Get a New Wife

I was sitting with a karate sensei in his dojo one afternoon, visiting with him, when he was approached by a fellow who had come to watch the class that day. The fellow said he was interested in taking up karate, but he wondered if training might present a problem for him. He was a marathon runner, he explained, and he spent several hours a week running and traveling to races. Would karate practice interfere with that?

Another time, an acquaintance commented to me that he wanted to begin studying the art of aikido. But as an underpaid schoolteacher, he wasn’t sure he could afford the club dues of $30 a month that were levied by the dojo he wanted to join. It is pertinent to add in this case that this acquaintance was a smoker who easily spent more than $30 a month on his habit.

When I encounter these kinds of people, I am always reminded of a falconer I once heard about. Falconry, of course, is the art of raising and training birds of prey-hawks, falcons, and even eagles-to hunt. It is a very, very old art, one that requires a tremendous amount of study into the life and behaviors of these birds. It also demands an amazing patience to tame them and to accommodate their highly strung natures. Falconers typically spend several hours a day with their birds. This falconer met a man who said he wanted to take up falconry but he was afraid that his wife would not adapt well to having a fierce-looking raptor as a permanent addition to their backyard. What should he do? The falconer’s reply: “Get a new wife.”

It is, I suppose, indicative of our modern civilization that, if I may paraphrase Churchill, so many wish to have so much while expending so little. We have parents who want to raise perfect children while simultaneously pursuing careers that prevent them from even seeing their offspring for more than a few minutes a day. We have single people who want to establish meaningful, lifelong relationships and who think they can do that by placing a few ostensibly witty lines in a personal ad in a newspaper. And more to the point, we have would-be budoka who expect to reap the benefits of the martial Ways without any real sacrifice. They are, all of them, going to be disappointed.

The truth is, raising good children demands enormous commitment and sacrifices. Healthy, loving relationships cannot be founded on the basis of snappy advertisements. They take time and a willingness to compromise and grow. To make the budo a Way of life requires precisely the same. Those prospective entrants to the Way who think they can make any kind of headway along its path without sacrifices are fooling themselves.

The falconer’s advice on getting a new wife sounds harsh. It was not, I think we can assume, entirely serious. But his point was that an involved and difficult discipline like falconry requires some pretty uncommon dedication. The fellow who asked him the question about taking it up might not actually have had to give up his wife if he wanted to be a falconer. But if he wished to involve himself in that kind of art, he would have to be prepared to make some significant changes in his life. This is because, contrary to popular and frequently voiced opinions, not all the avocations that are available to us are alike. It has been convenient for many martial arts teachers and other such promoters to present the budo as a sort of pastime, a hobby that can be approached exactly as we would bowling or bridge. One can, these types suggest, go down to the neighborhood dojo a couple of nights a week for a quick “workout” and then leave it behind when one walks out the door. In this regard, martial arts training is envisioned as being similar to joining the types of health clubs or fitness centers we see advertised everywhere. The budo, however, are not like weight lifting and aerobics classes. The goals pursued in the dojo are markedly different from those of the local health or fitness center.

The budo–very difficult to describe in their entirety since we have nothing analogous to them in the West–are a multifaceted discipline. They encompass a rigorous, extremely demanding physical effort, a concerted dedication to old and quite often foreign cultural values, and a willingness to submit to a method of teaching and transmission of knowledge that are wholly unlike the ways to which we are accustomed. Just learning to move across the floor on one’s knees, a standard training exercise in aikido, for example, takes years to do correctly and without a lot of discomfort. Concepts of the budo at its higher levels require a serious expenditure of time and energy. No one with less than a decade of constant training and thinking could hope to understand even the basics of some of these concepts. Then, too, because the budo are not native to our country, those qualified to teach them at their upper levels are few and far between. Travel to different cities or to Japan is a must for most budoka at some stage of their training.

All of these factors must be considered by the budoka. None of them are the kind of considerations that are weighed in making an informed decision to take up softball or weight lifting, or any of the more conventional avocations in which those around us may choose to become involved. The budo are not an ordinary pastime. Those who follow them cannot be ordinary, either. So to that marathoner who worried that karate might interfere with his running, I would say, yes, it will. It is the nature of a budo, like karate or any of the rest of them. And if you cannot give the martial arts the time and attention they deserve, the time and attention necessary to make them a meaningful part of your life, then both the budo and you will be better off if you leave them alone. To the fellow who spent money on his smoking habit without complaint but who was hesitant to make an equal investment in aikido training, I cannot imagine, frankly, what to say. Someone with that sense of priorities is likely, I’m afraid, to find that the cost of the budo life is far too high for him to pay, no matter what its price.

Copyright ©2000 Dave Lowry. All rights reserved.