Gentle Ways Blog Posts

6 January 2016

Here is another blog about rules, this time by Kim Taylor, a tradition iaido and jodo practitioner/sensei.  I met Taylor sensei at a weekend iaido seminar some years ago.  If you are interested in a new jo or bokken, he manufactures some beautiful pieces.  His web site is at the end of the blog.


And one boken to rule them all

I’ve been thinking about rules lately and I’ve decided they don’t belong in budo.

Way back, we got strong men who dominated the tribe. Might begets right and all that. Later, as groups got larger, the strong men started to invent new reasons they ought to rule, other than “I can thump ya”. The most common of those were “tradition” (What? I’ve always been in charge) and divine right (God said I’m the guy).

Eventually though, some time around Hammarabi maybe, society got a bit too complex, or rulars got a bit lazy and they started to invent law codes. This left rulers to do what they did best, slob around with their dancing girls and a jug of wine instead of having to listen to the other kinds of whine from all the disputes over all the missing goats. You invented judges for doing that sort of stuff.

It’s all a sort of good idea and I’m sure the rulers agreed, until the common folk decided that even a king was subject to the law. Now there’s a nasty turn of events, the guy who invented the idea becomes subject to that same idea. What a turnup.

Still, rules are good for places where they are needed. Large groups who can’t reach common consensus by sitting around on Saturday night with the local version of a beer and shooting the breeze. That’s called culture by the way, the making of rules that “everyone knows” because we all hang out at the watering hole together.

Rules are a good thing, I’m not against them generally, except when they begin to take the place of the strong man. In this case, that strong man is “common sense” which is just a bit of thinking tinted with the local culture. You need to figure out what needs doing and then you need to temper that with the fact that you have to get along with the neighbours. Substitute rules for that and you get lawyers instead of neighbours.

Rules are what let us get along when we aren’t all at the local having a skull of kava. Rules aren’t things to try to rule with. If that ever worked we’d have rules that say you have to vote for the local strong man. Unfortunately for that guy, he’s got to be strong enough to enforce those rules. It comes back to thumping people, but at one remove. You’ll do it or I’ll thump you becomes you’ll do it or I’ll have my local rule enforcers thump you.

What’s this got to do with budo? Well quite a lot actually. We deal with thumping people, and to allow that sort of thing to be a school of instruction, we need some way to prevent it being the biggest, fastest, fittest kid who just thumps everyone (and presumably takes over as sensei). Schoolyard bully style isn’t very elegant, you don’t get pretty out of that sort of thing, so we make rules (which are rarely written down) like “you will not just paste your partner the first chance you get, you will do what sensei tells you to do instead”. Those are good rules, they let us all work toward an elegant thumping style.

What those rules don’t cover, I’m afraid, is all those cases of frustrated ego where we get juniors telling seniors they aren’t doing it right. Or those even less subtle contests where we get students with secret information (“I was just in Hong Kong and the sifu there said it’s done like this…”) trying to lord it over the rest. In most budo this sort of thing gets taken care of by a good thumping in the back alley, as in “how does it go again? Let’s see if it works”. Some budo, like iaido, unfortunately are deemed just too dangerous even for trying stuff out, so sometimes you’ll get attempts to make rules on things like “when is it permitted to tell a senior that they are about to hit me with their sword because they have wandered out of their assigned place”.

Bad idea, you see budo is about getting rid of the need for those kinds of rules. It is about learning to open your eyes, think, learn from experience, and accomodate to others so that you can get along without eight foot high fences between you and your neighbour and let’s go to court because that fence is three inches on my property!

In short, it’s about teaching common sense.

So here are the rules in my dojo, they aren’t written down, but we do discuss them over fermented yak milk at the post-class gathering in the cow-shed.

1. Pay attention
2. If someone else is not paying attention and is about to hit you with their sword, tell them so.
3. If that person gets all bent out of shape because you talked to them, suck it up Buttercup, anybody gets to fix dangerous situations. Anybody.
4. Thou shalt not correct your betters. Never. Unless you want to be shown why that way of doing things isn’t done that way in this dojo. Your seniors have likely seen it, and will happily come straight up the middle with a stick to poke you in the chest.
5. Number four does not apply to sensei, if you have a better way of doing something, sensei wants to know. If sensei is doing it wrong, sensei wants to know. There are two reasons for this rule. One is that sensei may learn a new thing, which is something sensei enjoys. The second is that sensei may have forgotten that there is now a different dance move required to pass the gradings and he really does want you guys to pass your gradings and the third thing, wait there are three reasons for this rule and the third is that sensei wants you to get it out of your system before you irritate a senior student and get your chest poked.

Let’s see, speak up before someone gets hurt. Shut up and learn. Yep, that about covers it. Of course the option to speak up to correct your seniors and sensei and learn by getting thumped out back in the alleyway (sensei isn’t going to allow that sort of thing in the dojo, which would result in a false sense of permission to be irritating but hey, the alleyway is a place where sensei can pretend he doesn’t know what’s going on) is always available.

Rules? Too many rules on this sort of thing just get in the way of learning common sense and so they don’t belong in the dojo. Kids need to grow up (learn some common sense), and too many rules will get in the way. I’ve seen kids come to university right out of a silk cocoon expecting that their noise will be tolerated, nay indulged, as it has been up to now. They don’t do as well as the kids who have been allowed to fall out of trees. If you rebel in the dojo and get mildly thumped it just may save you from running a red light and getting t-boned by a transport because you don’t believe that actions have consequences. Too many rules create expectations of others following them.

Or bothering to read them.

Kim Taylor
Jan 4, 2015

5 January 2016

I have been following Patrick Parker Sensei’s blogs at his website, for almost a year.  He and I see the judo world in a very similar way although without a doubt he is a much better writer than I.  Here is a link to one of his recent blogs about performance.

4 January 2016


Roughrider Judo Club will be hosting it’s 9th annual Frozen Tundra Tournament on the 9th of January 2016 in the Dickinson High School Wrestling Room, 979 13th Ave West, Dickinson, ND.  Weigh-in’s 11:00 am (MST) Saturday, Competition starts at 12:00 noon.  Novice, Junior, Senior and Master rank division dependent upon attendance.

This tournament will be sanctioned, so USJA, USJF or USA Judo membership is required.  There is no fee for Gentle Ways’ Members participation.  $15 entry fee for all other competitors.

The Public is invited to watch FREE!

Sponsored in part by Kubik, Bogner, Ridl & Selinger: Attorneys at Law and Rent All of Dickinson

This is a great little tournament with excellent officiating.  A great opportunity for beginning competitors, and advanced competitors too.

For more information, Email Jeff Ficek at or call him 701-227-8710. Nick Lambert can be reached at 701-483-4329


Vern Borgen


1 January 2016

Happy New Year to Everyone

I hope you have great plans for 2016.  I wish you maximum efficiency and great vitality.

This is the year of the Monkey, in the Chinese Zodiac, the 9th of a 12 year cycle of the animals.  The Chinese New Year starts this year on the 6th of February. In the modern age most people of China, Korea, and Japan observe New Years according to the western calendar.  But still in rural areas there are still many New Years celebrations centered around the Chinese Calendar.

I would like to thank my daughter Amy who re-formatted the web site to my specifications.  You did a terrific job.  Thanks again.

Happy New Year

Vern Borgen