Showing posts with label Responsibility. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Responsibility. Show all posts

Friday, October 16, 2015

Ow! Ow! Ow!

 
Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

I caught a knee in the chest at judo the other evening. That kind of hurts today. Why on earth do I keep doing something where catching a knee in the chest is not just possible, but permissible? Then I go to jodo where my partner gets to hammer on my  gut with a big stick from time to time.  Am I nuts? Don’t bother answering that, we already know the answer.

Martial arts hurt sometimes. That goes hand in glove with what martial arts are. Martial arts are combative disciplines. One part of that is getting banged up from time to time. I go to judo and get thrown around the room and bounced off the floor. Some nights I’ll take upwards of 100 falls. Somewhat surprisingly, the difficult part is not taking the falls, but getting up afterwards. It’s more work than you think.


If it’s just me being uke for someone who is practicing their throws, it doesn’t hurt. If we’re doing randori (grappling sparring), the falls aren’t always completely controlled, and sometimes I land badly.  That can hurt. The strange thing is that I remember bad throws hurting a lot more when I was young and first started training than they do now. There is a big lesson in budo practice about how to handle and evaluate pain, and it’s fundamental to everything going on in the dojo.

People commonly think that the person who can cause the most pain and damage is the toughest. My thought is that the person who can absorb the most is the toughest. Part of budo training is learning to handle what other people do to you. This lesson is a basic one not only in the modern arts like judo and kendo, but it’s fundamental in classical systems of jujutsu, kenjutsu and other weapons.

Falling down hurts sometimes. So does getting hit with sticks and hands and feet. If you’re learning a combative art, it’s not just about what you can do to someone else. It’s also about what they might be doing to you. If you’re not learning how to deal with the discomfort of being thrown or taking a hit, you’re not learning budo.
Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

I have to admit, there isn’t much out there that matches judo for the regular level of discomfort experienced when training. Judoka get banged around to the point that bumps and bruises aren’t even noticed. I come home from keiko, take a shower and discover a new batch of bruises that I don’t remember getting.  How can that be?

Any good budo develops and demands a high level of focus. Judo certainly does this.  Particularly during randori, I don’t have any mental space to spare on worrying about a little bump or bruise. I’m so focused on what I’m doing that sort of discomfort doesn’t even register.

What surprises me is just how much that is true in budo that don’t specialize in picking people up and throwing them at the ground. Most arts don’t demand that sort of pounding, but all good budo do require that we learn to handle discomfort. Kenjutsu has bangs and accidents where wrists and knuckles get whacked. Jodo in particular emphasizes absorbing tsuki and the occasional bang on the wrist. Aikido bends and attacks joints is ways that can be uniquely torturous. Other arts have their moments of vigorous contact as well.

Is there a good reason for this, or is it just an excuse for people to hurt each other? There is a good reason behind a certain level of a bumping, banging and bruising. There’s no other way to get used to this sort of discomfort, and if you’re really learning a martial art, you need to be able to handle basic levels of discomfort and even a bit a pain now and then. It’s part of the learning process.

If at time any you need the literal skills of martial arts, you’re certainly going to have to be able to focus through some pain and discomfort, maybe a lot of it. If you can’t do that, you’ll fold the first time things start to hurt. Pain hurts, but it doesn’t have to distract. One key is learning that there is a difference between discomfort, pain, and harm. Discomfort and pain can be endured, but harm is to be avoided.

Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis


Not everyone approaches this part of practice wisely. The most foolish way learning to handle and absorb pain and discomfort is to be like the people who try to prove they are better than everyone else by taking more pain and still getting on the floor to train. These people do a great deal of damage, most of it to themselves. They push past enduring discomfort and pain right into inflicting harm on their own bodies.

For the rest of us the question then becomes, what level of discomfort is learning, and what is abuse? It’s good to learn to to handle discomfort, but how hard to push is always a good question. We’ve all met people who push themselves too hard and too far. For me the key is that if someone is getting themselves injured, they are pushing to far.

There is a dark side to this lesson to watch out for as well. There are people who use the need to learn to be tough as an excuse to abuse the people they teach and train with. I’ve seen bullies and sadists purposely inflict unnecessary pain and even harm on their training partners in order to “help them toughen up” and similar excuses. Anyone who complains about the treatment is excoriated for being soft and weak.

Putting up with this sort of abuse is not a sign of strength. If you find yourself dealing with people who abuse their partners, don’t stick around and put up with it. One aspect of budo is standing up for yourself. Let people know this isn’t acceptable. If they won’t listen, leave. Don’t let yourself be injured or abused.

Learning to deal with discomfort and pain is an important lesson. Equal to learning how to deal with it though, is learning when not to endure it. Discomfort and pain can be a sign of stress and pushing ourselves, but they are also signs that we are pushing too far and getting close to harming ourselves. Knowing which and respecting the differences are just as important as being able to put up with the discomfort of training.

Mugendo Budogu: Martial Arts Equipment and Media


I love training, even though it hurts sometimes. The joy and rush of randori or sparring is like very little else. For me, this makes it easy to ignore the odd bump or bruise.  The occasional ache and post training stiffness is a small price to pay for all that I get out of martial arts practice.
The truth is, to quote Jimmy Buffett, that “the pleasure is worth all the pain.”

Monday, July 14, 2014

Budo and Responsibility

Budo is about a lot of things, but one of the least discussed is responsibility.  The longer we practice the more important it is that we consider this.  At a very fundamental level, in it’s rawest form, budo is about power.  We who have that power are necessarily required to use it wisely.  As Stan Lee said so very eloquently through the lips of Peter Parker “With great power comes great responsibility.”  

This isn’t just about superheroes.  As we practice budo we really do become more powerful.  Under normal circumstances very few people would consider a 5’6” (168 cm), 135 lbs (61 kg) woman a significant physical power.  Ronda Rousey has been practicing budo for 15 years though and is an amazingly powerful individual.  Her skills give her power.  It’s a very simple equation.  Although many of our social rules and customs exist to keep individual power in check and prevent its abuse, there are plenty of people out there who abuse physical, social and economic power.  There is the office manager who uses his position to bully and take advantage of those under him.  There is the rich business owner who uses the power of her wealth to bully people who do business with her.  And we all know the physically strong guys who use their power to physically intimidate and hurt people around them.  

One of the great things about the power of martial arts skills is how equalling and equal opportunity they are.  Martial arts skills make the difference in power between a 135 lb women and 235 man disappear very quickly.  I have many vivid memories of small women reducing large guys to lumps on the floor of the judo dojo where I practiced in college.  Quite often, I was one of the lumps, whether it was from a powerful throw, a choke or an armbar, those ladies impressed their power upon me.

Skill doesn’t belong to those who are born faster or stronger or more talented.  Skill belongs to anyone who puts forth the dedicated effort necessary to develop it.  Once you make that effort though, you get not just that power, but responsibility as well.  At the most basic level once you have power you have to decide what to do with it.  I’ve seen people become skilled and then become bullies in the dojo. I’ve seen them subtly bully people outside the dojo as well. They learned only that they have power.  They haven’t learned anything about using it responsibly.  The difference between just learning a skill, and studying a way, a michi, a do, 道, is learning the proper, responsible use and application of that power.

This may be the biggest lesson of budo, larger than than all the lessons about technique and ma’ai and timing together.  Sadly, it’s also the most commonly missed lesson.  How do we use the power we have?  As a martial artist we can easily intimidate and hurt others.  After all, inflicting pain and damage is what we are practicing on each other in the dojo.

In the dojo we spend a lot of time learning when it is appropriate to use and practice what we know and when it isn’t.  Japanese martial arts are loaded with ritual that regulate practice so you know when it is ok to try to toss your friend across the room or for her to work on choking you unconscious or for the new kid to try the cool armbar she saw Ronda Rousey do in one of her fights.  All that meaningless etiquette and ritual turns out to have some very practical reasons for being there.  During practice there are times when it is ok to work on a technique and times when it’s not.  There are times when it’s dangerous to step on the mat and others when it is safe.  There are also considerations of how we treat each other when we are practicing.  We learn to treat each other with respect and honor and dignity regardless of how skilled someone is.  We are all on the same path, so there is no reason to look down upon someone because they haven’t taken as many steps along the path as we have.  As we gain skill our power to hurt and damage increases.  That means we are more responsible for not abusing that power by abusing others.

There are other kinds of responsibility in the dojo as well.  I am not one of those who believe that everyone who advances in rank has a responsibility to teach.  There is plenty to do around a dojo besides teaching.  Everyone can look at their personal capabilities, their powers, and figure out what they should be responsible for.

Responsibility changes as we grow.  Once we have the violent power that martial arts training bestows and we recognize the responsibility to act wisely and responsibly, then we become responsible for mastering something else.  We are responsible for learning the real consequences of using our skills, and not just the myths and irresponsible nonsense like “It’s better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”  That’s just a flashy cover for the fact that someone doesn’t know the real legal consequences of their actions and choices.  Knowing those is our responsibility.

This is one of those lessons that stretches out of the dojo and into every area of our lives.  What are our responsibilities?  There are plenty of things that we can do that it would be best not to do.  Even if it would be entirely gratifying to apply a joint lock and tie that obnoxious jerk in the next cubicle into a pretzel, or choke that self-righteous jerk into silence, and it would be a simple and easy application of what we do at practice, we know we shouldn’t and we don’t.  There are lots of places in life where we have power and we should consider if and how to use it.

We have lots many different kinds of power beyond the physical power that budo practice endows: economic, social influence, parental, business, and others.  We don’t often spend time thinking about the responsibility to use the power we have wisely, yet how we wield social and economic and parental power might be more important than how we wield the physical violence of the martial arts.  WIth the power that martial arts gives us, the responsibility not to abuse it is very clear, with other, more subtle forms of power, matters are not always so clear.  Sometimes it’s too easy to use power to shoo our kids away when they need some attention but  we’re a bit tired.  It’s all too easy on the job  to use power to dump work on people or to get out of doing things we should be doing.

This is power too though, and it should be used with consideration and a sense of responsibility as well.  If we’re really serious about budo, we have to recognize that the lessons extend beyond the door of the dojo, and impact every aspect of life.  Budo is about physical power in it’s rawest and most basic form, but the lessons about considering when and how it is appropriate to use that power can inform everything we do.  Budo teaches many lessons, but how we handle the responsibility of power is one of the biggest.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Student Responsibility



The responsibilities of teachers gets a lot of discussion, but I rarely see anything about the responsibilities of students.  As adult students of the martial arts, what are we responsible for?   Are we as students responsible for something more than showing up, being respectful and doing what is taught in class?  
   
    Yes, we are. Students’ first responsibilities start the moment they walk into the dojo.  They are responsible for being aware and paying attention to what the dojo is like. What is the atmosphere in the dojo?  How does the teacher treat the students?  Does he treat them with respect and dignity?  Or does he belittle and demean them?  Does he yell at them?  How do the students treat the teacher?  Is he treated with respect, or is he treated like some sort of princeling, with students groveling and debasing themselves before him?   Do the students seem afraid of the teacher?  Does the teacher seem to take advantage of his position?

    Being aware of things like this and checking on them are part of our responsibility even before the we join the dojo and become students..  These are things we should be looking at when evaluating whether or not to become a student somewhere.  When you join a dojo and begin studying, you will learn not just the physical techniques that are being taught, you will also learn from the way people interact with each other.  Do you want to learn how to be disrespected, verbally and possibly physically abused?  Do you want to learn how to stand and absorb yelling?  To learn how to accept being demeaned and belittled?  You are responsible for what you are learning.  If it looks like this is part of what is being taught, your responsible for making the decision to not attend classes where abuse is part of the lesson.

We, as students, are responsible for ourselves.  Teachers and sempai have responsibilities, but the ultimate responsibility for what we learn resides with us.  We have to go in with our eyes open and our minds alert.  This remains true after we’ve found a teacher and school that we feel we can trust.  Students’ responsibilities don’t end just because they found someone they are comfortable learning from, can respect and who offers them respect in return.

I was in the Judo dojo on Tuesday, my first practice after being away for several weeks because I’d been traveling in Japan (practicing other stuff) and then I was sick.  As a student there, I’m responsible for being aware when I’m sick and contagious and not exposing the teacher and my fellow students to whatever crud I’ve got.  I stayed away for a week until I was better.  I wasn’t 100% yet though, and it was my responsibility to be aware of my condition and adjust my training appropriately.   I knew I didn’t have my usual stamina or strength that night.  In one way, this was a great training opportunity for me, because when we did some newaza drills, I had to do them correctly.  I didn’t have the strength or stamina to muscle my way through the practice with weak technique and a lot of muscle.  In the other direction, I had to be aware of my physical limits and know to say “enough” if I got too close to those limits.

Towards the end of the evening we did some newaza randori, and I got through that without getting too winded or worn out.  A little later though, we started some standing randori sets.  When Sensei offered one set to me, I passed on the chance. I could have gotten out there and mixed it up with some of the strong young guys, but I didn’t.  Not because I didn’t want to; I love randori.  There is little in life that has the intensity, immediacy and complete mental and physical involvement of judo randori.  I’m first in line, though, to be responsible for my safety and my training partner’s safety.  I knew that without adequate stamina, I wasn’t physically strong enough to safely work with my partner.  If I can’t count on my own strength, I can’t protect myself or my partner.  Randori is high speed, high intensity, free fighting.  If I get tired and make a mistake because of exhaustion at a critical moment, I can easily get hurt.  I’ve seen it happen to people in the past.  They push themselves too far, and when they need to protect themselves with a good fall or a quick reaction, they are too tired to do the technique properly, and they end up with an injury.  This hurts their partner too.

Every person training should feel some responsibility for their partner’s well being.  I know that I do, and on the couple of occasions my partner has been injured, I have felt horrible that it happened.  Afterward I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I could have done to prevent the injury.   The partner of nearly every person I have seen injured during practice has felt the same way.  We are working together, so part of my responsibility is to see that you don’t get hurt.  The few times I have run into people who truly don’t care about their partners, I’ve stopped working with them.  The only time I ever saw my first judo teacher truly furious was when a guy was condescending and uncaring towards a partner’s well-being.  That guy didn’t stick around very long.  One of the fundamental principles of Kodokan Judo is “Jita Kyoei” 自他共栄 or “mutual benefit and welfare.”  If someone can’t be bothered to concern themselves with his partner’s well-being, I don’t want them training with me or anyone I care about.  My teacher at the time felt the same way, and let this guy know it.  The guy couldn’t be bothered to care, and ended up leaving instead.  

We train together and we have to take care of each other.  If for any reason you aren’t certain you can train safely, it’s your responsibility to stop.  Any responsible teacher will respect that decision.  

Students are responsible for the dojo. Yes, the teacher leads.  We often say that it is “Sensei’s dojo,” but without students, there is no dojo; there’s just a guy in the corner practicing by himself.  In any good dojo I’ve been in, whether in Japan or the United States or Europe, the students have taken a lot of responsibility for the dojo. It’s their place and their practice as much as the teacher’s.  As a student,  before and after practice I run to make sure I get to a broom Sensei does.  We make sure the dojo is a safe, clean place to train.  This means a few minutes of care before and after practice, and keeping an eye out for things that could go wrong during practice.  Everyone is responsible for making sure there is nothing out of place in the dojo.  A belt or a bokken in the wrong place can trip someone doing paired practice and have all sorts of unhappy consequences.  We students are responsible for keeping an eye open for things out of place.

I also help make sure new people in the dojo understand the etiquette and expectations of our dojo.  As part of the dojo, as a member of the dojo, I’m partly responsible for the atmosphere in the dojo.  I’m one of the people whose job it is to make sure people don’t do anything that could be dangerous. Nearly every time I’ve had to say something to someone, they’ve apologized and thanked me for telling them they were doing something potentially dangerous.  People, including me, don’t always realize we’re about to be in the way.  A polite, respectful word of safety is part of everyone’s responsibility.

We students are responsible for our training, for what we learn and for how well we learn.  This is a tough one, and comes back around to the first part.  We are responsible for choosing our teachers and the group we will train with.  We remain responsible for our training every second after that as well.  As my high school English teacher used to say “I can lay out the banquet for you, but I can’t force you to eat it.”  She was talking about the beauty and wonder of English literature, but it’s just the same with budo.  

My teachers have all sorts of wonderful things to offer me.  It’s up to me to study what they offer, practice it, and internalize the lessons so they are a part of me.   The first thing this means is that practice doesn’t end when class does.  It is my responsibility to think about, study and practice the lessons outside of class.  Even in Judo, which is all about working with a partner, there are plenty of things for me to practice and study outside class.  I can work on individual movements.  I can read books about applying techniques and about the principles of Judo.  Today, unlike the dark ages when I started training, there are millions of videos of good martial arts available for free, 24 hours-a-day on Youtube.  For any popular martial art, and a surprising number of very small ones, the biggest problem a student has who wants to study something on video is wading through the bad budo videos to find the good ones.  There are plenty of great videos of Judo, Karate, Aikido, Iaido, Jodo, Kendo, Jujutsu, and nearly any other art you’re interested in.  If obscure koryu budo is your thing, you’re still in luck.  Go check out Gudkarma’s Youtube channel and you’ll find stuff on obscure arts you didn’t know existed.

There are plenty of books on budo out there too.  There is a lot of really bad misinformation around, but it’s still our responsibility to educate ourselves about our art.  If Sensei recommends a book, that’s a clear sign that we should read it.  The book might help us put things that we do in class in perspective.  It might teach us something of the history of our art or maybe help us figure out techniques on our own.  Sensei can’t do it for us.  We have have to read the book and find out.  It’s also our responsibility to read more than just the stuff our teachers recommend.  There are lots of good books out there.  If you’re not sure, ask Sensei and other students.  They might even be able to loan you a few books.  I know my wife would be thrilled to have me loan out two or three hundred books and not be able to get them back.  Read.  Learn.  Get some additional perspective on your training.  Additional perspective and information will help you ask better questions during class.  

As a student, it’s my responsibility to learn.  Sensei teaches stuff; he puts it out there, but I have to learn what he’s offering.  I have to go home and practice.  I have to work at what I’m studying.  If I go to class and I haven’t practiced during the week, Sensei can see that.  It’s my responsibility.  If this is important enough for me to show up to class regularly, it’s important enough for me to take some time and practice at home.  Whether using the sword or the jo or tying a belt to a post so you can practice throws or whatever point that needs work, it’s the student’s responsibility to work on it.  My big thing right now is engaging my koshi.  Kiyama Sensei says I’m not using my koshi as effectively as I should be at my level.  So that’s what I’m working on.  I know I look silly when I’m practicing, because it’s just me slowly moving across the basement focusing on keeping my koshi under my shoulders.  Sometimes I’m doing it from my knees.  Sometimes I’m standing up.  This is what I work on.  Sensei fulfilled his responsibility.  He identified my biggest weakness for me and told me what I need to do.  After that, all of the responsibility is mine.

If my problem is a lack of stamina or upper body strength, you’ll see me in a gym working on that.  I mention those, because they have both been issues for me in the past.  If a student recognizes a weakness, her job is to start correcting it.  Sometimes a teacher or senior student will alert us to a point that needs special attention.  Sometimes we can identify those on our own.  Either way, our responsibility is to give those points attention and make the improvements ourselves.  That way, when we go to class, Sensei can teach us something new instead of repeating herself for the 900th time.  

Our training is our responsibility, not our teachers’.  We are responsible for choosing our teachers and fellow students wisely.  Once we’ve done that though, our responsibility doesn’t end.  We are still responsible for the dojo, the safety of ourselves and our fellow students, and what we learn.  That means that we help in the dojo, we watch out for each other, and when class is over, we go home and work on our weak points.  We don’t stop learning because someone said “Class is over.  Have a good night.”  That’s when the real learning begins.  Don’t abandon your responsibility for yourself and your learning.