Preserving the Essence of Martial Arts

Martial arts are not solely about beating someone up. Adam Mitchell emphasizes that there is much more to them—there are values that people can acquire and incorporate into their daily lives. Hence, he believes in the importance of preserving the practice of traditional martial arts.

Martial arts being part of one’s indentity

Nick: One thing I've noticed from our conversations, and what I've read on your website, is your desire to both be respectful, and preserve Japanese tradition. That's something that's important to me. So yeah, why do you think it's important to you?

Adam: That's a great question. The preservation of the art that my teacher is teaching me is the most important responsibility that I have as a student, is to not learn it, and then make it my own, and completely manipulate it and create some other thing from it.

But in understanding Kobudo (traditional martial arts), look, I could put on a pair of khaki shorts and a T-shirt and teach anybody in a park or a concrete room, the same techniques and how to beat someone up. That's not what Budo is. That's not what Kobudo, more accurately.

What I study and teach is in that prefects ‘ko’ meaning like classical budo, or in which is the martial arts. So the old martial arts, that there is an understanding of, first of all, how to learn. And to study in a model of how we are taught of Shu-Ha-Ri, and I'm sure you're familiar with this.

But the first is really just doing as you're told, doing as you see, following exactly how your teacher shares it with you. And to not ask questions, but to simply do. And I know too many here in the West, that people have a challenge with that.

And then the second, that Ha stage, which is much much further down the line than most people would think, is this is where you begin to introduce different variables and you begin to pressure test it just a little bit. That those basics, those foundational lessons that you have, now they begin to expand through exposure and pressure and variation, but you don't change the root form or the principles, or we'll use the word kakehiki, where, like the tactics and the timing or the rhythm has to stay pure.

And then from there eventually, and you don't know, at least ell me you don't know, but eventually, the Ri, you let go of it, and it becomes something that's natural, it becomes part of who you are. Now, in order for that to happen, you have to follow that progression. And that takes an enormous amount of patience, and respecting the path to be able to follow that correctly.

So to me, it's very important that the values that I've taken from that and how that's changed my life, how it's changed my perspectives on living, how it has brought me so much value, and the people around me, how it's benefited my children, how it's benefited my family.

I mean, I could go on and on with this. That can't exist without Shu Ha Ri and it can't exist, if I sort of create my, if I put my own sticker on it and call it my own. But there's a balance there, Nick. I can't take this template and put it in a punch press and then expect the next generation to do exactly that.

At a certain level, my sensei expects my character now becomes part of the art, because it's not, there is a bujutsu, this is a different thing. There is the bugei, there’s like the science of the craft of warriorship. There's the bujutsu, which is like the Spartans, all 300 of us marching forward with the spear in that same formation.

But the budo ‘the path’ is something entirely different. However, in order to get to that place, we need to listen, then, when we’re given the opportunity, we need to be taught how to test and push ourselves forward to let our teacher say, no, you can do this.

Because all those narratives of self-defeating narratives are gonna run wild in our head. But when our teacher says, do this, we do it, because there's a degree of trust that we have. And then eventually we get to this place where we're released from it. And it becomes the art, it becomes the ‘do’.

Not that ‘do’ is the art, but a martial art is not a martial template. At a certain point, it becomes you and you become it. And this is where very much my interest in ikigai comes in. Where at this point now, it becomes my way of living. It becomes my bright future.

I know that budo is a way to age gracefully, it is a way to contain power within; and that power could be anger—power of anger, power of hate, power of some greed, maybe, some of those emotions and feelings that I have as a man that could leak out sideways in so many different ways.

Feelings of possible loneliness or abandonment that so many of us struggle with. But the study of this budo and how I've learned it has given me the methods to be able to regulate that to be able to convert that energy into something that's going to be beneficial for me to be able to convert that negative power into something positive.

To not ignore it, to not suppress it, to not sedate it, but to actually use it and to nurture it, and to be able to find balance in it. And when I'm able to find that balance, then everything in life, all the different strings of my life are able to be tuned and be harmonious with one another.

So this is what budo is, and this is where a lot of people misunderstand and they say, ‘Well, you know, I'm not going to study Aikido because MMA is better or Brazilian jujitsu, I want to get my kids involved in boxing. I don't want them doing that old karate stuff where they stand there and they do ‘kata.’ But that's not what it's about.