The meaning on unity in Kobudo

Jan 26, 2024

Some years ago, Unsui stood in front of a crowd of students and guests from around the world to make a toast. With a glass of Swiss beer in hand, and over a spread of fondue, his sentiment was heard by us all and carried forward 20 years later by the remaining few ... 

His deepest wish was that members of his Dojo study and grow in 'unity', that there be no tension or in-fighting, and that we all see Kobudo as a means to mature into better humans.

I reflect on this quite a bit, and his desire has been echoed many times since. 

But how does this happen, especially among the notoriously alpha personalities who literally hit each other for fun, from differing cultures and even completely different reasons for studying the Kobudo?

And, even if this unity Sensei asks for happens, what does that accomplish? 

Well, the answer to the first question is simple. It happens on it’s own. Egos are checked on the mat and by the calendar. The traditions have their own means of filtering out the weak. 

But the answer to that second question is interesting, I think … 

In order to grow, to expand as a martial artist and integrated human of discipline, you need others to be in connection with you. Those who share (or at least honor) the practice, understand that grind and sacrifice, the tanren… You cannot do it alone, lone wolves die. Those who pride themselves on being ronin, are just fake. Those who call themselves Masters, simply are not.

It’s the mortar of buyu that matters in the Dojo. That expansion cannot happen without the understanding and commitment that others have to you, to the art. This is not about merely having a good training partner, rather it is a relationship much more meaningful … it’s actually hard to describe, but when you’re there, you know. 

I’ve written about buyu before, but the part about unity among groups of buyu is something quite different. When we come together, trusted squadrons of budo-ka, sharing the same art however seldom sharing anything else in our personal life - the illumination (or disillusion!) of the craft is magnified exponentially. 

In community, we mix it up, we beat the shit out of one another, push each other forward outside of the kinetic character we’re used to. The kobudo becomes alive, to the untrained onlooker it’s scary, even jaw dropping. 

Regardless, it’s the pinnacle of Sensei’s work and this is what’s most important; preserving the art of his teacher and more definitively, the application of his own lived experience - all coming to life in symphony before him. It is absolute … unity. 

Napoleon Hill called this the Mastermind,  ‘a coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.’ 

It’s something that steps beyond reason and into the unexplainable. 

It’s why people in all corners of the world walked out of their homes at the same time when the Armistice Treaty was signed. It’s the result of extreme mental focus in unison with the physical body and positive intent of emotions that elevates the practice into something ultimate, immeasurably pure.

To Sensei, unity is not a mere ‘play nice’. He and the countless masters before him, know that without unity the elevation and potential for the art is unachievable. It’s a non-negotiable where the alternative is the tradition dissolving like sand through the paws of those lone wolves. Short lived, at best. 


*Image from March 2011, Central Park NYC seminar on Shinden Fudo Ryu, to raise funds for Save The Children following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami