Intensity in Technique
June 4, 2005 · 1:12am EST · Posted by A. Yamamoto
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389
It is necessary to begin this brief article, motivated by several letters we have received, by emphasizing one very important point: Budo training has nothing to do with physical abuse and from that premise all else will be much more easily understood.

The main theme of these letters is: How hard should a technique is performed from the point of view of learning it?

It is undeniable that some teachers of Ko-ryu Bujutsu used methods of instruction that, by today's standards, would be seen as harsh or even unnecessarily cruel. Most of the time (with some exceptions that I might refer to in future installments) these methods were appropriate to the times and the level of skill that these teachers wanted to develop in their students.

However, if I am to believe these letters, I cannot honestly justify the methods described in them by labeling them as "traditional".

There is a degree of danger in every technique we practice. There in an inherent margin of risk that cannot be avoided, and it is beneficial that we are aware of it. It is a healthy apprehension- or fear- that we must conquer, or get used to, or accept. Every word I could use would add a different dimension to the feeling, but semantics and/or rationalizations are not the answer. The forging of our character in full view of that risk is. And the process is very simple: just train.

In the training there is risk, there is effort, and there is sweat, and frustration, and pain... Even boredom! And all those things, and more, are part of it. They come at us with different degrees of intensity, and are no different from any other form of attack we might need to learn to face. In most cases they are our worst opponents! And they are there for us now, much in the same way that they were there for Iwanaga Gennojo Masamitsu of Shingetsu Muso Yanagi-ryu, for Iso Mataemon Ryuseki Saigenseisoku of Ryushin Kacchu ryu, and just as they are there for the twelve year old girl who faced a shomen uchi for the first time last Friday in the tiny, unknown dojo located three doors down from the old noodle shop.

But there is a difference between that, and abuse.

The rigors of training are physically and spiritually formative. They serve a purpose. But a teacher must be very careful not to overstep his or her own boundaries. The safety of the students is in his or her hands. There must be a deep trust between teacher and student, and this trust must not be betrayed.

Traditional methods of training should, and will involve extreme effort and discipline, but not the senseless humiliation of the student, much less physical abuse from the teacher to the student under the guise of "demonstrating technique".

What those letters described resembles an attitude problem with a teacher. There is a huge difference between the efforts of a Budo teacher in his role as trainer, educator and counselor, and the outbursts of anger of an individual who uses his position as a teacher to vent frustrations or resentments or the actions of an insecure and unscrupulous man trying to puff up his ego. We do not doubt that some teachers of old might have indulged in the same faults, but those are hardly the examples to follow.

We can compare such cases as those in which the teacher acts as keikogi clad cheer leader, bouncing with puerile enthusiasm, and yelling encouraging phrases, or making that ridiculous gesture of jerking in a closed fist while uttering what sounds like "Yezz!!!" when one of his students scores well in competition.

The danger of the similarities lies in the fact that both abusive attitudes and ego-puffing tendencies are highly contagious, and very easily passed on to the students (i.e. future instructors). Not a healthy possibility at all.

Techniques must be learned progressively following the three logical steps: memorization, familiarization and execution. The first one involves the mechanical aspects of the technique (by imitation, or "intellectual memory"). The second is the period in which the student "records" each step, making his body perform the technique with the least amount of thinking involved (what some call "physical memory"). And the third one is the actual application of the technique.

Basically, they vary according to the speed and intensity with which the techniques are performed. The first stage is slow because it applies to understanding. The second one is a few degrees faster, but still exercises natural caution. By the third stage, both partners are familiar with the technique and it can be performed more freely, with greater fluidity, almost instinctively, and with greater confidence.

I must make a point of stressing the fact that I did not mention any stage in the learning process in which the technique is "analyzed". I have yet to see a class in which the students are lost in theory that produces any benefit whatsoever. Talking about a technique might sound rather "intellectual', but it is a wrong approach. The technique comes alive by doing it! I do not mean by rushing it, but by the actual physical repetitive work.

Even an error is a potential for later development. Trying to measure how many inches should the foot move to the left, or exactly how far my hips must torque in this particular move is a fool's side trip to nowhere.

The answers are in the execution. But we must not rush in the opposite direction either, and try to bypass stages by going all the way into the technique from repetition number fifty, because by then "it must be effortless", and if it is not "I will get very frustrated and grind my teeth and wish I knew what is wrong with me or with this darn technique". In truth, it might not be "effortless" at the one hundredth repetition, and that is also all right. Violence is not the answer. Perseverance is.

So, to bring it to a close I will point out that it is necessary to use careful discerning when the violence in the techniques comes from a flaw on the teacher's character.

Instructing properly is not synonymous with abuse, be it verbal or physical. No exceptions.

In regards to technique, the learning must be progressive. It takes time and patience. There is, indeed, risk involved. It is part of the teaching. But so is mutual safety.

I must also clarify that martial arts are combative arts. When we step onto a practice area we must visualize a virtual sword aimed at us from several angles. We are not there to dance a waltz, or to indulge in every weakness we have, but rather overcome them. Let's not become too weak or sensitive either, because that will also distort and eventually destroy the art you are learning. Let's strive to preserve the balance.


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