Friday, June 14, 2024

A Lifestyle Not A Hobby

The Seminar with my headmaster - although sadly shortened this year due to the change in my location and the starting of a new job - was good; two days with a Grandmaster is better than no days with a Grandmaster.

The great joy of training comes not from the physical exertion - plenty of that - but of the small comments and vignettes that are woven into commentary as he observes us. I envy him his ability to seamlessly do this; I always seem to awkwardly approach such issues when I try to do the same.  

At one point during our training, he mentioned the fact that one of the great frustrations he had as a teacher was people who simply made no progress.  This could take one of two paths: the first, that they only appeared irregularly, trained but obviously had not improved, and then went away for another period of time - a sort of drop-in casual student.  The other was those that did train regularly, but only seemed to mark time in their position: they did not improve, but simply add years to the amount of time they were present.  The comparison was made to traditional Japanese arts and martial arts in Japan where the lifestyle is all encompassing and difficult to the point that many, if not most, wash out because they do not wish to make the level of commitment.

Iaijutsu, he said, is the same.  It is is intended as a lifestyle, not a hobby.

The thought flew from my headmaster's lips and profoundly smacked me upside the head.

Anyone that knows me or has followed this blog is aware that I am a hobby person.  My interests are wide ranging - and arguably, there is nothing wrong with that.  The gathering of knowledge can itself be a lifestyle of sorts.

But in my case, I have also chosen the lifestyle of Iaijutsu.

When I was accepted into the school and my headmaster became not just my headmaster but, in a real way my master (Note the small "m", not the capital "M".  I have only one Master.), I entered a contract:  This is how it was, back in feudal times.  I agreed to train in this art and not others.  Additionally, I agreed to other conditions, some of which I knew and some of which I did not fully understand until later in my journey.

I cannot just "display" my art; I need to ask for permission.  Training at another dojo (as I did over the weekend, as New Home 2.0 is now my new dojo) requires formal permission.  There are techniques I am not allowed to publicly display, knowledge I am not allowed to speak.  I am even forbidden from casually displaying my sword to other martial arts practitioners.

Somewhat to my surprise, I found I had started a martial art and acquired a lifestyle instead.

But frankly, it is a lifestyle that I do not practice as I should. In so many ways, I still treat it as a hobby, something that I can practice or not at will.  In point of fact, I have made the commitment.  For me to give up now would be to be cast out in a literal sense:  my name would not be spoken, my sensei (plural) shamed because of my failure (it has happened).

But really, this true of my life in general as well.  A lifestyle of hobbies prevents one from really become skilled simply because one is not willing to commit in meaningful ways.  It means choosing not to do some things.  It means training when one is tired or bored or just not feeling it.  It means - at some level - measuring all of one's activities against the standard of "What best advances me in this lifestyle?"

Does this mean I will stop making yogurt and cheese or studying Old English or half a dozen other things I do?  Hardly.  These things fill useful niches of my life, either by the products I get from them or the simple enjoyment derived from them.  But it does mean that some things have precedence over others and that my time and indeed all my activities need to be viewed through the lens of how this impacts the path of swordsmanship I have chosen.

For me, I was reminded that the musha shugyo - the warrior's pilgrimage - is not just a saying.  Even now, for some, it remains a way a life.

Said differently, it is a lifestyle not a hobby.


  1. Nylon128:02 AM

    What's that saying.......with age comes wisdom? Perhaps the recent changes, in such a short time, accelerated that realization TB.

    1. Well, something had better come with age Nylon12 - the physical aspects do not recommend themselves at all.

      I do think that age does help me, at least, put things into perspective in a way I could not have done before.

  2. I am similar in many ways to you. I have more hobbies than I can count. But a few of them I have made into more of a lifestyle such as my gardening/orchard adventures, woodworking and reading/writing. I don't regret not making a lifestyle out of more of them because I know I wouldn't have time for idle contemplation which is perhaps another lifestyle I will own up too.

    One of the benefits of having a hobby that doesn't become a lifestyle is that often you know enough to recognize the beauty in someone else who has made it a lifestyle.

    1. Ed, I think the "lifestyle" aspect differs for different people in the amount of different things they can have - for example, I have only ever done the one martial art. There is always the opportunity to do more, but I know myself too well in that if I do more than one, I will lose focus on Iaijutsu because I always tend to focus more on the new things.

      I do think that your choices, for example, compliment each other ways that they do not overly compete with each other - which works to having multiple of them. In my own (effectively reorganized) life, cheesemaking and Iaijutsu share virtually nothing except learning better technique.

      I do agree a knowledge base of a hobby gives one a better ability to appreciate those that have made the full commitment.

  3. Interesting post. As I'm reading, I'm wondering if modern western culture makes it more challenging. I mean, we are expected to dedicate our lives to making money. Our entire identity is wrapped up in it. Everything else is considered less important by society. So (rhetorically), how does one pursue and maintain a different state of being? This would be my primary challenge. This would always be in the heart of my mind.

    In a different way maybe it is. When we lived in an apartment, my lifestyle was weaving. When we bought our land and moved here, my lifestyle became the land ("homesteading"). I have figured out that these two activities are not mutually exclusive, but there are still mental and emotional loyalties that have to be sorted out. And that seems to be an ongoing endeavor.

    1. Leigh, modern western culture (brought about largely in that sense by the Industrial Revolution) certainly did not help. Previously existing lifestyles for an agricultural/hand made craftsman were rooted up and converted into an industrial economy, in which one was paid to do a very particular task which was separate from the rest of one's life. It is perhaps only logical that we as a culture then started measuring everything by the one thing that kind of lifestyle produced: money.

      Your observation on different states of being is spot on. Sometimes - like your example - they are not entirely mutually exclusive, but sometimes (like, say swordsmanship and modern biopharmaceutical/medical device careers) they seem at least very different from each. The task, I suppose, is to figure out how one can be lived out in the other: if I am a swordsman first, how do I manifest that in a world of tables and charts and schedules and regulations? And how do I move the needle forward to make that chosen lifestyle more possible and ensure that others are not pushing in and taking up valuable time and energy? That, perhaps, is where my challenge lies.


Comments are welcome (and necessary, for good conversation). If you could take the time to be kind and not practice profanity, it would be appreciated. Thanks for posting!