Students often ask us if it is necessary to practice any form of meditation in addition to our budo training, and also where philosophy comes into play in our budo training. It seems to me that meditation, philosophy and budo have developed a certain mutual attraction. But what is the real relationship between the three? One way of finding an answer to this question is to go back to ancient Japan, to the time when the samurai were developing and perfecting their fighting skills.

It is imperative to understand that the fighting skills of the samurai served one very specific purpose – TO KILL. At that time, no deeper philosophical or spiritual meaning was attached to these endeavors. When the daimyo ordered his samurai to go into battle and fight, it was a simple order to kill the enemy quickly and efficiently. To do so, the samurai obviously had to undergo extensive bujutsu training and thereby developed specific physical and mental capabilities, such as how to quiet the mind and the ability to be fully in the moment.

At this point, we have to distinguish between philosophical or religious approaches and mental capabilities. It is certainly valid to ask to what extent a given set of religious and philosophical aims is congruent with the objective of a samurai to be able to kill a foe as effectively as possible. Buddhism, for instance, strongly speaks out against harming any form of life and therefore cannot be related to battle skills.

Meditation is a means to constantly focus the mind on a chosen meditation object. This could be an item, a body motion, a goal or even a mental attitude depending on what the practitioner is aiming for. In Zen – a form of Buddhist meditation – for instance, the practitioner is searching for emptiness, to end his mind’s aimless, endless wandering, and for the precise condition of surrendering his ego.

But aside from this aim, to constantly focus the mind on a meditation object, the practitioner must first develop concentration skills and techniques that will enable him to quiet his mind. These are the same skills the samurai developed in the course of their bujutsu training, but used in a different way and applied to a different end as compared to a practitioner of Zen.

Why do I assert that the skills are the same?

Because the mind is the same mind, regardless of what you practice, budo or any other form of training. And the fact that the mind is the same makes the techniques used to educate and purify the mind very similar. It doesn’t really matter whether you are performing a tea ceremony, learning calligraphy or training to draw a sword. Regardless of the goal, the secret is the same: learn how to master your mind through steady practice.

For our budo students, the meditation object is focusing on how to bring our actions to perfection through repetition. By performing the same action again and again, the mind will focus on the movement itself and develop strong concentration skills. Thus, it will then learn to leave all other thoughts behind and allow for complete awareness in the present moment.

In our budo, the next step once a certain level of proficiency is attained is for us to test our newly acquired capabilities in a different, more stressful situation like randori and shiai (two forms of competition). In the long run, we must be able to master our minds even in the most stressful of situations, and this is the reason why randori and shiai must not be excluded from our budo training.

Practitioners of Takeda Ryu Kobilza Ha develop all of these aspects. For example, when it comes to mastering your mind, what could be more challenging than handling a sharp sword? In the tea ceremony or in painting calligraphy, you try to perfect your movements by being one with them, but making a mistake doesn’t cause any harm. In our budo, for example in our iaido, we have to master mind and movement because we are going to work with a sharp blade – and the slightest lapse of concentration can cause severe injuries. An absent-minded student will fail in meditation just as he will fail when working a sharp sword. This is the point where meditation merges with budo!

Continuing from the perspective of iaido, in the ISTB we understand that it is absolutely necessary for our students to begin with batto giri (cutting with a sharp blade) once they have reached a certain level, such as their first-degree black belt, in order for their mental and technical development to continue. Otherwise we would create too much of a mystical and philosophical aura, and this would be incompatible with our belief that the student should advance through practical training. First and foremost, we are seeking to develop our mental capabilities to advance the practical application of our budo skills.

It is also important to bear in mind that the samurai had no iaito for training in ancient Japan; the point of their training was to enable warriors to safely handle a sharp blade within a short time. In the ISTB, we know that if we didn’t ask our iaido students to start handling a sharp sword at some point, their technical and mental development would stagnate. After practicing regularly for four or five years, our students have done thousands of specific iaido actions with a dull sword, and a teacher can reasonably expect that this repetition has brought their skills up to a level where a sharp sword must come into play, in the interest of their further maturation.

Iaido has always been a synonym for outstanding mental and technical achievements. But we also achieve excellent results in all of the other disciplines taught within the ISTB by using appropriate teaching methods. One example of this is randori and shiai competitions for kyu grades, which foster mental and physical development at an early stage.

Owing to sensei Siegfried Kobilza’s highly sophisticated teaching methods and his deep understanding of traditional bujutsu, the sensei of the ISTB have been able to bring the quality of Takeda Budo within the ISTB to a level that is difficult to match.

On a personal note, I would like to stress the fact that one key reason why the sensei from the ISTB Shido Shinsa Honbu decided in 2005 to support sensei Siegfried Kobilza in his decision to leave Takeda Ryu Nakamura Ha was to gain the freedom to push the standard within the ISTB even higher.

Having been a member of the ISTB for almost fifteen years, I would also like to take this opportunity to state that over this period, all of the other sensei in Europe (except those who have been trained by sensei Maroteaux) gained their profound practical and theoretical knowledge exclusively and directly from sensei Siegfried Kobilza. This fact alone is clear enough proof that all of the teaching licenses that soke Nakamura awarded to Siegfried Kobilza were granted on the basis of sensei Kobilza’s technical qualifications.

In conclusion, there are many different motivations for practicing budo. Some people practice to become successful in business, others aspire to advance in competitive sports and some are looking for enlightenment. If you practice Takeda Ryu Kobilza Ha, you will acquire superior physical and mental skills. Under the supervision of a sensei of the ISTB, you will develop skills that will enable you to face and master challenges in many different forms. Consistent practice will help you achieve any goal in life, and if you choose to walk the path, it is also an excellent foundation for further spiritual development because it is the path to your true self.

Peter Moser, sensei and member of the ISTB Shido Shinsa Honbu
Vienna, 2010