Within Tensoku Ryu we are not very big on discipline, but we are very big on discipline.
The word discipline has several primary definitions. The first definition implies inflicting punishment or making someone pay a price for violating some principle or norm. While we are not opposed to using discipline in the sense of punishment, we seldom find need for that within Tensoku Ryu. Another definition for discipline refers to a field of study or specialization. In this sense the martial arts, as a whole, is a discipline.
The definition most relevant to our purposes deals with self-control. It is this definition that we think is most relevant to martial artists. Some martial artists think dishing out punishment to others is the essential definition of the martial arts. They are wrong.
Discipline can be employed in a variety of ways in the martial arts. If you stand in a deep Kiba Dachi for a long time your knees may begin to quiver and your legs may begin to ache as your muscles tire. You will be tempted to rise up from your stance to put an end to your discomfort. But if you hang in there a bit longer you are exercising discipline. You are using your will to overcome the complaints of your body. By doing this repeatedly over time you will discover that you can maintain this stance for much longer periods of time without complaint from your muscles. This is something you would not have discovered if you had not exercised the discipline to keep going when your body suggested you could stop.
Examples of this mind-over-body form of discipline are easy to find in the martial arts. Doing that one extra push up or performing a Kata with great precision three more times are good examples. It is important to do things in moderation and to not overexert or overextend yourself, but generally speaking you can usually go beyond the point at which your body begins to complain. It is through the exercise of this form of discipline that you grow in both your physical and mental capabilities. This form of discipline might also be referred to as determination.
A word of caution is in order here. There is a difference between discomfort and pain. If you experience pain in the practice of any martial arts exercise then you should stop. You may wish to continue through periods of discomfort, but you should not proceed if you experience pain. Persisting through pain may result in more significant injury or medical complications.
Field of Study
Discipline is also often thought of as a field of study. The discipline of medicine or of law are examples. Various martial art styles and systems are often referred to as disciplines.
Within each of these martial arts is found a system of study – a set of cultural norms, common practices, patterns of movement, and conceptual elements. In no case can you learn the system without having experienced the system. You must become entrenched in the system before you can begin to appreciate the intricacies and nuances of the behaviors and characteristics of the system. There is no other way to learn about the system.
A martial arts discipline is both experiential and mental. The two are inseparable. You must think about a movement and then attempt it. When it fails you must think about it more and try again. Through this repetitive interaction of thought and action you learn to understand and appreciate the system. Tensoku Ryu is definitely like that. But then, all martial arts are similar in that regard.
When you feel frustrated that a specific skill or concept is difficult to master understand and appreciate that what you are working on is a very small part of a larger discipline of learning. You will eventually understand the concept or how to perform the skill. In the meantime there are other aspects of the system to learn and appreciate. You can return to an area of difficulty later when you have a different mindset, some additional training in related elements, or have had sufficient time to think more about this area of momentary challenge.
Self-control is another way in which discipline is commonly defined. This often implies that one has the mental discipline to remain controlled even during emotional or spontaneous circumstances. As an intermediate level Tensoku Practitioner you should work hard to ensure you have excellent self-control.
Tensoku Ryu practitioners should have the self-control and discipline to ensure they do not succumb to the temptation to strike at another person unnecessarily. This is an obvious first level of self-control. Because we have advanced combative skills we must have the discipline to not employ them unnecessarily. That does not mean withholding our skills until an opportunity arises. It means finding a way to not employ our skills even when an opportunity is present. Only when we have little or no choice would we wish to engage in a conflict.
But even during a conflict we need to maintain self-control. This has several different interpretations we should consider. Firstly, we need to maintain self-control so that we do not lose control of our martial abilities. If we become overly excited we may forget or overlook fundamental skills, concepts, and practices that could be quite handy in the midst of a conflict. We need the mental discipline to maintain conscious thought and our analytical processes.
We do not want to become overly excited such that we expend unnecessary energy, forget to breath properly, or fail to notice when our opponent has become weak or weightless. We do not want to overlook the need for abandonment or the opportunity to escape.
We also do not want to forget that our goal is to do as little harm as possible. We need to maintain the mental discipline to not let our emotions, particularly anger, manage our actions. It is critical that we know when to stop or when to reduce our intensity because the current circumstances no longer require an ongoing aggressive offense. If our opponent has stopped fighting so must we. To continue striking an opponent after they have ceased to resist is little more than assault. We must have the discipline to notice when this condition has occurred and cease striking.
This does not mean we should stop controlling or manipulating the opponent. We must maintain the discipline of control. It would be imprudent to think that simply because someone has momentarily stopped resisting that all thought of continued struggle is gone. So while we do want to have the discipline to stop pummeling someone who is defenseless, we also want to maintain the self-control that will ensure the person has no opportunity to turn aggressive again.
Discipline has another connotation that should be considered as well. Having the regulation to go to class consistently, habitually examine and maintain your weapons, keep your uniforms and equipment in good condition, practice good Reishiki, practice safe weapons usage, and assist with cleaning of your Dojo are all examples of this type of discipline. This is mental discipline. It is the underlying principle behind the martial arts.
I have long used a catch-phrase that is an integral part of my training philosophy. I have embedded this catch-phrase, often quite subtly, in much of my writing and various training materials. It is an essential core element of Tensoku Ryu training. Discipline is important. Through discipline comes wisdom, and through wisdom comes strength. You should seek to be disciplined in your thinking, behavior, training, and treatment of others. Discipline is at the quintessential core of every genuine martial artist.