Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What's with the blog name?

In all fairness, I have not thought this entire blog idea all the way... like many folks out there it will probably be about personal experiences and thoughts, an online diary of sorts with the difference that a lot more people won't care one whit about what I post than if someone found an honest-to-God paper-bound diary full of my less than stellar life moments.  I have my moments, as does everyone at one time or another... whether there remain many vestiges of such times in my memory that anyone might find funny, thoughtful, interesting or plain retarded remains to be seen.

Back to the blog name... a latino ronin???  Should I trademark it now before I hit it big? I have no illusions about making an obscene amount of money writing anything, but when there are cat heads in Pop Tart bodies with rainbows coming out of their rear end as they fly around getting millions of hits on YouTube, who is to say I might not get lucky... but I digress.

From Wikipedia: The word rōnin literally means "wave man". The term originated in the Nara and Heian periods, when it referred to a serf who had fled or deserted his master's land. It then came to be used for a samurai who had lost his master. (Hence, the term "wave man" illustrating one who is socially adrift.)

Romantic visions of walking the countryside like Lone Wolf without Cub slaying ninjas and samurai alike in chanbara film fashion aside,  the literal meaning of the term has always appealed to me. After all, anyone who has pursued the martial arts has envisioned the day where their mastery of their chosen style will grant unimaginable power and prestige, women fainting at one's powerful ki presence and men trembling just from our piercing glare. Before all this can be attained, though, we have to pay the price: basically, by becoming serfs to our ________(fill the appropriate blank here: master, sifu, sensei, ryu, dojang, etc.).

For many, the path to such a lofty goal means sacrifice, and not just of the physical type, but mental and emotional subservience to an assumed end-all be-all of martial knowledge. What happens, though, when your wake up call arrives? (This can occur in many ways, from getting the crap beat out of you to a mental realization that, well, that bunkai your teacher has shown you just makes as much sense as the aforementioned Nyan cat).  I for one felt just as the term ronin implies: at the mercy of the waves of the moment, adrift in self doubt and wondering WTF do I go from here?

As I began appraising my skills and knowledge (or lack thereof) afterward, I came to realize that I would have to expand my level of actionable intelligence (big words that basically mean being able to look at many facets of information to carry out an action plan).  Or, more plainly put, I would have to question what I've learned so far and find ways to test its efficacy where it mattered (putting big bad mean dude down even if he doesn't want to BE down).  If something didn't work to my satisfaction, find a source that would make it work.

So began my search for a better mousetrap... and in this regard, the hundreds of ways taught around the world to put men in such mousetraps is really a big pain.  Separating the wheat from the chaff is truly a biblical task when it comes to martial arts, and the persons who teach them. I have been very lucky sometimes; others, well... the taste some things leave in the mouth is too bitter to forget.

Now, almost 30 years since my first official martial arts class (ITF Tae Kwon Do), I can certainly attest that I don't have all the answers. However, I have found answers that work for ME, and that I believe is the epitome of being a ronin: I do not blame anyone for my misgivings or lack of ability, whether I prevail or fail it's of my own doing. Resorting to my own devices, with all the responsibilities and dangers that come with taking my life in my own hands and accusing no one of making choices for me. To be my own master, for better or worse...

This does not preclude further study under qualified teachers of arts I feel could add to my arsenal of possibilities; only that such training is not through the eyes of an awe struck devotee. I am willing to listen and learn, so long as I am allowed to question. In the end, my teacher will not be there when I need him or her to clean out the scene from obnoxious deadbeats intent on doing me harm...

Such an attitude might be construed as being "socially adrift"; non conformism is frowned upon in many "traditional" schools, and the gall of anyone under the rank of go dan to question anything is... well you get the picture. Many forget that the ultimate aim of the shu ha ri paradigm is transcendence from technique, where the "art" or "do" of the martial ways is found. Being a ronin in spirit begs for self reliance in the absence of guidance; society as a whole does not encourage self determinism and free thinking and many are the ways it attempts to squash any attempts to rise above the drudgery of our normal days.  What do you feel when you wake up in the morning, are you the train or the conductor?

Now, as for the Latino part... born and raised in Puerto Rico, so I come by the Latino tag honestly. Just sounded cool... although Latino ronins would probably have machetes in lieu of katanas and use Spanish espada y daga techniques. Enough rambling for today, next I have to figure out how to put the last couple classes in jujutsu and bunkai into some coherent paragraphs... I leave you with my favorite excerpt from the Go Rin No Sho Book of Nothing (or Void depending on translation):

"There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself" 

Best definition of ronin, or self mastery, ever.


  1. Aptly said.

    One of the reasons why I liked the philosophy and service provided by TFT is not just their fundamental principles which gave me a head start on aikido and internal body mechanics, but also their tendency to be completely honest and free about the options they are providing. They made it clear to me first off, that they were only providing me a tool in my toolbox, that it was up to me to make use of it. They will recommend to me not to use the tool for what it wasn't designed for (settling social disputes, bar fights, teaching lessons to people), but it was still up to my free will as to what to do with it. I liked that.

    In America, free will is getting hit hard by government and social impacts. 1% of income earners pay for 50% of the federal budget. Looked at in another way, that's like saying you live as a serf under aristocrats, because the aristos have all the money and pay for your land and housing.

    The reason why nationalistic and patriotic Japanese resent the American dynamo is because they figured out that if someone sets out to protect you and do things for you, they will start to own you and make you indebted to them (concept of giri). Being indebted to other people, makes you dependent, not independent. The Americans themselves don't like it either, having to pay for someone else's free lunch. But it is the way politics work, that people don't get what they want, because it's not workable politically.. yet.

    The status quo conception is that you can't learn martial arts online, from videos, or what not. Yet Huo Yuanjing learned martial arts just from watching his father instruct others. And the son of my shinkendo instructor has smooth tamashigiri cuts, but only comes to class every 4 months or so. Years of being around his mother when she was cutting all the time, imprinted a visualization into the core of his being, is my theory, plus natural talent and coordination. And the internet didn't exist back in the day of martial artist originators, so they never used it in their training methodology. Yet the status quo says you "can't learn" because the acceptable practice is to learn from "others".

    Given the number of self-educated freed black slaves and ignorant and poor whites that gained an education by themselves, with nobody to teach them normally, it's an interesting paradox. Nobody ever learns by themselves, but at the same time, not all learning comes from passively sitting around imbibing the milk of the Guru.

  2. @Ymarsakar thanks for your post! I agree that while it is very difficult indeed to teach oneself a higher skill set, it is by no means impossible. It certainly helps if one has been exposed to similar experiences or training, but the mechanics of human motion (in their most basic sense) are pretty well defined and rather immutable. So follows a logical extrapolation that at least in the actual anatomical motion & reaction sense almost anyone should be able,with a modicum of training or exposure, to replicate a better trained person's particular ways to perform certain moves or techniques.

    If you have not yet read it, I recommend The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture by Ruth Benedict. It has a lengthy discussion about the concepts of giri and on as understood in Japan, and how they differ from Western traditions of honor and responsibility.

  3. Btw, I've responded to your email that is forwarded from YA, but you receive them as messages from Yahoo, not me. And replying to it won't work vs clicking the link.

    I've heard about that book because it was used as a guide in choosing the targets for the two nuclear bombs in WWII.

  4. Got it, well if u have a Twitter acc PM me @joroman007. Or send me a direct email if u wish. I will check some of the YA questions when I have some time l8r.