A New Student’s Perspective
One may be surprised, when beginning a study of Danzan Ryu, by the emphasis the system places on personal character and integrity. In fact, while proficiency in the arts of the system is of course a major factor in the promotion of a student, the character of the student is expected to progress at an equal or higher level. On one level, the practical reason for this seems obvious – the system does equip a student with knowledge and skills that could be terribly misused if put in the hands of a person prone to angry, violent, or self-serving behavior. However, it becomes clear very quickly as a new student that there is a higher purpose for the emphasis the system places on character. It is not, as it appears at first, that the system teaches violent arts that are to be moderated by sound character, but rather, that the system teaches the perfection of character as its highest goal. Proficiency in the arts, then, is not the main goal at all. It is, rather, merely one avenue through which this higher goal is pursued, enriching a student’s character with knowledge and strength to handle difficult and dangerous situations. Embracing this idea of perfection of character is perhaps the key to beginning a successful study of Danzan Ryu.
Perhaps the best summary of the higher goals of character sought by the Danzan Ryu student is found in the Code of the Judo Rank Holder. Six qualities are listed in the code: courtesy, humility, faithfulness, loyalty, bravery, and responsibility. It appears that the order in which these are listed is no accident. The pursuit of each of these traits, in concert with one’s study of the martial arts, seems to set one on a path toward becoming a truly complete human being, and likewise, the study of the arts apart from these is not only meaningless, but even counterproductive. Each of the six traits in the code has an important place as one begins study of the arts:
Courtesy: Most will probably agree that this is one of the most fundamentally absent aspects of character in the world today. You need look no further than any program on daytime TV to find countless examples of how we are, as a whole, becoming increasingly self-centered and completely unconcerned with concerns of anyone around us. This would, then, naturally seem to be the first aspect of character that must be examined – both in life as well as on the mat. There is no place on the mat for rudeness, insulting remarks, or self-serving behavior (taking cell phone calls during class, constant lateness, etc). Neither is there any place in life as a whole for these things. Thus the first step toward perfecting character in life is the same as that of beginning the study of Danzan Ryu – to focus on courtesy.
Humility: Hand-in-hand with the need for courtesy in a student is the need for humility. A student of Danzan Ryu is introduced to some powerful and “cool” arts rather quickly, and it could be tempting to begin growing an ego around these new skills that most people you meet do not have. However, it is as true in the martial arts as in any other aspect of life: the more you know, the more you see there is to know. Nothing hinders personal and spiritual development more than the ego, and so humility must be a central focus both on and off the mat if one is to succeed in the martial arts or in life.
Faithfulness: This is another battle that must be fought with one’s self on and off the mat. While studying Danzan Ryu, there will always come those periods of time where one feels like his arts have stopped progressing (the so-called “blue belt plateau” is an infamous example). Spending time in the dojo will conflict with other commitments in life and sooner or later you may feel like you would much rather be doing other things than working out several nights a week. This, too, finds parallel in life – we often find it easier to just engage in something until it becomes difficult and then quit. However, on the mat as in life, keeping faithful to one’s obligations and commitments is the only way to progress through these times. Sticking with the commitment to study the arts through a difficult period will create ripples of strength that reach far out into a student’s life.
Loyalty: This could also be argued to be a much-absent aspect of character in the world at large. The rate at which marriages end in divorce is but one obvious example of how loyalty is finding less and less importance in the hearts and minds of society. However, the quest for the perfection of character is ultimately a battle with the self and self-serving ideas – and this battle finds no starker front line than with one’s loyalties. High character in life requires “sticking with” loved ones and friends in their times of need, even when doing so means making some personal sacrifice. Danzan Ryu is no exception. As you grow through the system, you are depended-upon more and more: depended upon to be an example to newer students, depended upon to watch out for the safety of everyone on the mat, depended upon to give of your time and energy to the dojo. Only in deciding that one’s loyalties lie with others and not with the self can one truly move toward perfection of character.
Bravery and Responsibility: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” ~ Luke 12:48.
“The world is a dangerous place to live. Not because of people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” ~ Albert Einstein.
The truly wise individuals of history – those from all perspectives – all seem to come to the same conclusion: that those with knowledge, talent, and integrity have a responsibility to use these things for good in the world. The study of Danzan Ryu is certainly no exception. In fact, the student of jujitsu develops skills and knowledge that few in the world have. The world’s great individuals – from Jesus to Einstein to master Okazaki– tell us we have a responsibility to use these skills to leave this world a better place than it was when we found it. However, this is not always easy. Danzan Ryu teaches us a wide set of healing and first aid skills – but when we see a car wreck happen will we have the courage and sense of responsibility to put our personal schedule on hold and get involved? We learn powerful combative arts, but when we catch a glimpse of a mugging happening down that alleyway we just passed, will we have the courage to go back and help? It is a question we hope we will never have to answer – but the answer is perhaps the ultimate test of the state of one’s character.
In the end, every student of Danzan Ryu must decide for himself what he wishes to achieve through his work in the system. If one embraces the idea of “perfection of character,” however, then the aspects of character spelled out by the code of the Judo rank holder must be given as much personal thought and focus as the actual arts themselves. The goal is, after all, the same for all of us in this world – not to seek to become the best teacher or architect or rocket scientist or martial artist that we can be, but to seek to become the most complete human beings we can be.