Friday, August 31, 2007

Scraping Off the Polish

When we get a new bokken (wooden sword) at the Japanese Martial Arts Center in Ann Arbor, we take time to scrape off the shiny finish applied by the manufacturer. Once the finish is completely removed, we immerse the bokken in linseed oil for 24 hours or more. The wood absorbs the oil, helping to make the bokken much more resistant to cracking. In a quality bokken, the natural finish is much more attractive than the shiny look of polyurethane. This process is not totally dissimilar to what happens to students at our dojo in Ann Arbor.

Out in society, we tend to put on clothes (and make-up, for some) that reflect the image we hope to project. For various reasons, this image is not always completely aligned with who we really are. Like a bokken with an artificial finish, we crack easily and reveal ourselves when subjected to stress.

Inside the dojo, every student in class wears virtually the same clothing. We then must distinguish ourselves by our words and actions. How we perform our techniques and interact with our training partners reveals our natural personalities, even if we try to project a more idealized image. In a kind or generous person, the personality is often simpler and more naturally compelling than the one we might meet in street clothing.

Martial arts technique can evolve in the same way. Students new to karate, aikido, or judo are often rigid and use much more strength and tension than they need. Subjected to the repeated "scraping" of rigorous practice, they gradually lose the shine of inexperience. Their inner strength develops, and they relax and find ways to use their skills efficiently. Their strong, natural interactions are much more attractive to a trained eye than the personality they may have worn like a coat of paint at the start of training.

From the outside in, our practice of physical technique makes us calmer, more centered, stronger, and more efficient.

From the inside out, our calm, centered, strong and efficient spirit generates a powerful and attractive appearance.

JMAC would like to thank the many Ann Arbor businesses that support this blog, both martial arts-related and others, including: Network Services Group, Art of Japanese Swordsmanship, Shudokan Martial Arts Association, Budo Mind and Body, Art of Judo, Iaido Dot Com, Lorandos and Associates, Oxford Companies, Bluestone Realty Advisors, Portfolio Ann Arbor, Invest Ann Arbor, the Law Office of Nicklaus Suino and the ITAMA Dojo.