Showing posts with label Expectations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Expectations. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Budo Professionalism

Should budo teachers be professional?  This is a discussion that comes up with fair regularity in modern and classical budo circles.  They are a lot of people who see budo as a pure art form and equate accepting money for teaching as selling out the soul of the art.  As an art form and classical legacy, budo should remain pure and above simple economics.

My early budo background is in Kodokan Judo, which in the USA nearly has an allergy to professional instructors. There is a feeling common in Judo and many classical budo circles that being a professional budo teacher requires that you sell out the core of your budo to attract a steady stream of students to pay the bills.  The feeling is that to make money teachers have to quit teaching real budo and start doing marketing schemes and selling belts.

Then there is the example of Japan.  There are very few professional budo teachers in Japan.  Pretty much every city and town has one or more public dojo that anyone can rent for a very reasonable fee and hold a class.  Nearly every town has a judo dojo and a kendo dojo, while cities may have several (we won’t even talk about Tokyo and Osaka, which have so many judo and kendo dojo it would take years to visit them all).  Many towns and cities also have a couple of koryu being taught as well.  None of these teachers is getting paid for teaching.  The dojo communities are clubs where everyone gets together for the love of what they are doing.  It doesn’t hurt that even smaller towns will have several kendo seventh dans and the judo club in even a small town will be run by a 5th dan or higher.

But there are professional budoka in Japan.  Not a lot, but they do exist.  There are some professionals employed by the various local and regional governments to teach budo to the police. There is the wonderful example of the Kokusai Budo Daigaku or International Budo University, which is what it's name says, a 4 year university focused on the martial arts. It employs a lot of people who are professional budo teachers and researchers. There are also a few professional instructors around teaching privately. Most of the ones I'm aware of are teaching karate or aikido.

What you don't have in Japan is a martial arts industry promoting business techniques for maximizing the cash flow generated by schools with a variety of schemes to get students to pay for extra classes and training.  The budo teachers are professional teachers, not professional businessmen.  The difference is, to me, an important one.  Professional budo teachers are focused maximizing the effectiveness of their teaching of budo.  Professional businessmen focus on maximizing the profit of their business.

Every teacher I have dealt with in Japan never stops displaying professionalism.   Professionalism is defined by Miriam-Webster’s online dictionary as “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well”.  It is something I have found lacking in many so-called teachers outside Japan.  There are many teachers who do show professionalism outside Japan, but there are far too many who start teaching long before they have sufficient mastery to serve as examples of good technique, much less be able to communicate what students need to do.  Just because you’ve got a colored belt doesn’t mean you’re ready to teach.

In fact, the organizations in Japan generally have a minimum rank for running your own dojo.  In the Kendo Federation it’s 5th dan.  In the Judo Federation it’s 4th dan.  Those are the minimums, but you don’t see many dojo run by people with the minimum rank.  The only time that happens is if an area doesn’t have anyone else.  Generally in the Kendo Federation, no one under 7th dan opens a dojo.  In Judo it’s usually 5th dan.  You don’t see people running out to start a dojo.  

Running a dojo is considered a serious venture that calls for lots of experience.  Outside Japan, 5th dan may sound like a high rank, but in Japan it’s not.  It barely gets you into the “serious student” category.  People spend a lot of time developing their skills to the point where they can teach.  Often even after they open their own dojo they will may the journey a couple of times a week to train with their own teacher.  I have to say, watching 7th dans working on things while an 8th dan makes corrections is a fabulous thing.  They are all working at such a high level that it’s gratifying if I can just figure out what the correction is.

Outside Japan see a lot of “teachers” who have stopped training, or at least their physical condition suggests that they aren’t training very hard.  If training and continual improvement is good enough for your students, it’s good enough for you too.  Budo teachers owe it to their students and to themselves to keep practicing, to keep training, to maintain their physical abilities and continue polishing their themselves as examples of budo.

Oddly enough, I’ve never seen an example of teachers who stop training before their bodies give out in Japan.  In fact, I see just the opposite.  Teachers whose bodies are slowly fading still pushing themselves to get out on the floor and train, working hard to slow down the fading of their skills, discover something new about timing or spacing or control and giving their students another lesson in perseverance.  It’s not about always being the best.  It’s about always giving our best.  

This is what I would like to see more of.  It’s not about having a pretty belt and a nice title.  It’s about always working to have the best for our students.  It really doesn’t matter whether you are being paid money or not.  Students are giving you a chunk of their time, their life.  If a teacher is worrying about how to extract money from their students and is constantly coming up with new programs to sell to students, that’s not professional.  If a teacher is constantly working on improving their ability to transmit the fundamentals to their students and is working every day on improving her own fundamentals, that’s a professional teacher.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Budo Expectations and Realities: Know what you don't know.

Budo.  We all train different arts.  We all have expectations and ideas about what our arts teach us.  It’s easy for us to imagine that the techniques we study are applicable anywhere, and that if we practice diligently, we can use our skills against anything.  We love to believe that what we study is the greatest art in the world.  We tell ourselves how strong the techniques we study are, how effective they are, and how they will beat everything else.  It doesn’t matter if the art is Judo or Hapkido or Brazilian Jujutsu or Savate or Escrima or whatever.  We like to believe that what we study is the absolute best.

I’ve been doing this martial arts stuff long enough that I’ve learned that “best” is a highly relative concept.   A good friend, when asked if the martial art he teaches is the best martial art, replies “No, thermonuclear warfare is the best martial art.”   He makes a number of good points with that answer.  For a martial art to be “best” what does it have to do?  If you’re going to war, almost everything is better than a hand-to-(probably empty) hand martial art.

Every martial art teaches different things with a different focus.  I train in a sword art that teaches a particular way to use a sword, one that helps to maximize the range of the sword.  The sword is the core of this art.  A friend of mine trains in a different art, one that uses a different set of body mechanics to wield the sword. The way his art does it give a significantly smaller reach with the same length sword.  However, it maximizes the learning and usefulness of the core of his art, which is jujutsu.  The principles that guide the body mechanics are the same for his jujutsu and his sword work.  This makes the learning much more effective.  He doesn’t have to learn one way to move while unarmed, and a different way to move while armed, and he doesn’t risk mixing movement systems under stress.  The sword movement may not be optimal for the sword, but the movement is optimal for teaching  effective movement and action across a range of applications.  Which is “best”  then?

I have trained in judo for a long time and studied the knife defenses and counter attacks in the Kime No Kata and the Kodokan Goshin Jutsu .  I thought these were really great.  Then I started studying how to use weapons, and I became much less impressed with my skills against weapons.  I discovered there were all sorts of things about weapons that are critical if you want to be effective against them.  The first being, understand how something is really used.  When I trained techniques for use against weapons in Judo, I was training with other judoka, not with people who were skilled with the weapons in question.

When I started training in weapons arts with people who were skilled with the weapons, my understanding of the range and speed that particular weapons function at changed dramatically.  What I had been doing before turned out to have been little more than us imagining how a knife or stick or sword was used and then practicing against what we imagined.  When I started working with people who knew how to use those weapons, I discovered that their effective ranges were lots longer than I had imagined, and they were much faster than I had thought.  I had to throw out pretty much everything I had practiced and start over using actual knowledge upon which to build my training.  That’s pretty humbling.  I thought I was reasonably good, and I had to admit that I was worse off than beginner, because I had learned a lot of things that were nothing less than completely wrong.

I’m guessing that this is a not uncommon issue, especially in gendai (modern) martial arts.  Lots of modern arts teach defenses against a host of weapons, without really teaching how those weapons are actually used, so even when people do paired practice, the lessons are not effective.  This is what happened to me in Judo.  In koryu (classical, pre 1868) budo, the systems only train with weapons that they teach the use of, and the person doing the attacking is always the senior.  This takes care of two issues.  They don’t develop illusions about being able to handle weapons outside of those they teach, and their study is always directed by someone who really knows the weapons to be trained.

There used to be an incredible seminar held every year in Guelph, Ontario.  Kim Taylor would gather senior teachers from all sorts of koryu arts.  Each would teach a 2 hour introductory class about their art, and then spend the rest of the weekend learning side-by-side with you in other teachers’ classes.  It was a rare treat and a chance to get a taste of how all sorts of arts and weapons are used, from jujutsu stuff to swords to 10 foot spears.  The teachers all knew their stuff, and quickly knocked any illusions we had about how things worked out of our heads.  I vividly remember a high ranking Aikidoka saying after a sword class “I thought I knew swordwork.”  He was admitting to himself that what he had studied in the Aikido dojo about swords was very incomplete.  He certainly wasn’t the only person to walk out of one of those classes with the shards of previously held conceptions tinkling at the base of his mind.  I had quite a few ideas rendered into old junk in a jujutsu class with Karl Friday of Kashima Shinryu.  I just wish we’d been practicing on mats instead of in a dance studio.

I’ve discovered training with people who really know the weapons is critical.  It is possible to work out effective ways to deal with weapons you aren’t expert with, but I really don’t want to experience all the pain that goes with that sort of learning curve, and I can’t recommend it to anyone else because usually the only way to find out you’re wrong is the really hard way..  Working with someone who knows how to use a weapon properly means you never have a chance to develop inappropriate habits and techniques.  A teacher or partner who knows the weapon will disabuse you of any bad ideas as soon as they see them.  

I’m not saying don’t try anything new.  Just do it smart.  Work with someone who really knows the subject, so you don’t make mistakes that can have unpleasant consequences.  Train with your eyes open and try to realize the real limits of what you know. Kim Taylor’s seminars were an incredible experience because they were a chance to dive into our ignorance and find out just how small our islands of knowledge really are.