Saturday, July 16, 2016
Marti Malloy is the Olympic bronze medalist in Judo at under 57 kg. She will represent the US again in Rio in a few weeks. She writes quite passionately about competing in judo here.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
|Shiai. Photo Copyright 2015 Grigoris Miliaresis|
Competition seems like the ideal place to test your budo. You can test your techniques against other people. Challenge your abilities. Polish your skills. See how you do under the pressure to win. Learn what it takes to be a winner. Learn how to be a winner with humility and grace. Learn to lose with honor and dignity.
Those sound like great benefits. They are exactly the arguments used to support all competitive sports.
In martial sports competition, one person wins, and one person loses.
A problem with this paradigm that that most things in life, including conflict, are not games with clear winners and losers. There are far more situations where everyone involved can gain, as well as endless opportunities for everyone involved to lose. Life is not defined by a win/loss column.
When you see the world through the lens of competition, it’s a zero sum game. Someone wins and everyone else loses. When you see the world through the lens of budo, it’s a non-zero sum world, just like keiko in the dojo. When we train together, you don’t have to get weaker and less skilled for me to become more skilled. We both grow in skill and strength and understanding when we train together.
Budo keiko offers many profound lessons that will not be found in the arena of competition, and defining things in terms of competition, in terms of winners and losers, misses a number of those points. There a plenty of outcomes that aren’t covered by the idea that there is a winner and loser in every conflict.
I had this reinforced in a memorable incident. I was teaching an evasion to a sword attack that involved stepping to the side and cutting up, under teki’s arm as it came down with the sword. I did my step to the right just fine and placed my cut under teki’s arm. I did so just at the moment her sword smacked me in the side of the head. I had moved too early and teki was able to track me and adjust her attack. The result was not a winner and a loser. It was two losers. Her attack would have killed me at the same moment my counter attack killed her. Not a very satisfying outcome. One fight, no winners.
That lesson that can come as a huge surprise if you’ve never focused on anything other than fighting in tournaments. Tournaments provided a very limited view of budo. They are safe, controlled duels. They follow rules. One person wins and one person loses. One of the problems with that arrangement is that in pretty much everything outside of competitive sports, nothing works out that cleanly. Life is not clean and clear. It’ messy and unfocused.
Remember that yin-yang symbol that is used to decorate so many dojo? Inside the black half is a drop of white. Inside the white half is a dollop of black. Things aren’t clear cut. In my example above, we both achieved the basic objective, and we both would have died doing it. Sports competition can give students of martial arts just as skewed a view of martial arts as watching action movies can. In competition, there are two options. You win and your opponent loses, or you lose and she wins. Simple.
In real conflict there are lots more options. All parties end up so badly damaged that there are only losers. One side decides to give in for the sake of avoiding the physical conflict. All parties decide that the fight isn’t worth the risk and everyone goes off in a different direction. The police show up and everyone involved is arrested. There are a whole range of possibilities beyond “I win,” or "I lose."
Budo practice teaches a not just about fighting, but about recognizing all those other possibilities. I’m not going to say competition is entirely bad. It's great fun, and it gives people with too much energy a way to stay focused on something. I’ve seen that as a young judoka. The weakness is that we focus far too much time on competition and forget about the rest of the path. The lessons of competition seem tiny compared to all the other lessons that can be learned on the journey that is the study of budo. That in itself may be the first lesson.
It’s a journey, not a destination. Winning a match or tournament doesn’t mean much in the context of that journey. You’re still trying to learn the lessons. When you start to study budo, and not just a martial sport, you’ll discover that there is a whole lot more to your budo than the stripped down set of techniques allowed in competition.
I’ll start by using Judo as my example. Competitive judo prohibits strikes, a range of throws that endanger your opponent, a few throws where you can endanger yourself, gripping techniques that you can hurt yourself doing or that provide an unfair advantage, grips below the belt (don’t ask why, I still don’t understand the IJF explanation), attacks to any joint beside the elbow, throwing with an armlock, and numerous other things.
Even though these things are all banned in formal competition, most of them are part of the formal syllabus of Kodokan Judo. Just take a look at the two videos below.
The Kodokan Goshin Jutsu and the Kime No Kata are both part of the Kodokan syllabus. Almost nothing in either kata could be used in competition. If you focus on competition, you miss all the rest. Competition presents too small a slice of the possibilities that are budo, and the possibilities that are life. In life there are lots of options beyond simple win or lose scenarios. Business people spend much of their time trying to fashion what they call win-win agreements, so that everyone involved gains something in the exchange. They don’t always work out, but just being able to try for something like that seems a lot better than scenarios like a match where one person wins and one loses, or worse, tournaments, where there is one winner, and there are many, many losers.
Often the ideas of learning to be a gracious winner and accepting defeat honorably are mentioned as benefits of competition. The weakness I see here is that outside of organized competitions, there are almost no opportunities to practice this lesson. Life doesn’t consist of of competitions with clear winners and losers. There are other lessons that I find useful every day though. The best people to be around aren’t the ones keeping score. The best people to be around are the ones who don’t keep score. The ones who try to, in the words of Bill and Ted, “be excellent to each other.”
One lesson of competition is to keep score. The lesson of budo practice is that there is no score. We all improve together. I can’t improve my skills without your active support, and you can’t improve yours without my active support. If you and I are busy trying to keep score of who learns the most techniques, or who gets the most reps, or anything else, we’re not providing the mutual support necessary to truly improve our skills. That kind of practice is a lot more like life than any competition.
The other, discreet lessons of budo apply beyond the dojo as well. Budo teaches numerous lessons about ma’ai and timing. Ma’ai isn’t just for combat, and neither is timing. I haven’t gotten to all the places where an understanding of the principles of structure will serve you. Understanding ma’ai is about understanding the weakness or strength of a particular position relative to those around you. It’s a fluid, constantly changing as the situation changes, even if you don’t move at all.
Timing is important in whatever you do, from gardening to business. Structure too applies outside the arena of competition, mostly in place where being aware of strong, stable structures and weaknesses that can undermine them are critical to not getting hurt in physical, or not-physical, ways. Timing needs to be considered for anything you want accomplish, in or out of the dojo. Too early and you give away your objectives and strategy. Too late is, well, too late.
One of the most critical lessons of budo practice is that it’s OK if you don’t master these lessons today. The goal isn’t to master anything thing right away. In budo there is no illusion that we will ever perfect anything. We learn that there is no goal to reach. The point of budo is to improve a little bit every day. To be better today than yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today. This isn’t a goal because a goal is an endpoint, a place to get to and stop. With budo, there is no endpoint.
What you do every day is more important than what you do during any 5 minute match. It doesn’t matter what the match is. Dr. Ann Maria DeMars is a former world champion judoka. Let that sink in. World champion. At some point, she was the best on the planet at what she did. Yet now she can write about how she completely forgets having done that. Whatever we do, it will quickly be in the past, and we can’t live there. Life is a journey, not an event. Each day we have to continue that journey. With competition, we focus on the events and an artificial concept of a winner and a loser. With budo, we focus on the journey, of moving forward and improving every day. Working with our teachers and seniors and partners and juniors so we all are a bit better today than we were yesterday, and so tomorrow we’ll be a bit better than today. We don’t stop at any event.
Competition is a limited view of the world. It’s a zero-sum game with clear winners and losers. Life isn’t a zero sum game. Life is big and messy and so very unclear. In life, winning and losing isn’t decided by a set of rules. It’s more like a fluid range of success, and that success is much more dependent on not keeping score than it is about winning points. You have to work with the people around you, your training partners, so you all succeed and improve together. If you aren’t better today than you were yesterday, that’s probably the closest thing to a loss. You succeed when you and your partners are better people tomorrow than you were today.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Every few years I seem to go through a crisis and start looking for the benefit of budo. I read all the latest papers dealing with the ethics and psychological benefits of sport and martial art and think about it quite a bit.
My attitudes never change much, I just need the reminding I think. I'll do a bit of thinking here on the idea of competition in budo if you don't mind.
First, kids like competition. They move from play to competition as they head toward adolescence and I think that competition is a part of their breaking away from home. It's a part of asserting themselves as individuals, a way to separate themselves from "the other" by "making their mark".
So we do the tournament thing because the kids like it and they start and stay in the art. So the story goes at least.
Gradings are the same, a way to separate from the pack, a way to distinguish oneself. Kids love grading.
So goes the thinking, and there's me organizing gradings to go along with the seminar coming up. The thing is, I don't teach kids and I haven't been one for a couple of years now. I don't like tournaments or gradings and I find that most of the adults I teach are of the same opinion. Why is that? I think one usually grows out of competition. Adolescence doesn't last our whole lives, at least not physical adolescence. The time of serious competition also spans a very short period. Steve Nash just retired from Pro Basketball at 41. I was stunned to hear that he had still been playing. No wonder he can hardly walk.
Competitive sport, despite the hype, isn't very good at making better people. The research says so, don't take my word for it, hit Google Scholar and read. Sport, be it martial (kendo, judo, MMA) or otherwise is about playing to the rules, beating the other guy and winning. It's really not about getting along with everyone, cooperating (except maybe with your team if it's a team sport) or dealing with real life... well maybe modern business where we must crush the competition and win that corner office. (What ever happened to being a good craftsman and selling stuff we make to people who actually need what we make?)
A martial art is, at it's heart, about life and death, it doesn't exist in a separate "playspace" like sport, it's connected to some primal stuff that goes pretty deep into our brains, fear and anxiety and stress and most of what we pay doctors to fix these days. Cooperation in the martial arts is absolute, except during the competitive parts. Training is cooperative, the attacker is the instructor, the defender is the student and the attacker never competes, only offers challenges the student can answer. Was it ever any other way in combat? We don't want to defeat our fellow soldiers, we want to have the best guy we can have at our side. If his shield collapses we pay the price too. We don't select soldiers for their fighting ability, we select for the ability to survive the training, then we train them.
But we compete on the battlefield don't we? The politicians may think so, they may be playing the "Great Game" of empire or, nowadays, getting elected, but the soldiers only ever survive or die. They aren't playing to win they are fighting to live. There is a difference despite the confusion of metaphore and reality in the news broadcasts.
One of the core benefits of the sword arts is the kata, and I am beginning to believe that's in the final move, the witholding of the killing blow. Kata is only ever cooperative, it's about moving together to higher levels of sensitivity and it's about the final sacrifice of the attacker (uchidachi) and the witholding of the blow by the defender (shidachi). What I guess I'm saying is that the closest sport comes to this is the coach, but coaches are focused on technique for winning. A focus on technique is constricting, not creative. You don't look for new ways to win at a sport, find one and the rules committee makes a new rule against it. You look for ways to exploit those rules, which is not very creative. Finding a new way to survive a sword strike? You have to be a pretty strict cultural-artifact type not to appreciate that.
To make a kata-based art into a competitive sport is not something I can get behind, no matter how many kids we can attract to the classes by doing it. Performing a kata to win a medal is... a waste of good training time even if you're the most enlightened competitor out there. A full day of tournament with ten minutes of waving the sword around is not good time management.
Kendo is a sport, let's admit it. The ZNKR spends large amounts of energy trying to fight that opinion and they declare the benefits to society and world peace, but when it comes down to it, the most expensive line item of most national kendo organizations is the team they send to the world championships. It's a real problem for the organization because the kids who are competing are driving the sport in one direction (they just wanna have fun) and the old guys are forever pushing back. I'm not alone in my concerns over competition being somewhat opposed to the benefits of budo.
And grading? Colin Watkin sensei, Shihan of the Kage-ryu has explained the grading system to us few students. There is none. Your "grade" is survival on the battlefield.
OMG, so does 3dan mean that I "mostly" survive a fight?
Musashi had 60 duels from age 13 to 27 and won them all. His own assessment was that he was lucky or they were kind of poor swordsmen. He spent the next half of his life trying to figure out how he could improve.
Good enough for me, I'll leave the competition to the kids.
Mar 26, 2015 http://sdksupplies.com/
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
We want to get the most out of our training. We look up to people who train hard and constantly push themselves. It seems obvious that the harder you train the better you will be. In judo we respect the people who train harder, with more intensity than anyone else. All that sweat dripping on the mat has to mean something, doesn’t it?
I was practicing piano and one of my weaknesses there struck me as identical to problems most of us have in the dojo practicing budo. All practice is not equal. Some kinds of practice give far superior returns on the time and effort invested than other types of training. Poor training habits and techniques waste time. Worse, they can lead to ingraining bad habits and techniques which actually make us worse at what we are studying than we were before the training
I was practicing some etudes (French for, get this, kata) that are fundamental exercises for training the fingers on the piano. These are the boring exercises everyone rushes through so they can get to the good stuff, the real music, the real budo. Music etudes are like kihon waza practice in budo. These are the fundamental movements that you have to practice beyond the ability to do them properly, beyond the ability to do them properly without thinking about them, to the point where you can’t do them incorrectly.
|Etudes for piano : « FuseesLiszt » by Franz Liszt — Travail personnel. Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FuseesLiszt.JPG#mediaviewer/Fichier:FuseesLiszt.JPG|
The tricky part is practicing them correctly in the first place so you don’t develop bad habits that slow you down later. The first, most common, and biggest mistake with etudes and kihon waza is to treat them as mindless, boring exercises. These exercises teach your body and mind the most critical foundations of everything else you will do. If you try to rush them, or try to avoid thinking about them by thinking about your laundry or your job or your friends while doing them, you will likely be doing them wrong, and drilling this wrongness into your bones.
To do basics correctly as a beginner, you have to think about how you are doing them. When you have stopped being a beginner, you probably don’t have to think about the basics when you are doing more advanced things, but when you are practicing the basics you still need to think about them. If you don’t, you risk letting mistakes and poor technique slip in. You also miss all the benefits that come from mindful practice. Be aware of what you’re doing. As you are practicing basic techniques, look for things that can be improved. In 100 repetitions you’ll be lucky if you have 10 that you love. You’ll also be lucky if you only have 10 that you hate. The rest will be somewhere in between. The goal is to be aware of every repetition and to try and drag your worst reps up to the quality of your mediocre ones, and the mediocre reps up to the level of the best. Like all of budo, this is a never ending activity, since as soon as you improve, you’ll start trying to reach a higher level.
Another pitfall on the practice path is rushing. If you’ve ever heard a young (or in my case not so young) musician rush through a section of piece, you’ve heard how wrong rushing can be. Don’t rush your practice, even if you don’t have much time. Rushing through things is worse than not practicing. If you don’t practice, you don’t improve, but you also don’t pick up bad habits. If you rush something you are doing it at the wrong speed, which is just wrong. If you don’t have a lot of time, just do what you have time to do properly. When you rush, correct form is only the first thing that is lost. You also sacrifice the rhythm and feel of proper technique, and you lose the awareness of what you are doing. In this sort of situation, you’re training can only move backward as you reinforce bad form, bad timing and poor thought.
One of the most popular parts of Judo practice is also one of Judo practice’s biggest weaknesses. Randori, or Judo style sparring, is fun, so much fun that often students would rather do this than work on their basics. There are lot of things that can go wrong with randori though. The first problem is all that fun. We are all susceptible to this one. It’s easy to spend all our time doing the fun parts of training, whatever it is, and neglect the parts that don’t grab our attention and gratify our hearts. This is true in all arts, even in koryu budo where there is very little sparring type practice. There are some kata that are just more interesting, and others that frustrate me until I am ready to scream because I just never seem to get them right.
One particular form this trap takes is practicing what we are good at. We enjoy practicing things we are good at much more than the parts that we haven’t mastered yet. I love doing harai goshi and tai otoshi in judo because I do them better than anything else. That’s exactly why should limit my practice of them though. The fact that I can do them better than anything else should tell me how much more I need to be practicing everything else. Spend most of your time practicing what you aren’t good at. That’s where you’ll improve the most.
The second problem with randori and other sparring practices is the tendency for people to go faster and faster as the randori session continues. Randori is a form of practice, not a competition to see who is better. People usually forget this point within 10 seconds of the start of a session. As soon as you stop thinking about randori or sparring as practice and start treating it as another sort of competition, it’s practice value plummets. You stop trying your weaker techniques that you should be polishing, and switch to your favorite techniques. People also start getting defensive because they don’t want to lose. In judo this means all sorts of bad postures and muscling to prevent throws. Instead they should be working on ingraining good posture and movement which will allow them to execute good, effective technique.
The third problem I see is that people don’t go into randori with a plan to use it to get better. Go into a randori session with a plan for what you want to practice and improve. Don’t worry about winning and losing. It’s practice, so you getting better is what constitutes winning, not beating the other guy. If all you do is worry about winning, you’ve already lost the chance to improve, and worse, you’re likely to pick up bad habits in the effort to win. PIck a technique you need to work on and focus on finding where that technique fits in the movement. Or just work on how you move and sense your partner. Take the time to develop an understanding how people move and react. These sorts of practices will make your budo much better, polish your skills and improve your fundamentals.
|Early 20th century randori|
PIck a speed and intensity for your practice that suits the points you want to work on. Slow is great for some things. Fast and light might work better for polishing something like foot sweeps. Think about what you want to get out of a randori or sparring session, and how you will have to train to get that. Don’t just rush in and throw everything you are working on to the floor.
When you go all out to win during practice, the best you can hope for is that you win without developing any bad habits. You don’t get any better. The worst that can happen is that you develop and ingrain bad habits from trying to win and not lose, while developing a counterproductive attitude about winning and losing.
Training at less than 100% intensity is tough, because we associate training hard with effective training. This is true when you are working on cardio or strength development. You only improve your physical condition when you push the limits of what you can do. The more you sweat, the harder you work, the stronger you get and the more your stamina increases.
When you are working on
technique however, hard training gets in the way of good training and can turn
into bad training. Adding muscle, as I keep rediscovering, does not
improve technique. Oddly though, adding technical skill does make muscle more
effective. Interesting how that works. In
order to make your physical strength as useful and effective as possible, you
have to work at practicing without it. Once the technique is smooth and fluid,
then you can try adding a little speed and strength at the proper moment for those to be useful. Strength and speed are
not always benefits. Using them at the
wrong time is a waste of energy and can destroy the effectiveness of a
technique. I have lots experience at
finding ways to blow a perfectly good technique, and adding strength or speed
at the wrong moment is one of the best.
|Hard training is great for strength, but what does it do for technique?|
There’s one other area where the temptation to practice too hard is too frequently succumbed to. That’s when practicing “real” techniques, like self-defense techniques. The allure of doing the technique as hard and as fast as we can because this is for self-defense and we want to be sure it will work is a powerful one. It’s even more irresistible than my wife’s cookies fresh out of the oven on the cooling rack when she’s left the room. The problem with this is the same as in randori and sparring. We can start relying on bad techniques and too much muscle and speed to get by. This is fine until you run into someone with good technique, or even just someone faster or stronger.
A better method is to practice the technique at a very low intensity. As you get more comfortable at it, have your partner increase the intensity slightly. When you can do the technique calmly and smoothly at the new intensity, have your partner step it up again. Eventually you’ll be able to do the technique calmly and smoothly with your partner attacking as intensely as they can. You’ll have good technique, and you’ll be accustomed to maintaining calm and relaxed, effective technique even under intense, strong attacks. If you jump straight into working at high intensity levels it will take much longer to master the technique, if you ever do. More likely you will develop bad habits to compensate for the skill you don’t have yet, which will just make developing the skill that much more difficult.
Train slow and work up to it. It’s easy to practice things wrong. The temptation is always there to start practicing harder, faster and more intensely than your technique is ready for. Don’t give in. Practice right so you truly learn how to do the techniques and master you art.
This site had a very nice article about practicing from a musical perspective.
Monday, April 28, 2014
The classical arts of Japan (pre-1868) have a very different structure from the modern arts. The classical arts are entirely defined by their kata. If you take something like Suio Ryu or Shinto Muso Ryu, they have a clearly defined set of kata. Changing the kata is frowned upon, not because innovation is bad, but because it's really difficult to find anything in the kata that has not been boiled down to the essence of effectiveness.
Most koryu (again, pre-1868 traditions) kata are paired kata, always practiced with a partner. The reasons for doing the kata a particular way become vividly clear in a bright black and blue manner if you try to change things. The attacking partner is an immediate check to see if what you are doing is effective or not. And when it's not, you may well end up with a beautiful bruise as proof. Recently a friend and I spent a morning working through some kata slowly. Each time we tried to change the kata, we discovered that the kata form was the strongest way of responding for both the shitachi and the uchitachi. Each time we tried something different the openings and weaknesses of the new positions were clear. After hundreds of year of practice and examination, our forebears in the system had worked out the most effective way for things to be done. Our lesson was to understand why they designed the kata as they did.
The practice of the kata define the koryu traditions. Nearly all of the lore and wisdom that generations of teachers have accumulated is in embedded in the kata. It's up to students to tease this knowledge out. One way to do that is with what my friend and I were doing. You deconstruct the kata, try different reactions and attacks at each juncture and see if they work, or as we discovered, why they don't work.
Traditional Japanese systems, koryu budo, generally have very specific and clear pedagogy. Shinto Muso Ryu has a clear set of 40+ jo kata, as well as 12 sword kata, 12 walking stick kata, 24 kusarigama kata, 30 jutte kata, and I've forgotten how many hojo kata. These are very clearly defined. It's extremely difficult for teacher who hasn't been training for decades to make changes, and the kata themselves make it difficult. As I discussed above, we couldn't find any weaknesses in the kata we were exploring. We just learned a lot of options that don't work as well those taught in the system already. With this kind of situation, there just aren't many opportunities for innovation.
The most common way koryu arts change is that someone develops a new kata to address some situation or condition that is not considered by the existing kata. In Shinto Muso Ryu for example, they developed some new kata at the end of the 19th century to make use of the walking sticks that had become popular at the time. This is a logical extension of the principles of the stick that is the main weapon in Shinto Muso Ryu to a shorter stick. They didn't change old kata, or get rid of anything. They developed a few new kata to teach an understanding of the ranges and uses of the shorter stick. Systems do change, but they do so very slowly. With koryu, those changes are usually minor additions to the system rather than revolutions in the way things are done.
People sometimes wonder why koryu systems don't have lots of sparring and tournaments like the modern arts of kendo, karatedo and judo. Surprisingly, this is not a new question. Groups have been arguing about the value of sparring type practice in Japan for over four hundred years. When Japan was at war with itself, which was most of the time from about 1300 through 1600, there were more than enough opportunities for people to test their ideas, techniques and skills, so the question didn’t come up. Once Tokugawa Ieyasu unified the country and removed the last possible source of revolution in 1615, those opportunities disappeared. Soon after that sparring and challenge matches started to appear. Arguments over the value of sparring compared with kata training began almost immediately, and have continued unabated to this day. Over the centuries though, the styles that emphasize sparring as a part of their training never demonstrated significantly better records in the many challenge matches. If the sparring faction had shown consistent success the other systems would have changed rather than lose. The systems that emphasized kata weren’t losing, so there was no need to change. Kata remained the core of training because when done properly, it works.
Tournaments are a relatively recent phenomenon. Tournaments first showed up late in the 19th century once the Japan had reformed its government and sword teachers had no way to make a living. Some people started doing matches to entertain the public and try to support themselves as professional martial artists after traditional positions working for daimyo disappeared.. These didn't last long, but they contributed to the development of modern kendo. Modern kendo equipment dates back to that used for sparring and some challenges as early as the 17th century.
Sword demonstrations and prize matches during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) popularized and contributed to the creation of a sport form of kenjutsu done with shinai (bamboo swords). Similar matches for jujutsu schools contributed to the rise of Kodokan Judo. Kano's students won a number of noted victories and the Kodokan was invited to participate in inter-style matches by the Tokyo Police. The Kodokan did exceptionally well in most of these matches and earned an impressive reputation. These matches though also drove some significant changes in the Kodokan's curriculum.
Fusen Ryu is reported to have defeated a number of Judo representatives with strong ground techniques. At the time, Kano was not in favor of focusing on ground fighting because he felt it was a dangerous place to be in a street fight. However, these losses on the ground in public matches pushed him to develop a groundwork curriculum for Judo. One of the big surprises about this is the way he went about it. Contrary to the idea of martial schools jealously guarding their secrets, at this time at the end of the 19th century, people were much more open. Kano invited the head of Fusen Ryu to teach groundwork at the Kodokan Dojo, and he did. With the help of the head of a rival system, Kano significantly strengthened the Kodokan curriculum. Kano never became a huge fan of groundwork, always believing that staying on your feet was optimal in a fight, but the pressure of doing well in competitive matches drove him to adapt his art.
In addition, Kano changed from the classic menkyo, or licensing, system, and created the modern dan rank system based on competitive ability. The koryu systems award licenses based on a persons level of understanding and mastery of the system, up to and including full mastery of the system. Kano abandoned this system for one in which students were ranked according to competitive ability in matches. If a student could defeat four other students of 1st dan level (commonly known as black belt) , then he was promoted to 2nd dan (black belt). This resulted in tremendous changes in what is taught and how students train. Anything that is not allowed in competitive matches is marginalized in training, even if it is effective in combative situations outside of training. The focus narrowed to those techniques which are most effective in competition. The up side of this focus is that it drives innovation and experimentation. Judoka are constantly looking for innovative ways to win in competition and refining their techniques to make them more effective. The down side is, as I describe above, that anything not useful in competition is largely ignored, even if it is highly effective in situations outside of competition.
Various pressures on competitive martial systems are still visible today. For the larger systems such as Judo and various Karate styles, two of the big pressures are popularity and money. In the last 15 years the International Judo Federation has been busy making numerous changes to the rules for competitive Judo matches in order to make Judo more television friendly to maintain popularity and keep it's place in the Olympics. The matches are seen as being too slow and difficult to follow, so changes were made to speed things up. In addition, there seems to be some reservations about how well people from other systems, such as wrestling and BJJ, do when they enter Judo tournaments. I have heard complaints that wrestlers and BJJ players use a lot of leg grabs and take downs that aren't classical Judo. The techniques work though. My feeling is that in Judo, we are reacting in the worst way possible to these challenges from wrestlers and BJJ players. Instead of inviting them into our dojo to learn from them, as Kano did, the IJF has chosen to ban the leg grabs and take downs from Judo competition. To me this only makes Judo weaker and less worthy of study.
In the Karate world, I see a lot of things in tournaments where combative functionality is not even considered. People invent kata that are flashy and athletic, but have nothing to do with the rich history and combative effectiveness of the Okinawan traditions. I have seen rules for weapons kata that require a certain number of weapons releases. This means that people are required to throw their weapon into the air! From a standpoint of combative functionality, this is ridiculous. However, to people who don't know better, this looks impressive. These Karate tournaments seem to be responding to a desire to be as popular as possible, rather than as effective as possible. It is a similar to what the IJF is doing make Judo more television friendly so the International Olympic Committee won't drop Judo from the Olympics like it tried to do with Wrestling a few years back. I won't even get into the silliness that is Olympic Tae Kwon Do.
Many of the modern arts are relatively easy to change because they are competition focused and committee governed, so changes in the rules will drive major changes in training. The koryu arts are deeply seated in kata that have been refined over centuries, and I can't really imagine any pressure big enough for them to make significant changes to their curriculums. Since the classical systems are not looking for rapid growth or tv money, they are under no pressure to change except that which they have always had; to adjust their systems to they remain relevant to the world around them. Judo and Karate both have strong depths of kata, well thought out and highly refined, but these traditional, effective and functional kata are often ignored in the race to perform well in competitions. The desire to do well in competition and to be visible on the world stage will continue to drive changes in these arts. I would love to see the pressure and focus of modern arts return to combative functionality, but I doubt that will happen when it is so easy to get caught up in the ego trap of popularity.