Friday, April 16, 2010

Dueling with Ushin

Me and my teacher Nick Ushin Lowry

My friend Nick Ushin Lowry recently had the honor of being published by Aikido Journal (again). He detailed his thoughts on the difference in the attitude between do and jutsu.

From Nick Ushin Lowry at Aikido Journal

I think much of what he has to say is accurate about the dual mentalities that are present in students of the martial path. However I believe he chose the wrong line to draw, that between jutsu and do.

The reason I am responding is this line.

"On a most basic level JUTSU is the madness of violence and DO is the sanity of nonviolence."

First I would like to weigh in on what the real difference between 'jutsu' and 'do' is, then I would like to take Ushin's idea and modify it so the model he uses rings truer my own ears.

What is the difference between jutsu and do? I have belts that end in both suffixes. I have heard arguments and seen the fingers pointed back and forth for much of my martial life. I have seen all my teachers draw the line between the arts with their own intrepretations and spins.

In my years in the dojos around the world I have seen 'DO' arts. I have trained with Judo men that are singly obsessed with victory in sport, to the point they taught how to cheat. I have seen ego sick aikido masters cultishly control through fear and guile. I have seen hazing of students in the kendo dojos in Japan. Of course I have also met my greatest friends and teachers in the halls of 'do'. I have had the richest experiences of my life and have traveled far and wide to train with people I consider family. This too is 'DO"

In the 'jutsu' dojos which Ushin wrote, "JUTSU is all about winning and killing." I studied quietly and serene. My teacher watched closely the students, and any ego or 'fight' was taken shaved away from our technique. In the halls of the Jutsu dojo I learned deeper meanings of the harmony between people and training. I had challenges that polished my spirit and helped shape me into a better man. Then again the country is awash with men covered in blood championing the word jutsu as the ultimate form of combat, and they sure want to prove it.

What do these words mean 'DO' and 'JUTSU'?

Simply jutsu refers to art. I myself find the word art to be almost a sacred one. In my personal journey through life, art and the act of creation for the sake of creation has given my life a deeper meaning. My quest for art shaped my community, helped me find my wife and is my lens through which I view the world. The word art itself does not shape this intention for violence that Ushin proposed.

'DO' does speak a little more directly to the spiritual nature. It means path or way. I believe Kano Sensei, the founder of Judo coined this art suffix to point out the character and moral development he wanted emphasized in his art. I think he did the martial world a great service in pointing this out, but he did not invent the wheel. He was clarifying intention.

So what is the real difference between 'DO' and 'JUTSU'? Nothing. There is no difference. Sure you will find technical differences between schools, you will find attitude differences in all the personalities you find, but at the end of the day The people and arts that constitute 'DO' and 'JUTSU' are exactly the same. Period.

Now Nick's division in the arts do exist. There is a duality between our violent and spiritual natures. He hints to the answer of where to draw the line when he talks about 'self'.

Within us all are the yin yang binary of light and dark and the myriad shade of gray. No matter what art you study the moment you choose your path starts first with intention and ends in choice. Intention and Choice. This is the line that divides the noble, spiritual and moral goals of the arts from chaotic violence.

Intention is the plan or the map. It is the principles we strive for and train hard to obtain. Intention is the slogans we cover our dojo walls with and the lofty goals we read the great masters write about. But as we all know the path to Hell is paved with good intentions, and as we walk the path with our map of intentions, we often find the road forks. We make choices in our techniques, and in our lives that send us either closer to our higher goal or further away from it.

So friends, do not point fingers at 'JUTSU' as being the path of violence. Do not look to 'DO' for your salvation. Look only to yourself, and the way you organize you world around you. Only you can set your true intentions and only you can make your choices. There is nothing in these arts that fall outside of personal responsibility. As O'Shaughnessy wrote "We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of the dream." Our training and results are a reflection of our internal drive, no matter if it ends in 'DO' or 'JUTSU'

Thanks Nick for being the Muse. I am especially grateful for having a teacher that I am not afraid to randori with. Jita Kyoei!


  1. the path to hell is paved with lots of fear and loads of bad behavior driven by greed, anger, and ignorance. sometimes the ignorance dresses up and disguises itself as good intentions, but genuinely intelligent good intentions get a bad rap i think -- theres nothing wrong with good intentions if you keep your eyes open and wits about you

  2. My eyes shot to the same idea, "But as we all know the path to Hell is paved with good intentions, and as we walk the path with our map of intentions, we often find the road forks." Of course we can only decide as best we can, but I'm not sure about really foreseeing its transition to heaven or hell. Perhaps that's the beauty of Tragedy. Or perhaps a little magic for those he seem to see heaven and hell so cleary.