Form, Function and Environoment by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

"I will join the school if you move indoors, especially during the cold and wet season," the woman explained as she folded her arms and sank into the chair.

I sensed fear and distancing in her behavior so I responded with "let me know if I can help you find a different school, more to your liking."

"I really like what you guys do, but I don't feel safe training outdoors" she persisted.

And I knew what she meant. This is not everyone's goal. And that is ok.

"Ma'am, I am looking for people who want to be functional artists - those looking to thrive, not just survive. There are many other schools that offer training in 'safer' indoor places. This does not seem like good match for the both of us"

But she would not let go of the conversation. Coffee had just been served, so we continued for another hour trying to help our newbie understand why we train the way we do.

Her big question: "What could you possibly achieve by training in the rain or in below-freezing temperatures?"

"Do you think you will only be attacked in the dojo/studio, under ideal weather conditions? If yes, then perhaps you need a sport school."

She pondered a bit before admitting it was "unlikely."

Nature is a harsh mistress.


But if one pays really attention, she teaches us not just how to survive...but how to thrive.

"You must train for the environments you will find yourself in. Nature does NOT tolerate unpreparedness at all. Look at what happens to amateurs who head out into the deep wilderness, or people who live in hurricane/natural disaster zones without proper preparation."

Different environments put different pressures on you, the organism.

Go from sea level to 15000 feet and notice your breathing.

Move from the very arid deserts to the marshlands.

Or perhaps from the warm humid tropical islands to the cold dry wastelands of the Artic.

Varied environments mean varied pressures.

And they change a little bit of everything:

-> How you dress -> What you eat and your ability to replenish yourself -> How you breathe and your endurance level -> Your sense of balance -> Your speed -> Mobility of your joints and muscles -> Little bits of everything have a HUGE impact.

I remember having a heated discussion about this with another practitioner in the system. He had apparently examined a short video clip and was concerned about my form. He made the typical mistake of thin slicing: looking at a simple clip, and making sweeping generalizations. All of this without understanding the impact of environment and other invisible factors.

We argued a bit. ThenI offered to pay for his way to come on one of our Shugyos to see for himself what happens at 12 thousand feet elevation.

Silence. No, like many a keyboard warriors, he would not back his words with action.

But in a very passive aggressive way he started talking about the 'old' ways and the importance of keeping traditions alive. Of course, names like Musashi came into the conversation. So I quoted his idol Musashi himself from the Book of Five Rings.

"The way of warrior skill is the way of nature. When you are in line with the power of nature, knowing the rhythm of all situations, you will be able to cut and strike the enemy naturally."

Study the people you quote before you use them to justify your opinions. Please.

Musashi also stated, "there are four Ways in which men pass through life: as warriors, farmers, artisans and merchants." This means we must not only going beyond our ryu (style), but beyond our warrior ways as well.

Another quote from an "authority": Sun Tzu. "The second and third constant factors that govern victory are Heaven and Earth. Heaven and earth are what Sun Tzu refers to as the environmental conditions and the physical terrain of battle, and one must be aware ahead of time of the threats and opportunities that they present."

In other words Wake. Up.

Don't just follow a form blindly without understanding the context. The environment IS the context we live in. You must attempt to understand and be in harmony with it or you wont survive for long.

Think about this.


When a technique is embodied by the self you have SKILL.
When the traditional technique is custom-fitted to the environments' you have VARIATIONS
When the self evolves with the environment you have ADAPTATIONS.

The hardest thing for many traditionalists to get around are these variations and adaptations. So EXPLORE YOUR ART in varied ecosystems:

  1. Go into different micro environments and execute your techniques. Note the efficiency. Ask yourself what needs to change. Let the variations emerge.

    1. For example traditional atemi/striking arts and pistols are mostly rendered useless in water. How does one change the striking or gun methods methods in water

    2. Traditional Aikijujutsu and HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) were optimized for armor. What happens when when you use those skills without the armor? What new things become possible or impossible?

  2. Let the environments you find yourself in most often dictate how to adapt your skills.
    1. If you live in densely populated areas with narrow streets - the Katana and Bo won't work as well as say a Tanto/Dagger/Karambit and 18-24 inch sticks.

    2. If you find yourself on the plains or deserts riding horses, the shape of your blade will need to curve around the horses head, which means how the blade moves changes. Think of the Rajputs, the Persians and the Mongols.
    3. If you find yourself mostly by oceans and large rivers, the oar becomes a weapon of choice and deep stances are mandatory. Stability and multi-use implements win the day. Think the of Maori, Polynesian and Okinawan systems

This is not meant to be a 'dissing' of traditional systems. On the contrary, the traditional systems survived due to their hyper focus on particular adaptations, variations and skill development catered to their locale. In today's global environment, however, the same arts are carried over in original form into places where they do not ideally suit. To survive and thrive there... they need to adapt and change.

When Form, Function and Environment mostly die.

With this, I finished our coffee, and guided her to some other schools. As we were walking out, she asked "don't you think this kind of training could damage your body, your brain?"

And let us not forget the Brain. Yes the Brain

I have heard even many well-meaning practitioners talk about working on reactionary skills to survive. This is but a small part of the puzzle. Very small.

The brain is built as a prediction system, not a reaction system. It looks at all the sensory input coming from outside (read environment). Then based on previous experiences and possible outcomes - predicts the most likely outcome. This is the realm of prediction, preparation, anticipation, prospection or expectations.

Another view is the OODA loop, postulated by John Boyd. He noted that successful fighter pilots "Observe, Orient, Decide and then Act." Think about this - you need to be able to really see/hear/feel fully, then orient yourself based on the environment in order to generate options. The best possible option is then selected and executed upon. (A series of future posts on OODA in the works).

If you are not predicting the future, and adapting to it, you are not going to be surviving. If your OODA loop is being disrupted by the opponent or the environment , you are not going to be surviving.

When Form, Function and Environment Match - YOU THRIVE due to FUNCTIONAL SKILL.

So get out there, work those techniques in different ecosystems, allow the variations and adaptations to emerge. They might just save your life.

This is a big reason my students and I train in varied environments regularly. Everything from mountains, rivers, beaches, marshlands to deserts. The idea is that they find themselves "in harmony" or Aiki or "right timing" with nature, and THRIVE.

I waved my final goodbye. Time to go teach another class in my little outdoor dojo.

Remember my friends to Thrive - Form, Function and Environment must be in Aiki/Harmony/Timing.Said another way "Heaven and Earth be in harmony."

If this makes sense share it, drop me a line. I always welcome connecting with other travellers on the path.

Mahipal Lunia, Sensei