Sat | Nov 17, 2018

Martial arts in spiritual dimensions

Published:Sunday | January 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma
Japanese martial arts armour.
Japanese martial arts helmet.
A showcase of Samurai culture with Kyudo (archery) at The Spirit of Budo.
A suji-kabuto helmet on display at The Spirit of Budo.
Amitabh Sharma

"When you draw the string to shoot an arrow, you are not merely drawing the string, you are looking at discipline, balance, and control," said Jonathan Greenland, director, National Museum Jamaica (NMJ). "That is the best way to look at life from any angle."

Shooting the arrow straight and into the bullseye, at the end of the day, is not merely the by-product of sheer power. It requires concentration and discipline, the keys to hitting the target.

Kyudo (archery) is one of the components of the The Spirit of Budo: The History of Japan's Martial Arts currently being showcased at NMJ. The exhibit gives a holistic insight into the practice of the martial arts - beyond the flying kicks and supernatural stunts - the spiritual realm, in a mix of edu-tainment.

"Practising martial arts is not about fighting," said Tetsuri Onishi, a JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) volunteer at NMJ. "It is a way of thinking and techniques and applying mind, body, and spirit."

Onishi says that having knowledge of martial arts goes beyond a defensive mechanism. It provides equilibrium, essential to building self-esteem, and critically, anger management and conflict resolution.

"Children can learn a lot from this exhibition," said Greenland. "Getting to understand the significance of the Japanese martial arts, they will get to know the aesthetic awareness, creativity, social history, and way of thinking of the Japanese people."

From the meticulous finishes and attention to detail, Zen (derived from Sanskit Dhyan, which means 'meditative state') is infused in every object on display. Even the knots are a work of art - the confluence of the creativity of the right brain and logic of the left brain.

Budo is the Japanese word for 'martial ways', encompassing both their physical and spiritual dimensions. Budo serves as a path to self-perfection.

Greenland said that the exhibition showcases the history of Samurai culture in Japan and the development of Japanese martial arts, along with some original pieces of weaponry and armour.

"The exhibit explores the place of martial arts in modern, global culture and popular culture," he said.


Influenced Star Wars


Science fiction classic Star Wars has the strong influence of Akira Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress - costumes of the Jedi and Darth Vader's helmets are some of the familiarities one can see in this exhibit.

"There are no Samurai in Japan," Onishi said. "But their spirits are very evident in how martial arts are performed.

"People, particularly youngsters, can see the peaceful, gentle, and thoughtful side of martial arts," he said.

Budo features popular martial arts - karate, kendo, and judo. Juxtaposed throughout the space is a mix of videos playing anime, martial arts films with the arms, armour, and the techniques of martial arts.

"Visitors can appreciate and learn about the deeper significance of the various Japanese martial arts as a philosophy and art form, rather than just a form of combat or sporting activity," Greenland said.

It is an insight into the awareness, creativity, social history, and way of thinking of the Japanese people.

There will be interactive sessions including demonstrations of the various martial arts, educational workshops on Japanese and arts and craft and cultural practices such as origami and calligraphy, showcasing of Akira Kurosawa's films Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress, and a lecture series.

Greenland said that there is significant educational initiative. "Our educational outreach team will visit schools to talk about Japanese culture and martial arts," he said. "Through this exhibition, we want to bring awareness of Japanese culture to Jamaican children and students.

"It will be very beneficial to children in the surrounding downtown community, who will be able to participate in the public events, lectures, film screenings, and martial arts demonstrations that will accompany the exhibit," he said.

The Spirit of Budo: The History of Japan's Martial Arts runs from January 16 to March 18.