Thursday, July 29, 2010

Spoiled by Choice

Too much choice is not always a good thing.

Living in Tokyo, I have a lot of choices of martial arts to practice. If you live in a small town somewhere, and wish you could find even one good dojo near enough to your home to commute to regularly, I feel your pain. I grew up in a small town too. And having too MUCH choice is definitely preferable to having too LITTLE. But it brings its own problems.

When I lived in Oita, I dabbled in Sekiguchi ryu iai. Then I moved to Tokyo (through no choice of my own, unfortunately) and thought, "I ought to continue practicing Sekiguchi ryu - even if it's with another group." I located another group, somewhat far from my place, students of another teacher. In the end though, I realized that this would only end up being bad news. Separate koryu groups, I've found, like to lecture you not only on how everything you're doing is technically wrong, but also on how your teacher is a bad person, and how you were wrong for ever learning from him in the first place. Not a good scene.

Shortly after I moved to my current apartment, I saw a YouTube video (I linked to it in a previous post) on kendo, part of a series called "Samurai Spirit". In the video, the host pays a visit to a revered Kendo 8-dan hanshi. It turns out that this dojo is not far from where I live. I thought to myself, "Wow, what a great opportunity! I should definitely take up kendo again and practice with this great teacher!"

Well, I never did quite get around to it, but with that thought rolling around in my head, I did a search for kendo dojo in my area. It turns out there is a good dojo right up the street from me. "Wow, what a great opportunity! So close to my apartment, and everything!"

The only problem was that I already have an iai practice that conflicts with a jodo practice, and if I went to every scheduled practice for just iaido and jodo, I'd be practicing about 5 days a week. I usually make it to about 3 practices a week. Do I really need to add kendo to the mix? To go to kendo, I would need to skip an iai or jodo practice. I would probably end up going to each art once a week - is it possible to make progress at that rate?

A bit later, I was at a Tokyo iaido event, when I saw a Sensei doing Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu (my style of iai) and wearing a nametag that said "Toshima ward". I checked on the internet, and his dojo is in Ikebukuro, close to where I live, and right where I work. "Wow, what a great opportunity!" But do I really need 3 iai dojo? This would just create more conflict. Going to 2 different dojo is bad enough; iai teachers don't like sharing students.

I was actually heading to iai practice a few weeks ago when I spotted a man and woman walking with sword bags over their shoulders, the same as I was carrying. "Are you doing iai?" I asked them. The man was very cagey and clearly didn't want to tell me anything. He answered with unhelpful, one-word answers as much as he could. Eventually, the woman informed me that they were doing Shinkage Ryu at the local community center. "Wow, what a great opportunity!" I thought. Another koryu to practice, within 10 minutes' walk from my place! But do I really need another koryu, especially one that clearly has some people who don't want me there?

I was looking in a book on koryu recently, and discovered that the Soke of one of the branches of Araki ryu lives near where I work every Saturday. I had seen his demonstration at the Budokan, and been very impressed. "Wow, what a great opportunity! I should call him and see if I can practice!" As if I need another koryu, particularly one that deals with a number of different weapons.

Next, I was at an iaido event and met a guy from the US who has been in Japan for quite some time. He mentioned that he also did kenjutsu; I asked what ryuha. He said that he does Niten Ichi Ryu with a Sensei up in Saitama, not far from where I work. "I have done Niten Ichi Ryu too! Wow, what a great opportunity!" Well, you get the picture.

I think we are just programmed to think, "The more martial arts, the better!" There is a saying in Japan about chasing 2 rabbits at the same time. The punchline is that you'll end up catching neither of them. While I think it's possible to practice 2 martial arts, I think 3 is really pushing it. 3 is possible for some people who are especially dedicated or for "professional" martial artists, i.e., teachers who basically do nothing but practice budo all day, every day. For most of us, 2 is more than enough.

And yet there's always the attraction of the unknown; something new. Surely that new and exotic martial art contains all the secrets that my current martial art doesn't have; surely that new teacher will tell me everything my current teacher isn't giving me. If I could just learn one more martial art, that would fill in all the gaps and make me the ultimate martial artist! Ooh, if I could just learn that really rare koryu, then I could go back home and be really, really special.

It's all an illusion. I need to focus on the practices I've already got scheduled, and just GO to them instead of coming up with reasons why I should be looking for something else.


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