Archive for the ‘2011’ Category

Gut vs. Socialization

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

So I finally got around to watching the movie “Fight Club,” starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. For years, various friends in the Bujinkan had asked if I had seen it, but for some reason, I never had. Perhaps it was because the way the film was advertised made the movie (falsely, I might add) seem as if it was about a group of guys who got together and beat each other up for fun. I just wasn’’t that interested in the film that was sold in the commercials.

I did find myself with some extra time the other day and so I decided to watch “Fight Club” so I could see what everyone was raving about. Having now seen the film, I must say that I enjoyed it. I understand why the film is considered an important film in the history of film and why there is so much interesting trivia floating around the internet about the film. Brad Pitt really was awesome as Tyler Durden and Edward Norton did an admirable job as the Narrator.

But my gut instinct that initially drew me away from the movie over the years was never really put to rest. Sure, the movie was not as advertised and was much more complex than the advertisements let on. But what I learned about the film in watching it did not change my broad apathy toward it.

At its heart, “Fight Club” is about people living life without regret—acting as they want to act, doing as they want to do. It is a movie about “manning up” and doing what should be done. It is about truly living. Or so it purports.

This issue recently became a point of conversation in the dojo. A friend of mine had done something that his gut told him was the right thing to do at a given moment in time, but he was worried what his friends would think about the action. “That’’s so unlike him,” onlookers said.

When I shared the story in the dojo—both the action and the context of the decision—my students understood why my friend did what he did. To onlookers unfamiliar with the context in which the decision to act was made, the action certainly did throw them off. And their reaction of consternation was understandable; most likely the reaction of a jury would be similar. But for those who see the world through Budo eyes, a reaction of understanding probably would be more likely….

As we talked through the incident, I mentioned that Budo sometimes forces us to choose between “gut” and “socialization” (i.e., stuff that people say you shouldn’’t do). It is amazing how much socialization affects our actions. Recent work on the causes of the Great Recession attributes the market environment that led to the crash to a lack of actioned ethics. People unwilling to speak up when they saw something wrong—often due to socialization in their organization that painted the activity as acceptable—made ethical action anathema. People who knew deep down that what they were seeing in their firms or in their industry was wrong did nothing and dismissed the situation as ““not my problem.”” The problem with such dismissive attitude is that when everything eventually does go to hell, it becomes everyone’’s problem and real people get hurt.

The world has suffered calamitous damage that will affect an entire generation of human beings as a result of people not being willing to act on their gut instinct in the face of wrongdoing. In country after country, there have been mass demonstrations, physical confrontations with police and often violence borne out of frustration or the state’’s attempt to suppress that frustration. Large portions of national populations have been thrown into poverty, erosion of personal identity, and delayed retirements. Sadly, those who failed to act but were aware of the problem and had the capacity to act to mitigate the problem can easily wipe away any responsibility for not acting by appealing to socialization (e.g., “No one else thought it was wrong.”)

In an altercation, you must take away the bad guy’’s desire to hurt you and those with you. Occasionally, that means acting in advance of his attack, which socialization tells us is a no-no. Taking someone’s balance (kuzushi) is both physical and psychological; that is why “turning on” in a fight situation can be so powerful. When you escalate a situation and “turn on,” the other guy will trust his own gut in discerning whether or not to press his luck with you. Intriguingly, the situation often will de-escalate itself merely because you escalated it by “turning on,” indicating that you were present in the moment, both physically and psychologically. Bad guys are generally lazy and are looking for an easy target, not one that is going to fight back with the intensity and skills of a honey badger.

It is a strange phenomenon, to be sure, but one that requires you to trust what you know and be cognizant of what you do not. Combining that knowledge with psychological and physical kuzushi-taking ability can make you a powerful force in the world.

Taking an action based on gut is not an easy one, however. In addition to the possibility of physical damage, action based on gut often comes with social damage, as the action-taker violates the expectations of those around him or her. But as budoka, we must be willing to do so. We must be willing to set aside socialization for gut sometimes, or bad things happen to good people.

And this brings me back to “Fight Club.” Given that the film revolves around individuals stepping away from socialization and following their gut, someone in the dojo mentioned it as a potential source of insight on the “gut vs. socialization” debate. Having seen the film, now, I must respectfully disagree.

If people are really looking for potential insight on the issue in film, there is no better source out there than “Gran Torino,” directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Now that is a real movie with complex human characters struggling with life and death, and what it means to follow one’’s gut.

The movie revolves around a grisly veteran of the Korean War who harbors deep resentment toward Asian people. At one point, the veteran comes to the assistance of his neighbor, a young Hmong man, and is slowly drawn into contact with people in the Hmong community. At the same time as the veteran is referring to the Hmong in the most vile, racist terms, he is growing fond of his neighbors and the offerings of the community. It is a wonderful film that shows how socialization fights with gut in the pursuit of truth. And it is a beautiful story of Budo—the small and large acts of “gut” that make the world a better place.

Please watch both “Fight Club” and “Gran Torino” and consider their similarities and differences. Both contain important lessons about Budo, one definitely more than the other, in my opinion.


Messages from Japan — Bufu Ikkan!

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

I was just sent a block of Japanese messages submitted by people throughout the country. I needed to share these, as they brought tears to my eyes, so here is my best translation. It is sad to say but you would never see this type of behavior in so much of America these days. I want Americans to see what America could be (and perhaps used to be)!

Bufu Ikkan!



It’s so dark that I can see stars that I’ve never seen and it’s so beautiful. People of Sendai, look up!


At Disneyland, the sweets in the gift shop had just been replenished, when I saw a group of gaudily dressed high school girls start hoarding all the boxes. For a second, I thought, “What’s up with that?” Then I saw the girls go over and make arrangements for all the boxes to be delivered to the children in the evacuation centers. And that moved me. It was a beautiful example of kindness towards others, especially for those with children who literally can go no where.


People are picking up scattered things at stores and putting them back on shelves, then standing in line silently to wait to pay. When the trains started running, despite the crowded conditions, elderly people were giving up their seats to pregnant women. Foreigners seeing this behavior are getting all choked up. It’s all true, all of those stories! Japan truly is an amazing place.


A Message from the United Nations, “Japan has always been there to assist other nations in their time of need. This time, the United Nations will do everything it can to help Japan.”

一回の青信号で1台しか前に進めないなんてザラだったけど、誰もが譲り合い穏やかに運転している姿に感動した。複雑な交差点で交通が 5分以上完全にマヒするシーンもあったけど、10時間の間お礼以外のクラクションの音を耳にしなかった。恐怖と同時に心温まる時間で、日本がますます好きになった。

Though it is common to see green traffic lights where only one car could get through, it is heartening to see this warm give-and-take among the drivers. There are scenes in congested intersections where nothing moves for five full minutes, but in ten hours, I never heard any honking and nothing beyond words of appreciation. I am loving Japan more and more as I spend time that is simultaneously frightening yet deeply warming.


Last night, as I made my way home from the university on foot, I saw an elderly woman out in front of a closed bread shop, giving away free bread to people. It is moving to see people who have found what little they can do to help in the middle of this clamorous situation. It warms my heart. Tokyo is not lost!


This came in from a Korean friend. “The sole victim of the atomic bomb. The loser to the Great War. Typhoons come every year. So do earthquakes. So do tsunami. It’s a small country, but Japan stands tall. Keep going! Please keep going!” For what it’s worth, I’m in tears now….


I was worn out, waiting on the platform for the train, when some homeless people came by distributing boxes because it was cold. And this is despite the fact that we always glance at them out of the corner of our eyes. I’m all warm now.


Suntory made all its vending machines work for free and Softbank unlocked all of its Wi-Fi spots. Lots of people are putting their all into their efforts and the world is moved by those efforts and looking to help as well. Compared to a country that Japan was during the great Hanshin earthquake, which hesitated to accept foreign assistance and was late in dispatching its Self Defense Forces, Japan truly has become a strong nation.

終夜運転のメトロの駅員に、大変ですねって声かけたら、笑顔で、こんな時ですから! だって。捨てたもんじゃないね、感動した。

I quipped to the train conductor “Things sure are tough” regarding the decision to run the trains all night. He smiled and said, “The times call for it.” Nothing lost here! How moving is that…

都心から4時間かけて歩いて思った。歩道は溢れんばかりの人だったが、皆整然と黙々と歩いていた。コンビニはじめ各店舗も淡々と仕事していた。ネットのインフラは 揺れに耐え抜き、各地では帰宅困難者受け入れ施設が開設され、鉄道も復 旧して終夜運転するという。凄い国だよ。GDP何位とか関係ない。

I had a four hour walk home from the city today where I lots of time to think. The streets are overflowing with walkers, but everyone is orderly and remains silent during their walk. The convenience stores and various other shops are doing their business without fanfare. The net infrastructure withstood the trembles, various facilities to take in those who cannot return home have opened up in several regions, the trains are back and running, and they say they will be running all night now. This is an incredible country, and it has nothing to do with what rank we are in GDP.

2歳の息子が独りでシューズを履いて外に出ようとしていた。「地震を逮捕しに行く!」 とのこと。小さな体に宿る勇気と正義感に力をもらう。みなさん、気持 ちを強く持って 頑張りましょう。

My two year old son put on his shoes by himself and started to head out the door. “I’m going to go arrest the earthquake!” he told me. Let’s all take strength from the courage and sense of justice coming out of such a small body. Everyone, let’s all pluck up and get through this!

4時間の道のりを歩いて帰るときに、トイレのご利用どうぞ!と書いたスケッチブックを 持って、自宅のお手洗いを開放していた女性がいた。日本って、やはり 世界一あたたかい 国だよね。あれみた時は感動して泣けてきた。

During my four hour walk home today, I saw a young lady holding a sketch pad with the words “Restroom Available!” scrawled on it; here she was opening the restroom to her own home! Japan truly is the warmest country in the world. I was moved to tears seeing that.

停電すると、それを直す人がいて、断水すると、それを直す人がいて、原発で事故が 起きると、それを直しに行く人がいる。勝手に復旧しているわけじゃない。 俺らが室内で マダカナーとか言ってる間クソ寒い中死ぬ気で頑張ってくれてる人がいる。

When the power goes out, there is someone to fix that. When the water goes out, there is someone to fix that. And when there is a nuclear accident, there is someone who goes to fix that as well. Things don’t just restore themselves by themselves. When we are sitting in our homes, complaining about when things will be fixed, there are people working as if their lives depended on it in the frigid cold trying to do just that.

NHKの男性アナウンサーが被災状況や現況を淡々と読み上げる中、「ストレスで母乳が 出なくなった母親が夜通しスーパーの開店待ちの列に並んでミルクが手に 入った」と 紹介後、絶句。沈黙が流れ、放送事故のようになった。すぐに立ち直ったけ ど泣いている のがわかった。目頭が熱くなった。

One of the male announcers on NHK started to describe the situation with the calamity and how things were going presently, “New mothers who have stopped lactating due to the stress were finally able to get a hold of some milk after lining up all night at a roadside supermarket,” he said. Then silence…. As if there were some technical difficulties. He straightened himself out and continued the broadcast, but it was clear that he had been crying. Tears welled up in my eyes as well.

千葉の友達から。避難所でおじいさんが「これからどうなるんだろう」と漏らした時、横に居た 高校生ぐらいの男の子が「大丈夫、大人になったら僕らが絶対元 に戻します」って背中さすって 言ってたらしい。大丈夫、未来あるよ

This anecdote comes from a friend in Chiba (outside Tokyo). At one of the evacuation centers, an old man sat crying, “What’s going to happen in the future?” Beside him, a high school boy rubbed the man’s shoulder, saying, “Everything will be fine. After we become adults, we’ll put back everything the way it was.” It looks like the future will be all right.

家屋に取り残され、42時間ぶりに救出された高齢の男性の映像。「チリ津波も経験してきたから 、だいじょぶです。また、再建しましょう」と笑顔で答えてい た。私たちが、これから何をするかが 大事。

After 42 hours of being trapped, an elderly man is captured on video. Smiling for the camera, he says, “I experienced the tsunami in Chile as well. Everything’s going to be fine. We’ll just rebuild.” It is really important what we do moving forward.

駅員さんに「昨日一生懸命電車を走らせてくれてありがとう」って言ってる小さい子達を見た。 駅員さん泣いてた。俺は号泣してた。

I saw some small children speaking to the train conductor. They said, “Thank you for working so hard yesterday to keep the trains running.” The conductor started to cry. I did, too.

Thoughts on Identity Formation & Time Compression Diseconomies

Friday, January 14th, 2011

As a scholar, I have been working on a paper that uses professional sports as a research context. In reviewing the literature during the writing stage, I came across a fascinating paper entitled, “Identity in Sport Subcultures” by Peter Donnelly and Kevin Young in the Sociology of Sport Journal. While the paper has no mention of martial arts, it did contain some interesting commentary that I would like to share, and then reframe in terms of participation in the Bujinkan.

The paragraph of interest is as follows:

“As we have noted, in order to pay homage to the subculture’s focal concerns (Miller, 1958), some novices will undergo anticipatory socialization procedures. That is, they will vicariously perform roles in various situations that they assume are expected of them. For example, a typical trait of novice climbers is to want to display to both climbers and nonclimbers that they are now climbers. This is part of the first stage of identity construction. Display involves wearing climbing clothes and boots in nonclimbing settings, carrying equipment, books, and magazines about climbing as conspicuously as possible, and turning the conversation to climbing as often as possible. Novices have even been seen wearing the extremely uncomfortable boots designed specifically for rock climbing (removed immediately upon completion of a climb by veterans) in a number of nonclimbing situations such as attending class or in a bar. While they may claim to be breaking in the boots, such novices are invariably pleased that one has recognized their boots, thereby recognizing them as a fellow climber. In fact, the purpose of the display is to indicate to nonclimbers that one is now different, and to signal to other climbers that one is now a fellow member and may be approached as such. Of course, what such display actually does is indicate to climbers that one is a novice.” (pp.229-230)

As practitioners, we have all seen such novices running around in the Bujinkan. With their wide eyes and hunger to learn, they are like puppy dogs excited that the Bujinkan world even exists in the first place. Speaking frankly, when I have observed this novice behavior in the past, I dismissed it as the individuals being either dorks or too inexperienced to know better.

What’s intriguing about the description of the novice rock climbers is that it conjures images not just of newbie whitebelts, but also of newly minted Shodan, newly minted Godan, and newly minted Judan in the Bujinkan. Clearly, having reached the levels of Shodan, Godan and Judan, these individuals are not newbies to the art, and they certainly should not be too inexperienced to know better. Yet, there they are….

And their existence always kinda bothered me. Be it an individual who has business cards printed the day of passing his Godan test in order to distribute widely to those in Japan (yes, this happened), or the individual who alters his dojo website within days of being given a Judan even before getting home from Japan (again, yes, this really happened), these activities always left me puzzled. “Perhaps they are just dorks” was the only rationale I could find the behavior.

I had never even considered the role such activities play in the construction of one’s own identity, both as a martial artist and as a member of the Bujinkan organization.

The Donnelly and Young paper continues:

“As novices become more experienced and more secure in their identity as climbers, their need for display will decrease, and they will gradually become conscious that such behavior is not “cool.” Overt display is a rookie error that highlights the subcultural values of coolness and understatement. While display is expected from novices, it may be ridiculed as the individual becomes more experienced. Normally, the more obvious signs of display are removed-ropes are removed from the outside to the inside of a backpack, climbing boots are removed and more comfortable shoes worn when not climbing, and conversations with other climbers turn to the subject more naturally. Recognition of other climbers becomes more subtle. Without quite realizing it, the individual begins to notice the rolled-up magazine, the guidebook in the hip pocket, and the cuts and scars on an individual’s hands that could only have come from climbing rock.” (p.230)

In the Bujinkan, it is not rolled-up magazines and climbing scars that indicate experience, it is the quality of one’s Budo–the shape of the space created by the individual, the subtle adjustments in structure that lead to big changes in the uke‘s body, and the facility with which the individual can see the movement of the teacher and replicate its principals. The more mature one becomes in the art, the better the movement.

This brings me to an important theory of learning that also comes from the literature, this time from scholarship on firms. Back in 1989, Ingemar Dierickx and Karel Cool wrote one of the most important papers in the history of management scholarship, entitled, “Asset Stock Accumulation and Sustainability of Competitive Advantage.” As a measure of its importance, this eight-page paper has received almost 4,500 citations from scholars around the world to date.

There were many insights in this paper but the most relevant for a martial arts context is the idea of “time compression diseconomies.” Given the paper’s management audience, the concept was framed around corporate R&D. Dierickx and Cool wrote,

“In the case of R&D, the presence of time compression diseconomies implies that maintaining a given rate of R&D spending over a particular time interval produces a larger increment to the stock of R&D know-how than maintaining twice this rate of R&D spending over half the time interval.” (p.1507)

Said differently, if you invest X over Y number of months to generate Z amount of knowledge, investing 2X over half the number of months will not lead to Z amount of knowledge.

The implications of time compression diseconomies on your budo are profound. Doubling your training time over half the time will not yield the same knowledge creation as putting in your time. You see, some things in the world are “flows” that can be purchased or received, changing instantaneously whether you “have” them or not (e.g., a belt to tie around your waist, a drawing from Soke to hang on the wall, and, yes, even a new rank such as Shodan, a Godan or a Judan). Other things, however, are “stocks” that take time to build up and cannot be rushed; budo is a “stock” not a “flow.” And there is a real danger when students of budo interpret their budo progression as a series of flows (i.e., ranks that pour in), rather than the stock that it is.

People who perceive their budo as flows, and receive those flows in an overall shorter time period than those who take their time, often become disenchanted with their training and with their place in the art (i.e, their identity). They say things like, “I’m X rank and I am shocked that I don’t know Y.” This is because they view their budo as a flow and have failed to recognize that time compression diseconomies have made it impossible for their budo to reflect the flows received to date. As a good friend of mine likes to say, “You can never go back.” He is referring, of course, to people who rush to fill their cup from the flows (i.e., rushing to take the Godan test) and who neglect the fact that they lack the proper gestation time to accumulate stock in the art. If you take rank flows too quickly, it is not uncommon that as your time in the art lengthens, you will begin to feel that your (overflowing) flows do not match your (paltry) stocks. And it is at this point when people start looking elsewhere, rather than looking inside themselves, for the cause of their “flow-stock” mismatch.

I have watched a few people go to Japan every year and return with a new rank. They tell me, “It is rude to turn down a rank.” But they also neglect to mention that they are always asked one question before they are promoted. That question is always the same: “What is your rank?” If previous experience with this question has always led to a promotion in rank, and if you have reflected on your stock of budo and personally do not feel that you should be receiving any flows at that time, why not answer the rank question as a Japanese person might–by avoiding the question all together? A simple, “High enough for now” should suffice and you will have communicated your own understanding of your own budo stock at that moment in time in light of a potential new flow. Soke will be pleased that you see where you are in your own understanding of budo, and will simply continue on….

And hopefully you will, too. Remember: To be successful in budo, you need to know where you are along the path. Do not confuse flows for stocks, and that should help you see where you are and where you need to go.