Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Training to be Samurai

Although I will never be a Samurai because I am not Japanese and have not been born into a Samurai family, I do train and work everyday in an effort to grow into the image I have of the samurai. On this road there have been several influences from various teachers and masters. To honour them and give value to the Samurai Today readers, I will, over the next few weeks talk about them.

The first person in this series is my sensei and friend Eugene Botha. I first met Eugene when I joined his Karate dojo in 1995 or ‘96. He is younger than I am but has a character and authority which makes it easy to learn from him.

I was always impressed with his knowledge of karate and his mastery of kata, but was really drawn to his abilities in kumite or free sparring. During sparring it became very clear that he is a superb artist, adaptable and confident without any of the arrogance which is sometimes shown in the Hollywood image of the Karate Master.

I remember one session probably around 1998 just before a long weekend where I was frustrated by my inability to defend against a particular technique. My frustration boiled over into action and I attempted to wrestle him to the ground with a bear hug. This was probably my most painful by most valuable lesson. Eugene sensei responded to my attack with several elbow strikes to the top of my head and shoulders to break my grip and then insisted we continue sparring. For the next, what felt like an eternity, he proceeded to strike my thighs with shin strikes every time I came near, a technique favoured by the kick boxers since if you can’t stand you can’t kick. Every time I backed away he beckoned me to come close. All the while with a wry smile on his face.

That long weekend seemed like an eternity as I was bruised and sore and couldn’t understand why he had treated me so harshly. The sparring of that evening kept playing over and over in my mind. What had I done to deserve such harsh treatment? I will not go back! Or I’ll go back and tell him that I will not return after the month has finished. After the weekend, my bruised ego had healed a bit and I had had a chance to rethink the events which had lead to the mild beating I had received. My anger had been replaced by a deep respect for this man whom I had disrespected by loosing my temper. Eugene had firmly taught me to manage my anger and frustrations and above all, never to show disrespect for your opponent/friend/instructor.

Eugene Sensei responds to a student who asks "Sensei, can I do this?" with an emphatic "Yes! You have just done it. It is not the technique we are training, but you can do it." All the while with the same wry smile on his face.

Eugene went on to become a Doctor of traditional medicine and runs a successful Body Talk practice. Over and above this he runs the I-Shin Do Ken Kenjutsu Heiho in Robin Hills, Johannesburg.

Eugene has always shunned the idea of chasing gradings preferring rather to concentrate on learning and personal growth. This has not stopped him from preparing the students who wish to grade for gradings. I was impressed by the fact that all his students who went to the area gradings always had excellent spirit and performed exceptionally well.

Of all the martial artists I have personally met he is by far the most versatile with an extremely diverse skill set which includes, but is not limited to, Kenjutsu, Jojutsu, Aikido and Karate. Eugene also has an appreciation of the true Japanese Sword; nihonto, and much of my interest and knowledge on the subject has grown under his influence. Many of the other people I hold in high regard and will talk about in future articles would never have even come up on my radar had it not been for the instruction I received from Eugene Botha sensei.


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5 comments:

EJ Hill said...

In response to your comment regarding "I will never be a Samurai because I am not Japanese and have not been born into a Samurai family..."

You are mistaken. Even during the early days of the Samurai/Saburai many of them grew from nameless peasants into Samurai, and some even Generals. It was only during the latter half of their existence that they came to be "nobility" - and even then their status could be bestowed on outsiders (even Westerners). See, http://kenjutsu.sohoisp.net/western-samurai

Albert Sjoberg said...

EJ, Thank you for the comment. Point taken. That is pretty much the same as the European nobility.
I guess my image or vision of the Samurai is just a little more intangible. Very much like Katsumoto's (Ken Watanabe) in the last Samurai, looking for the perfect Cherry Blossom. I have an intellectual understanding that they are all perfect, but my heart is still looking :)

EJ Hill said...

Yeah, I know what you mean ... while I know we (as Western 'samurai') would probably be allowed to fight next to them in fall samurai atire, should the circumstance and need arise ... One do kinda feel as if you don't belong ... as if they always have a little mystical edge ;-)

But that probably only proves how much we are growing into their image - having a sense of honor and respect that surpases the average western individuals ;-)

Albert Sjoberg said...

I do like the way you think 8)

UK said...

I will never be a Samurai because I am not Japanese and have not been born into a Samurai family..."Swords

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GO RIN NO SHO
The Book of Five Rings

It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way. - Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Geshin