Thursday, August 26, 2010

Techniques and Arts

At practice last night, while we were doing iaido, there were some no-gi grappling guys using another piece of the dojo for their practice. Being a judoka, I’ve rolled around with them a little bit, and they are good at what they do. They study individual techniques for take-downs and submissions, and they can apply them in sparring quite well.

They are always talking about which techniques are the hottest, and trying to find the ultimate killer technique. There doesn’t seem to be any discussion of ideas or principles that might bind together groups of techniques, or whole strategies of movement. Watching their training, I’m always looking for the threads that tie their techniques together. Most often, I don’t see any effort to connect the various threads of their training into a few fundamental principles.

This is one of the basic things that differentiate an art form, a way, from a collection of skills. Someone can be a great technician without understanding the principles from which the individual techniques are derived, but without a grasp of the foundations on which the techniques are built, you can never go beyond the level of a technician. You are stuck with collecting techniques. A lot of what I see in the MMA and no-gi grappling fighters are technique collectors, without anything more going on.

An art, a way, has to be something more than a collection of techniques. It has to have some fundamental principles that are expressed through the techniques, but not limited to the techniques. An art, a way, must be more than just a collection of techniques, no matter how cool or effective they are individually. Judo is the easiest example of an art because its fundamental principles were so clearly stated by the founder, Jigoro Kano. The two principles are “Jita Kyoei” (Mutual benefit and welfare) and “Seiryoku Zenyo” (Maximum efficiency, minimum effort). Those are very clear. They are not simple, nor are they easy, but all the techniques of Judo point towards them and practicing the techniques can lead you to an understanding of the principles.

I say “can” because not everyone who practices an art, even for a lifetime, will understand the principles. To reach the level of principles requires a lot of work on them beyond just mastering the techniques of the art. The techniques are just techniques. They are a means to learning the principles, but they aren’t the principles. It’s very easy to get caught up with the beauty and power of the techniques and never go any further in the learning. Studying the techniques of an art does not grant automatic understanding of the principles. Even mastering the techniques of an art does not guarantee that someone will master the principles.

I’ve known very powerful judoka who had no interest in Judo beyond what takes place on the mat. They have studied the techniques of Judo for years, decades, without ever developing the least interest in how the principles of Judo might be applied to something other than competition. To me, they have missed the real beauty of the art, but they are quite satisfied with being technicians. On the other hand, I have met people who diligently practiced the techniques without ever achieving a high level of technical skill, but who were able to grasp the principles of the art and apply them expertly in whatever they were doing.

In order to make something an art, a way, we have to practice it with the idea that there is more to it than just a collection of techniques. We have to pursue the underlying principles and how we might apply them in ways beyond the techniques. This is true no matter what art we are practicing, whether it is Judo or Tea Ceremony or Flower Arranging or any of the dozens of other arts out there. Without conscious search for the principles and a will to apply them to the world, all we have are collections of techniques.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I fear I'm getting old. I went to judo last night, and was disappointed that all we did were techniques and randori, but no kata practice. Lately I find kata practice more interesting even than randori. Randori is still fun, but I'm getting a lot more out of the careful exploration of attack and counter-attack, spacing and defense that make up the kata in Kodokan Judo. It may just be me, but I find that when I do a lot of randori, I have fun, but I don't progress. When I do kata, whether they are the official kata of Kodokan Judo, or unofficial kata presented as training exercises, I learn something and my judo grows.

Lately I've been working on Nage No Kata and the Kodokan Goshinjutsu. Both are fun, and both teach me something about working at various distances that I can't get from randori. It's especially good when my partner progresses to the level of being able to really attack. Then I have to stretch my skills to keep up with the strength and speed that he can put into the kata.

It's in the kata that I can see and really feel the sense of yawara and the seiryoku zenyo. Too often in randori I find myself substituting muscle for technique. In the kata I feel more like I am focused on the essence of Judo.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

jutsu vs. do?

I see a lot of writing that suggests that arts whose names end in "jutsu" are in some fundamental way different from arts whose names end in "do." I have a hard time finding this significant difference. I want to look at the whole concept of "michi" (do) or "way" in English, and see if there really is a fundamental difference between jutsu and do, or if that is a false dichotomy.