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Grasping Budo By More Than One Corner

By Christopher Caile

Many years ago while I was living in Tokyo, Donn Draeger once said to me, "You can't grasp Budo by a single corner." This statement came in the midst of a long conversation about the martial arts. While I have long forgotten the subjects we discussed, the phrase itself has stuck with me.

Of course Donn was the consummate example of diversity of experience in the martial arts. He had studied many of the classical Japanese martial arts and both his experience and historical knowledge were truly awesome. As the years have gone by and I have gotten deeper into my study of karate, Donn's observation has proven right over and over again.

When you study a single art you are often confined. It is sort of like the old saying, "when your only tool is a hammer, you just see nails." This is not to say that studying a single art is wrong, but it does suggest that by studying other arts, a student's perspective and experience is broadened so that his understanding and practice of his original art greatly benefits too.

I am reminded of an observation once made to me by Richard Kim (the well known karate teacher and historian), who said "the secret of any art is seeing what you see." What he meant is that you need knowledge and experience to be able to discern what is going on when you see a martial arts move. The more experience you have, the more you are able to see.

Nowhere has this been more evident to me than in the study of karate kata. For many years I looked at most of the moves as punches and kicks, although my judo experience did allow me to see many throws within the movements. The ability to see throws was further enhanced after studying Chinese Shuai Chiao.

Aikido, Jujustu and Daito- ryu Aikijutsu study added more insight. Learning some Chinese Kung Fu systems also added to my depth of knowledge of certain grappling moves within kata.

My karate was also broadened by training in grappling. In Buffalo, my house mate Joel was a full contact grappler and UFC veteran. In my garage, which had been modified into a training center, we often sparred. I still remember the first time I lifted my knee to block a low roundhouse kick. Bam, I was on the floor on my back and wondering what had happened. I quickly learned that a low roundhouse kick was the perfect set up for a take down. I learned to adjust my fighting tactics.

A few years later when our karate organization was developing a full-contact team to compete in Japan, I quickly saw that those who had boxing experience had a distinct advantage. Our fighters who were experienced with strikes to the head had a distinct advantage in the competition over others who did not, but who were trying to adjust to the new reality.

The same lesson holds for self-defense situations. Too many karate-ka never experience actually being attacked to the head. It makes sense for safety reasons not to make contact to the head with punches during karate practice, but this also creates a problem for the same karate-ka if they find themselves in a real fight with someone trying to take their head off. Here again a little cross training adds a lot.

The same problem is even more evident in Aikido and in many jujutsu systems. In Aikido, for example, attacks are done slowly at first, with increased speed and intensity with experience. The emphasis is on cooperation with your partner so you can both learn. But, too often practice is never taken beyond this point. There are teachers who have never had any combat experience, either from karate, boxing or other arts. While their technique may look good, they can unfortunately be at a disadvantage if they had to actually use their art in a real self-defense situation.

A friend Oscar Ratti, best known for his book "Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere," related to me a tragic story of a New York City black belt in Aikido he had known. This person returned to his van after practice one night to find someone rummaging through the back of the vehicle. The friend pulled open one of the back doors to challenge the individual. What he got, however, was unexpected. The robber leaped out from the back with a knife in his hand and thrust it out. Unfortunately the Aikido-ka, with countless years of practice of avoiding punches and practice knife stabs with a pivot during practice, did not do so in this instance. It might have been the surprise, or fear -- no one knows. But the result was tragic. He lost his life. Ratti commented, "So many in Aikido just don't train with combat intensity." In this case it resulted in a loss of life.

Some Daito-ryu organizations combine the sword arts in their training, something done to a lesser degree in certain schools of Aikido. But techniques in either art are greatly enhanced with the skills learned in swordsmanship - keeping the center line, dropping the weight, use of the center and upper torso within their techniques. Too often Aikido and Jujutsu only include perfunctory sword defense practice and the students' whole concept of distance is thrown off, as is their timing. As a result, many of the techniques practiced against sword cuts would utterly fail if an attack by a sword wielding (baseball bat or billy club) aggressor ever arose.

Judo-ka too often are not introduced to striking arts. This is not important if Judo is practiced only as a competitive sport. But if their skills are to be used for self-defense, some striking and/or kicking practice adds a great deal to their training. The same can be said for Brazilian Jujutsu. While the art definitely demonstrated to much of the martial arts world that traditional arts lacked necessary skills in grappling, the art has its own limitations. Similar to Judo, Brazilian Jujutsu exponents can greatly benefit from learning punching and kicking skills.

Thus by learning and understanding other martial arts you can enhance your primary art. You develop new skills, and are able to perform others with greater proficiency. You are able to understand many nuances of technique and how better to apply what you have learned. The Japanese warrior of old practiced many arts - the sword, knife, Bow and arrow, naginata (curved spear), yari (straight spear) -- often combined with battlefield grappling skills, plus horsemanship and other arts. He was thus well rounded.

It is only in comparatively modern times that martial artists have confined their training to a single art. But many of the masters who founded those arts in fact trained in several. While you may never seek to become a master yourself, you can still be enriched by the concept of cross training that was once the hallmark of the classical warrior.

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About the Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 40 years and holds a 6th degree black belt in Seido Karate and has experience in judo, aikido, diato-ryu, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts. He is also a long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong. He is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwan Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. In Buffalo, NY, he founded the Qi gong Healing Institute and The Qi Medicine Association at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He has also written on Qi gong and other health topics in a national magazine, the Holistic Health Journal and had been filmed for a prospective PBS presentation on Alternative Medicine. Recently he contributed a chapter on the subject to an award winning book on alternative medicine, "Resources Guide To Alternative Health."

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