Friday, June 16, 2006

Face-busting a path to social harmony

Ryuichiro Matsubara, a social economist and "sensei" to a class of businessmen learning a full contact style of karate called Kudo, has a top-selling book on his hands in "Bushido wo Ikiru (Living Bushido)."

Matsubara's book draws on his experiences learning karate and tells how he used full body contact to improve his social outlook -- though it didn't come easily at first.

"He came flying at me with a lock kick that slammed into my thigh. I was too furious to know whether it hurt or not. Then, he followed up with a kick to my guts that knocked the wind out of me. Here I was, with a job where I was responsible for five other people and training younger staff, yet this young buck was kicking me around all over the place," AERA quotes a passage from Matsubara's book taken not long after he started learning karate as saying. "It was absurd."

Matsubara also warmed to others during a sparring session while he was still a white belt, holding onto the leg of an opponent who had kicked out at him.

"Somebody yelled out, 'You're not allowed to hold onto the legs,'" Matsubara's book says. "I didn't know what else I was supposed to do, so I'd just grabbed onto it."

As time progressed, however, Matsubara began to see the karate dojo as a place where Bushido came into play in a manner that superseded typical hierarchical relationships in Japanese society.

"I wanted to make people realize that Japanese Bushido was traditionally a social phenomenon that could not be influenced by money. No matter how rich you are, your standing in the dojo is always determined by the color of your belt," AERA quotes Matsubara saying in "Living Bushido." "Of course, the karate hierarchies are only one kind of pretending, but the dojo was still a place where people could join up and mix regardless of their social status, company or academic background."

After continuing the physical clashes and moved deeper into the karate world, Matsubara apparently began to realize how Bushido could be a social lubricant, as the bout to decide whether he would gain a black belt shows.

"You'd stand there and let somebody kick you in the face and all of a sudden you're in a karate fight. When you realize your opponent is also your good friend, it almost brings about tears of joy," AERA quotes Matsubara as saying in his martial arts guide to social relations, "Living Bushido." Matsubara goes on to describe being hailed after he reached the ultimate rank. "All the people celebrating with me now are those who just moments earlier had been doing their best to belt the bejeezus out of me." (By Ryann Connell)

Read it.

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