a calm, aware state of mind allow for optimum performance and the best possible solutions when an individual is placed under duress. Proper training then re-enforces the ability to function in close-quarter battle.

“Bloody Iron” presents many practical lessons that are valuable for the warrior. The first such lesson is awareness. “War is a matter of deception,” to quote Sun Tzu. In the real world, so to speak, your opponent will catch you off guard if he can. Those who seek to prey on their fellow humans thrive on surprise and deceit to conceal their true intentions. It is your responsibility to prevent this from taking place. The ability to perceive danger or to forestall it by not putting yourself in a dangerous situation must be learned and practiced. “Old timers in prison don’t wash their face or shampoo their hair in the showers-too easy to get hit while momentarily blinded.” This practice parallels Musashi reportedly not bathing because it offered an opportunity for his enemies to attack him when he was ill-prepared. This is one example of precluding an attack by not putting yourself in a position of vulnerability.

At Combative Concepts we practice situational awareness as a part of everyday training. There are some simple things that can be practiced on a daily basis. For example, never walk close around a corner. Open doors fully before you walk through them. Pay attention to the direction the light or sun is coming from in relation to you and any possible threat. What direction is the wind blowing (this is especially important if one of your tools is Oleo Capsicum resin (pepper spray). Practice using your peripheral vision to discern objects, people and situations. Use your eyes to constantly scan situations outside of your personal sphere and observe yourself as if you were a third party. In other words, practice taking an objective view of yourself. At Combative Concepts we teach our students, and this is especially applicable in the low light environment, to see themselves as their opponent sees them.

It is easy to become self-involved and be unaware of other people and situations. Sometimes we wear this self-involvement like armor to protect ourselves. This is tantamount to a child pulling a blanket over his head when afraid. Another thing to constantly be aware of is your distance relationship to other people. For the samurai, this was generally one step, one cut, or about six feet. To enter closer was to invite an attack. Also, be aware of your skeletal relationship to others. If a persons back is to you it makes it difficult for him to bring a firearm to bear until he changes that relationship. These two relationships-distance and skeletal-define much of what can take place in human physical interaction.

The most important factor in determining life, mental state, and awareness is breath. Learning to breath properly is essential to optimum function. Especially, check yourself when startled or upset. The sharp intake of breath-physical tensing caused by the startle reflex-is extremely detrimental and must be changed to an exhale-relax reflex through constant training. Train your hearing to detect and isolate sounds, especially those out of the ordinary. Eventually, you will acquire a subconscious sixth sense that will make you aware of situations that would normally elude you. One of the best times to practice some of these techniques in daily life is when driving you car. Obviously, distance and relationship to other vehicles is important. Also, as mentioned earlier, breath control and awareness play a big part in your ability to react properly if a dangerous situation arises. Constant scanning with your eyes forward, in your mirrors and using your peripheral vision will make you aware of potential problems. If you think about it, the threat of lethal force always exists when driving a vehicle. More people are killed in automobile accidents than from any single cause other than old age and related diseases. Being aware of and taking action to avoid potential danger does not make one paranoid when there is reason for such action. With time you will become conscious of possible dangers. No longer will things just happen. You will become aware and take responsibility for the outcome of events as they relate to you. Your goal is to become conscious.

Finally, one of the most important points brought out in “Bloody Iron” is the need, in fact, the absolute necessity of forming relationships with other men who will come to your aid in dire straits. Your are likewise bound to come to the aid of your comrades in like circumstances. This is the essence of male bonding. Practically and historically, male bonding served two functions, both involving the need to support others in dangerous circumstances. The first is the hunt, and the second is combat. Our survival as humans depended upon our willingness to support others of our kind under duress. “I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come, if alive.” This quote is from William Tecumseh Sherman in a letter to Ulysses S. Grant. For the warrior, this is the only true male friendship. Everything else is acquaintance regardless of affection felt. This relationship and bonding is absolutely essential in war and in other dangerous pursuits such as riding the monster surf at places like Peahi. These relationships are defined by the willingness and ability to risk grave danger in order to get a comrade out of trouble, or if there is no other recourse in combat, to die with him. “When men find they must inevitably perish, they willingly resolve to die with their comrades and with their arms in their hands,” wrote Flavius Vegetius Renatus. In these life-and-death situations, the casual criteria with which we define other male relationships do not apply. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother,” Shakespeare, Henry V. An understanding of this bond provides deep insight into the male psyche. An interesting phenomenon is that men placed under such duress frequently display a high degree of spiritual insight. “When your thinking rises above concern for your own welfare, wisdom which is independent of thought appears”

If the character of the warrior is moral, this will be demonstrated in his experience. Read “In Flanders Fields” by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae killed in combat in France January 28, 1918 after four years of service on the Western front, “I have a Rendezvous with Death” by Alan Seeger killed in combat July 4, 1916, and “Trees,” by Sergeant Joyce Kilmer killed in combat near Quercy, July 30, 1918. Read the moving poems and writings of these and others to get a complete view of the warrior. One of my favorite samurai death poems reads as follows:

“The sharp-edged sword, unsheathed,

Cuts through the void-

Within the raging fire

A cool wind blows.

– Shiaku Sho’on

There are tools available for use in a civilian situation even if you do not or cannot carry an edged weapon or a firearm as some of us do. Two that I make use of frequently are OC (pepper spray) and a 6Z Surefire tactical light. About 70% of violent attacks take place in low-light conditions. A compact, powerful light is an extremely viable tool in these situations. The OC works very well to neutralize an opponent and has the advantage of being legal in most states as well as non-lethal. The flashlight also puts you in a position to identify the level of threat that you may be facing. I offer an example from personal experience. One night when walking with my wife in San Francisco, a man suddenly lurched out of a darkened door towards us. I had my 6Z in my left-hand jacket pocket and was walking on the left side next to the darkened buildings that we were passing. I immediately shined the light into the man’s eyes. This had the effect of stopping him in his tracks, removing his immediate ability to use his eyes effectively, and giving me a read on the situation. In my right-hand jacket pocket was my OC ready to be deployed if necessary. The man ended up just being drunk and was not a threat and we continued on our way. Many people deceive themselves by ignoring the potential of violence. Lack of preparation is the mark of a fool. The untrained, not the warrior, overact to danger and display the primitive fight-or-flight response.

War, for better or worse, has inspired both the best and worst in mankind. Training for combat is not a casual pursuit for the purpose of self-aggrandizement. Using this training to dominate others with the power gained is evil. Rather, training and ability should engender a sense of honor, responsibility, and morality. The skilled warrior must hold himself to a higher moral standard. He does not have the option of taking casual offense. “There is power in a gun. And attached to power is responsibility, because anyone who has a gun acquires some of God’s power. The power to take a life. And that means that we have to be very careful about when we use the gun; careful to beware of hubris.” This quote is from Aaron Wolf’s “A Purity of Arms” on the Israeli army. Israeli soldiers receive their weapons in one hand and a bible in the other. If our behavior is in harmony with the Way, then we do honor to those warriors who have come before us. It is their sacrifice and knowledge that have allowed us to be free and have given us the means to stay that way. Men have a historical even genetic prime directive to protect and defend society. The ones who answer this call have a responsibility to use knowledge and ability for the good of that society. The burden taken does not just include risking one’s life, it also comes with the moral responsibility for taking the life of another. Even if justified and necessary, such as war, this burden still falls on the individual. This then separates those men and the training that they undergo from other human endeavors. They deserve honor and respect and their training should prepare them for all possible eventualities. Using the knowledge, tactics, and strategy from warriors long dead is a viable means to achieve this end. This then is training for real.

 

An interview with James Williams

March 17, 2008

Interview With James Williams – Part One

by Stanley Pranin

The following interview of James Williams was conducted by Stanley Pranin at his dojo in Encinitas, California on November 1, 2004.

Stanley Pranin: I’m here with James Williams and several of his students in his dojo in Encinitas, California. James, what’s the name of your dojo here?

James Williams: Dojo of the Four Winds.

Dojo of the Four Winds.

In, Japanese, Shiho Kaze Dojo

And this dojo has an interesting background in that it began as an aikido dojo. Could you just give us a brief synopsis of how it came to be that you’re here today?

Well, in the early 70’s I met a man named B.J. Carlisle. B.J. taught aikido and was a very, very interesting guy in all kinds of ways. From being a marine Pacific campaign veteran who was wounded very badly and survived, to his ability as a healer and a martial artist. I became friends with B.J. in the early 70’s and studied with him for awhile, he is the one who pointed me in the direction of Yanagi-ryu under John Clodig Sensei with whom I trained for a couple of years and then began training with John Clodig Sensei’s teacher Don Angier Sensei who is the Soke who inherited by direct succession Yanagi ryu. So I stayed friends with B.J. for all those years and this had been his dojo for probably nine or ten years. When he died, they ran into a bit of trouble keeping the dojo and it worked out that I could take the dojo over and they could still have their classes and everything here and keep most of the stuff the way it was. Out of respect and recognition for his work, I put B.J. Sensei’s picture up over the Kamidana; that is it up there.

So you’ve got an interesting series of photos up there. In the center position is Yoshida Kotaro who is the father of Don Angier’s teacher whose name was Yoshida Kenji, and then you’ve got Ueshiba Morihei the founder of aikido, B.J. Carlisle who James just mentioned is here and then Don Angier who is the teacher of James on the right. So we’ve got five Shodan photos which is pretty unusual.

The sixth one has been added and that is of Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei with whom I am currently studying. Yoshida Kotaro is at the center of both lines. Yoshida Sensei was sempai to Ueshiba Sensei in Daito ryu and founded Aikido which B.J. Sensei taught in this dojo. The other side line is our line from Yoshida Kotaro Sensei to his son Yoshida Kenji Sensei, and then Angier Sensei to Kuroda Sensei. Yoshida Kotaro Sensei introduced Morihei to Sokaku.

Yes. The story goes that he was the person who actually introduced Morihei to Sokaku Takeda around 1915 in Hokkaido.

I think if you look you’ll find that Ueshiba Morihei also used the Yoshida mon. Yoshida Kotaro had given him permission. Ueshiba Sensei, from farmer stock, did not have a mon of his own. So it’s interesting the converging and diverging paths.

So this dojo is shared with the aikido group and your group practicing what you call Nami Ryu…

… Nami Ryu Aiki Heiho. Yes, my dojo, they do train here also along with Kyudo and Brazilian Jujitsu.

Now this form that you teach is a synthesis, it’s really a combination of your life experiences and martial arts experiences. Could you just, in brief terms, outline the curriculum that composes this art.

Okay, well. Nami ryu is based on the Yoshida han Yanagi ryu, that is really the basis of it. It also has a strong influence from Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei with whom I have been privileged to train with over the last five years or so. There are also influences that have come from Systema. Odd as it may seem at times, but because we’re not technique driven– we’re principle driven–so Systema has much to offer. To find principles that are the same in an old classical Russian art as they are in ancient Samurai arts was a revelation to me a few years ago. And certainly has impacted me in the sense that Nami ryu is more fluid, more relaxed, more spontaneous, and more operating system driven and not as rigidly technique based as many other Japanese arts are. My personal feelings are that the Samurai arts were much more fluid and spontaneous when they were actually being used for combat. The current rigidity, in my opinion, has much to do with the change in attitude in regards to combat function and also the methods of transmission that are being used.

Yes. When I say “operating system,” I’m talking about how our physiology and psychology accesses and interfaces with universe reallity, that is, the laws of physics as we discover and understand them.

Some, from the old days, are expressed as nature’s way by the Ancients. They didn’t have, in one sense of the term, a scientific study of physics, and we’re talking Newtonian physics at this point. And as you progress we are also talking quantum physics. Because as you get into higher levels of the art, the only way of really understanding what is going on from a scientific standpoint is to start getting into and understanding quantum mechanics. So we have several things that we break down rather than do this technique or that technique or this series of nikajo or that series of nikajo, You have three things that you manipulate in the physical aspect of combat: distance, timing, and relationship.

So you see, to be successful in an attack, you have to bring all three of those factors together at one point in the fabric of space-time. To be successful in defense you have to forestall only one of those three variables. So, understanding that there are three variables to manipulate makes it much easier to try and perceive what solution is being offered. One of the core principles of Nami Ryu is that every problem comes with its own solution. Problems are not presented that do not have solutions. It’s the way the universe works. Our task becomes to recognize the existing solution instead of trying to solve the problem from a preconceived technical or philosophical framework.

Could you give us an example or two of how in concrete physical terms in a situation that we would normally associate with a martial encounter…

When I used to box and kickbox we were always taught that you are most open and vulnerable when you punch. So any movement is going to have both a strength and a weakness to it, and any way you move is going to have a weak point inherent in the movement or a solution depending upon how your opponent is approaching, or what he’s doing. If you can take a look at his entire energy system and get away from looking at his hands, or his feet, or his eyes, or his sword then you’ll see the shape of the entire energy field and not be distracted by the little things. You’ll see a solution as to whether or not you can cut him down, to throw him, to avoid what is happening, to forestall him before he can actually bring the attack to bear. Whether you’re blending with the attack, accepting the attack, or disappearing from it. Those things all become apparent to you once you understand how the principles work. They’re universal law and everything must adhere to them. As a person does whatever he’s going to do, those relationships become apparent to you. There’s nothing in your mind. You literally have no thought; it’s a state of “mushin,” an empty mind. You just have a mind that accurately reflects what is happening, “mizu no kokoro,” (lit., a spirit of water). Techniques build boxes.

If they’re used like in a Komegawa Kaishin ryu kata as Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei would say, the kata is used to teach the theory. Don Angier Sensei would say, I could change all the techniques I taught you and as long as the principles were being taught you’d still learn the art. Well, that’s not true with almost everything else that’s taught. So if you just use certain physical patterns to teach how human physiology/psychology interacts with physical reality and how they access universe reality in the most efficient manner, then you’re truly learning the art. At that point, there is no technique. Technique never enters your mind. You shape yourself in relation to the force vector and then shape the vector. There is no how, there just is.

Some people would listen to you talking now and regard this sort of thing as very advanced and near the ideal level of a complete martial art. It seems, as you have expressed earlier, a matter of one’s relationship with nature.

Earlier, you described techniques as creating a box. Do you teach the kind of nuts and bolts types movements at some phase? Or do you completely discard the model of physical techniques by the numbers?

We practice in several ways. One, we show how the human body keeps itself vertical, how it aligns with gravity and the relatively unstable platform that we have. What does the human body do to stay vertical? Why does it do what it does?

We study the releasing and gathering of energies: kinetic energy, stored elastic energy, etc. We study how we move with balance, or how we don’t move with balance and why. The method that someone might use to close distance to approach can’t be understood unless you understand how you work. How to destabilize a human being can’t be understood unless you know what makes you stable or unstable. A key ingredient is that you have to get outside yourself. You have to understand that this is not about you. Ego, tension, all of those things cloud your vision. It is no longer mizu no kokoro, the surface of the water is no longer still. You no longer can truly perceive. If there’s a problem and if you can’t perceive that problem clearly, you’re not going to perceive a solution. You’re going to try to implement a solution, which is of course, less than ideal at any point.

Please continue to elaborate.

First, you have to know how to balance your body properly without muscle tension. So to do that you need to align your skeleton properly. For us, we use the balance point of the foot where the tibia would come down and exit through the foot if the tibia could run all the way through. So it exits right in front of the calcanius and the foot sits soft and flat, and the edges of the feet and toes are not used to hold you upright. They’re used to be sensitive as if you put your hand on something. The pressures carry down the length of the bone, but the foot itself is soft. Even in movements that we do where our legs are spread, for example, cutting with a sword, you will see that the toes will float. They can be wiggled and there’s no pressure on them. Balancing on the balls of your feet is not a stable flexible position. So we don’t do that. And you need to line up various parts of your body; your hip joint has to be lined up over your ankle joint. The pressure actually runs through the back of your knee. Your legs are straight, but not locked so that the pressure actually runs through the back and not the middle. Your shoulders need to sit over your hips and you need to rotate your skull along the line of your jaw, like someone is picking you up by the hair, which takes the excessive curve out of your cervical vertebrae and lines your ears up over your shoulders. The shoulders are lined up over yours hips, which are lined up over your ankle bones. At that point, you’re balanced without muscle tension.

Then we’ll do drills where you close your eyes and you just move your hands in front and your body will tip and you allow it to tip, and do the same thing backwards and to the side and feel like you’re absolutely balanced and each change in that physical posture moves you, as it should. Then I’ll take them and I’ll say, “Okay, now when you start to move, prevent yourself from tipping.” And you’ll feel things like you’re anterior tibialis contract and that goes back into your biceps femurous and you realize all of a sudden that if you’re not perfectly balanced you’re always under tension. If you’re always under tension you can’t hear properly. I mean hearing in the sense of being aware of things outside of yourself. It’s like a mind that is not calm. You can no longer hear there is too much “noise”. The muscle feedback starts to blur your ability to perceive. You touch someone like this, (demonstrates laying a hand on a student’s shoulder) and you feel a heart beat. You should feel exactly where their balance is and all the little adjustments they’re making back and forth to keep themselves up. You feel where their tension is being held as they try to keep themselves upright. So you find that if you don’t have proper posture, which is the relationship between your skeletal structure and physical reality, you’re not like a still pond. You’re body is as much a receptor as you mind and you are not a proper receptor. You will not know absolutely what’s happening because there is too much feedback, like wind blowing on the water, there is no longer an accurate reflection. The better the posture, the more relaxed the body, the purer the ability to perceive. So that’s just on the physical level alone. As your physical body starts to lose that posture, all of a sudden you have so much inner feedback that your ability to perceive what is outside of you starts to become dulled and you can’t perceive it properly.

You also become more apparent to your enemy. You can’t hide what is becoming obvious. So it is part of the beginning training, and then you realize that everything has a harmonic resonance. The body is going to have the grossest harmonic resonance and it is the easiest to perceive. The other aspects of your being also have a harmonic resonance. However, they are more difficult to perceive and it takes training, practice, and a change in you as a person for you to be able to perceive those things that cannot be seen. You get a concept in your mind that seems unique and read something and say, “Oh, I want to be that.” Well that’s good because ideas are what inspire us in the beginning. But eventually, if it doesn’t make it into your body at a cellular level, then you can only act under controlled conditions and it will not be who you are. You will not be able to completely empty your body. You won’t be able to disappear with your body, and just let it be wherever it needs to be, wherever pressure needs to be applied. Your opponent is going to tell you where the pressure needs to go. Your job is just to listen.

It sounds like what you’re stating is that you have to develop a tremendous amount of clarity that is characterized by your whole physical and spiritual being and the tie-in in order to be able to perceive all that’s going around in your surroundings in an accurate manner.

It’s easier than that.

Easier than that?

It’s easy because all you have to do is to accept and allow. Just accept what is. So the things that we don’t want to do or the things we need to become aware of should be explained. It should be somewhere else that’s not reality. Judgment is a past act, no longer present. Mental, emotional, psychological, garbage like that which is fear-based, clouds you up. You’re looking through a glass darkly. It clouds up your ability to perceive. You’re no longer just living in the present moment. You’re in the past-future. You’re in realities that don’t exist. That is actually a lot of work. It prevents you from really living in the true sense of the term. So if you accept what is, as it is, at every moment and you allow things to be as they are, that frees you up enormously. It’s not like you have to work at it in one sense; you just have to let go. The more you let go, the less it’s about you at every level of your being. The more you conform with universal reality, which is the manifest will of God, the more you will be in harmony with what is. That conformity with universal reality is essential to us evolving as human beings at every level. Things are the way they are. They’re the way they are for a reason. To say they should or shouldn’t be some way is not recognizing their value. Things can only be exactly as they should be at any point in time because it’s not possible for them to be any different than that. It’s impossible because everything is subject to what we call the laws of physics.

What you’ve described to me now I would associate with a situation where we are present in reality and there is some threat or some potential threat. Let’s flip that around. I know you’re involved in training police and the military and that sort of thing. Let’s say that instead of being in a defensive scenario you are to go in and deal with a hostage situation or some dangerous situation that requires you to be the actor or the initiator. How does this clarity of mind, this acceptance of all that is happening around you change? Or do you use this clairvoyance in that sort of situation when you’re forced to initiate.

The better you can perceive what is, the more apparent the solution becomes. If you go in with an aggressive state of mind in the normal sense of the term you have already put yourself in a mind state that prevents you from seeing all possibilities. Do you have to have a committed state of mind? Yes, in the sense that my job is this and that’s the job I’m going to do. It’s much easier to give life than to take it. So you can’t be making that decision once you’re faced with the problem, say a hostage situation where someone has a firearm to a hostage’s head. It’s not time to make a decision then but a decision has to be made. It’s not whether or not you’re going to have to act it is just how are you going to act. These lessons are all ancient, they’re just been lost for the most part.

One of the major reasons is that people no longer look at martial arts as what they actually were when all of this evolved. The warrior trained not to become a better human being in the sense of being well liked or mellow, he trained so that he could be more effective at killing the enemy. That was his prime directive. Everything he could do to become better at that was his prime directive. So some people went on one path and some on another but every now and then in history a person or a group of people or a path of knowledge emerged that rose above the conflicting part of the warrior’s function and could solve those problems he confronted more efficiently. Whether it’s cutting down the enemy before he can even move or solving the problem in another way, you need to be prepared to train with that one thought in mind. That is the job of the warrior, period. These were warrior arts.

The fighting about it and defending yourself in your position that way creates a completely different physical and psychological dynamic compared to accepting and allowing and just doing what needs to be done. And when we read that someone was cut down by his own sword or his own movement, what happened is that he caused that himself. This is what we’re talking about. People make decisions and act and that’s the solution that they brought with the problem that they presented. In one sense of the term, we’re almost not involved with the action. You just do what needs to be done. If it’s cutting someone down, he is cut down. In modern times, if someone is shot down, he’s shot down. There are people that need to be shot down. People who are not in touch with reality and don’t realize it’s not a would-be, should-be, could-be world think, “Well, if we just talk this way or did that, such a thing with happen.” Not recognizing that people don’t all think the same, people make choices. As they make choices that affect other people, then the concept of “satsujinken” comes into play.

The sword that kills.

The sword that kills… Now the proper use of the sword that kills is to protect the innocent. There are people that are killing innocents today. There’s as much a need for the warrior in the old sense of the term. Not in the modern sense of everybody getting along… There’s just as much a need for the warrior today as there was 400 years ago in ancient Japan. Satsujinken. Katsujinken. The sword that kills is the sword that gives life.

If we are going to protect the innocent, and there are bad people out there, it’s not in our job to try and understand their point of view of things. If they threaten you or your children, they’ve got to go. If you can negotiate, that’s fine, but there have always been huge percentages of that population that won’t negotiate or what’s happening in negotiations is that they are getting stronger. Like in the 1930’s with Nazi Germany. Hitler used the unwillingness of France and England to act to grow stronger. Negotiation was fine with him. History has proven that it is foolish not to act when you can forestall something rather than wait. We’re in serious times in my opinion. I hope that everyone can look me up five years from now at the Aiki Expo and say, “You were wrong,” because I’d like to be wrong about this, but I don’t think so. There are so many factors far too complex to go into here, but the bottom line is that the need for warriors and warrior training is no different today than it was 400 years ago. The need for the warrior to protect the society is no different today than it was 400 years ago. However, you have to train properly or you’re not going to be adequate to task or the attrition rate is going to be high. So the reason I like the classical arts is because of their prime directive.

Perhaps a definition of terms from my perspective, would be in order here. I hear people speak of “traditional Japanese” karate. Karate is a modern phenomenon for the Japanese. Jujutsu covered their empty-hand arts, including kicking and striking, and included some obscure weapons. For me, traditional means modern, and this would include iaido, aikido, kyudo, judo, etc. These arts differ greatly from the classical combative arts of the feudal period of the samurai in Japan. These differences manifest themselves in the philosophy of the arts as well as their techniques and combative intent. I am primarily interested in the classical philosophy, psychology, techniques, and strategy of these arts when the samurai developed them. For me, this is the treasure from that vast storehouse of human experience. This is also what I take into the modern combat equivalent as there are many benefits to our modern warriors from this ancient knowledge.

As you train from the proper perspective you become more in harmony with universal law and you become less involved with yourself. I always tell my students that it’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s not us. You don’t run into idle conflict. You don’t run into conflict where ego or such comes into play. You find that you can remain calm because you can see the possible solutions that can forestall a whole lot of conflicts. Many, many people get into conflict. Most people get into conflicts of one sort or another. Most people fight out of fear. Fear doesn’t make everybody running scared. I was an undefeated kick boxer not because I wasn’t afraid but because I was afraid. My fear was a fear of failure. It drove me. It drove me to train as hard as I possibly could. It drove me to fight as hard as I possibly could. Pain only fueled me. It only made me more determined. So under those circumstances and, with the people that I fought, I was successful. It didn’t make me a better a human being, but it was probably for me a necessary step on the path. I think I had to go through that. I’d actually seen Don Angier’s dojo in 1968 when I was in the military at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California for a period of time. I drove by and I saw “Samurai Arts.” “What is that?, I thought. I didn’t see that dojo again until about 1981.

If I may interject something here… you’ve really defined the martial arts from their application to today’s world and the world that gave birth to it a very interesting light. It’s a description that’s sort of outside of the moral context. In other words, the warrior and his warrior function, whether historically or at the present time, has trained to be an efficient fighter, a solution solver in dealing with violence. He does that in the most effective, rapid way using the least resources and causing the least damage.

What about looking at things from the standpoint of a man, a woman, father, son or daughter, taking into consideration the moral dimension? In other words, consider the situation of a police officer or a soldier who possess fighting skills, but who acts on orders from above. The authority above me will be my immediate superior or someone further up in the chain of command. It might be a civilian if we’re talking about a society where civilians control the military. At what point does the trained warrior divorce himself from the moral aspects of using force? At what point does he kick in as a man, as a human being, as a life giving person and draw the line? You mentioned the example of Hitler. Of course, from our viewpoint, Hitler was the enemy. But from the viewpoint of a Nazi soldier in the 1930’s in Germany, he is the leader. Perhaps this person saw this mass destruction going on, but was brainwashed. Where does morality come into play? Does the well-trained soldier have any right to come up with any kind of a moral stance that may contradict the orders he’s given?

That’s a tough question.

Yeah. Probably not a two word answer either!

To be in conformity with universal law you have to have integrity. It’s essential. That is why truth is so essential. “A man’s foundation as a man, his duty as a man, is in truth.” That is an old samurai saying. So integrity is of the essence as you train, because if you don’t have it you cannot follow this path very far. You have to have it ultimately. Integrity also means that your body and mind cannot be separated. That morality cannot be separated. Samurai bushido had the concept of satsujinken-katsujinken, to define the proper use of the sword. There are times, however, especially for the warrior, when you cannot see the big picture. You can give mercy on small levels, you could refuse an order to kill innocent civilians, as a German soldier did in Belgium and was himself put to death for his moral stand by his own army. That was a tremendous act of moral courage. That’s something that has to be made moment by moment by the warrior. Most of the time the warrior doesn’t know enough. You don’t have enough independent information. It’s difficult. If you’re killing women and children, you’re robbing something from them. Now, American soldiers don’t have that sort of history. There are very few cases like that that have taken place. It is far more the exception than the norm. However, you can look back through history and find that that was a very common practice among many, many armies and still is in many armies today. In spite of the falsehoods in our press, it seems to me this last year I’ve never seen so many lies accepted and given credence to than in all my 56 years. I think that is a very bad sign for the society that this is the case. People want to believe what they want to believe so badly that it doesn’t matter what truth and reality is. That’s a bad sign. To be in conformity with universal law there is a moral component, absolutely. Power and strength have to be used in a particular way. You can get the quote from me, but there’s a quote when Israeli soldiers are sworn in. You know there’s power in the gun. The power of life and death; there’s power in the sword. The power of life and death. With that comes responsibility. I’m not talking about all people who fight and kill as warriors. I’m not even necessarily talking about soldiers, because all soldiers are not warriors, even the ones in combat. My friend Steve Mattoon in his book A Warriors Trail speaks of this with far more authority that I can.

You mentioned that the foot soldier or the soldier at the lower level probably does not have enough information to come up with a moral stance. What about as you go higher and higher up the chain of command, there are people who cannot only see the military perspective…

Politics and integrity are probably not synonymous terms. They’re probably not synonymous terms, and how often they have been in the past I don’t know. Certainly it’s a difficult thing at this point. I think there’s a large percentage of the American people who no longer have traditional values. They are more concerned about it being the way they think it should be than the way it is. So we’re always going to get leaders who pander to them. That’s a very bad thing. I would rather have a man I disagree with who is a man of integrity and consistency than a man who I agree with who is promoting himself and would say anything at any time just to get the position that he wants. Truth has no longer become a defining characteristic of a person’s character and that is unfortunate because that bodes ill for a society at any point. We are going to need those values because, in my opinion, looking across history and having a fair bit of knowledge from various sources of the situation as it’s evolving now, we are in for some very serious times.

It’s an interesting thing with human kind. We all want peace, love and harmony, yet when we get peace, love and harmony, all of our virtues begin to leave us. We become self-centered, we become weak, we stop sharing.

How is it that people in Nigeria have less anxiety than people in America? I mean, maybe a lot of people have not been to these countries where you walk by a dead person on the street and nobody looks twice. It’s a common thing, yet they have less anxiety with a life expectancy in the 50’s and ours is in the high 70’s at this point. They have less anxiety than Americans do who have so much. Is having so much good for a human being? So this is a journey each person has to take. For us the journey is one set down by the warrior’s quest and who we are. Our job is to protect and defend. It’s a prime directive of the male of the species homo sapiens. Those blood lines that did not protect the female and the children are no longer with us because we were made by nature, as males, to be expendable. We are capable of impregnating numerous females that are only capable of being impregnated by one male over say an eleven to twelve month period of time to give birth to a child. So we are the expendable ones in society and our prime directive is to protect and defend. If we do not do that, societies do not survive. You can look back through history time after time after time. A horrific thing to think about is when the Nazis, as Hitler bragged in 1936, gained control of the weapons of the people, the population of Jewish males no longer had the ability to defend the females and the children. When the Nazis came for them they really had no ability to fight. This led to the catastrophe that we call the Holocaust. The Israelis, on the other hand, are not about to let that happen. Their creed is “never again.” You are not going to find that happening with them again, I don’t think. They’ve learned that lesson at a terrible price. They’re a tough, courageous people because they must be. Do we want to live in a state of war? No we don’t want to live in a state of war. Where is the balance for human beings? How do you keep those things? How do you learn to fight and bear up under duress if you’re not under duress? You’ve seen my guys under the stick and the whip. Goodness, doesn’t that hurt? Yeah, it hurts. It marks your body up too, but what are you going to do when you’re actually in a fight under duress? That is not the time to find out what you are made out of, not the time to find out what pain and injury are like. We need to train that way now. I get cut constantly using sharp-edged weapons, etc. Well, you know, you need to know the capability of the weapon. You need to know what it feels like to get cut. If you don’t, you’re playing fantasy and that’s not going to be a valuable thing for your students. Now, I’m not saying this is for everybody because we should really define what we’re talking about here. The term martial arts is so generic. It’s like the English word for love. I love my truck. I love my wife. Well, I do not love my wife and my truck in the same way. Well, no. We make love. People say having sex can be making love. Well you and I have been married a long time. We know that here’s a huge difference between making love with someone with whom you share so much and having sex, but we use that same word in our language. So I think we need to define the term “martial art.” Certainly from a classical, combative standpoint I would translate it as “military or martial science,” not “martial art.” When many people hear the word “martial art,” they get a different picture in their mind. We forget that Mars was the god of war.

So you have self-defense being mostly about being smart and putting yourself in a good position, not getting into bad areas or situations. Literally taking care of yourself, and this means how you treat yourself as well. Then there are arts that have some practicality for self-defense for people. A lot of people can spend time training. However, this will prove of little value if you don’t spend time to learn. You have sports. Sports are outstanding for all kinds of reasons. Boxing is a sport. I enjoyed kickboxing and boxing. I wrestled in high school and college. It was great and it taught me a lot. You have sports and fighting arts, especially things like the modern, mixed martial arts done in things like UFC. There are no weapons. The fighters are of relatively similar size most of the time and there are rules. Then you have combat. Combat has no rules. You stick your wife and my wife on one side of the octagon and give them both Glocks and a 300 pound guy on the other side. They’re probably going to win. It’s going to be pretty hard on the guy, bullets are no respecters of persons; they don’t care who you are or what you know. So you add a few more people in there and you can’t see where they’re coming from and you have combat. Increase the number and type of weapons and now you are getting into combat. Training for war is a radically different concept. Samurai training was training for war. It wasn’t training for sport; it wasn’t training for self-defense; it wasn’t training for fighting; it was training for war. You had multiple opponents who had all types of weaponry available to them from spears to arrows to clubs and swords, everything you could imagine. There were no rules, their job was to deceive you and your job was to deceive and kill them. Well, this training is radically different than training for UFC or kickboxing, or self-defense. Or for that matter personal practice for self-enlightenment. Those are completely different things. My opinion though, if you don’t train and expose yourself to true danger you’re never going to fully understand and get to a place where the ancients got. You can’t get there by thinking about it, reading about it, feeling good about. Warm gooey feelings have no place here in that sense of the term. As I frequently tell my students, that warm gooey feeling is usually blood!

James Williams is the President of Bugei Trading Company, Inc. He has been studying martial arts since 1960 and teaching since 1975. James has trained, competed in, and taught a number of different martial disciplines: Japanese, Okinawan, Chinese, Philippino, as well as the Brazilian system of Jujitsu as taught by Rorion and Royce Gracie. His experience includes western wrestling, which he also coached, as well as boxing and kickboxing. His love of samurai martial traditions came with his study of the Yanagi ryu of the Yoshida-ha under Don Angier Sensei and the martial traditions of the Kuroda-ha as taught by Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei.

James also teaches Close Quarters Combat to police and military both foreign and domestic. The method used, “The System of Strategy,” is based on those skills developed and cultivated by ancient warriors. He is the designer of the “Hissatsu,” a close quarter battle knife that is produced by Columbia River Knife and Tool. James is certified as an instructor of Systema, a Russian Martial art taught by Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev. Williams teaches Nami Ryu Aiki Heiho, (kenjutsu, iaijutsu, and aikijujutsu) and Systema in Encinitas California.




The Eye and the Mind by James Williams

March 6, 2008

Sophisticated ancient warrior arts had particular ways of using the eyes. This methodology maximized the brains ability to process information. The eyes don’t see, the brain “sees”. How the eyes are used determines how effectively the brain can process information. It also impacts how the brain perceives the passage of time. When the eyes are used properly, events slow down in relation to our ability to perceive sequence and rapidity of motion. Direct the eyes at a particular point in relation to your opponent (in many Koryu, you look at the distant mountain). If you need to pick up more information in another direction don’t move your eyes move your head. A small movement of your head will increase your field of vision much more effectively than moving your eyes around will. Moving your eyes from side to side to see different things in the moment can be compared to taking a picture in one direction, then turning and taking a picture in another direction. When you return to the first picture it has changed and there is no continuity for the mind to follow. This leads to increasing the number of variables that the mind has to collate without continuity and it easily becomes overwhelmed by events. Defocus your vision. While your eyes must be directed somewhere your vision is most effective in a chaotic situation when it is defocused. Focusing, in the sense of fixating, causes several problems; the first one is that it limits the field of information flow. This is a bad thing in combat as your survival depends upon your ability to perceive as much as possible in every possible direction.

Focusing places its emphasis on the cones to the neglect of the rods; our ability to use the rods effectively is core to our survivalFocusing is also conscious mind dependent. The conscious mind is not very efficient under duress, it can handle 7 variables plus or minus two.The chaos of conflict quickly overwhelms the conscious mind. You can see this clearly in the eyes of someone who is in this state of consciousness. Focusing under combat conditions is a fear-based response. The person is trying exert some control over the events in order to bring them to a “safe” state of order. This is not possible. It is not given to us as humans to “control” events in this manner with combat being the pinnacle of chaos, so to speak. We need to accept what is happening and not try to control what is happening. Accepting allows us to ride the waves of chaos and merge with the larger patterns, it is just like surfing. Focusing also diminishes the body’s ability to fully access the other senses that are vital to perception. Our tactile ability, hearing, smell, and taste are compromised when we focus our vision. In addition we lose our psychic ability to perceive those things that cannot be seen. Giving up control and defocusing allows the mind and body to adapt fluidly and spontaneously to whatever is happening. Giving up control also brings us into the moment of now.There is no anticipation, expectation, assumption, and judgment; these are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in Nami ryu. We don’t know what we are going to do in response to a threat; indeed we don’t want to know. To know is to no longer be in the moment of “Now.” We are no longer immediately present in the moment of reality; we are in our own reality to one degree or another. The Ancients understood this and trained themselves to let go and accept; indeed faith is at the core of this practice and this is the core of Mushin.I travel and teach most of the time and do so to a wide range of people involved in a variety of activities from military special operators involved in lethal force engagements to civilians wanting to live a more full life without the constant constraints of fear.

I am often asked what I would do in this situation or that when faced with a particular threat. My response is “I don’t know”. When pressed for a response I tell them, “I don’t want to know”. To know is to limit your potential to adapt and solve the problem. To need to know is to give in to your fear. The need to know means that you are not willing to accept what is as it is. Every problem presented in the Universe has, inherent in it, the solution. What we want to do is to “remove” ourselves so that we can recognize and implement the solution that is inherent in the problem that we are faced with solving. There is an old Chinese axiom, “If the only tool that you have is a hammer, then all of your problems begin to look like nails.” This acceptance is foundational in Nami ryu. It is the basis for everything that we do in our art and our life.We have an energy response cycle in Nami ryu. It is expressed in a linear manner, however, it is not linear in function and there is spontaneous adaptation in every part of the cycle. The cycle begins with Perception. We will only respond to that which we are aware of. Perception is much more than sight. The second phase of the cycle is Acceptance, if we do not completely accept what we see, our Perception is of little or no value to us. Indeed it is in this aspect of the cycle that panic lives. The fear based inability to accept what we perceive leads to cognitive dissonance, reality lag, and ensuing panic. This is not the survival response of a predator with binocular vision; it is the response of prey, eyes wide, running for their life, we become sheep. Most people live in a would be, should be, could be world. This focus on opinion and fear based belief prevents us from accepting the world and in fact the Universe as it is. This immediately removes us from Harmony with Universe law; we are no longer present in the moment of Now. We are in a false world of our own creation. In day in day out life we can make it through the day in a country like the United States where we are safe and protected by others.This mindset and belief system, however, immediately breaks down when faced with the violent reality of an attack or other type of violent circumstance or disaster, for the warrior this is unacceptable.The third phase of the cycle is to allow our body to shape in relation to whatever force vector is threatening us. A force vector is the path of travel of any force that could harm us. A stick, a stone, a fist, a sword or a bullet are just some of the things that qualify as force vectors. This shaping needs to be spontaneous and intuitive. You cannot depend solely upon your vision as you might not “see” the force. In fact, classical bujutsu movement is designed to deceive the opponent by fooling the eyes. This movement is part of what has been lost in modern Japanese martial arts and indeed in many that have link and lineage to the past.The returning or shaping of energy is a natural consequence of non-resistance to it and this is the fourth phase of the cycle. We don’t know what that returning or shaping of energy is going to look like and it is not necessary to know.Nature abhors a vacuum and if you completely allow and accept the opening that your opponent leaves, it will be filled.When we are in the proper mind-body relationship, our Transition Coefficient, the time that it takes to adapt to change, is at its most effective. Our ability to respond to pressures and threats by spontaneous adaptations seems phenomenal to those who have not allowed themselves to accept what is, Universe Reality, with faith.This is what “Soft” in an ancient warrior art means. Soft is an acceptance of what is and by allowing what is to be and letting our mind-body blend with what is, we become in Harmony with Universe Law and this is truly being alive. Soft has nothing to do with how we feel, indeed our feelings immediately remove us from harmony with Universe law. The Universe is not about us and what we think or feel. To become in harmony, it is necessary to give up expectation, assumption, anticipation, and judgment.The methodology in Nami ryu, coming from the teachings of the ancient Samurai, accesses our operating system in a different way. It maximizes human performance in life and death situations instead of minimizing it. This allows us to fulfill our potential as human beings. It takes the warrior to higher level of function.

Articles

March 6, 2008

The Eye and the Mind by James WilliamsSophisticated ancient warrior arts had particular ways of using the eyes. This methodology maximized the brains ability to process information. The eyes don’t see, the brain “sees”. How the eyes are used determines how effectively the brain can process information. It also impacts how the brain perceives the passage of time. When the eyes are used properly, events slow down in relation to our ability to perceive sequence and rapidity of motion. >>> Read On…_______________________________________________________________________Systema: Principles of the Russian System by James WilliamsIf someone had told me a few years ago that out of a western Christian tradition would come a martial art as deep, sophisticated and evolved as the best of the oriental arts I would not have believed them.Yet there is such an art coming out of the ancient Russian culture with deep roots in the Russian Orthodox monasteries. At its root in the present day is an exceptional man, Mikhail Ryabko. Trained by one of Stalin’s Falcons from the age of five and beginning his operational career in the Russian Spetsnaz (Special Forces) at the age of 15, Mikhail Ryabko was not only given the secrets of this ancient art, he was put in the position of repeatedly applying both the art and its principles in life and death combat on, what for much of his early life, was a day-to-day basis. This System, taught by Mikhail Ryabko, is not a shadow of what once was, it is a living practical art that even now is being applied by warriors in combat. When working with Mikhail and his foremost student, Vladimir Vasiliev, one is struck by the calm depth of these men. Enormous knowledge and ability taught with calm, deep conviction.>>> Read On…_______________________________________________________________________The Psychology of Combat by James WilliamsI was pleased to see a review of the book “Bloody Iron” in Volume 24, No. 3 of Aikido Journal. Here is a book that speaks plainly about the reality of conflict with edged weapons in circumstances involving lethal force. The authors, both long time residents of some of Americas finest prisons, describe in detail the prison environment as regards to the edged weapons conflict that is a part of daily life.The nature of such situations is presented graphically so that there will be no mistake as to their grim reality. There is much to learn in this volume and perhaps some of the information can give insight into the training that was necessary for the feudal era warriors of Japan. >>>Read On…_______________________________________________________________________Virtue of the Sword by James WilliamsI was pleased to see a review of the book “Bloody Iron” in Volume 24, No. 3 of Aikido Journal. Here is a book that speaks plainly about the reality of conflict with edged weapons in circumstances involving lethal force. The authors, both long time residents of some of Americas finest prisons, describe in detail the prison environment as regards to the edged weapons conflict that is a part of daily life.The nature of such situations is presented graphically so that there will be no mistake as to their grim reality. There is much to learn in this volume and perhaps some of the information can give insight into the training that was necessary for the feudal era warriors of Japan. >>>Read On…