Friday, February 19, 2016
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
We go to the dojo regularly. We practice hard. We listen and try to follow sensei’s direction when she says “Cut with your hips” or “More extension” or the all-purpose direction “Relax.” We do these things. We learn to do o soto gari or nikyo or kiri oroshi or whatever the technique is. Are we really practicing budo though? Is budo what the samurai did in Japan? If that’s the core of what budo is, how is it possible for us to do budo now, in the 21st century?
Of course, if budo is what the samurai did in ancient Japan, then the next question is, which samurai in which period of Japanese history? The samurai of the 14th century were quite different from those of the late 16th century, who differed tremendously from those of the 17th century, and who might not have recognized all of the attitudes and behaviors of the samurai in the 19th century.
In the 14th century, samurai armies were often paid in loot. As for budo, the first of the ways, cha no yu or sado (tea ceremony, the way of tea) was just beginning to form. Such a thing as “budo” wouldn’t be envisioned for several hundred years. The idea of forming bugei ryuha wouldn’t become common for another 200 years.
Katori Shinto Ryu only stakes its founding in the 15th century, while Kashima Shinryu and Kashima Shinto Ryu both date to the 16th century, as does Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. In that era the term “budo” hadn’t been coined yet, in part because the idea of discrete Ways, michi, 道 was still being formed in the teaching and practice of tea ceremony. What people did when training in these early ryuha was bugei 武芸. That second character is the same as in geisha 芸者 and means an artistic skill, technique, or performance.
It’s only in the 17th century, with the establishment of peace throughout the Japanese islands by the Tokugawa shogunate, that we begin to see a flourishing of discrete bugei ryuha. Prior to this soldiers would be training together in armies moving and fighting all across the country. Skills were constantly practiced, applied and evaluated in battle. After the the Pax Tokugawa was established in 1604, the armies were disbanded and skills were no longer used and tested.
With peace, there came time to codify and systematize teachings. People saw a genuine need for bugei schools where samurai could train in skills that were no longer applied on a regular basis. Over time, being able to show certification of training became important for samurai to earn promotions and to gain increases in their stipend.
|Iaido schools flourished in the peaceful world of Tokugawa Japan|
As the Tokugawa peace continued, townspeople who couldn’t wear the two swords of the samurai began to train in various bugei, and jujutsu systems flourished. With an emphasis on unarmed techniques and a variety of weapons besides the sword, these styles were well suited to the interests and legal limitations of merchants, craftspeople and wealthy farmers as well as samurai.
Over centuries the weapons changed as well. The famous samurai sword was originally little more than a backup sidearm for when the mounted archer ran out of arrows. The skills a samurai practiced were known as kyubajutu 弓馬術, “bow horse skills” since the primary role of the samurai was as a mounted archer. The sword might only be drawn when the battle was finished to collect the heads of defeated opponents for presentation to the winning lord so the samurai could get his reward.
Over time, pikemen armed with yari grew in importance on the battlefield and tactics for countering the speed and power of the mounted archers developed. Then in 1543 Portuguese merchants sold matchlock rifles to a Japanese lord and within 20 years these weapons that could be used by anyone with minimal training had transformed the battlefield. 65 years after they entered Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu used firearms to decisively take control of the country and bring the age of warfare to an end in Japan.
Under the reign of the Tokugawas, firearms were secured for the sole use of the Tokugawa and regional daimyo forces. Following in the path of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, only members of the samurai class could carry swords. The samurai for the most part ceased to be soldiers and warriors as they transformed into the bureaucratic class responsible for running the country.
As government officials in a peaceful nation, members of the samurai class practiced swordsmanship. Without battles to test themselves in, challenge matches with bamboo weapons proliferated and styles such as Itto Ryu, whose tactics and techniques were well suited to this sort of dueling, grew in popularity along with the matches. Non-samurai also began studying and styles emphasizing unarmed skills such as Tenjin Shinyo Ryu flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Following the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868, the reopening of Japan to the world and the abolishment of the samurai class, the martial practices changed along with the world. Competitive displays flourished as the old martial skills lost their role in society. These competitive displays mixed with new ideas about sports from western culture and the modern arts of judo and kendo emerged. Instead of being used in battle, or being a part of a class and role expectation, the arts became educational and recreational activities.
|Kano Jigoro 1860 - 1938|
Kano Jigoro lead the way by molding his Kodokan Judo into a system that could be incorporated into the physical education curriculum of the new government’s national education system in Japan and by instituting a clear tournament system. Leading swordsmen in Japan soon followed Kano’s example and did the same, taking elements from numerous forms of kenjutsu and creating a standardized system for national use that was incorporated into the public education system in Japan.
In the 21st century, all of these are called budo. Are they all budo though? Is the modern study of judo and kendo the same budo, the same spirit, that the samurai in the 15th and 16th centuries learned in Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shinryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu? Of all the experiences of budo through the centuries, which one is the true budo? The guys who fought for loot and collected heads for reward? Perhaps the true budo was practiced by the samurai of the Tokugawa era, who might go their whole life without needing to use their martial skills. Or is it only the modern budo, with the influence of Kano Jigoro in judo and the great kendo teachers like Nakayama Hakudo in the 20th century that is true budo? Is it only budo if you’re using it professionally as the samurai did? Do you have to be a soldier, guard, or law enforcement officer to truly do budo?
|Nakayama Hakudo 1873-1958|
A mistake we often make when encountering something from a different culture is to force it into a pre-existing category from our own culture. We try to draw the same lines between things that we are used to. There are many people who maintain that any art or way that seeks to promote individual development cannot be a true martial art. I’ve also encountered people who maintain what they do is superior because exponents explicitly talk about peace and harmony while bending joints and tossing people around the room.
One of the most difficult things to wrap my head around when I first moved to Japan was that things do not have to be clearly differentiated black or white. People there are generally not Buddhist or Shinto. They are Buddhist and Shinto who might well get married in a Christian ceremony, exchange chocolate on Valentine’s Day and check the calendar for auspicious and unlucky days from Taoism.
It is not Japanese culture that draws sharp lines between things. There is no need to call one the budo of one era “the true budo” (though you do run into people in Japan who claim that things in modern Japan have deteriorated and degenerated badly and need to be infused with the spirit of some previous age. Mishima committed suicide while making just that claim). Ways are paths, roads, and roads can go long distances through wildly different terrain, all while changing from concrete to asphalt to gravel to dirt and back again. It’s all still the same road.
If we stop trying to fit things into the discrete categories that our culture tries to fit everything into, and adopt a lesson from the home culture of budo, it might be easier to see that we are all on the same road. It’s a lesson that never tires of slapping me in the face from different angles. The beginner who just walked in the door is on the same road as the 90 year old master who’s been training for 80 years. They are on very different stretches of road, but it’s the same road none the less.
The same idea applies to the people who have practiced budo in all those different eras. They were on the path, practicing the Way. They weren’t where we are. They were on other sections of that road. The bits that are “relevant” keep changing. Armored warfare with bows, arrows, spears and swords dominated the fight for centuries. Firearms transformed things and made armor obsolete. Technology moved forward and somehow armor is back.
The immediately applicable bits and the historical scenery change, but the fundamental lessons that form the foundation of the budo Way never seem to. I’ve written about what I consider fundamental to budo. Whatever else it does, budo has to teach how to move with good structure, an understanding of the effective ranges of movement, how to use time, and it has to be concerned with making practitioners not just better fighters, but better people. If it’s doing those 4 things, it’s probably budo.
Those 4 essentials haven’t changed since some samurai in ancient Japan first started putting together a budo curriculum. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, those essentials have to be there. Whether it is unarmed jujutsu, kenjutsu, kyudo or modern firearms, you have to understand structure, spacing and timing to be effective, and those ancient samurai teachers recognized that bullies and jerks need to be grown into decent human beings if they are also going to be entrusted with martial skills. If those items are the basis of everything else going on in your training, then what you’re doing will still be budo, whichever century you’re in.
Monday, February 8, 2016
In my last post I wrote about ukemi 受身, or receiving techniques. Proficiency in ukemi is important in arts like judo and aikido where practitioners are thrown around the room and have to be able to land safely. How you receive attacks is critical in arts like karate and kenjutsu as well.
How you receive techniques is fundamental. When we start we are all a least a little stiff and scared. Whether it’s fear of falling and hurting ourselves, or the fear of getting hit with a stick or a fist, we react by tensing up. Relaxing when you know someone is going to pick you up over their head and throw you at the floor is tough.
The mental states of mushin and fudoshin are essential for doing good budo. I’ve written about the mental states, but these are reflected in the body and impact how we deal with attacks. If you’re afraid of getting hurt, if your mind is stuck on the possibility of pain, you’re not going to be able to respond properly. You’re going to be stiff and worried. Your state of mind translates very directly to your body.
Basic ukemi, whether they be breakfalls, blocks, or other methods of receiving attacks, have to be practiced until they are smooth and until we are so sure of them that we can relax when our training partner attacks and just focus on our partner. Our bodies have to have to be emptied of anticipation in the same way our minds are in mushin. Only then can we really relax into whatever needs to happen to receive a throw or other attack.
If you wonder about the use of the word “relax” in the last sentence, I use it because you can’t stiffen up for an attack. The Tao Te Ching nailed this one more than 2,500 years ago:
The living are soft and yielding;
the dead are rigid and stiff.
Living plants are flexible and tender;
the dead are brittle and dry.
Those who are stiff and rigid
are the disciple of death.
Those who are soft and yielding
are the disciples of life.
The rigid and stiff will be broken.
The soft and yielding will overcome.
Tao Te Ching Chapter 76
If you have any doubts, just try taking breakfall ukemi when you are tense and stiff. It hurts, and you’re quite likely to break something. Relax and be soft, yield to the energy instead of trying to resist it. I’ve seen people in their 70s and 80s safely take big falls in judo and aikido because they know how to be soft and pliable instead of stiff and brittle.
Once you get comfortable with the fundamentals of receiving attacks, and learn to relax into them, you’re ready to begin working on the fun stuff. When you can take falls casually, easily and without thinking about them, then you can start working on interacting with the attackers energy.
In aikido, uke (the person receiving the technique) and tori (the person doing the technique) are always clearly defined. In judo randori on the other hand, one of the things determined through the randori is who is uke and who is tori. Both people are working to destabilize and throw their partner. This is when the fun begins. There is nothing that states that because someone begins to throw you that you have to simply accept being thrown. I’m rather fond of kaeshiwaza, or counters.
The current rule in competitive judo is that for a counterattack to score a point, the initial attack must be clearly stopped before the counterattack occurs. Frankly, this is lousy judo. I cannot imagine a good reason why anyone would want to stop all that lovely attacking energy and then start from scratch. To me, the best counters flow seamlessly from the attack to the counter.
Nice kata of counters. Shows the attack, then the counter slowly, then at speed.
Take the energy that is attacking you and flow with it. When you are confident you can handle fully receiving the attack, then you can start playing with it. Every attack has a counter. Some have several. I’m fond of a version of tani otoshi against big hip throws and yoko guruma is often available when receiving kote gaeshi and other popular aikido techniques. The key is flowing with the attack and transforming tori into uke during their attack.
Tani otoshi is beautiful in its simplicity. It’s little more than applied sitting down yet is wonderfully effective against big hip throws. As tori attacks you drop your hips under their attack off-balancing them to the rear. At that moment, they cease to be tori and become uke. As you continue dropping your weight until you are on the floor you hold uke to you and turn a bit to make sure they land on the floor and not on you (OK, there might be more to it, but that’s what a good one looks like).
Not very fluid, but you get the idea.
Counters, kaeshiwaza, are advanced ukemi skills. Being able to do counters is a critical skill for anyone teaching budo. Students are stubborn. They will keep doing things wrong, giving away their balance and energy while attacking, unless there are consequences for doing so. Counters are the consequence. If tori sets up the technique properly then it’s not possible for me to counterattack. If tori leaves any sort of opening though, I’ll take it.
When a student gets to a level where their ukemi can handle an unexpected throw, they should start getting countered occasionally when they leave an opening. This avoids all arguments about whether or not an opening was real. If I attack, and I end up on my back, I know I left a juicy opening for someone. There’s no need to counter every time someone makes a mistake during practice. Just the knowledge that counters can happen tends to make people stand a little better and pay attention to not bending over at the end of a technique.
Counters are also fun on the folks who like to replace good kuzushi and technique with raw strength. It’s a concrete way to demonstrate the weaknesses of raw strength. Take all that raw strength that’s making you twist or bend and go with it. If someone is pushing or pulling that much, a counter of some sort will be available.
Yoko wakare is a lovely, flowing counter.
Attacks have weaknesses. If those are never demonstrated students won’t know where they are. Teaching people counters and how to find them does something else. It teaches them to see the openings in their own techniques, which is the first step in closing them.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Not the throws. Watch the ukemi!
I step wrong and my partner takes advantage, tips me slightly, steps across in front of me, dropping as she goes, finishes the pivot and draws me further forward, further off balance, and onto her hip, continues turning drawing me further off balance onto her hip, rising turning and I’m airborne, flying past her shoulder. Looking down I see the ceiling framed between my feet the instant before my back slams into the mat and I slap with my hand.
That’s a textbook ukemi. It’s what we think of when we talk about ukemi. There’s a world more to ukemi, receiving techniques, beyond taking safely taking spectacular falls from powerful fall. Big falls are the most visible and obvious form of ukemi, but they aren’t the only ukemi skills to found in budo practice.
In judo and aikido we tend to focus on the big falling techniques as ukemi, but anything where you are receiving an attack is a form of ukemi. “Ukemi” is 受身 which is literally “receiving body.” When we approach ukemi as how we receive whatever happens, there are a lot more skills that are clearly ukemi.
In budo, the obvious thought for ukemi is how to receive attacks. For judoka like me, one of those is how to receive being strangled. I happen to like attacking shime waza (chokes and strangles) in newaza, so often I find myself teaching people how to handle, how to receive these attacks. The ukemi for shime waza starts with dropping your chin to try and get it in the way of the attack. After that there are tricks for dealing with particular types of attacks that can allow you receive the attack and neutralize it. These are all forms of ukemi.
The obvious form of ukemi are the blocks that karateka learn for receiving attacks, punches and kicks. Blocks are the most basic way of receiving a strike, but everything that has strikes and thrusts has ways of dealing with them. Think about how your art deals with striking attacks. Those techniques are ukemi. In the Nage No Kata of judo the first response to an overhand strike is to blend and throw the attacker with seoi nage. Karateka learn sophisticated blends and redirections. With swords there are kiri otoshi and suriage techniques.
In Shinto Muso Ryu there are many techniques for receiving sword attacks by the jo side. There is also the skill of receiving jo thrusts when you are on the tachi side of training. There numerous places in the kata where tachi has to receive a thrust. Taking a stick to the solar plexus is hardly what I would call the highlight of training, but learning to receive these shots properly is important. That’s ukemi.
The ukemi that may be the most interesting is the ukemi for dealing with joint locks. Raw muscular resistance is not recommended. Oddly enough, the trick is to relax into the attack. The joint can move and stretch better if you’re relaxed. The muscles that can provide physical resistance to the attack work better from a relaxed base, and are stronger when their opposites aren’t firing as well. This ukemi may be harder to learn than the classic breakfall ukemi. Like breakfall ukemi you have to learn to stay relaxed when things go wrong and something is happening that would normally be unpleasant. With breakfall ukemi the unpleasantness lasts a moment. Joint lock ukemi doesn’t end quickly. In judo randori, people hate to surrender too easily, so they will resist as long as they safely can (and some stubborn fools resist longer than that). It takes patience and real effort to learn good ukemi for joint locks.
There is a lot to be learned under the heading of ukemi. You have to learn discretion about what can be successfully resisted, and what should be accepted and submitted to before you get hurt. That discretion is a big thing. I tell students that unless they are going for an Olympic medal, resisting an armbar probably isn’t worth the health of their elbow. That goes for other techniques as well. The safest course is almost always to go with a technique and take a fall rather than resisting. It takes a lot of practice, and more than few bumps, bangs and bruises to learn to discern when a technique can be resisted and when it shouldn’t be.
In any art, but particularly in judo, our ego will tell us that our partner shouldn’t be able to throw us. She’s too small. He’s not good enough. She’s not fast enough. He’s not strong enough. My ego can come up with a million reasons why I shouldn’t accept the technique and take the fall, reasons why I should use what I know about receiving the technique to jam it and block it. Learning to ignore our ego is another part ukemi. Learn to do what is healthy and good, rather than what makes our ego feel good and getting injured because of it.
Over my years of practice, I’ve found good ukemi skills to be the most useful things I’ve learned in the dojo. Tripping, falling off my bike, slipping on the ice, these are all places that use the big ukemi skills.
As your ukemi skills increase, so do your range of options. Judoka are notorious for reversing attacks. Until your skill at just accepting the attack and absorbing the energy becomes fairly sophisticated reversals are difficult. As you develop and feel for more and more subtle movement and the direction of the energy coming at you, it becomes easier and easier to take an attack, flow around the energy and turn it into a counter. Yoko guruma is wonderful for this. Flow around your attackers energy and the thrower becomes the thrown.
If you resist so hard that your opponent can’t even begin an attack, you’ll never get the counter. Or worse, your partner will find a way around your strength and throw you anyway. Ukemi is one of the best ways of learning to do that most common of all martial arts corrections, relax.
Ukemi skills don’t work when you’re stiff. Taking a fall when you are scared and tense hurts. We all do it as beginners, and I remember that discomfort. Learning to breath and relax whatever happens takes time and experience. It’s as useful a lesson outside the dojo as it is on the mat. Life is full of surprises, pleasant and otherwise, but breathing and relaxing will get you through most of them pretty well. Not just slipping on the ice, but slipping verbally, or dealing with that rude, pushy guy in the office. Just breathing and relaxing, instead of tensing up and diving straight into the oncoming energy, often will let you take control of a difficult situation and turn it around.
That’s a fundamental aspect of ukemi, of the skill of receiving any attack. Don’t tense up. Stay relaxed. Things hurt more when you’re tense. You just can’t move or think as well when you’re tensed up. Learning to relax and flow with the energy coming at you can make all the difference, on the mat or off. We tend to get tense and stiff when we’re feeling defensive, and that drives an entire set of reactions that an opponent can manipulate. In randori, if you’re defensive you become overcommitted in certain directions and you can’t respond well to attacks that don’t come from the direction you’re committed to.
Relax, and you become more stable and more flexible. You can relax and absorb the attacks from the side as well as the one barrelling in from head on. If you’re all stiff, you can only resist in one direction. Just because you are all set to resist in one direct does not put your opponent under any obligation to attack from that direction. Relax so you can flow with whatever comes your way. If you need to negate that attack, you can do that better when you’re relaxed. If you need to counter, you’d better be relaxed for that too. And if the best thing is to accept the attack, go with it, take the big ukemi and protect yourself that way, you want to be relaxed for that too.
Notice I didn’t say what kind of attack. It’s doesn’t matter if the attack is physical or verbal. If all your energy is focused in one direction, you’re going to get taken down by anything coming from another direction. Learning to receive is a critical skill.
As a massage therapist once told my friend Wendy "You can recognize martial artists the moment you lay your hands on them. They always relax to pain."
Relax. Do your ukemi.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Google “martial arts advertising” and you’ll find a limitless supply of advertisements proclaiming that martial arts practice teaches these. They are good things. I certainly won’t dispute that developing good self defense skills, self discipline, self confidence, and self respect is good for anyone.
Yes, self defense skills are wonderful. No one is going to argue that self discipline isn’t important. Self confidence and self respect are both awesome. All of these traits are drilled and reinforced by martial arts practice. My concern is that I’ve encountered too many martial artists who haven’t developed these things in a healthy, balanced manner. What happens when things get out of balance?
Learning self defense by training in martial arts seems redundant, but it has to be addressed. Everyone who trains for a while will run into people who have learned this lesson badly. These are the guys who develop some skill but never quite learn when and where to apply the skills. They have self defense skills, and perhaps self respect, but they haven’t learned to respect others, and it shows in how they use their skills. They can be seen subtly, and not so subtly, bullying the people they train with, making strikes and throws harder and more brutal than necessary. They use the implied threat of their skills to intimidate their training partners and the people they deal with in and out of the dojo. Hardly the ideal of what self defense training should develop into.
Self confidence is often what gives us the courage to attempt something new or to go into something that isn’t a sure bet. Having it means not hesitating to do little things. Being self-confident means being willing to take risks, even if the main risk is to our ego. It’s amazing how often the biggest thing being risked is our ego or a little personal embarrassment, and that risk is too great. Healthy self-confidence includes being able to take those risks and be ok with the results whether you succeed or fail. Where self-confidence fails us is when we have too much of it. Think of all the arrogant jerks who really believe they can do no wrong in the dojo. Where do they get it? Where is this arrogance learned?
Self discipline is a wonderful trait, and I often wish I had more of it. I’ve seen what can happen when when you have a good stock of this. I’ve also seen people get too disciplined. That guy in the dojo who wants to make it into a lower weight division who diets to an unhealthy level while bragging about how his self-discipline helps him do it. Or the woman who trains day in and day out without taking a break, never giving her body time to rest and recover, even when she’s injured. There’s self-discipline, but it isn’t leavened by any wisdom.
Self-respect is wonderful. It’s the healthy recognition of our own value as human beings. That knowledge gives us the mental strength to not be destroyed by every bit of criticism. Even more, it braces us against the pressure that comes from all sides of society to change or do things just so other people will like us. Without self-respect, we can be talked into all sorts of things because those around us want us to do something. Peers can push us to dress in a certain way, behave badly, they can even convince us to be disrespectful to one person in order to impress another. Self-respect though has to be balanced with respect for those around us, or you’re just a jerk.
Most of the advertisements I run across seem to be aimed at parents, but there are plenty of adults who would like to have self-defense skills and improved self-confidence and self-respect. Martial arts training, without question, should make us better at some sort of combat, but the other stuff? How does learning to fight really improve general self-confidence, or self-respect, or self-discipline? Frankly, does the combat training really improve self-defense skills, or does it teach something else?
Martial arts are often taught in a style that I don’t think will do too much for developing any of the character traits advertised. How does standing in rows repeating techniques develop personality traits? Even practicing techniques and skills with partners won’t necessarily teach anything but the techniques. It’s even quite possible to learn bad lessons that develop poor character from working with partners.
Training with partners, you’re likely to learn what sort of character your partners have. Someone who has learned to boost his own self-confidence by abusing less skilled partners will abuse you. He’ll make the pin too hard or crank the joint lock a couple degrees further than is really necessary or throw you hard while doing nothing to take the sting out of the fall. This is certainly not the way to learn how to respect your partner, much less yourself.
If the teacher is arrogant and disrespectful of his students, then the students will learn to be arrogant and disrespectful to those around them. Even if the teacher is not arrogant or disrespectful, if he permits seniors to be arrogant and disrespectful towards more junior students, the students learn that arrogance and disrespect are acceptable.
In classes where students are not treated with respect by teachers, there is no reason to expect the students to learn self-confidence or respect. A self-confident teacher isn’t afraid to make a mistake or be wrong. That’s what her self-confidence is all about. A teacher who has confidence in herself, and respects herself, will give students individual respect and the room to develop self-confidence.
There are far too many ways a teacher can give students lessons in poor character, and sadly there are far too many people with less than wonderful character teaching martial arts. Martial arts practiced in such a way teach students the physical aspects of the art without learning anything about character or maturity. Teachers can be arrogant and teach that anyone who isn’t good enough should be ridiculed. Students who ask difficult questions can be treated with condescension. Everyone can be abused, and only those who suffer the abuse without complaint or cry can be called worthy. When I think about it, it’s as if there are more ways to teach martial arts badly than to do it well.
There is a delicate balance. How do we teach self-defense without teaching how to bully and abuse? How do we teach confidence without teaching arrogance? How do we teach students to value others while we are teaching them to value themselves? How do we teach confidence without shading over into cockiness?
Martial arts studios, dojo, and dojang, have to make time to emphasize something other than the raw violence of what we train. In the judo dojo that I love to be in, the reminders for safety and mutual concern and respect between partners are as frequent a part of the discourse as are the suggestions for improving throws and joint locks. No one is going to learn a lesson that isn’t being taught. If a martial arts school advertises that they teach self-defense, self-respect, self-confidence and self-discipline, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask “How do you teach that?”
Rory Miller and Marc MacYoung are always making the point that self-defense is a legal concept, and that if you don’t know what constitutes self-defense legally, you can put yourself in all kinds of trouble. If the school claims to teach self-defense, do they teach anything about appropriate response and the complexity of the situation, or do they default to cheap slogans like “better to be judged by twelve than carried by six”? Does the school spend time emphasizing how rare the use of force should be and what might appropriately call for it, or do they throw out techniques and let students figure it out for themselves?
When a school says it teaches self-discipline, do they teach self-discipline or just discipline? Self-discipline is about being able to focus and do something on your own. Does the school give students time to work on things on their own, or is every moment scheduled and directed and driven by a teacher? Unless students have time on their own, they’ll never learn how to direct and discipline themselves. No one can learn self-discipline while external discipline is locked down tight. Students need room to develop their internal self as well as the cool physical skills.
How does the school teach self-respect? Or more importantly to me, do they teach respect for self and others? Do the teachers and senior students model respect and treat everyone with respect? Or do they belittle and abuse anyone below them in the hierarchy? Are students treated with appropriate praise and legitimate criticism or are they yelled at and demeaned when they make a mistake?
Self-respect and self-confidence are closely aligned. Do students have the opportunity to work on goals without the constant pushing and driving of instructors and fellow students? Do students have the opportunity to fail? Real self-confidence comes from knowing you can do things yourself, not that you can be moved along a track with others as long as you pay the monthly dues and the test fee. It’s not until we’ve experienced some failure and kept on going that our self-confidence and self-respect become genuine and deep. If the bar is set so everyone always passes, or if students don’t have the chance to fail, they won’t develop genuine self-confidence or self-respect. At best they’ll have the illusion of it, which will be fine until something happens to put stress on that confidence and respect, and then it will shatter. Genuine self-confidence can handle the setbacks. Genuine self-respect won’t be damaged by what comes from outside because it has the depth to absorb the damage that life inflicts.
If the school isn’t actively working at teaching these lessons, it probably isn’t teaching them passively either. Despite the myths and legends, good character is not an automatic byproduct of martial arts training. Advertising is nice, but what do students really learn in martial arts class?
Friday, January 15, 2016
For anyone interested in the ideas and thinking that underpin the concepts of budo and other Ways, the Tao Te Ching is essential reading. There are numerous translations of this canonical text, each doing it’s best to bring understanding and thought to the translation. Fortunately, it’s not a long book. You can read it in about 30 minutes. It’s filled with meaning and ideas to explore.
Because of the difficulty of translating ancient Chinese into modern English, there can be wide differences between translations. The internet is an amazing thing. There is now a site where you can see translation of the Tao Te Ching, and explore the original Chinese character by character to improve your understanding and get a better feel for what the translators are trying to express. The site is at