How We Teach
August 20, 2012 · 8:48pm EST · Posted by Fujiyama Dojo
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389
A typical Daito ryu class begins with a formal warm-up which involves stretching exercises to loosen up the joints, push-ups for conditioning, technique-like exercises that introduce the student to various principles of technique and train the student how to move, shikko (knee-walking) exercises which help the student develop the ability to move from a seated position. These exercises are normally conducted by the Senior student and usually last from 15 - 20 minutes. These exercises can be strenuous and for good reason. It is hoped that the student will begin the formal training portion of the class already quite tired out. Why? Because all techniques contain within them a principle specific to that technique, and without realization of that principle, the student may achieve mechanical proficiency in the technique, but he or she will never master it. And satori (realization) rarely if ever happens when the student is fresh. Rather, it is only when the student has used up his or her physical and mental resources that he or she finally gives in to the technique and allows his or her intuition to be the guide. It is only after many, many (seemingly endless) repetitions that a student internalizes the technique and takes ownership of it. As long as the technique remains "outside" the student, when and if the student needs it, it will not be there.

Struggle and repetition are the pillars of learning in a Daito ryu class. A student with a natural gift for technique is in fact at a disadvantage because he or she has not had to struggle. It is through struggle that character is built and defined. Through struggle we learn about ourselves. When things are going "our way," we are in fact coasting, not learning. Shunryu Suzuki, author of the book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, tells the story of four horses. The best horse, he says, will run fast and true at the driver's will, before it even sees the shadow of the whip; the second best horse runs as well as the first, but not until just before the whip touches its skin; the third best horse runs only when it feels the whip on its skin; and the worst horse runs only after the pain of the whip reaches the marrow of its bones. When we hear this story, Suzuki comments, we all naturally want to be the best horse, and when we train we think that our achievements in our training will tell us whether we are one of the best horses or one of the worst. But this is not a correct understanding of our training. If you train in the correct way, it doesn't matter if you are the best horse or the worst one. In fact, when we train mindfully, we discover that the worst horse is really the most valuable one. For it is in our very imperfections that we find the basis of our spiritual growth. It is in the midst of our failures that we find mushin (empty mind), and that mushin has its greatest value. Suzuki says, "...if you make your best effort just to continue your practice with your whole mind and body, without 'gaining' ideas, then whatever you do will be true practice. Just to continue should be your purpose."

Thus, in Daito ryu, effort is praised rather than achievement. And when your teacher sees that whatever you are working on has become too easy, he or she will add something that will make it difficult again, so the struggle, and the growth, continues.

The best lessons are the ones we work for, and in the end learn for ourselves. A parent can tell a child a hundred times not to touch the burner because it is hot, but it is not until the child touches it and feels the heat that it knows in the depths of its heart that the burner is hot and to touch it risks trouble. It is with this understanding in mind that, when a new technique is introduced in class, it is demonstrated once by the teacher using a sempai (senior student) as his uke (partner who takes the fall). The sempai then demonstrates the technique with explanations. He is allowed to demonstrate the technique no more than three times, and his explanation will be brief and technical. Then the students will be instructed to work the technique on the mat, and they are not permitted to ask a single question about that technique until they have done it at least 50 times, even if they haven't got a clue what they are doing. Why? Because it is too easy to get the answers from someone else. In the course of 50 attempts, the students will almost certainly come up with at least some answers for themselves. And these answers will be well and truly learned because the students have learned them for themselves. The teacher is always there to assist and guide, but the real work must be done by each student according to his or her abilities.

The other crucial aspect of Daito ryu training is repetition. Traditionally, a student is expected to spend a minimum of 60 hours working each technique. If you train twice a week, for two hours each time, that means you will be expected to spend at least fifteen weeks working just one technique. In fact, you will more likely have two or three techniques on the go at the same time, but you get the point. Endless repetition. Why? Consider a simple example. Undoubtedly, you can tie your shoelaces without any trouble. In fact, you can probably tie your shoelaces without even thinking about it. You could tie your shoelaces while reading a book, or singing a song, or chatting with a friend, or daydreaming, or wondering what's for lunch, or worrying about why your boyfriend hasn't called for six days. All with your eyes closed. Why? Let's say you're fifteen years old and you learned to tie your shoelaces when you were five (you probably learned earlier than that but let's keep the math simple). And let's say you tie your shoes an average of twice a day.

So by now you've tied your shoes about 7,300 times, excluding leap years. You don't have to think about it because you've done it thousands of times.

Technique works the same way. We want you to learn your techniques so well, that, should you ever be called upon to use them (and we hope you never will), you will be able to respond to any attack intuitively, instinctively, without having to flip through your mental rolodex to find out what to do when someone grabs you from behind, or throws a punch at you, because the split second it takes to do that often spells the difference between victory and defeat.

And in the process of all these repetitions, you will be introduced to yourself. To the bored you, the lazy you, the irritable you, the egotistical you, the impatient you; as well as to the energetic you, the graceful you, the generous you, the compassionate you, the capable you. In the course of all this struggle and repetition, you will find yourself. You will grow, and you will learn about much more than how to subdue an attacker. The dojo is life in microcosm. It is a place where you learn how to be you, the best you, although not the perfect you and Daito ryu doesn't expect you to be. We praise effort, remember? Not achievements.


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