Some of my earliest memories of training are kneeling in a line across the mat with all of the other students at Ishikawa Dojo from Olympic Heavyweights down to my 12 year old skinny ass. Professor Ishikawa was a five foot five 200 pound log of a man who at the time was the highest ranked Judo instructor in the United States. As he proceeded down the line doing one round of rondori (free sparing) with each of the students starting with the two or three kids to my right thru me up to the seniors his expression and effort never changed. As gentle as he trained with me, he trained and threw around the largest and most senior members of out school.
As I continued to mature in my martial arts studies my respect for him grew. I never saw him strain or overly exert himself while training. Now that is not to say he did not train extremely hard, but when he fought it was without effort. Many years later while having tea in Japan at the house of the grandmaster this all became clear to me. As was explained to me by both master Muramatsu and Grandmaster Hatsumi, you should have the mind of a child while training and your spirit should be like playing with your friends. You should enjoy your training while at the same time working hard to strengthen your body and mind as well as spirit.”
When I recently saw my teacher master Muramatsu, our discussion naturally turned to the MMA competitions that my students were now involved in. I wanted his opinion on how he felt about this type of fighting. According to Muramatsu sensei, “Bujutsu or martial arts training is learned to protect one’s country and to a narrower extent, to protect your community, your family and yourself. Martial Arts is not a technique with a weapon or your body alone but also your mind. Skills must have heart, and if your heart is good then your technique will also be good.” When asked about winning in competition he replied, “True victory relies not upon you, but your enemy. Thus, victory comes naturally to you. You have only to wait for it to happen. Do not search for victory or seek gain, allow it to happen naturally.”
Before leaving to come back to the United States I wanted to know if there were any words of wisdom that I should pass on to my fighters from him. He said, “To fight against an opponent is not the highest achievement of the martial arts. Likewise, those who have won many competitions are not necessarily the greatest martial artists. A sincere martial artist has to keep training, be steadfast to changes that occur or the passage of time, and live with an eagerness for Budo (the way of martial arts) at his base.”
On the long plane ride back from Japan I reflected on his words and realized the huge difference between the traditional way he thought of martial arts training and the way we look at training and fighting here in the US. Even in the last 5 years we have seen tremendous growth in our sport. Gone are the days of the tough man contests that I use to compete in during the early 80’s. Now we are in a time of the elite athlete who has to be well versed in so many areas of fighting as well as conditioned better then an athlete competing in almost any other sport on the planet. The words he used apply more now then ever before. When I think about the incredible strength of character it takes get up from a loss and get back into the gym to train for your next fight. Or the way two fighters will congratulate each other for a great fight and the mutual respect and friendships that develops, I know that our modern day warriors do know what true victory means. We have all seen the upsets of seemingly invincible fighters who were beaten by someone that by all rights did not stand a chance. It is how we deal with losing that our true greatness comes out. It is the fighter that gets back into the gym and works out harder then ever before, yet will take the time from their training to help a new guy learning a technique for the first time.
It is the fighter that got tapped out by a submission that he has been working on for months and congratulated his opponent on the great job he did on catching him and winning. The fight is really just a very small part of what we do after all. So who can endure the endless hours of training, nursing injuries, cutting weight, and even waiting on fight night for your turn in the arena. It is the fighters that can keep the mind of a child, that can look at all of this as fun and train with joy in their heart that they can participate in such a great sport with friends that share their same spirit.