Over 400 Martial Artists from around the world gathered together in Washington DC for the Martial Arts Federation for World Peace Conference in March of 1997. This event was unprecedented in its scope and attendance. The third day of this event included panel discussions on topics concerning martial arts and education. Homma Sensei, founder of Nippon Kan Culture Center in Denver, Colorado was asked to speak as a panelist. All speeches and discussions were translated simultaneously into English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, and Japanese to accommodate conference attendees. The following is the English translation of Homma Sensei’s speech.
“Martial Arts as an Educational Tool for Human Development”
By Gaku Homma
Martial Arts Federation for World Peace Conference;
March 23, 1997; Washington D.C.
Thank you very much. First of all, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the staff members who have given me this opportunity. I am very honored to have the chance to meet the many martial artists who have gathered here today.
The theme which I have been asked to speak on today is “Martial arts as an educational tool for human development.” I would like to share with you my views on this subject. Please bear with me.
First of all, what do you think motivates American people to call your dojo, namely, what motivates them to be interested in the martial arts for the first time?
Movies… Hollywoods version of “martial arts” movies. Fictional action movies that make heros out of even turtles by adding a bit of mustard and ketchup for American flavor, yet wrapped in seaweed in an attempt at keeping them Oriental. Stars emerge from these movies and a line of products soon appear on the market.
These American styled martial arts have become popular in the United States. They have become accepted in the public’s mind as being authentic true forms of martial art training. Movies Stars such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, Bill Wallace, Pat Morita, and Steven Seagal all have become accepted as true martial artists. I apologize if you are fond of these people.
As these kinds of action movies have become popular, phones at dojos around the country keep ringing. Many parents inspired to see Pat Morita transform a problem kid into a champion of youth in one two hour movie drag their kids in droves to the nearest dojo. Never mind that Pat Morita at his own confession, practiced Karate only eight hours during the production of the movies, and has never practiced before or since. Parents are overlooking something important here. Instead they are hoping that what they sew in the movies is reality, that there is some possibility that impossible things can be realized.
Steven Seagal performs acts of violence in the name of righteousness. His performances have nothing to do with the teachings and techniques of Aikido. After the release of Steven Segall’s latest film, young men with ponytails emulating Segall line up in front of my dojo.
These students want to learn how to perform acts of violence like they saw Steven Seagal perform in his movies. They do not wish to learn Aikido. These kind of movies have had an even more fearful effect on the martial arts world in America. Martial art instructors themselves have begun to teach students techniques that replicate the actions seen in movies. Under this kind of influence these instructors have lost the origin of their arts. I am very disappointed in this phenomenon.
Dojos in America today display currently popular movie posters and advertise the teaching of the likes of “Ninja” or “Power Ranger” techniques — techniques that they have never taught before, but are a draw for parents to bring in their kids. Dojo philosophy has become a philosophy of business marketing, none of which has anything to do with original martial art philosophy.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the headquarters for martial arts in America today is Hollywood and that the primary philosophy for “Hollywood martial arts’ is nothing but thinly masked violence — martial arts only in name.
One night as I was changing the channel on television I found a John Wayne movie on. The fighting style in the movies of that era was completely different than that of today. Cowboys took off their coats, rolled up their sleeves and swung at each other a couple of times. They never used round kicks or jump kicks or finished off an opponent by stepping on their face. In the old cowboy days, a fight ended with both parties picking up their hats, dusting them off and leaving with dignity.
Today, movies are different. You can see martial art techniques in any fighting scene not only in martial art movies.
As Hollywood movies have developed over the years so has the level of violence. This increase in violence has had a detrimental effect on the publics sense of common decency. The America that existed in the times of John Wayne does not exist any more.
Before we talk about martial arts, education, and human development in America, we need to recognize the social ramification of martial arts in America. We as martial artists need to reflect on our personal responsibilities in this area. If we ignore this aspect, the true spirit of martial arts will disappear within the changes in sense of values in modern day America like castles built of sand. Martial art education should contain a deep and lasting quality and philosophy. We should draw a line between Hollywood and martial art education.
People who teach martial arts and people who practice them are first human beings. People make martial arts, martial arts do not make people. People improve martial arts, martial arts do not improve people.
Throughout history, the martial arts have changed and evolved in accord with the changes in values, morals and ethics of the people who practice them. These changes are all linked intrinsically to the historical, political, religious, and social backdrop of the time in any given society.
“Japanese spirit” and “Kamikaze thought” during World War II in Japan is a typical example of how martial art education can be twisted to support a calculated purpose. As a result, a lot of people were pushed towards not only their own deaths but many people from neighboring countries were sacrificed as well.
This reinforces the theory that martial arts do not necessarily raise up human beings — human beings have the power to make martial art training good or bad.
We have to realize that the study of the martial arts is actually a study of ourselves. We have many martial artists here today with different background so I will not go into specifics relating to other martial arts. Because my background training is in the art of Aikido, I would like to focus on martial art theory and philosophy from an Aikido point of view.
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido has said that training in the martial arts is based on love and misogi waza. Misogi waza translates as training to rid oneself of “jyaki”, a concept that has been passed down from ancient times in Japan. Jyaki translates as “a negative mind which pursues material desires, the desire for fame resulting in hatred, jealousy, etc.”
All of us living in this modern society possess various degrees of jyaki. People are searching, suffering, and struggling, trying to rely on things outside of themselves to heal their minds. Many people begin their study of the martial arts in order to try to overcome their struggles through a pursuit of self-discipline, self-confidence, and self-defense etc. People desperately search for a sense of personal peace and martial arts instructors try to provide this for them. I believe however that as long as a person is trying to search for an answer to their own confusion, and satisfy their own desires, they will never gain a lasting peace.
According to the original principles for martial art education, one should not need to seek, but to have a mind that does not have anything to seek for. This is the way of practicing misogi.
I tell my beginning students on their first day of training, “Thank you for making the effort to come here. I am very happy to see you. You do not need self-discipline, self-confidence and self defense. You are fine just the way you are. The fact that you came here after a long and busy day in order to improve yourself is enough. A dojo should not be a place that tries to reform human beings with incentives of constant advancement, but a place where people who are struggling are relieved of these burdens. The training in the actual techniques in martial arts is nothing but the means to reach this. Through repetition and hard training, you will realize your own limitation as part of Nature. This realization alone allows one to rejoice in being alive and liberates one from all kinds of jyaki. This liberation allows for a world of unlimited possibilities to open up. From that place one can find ones original self, beyond self discipline, self confidence and self defense. I believe this and continue to train myself on a daily basis.”
We are standing on the threshold of the 21st century, and as social life and human relationships increase in complexity, positive education in the martial arts as well as religion is a necessary element for people today.
Many problems however emerge that can not be solved through martial art or religious training alone. Martial artists are human beings first, so before we can become leaders we must increase our knowledge in many areas. We must study the truth of history, experience many facets of life, share with many people to deepen our understanding of the human condition. We must fulfill our role as exemplary members of society, not only as martial artists. We need to train ourselves to become leader for others without being distracted by temporal desires.
All of us as human beings have been nurtured by nature to become who we are. Having people use the skills and powers given to us to compete and fight each other is not the purpose of martial arts. It is not just a teaching which trains a person searching for answers to develop a fighting spirit and prepares one to fight with ones fists. I believe that how to share, understand, help, trust, forgive, and learn from each other is the original education ideal for the martial arts.
The martial arts have been called a “sword with a two-sided blade.” (A double edged sword). Because the effect of the educational philosophy of the martial arts has such a big impact, we need to give cautious instruction and be diligent teachers.
I think we need to first to reflect within ourselves to gain the presence of mind to pursue the development of the martial arts as an educational tool for human development. This is part of our mission.
Thank you very much. Gaku Homma, Nippon Kan Founder