In a tense situation like that of a real fight, with real swords, things happen that would be unpredictable in ordinary times. Can we call this fact fixation?
When we are out of focus and chat with friends, we can move from one subject to another without fear of doing nonsense. Everything is different when you find the tip of a blade ready to take you out under your nose. In this case, you don’t have time to look around and admire the landscape.
When samurai met each other in the street, equipped with their tools of death, the tension was to be expected to increase, inch by inch, even if apparently nothing happened. There is a lot of difference with the people who walk quietly in the avenues.
Today this kind of danger doesn’t exist. Japanese people who meet on the street are wearing Western clothes and have no weapons. Is the danger completely gone? The danger exists, but in much more diversified and varied forms.
In all Westernized countries the known varieties of danger are numerous: car accidents, armed attacks, gunshots fired not only by criminals but also by mentally deranged people, cars loaded with explosives, bomb attacks, various types of poisoning, etc.
In contrast, there is hardly even the possibility of being attacked with a Japanese sword. So why training with the sword?
Why do Japanese people keep an art with no practical use?
Omori Sōgen, born in 1904, who is both a Zen monk and a sword master, writes works that help clarify the question.
It is inherent in human nature that our attention be fixed when confronted with imminent danger. Fixation nails us, paralyzes us and deprives us of our usual resources . What bothers is that the more you try to free yourself from fixation, the more tenacious the fixation becomes. It is an absurd situation, in which the desire of not to be afraid leads us to a fixation on fear.
Even when we know that it is just an exercise and that the wooden sword will stop well above the head, without hitting it, we cannot prevent being seized by a ridiculous panic that causes unnecessary body movements. : the eyes pop out, the cervical spine tenses or the shoulders contract.
These useless movements, however, frustrate the essential, namely the movement of the feet. All the more reason, when it comes to a real fight, with real swords, in which nothing can be predicted in advance, the fixation becomes a sorcery. How to get out of this state of numbness is the main problem of those who practice the art of weapons.
So let’s start with this question: why do we practice using the bokken, which really has no practical use? And in general: what is the value of dedicating time, energy, resources to the practice of a discipline?
Everyone here has their own personal answers: the pleasure of learning something new, sharing it with a group of people where friendly relationships can be triggered; the desire to move the body and learn techniques and methods to “inhabit” it better; the desire to know aspects related to a fascinating culture like the Japanese one; the need for constant improvement; affinity with spiritual aspects; the application of biomechanical principles of attack and defense…
We are interested in focusing on a recurring term in Tsuda’s writing: fixation .
It is no coincidence that those who have no arguments other than their mono-argument are referred to as “fixated”.
There are those who always talk about work, there are those who always talk about cars or motorcycles or women…
Here, the constant practice of the bokken and in general a constant practice of a discipline, can help to gradually remove these fixities. Not because, especially in adolescence, it is not allowed to speak only and always about pu…shups, but rather because life is something wider than our limited range of investigation.
Above all, martial practice may help to recognize and therefore remove or at least limit the triggering factor of any kind of fixity, namely fear.
Let’s say it: every time we insist on the same arguments over and over again, slipping more or less unconsciously into fixation, we are basically implementing a defense mechanism.
Because repetition confirms our inner certainties – and thus drives our inner fears back into the dark. Fears of having to reshape our beliefs, habits. Fears of having to give up the status that our self-built or recognized image would have to change if we dared to go beyond the mechanical repetition of our “mantras”.
The web offers an excellent insight into how – at the societal level – our subconscious offers our rational side some… Irrational justifications for keeping us in an almost perennial state of fixation. This was long before the pandemic made the web an even more polarized environment.
Obviously it also happens at the Dojo: the repetition of a movement that is not understood, if at the beginning it is perhaps the only way to try to decode what a technique has to teach us, over time can become a trap. A fixity that reverberates negatively on the psychophysical system.
And so you have joints nailed and brains… fixed.
The good news is that there is a way to loosen up a bit all that. There is a way to gradually relax our ego’s need to hear its own noise throughout our ears.
A bokken helps to cut away the fronds that take away the light from the plant of our personal development. A constant practice, not necessarily dense but certainly intense, allows you to broaden your perspectives and calm your spirit.
A spirit that will no longer feel the need to prevail over the other, bringing the relationship to a standstill for both ( ai uchi ) yet towards a point of dynamic coexistence – and not fixed – of both ( ai nuke ).