Updated: Jul 28, 2021
So the punch comes in, you’ve already restomped the groin and you headbutt your opponent whilst executing a flying suplex as a finishing move. Obviously this is a highly artistic process. I’m sure the blood splatter alone would fetch a high price at any gallery. But seriously why do we call what we do an art and what does that really mean?
All arts have a central idea which they adhere to which is that they are concerned with the aspects of aesthetic performance. This doesn’t mean however what most people think of, which is just about how “beautiful” something looks. To understand Aesthetics it’s easier to first consider Anaesthetic. Anaesthetics shut down, dull and deaden the senses. In other words they inhibit your connection to not only the moment but the world around you. Aesthetics therefore are concerned with the awaking and engagement of the senses and in true aesthetics you engage all of your senses simultaneously and therefore create the truest sensation of being alive. Therefore we can consider the arts to be any practice which simulates and captivates the senses, to generate pure feeling, emotion and thought in the heart and mind of the recipient.
First lets consider the lowest level in which Bujutsu can be considered an art through the eyes of the observer. The Karateka bows with respect to all those present and otherwise. They walk out on the mat with intensity and clarity and purpose. They reach their mark and pause.
The audience, the judges or perhaps just the fellow students wait and breath with the performer. A moment of silence longer than comfortable settles the the crowd and like a match to fire the name of the kata erupts from the heart of the budoka. The first movement usually goes one of two ways, slow and smooth to build or explosive to show. Each movement shown to its fullest extent as if surrounded on every side. The pace and speed pitched to perfectly captivate the imagination of the audience. No longer are the motions mere movements but living moments capturing the essence of bujutsu and budo the struggle between life and death. The rhythm set to the beat of the human heart the most natural rhythm with which to connect. By the time you reach the final kiai you feel the ferocity of their feeling, the depth of their emotion and the commitment of their soul, not just in their performance but in the hours of dedication and practice to reach this point. You see the journey lead bare, honest and truthful.
Of course the next level is performing your kata and there is no audience, no one to feel what you feel or experience what you project. This is more demanding in many respects because it is all down to you. If you feel it, it exists and if not well… more practice required. For the solo performer the experience is a very different one. First you feel your body, all the tension, the injuries, the stiffness or softness. You feel your balance through your feet and the tingle in your fingers. When you bow you understand the sincerity or not and you know after every single technique whether the feeling is correct. You create the rhythm, you feel the sweat cascade down your skin and hear not just the large exhalation on your strike but every shallow breath in between. You feel your chest rise and fall each time like a wave and the scream of your muscles as they push through exhaustion. You know inside whether your opponent has been vanquished or whether you have been defeated by yourself each time you move.
Take this to the final level. You stare down your opponent showing no fear or doubt. You bow not just out of respect but with acceptance of your fate. As you enter and close the distance analysing each movement of your opponent no longer just aware of your own intent but that of your adversary. You feel their breath now heavy as they move, you sense their blood pulsing through their veins to fuel their great machine. You are violently reminded of your own stability as you embrace your opponent and feel their will push back against your own. You can no longer fake it, your inadequacy laid bare for all to see. Your technique won't just happen, it needs to be earnt. You feel the earth lift away from your feet. Your whole body convulsing in the air with your opponent. The blood rushing to your fingers before you both crash into the mat, bouncing together as the hard earth reminds you of your place. You look up at the ceiling and only you know whether you see victory or defeat, are you alive or now dead? Either way you know what it means to be fully alive and to have lived. All your senses are awake and you understand the essence of your art.