Showing posts with label renshu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label renshu. Show all posts

Monday, January 9, 2017

Practice In Japan


Yoshunkan Dojo. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2016

 Practice in Japan has a different feel from training in the U.S.. In Japan, everyone is quietly intent on the training. There is no chatter, and not even much in the way of questions to Sensei about how things should be done. Keiko proceed with a smooth regularity. Everyone except the newest students knows how practice in their dojo operates, and they all work to make sure everything goes smoothly. This is not to say that everyone is already perfect - far from it. Everyone in the dojo is there to learn and train hard. Training time lacks the social element that is often present in dojo outside Japan. There is no extraneous conversation while training is going on. Before and after practice? Of course. During breaks? Sure. While actual practice is going on? Not at all.

It’s not that anyone is yelling or enforcing silence. Everyone is there for a reason and a purpose, and during practice they focus on it. No one has to tell them to focus. It’s not like the pseudo-military atmosphere I’ve seen in some dojo outside Japan, with the instructor acting as a drill sergeant, yelling at anyone who isn’t exactly in line. In most Japanese dojo, the discipline comes from within the students themselves, not from the teachers. I would be mortified if I were to be so out of line that anyone, fellow student or the teacher, felt a need to say something to me about my behavior.

Everyone who comes into the dojo has to learn the dojo routine, but no one is harassed while they are learning. New students are as quiet as senior students, maybe quieter, since they don’t want to risk offending anyone. Beginners are busy trying to learn the dojo routines and etiquette, so they don’t have much time to say anything.  Senior students are comfortable and at home in the dojo, so they they don’t need to say much.

Practice moves along at a rapid clip. Dojo in America often have a lot of chatting and talking among students, or at the other end, a rigidly enforced atmosphere of silence. Traditional dojo in Japan are quiet and focused, but lack the authoritarian feel of many large, modern dojo. You don’t see a lot of external discipline. Students are expected to know how to behave politely while they figure out the dojo customs. Teachers expect to be able to be heard and lead class without yelling.

For example, Iseki Sensei leads the jodo class, and everyone takes turn in the counting of technique repetitions while we’re working through the kihon (fundamentals) at the beginning of class. Sensei speaks loudly enough to be heard by everyone in the dojo, and no louder.

Kazuo Iseki Sensei. Photo Copyright Peter Boylan 2016

Once we finish with the kihon, Sensei splits us into senior and junior members so the seniors can act as partners for the junior students. This is something I don’t see enough of in modern dojo. The seniors use their understanding of timing, spacing and control to help the juniors get the most out of their technique and kata practice. The senior adjusts her speed and intensity to a level where the junior can practice and learn. The senior doesn’t spend much time talking to the junior; they are both focused on the training. If significant corrections need to be made the senior will make a brief comment, but that’s all that’s needed.

The teacher lets the students practice without a lot of interruption. Rarely will the whole class be stopped to make a point. The teacher will correct individual issues individually, and the rest of the class will wait for the pair being corrected to get back on track, or continue working on kata if the correction is taking more time than usual. Working with the juniors is not a sacrifice for the senior students. They are also working on the spacing, timing, and control for the tachi side.

Practice gets more interesting when Sensei has the junior members of the dojo sit down to watch while the seniors work together. This practice is intense, with the seniors working at the edge of their skill. The juniors don’t chatter while watching. They’ve learned well how to quietly observe somewhere else. They don’t have to learn that here. The seniors will all be working on different parts of the curriculum, as directed by Sensei. Sometimes Sensei will step in and act as the partner so the student can focus her  practice on a particular point. 

Traditional Japanese Swordsmanship


Through all of this the only time Sensei will yell is when he calls for a break. Most corrections are made at a conversational tone by Sensei. If one senior is helping another, the corrections are usually made at a whisper so as to not disturb anyone else’s training. The whole atmosphere is one of intensity and focus on learning. Even the juniors sitting at the side are quiet and focused on picking up as much as they can from watching the seniors practice. There is plenty to learn that way about footwork, timing, rhythm, and all the other details of the art. There is room for smiles and quiet laughter at mistakes and accidents.  Then it’s back to practice.

Talking would disturb everyone else in the dojo, and the last thing anyone in Japan wants to do is bother someone else. This doesn’t mean the dojo isn’t friendly and social, because all of the traditional dojo I’ve been in have been friendly and social. The students just recognize clear distinctions between training time and social time. The “friendly” is always there. People are genuinely concerned about their partners’ well-being. When training is over, people are very social. There are questions about how people are doing, jokes and laughter.  Often there is time for a drink together after training.

That’s after training. During training everyone trains. No one chatters or talks other than necessary. They just train. The focus is quite different from dojo I’ve been to elsewhere. Everyone shares the focus.  This is something I need to bring to the dojo where I train outside Japan.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Train Every Day, or Everyday Training?

Leading up to the New Year, I ran across a number of proposals for people to make a special effort and do some sort of training every day.  I was a little surprised, because I thought, perhaps naively, that most people do train every day.  Training feels good.  That’s one of the big reasons I’m still studying and practicing and training after all these years.  I really enjoy getting into the dojo and training as often as I can. That’s what most people seem to think of when you talk about training every day.  Everyday training though is what you do all that other time when you’re not in the dojo.  Our training shouldn’t be what we do in the dojo.  That’s where we learn what we have to work on.  The real training is what we do in our everyday life.  


We go into the dojo and we learn and we practice and we refine.  What are we learning and practicing and refining?  If we’re doing karate, we’re learning stances and movements, and how to strike, block and kick from those stances and movements.  In judo we learn to move with good posture so we can throw without being thrown.  In weapons arts, we learn to to handle a sword, staff or other weapon while moving so we are strong and stable and not leaving openings where we can be attacked.  Is there anything common about all of these descriptions?


I’ve said before that the only things I really teach are how to walk and how to breathe.  Once we start learning these fundamentals, there is no reason not to practice them all the time.  How good our budo is depends on how well we master the fundamentals of moving and breathing, so we should be practicing these things every chance we have.   We spend a lot of time in the dojo getting our posture corrected, being told what we are doing wrong with our legs and body.  These corrections aren’t just for the dojo.  Budo practice doesn’t stop when we bow to our teacher, say “Thank you” and leave.  That’s when it begins.


When we walk out the dojo door, we’re walking and breathing.  We are moving.  We should also be practicing applying the lessons about how to stand and walk and breath.  Way back when I started judo in the dark ages, the US Judo Association test requirements included, from the first test, a demonstration of shizen hontai, or natural body posture.  Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?  We had to demonstrate natural body posture.  If it’s natural, why check for it? It turns out that good body posture isn’t really natural. Our natural postures are loaded with problems.  We slouch.  We push our heads out in front of our bodies.  We look at the floor.  We’re stiff.  We don’t balance well, and have all sorts of other problems.


Good shizen hontai really isn’t natural. It’s optimal.  It’s about standing in an optimal manner that is ready without being stiff, relaxed without collapsing, and capable of moving in accord with whatever happens.  There’s nothing natural about this.  Shizen hontai, it turns out, is tough to do right.  Even after a couple of decades of practice, I’m still working on it.  Standing around is one of those everyday things that I do that is practice every time I do it.  It’s just an everyday thing that is part of my everyday practice.  When I’m standing still, I check how I’m holding my head, and make sure it’s floating properly.  I feel how my legs connect to my pelvis and make sure the weight and stress is equal.  I make sure my butt isn’t sticking out in back, that my hips are under my shoulders and above my ankles.  There are always little things to correct.  I won’t even talk about all the things I’m trying to fix in my sitting posture.


Walking is really tough.  I have to pay attention to where I’m going while I try to correct various problems.  When I get too involved with fixing my movement, I’ve been known to walk into doors and walls.  So in addition to making sure I’m moving smoothly, maintaining good balance and posture, keeping my whole body working as a coordinated whole and breathing properly from my diaphragm, I have to pay attention to where I’m going.  I’m nowhere near good enough to try that walking and chewing gum simultaneously thing.  That would be a disaster.   


Standing and walking are everyday activities.  These are activities I do every day.  The are also integral parts of my training.  The more I integrate proper stance and movement into my everyday activities, the less I have to focus on them when I’m in the dojo training.  I practice the fundamentals all the time, because they are fundamental.  In judo and jodo and iaido, good fundamental movement and posture is more powerful than anything else I can do.  


Good movement and posture isn’t just for the moments of the kata, or the 3 minutes between “Hajime!” and “Yame!”  Good posture and movement is for every moment of every day.  It’s great practice for what we do in the dojo.  It makes the practice in the dojo more relaxed, more a part of me and less something that is being imposed upon my body by my mind.  Body and mind are working together.  Even more though, this is the everyday application of what I’m learning in the dojo.  I’m walking casually with good balance, proper, relaxed breaths, and solid, stable movement.  


When I’m under fire in a meeting or a discussion or dealing with one of the many complete jerks the universe seems to have such an abundance of, I’m standing casually with proper balance, relaxed and breathing deeply, with relaxed shoulders and back, nothing showing that the verbal attacks could be upsetting me, relaxed even though the jerk is trying to intimidate me by getting right in my face and trying to steal my personal space.  It’s amazing how powerful a practical application of budo this is.  No matter how intense the attacks and the attempts at intimidation, it’s surprising how quickly they wilt and melt away when they don’t have any visible effect. I’ll admit, it can be almost as stressful as when my teacher decides it’s time for my training to be ramped up to the next level of intensity, but that’s part of the training and the application.  The more I make these fundamental parts of budo fundamental parts of my everyday training, the less effort it takes to stay relaxed and stable and calm regardless of what’s coming at me.


This is budo after all.  Budo is a path that leads through all parts of life, not a single place set apart from everything else and hidden from the rest of life.  It’s supposed to seep out of the kata and dojo and permeate our whole lives, our whole selves.  The first, and perhaps most important part of us that budo should color is how we move and carry ourselves.  This should be something that gets worked on and polished all the time.


Training isn’t something we do every day. There shouldn’t be anything special about training. Just like taking a shower, getting dressed and eating breakfast, training is an everyday activity.  Don’t train every day.  Make the everyday your training.