Peter Gold from Redlands Dojo wrote to me the following questions:
• I hope you are feeling OK after your treatment on Thursday. Jack and Scott were asking me if I had heard anything about how you were doing. Some of us were a little reluctant to call for fear they might disturb you. I told Jack and Scott I was writing you a question anyway and would check to see how you are feeling. We hope that you will be feeling good enough to come to the party tomorrow. But as you have said, even if you aren’t now tomorrow is a long way off and you might be OK then.
It is Sunday morning at 06:20. I feel rather good right now. I had a great night sleep and feel refreshed and vigorous. I plan on attending the party today. Hopefully, I won’t get too tired between now and then. Thanks for asking.
SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT COLORS TRAINING:
• I had a question regarding the email you sent to George about the colors for Ceci’s sensei party which George put onto the server. In the past I was under the impression that the only color you could wear was the color of your menkyo level and white. However, I thought that recently you mentioned that one can wear his/her color at their level plus the colors of the levels he/she have completed.
No! You may wear your color when All-and-Total colors are called. You may wear your color and white when Life-and-Death colors are called.
• The recent email also indicates that we can wear black but this may be because you wanted to gave us an out from having to buy powder blue or red suits. My question is whether an individual is only supposed to wear his/her color and a little white, or if one can wear his/her color plus the colors of the levels they have completed plus a little white in the first four levels of the menkyo system? How does the answer vary, if any, depending on the occasion or the student’s state of mind?
ALL-AND-TOTAL COLORS VS LIFE-AND-DEATH-TOTAL COLORS:
First of all, the Sensei calls the colors code. The Sensei may call All-and-Total colors. That means you get only one color, your color. Your underwear, socks, glasses band, jewelry, shirt, shoes, pants, coat, tie and all appurtenances are to be of the color of your specific current menkyo status: black, blue, red, yellow, purple.
The calling of All-and-Total Colors is, of course, very unusual and then is a statement by the sensei (or Shogun) that a breach in the central and partisan goals of the organization (civil war in old Japan) has occurred or is occurring or may soon occur. All-and-Total Colors is a discipline which tends to re-emphasize centralized goals of the group, in an effort to minimize partisan splits. It was a last-ditch-stand in old Japan to try to avert another civil war.
With the re-emphasis the rebellion got a chance to reconsider their position because the dictum of All-and-Total Colors allowed no individual partisan choices. The revolutionaries usually had difficulty relinquishing choice to the power they were about to attack. (nyunanshin)
The leader may call for Life-and-Death-Total-Colors. With this call all participants are given the choice of wearing their color completely or mixing it with white. The more white the closer the person is to death, either physically or organizationally from treason. This allowed a choice for the revolutionaries but one which the western world abhors; seppuku. When a traditional martial artist approached a partisan separation and potential war with the Shogun or Daimyo he could avert the destruction of his family by wearing a profusion of white with his/her color. This was a statement of impending death. The right to choose death over life was inherent in his/her position in ancient Japan. The more white the more imminent the death. All white was death today.
But, why would he do seppuku (ritual suicide)? The answer lies in salvation of his family. If the revolutionary committed seppuku his family was spared. If he didn’t and lost the civil war the revolutionary’s family would be searched for and annihilated like the weeds in a garden. The calling of colors revealed the revolutionaries because of their concept of personal honor. They either had to lie, die or not attend the ceremony. They would rarely lie in front of their peers. They could not attend or die.
DIFFERENT AGENDAS TODAY:
The modern day Sensei and the historical Shogun had different agendas. The Shogun was looking for treason and an honorable exit for his adversaries. The modern day Sensei is more interested in celebration, and the recognition of accomplishment and contribution.
The Shogun selected Life-and-Death-Total-Colors that exposed the treason-plot of the clans. They, in front of their peers had to lie or die. Honor prevented them from lying; seppuku. Or, of course, if they did not attend the colors event, their action was akin to a declaration of war.
The Sensei uses the colors for far different reasons. I use them as a means of consolidation and ceremony. It is a partial test of nyunanshin but hardly holds water in our culture. The gyo wear black. There are so many gyo and so few bushi, sensei, sozosha and shihan that no gyo cares that he/she must wear black. Most all of his/her peers wear black, too. It is actually more a discipline on the upper ranks because they must dress differently. Still I feel that this kind of celebration is of value. And it is not the ranks, nor the colors. It is the tradition. It started nearly 1600 years ago and lasted through many generations with various modes and repercussions. It is a beautiful tradition but one with a human element that has exposed treason, bonded friendships, and even consolidated Japan at several critical times in its history.
THE CAP, THE CLOTHES, AND THE SENSEI’S SELECTION:
At the origin of Colors Events in the 690’s the color was only in the cap worn. It was not total colors but cap colors. The different station of each clan and member was expressed by the color cap worn. This separated them out for easy identification of the clan’s station in the war against the Ainu. Those clans with powerful armies, many cavalry and great resources were given higher colored caps (black, blue, red, yellow, purple).
But, today we do not wear caps. The Sensei of today may select any article of clothing or appurtenance. I have called for color ties, color tops, color rings. The Sensei has freedom in calling the articles of color. The student then nyunanshin or not.
A FEW AIDS FOR COLOR TRAININGS:
1. All Color = no other color allowed other than the one menkyo color (black or blue or red or yellow or purple; no white)
2. Total Color = all articles of clothing in proper color: May or may not be All Color or any variance the Sensei choses for the colors. The Sensei may say Total Color with white, black and color. This means that all articles of clothing are to be of either white, black or the person’s menkyo color. If much white is chosen, however, the student expresses closeness of physical, mental, spiritual or martial (quitting martial arts) death.
3. (ANY ARTICLE OF CLOTHING THE SENSEI NAMES HERE) Color = The article of clothing is to be in the colors.
• this may be All Color (only the menkyo color) or
• this may be Life-and-Death Color (menkyo color plus white)
As an example, if your Sensei says, “Color Ties or Scarfs,” this means you may wear any color shirt, pants, shoes, dresses you desire but you are to wear a tie or scarf in your color. If you are a gyo you are to wear a black tie or scarf. You may wear red pants if you want. There is no limitation on your pants or shirt color, but your tie or scarfs are to be black or black-and-white.
4. Unless specifically stated the colors statement means “Life-and-Death Colors” (white and color) rather than All Color (color only, no white).
It is not unusual for me to call a Colors Shirt or Colors Blouse training. I usually give a degree of freedom in calling in Life-and-Death Colors. Students then can have some degree of freedom of choice. However, when a Sensei calls an All-and-Total Colors training there is no degree of freedom. Some people feel quite constrained. Some even refuse to attend the training. What would you do?
FOR SENSEI CECI’S CELEBRATION PARTY COLORS:
For Sensei Ceci’s Celebration Party I have chosen a format. It gives a small degree of freedom of expression for the gyo, more for the bushi, more for the Sensei, and a lot to me. I am calling for either;
1. Total Color in Life-and-Death Color: This means that you may wear your color and white and that all of your clothing and appurtenances are to be in your color or white. For the gyo this is a choice of black and white; for the bushi this is a choice of blue and white; for the sensei this is a choice of red and white. OR,
2. Black suit, black tuxedo or black dress with appurtenances such as cummerbund, ties, scarfs, hats, handkerchiefs, jewelry, etc in Life-and-Death Colors.
The colors are to be a celebration for Sensei Ceci’s accomplishment.
She will be in red (with possible white and black). Let us honor her by dressing in colors at our finest.
A second question regards the colors at your level of the menkyo system. Is there ever a time when you would want to wear all purple as opposed to a variety of the colors?
I will wear colors according to the code I presented to the student with one exception; I may wear any color in the menkyo. I may wear completely black, completely blue, completely red, completely yellow or completely purple. Or I may mix and match these colors. At the present time I plan on abiding by the second recommendation. I will wear a black tuxedo or suit with purple cummerbund and tie, a white shirt and somewhere a small portion of blue, red and yellow.
It would be unusual for me to wear only purple. If my Sensei called an All-and-Total Colors training I would wear completely purple, down to the color of shoes and shoelaces, underwear, rings, handkerchief, belt and bandaids (if necessary).
Thank you, Peter. I hope you learned something. The colors are just for fun in present martial arts training. I enjoy them. But, more than that it just gives me a chill to realize we participate in such an ancient and beautiful tradition.
Color and Hierarchy:
In an effort to consolidate ancient Japan Prince Shotoku (ca 690AD) instituted the use of color caps and clothing to differentiate rank among the aristocracy. It worked so well that the aristocracy used colors to differentiate rank for centuries after Prince Shotoku. Eventually the use of colors to differentiate rank and position spread to many areas of Japanese culture including the buke (warrior class).
At the origin of Colors Events in the 690’s the color was only of the cap worn. The cap expressed the station of each clan within Yamato (Japan) and expressed the station of each member within the clan. The cap separated the individuals and their clans for easy identification of the clan’s station in the war against the mutual Ainu enemy. Those clans with powerful armies, many cavalry and great resources were given different colored caps and preferentially treated by all.
But, today we do not wear caps. The sensei of today may select any article of clothing or appurtenance. I have called for color ties, color tops and once color rings. The sensei chooses the item and gives a recommendation for the Color Event. The students then nyunanshin (accommodate) or not.
The history of colors in the martial arts is more nebulous than in the aristocracy. Every martial clan had its own mon (crest), its own color and pattern. The standard use of colors in the martial arts never existed in Japan. All standards varied from region to region and changed as times changed and as different clans took leadership of different areas. In order to make any sense of the colors, crests, and patterns used by the military one must define the region and the approximate date. It is difficult for us to hold to any standard in the present because the past holds no standard with the one exception that colors, crests and patterns were used extensively in Japan for multiple military purposes.
The use of color at Aoinagi Karate reflects the menkyo (license) system we use. We issue five licenses. Each license is a phase-of-training license and is related to the philosophy that Aoinagi Karate follows. The license system builds its foundation on two oriental literature sources; The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi (1645) and the 38th chapter of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu (500BC).
The actual colors come to us by tradition. The tradition is tied to the five books that Miyamoto Musashi wrote in the Book of Five Rings. Let’s look at the names of the books and the associated color of the substance in the name of the book:
Book of the Ground Black
Book of the Water Blue
Book of the Fire Red
Book of the Wind Yellow
Book of the Void Purple
Traditionally the color to the right of the book is the color of the material of the substance of the book. Hence we find that the ground is black. But most people consider the ground brown or red not black. The color has just become traditional as a symbol of the material and really doesn’t reflect more than a symbol.
Miyamoto Musashi’s books are about sword fighting strategies and the way a person best studies them. The way that sword fighting strategies are best learned are by phases-in-training of the people who study his various strategies. The phases-in-training I have put first in the next list followed by the name of Musashi’s corresponding book and then the color again.
Gyo-sha Book of the Ground Black
Shugyo-sha Book of the Water Blue
Sensei Book of the Fire Red
Sozo-sha Book of the Wind Yellow
Shihan Book of the Void Purple
At Aoinagi Karate we use the phases-in-training to determine our color. A gyo-sha wears black while a shugyo-sha wears blue. The sensei wears red. The sozo-sha wears yellow. And the shihan wears purple or any previous color.
The Call of Colors:
A few rules for color training:
-Straight Color: No color other than the menkyo color is allowed. Gyo-sha wear black and no white or other color. Shugyo-sha wear blue and no white or other color. Sensei wear red and no white or other color, etc.
-All Color: All clothing, appurtenances and jewelry are to be in the color restrictions placed by the sensei. The Sensei may say “All Color with white, black and color.” This means that everything the deshi wears is restricted to the colors white, black and the person’s menkyo color.
-Straight-and-All Colors: Straight means no other color than the menkyo color; all means every piece of clothing. So Straight-and-All Colors means all clothing, appurtenances and jewelry are to be in the exact menkyo color. The gyo-sha wears only black for every piece of clothing. No other color is allowed. shuygyo-sha wear all blue clothing and no other color. This is strict and offends some people but the sensei generally has a good reason to issue such strict standard.
-Life-and-Death Colors: Life-and-Death colors means menkyo color and white. The deshi has a choice. The choice is life-color (the menkyo color) or death color (white). The deshi chooses to express his own closeness to life-and-death by the amount of white used in the color selections. Say that the sensei calls “jackets; life-and-death colors.” The gyo-sha wears a black jacket or a black jacket with some white, the amount of which is determined by the deshi’s closeness to death. If death is imminent the deshi may wear an all white jacket and still be within the request of his sensei. Similarly a shugyo-sha wears a blue jacket with perhaps some white.
-This in Colors: In contrast to All Color a piece of clothing may be selected by the sensei. Only the piece or pieces of clothing requested by the sensei are restricted to the menkyo color. Say the sensei calls “tie; life-and-death colors.” The gyo-sha now wears a black tie perhaps with a bit of white. On the other hand if the sensei says “tie; straight color” the sensei wants a tie containing no other color than the pure menkyo color. No white is allowed. Gyo-sha wear a black tie. Shugyo-sha wear a blue tie. Sensei wear a red tie. But, other pieces of clothing may be in any color whatsoever.
-Preemption of Life-and-Death colors: Unless specifically stated otherwise “Life-and-Death Colors” (menkyo color and white) preempts “Straight Color” (menkyo color only, no white). If a sensei calls “jacket, pants, shoes; Color” with no additional information given the gyo-sha is free to wear jacket, pants, shoes in a mixture of black and white. If, on the other hand, the sensei says “jacket, pants, shoes; Straight Colors” the gyo-sha wears totally black jacket, pants and shoes to abide by the restrictions.
Color Events: Then and Now
The modern day sensei and the daimyo (leader of the feudal fief) of five-hundred years ago use colors for quite different reasons. Whereas the daimyo was looking for treason or treachery the modern sensei is more interested in celebration, and the recognition of accomplishment and contribution of members of his organization to martial arts and to the community in general. Only occasionally is the modern sensei testing the waters of discord in his dojo by hosting a Color Event.
In ancient times a treason-suspecting daimyo called a meeting of the clan at which he demanded that all attendees wear life-and-death colors. A retainer contemplating treason knew that death was imminent. If he wore his menkyo color he would be lying. If he wore all white he would be exposing his approaching battle to the death. The honor of the retainer was at stake in front of his ancestors and in front of any person who already knew of his involvement with the treason. He would not lie.
The daimyo at the Colors Event could isolate all those wearing white and, for their “protection” place them under house arrest with the cover of protection or medical aid or just wanting to help them. The rebellion was squelched before it began.
If the retainer lied by wearing his colors blatantly with little or no white, he would lose face and be dishonored in the eyes of others (let alone his ancestors whom he worshipped). He had to wear the truth in colors. He had to expose his intentions by what he wore. His only other alternatives were seppuku (ritual suicide) or dishonor.
Even if he did not attend the Colors Event, he displayed his treachery. Avoidance of the daimyo’s demand was the next thing closest to a declaration of war. But, why would he do seppuku (ritual suicide)? The answer lies in salvation of his family. If the revolutionary committed seppuku his family was spared. If he didn’t commit seppuku and either lied in his colors or lost the civil war the revolutionary’s family would be searched for and annihilated like the weeds in a garden. The calling of colors exposed the revolutionaries because of their concept of personal honor. They either had to lie, die or not attend the ceremony. They would rarely lie in front of their peers. They could not avoid the ceremony and wearing of true colors squelched the surprise of their revolution. The slightest mistake and not only the retainer would die but his entire family be annihilated.
The daimyo placed the whole clan in delicate paradox. Sometime the simple paradox ignited the treason before schedule, while the daimyo had already prepared to counter any immediate resistance with his more loyal retainers.
Most modern martial artists do not understand the absolute dedication that the ancient martial artist held for his honor. The retainer could not lie by wearing inappropriate colors. He had to wear a quantity of white appropriate for his feeling of approaching death during treason. And, thus he was exposed. Knowing this often caused the rebellion to attack before the scheduled date and time in order to avoid the Colors Event. Improperly prepared he and the other traitors stormed the castle. Disorganization ensued. The daimyo’s waiting counterforce killed the traitors as they prematurely began treason.
Then, on the other hand, the daimyo calling the Colors Event would frequently find nothing unusual in the dress of the retainers. He rested more secure than before, but treachery could still be in the wind. On occasion the daimyo’s simple Colors Event caused the retainers to retire their treachery for the moment at least knowing that their treachery had been discovered. In either case, the daimyo remained in the lead as he temporarily tripped up treason. And the tool he used was a simple Colors Event.
In most cases the daimyo had the upper hand, and in that hand was the proper use of Color Events to expose treachery. Those who used the Color Events wisely survived to be old and wise. Those who didn’t succumbed to the rising tide of frequent internecine wars.
But, those were very different times.
The modern sensei uses the colors for far different reasons. I use them as a means of consolidation and ceremony. It is a partial test of nyunanshin (accommodation) to be sure but in the most deshi it is more entertaining than stressful.
The gyo-sha wear black and usually feel quite comfortable in that color. There are so many gyo and so few bushi, sensei, sozosha and shihan that no gyo cares that she must wear black. Most all of her peers wear black, too. It is actually more a discipline on the upper phases-in-training because they must dress differently. Still I feel that Color Events are of value. And it is not the phases-in-training, nor the colors. It is the tradition.
The tradition started nearly 1600 years ago and lasted through many generations with various modes and variations. It has exposed traitors, consolidated clans, encouraged loyalty and even consolidated Japan at several critical times in its history. The tradition may not amount to much ever again but it has served the martial arts for many centuries and should not be abandoned because we just don’t see its value.
The Use of Straight-and-All Color Events
The calling of Straight-and-All Color is, of course, very unusual. Calling this Color Event is a statement that a breach in central goals has occurred. Straight-and-All Color is a discipline that tends to re-emphasize centralized goals of the group in an effort to minimize partisan disunion and bring all those willing to participate in solidarity together. It was a last-ditch-stand in old Japan to try to avert another civil war and at certain times was quite successful for bonding splinter groups. Such a simple ceremony where all adhere to strict clothing standards brings a degree of unity to those who want to have such unity. For all others, it only brings consternation, grief, complaints and a loss of sense of freedom. The latter people usually leave the group or try to destroy it. When the rebellious faction remains within the dojo they take on a position which in group processes is called counter-dependency. They undermine, sabotage and attempt to splinter the dojo. These counter-dependents are usually rather unsuccessful in a strong dojo but from time to time one of immense proportion arises and threatens the very foundation of the dojo.
But that is another story.
The Use of Life-and-Death All Color Events
The sensei may call for Life-and-Death All Color. With this call all participants are given the choice of wearing solely their color or mixing it with white. The more white the deshi chooses the closer she is to death, either physically, emotionally or spiritually.
The student has a choice of colors; menkyo and white. The sensei watches. What he sees may be only an inadvertent illusion or it may be an insightful expression of the student’s perception of herself at the time. The sensei gathers more insight into the deshi if he is alert and the student is not disingenuous.
The sensei must interpret the student’s choice if the sensei is to gain any insight whatsoever. The sensei offers Life-and-Death All Colors to stimulate the deshi’s self-reflection, choice and expression.
The Shihan Color
Shihan have revolved the martial arts circle once. They have been gyo-sha, shugyo-sha, sensei, sozo-sha and now are shihan. Their color is purple. But, they have revolved the circle once already and have reattached themselves to the gyo line-up where they wear black. Because the circle is complete they may wear the black again. Because the circle is complete they may wear blue again, or red or yellow. All five colors fall within the shihan’s own phase-in-training color. The shihan has already circled the dojo and martial arts the full circle once. She has put the ends together and may now pass to any part of the circle.
Even at the Straight-and-All Color Event the shihan may wear black, blue, red, yellow and/or purple in any combination that she deems appropriate.
The Current Celebration
The colors are just for fun in present martial arts training and do not, at least at Aoinagi Karate, represent any tool for seeking out and destroying treachery. They represent a means by which solidarity and, when appropriate, expression is given a deshi at an event. I have really enjoyed the Color Events I have called. And, so to more than 95% of the deshi. But, yes, there are still 5% of the deshi who resist or revolt. And, perhaps that is just about how it should be. So, until I’m willing to sacrifice the joy of 95% of deshi for the will of 5% we will continue to use them. I hope you join all those who have learned to enjoy such simple ceremony and perhaps even join in a share with me the chill of reflection on a tradition we participate in such an ancient and beautiful way.