Showing posts with label empowerment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label empowerment. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Budo Puts The "POWER" In Empowerment

Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

I watched the Avengers: Age Of Ultron last week. I admit to being an old school comic book geek. I’ve got nearly the entire run of Marvel Comics from the 80s in boxes somewhere. Watching the movie reminded me of one of the old motivating fantasies many have for starting martial arts; to be able to be able to do things other people can’t, to have something like a super power.  While watching the movie, some of the heroes, especially Black Widow and Hawkeye, did things that looked fantastic on screen.  While what was these characters were doing on the screen is an exaggeration, it made me think about that fact that budo practice really can endow people with extraordinary power.

Black Widow runs around fighting and beating the daylights out of whole armies of foes.  We all know that’s not realistic. On the other hand, a average size women, with plenty of training, is going to be quite effective against an ordinary man. Yes, the man will have size and strength.  After a few years of budo though, the woman will have an understanding of spacing and timing, as well as technique that will effectively multiply her strength because she will put it to targeted work rather than just lashing out.  I’m pretty sure any of the women who make it to the medal stand in Olympic judo could go through me so fast I wouldn’t know what happened. That’s speaking as someone who’s done judo for decades.  Their extensive and focused training makes them that much better than just about anyone.

Power is relative. From the Merriam-Webster dictionary we get the meanings

(1) :  ability to act or produce an effect

What budo practice endows someone with isn’t super-power, but it is power, and it’s available to anyone who is willing to work at it. There are lots of different sorts of power developed, and strangely, few of them have to do with raw force. The real power of budo comes from learning the precision application of small amounts of force in the correct way, at the correct moment. All the strength in the world, applied incorrectly, will not result in power.

That’s the genius of Kano JIgoro’s maixm 精力善用 seiryoku zenyo, usually translated as “maximum efficiency minimum effort. Kano was able to identify and encapsulate this in a simple phrase for Kodokan Judo, but it’s true of all budo. Regardless of whether we are talking about ancient or modern budo, karate, judo, aikido, weapons or any other art, the best, most effective budo will be that which applies force with the maximum efficiency and the least amount of effort.

It’s skill that brings about that efficiency and effectiveness. That skill multiplies the power of whatever strength someone brings into the dojo. Power “is the ability to act or produce an effect” and in budo there are two sides to that. The one that catches most people’s attention is the ability to do things to the world. Whether this is a karateka’s punch, a judoka’s throw, a the precise strike of a jo, or the clean joint lock of an aikidoka, these are all examples of power, and none of them require a huge amount of strength to be effective.

Karate folks know full well that the location of a blow is at least as important as the force behind it.  Strike a strong man in the chest and you might knock him back. Strike him in the side of the knee or one of a number of other choice targets and it doesn’t take much force at all to leave him broken.

How much strength does it take to throw another human being? Surprisingly little.  A college friend of mine who weighed something north of 300 pounds could be easily thrown by a young lady in our dojo who weighed less than of third what he did. Strength had nothing to do with it. He could bench press 3 of her. When he picked her up from behind in a bear hug though, she could put him in the air. It was not a landing he was fond of, but it was great at demonstrations. She could never match him strength for strength.  The lesson was that she had to apply her force and technique in the right place, at the right moment. Then she was powerful enough to throw someone 3 times her size.

The right point of application and proper timing have far more to do with the power to do things than raw strength. Otherwise, the young gung-ho guys in the dojo would be the powerful ones. Instead, if you go into a dojo, it’s the people with the most training time who are really powerful. Watch out for the relaxed looking older ones. They don’t have the strength and the stamina anymore, but for some reason they can keep up with 20 somethings when randori starts. People wonder why, but they really shouldn’t.

In common sense thinking, there is no way someone in their 50s or 60s or 70s should be able to keep up with, much less regularly dominate, people in their teens and 20s.  We all know life doesn’t work like that. Hang out in a good budo dojo for a while though, and you’ll see it happen all the time. Knowledge and skill make the folks with the gray hair powerful.  They don’t need youthful strength and stamina (though it would be really nice to have) to be powerful.  They know when an attack will be effective and when it won’t and they don’t waste their energy on things that won’t work.

They have something else too.  

It’s not just what the experienced folks can dish out. It’s what they can roll with and keep coming up for more. In that movie, the Black Widow gets thrown all over the place, and instead of going splat into the ground, she does neat ukemi and comes up ready to go. That’s another sort of power.  The power to absorb and negate.  In the dojo we learn how to do that! I get thrown into the ground all the time at practice, roll through it, get up and dive straight back in for more.

Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

In budo, power is a coin with two sides.  The side that leaps to the front of everyone’s mind is the power to do things to someone else. Equally important, is the power to absorb and handle other people’s power. When I used to watch Suda Sensei, who was in his late 70s, handle the attacks from all the teenage kendoka in the dojo, it was a lesson in minimum effort and properly applied power. He could absorb and redirect their attacks without getting tired.

Hikoshiso Sensei at 65 would do randori for 15 minutes straight with young judo guys in their teens and 20s and throw us all over the place. He could absorb our attacks without effort. He would also let students learning techniques throw him around.  Imagine a 65 year old man getting thrown repeatedly to the ground, and smiling about it. That’s power too.  

That’s a lot of power. Think about what would happen to a normal, untrained person who was picked up and hurled at the ground.  Bruises? Broken bones? Concussion? Death? Yet I see people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s taking ukemi and getting thrown around.   Then there are the 70 year olds competing in judo and throwing each other around!

70-74 year division judo competition

It takes power to be able to throw someone, but it takes power to be able to be thrown and stay healthy as well. Imagine the kind of power that allows people in their 70s to throw someone, and to survive being thrown.  That’s real power that comes from budo training.

Budo training won’t turn you into a super-hero.  But if you keep it up, it does give some extraordinary power. Budo will empower you with whatever you train for.  And that power stays around as long as you train.  Just ask these karateka.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Rant About Budo And Sports

I’m blowing a gasket about budo just now. Dr. Ann Maria DeMars, the first US women's world judo champion reduces the benefits of judo to those of tennis or golf. Steam coming out my ears that the art I love so much has fallen so far even in the eyes of its champions. She wrote on her blog

There are lots of benefits to training martial arts.  Budo, including Kodokan Judo, teaches a lot of things while learning and practicing the principles of conflict, whether armed or unarmed.  In addition to the fundamental principles of conflict, including combative spacing, timing, rhythm, tactics and strategy for dealing with all sorts of conflict, effective self-defense skills, the conscious ability to read peoples posture and movement.  It should also teach discretion about how and when to use those skills, respect, honor and dignity.  

Sadly, when the focus of a martial art becomes competition, those benefits are soon lost.  Dr. DeMars reduces a great budo to little more than a social gathering with health benefits.  Her concern about judo seems to be keeping it a positive experience for the students and not letting coaches’ and referees’ go on ego trips.  Nothing about actual application of the skills learned, nothing about respect, honor and dignity.

On top of the things she has lost, there is the problem of over-specialization. To do well in any competitive field, you have to specialize.  In judo competition you have to specialize in what the rules will allow.  Competitors never waste time on anything that doesn’t apply to competition.  The result is that people only learn judo at very close distances.  They never study anything that can’t be used in competition, and as Dr. DeMars does note, the rules change frequently, often based on what the International Judo Federation thinks will make the Olympic Committee happy, rather than based on what makes good judo.  One result is that most people who’ve started judo since a bunch of rules changes in 2010 are completely unaware of the existence of Kata Garuma, one of the signature techniques of Kodokan Judo’s founder Jigoro Kano.  People who do competitive judo know only what is included in competition, and even there, they often practice a limited set of techniques that they specialize in using in competition.

Even if we only talk technique, Kodokan Judo includes so much more than sport judo that I feel like competitive judoka are voluntarily blinding themselves.  They don’t know anything about controlling spacing and timing for any attack other than a grab.  They never learn about strikes or weapons attacks.  They are completely ignorant of whole classes of techniques, from strikes to joint locks to weapons defences.  They never learn about handling attacks from any angle that isn’t allowed in competition.

Over and above that, the values they learn are only those of the sporting field.  Sports are nice and popular, but the etiquette and behavior are a bit thin.  Good sportsmanship isn’t the same as honor and respect.  Kano Shihan established two fundamental principles of what makes something his Judo; Maximum Efficiency Minimum Effort and Mutual Benefit And Welfare.

The first, Maximum Efficiency Minimum Effort does get mentioned a lot..  The sports guys seem to like this one because it’s an effective strategy for winning. The problem is that it’s supposed to be a strategy for living, not just a method for judging the effectiveness of techniques.  The techniques of Judo are supposed to be a physical method for learning and experiencing this principle as something that can be applied everywhere, all the time.  Instead it’s reduced to a trick for figuring out how to win trophies.

Then there’s the other foundational principle of Kodokan Judo; Mutual Welfare And Benefit.  The idea is that everyone benefits from training and practice.  Judo practice is a group activity.  To really practice Judo you have to have a partner.  You can do the movements alone, but without a partner you’re not really doing Judo.  When you have a partner, both of you are supposed to progress in your understanding and application of Judo’s principles.  

This is a great lesson.  You get so much more of value out of things when everyone involved benefits.  This is a strategy that can be applied throughout life.  I even manage to apply it regularly in the competitive world of business.  There is a fundamental difference between life, including a competitive are like business, and sport.  Sports like competitive judo are zero sum games.  No matter how many people are involved, there can be only one winner.  By definition, everyone else has to lose.

Life, even in it’s competitive aspects, is not a zero sum game.  I know in America, what I’m about to write is close to heresy, but in life, there don’t have to be losers and winners.  The most effective solutions are the ones where everyone gains something.  When I negotiate something in business, the best strategy, and the one that wins the most agreements, is to make sure my partners in the negotiations benefit as well.  If they aren’t benefitting, why should they agree to what I’m asking for?  Mutual Benefit And Welfare.  Make sure everyone benefits from what you are doing.  Don’t just divide the pie.  See what you can do to make pie bigger, so everyone gets more, regardless of the percentage.

Competitive sports though, are zero sum games, and this drives what I find to be a selfish and thoughtless attitude as the level of competition climbs.  I’ve witnessed too much bad behavior at the highest levels of judo competition, behavior that runs completely counter to the principle of Mutual Benefit And Welfare. I see people who will use questionable techniques that can endanger themselves and their opponents, people who cheer their victory when an opponent loses on a technicality, people who by their behavior show that they have no respect for the human being they are facing and see them as only something to be broken if it gets in their way.  This not to say that I don’t also see good sportsmanship in competitive judo, because I do see it. Good sportsmanship though is a faint shadow of the values I expect from someone who calls himself a judoka.

In Judo there principles and techniques.  The techniques are just expressions of those principles.  They are a means for elucidating high level ideas and making them concrete.  We are always trying to refine and improve our understanding and application of the principles.  The goal is for everyone to benefit and grow.  In budo, including Judo, there is no such thing as perfect. There is only progress.

Dr. DeMars though seems to think that continued progress is not really possible.  If the only measure used is that of competition, she may be right.  In the same blog she writes that “I think far too many people continue teaching judo for too long…..I'm not nearly as fast or strong as I was 30 years ago. What I can do and demonstrate is limited.”    Our bodies don’t perform as well as we age.  If the goal is continuous improvement of our understanding and application of the principles however, there is never a reason to stop.  We’re not trying to win anything.  We’re trying to progress as judoka.  We want to continue learning to be more efficient, more effective, and more beneficial for our partners to work with.  Really, if a technique or application works well for someone who is 50, 60 or 70, than it ought to be amazing when a  20 year old learns to apply it in the same way.  As we age, we have motivation to refine and explore techniques and ideas that we would never bother with when we are young and hale.

Dr. DeMars completely neglects Judo’s ability to empower its students.  I often hear the word “empower” tossed around, but Judo, like all budo, really does give students power.  It gives them the power of conflict and violence.  It’s a power I dearly hope they will never need, but it is a power that means they no longer have to be intimidated by anyone physically.  I have seen how it changes peoples’ relationship with the world, especially women.  They get ownership of the power of violence, and they no longer stand as potential victims of it, but they stand as owners of that power.

Everything I’ve talked about gets lost if Judo is reduced to a mere sport for meeting people from different walks of life, seeing the country, getting exercise, and testing your skills, one where the rules are constantly tweaked to make it more interesting for spectators or to be more photogenic for television.  I’m saddened and furious to see what a small, relatively worthless and easily replaced thing someone like Dr. DeMars views her judo as.  I understand that competition is fun, but just doing competition seems to be to be like eating nothing but fries and ice cream.  There’s not much nutrition for the mind and spirit there, and it can be awful for the body.

I’ve started teaching judo again, but I can’t honestly recommend that my students go anywhere near any place that focuses on competitive judo.