Monday, September 29, 2014

The Simple Genius Of Kata

I was contemplating the Tao Te Ching recently. It’s an incredibly insightful collection of short poems from China of 2500 years ago.  81 brief poems that encapsulate a huge amount of wisdom. The wisdom of ancient people from a culture as different from mine as can be imagined. Yet each time I read from it I learn things. Koryu budo kata are much the same.

The Tao Te Ching has been looked to for wisdom and insight and understanding ever since it was written, and it’s value hasn’t diminished even after 25 centuries. People still look to it for wisdom and insight and understanding. It’s only 81 short verses totalling about 5,000 characters.  Not much for a text that many feel encompasses great truth about the universe. How can something so brief, so compact have such deep wisdom that continues to resonate with people after so many centuries?

Kata are a lot like the Tao Te Ching in that sense. They are short. I can’t think of any system, modern or classical, that tries to be encyclopedic in its collection and treatment of kata. Many systems have well under a hundred kata. Systems that have more are usually teaching offense and defense for a variety of weapons so they have to have a least a few for each weapon so students can become comfortable with each weapon in the curriculum. Of course this adds to the system’s collection of kata. The number of kata added for each new weapon though is comparatively small, just enough for the student to become familiar with the weapon. No system gets too large. Yet with these relatively small sets of kata, a huge amount of information can be transmitted.

What do budo kata and the Tao Te Ching have in common in their brevity that makes them so worthwhile that the Tao Te Ching endures and is popular after 2500 years, and budo systems like Katori Shinto Ryu and Yagyu Shinkage Ryu and Eishin Ryu continue to thrive 400, 500 and more years after they were founded? People still find wisdom and understanding about the world in the Tao Te Ching, brief as it is, and they still find classical fighting systems effective for learning about combat.

What gives both the Tao Te Ching and budo kata their continued usefulness and effectiveness is precisely their brevity.  They don’t try to lay out all their answers and insights to every potential scenario. They give you the rough framework and you have to do the work of building the understanding. You can’t just memorize the Tao Te Ching and understand it. You can’t just memorize the movement patterns of a set of budo kata and be good at budo.

To make them work, you have to work at them. The Tao Te Ching is deceptively simple.

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth;
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Therefore let there always be non-being so we may see their subtlety,
And let there always be being so we may see their outcome.
The two are the same, but after they are produced, they have different names.
They both may be called deep and profound.
Deeper and more profound,
The door of all subtleties!

The more time you spend thinking about this, the greater and deeper the implications and ideas. The entire collection is like that. Brief, simple, deep and profound. What makes it profound?  Much of that secret, and the secret to the incredible usefulness of kata is in plain site in this verse, number 11 in the Tao Te Ching.

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

The Tao Te Ching does not lay out every detail of its philosophy and ideas for the reader.  In just 81 verses totaling about 5000 characters, there is now way it could.  Instead it lays out a few ideas and principles while pointing to more. It is this lack of detail that makes the Tao Te Ching useful and relevant across 25 centuries and changes in culture that were unimaginable when it was first written. If the Tao Te Ching had laid out too many details, in particular relating it to the culture within which it was written it would have long ago lost relevance as the world changed and the cultural touchstones it referred to were forgotten. Part of its genius is that it gives a rough, bare framework to the ideas within it, forcing each person who encounters it to complete the picture with their own details.

    Because it lacks specific details, it is like a clay pot that is useful precisely because it has a hole in the middle which will hold other things. The Tao Te Ching gives shape to the details of life in any age by providing a frame which can hold the details and information of any age, any culture. Good budo kata do much the same. It’s amazing how much information can be encoded in just a few good kata. It would be foolish and impossible to train for every possible permutation of combative scenario. Kata are the solution.

Kata are those stiff things you see karateka do. They are also the judo kata often seen demonstrated at glacial speeds. There are iai kata and kenjutsu kata and kata for pretty much every weapon imagined in Japanese history. Most systems don’t have a lot of kata though.  Eishin Ryu has around 45 iai kata depending on which line you follow.  Very few systems have more than this for any single weapon, though some systems have accumulated a large number of kata because they teach a variety of weapons.  None of them try to teach by having students practice every possible situation with a particular weapon.

I am always amazed at how much the group of sword masters who created the Kendo No Kata were able to pack into the 10 kata that make up the set.  They figured out how to teach the fundamentals of Japanese swordsmanship in 10 simple kata.

These kata aren’t definitive. They don’t make any attempt to show everything that could happen. They do provide a platform for students of Japanese swordsmanship to explore and learn.  In any good kata based system, the kata are really only a rough framework. The students have to fill that framework themselves. The kata become most relevant when the students start to fill them. As the movements become more complicated, the students have to explore the kata and discover things.

Pick a kata and take it apart. Figure out what makes it work. Don’t bother your teacher with a million “What if” questions. You won’t learn much from her answers. Grab a partner and work through the kata slowly. If you have a question about why the kata is done a particular why and not another way, try it with your variation, slowly.  See what will make sense for your partner to do in response. Look at 50 different ways to do the kata.

When you start taking the kata apart like this, you’ll understand why the kata is taught in precisely one way. Everytime I take apart a kata I discover that bad things happen more suddenly and much faster than I would have guessed. When I try doing this with a kata too quickly, I usually end up with bruises because I get hit with something I wasn’t expecting. Look at the first Kendo No Kata. It’s ridiculous in its simplicity. Uchitachi attacks, shitachi evades and counterattacks.

Now play with it.  Enter a little too deep too soon and your partner will nail you with a quick thrust.  There’s lesson 1: how close is too close. Don’t enter deeply enough and you can’t hit your target. Lesson 2: how close is close enough. Shitachi is sliding back and forth. Don’t retreat far enough and you get cut. Retreat too far and you can’t recover and enter to counter attack before your partner recovers from her attack. There’s lesson 3: How are far is too far. Play with the kata and really learn just how close is close enough, and how far is too far.

These aren’t lessons you learn from thousands of mindless repetitions of the same kata. These are lessons learned from exploring dozens of variations of the spacing and distancing used in this kata. Once learned, these lessons can be applied to every kata you ever encounter. If you just repeat the kata the same way every time though, you’ll never understand this.  

Great kata systems are not comprehensive. They don’t make any attempt to be comprehensive. A system that was comprehensive would be too large to learn in any useful sort of timeframe. A comprehensive system would have to have a kata for every one of those variations you might discover on your own while exploring the kata. Such a system would be too large to be of use.

A comprehensive system also wouldn’t teach students to take apart and understand situations. A comprehensive system would have all the answers. It would have all the answers for the scenarios its creators imagined. It wouldn’t have answers for anything else. As soon as the situations started to change, new ideas or scenarios are introduced, it would be obsolete.

A good kata system is spare and simple rather than bloated. There are lots of opportunities for students to ask themselves (not the teacher!) “what if?”. A system where there is plenty of room for the students to explore is flexible, because students can explore new ideas and new strategies, try out the same kata with different weapons and different ideas and different partners. A system that doesn’t claim to be comprehensive has room for students to explore and expand their understanding. A comprehensive system doesn’t leave room for that kind of development.

The Tao Te Ching remains relevant 2500 years later because it doesn’t attempt to have all the answers. It gives the reader an abundance to consider and reflect upon. The principles it points to are endlessly applicable. They are endlessly applicable because they aren’t locked into any particular time or culture.

Good budo kata remain relevant hundreds of years after they were conceived because they don’t attempt to answer every imaginable scenario of the period in which they were born. The present situations that are rich with opportunities for students to learn. The lessons continue to be of use because they don’t attempt to be comprehensive for any particular age or place. Each generation of students must explore and understand the kata within their particular world. Just because the kata seem simple, don’t think they aren’t deep.

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Koryu Budo: The Long View

Practicing classical budo changes your perspective.  Yes, I train in an archaic system of combat.  Shinto Muso Ryu as a tradition goes back to the first decade or so of the 1600s.  The sword system included with Shinto Muso Ryu may go back further.  The Shinto Hatakage Ryu that I train only goes back to the 1700s, but it’s founder had studied Kashima Shinto Ryu, which has roots that stretch far back into Japanese history. Certainly the fundamentals of how to use a Japanese sword effectively have been the same since the Japanese sword first achieved the curved shape that we are familiar with.  The weapon and those principles go back about 1,100 years.  

When I started training, these were so many cool details.  They didn’t really have a lot of significance for me. The longer I train, the more I relate to the world, and see aspects of the world, through the the framework provided by the ancient traditions I’m studying. As I learn techniques and principles that go back hundreds of years I see my position in the world differently.  As I teach these same basic techniques for swinging a sword or a stick that haven’t changed in perhaps a thousand years or more, my position becomes even more fluid.

I started out solidly in the present studying about the past. Koryu budo is all about the past. Right?  We’re studying archaic weapons and fighting styles that don’t have a place in the modern world.  Everything about the modern world says that learning to fight with a stick or sword is a quaint pastime, a lovely hobby with no relevance outside the dojo where it’s practiced.  With something like a jujutsu system such as Kodokan Judo or Aikido, there is the possibility of applying it for self-defense.  Mention that you train with swords and sticks and the smile says that you never quite outgrew playing pirates.

The more I do it though, the less distant that past becomes from the present, the closer and clearer pieces of t the future become. The sword hasn’t changed in any fundamental way in a thousand years.  Sticks have been sticks since before humans figured out how to walk on 2 legs. The most effective means for handling these weapons hasn’t changed because neither the weapons nor the people handling them have changed. The epiphany for me was the realization that the centuries old practices were still relevant and effective.

The ideal postures remain ideal.  They are strong, stable and provide a base that allows quick movement and response. The cutting and striking techniques that were most effective 400 years ago have not become less effective over time. Those principles of posture and movement are available for me to apply all the time wherever I am, from the dojo to the kitchen to the office to the factory floor.

As I learn and apply these, the first lessons of any budo system, I see myself differently.  There is less and less of me and my world that is more advanced than the world where my budo originated.  Some of the technology surrounding us may have changed, but the folks wielding it have not. Effective cutting in the kitchen hasn’t changed since Cook Ting was working in his kitchen more than 2000 years ago. The effectiveness of these techniques will not be lost in another 2000 years either. We may develop new technologies, but they will continue to employ the same principles.

Though I live in the 21st century, I find myself less and less at the pinnacle of humanity. That peak sometimes looks much more like a valley with me at the bottom. I’ve learned some, and the more I learn the less advanced I become. Those ancient stances that are just for kids who never outgrew playing pirate turn out to be very effective for subtle communication with people who don’t know anything about them, but still respond to them with primal instincts.

When I delve deeper into the ways of stick or sword I am schooled again and again in the lessons of tactical and strategic thought. We may have developed new weapons, but the old lessons still apply. People don’t continue to study The Art Of War because it is quaint and amusing.  They study it because after thousands of years it is still the most concise treatise on military strategy ever written.

When I practice and learn, I pull the past up to the present. I stand in a valley surrounded by all the lessons of the arts. The accomplishments of my age come down to size. I am a part of the history and the ryuha. The past is no longer distant. Once it felt strange and unreal to think that I was practicing the same arts and techniques that have been practiced for centuries. Continued practiced has burned away the strangeness and replaced the sense of unreality with a strong bond to all those who practiced before me. I can imagine them making the same mistakes and learning the same lessons and asking themselves the same questions.

Now that I have a few students, I see them make the same mistakes I have made. I hear my questions coming out of their mouths, and I discover that the questions aren’t really mine. Those questions belong to those stages of learning.  Nearly anyone who treads that path will discover the same questions.  There are the obvious ones like, “Does this really work?” and “Can I do this?”  Later the questions get more subtle, but they follow a similar path for anyone who has trained in the art.

Because these are physical arts, verbal answers never receive more than temporary, tentative answers.  The student who is wondering if the techniques really work and if she can do them always has to answer the questions for herself. Can she really throw someone?  She trains and trains week after week wondering.  After a while she gets so busy training that she forgets to ask the question. Then one day she hears someone else ask one of her old questions and she realizes that it’s not a question anymore. That this works, that she can do it, these are solid facts burned into her muscles, bones and blood through the simple process of regular training.

Her view of the world and herself changes. She has become, not someone who might, not even someone who can, but someone who does. Like me, her view of the world has been changed by treading the path. Through practice ancient techniques and ways of being are worn into our being. We train and ancient ways of movement become modern and advanced for us. A way of moving and interacting with the world that was developed hundreds of years ago remains effective, efficient and advanced. The past becomes a part of the present, and that present can be clearly seen in the future.

Koryu budo are ancient systems. They are not out of date. Modern martial arts often fall prey to the sporting instinct, and their practitioners forego all the old lessons that can be learned there in pursuit of victory in the sporting arena.  The parts of practice that bring the deep lessons are dropped as training is modified to suit the narrow confines of the arena.

I want to continue learning. Being a sports champion at 15 or 20 or 25 is wonderful. More wonderful I think is whatever it is that makes teachers like Kiyama Sensei and Omori Sensei powerful in their 80s and 90s.

Omori Masao at the age of 85.

That’s a lesson worth learning, and a question worth asking. What is there in koryu budo that keeps people training and working at this when they are 90 years old? I’m not that old, but I can see that even after only a few decades of practice, I keep making new discoveries, learning new things. The question might be, what is that my teachers are still discovering after they reach 90 and have more than 80 years of training? I don’t know, but I also know that the answer to that question is not some discrete piece of knowledge or wisdom. The answer is that all I have to do to learn that is not stop training.

Dennis Hooker Sensei used to say that “If you don’t quit and you don’t die, you’ll get there.”  My only quibble with that is that I don’t think there is any “there” to get to.  If you don’t quit and you don’t die, you’ll keep learning, keep growing, keep going. If we don’t die, and don’t get distracted, there are infinite lessons to be learned in these ancient practices. Each time we train we learn a little more, even on those days when we feel like we haven’t learned anything. Koryu budo takes the long view. Learn the fundamentals, learn the techniques, learn the art, learn life. These aren’t arts and paths with a black belt ceremony at the end. They don’t have an end.

You keep training, learning, refining. You refine your technique and you refine yourself. Old questions become certainties. The path continues and you find new questions and you train the answers to those questions into your bones as well. Your view of the world is transformed. Old men can become enormously powerful. So can young girls who’ve never been told they could be powerful.
A lifetime grows both longer and shorter.  You begin to see all the changes and growth that can happen in a few years and the idea of what can be accomplished across a lifetime becomes immense. You see your own teachers age and pass away and that lifetime grows so short that every moment with them transforms into a precious jewel beyond price.

Working on techniques that you know a student 400 years ago was working on and traveling the path that they did. Teaching these techniques as a teacher did 400 years ago and seeing students progress and master the technique.

The past and the future cease to be separate places. We are not just connected to them, we are part of them. As I train, I age and grow younger. All in the same practice session I am teacher and student. I look to my left and can see the founder of my ryuha standing on a polished wooden floor in Japan wearing a tired and much abused hakama, swinging sticks just as I and everyone in our dojo does. I look to my right and see students in the distant future still wearing patched and faded hakama standing on polished wooden floors and swinging sticks as they train their minds and bodies. Koryu is a long path.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Awareness, Zanshin, or just plain Paying Attention

Awareness makes budo work. Without it, it doesn’t matter how good  your maegeri or your uchimata is.  You’re going to get clocked before you can use is. Being aware tells us what’s going on and what to be prepared for so we can deal with it when it arrives.  It’s so important I considered including it as one of the fundamental principles of Budo.  I didn’t because it is a skill built on and with the principles I discussed in earlier posts (Structure, Spacing and Timing).  Without an understanding of those, awareness can’t happen. WIthout awareness though, you’ll never get to use the skills you’ve spent so much time developing.

Awareness is a combination of the knowledge of structure, spacing and timing combined with being cognizant of the world you are moving in. If you don’t understand structure, spacing and timing, it really won’t matter how much you pay attention to the people and things around you, because you won’t be able to interpret what you see. If you understand these things, but don’t pay any attention to what you are seeing and don’t apply your understanding to the world, it won’t matter what you’ve learned because you aren’t using it.

A lot of people talk about being aware of the world around us, but what are we looking at and why are we looking at it?  Just being aware of what’s going on around you is useless if you don’t have a framework with which to evaluate what you are seeing.  Understanding your own structure lets you see what’s going on in others' structures. Understanding spacing tells you not just what is good spacing for you, but what is good for someone else. Knowing when the timing is right and wrong for you to act enables you to understand those moments when you are vulnerable to someone else.

When I was first learning the kata Seigan from the Kendo Federation Seitei Jodo set, my teacher explained that shitachi (the sword side) and shijo (the jo side) should begin moving towards each other simultaneously.  I thought he was a little bit crazy.  How was I going to be able to see exactly when shitachi would move?  I watched senior people do the kata, sure enough, they did move together. I was sure they were signalling each other somehow.  How else could you know exactly when to move together?

As I practiced with Kohashi Sensei week after week though, I began to recognize subtle changes in her body that would happen just before she stepped off.  They weren’t big changes by any means, but I could see that her balance changed just slightly as she prepared to move and so I could match her starting movement with my own. It seems pretty obvious now what I’m looking at, but it took time to develop an understanding of structure and movement.  At first I just “knew” that shitachi was going to move, but I couldn’t have told how I knew.  Now I can talk about things like a slight change in the relationship between shoulders, hips and feet.  I can see that shitachi has shifted her balance forward just enough that her leg muscles have to work to hold her from moving forward.  Her center of gravity has shifted just a slight bit in front of her feet.  

Now I don’t just “know” when shitachi will move, I know why I know and know what is happening with shitachi, and I can apply that knowledge to other kata and situations. As I develop my understanding of what is useful and effective structure, I understand more about what my partners are doing, what they can do, and what they can’t do from moment to moment. All those lessons about how to stand upright and balanced, and how to carry your weight so you can move immediately inform everything I see now.  I can see when a partner isn’t loading her weight correctly.  I understand that if my partner is slouching, she can’t breath properly, so she’ll get tired quickly.  I can see when she is ready to attack or if her balance has shifted back.  

Spacing, ma’ai 間合, is another aspect of awareness. We’re all aware of it when someone stands too close to us in public. We feel uncomfortable. We might even be aware that we feel uncomfortable because someone is too close. As we develop an understanding of ma’ai and get comfortable with our budo though, this changes. I’m an old judoka. It didn’t take too much Judo practice to change my sense of what was too close for comfort. After doing Judo for a while, you could be leaning on me and it still wouldn’t bother me.  

In Judo, we spend a lot of time training standing techniques while holding on to our partner. This is awfully close. Then when we hit the mat, we’re glued to each other, rolling around with our bodies stuck together as we fight to pin, choke or armlock our friends and partners. As we get more and more at home with this much body-to-body contact we stop feeling like people stand too close in other situations as well. After all, I can’t throw or choke you until you get close.  

This is not necessarily a good thing (though it does tend to unnerve jerks who like to intimidate people by standing too close because judoka just relax at that range, since you’ve moved into our attacking comfort zone). Being aware of spacing means adjusting what are safe, dangerous and active distances based on a host of different factors. In kata and sparring, good ma’ai is one you can attack effectively from while your partner cannot.  A lot depends then on the partner. How tall are they? How long is their reach? What kind of weapon are they using? Long sword? Short sword? Staff? Jutte? Something else?

Being a judoka who is comfortable even when people are touching you doesn’t make you aware. Being aware means understanding how quickly someone can cover the distance between you and her. This is more complex than being aware of structure, because how someone is standing influences it. Are they facing you square on? Have they turned to the side (hanmi)? Where is their balance placed on their feet?  Is their balance divided between their feet, or over just one foot? These all change how quickly a person can cover the distance to you. If her weight is divided between her feet, you partner has to first shift her weight to one driving leg before she can go smoothly. If her weight is settled on just one foot though, and that leg is not straight, she can start moving by simply pushing with that leg.  

Being aware of the spacing and the quality of the space takes time to develop and it’s an awareness that is difficult to deploy. As I was learning what is a safe spacing, I got caught more than a couple of times by teachers when I thought I had plenty of space, and they kindly laid a bokuto or jo on my head before I could react. They understood the spacing beautifully, and they were kind enough not to raise a bruise as reminder of how much I had to learn. With practice this understanding can become highly refined. I’ve seen weapons pass within a centimeter or less of experienced swordsmen who didn’t even blink. They understood the spacing so finely that they could see that the weapon wouldn’t touch them.

Once you can read spacing well, then you can really be aware of it. Until you understand it and can read it though, you can’t really be aware of it.  Once you become aware of it, then you can start manipulating the spacing, but that will have to be another post.

Each of these elements in awareness is progressively more difficult to describe.  Structure is relatively easy to describe. Spacing can be awkward because good spacing, safe spacing, vulnerable spacing and every other kind of spacing are not fixed quantities.  You can’t say “if someone is 5 feet or 10 feet or 15 feet away, you’re safe.  It depends on how fast they are, how prepared you are to move and what kind of weapon they might have.  When you start working with weapons, you spend a period of time getting hit when you think you are safe because you don’t yet understand the ma’ai of weapons and how fast someone can enter.  Just having someone describe it for you is not sufficient to understand or learn ma’ai.

Timing is even more difficult to put into words, though I keep trying.  Knowing when structure and spacing come together to make someone, including yourself, vulnerable is when you begin to understand timing. You can see when someone’s shifting their balance, or better still, when they are preparing to shift their balance, and act in that moment when they are committed to action in one direction. At that moment your partner cannot respond to you. They have to finish their first action before they can respond.

Good timing is about sensing those moments. You can’t really develop it until you understand structure and spacing. Once you have those mastered, you can develop an understanding of timing because you can see how they come together.  Timing is about being there when spacing and structure intersect in a way that is good for you and bad for your partner. Sometimes you have to set it up, as when judoka will give their partner a little push to solicit a reaction.  Better is when you can sense your partner’s movement and work with it.

Sense her attack and cut through her sword. Draw her out and cut into the opening left after her sword has passed through. Fill the space as your partner retreats so there is no opening for her to return to. Each of these things is about seeing when and how your partner can attack and then using that knowledge.

When you get to this level, then you have a framework with which you can evaluate and make use of the information your senses provide. In the dojo, understanding structure and spacing and how they go together to create optimal moments for attack is what we train for. Outside the dojo, knowing how to read someone’s structure to know how they intend to move, if they are tense or angry or relaxed or concealing something is an application of the same knowledge. Knowing when you are vulnerable or when someone has changed their spacing to make it possible for them to attack is something that can be used inside and outside the dojo.

It’s not enough to say, “Awareness is important.” or “Maintain zanshin.”  You have to know what you’re being aware of.  You need to know what to look for when you maintain zanshin and keep your mind on the job at hand and don’t relax. That only comes from mastering the essential lessons of structure, spacing and timing.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Beginning And Ending, Let The Middle Take Care Of Itself

A guest post, shared by Kim Taylor

Can't remember where, but somewhere in the old iai teachings is the instruction to teach the beginning and the end and not worry so much about the middle of the kata. Make sure the students work on the approach and on the disengage rather than concentrate on the actual technique in the middle. In other words, what we call zanshin is the most important part of the practice. I've got to agree with this. As an aikido student and teacher I can be awfully sloppy about the approach and the finish of a technique, it's something I've spent 34 years trying to fight.

With the kata based arts it's easy to make the approach and disengage part of the performance, even though it, technically, doesn't matter if we approach from three steps or maintain concentration as we back off for five. It's the part in between that has the differences from kata to kata, the bookends tend to be the same for all. This attaching of beginning and ending to the technique tends to make it easier to pay attention to them.

But why is that a good thing? Simply put, it makes you better, it makes your practice more realistic, more vigorous and less dangerous. When you are sloppy on your approach and attack it's much more dangerous to do the techniques at full speed and force. A sloppy attack means surprises, it means an off balance attacker, it means more chance of getting clocked from an unexpected direction. In short, it means you have to practice with a lot of your attention and energy reserved.

Having a set approach of a certain number of steps during which you are expected to pay close attention to your partner means that you aren't going to miss the attack. You will be concentrating on the small movements that mean the attack is beginning. You are paying attention as your partner enters the attack distance which is a very good thing, knowing where the "safe line" is may someday save your nose from being spread across your face.

Being ready to move means that your partner can attack with full speed without the risk of mistakes due to miscommunication. It means you are safer because you're ready.

The disengagement is also a useful phase, who knows when a partner is going to "teach you a lesson"? With full attention given to the movement out of combat range you will cut down the worries about being hit after you figured the technique was done.

At its most basic, zanshin gives permission to your partner to try and take your head off.
So teach the beginning and the end and let the middle take care of itself. Your students will be ready, they will be safe and they will push themselves to learn the middle by cranking up the intensity within the envelope of attention you have created for them. If half of your teaching time is spent trying to get them to crank it up or crank it down, the learning curve will be shallow. Set the stage and let the learning happen at its own speed.

Copyright Kim Taylor
All rights reserved
August 27, 2014