Showing posts with label Judo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Judo. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Power Mistake

Structure versus power    Photo Copyright Deborah Klens-Bigman 2020



We want powerful budo. Powerful budo is effective budo. Powerful budo is good budo. So how do we make our budo powerful? We make it stronger. The stronger someone’s budo is the more powerful it is. How do we make our budo stronger?

Usually we add muscle. We do push-ups and sit-ups. We train with weights to increase our bench press and our squat. Then we throw this additional muscle into our budo so we can hit harder, throw bigger, cut deeper. It makes our budo more effective and more powerful so we can beat the big guys. This is the way to powerful budo. Or is it?

None of the people whose budo I strive to emulate do muscular budo, yet all of their budo is powerful and dynamic. When they cut or strike or throw, the movement is solid and crisp. Nothing is done that isn’t essential to the movement. The cuts look like they could slice through stone. The strikes look, and feel, like getting hit with a truck. Throws hit you with the force of the planet. All of this without being muscular.

My teachers don’t need to be muscular to generate power. They have a combination of structure and technique that creates power and lets them direct it to where it will be most effective. Correct structure allows you to harness all the power of your body, not just a few big muscles. Precise technique puts all that power exactly where you want it for maximum effect.

If your structure isn’t right, even loads of muscle won’t make your budo strong.

There is always someone more muscular. I used to train with a guy who was a good 15 cm (6 inches) taller, 80 pounds heavier, and able to lift me off my feet without using any sort of judo technique. He was powerful and he could throw people around, but he wasn’t doing judo. His raw muscular strength got in the way of him learning good technique. He could jerk people so hard they were off balance from the force of the pull and then he would throw them by manually lifting them into position, but that wasn’t budo.

What frustrated this guy was that even though I was 80 pounds lighter and significantly weaker, he couldn’t throw me but I could throw him, hard. He was strong enough to pick me up off my feet, something I could only do to him with the help of winch, and yet I was the one doing the throwing. I used good structure to hold my partner off without getting tired. If I tried to go muscle to muscle with any of the big guys, I’d be exhausted and beaten in moments. Power doesn’t come from strength, it comes from structure and technique. If I let my structure absorb their power and redirect it into the ground, I can still go many rounds with the big 20-somethings in the dojo.

Just as a building with a flawed structure will quickly collapse under pressure, a person with bad structure is quickly demolished by an adversary. Good structure is not only the key to withstanding pressure, it is fundamental to projecting your power outward. You can only project as much force as your structure can support. Exceed that limit and you will crumble rather than your target. Boxers wrap their hands and wear gloves to improve the structure of their hands so they can deal with the forces they generate when punching. Take off those gloves and all the wrapping and boxers would be breaking the bones in their hands with the power generated by their technique.

If your structure can’t handle the forces you are generating, then your technique will never be able to generate power. Building a good structure is the first step to generating great power. Build a good structure and you build and project power effectively. Good structure also neutralizes other people’s power. That’s how you deal with bigger, stronger and faster. You have a structure that is stable under attack.


Good structure is necessary, but it’s not enough by itself. Technique multiplies your strength using the platform created by your structure. Arm locks, throws, punches, attacks with sticks and other weapons all start with a good foundation. The techniques multiply whatever muscle you have. That’s why a small judoka or aikidoka can manipulate and throw much larger, stronger people.

A 157 cm (5’2” in) person, even if unusually strong, is not going to have the strength to go toe-to-toe with someone twice their size. Yet anyone who spends time around a judo, jujutsu or aikido dojo will see goons like me being tossed to the ground by people half our size. It’s not their raw strength they are using to launch us airborne. It’s technique supported by good structure.

When we are first learning techniques the temptation is to try and force the technique. The more raw strength you have, the more powerful that temptation is. Every time we give in to that temptation we make it harder to learn good technique. Every time we force a technique we reinforce the habit to use strength instead of technique, and we make it harder to learn good technique.

All that technique we practice works to make strength unnecessary. Good technique is as clean and precise as a scalpel. Whether it is uchi mata or ikkyo, good technique will apply your power where your partner is weak. It’s budo, not arm wrestling. We’re going to use every advantage we can find. That means weaving around our opponent’s strength to apply a technique where it can’t be countered, not crashing into their strength. Technique done well feels effortless. When I’m thrown well I don’t feel the thrower’s strength. I don’t feel much of anything as the floor disappears from under my feet and reappears to smack me in the back.

Strength doesn’t do that. Technique does. The technique undermines my ability to stand up and then redirects me at the ground. I know I’ve done a throw well because I’m looking at the person on the ground and wondering why they jumped for me; it feels that easy when the structure and the technique are there. It’s that way for everyone. My jodo students know that they’ve done hikotoshi uchi correctly because their partner’s sword just vanishes without any feeling of having been there.

Strength erodes over time, but time seems to empower technique. As my teachers age they feel more powerful, not less. When he was 80 I watched Sugi Sensei completely dominate a powerful and experienced kendoka 60 years his junior. He didn’t do it with strength and fire, he did it with a structure that was solid, impenetrable, and smooth technique that was everywhere the junior’s strength wasn’t. Sensei’s technique was clean and simple with no wasted energy or motion.

That’s the combination of structure and technique that make budo work. It’s never about raw muscle. Structure gives you access to all the strength you have, and technique multiplies the power of that strength by using it in the most effective way possible.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that muscle equals power. Strength is nice, but powerful budo is supported by structure and propelled by technique.


Special thanks to Deborah Klens-Bigman Ph.D for editing this.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Do versus Jutsu; Round 3





I’ve written before about the idea of DO versus the idea of JUTSU. Since the subject keeps coming up as a topic of discussion and debate, I’ll revisit the argument and hopefully have something new to say about it.  To begin with, what is a do and what is a jutsu ? What makes them different or similar?


 Non-Japanese keep trying to make jutsu and do into important concepts, such as saying that do is a “way” or “path” for spiritual development and the jutsu is for combat, or that jutsu is for battlefield arts and the do is for peace time arts and sports. When you try to explain these categories to native Japanese, they just shake their heads in wonderment that anyone could come up with such a thing. The concept of do is quite a bit older than the martial arts in Japan.  In fact, it’s quite a bit older than recorded history in Japan. Scholarship shows all the ways DAO(the Chinese pronunciation for do ) was conceived of and argued about in ancient China a thousand years before there was a written language in Japan.


   Interestingly, the Kodansha Online Dictionary lists this meaning for jutsu as "a means; a way." So if jutsu means "a way" and "do" is a way, then what really is the difference? The truth is there isn't one in this area. I've seen great classical swordsmen use the terms "kendo" and "kenjutsu" interchangeably in the same paragraph. I know some lines of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu that call themselves iaijutsu, and others that call themselves iaido. What is the difference between the two?  They are the same art, the same syllabus, the same kata; just different suffixes added to "iai" (which by the way, is perfectly capable of standing alone without any suffix; just as one of the popular names for jujutsu 柔術 and judo 柔道 was yawara ,without any suffix at all. 


 Let me add a quick aside here. As Michael Hacker, the author of The Language Of Aikido, has pointed out, jitsu じつ () isn't a term that is related to this conversation. It's the result of a mis-transliteration of the correct suffix "jutsu"


 One of the greatest, most refined, and storied martial arts in Japan, with a history going back more than 450 years and still going strong, doesn’t use either suffix, yet it’s famous for the depth of its philosophy and the writings of various headmasters. Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Heiho 柳生新陰流兵法.Heihomeans strategy or tactics. I don’t think anyone would argue that Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Heiho is not a sophisticated system that aims to develop not just skill with the sword, but a better human being as well. Shouldn’t its name include then? Only if you’re a pedantic gaijin (foreigner). Do and jutsu are not meaningful categories in Japanese language.


 A do is a way of doing something; and a jutsu is also a way of doing something. There are many ways of expressing this in Japanese. Across the 500 years or so that various forms of bugei (warrior arts) have been practiced in Japan and around the world, a lot of different terms have been used to describe martial arts. There have been lots of words used to describe other practices that are seen as “ways” as well. Tea Ceremony was known as Cha No Yu for centuries, long before the description “sado(Way of Tea) was applied to it.

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 I think the real villain in the do versus jutsu argument is our own ego. Many of us would like to think that the art we practice is somehow superior to other arts. Some people feel that emphasizing the philosophical aspects of their practice makes it better than those that emphasize more prosaic skills. Some feel that emphasizing the physical skills the art teaches makes it superior to those that talk about the philosophical aspects. Both sides are letting their ego talk them into something that isn’t true. Developing the mind and the philosophical aspects of understanding doesn’t make one superior to those who focus on physical skills. Emphasizing the development of physical skills doesn’t make one better than those who put more effort into developing their mental and philosophical abilities. Both have their place.


Practicing bugei is a journey, not a destination.  This is a cliché, but one that is true. When you begin training, all of your focus is on the physical skills. It takes all your concentration just to follow what sensei is doing and produce a rough approximation of the technique or kata that is being shown. Later, after you have internalized the movements, you begin working on the mental aspects of training. I used to think that Kodokan Judo was obviously better than classical jujutsu systems such Yoshin Ryu or Tenjin Shin’yo Ryu because Judo, being a “do” art, was obviously more philosophically sophisticated than simple jujutsu systems that predated it. Being a do, I assumed that it must have a more principle-based curriculum than any mere technique based jutsu.


 I was also an arrogant idiot. The idea that Judo is more sophisticated or superior to Tenjin Shin’yo Ryu or any of the various styles of Yoshin Ryu just because it has the suffix doin its name is ridiculous. It’s as silly as saying that Aikido is clearly superior to Daito Ryu because Ueshiba made his art a do and Takeda didn’t. None of these arts is superior to any other because of the name or what the art emphasizes. I have real trouble with the idea that any bugei art is superior to any other. All of them have strengths and weaknesses. What makes an art superior or inferior is how well suited it is for a particular situation or person. For a philosophically minded kid such as myself, Judo and Aikido were great arts. 


 For someone whose primary interest is physical skills, then arts with too much talking about the philosophy won’t be suitable. Arts are superior for what they can do for their practitioners, not because they are better for learning fighting techniques. Who is going to make the call as to whether Ono-Ha Itto Ryu or Yagyu Shinkage Ryu is the better art?  Better for what? The only question where “better” should show up is in “Which art is better for me at this time and place?” That’s the only “better” I can think of being at all meaningful.


 I’ve got more bad news for folks on all sides of the do versus jutsu discussion. You can’t make real progress in any art without both the physical skills and the mental/philosophical development. The nice thing about bugei is that they are lifelong studies. You never cease learning new things from them. I do Shinto Hatakage Ryu Iai Heiho, a style of swordsmanship which has only 22 kata in the curriculum. I’ve been studying it for more than 22 years. You might think that with more than a year of study for each kata I have learned all there is to learn about them and I am bored with them. You would be wrong. The individual kata still teach me things about movement and balance and how to optimize my physical self. I also learn more about quieting, controlling and directing my mind and my self.  Some days practice is all about the physical techniques. I’m not sure I will ever fully master the chudan kata Tobi Chigai. Other days are all about the mental state. I’m sure I will never fully master my self.


 I don’t know of any bugei that has come from Japan that has not been heavily influenced by the concept of do or michi 道。The concept permeates the culture so thoroughly that it is inescapable. There are even a number of styles of soujido (掃除道 - that’s housework, folks!). Arguing over whether something is a do or jutsu makes no sense. If we have time to argue about this, we aren’t practicing enough. We’re much better off spending more time practicing the particular bugei that is best for us where we are.


 

References for further reading

Disputers of the Tao by A. C. Graham, 1999, Open Court Publishing - this looks at not just the Daoist idea of the way, but also how Confucius, Mozi, and many others conceived of the Way in ancient China. 

The Language of Aikido: A Practitioner's Guide to Japanese Characters and Terminology by Michael Hacker, 2017, Talking Budo. Hacker does an excellent job of introducing the multifaceted world of Japanese characters and language, and how it all serves to enhance, and sometimes confuse, our practice of Japanese martial arts.



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Efficiency, It's Not Just For Judo

Kano Jigoro realized that efficiency of movement is one of the highest principles. He enshrined his insight in this maxim of Kodokan Judo, “seiryoku zen’you”  精力善用, most often translated as “minimum effort, maximum efficiency.” Seiryoku zen’you is probably better translated as “best use of energy” but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as neatly as “minimum effort, maximum efficiency.” This is the foundation of Kodokan Judo’s technical curriculum, just as jita kyoei 自他共栄 or “mutual benefit and welfare” is the foundation of Kodokan Judo’s moral and ethical principles.

The principle that Kano Shihan so succinctly clarified in just four kanji characters has always been a critical part of martial arts.  Kano’s genius lay in clearly elucidating that principle and building his entire system around it. Even though it took until the 1880’s for the principle to be made explicit and public, it has always been essential in weeding out techniques and practices in the martial arts. Anything that doesn’t contribute to success in conflict will eventually be eliminated because those who rely on it will lose.

Making the “best use of energy” seems like an obvious good idea, but things like this often seem obvious in hindsight. Even if the idea wasn’t explicit, it has always been implicit within the martial arts. The universe is ruthless, and during the long centuries of civil war in Japan leading up to the enforced peace of the Tokugawa Period, anything that wasn’t efficient for teaching, learning, practicing or applying the martial arts was culled simply because anything that wasn’t efficient would get its proponents killed.

Look at pretty much any koryu budo. They aren’t filled with endless lists of techniques. They have a few techniques that are polished like treasured gems, and then are practiced in a variety of kata so students learn the real foundations of the art and how to apply them spontaneously. Effective budo has to be efficient. 

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That’s the secret reason why koryu budo generally don’t have extensive curriculums with endless lists of techniques. It’s not efficient. Instead, a basic principle or two are embodied in the fundamental technique of the system which are then explored through a limited set of kata result in that teaching the plasticity of the main principles.

Sword systems are often based around one fundamental cut, with the entire system expanding on that. Sasamori Takemi talks about the kiri otoshi of Ono-Ha Itto Ryu. Kashima Shinryu kenjutsu is built around the a fundamental cut practiced in the Kihon-tachi. Arts that teach other weapons are similar. Shinto Muso Ryu calls its fundamental jo technique hon te uchi, or “fundamental hand strike.” Judo has a large syllabus by comparison, with five basic principles for throwing expanded into the  Gokyo, or “Five Teachings.”  Aikido also breaks up it’s main principles into 5 techniques, called ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo and gokyo, or “teaching 1, teaching 2, teaching 3, teaching 4, teaching 5.”  In both judo and aikido, there are numerous expressions of the five teachings, but they all start from the same fundamental principles.

It makes sense when you consider it. Which is going to work better under stress, one technique that you can apply to a thousand situations, or a thousand techniques each of which is good for only one situation?  

Efficiency shows itself in myriad ways. Learning one technique well takes less time than learning one thousand techniques to mediocre level. This why in Olympic judo, the competitors don’t spend their time trying to master all the throwing techniques of Kodokan Judo. They focus on two or three techniques and develop their understanding of the techniques and their principles so they can apply them in any situation.

Within those fundamental techniques is another level of efficiency. Techniques have to work with as little effort as possible. This is true of any effective martial art. Efficiency of energy is a key component of effectiveness. If a technique requires a lot of raw strength to perform, it will be useless when you run into someone bigger or stronger. The more efficiently the principle uses your strength, the greater the situations you can deploy it in. I was in Japan recently practicing with one of the shihan from Shinto Muso Ryu, and he kicked my butt over this. I was doing kuri tsuke ( a technique for catching a sword attack and binding the sword to the attacker’s body) and it was working, but Sensei pointed out that I wasn’t doing it as well as I could. He resisted my technique and I was able to muscle through his resistance. He then showed me how to do the technique with minimal modification so that I didn’t have to dig in to muscle past his resistance. If I got the angles right, I left him without a stable platform from which to resist.  I had learned a more efficient way to perform the technique.

He didn’t use the word, but the term that floated through my head was from Kodokan Judo. Kuzushi”  崩し. Don’t attack strength to strength. Maneuver your adversary to a position where they cannot apply their strength and attack there. In other words, attack where your opponent’s strength is minimized and your own is maximized. Seiryoku zen’yo in action.

Our strength is limited. I might be able to muscle through Sensei’s resistance because I’m a lot bigger than he is. I know plenty of people who are bigger than I am though, and there is no way I could muscle through them. But, If I do the technique efficiently, strength is no longer a concern. The efficient technique is the effective technique. This is true no matter what you’re doing.

Here are a couple of videos that have been floating around the web. One shows a little girl screaming and flailing around with a sword with great effort. The other shows a little girl cutting with no effort at all.  Efficiency gets the most out of the energy being expended. Which one better embodies seiryoku zen’yo?


Flailing little girl

Efficient and effective little girl

Efficiency is a critical component of any martial art. Just because Kano Jigoro enshrined seiryoku zen’yo as a maxim of Kodokan Judo doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist in other arts or that you can ignore if you don’t do Kodokan Judo. Making the best use of your energy is always a good idea.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Budo, Bujutsu and Spiritual Development

Whatever else it does, budo teaches how to move with good structure, develops an understanding of the effective ranges of movement and how to optimally use time.  Budo is also concerned with making practitioners not just better fighters, but better people.  If a practice is  doing all of these four things, it’s probably budo.

Those four essentials haven’t changed since some bushi in pre-Tokugawa Japan first started putting together budo curricula. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, those essentials have to be there. Whether it is unarmed jujutsu, kenjutsu, kyudo or intercontinental ballistic missile warfare, you’re going to need to understand the structure involved, and how the weapons involved function in both time and space.  And you can be darn sure I want anyone involved in handling intercontinental ballistic missiles to constantly seek to be a better person.  If you have power, and that’s what martial training gives you, then you should work on being a better person. Even with as limited a budo form as judo, no one should develop those skills without also learning to be a good person.  There are enough dangerous jerks in the world already.

Look at the requirements for keppan in the old systems of koryu bugei.  They include injunctions against bad behavior and exhortations to students to behave not just correctly, but wisely.  I know people who proudly proclaim that they don’t do budo; that they are focused on real fighting technique, “bujutsu” they say.  THEY don’t water their training down with that budo nonsense of individual development!. I can’t count the people who have ridiculed budo as being some sort of ineffective, watered-down nonsense because it aspires to teach not just how to fight, but how to live.

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There is a popular impression that focusing on developing the heart as well as the technique suddenly came into vogue after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1604-1868); that Kano Jigoro not only developed Kodokan Judo to be useful in public education but that he invented the idea of martial arts training as a form of moral and spiritual training. I have read and heard people ridicule Ueshiba Morihei as being nutty for his emphasis on Aikido as a means of achieving world peace.

In fact, martial ryuha in Japan have been mixing technical training with personal development for as long as there have been ryuha. Karl Friday, in his great volume Legacies Of The Sword(1997), introduces the physical, psychological and spiritual training of Kashima Shinryu. The system dates to the mid-1500s and included aspects of all these areas of training from its origin.

Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu dates from the 1400s and it too includes spiritual development within its curriculum. This can come as a surprise to people who would denigrate any martial art that teaches personal or spiritual development as being weaker than one that focuses on powerful technique alone. As an art that traces its origin to divine inspiration, there should be no surprise that it includes practices and teachings intended to improve not just the fighting spirit of the student, but their not-fighting spirit as well.

Katayama Hoki Ryu has a completely different lineage. Thanks to the work of Yuji Wada, Costantino Brandozzi, and Rennis Buchner many of the early writings of Katayama Hoki Ryu are now accessible. Katayama Hoki Ryu is a kenjutsu and iai system dating from the late 1500s. Originating in the war-filled Muromachi period, if any art should be focused solely on technique, this is one. Instead, the headmasters of Katayama Ryu wrote volumes about the mental and spiritual aspects of their art.

It should be clear that focusing on mental and spiritual development isn’t anything new in Japanese martial traditions. It’s been going on since the earliest days of of organized bugei training. The people who try to extract the techniques from all the rest and say what they are doing is somehow a “purer” form of bujutsu have, in my opinion, missed the whole point of the traditional ryuha.

From the earliest traditions in Japan, bugei ryuha 武芸流派 (martial arts school) teachers understood that just learning how to fight was not enough. Creating strong fighters is great, but if they lack the wisdom and maturity to know when and when not to fight, they pose a greater danger to society than any benefit they can bring. To teach a student was to take on responsibility for how your student behaved. If your student went out and injured or killed someone, the authorities would likely end up asking you some pointed questions. Even if your student was fully justified in their actions, there would be an investigation. If the investigation found that the justification was lacking, punishments in old Japan were brutal.

Whether you call it character development, or spiritual training, or just making mature adults, budo practice in Japan has contained a healthy dose of mental discipline since long before it was generally known as budo.  There are many ways of training students for this kind of development. Various bugei arts include chants, mantras and meditation practices borrowed from Shinto and Buddhist traditions. It’s not just Ueshiba Morihei who was talking about world peace and enlightenment. The idea that individuals can achieve self-perfection through study is a core concept of Neo-Confucian thought and can be found in the teachings and writings for many koryu bugei dating as far back as the 15th century.

In Japan, the philosophers of the samurai class took the Neo-Confucian ideal and expanded the subjects to be studied to become a “profound person” or 君子 (kunshi in Japanese, junzi in Chinese) to include the martial arts. They went so far as to coin the phrase 文武両道 (bunbu ryoudou) or roughly “Scholarly arts and martial arts are both of the Way”.  Within the Confucian traditions, anyone could become a kunshi through study and sincere effort. The Japanese just expanded the circle of things that should be studied beyond those of the fine arts, morality, literature, ritual and etiquette to include what were known in the Japan during the Kamakura, Muromachi, and Tokugawa eras most commonly as 武芸 (bugei) or literally “martial arts”.  The gei 芸 here is the same as in geisha 芸者, literally “an artistically accomplished person”.  

In addition, the word for “morality/morals” in Japanese is written 道徳 (doutoku) with the characters for way 道 and virtue 徳. These are also the first two characters of the work known in English as the Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing) 道徳経. Anything that talks of individual development or what is often lumped under the phrase “spiritual development” in the English-speaking world, was likely to be, and still is, included in the concept of a “Way” 道. Like The Analects of Confucius, the Tao Te Ching is concerned with what traits make the sage (聖人seijin) and the “profound/superior person” ( 君子 kunshi). Neither one was enamored of war or violence.

Neither were the Japanese of the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period), the period from about 1467 until the victory by Tokugawa Ieyasu at Sekigahara in 1604. This was a period of uncontrolled civil war throughout Japan.  The Tao Te Jing says in Chapter 31 “Wherever a host is stationed, briars and thorns spring up.” Nearly 150 years of constant warfare had proven this to the thoughtful in Japan. The ideal of the bushi class was the profound person, the sage, as this idea was expounded Neo-Confucianism, Taoism and even in Buddhism. Hard experience had taught the Japanese to place the study of the arts of conflict on the same level as the fine arts, ethics, morality, etiquette and virtue.  

Conflict can come at any moment, and the profound person is ready for it when it comes. In order to be prepared for conflict, one must understand ethics, morality, etiquette and virtue. The great thinkers going back to Confucius and Lao Tzu recognized that one who understands only war is not even good for that. Even war has limits. In every society there are actions and behaviors that are beyond acceptable. In Japan, learning appropriate action, etiquette, ritual, ethics and morality was considered essential for anyone learning bugei.  

This is why ethics and etiquette, morality and individual spiritual development are so important in the classical bugei.  The Japanese didn’t want people trained in violence who didn’t have the maturity, self-control and spiritual development to handle the abilities that training gives. They included things like meditation, right behaviour and spiritual development in their bugei systems from the beginning.  A profound person has many characteristics we associate with someone who has a high degree of spiritual development.  She has self-control, doesn’t become angry easily, has the wisdom to discern right action and to not be baited by others. She is patient, kind and discerning. She doesn’t employ violence unless it is the most appropriate option for dealing with the situation.

Far from being a watered-down version of the classical arts, budo forms contain the ethical and spiritual center that has guided classical budo in Japan since before the term “budo” came into wide use. The idea of seeking mastery of martial technique without achieving mastery over your self was anathema to the founders and teachers of old. It should be anathema to teachers and students now as well.