Do versus Jutsu: Which Side Are You On?
By Jeff Brooks
The difference between “Do” and “Jutsu” gets
debated a lot in martial arts circles. However, because the perspective
of the debaters is often limited to the frame of reference they have from
their dojo experience, it is difficult for the debate to progress. Even
the terms used in the debate stay murky. If you can't define -Do and -Jutsu
it is hard to get any good traction in the discussion of which of those
two you do, which of them your teachers or their teachers did, and the
merits of one or the other.
If you examine the issue from outside the dojo, the whole thing clears
up pretty well.
The main outline of the debate is this: In Japan, when the samurai era
ended, the culture changed, technology advanced and martial arts became
in one way or another - technically or culturally - obsolete. Many people
wanted to continue practicing their martial arts, but had to find a different
purpose for practicing. This process happened in swordsmanship and in
empty hand martial arts, as it had earlier in many of the traditional
arts of Japan. Martial artists adopted a familiar cultural model for the
transition of their own practices.
For example, making gardens, doing flower arrangements, or making tea,
all had, at one time, a simple practical orientation. After Japanese society
became more sophisticated there were people who practiced these crafts
masterfully. In their simple commonplace acts, refined to a high degree
through practice, these virtuosi began to experience a deeper sense of
purpose. They found that the simple movements of their body, the design
of space, the forms they created and tools they employed, all seemed to
fall naturally into a kind of harmonious perfection. Instead of ending
up with just a cup of hot tea on a cold day (for example), these adepts
experienced some deeper sense of reality, of humanity, of life.
They wanted to teach others how to achieve what they had achieved. The
purpose of this next generation of students was then explicitly to achieve
insight, a deep experience of reality, not just to landscape a yard, or
to cut down an opponent. This generation begins to practice a "-Do."
(The Japanese word Do is from the Chinese word Tao, often translated as
Way. It is interpreted as a way, as in a path (meaning a path through
life or a path to enlightenment) or the way, as in the way things exist.)
The word Do became asuffix to many Japanese traditional arts: Ken-do (the
way of the sword), Karate-do (empty hand way), Cha-Do (the way of tea),
Kyu-Do (the way of archery), etc. There are many others.
The orientation of these subsequent generations of students, people who
undertook practice not as primarily a practical matter (as their cultural
ancestors did) but with the explicit intention of self-development or
other spiritual interest, changed the nature of the practice itself. And
that change was noted: sometimes as a refinement of tradition, and often,
by revisionists, as a departure from the original method and intention
of the earlier practitioners of the tradition. These reformers attempted
to “correct” it.
To some degree this process has transformed the practice of dojo martial
arts. This stands in contrast to the experience of practitioners of a
"-Jutsu ." A -Jutsu is a technique or a craft. Its objectives
are explicitly functional.
If you want to get the job done as a carpenter you learn how to practice
the craft. You learn how to use the tools, how to work with the materials,
how to select, sort, design, measure, cut, fasten, build. At the end of
the day you have done your job, you've earned your pay, you've fed your
family. If, after decades of the practice of your trade, you have become
a master of the craft, excellent. If by some means, due to your character,
your action, the teaching you have absorbed, you are one of the very rare
few who manifest and realize some profound truth through your craft, tremendous.
But that was not, at the outset or along the way, the objective of your
studies or your work life. It is not something you consider to be other
than your own maturing life.
-Do and -Jutsu aren’t totally separate, but they are not the same
thing. And in the generations after these rare masters transcended the
limits of their Jutsu and began teaching disciples a Do, people who are
pursuing one often do not cross paths with people pursuing the other.
In martial arts this separation is a detriment of both, because each
has a great deal to gain from the experiences of the other, The goal is
not to mix or confuse the two objectives - but to deepen and help realize
whichever one you are engaged in.
The Do aspect happens in dojos, generally speaking. Regardless of the
name of the art (for example whether you practice aiki-do or aiki-jutsu)
if the motivation for your training is improved health, improved focus,
the improved synthesis of body and mind, improved self-defense ability,
and you plan to stay with practice as part of your life for an indefinite
period of time, you are practicing a Do. The opportunity for deep understanding
of the subtleties of the art, and the deep integration of it into your
body and mind, is great. The danger in this approach is that the practice
becomes soft, easygoing and so fails to foster the depth of demand and
the immediacy of jeopardy that made earlier practitioners of the art leap
over the usual limits of untrained human beings and strive diligently
to go to the ultimate of their capacity and beyond.
The -Jutsu aspect of martial arts training right now is going on in police
academies, in basic training and other special training in the military.
Generally the people doing -Jutsu training need a certain level of skill
to qualify for their job. They are seeking to pass a test, like an annual
qualification in defensive tactics, or P-24 baton. Or, at a higher level
of aspiration, they are seeking a level of competence that will help assure
them that they will be able to handle a violent confrontation competently
and live to make it home at the end of the day and work another shift
The kind of training they do has a vitality to it that is missing from
much dojo training. This kind of Jutsu martial training, however, usually
does not go too deep. The human body cannot sustain the level of violence
placed upon it in this training, day in and day out. The deep muscle memory,
the transformation of body and mind, the deep conditioning afforded by
a -Do through the performance of the same movement sequences day in and
day out for decades, will not happen in a Jutsu. What Jutsu training can
and does do is to shock the student or participant into red alert and
into an immediate recognition of the swift and violent nature of assault
in a way that more modulated, long-term training cannot.
In dojo culture there is often an unspoken assumption that if you know
a technique, you can make it work and that therefore you are protected
from the specific kind of attack the technique addresses. Police and military
training are much less likely to make that mistake. Police defensive tactics
training operates on the presumption that you do the best you can to prepare,
you bring the tools you need to the situation, you do your best to be
aware, backed up, and ready. And also that, ultimately, you cannot assume
anything. It's up to you and every situation will present you with unique
and unpredictable variables. No outcome can be presupposed.
At the same time, in dojo cultures there are many people who are much
more sophisticated and polished in their technical skills than most Jutsu
practitioners will ever be.
Do and Jutsu are different. But each can and should learn from the other.
Police and military people can learn new techniques from dojo presentations
of martial arts, and they can get the kind of long-term benefits of conditioning
and consistent training unavailable from annual qualification training
and occasional review. Dojo self-defense practitioners can get the vitality
of practice that comes from the police or military practitioner's sense
of the immediacy of imminent threat and the intensity of response that
is required to prevail.
We are not all practicing the same thing for the same reason, but we
can all share those dimensions of practice emphasized by the other.
About the Author:
Jeffrey M. Brooks holds a Go Dan Fifth Degree Black Belt in Matsubayashi
Shorin Ryu, training in Okinawa, Japan and the USA, with Shoshin Nagamine,
the founder of the style, Takayoshi Nagamine, his successor, as well as
with numerous others in the Matsubayashi Ryu lineage and related Chinese
traditions. His Buddhist study and practice is with Rev. Issho Fujita,
resident director of Valley Zendo and Geshe Michael Roach of the Asian
Classics Institute. He has an M.F.A. from NYU Film School and works as
a speechwriter for public figures. He is founder and director of Northampton
Karate and Northampton Zendo in Northampton, Massachusetts, offering classes
daily for adults and children since 1988. (www.northamptonkarate.com)