Mastering martial arts

Thursday, October 16, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:42 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The serene atmosphere of Peace Park was a fitting setting for the focused movements of Japanese swordsmanship on an early Sunday morning. Joseph Bowes, 54, led a private lesson with an accomplished student in the ancient traditions of Kenjutsu and Iaijutsu.

Kenjutsu and Iaijutsu are rooted in warrior traditions and have been around for more than 650 years with little alteration. Kenjutsu uses wooden weapons and features full speed and contact. Steel blades are the combat tool in Iaijutsu. The traditions require mastery of a variety of weapons, including long and short swords, a 6-foot staff, a 9-foot pole and the" target="_blank">naginata, a long pole with a hooked end.

Sensei Bowes has been teaching for four years at Dexter’s International Tae Kwon Do and Martial Arts Center in Columbia. He’s lived in Columbia and studied the art of the sword for more than 20 years. Around his neck, he wears the Tibetan djorje, representative of the Buddhist symbol for compassion.

The forms Bowes teaches were actual samurai techniques used on the battlefield centuries ago. The weapons involved can be very unforgiving and do not allow for mistakes, Bowes said. For this reason, this is not a craft for beginners in the martial arts.

Bowes’ student, Dave Meyer, has studied Kenjutsu and Iaijutsu for three years. Before studying with Bowes, Meyer trained in Aikido, a philosophy more easily extended to other martial arts. Unlike others, Aikido is considered a circular art, not a competitive sport. The spiritual dimension of Aikido teaches harmony by using a competitor’s energy. The style is marked by grappling, locks and holds.

Meyer was drawn to the martial arts by samurai movies, he said.

Movies provide inspiration for some teachers, too. Chuck Norris was an inspiration for JW Wiles, who has been teaching for a year.

“I like everything he stands for,” Wiles said.

When Wiles was young, he was diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. He says martial arts are his therapy.

“I’ll tell you what — this is the best medicine I’ve found yet,” Wiles said.

Martial arts training emphasizes intense concentration, awareness, breathing and footwork, Bowes said. The complexity of the style extends to the very etiquette of practice.

“The important parts of the art are internal,” Bowes said. “Strong (strength) does you no good in this style.”

Bowes said the concentrated observation and focus he’s learned through martial arts benefits his other profession — that of a freelance anesthetist.

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