Skip to main content

The Riddle of Steel: Budo & the Apple Watch

The reader may be familiar with a current advertisement from Apple with regards to their latest watch, known as 'Better You'.  The premise is that by using the functions of the watch, the owner can incrementally adjust their lifestyle to a more healthy one.  The notion is actually a parallel with associations many people have with martial arts, particularly modern Budo (which most people probably term 'Traditional Martial Arts').

I will link the add here if you have not seen it, however, this is not a monetised blog so I receive no benefit from you watching it (and Apple has not paid me although I would happily accept their cash).

The add, of course, tries to have the person watching buy into the idea that if they purchase the watch they too can make their life better.  The same is often understood to be true in modern Budo whereby the practitioner gradually 'polishes their spirit' through participation.  There is a consequent link that results, that is the advancement in grade in such arts is also inherently an assurance of an advancement in 'spirit', perhaps more understandably described as personality, and therefore those of a high grade must be closing in on satori.

Unfortunately, in both cases, these notions are alluring but untrue.

So as to not offend anyone in particular, or probably more correctly everyone equally, I will invent 'StickDo' for the sake of the conversation - an art whereby people learn to fight with sticks.

Both StickDo and the Apple watch will do some things innately - essentially, they are tools.  The Apple watch will tell you the time, relay a message, give you a reminder.  That is the function of the tool.  StickDo, assuming you turn up and that it has a reasonable syllabus, will teach you to fight with a stick.  That is the end of the things these tools will do for you innately.

I have no doubt that you can replicate the lifestyle advancements implied in the Apple watch video, however, it will take an active effort on your part.  I would suggest the same is true in StickDo - to improve your personality via StickDo will require a conscious decision to do so and an ongoing active effort.

The Riddle of Steel

Recall if you will the original Conan the Barbarian movie from 1982, in my opinion, one of the great martial arts movies and a grossly underrated film.

As a boy, Conan learns of the 'riddle of steel' from his father, however, it is not until Thulsa Doom explains the riddle to him (before sending him to be crucified) that we learn the riddles real meaning:

"Steel isn't strong, flesh is stronger... what is steel compared to the hand that wields it?..."

The sword, for all its mystery, is simply a tool.  The individual chooses their goals and how the tool will help them achieve them.  A tool can be used to fix something, to create something, to destroy something and it can lay idle if you choose.

It is a problem if we see tools as coming with innate skills or outcomes.  You don't become a mechanic simply by purchasing a set of tools.  If you use those tools to work on cars you will not necessarily become a good mechanic - you will also have to understand how the different systems of the car work and how to diagnose problems.  If you achieve all of this you can be said to be a good mechanic - but no one would believe becoming a good mechanic also meant you were most definitely in an advanced state of personality development.

As someone who is foremostly a practitioner of Jujutsu, I am not as surprised as most when the odd mid- to highly-graded Budoka turns out to be... lacking in the character department.  In Jujutsu (hopefully) the monitoring of behaviour and character is linked to the instructor, dojo and association level - there is, hopefully,  no belief that the art itself is linked to character development - it is, for this reason, the instructor, dojo and association have obligations to police such things.  Jujutsu is simply a tool, and it is not necessarily wrong to use that tool in an immoral fashion - it is quite possible and therefore there is an onus on the teacher to not equip the wrong person with the tool.

If we believe that StickDo is imbued with personality development, we may believe it is a good idea to teach it to people of an unsavoury character - as we believe it is at least a form of treatment, if not a cure.  The reality is, however, that unless the unsavoury individual has made a conscious decision to address their deficiencies and makes an ongoing active effort to do so, we will only achieve one thing - teaching the unsavoury person how to fight with a stick.

The reader should not think that I see no benefits from the pursuit of martial arts other than the acquisition of the skills of that art.  Indeed I believe it is important for people to be out of their comfort zone, to go through things they find challenging or are afraid of, and that these things can make a significant impact on their ability to function in society.  There is something tragic about the regrets people have when they were afraid to take action in some part of their life.

There is, however, nothing in martial arts or the Apple watch that is able to fix our floors in character or lifestyle via osmosis.

I will leave any poor reader who has not seen the movie will a couple of the relevant scenes:

Popular posts from this blog

Spear (Yari) in Owari Kan Ryu 尾張貫流 (Kudayari & others)

Owari Kan ryū is known for its use of the kuda-yari (tube spear). The e (shaft) is run through a kuda (metal pipe) that’s in the front hand of the practitioner.  Interestingly the school’s students start training by doing shiai (competition) and only after considerable training they learn the school's kata (forms). Most classical schools that practice shiai do so after learning kata. Thrusting using the kuda. Cross-stepping.                           Thrusting attack with kuda. Wide stance.   Shiai. Shiai using a spear with a cross piece. The original demonstration from which these stills were taken is here:

The Structure of the Tenshinshoden Katori Shinto Ryu Syllabus

It should be noted that the current head, Otake Risuke, has commented that not all of the parts of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu survive.  I recall his comments in various documentaries that Archery was once a component, and only some of the spear survives. Through various sources, mostly Otake's book, I have put together this brief outline of their syllabus, however I have little idea of the exact stage each is taught except that I believe the students start with Omote no Tachi.  I will use this as the basis for further posts and may add to it over time. I believe their are important implications when Otake says that one of the main reasons for training all the weapons is to train the swordsman against them. Note in this section in brackets are my own comments and should therefore not be relied upon, those from the written work of Otake are clearly marked. Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu -Kenjutsu (Otake lists Tachi, Ryuto and Kodachi under Kenjustsu) --Tachi (Use of the singl

Kendo Shinai Weights & Measures

As a note the recommended length and weight for shinai are: - Women 38 inches 440 grams. - Men 39 inches 510 grams. The Wikipedia shinai page lists the following tables: Regulations In  kendo  competitions that follow the FIK rules, there are regulated weights and lengths for the use of  shinai .  Table A. FIK Specifications for competition use of one Shinai (Itto). Specification Gender Junior High School (12–15 yrs) Senior High School (15–18 yrs) University students and Adults (18yrs+) Maximum length Male & female 114cm 117cm 120cm Minimum weight Male 440g 480g 510g Female 400g 420g 440g Minimum diameter of sakigawa Male 25mm 26mm 26mm Female 24mm 25mm 25mm Minimum length of sakigawa Male and Female 50mm 50mm 50mm Shinai  are weighed complete with leather fittings, but without  tsuba  or  tsuba-dome . The full length is measured. Maximum diameter of the  tsuba  is 9cm. Table B. FIK Specifications for competition use of two Shinai (Nito). Specification Gender Daito (long shinai) Sh