We want to be enlightened
by an emboldened, reassured, blending
spirit of love and peace. So we struggle,
wrestle with each other,
strike each other like madmen,
swirl and twirl around the mat.
Then you say the world is broken,
is slipping into nadir, strangled
in a fog like a naked choke.
You want us to see what you saw,
to understand the heart of the disease
was still rooted deep
in our veins, in the pulse that beats
beneath our feet, that courses
like blood through our streets,
that the impulse of those college boys
to rub your head to steal your luck
had merely changed clothes
and upgraded its gun.
But you stare at our blank
confused faces that don’t comprehend
that this is your great commission,
that we need to be the surgeons
to dig out this cancer from our hearts.
True Budo is one of the poems in the upcoming chapbook, The Minstrel of Belmont, and a poem where I talk about the aikido life. It’s also one of the Tupelo Press 30/30 poems I wrote. The biggest issue for me writing about martial arts in a literary setting is how and why to bring it in and for it to make sense. Often, it comes into a story incidentally. It gets more center stage place in non-fiction than in fiction, but I’m not sure why. In poetry, I discussed that in an earlier post. But there are other considerations as well.
True Budo is about a practice or maybe just after practice, where Stroud-sensei talked about racism. Sensei often talked and still talks about art and politics and other issues both in and out of class. There is precedent for this in aikido, but I also would point out that part of the mission of modern martial arts is to make better people, and that is something that both Stroud-sensei and Hall-sensei strive and strove to do. In aikido, we talk about polishing the mirror, meaning to polish ourselves, always striving to be better, not just as a martial artist but as a human being. And that is where this poem comes in.
Writing a poem about throwing and pinning, punching and kicking, isn’t very interesting. I know, I’ve tried. And I’ve tried. And I’ve tried. I do want to write about martial arts in a literary setting. I wish other writers did more of it too. There are others who practice too, some as long as I have and others who have practiced longer. But it’s hard.
On the surface, True Budo is about a story Sensei told us, and something ugly he had to endure. But it is also about something for fundamental to martial arts training–our own negative capabilities, our potential for ugliness, for violence in both subtle and naked forms. We are all, in spite of ourselves, capable of the things we swear we won’t do. We are all capable of becoming the monsters we’re afraid of in others. The martial arts are one way to confront that negative potential and hopefully overcome it. It’s a continual, never-ending battle, which requires constant practice to keep us in check. It’s this sort of thing that lends itself better to literary writing. The throwing and pinning are just fun to do.