« Yakusoku o mamoru », Budo is this and this alone.
When my Shisho, IKEDA Shigeo Sensei, taught me this many years ago, I already held this conviction dear to my heart, but I needed several years to understand its importance and true meaning.
For a long time, I thought that «keeping ones promises» and «keeping ones word» meant the same thing, but this is not so. The most difficult promises to keep are the ones that we make to ourselves, without any witness other than our own heart, our own conscience.
This can sometimes be very hard to explain in a world where most people around us have trouble honouring their own commitments that have been written and signed, sometimes even in presence of witnesses. The only possible response to such an attitude is to not give in to the temptation to do the same, even if this sometimes leaves a bitter and lasting taste in your mouth.
For many a year my life has been firmly pointed in this direction, and little by little, I have learnt to live with all the promises that are inside me, and that exist only for me.
When you know that the term «Yakusoku» also signifies «Rendezvous» in Japanese, you can fully understand the complexity of respecting this approach.
As soon as you make a commitment to Budo, you firstly adhere to this value that represents its very essence, and the Shisho, who is the guarantor for transmission, cannot accept significant failings on the subject without drawing conclusions. In certain serious cases, the Deshi is purely and simply rejected from the group «Ha mon».
The idea of classifying artists, even those performing a martial art, into higher or lower levels does not comply with my approach to art, where the main issue is about searching for truth behind appearances, and where each individual «artist» contributes something of himself to his art form.
Who would ever think of saying that Picasso was greater than Michelangelo, that Mozart was greater than Chopin, or that Baudelaire was greater than Apollinaire? Or to classify them into different levels?
Who would dare to express an opinion on the levels of MIYAMOTO Musashi, SASAKI Kojiro or SAKAMOTO Ryoma?
I elaborated at length in another note about techniques being just a support, a means to build ones own person. Attributing grades to a technique means skirting round the essential issue, making those that perform an art believe that their efforts are reduced down to mere elements that serve to assess them.
This attitude is perfectly conceivable in sports where physical performance is assessed, but not at all so in Budo.
What is reprehensible is the skilfully maintained ambiguity in certain groups that leave us to believe that the attribution of technical grades automatically comes with simultaneous recognition of a «spiritual» level. Of course this is totally untrue, but for the novice, it seems perfectly obvious.
If progress in Budo is made at first by striving for technical excellence, one has to admit that it is necessary to achieve this as quickly as possible, in order to be able to best use this support that desserts us very quickly over the years. However, if transmission has been carried out correctly, one day you will notice that you have simply changed the support, and that your progress in improving the «Kokoro» will blossom into infinity…
In this context, each individual’s level can only be subjective, in the same way that one is free to think that such or such an artist is the best in his field.
Man’s desire for power, however small, makes them want to be given grades by means of an objective ranking system to compare oneself against another, and therefore to determine, without ambiguity or possible questioning, the conditions of their life within the group to which they belong.
In this context, reducing the practice of a sport down to just techniques is reassuring, since this attitude avoids dealing with genuine transmission-related problems. Nobody should be able to come between the Shisho and the Deshi, and in any case, not structures that would superimpose an artificial hierarchical relation on one that should exist between the Shisho and the Deshi, that is to say, a relationship based on respect, mutual trust and a freely consented acceptance built on the conviction of reciprocal enhancement.
Unfortunately, many people have thought that they were progressing along the Budo path because they could see themselves progress technically, which is considered the final aim. They have been mislead by being attributed technical grades that are assumed to include other elements that have never actually existed, and find that over the years this very technique has deserted them, even though they still have their diplomas to show that they at one time successfully reached a certain level that has been lost to them for years.
Putting aside the useless and incoherent nature of this type of grading within the context of learning Budo, it should be stressed that classifying into closed ranks restricts progress by leading us to believe that the main objective is to reach a higher level.
My quest is that of my Shisho, IKEDA Shigeo Sensei, a quest that enables me to believe that everything is accessible, even the impossible.
Each individual’s ambition should be to reach and surpass the level of our senior’s and our Shisho, because this is the only way to thank them for what they have given. I endeavour to do this and help my Deshi to do the same. The Shisho is a guide and therefore he has a duty to be the guarantor for genuine progression.