One of the interesting side effects of martial arts training is a surprising interest in weapons work. I say “surprising” because, if you were to ask most people why they study a martial art to begin with, the first thing they are likely to tell you is that they want to learn self defense. Why then, are they focused on weapons? Time and time again, I field phone calls and questions from prospective students who want to know about studying the bokken or the jo. And while our space allows us the opportunity to study these tools as often as we wish (you have to love 22′ ceilings), I’m still left wondering why folks are so interested in this subject matter to begin with.
After all, it isn’t like we carry around a bokken or a jo on a regular basis. (For those of you who study arts that use other weapons, do you carry them about in your backpack on a regular basis?) We often state that, for example, a broom or a pool stick could be used in lieu of a jo, but have you ever actually tried this? I have–for reasons I’ll not delve into here–and I’d like to say that a pool stick is most definitely NOT a jo staff. In addition, there are more powerful, more effective, and just down right EASIER weapons to study if you are interested in these matters. I’m reminded of a joke that Sensei likes to make about studying the sword: he’ll ask someone to pretend like they’re drawing the blade out of the saya. As they do so, he’ll mock-draw a gun from his hip and say: “BANG!” Then he laughs. It’s a joke, but the meaning is pretty clear: if you want to learn how to use a weapon, odds are a gun is going to be more applicable and effective that a stick.
To be fair, I actually DO like studying weapons. But my enjoyment comes from the context of my overall aikido studies. And it also stems from a certain appreciation of the historical significance of the tool. And that’s just it: studying with a bokken or a jo is a historical exercise, akin to learning how to sail a tall ship or civil war re-enactments. It may be interesting, it may be challenging, it may give you a sense of deep satisfaction, but it is not self-defense, and it leaves you steeped in the past. And, in my opinion, a firm and constant focus on the present is critical to any real self-defense study.
I do not write this to mock those who study weapons. I find them beautiful, fascinating, and challenging. But I also strongly feel that studying weapons is but a tiny part of real self-defense and modern martial arts. Study them too much, and you risk spending all your time looking backwards.
Note: I’ve been invited to participate in National Blog Posting Month, which means that I’ve got to post every day for the month of November. As a result, I apologize if some of these entries seem short, random, or just plain not as well-thought-out as usual! If you’re interested in more information on National Blog Posting Month, check out: http://nablopomo.ning.com/.