View Full Version : Seminars: what is the function?

Nathan Scott
6th October 2000, 18:30

The recent discussion on the misunderstanding about seminar instruction got me thinking:

What do instructors wish to accomplish from conducting seminars?

In Shinkendo we give two types of seminars.

1) Open seminars - for the purpose of introducing the art to those that are curious about it and are considering studying. These are usually in areas that do not have Shinkendo instruction available, and often times the host of the seminar is an Instructor of another style that is interested in eventually starting a study group under us.

2) Closed seminars - for existing branches or study groups that desire instruction from the headmaster of a more senior exponent of the art. Non-members are not invited, and if non-members wish to become involved they approach the local contact instead.

Most of the styles that I know of, even conservative styles, offer closed seminars to their own members.

But it would seem that the open seminars is where many run into trouble.

When I go to seminars (at this point in my training career), I go with the attitude that I'm curious about what others do in comparison to how I'm used to doing them. I also look for common principles that I may have missed or overlooked in my own training. Occaisonally, I will also demonstrate a technique or principle I learned at one to my own students (and tell them where I learned it) for the purpose of showing perspective between the arts.

I love going to open seminars, but I am not usually going because I am interested in joining or because I wish to... adopt their techniques.

It would seem in this modern age that it is necessary to have a clear written contract between the instructor and the seminar host before conducting seminars to ensure that everyone understands the expectations and limitations of such a training session.

Personally, I for one would not be interested in a conducting a seminar in which I knew the host was planning on adopting my techniques into their curriculum regardless of how it was done.

How does everyone else perceive open seminars?

Can you really give an open seminar and not have photos or video taken? Students can write down notes immediately afterward anyway, and potentially learn and use what they've been shown if they are sharp. Or visitors, who might sneak video or have the ability to learn from watching only.

What about "workshops"? This is a grey term that implies to me a shorter, task-focused training session, and also implies (to me at least) that I am welcome to adopt what I have learned and paid for in my other studies.

Anyone have any comments or experiences to share with open seminars and workshops?


[Edited by Nathan Scott on 10-06-2000 at 01:38 PM]

Cady Goldfield
6th October 2000, 18:51
I used to enjoy seminars, in my youth when I was just finding out about martial arts. As years have gone by, though, I find them less and less informative. As I've gotten older, I find myself wanting to turn more inward to find answers, or to tap the experience and knowledge of those with whom I train -- but on an intimate level, not as an organization-wide seminar.

While it may be useful for the more conventional arts to expose their methods and information via open gatherings, I don't believe that seminars are practical for those arts and systems with deep principles. Many of the teachers and high-level practitioners of those systems tend to treasure and protect their arts' treasures, and are not willing to cast them to strangers. So, even if you are able to convince one to attend and teach at your seminar, he/she is going to withhold the most valuable parts of the art, and will give you only a "surface sampling" that in no way conveys the true power and depth.

That's why it's so difficult to convince anyone that there is anything special about this "old style" art or that. The sensei just ain't gonna give it away. So, members of the martial arts public can say, "Oh yeah, I felt his waza at a seminar, and it was okay but nothing special." I'm sure that some well-respected martial artists and martial arts historian-scholars have had this experience, perhaps without realizing it, and it will forever influence their views of particular arts.

Seminars can provide a "teaser" of what an art might have to offer. Or, help a student of a particular art see some variations on principles and waza he/she already knows. Of course, seminars also give like-minded MA types an opportunity to schmooze and talk shop over a sake or beer, which in itself can yield new insights. But as opportunities to truly learn principles and plumb the depths of certain arts, IMO they are no more useful than the typical software tutorial. ;) And as far as revealing the depth and "secrets" of an art, forget it!

6th October 2000, 19:15
Dear Mr. Scott:

This question really hits home for me as I do quite a number of seminars for various schools which are either practicing Hapkido, are curious about how Hapkido techniques might be integrated into their curriculum as self-defense (ho shin sool) or just want to "borrow" techniques to expand their own catalog of techniques. I have no problem with any of these agendas, as long as all the participants are clear about the goals and intentions from the start. That seems to be where most of the trouble starts. Here are some examples.

1.) One situation is when I am invited to a school that does not practice Hapkido, or does so only marginally. Following the seminar the instructor now represents himself as "also teaches Hapkido". Call me stuffy, but it took me 15 years to make 3rd Black, and I didn't start teaching until my GM at the time gave me the green light.

2.) (I think this is what Cady might be alluding to). Seminar attendees/Seminars have steadily deteriorated. It seems as thought most individuals are technique "collectors" who aren't really interested in the art as much as some new novel technique they had not thought of or tried before. I teach a technique, and they do it a couple of times and want a new one. On the other side of the coin, most seminars treat to the slowest students in the room under the aegis of "repeating the basics never hurts." While I won't argue with that logic I feel that the upper ranks deserve to get a challenge to. Of course, more often than not I find that when I provide truly challenging material to many upper-ranking belts they are not really up to the work, which takes it back to the first part of this paragraph.

3.) I would like to see some truly high level seminars for individuals who want to function with other high-level practitioners. I remember reading a blurb years ago about a Kenjitsu master in Japan who taught classes in swordsmanship where the lowest rank was 5th BB. I'd have loved to be a bug on the wall at THAT class!

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I suspect that the time has come for a little up-grading of whats being offered, yes?

Best Wishes,

Bruce W Sims

Mark Jakabcsin
6th October 2000, 20:23
Great and interesting topic.

You wrote: "What do instructors wish to accomplish from conducting seminars?"

Then you wrote: "Can you really give an open seminar and not have photos or video taken? Students can write down notes immediately afterward anyway, and potentially learn and use what they've been shown if they are sharp. Or visitors, who might sneak video or have the ability to learn from watching only."

Seems like in the second part you are implying that instructors giving seminars have to be careful or the people that are attending might actually learn what they are teaching. Isn't learning the purpose of a seminar? Can an instructor take peoples money and time and then do his best to NOT teach them his ideas? Wouldn't that be fraud and deceit? If an instructor is worried about people learning at a seminar then in my opinion that instructor should not be giving a seminar.

I agree that open seminars are for creating interest (basically a dog and pony show), where it is difficult to learn much. Seems the purpose is to provide limited exposure to aid people in their decision to commit to training in that art or not.

To me a closed seminar is where the best learning possibilities take place. Actually, I will ammend that because I don't believe real learning takes place at a seminar, only enlightenment to the possibilities. The instructor shows his students the possibilities that exsist with the principles of his/her art but it is solely up to the students to take this spark of knowledge and learn it AFTER the seminar. The real learning takes place between seminars when students struggle through the lessons they were exposed to during their previous seminars. If a dojo is open, ego free and dedicated to learning they can assimilate the teachings of the instructor. On the instructor's next visit he can answer questions from the previous seminar, view the studentS progress, make corrections if needed then supply new possibilities for the students to work on while he is gone. The learning still occurs while the instructor is gone and the students learn by doing things wrong, doing things right and really figuring out what the principles are and how to apply them. What makes the art really work.

S. Takeda Sensei taught and spread his art in such a manner. Very few students had continuous training with him. He traveled a great deal and saw his students for short periods of time. Some of them worked on what he showed them and learned, some didn't. Those that learned,he gave them more to work on. Not unlike homework in school, the vast majority of learning takes place when the student struggles through it on their own.


Nathan Scott
6th October 2000, 21:46
Great - some good valid points all around:

Cady, over all, I'd have to say that my experience with attending seminars appears to have been considerably more positive than yours judging from what you wrote in your post.

That could be for a number of reasons, but regardless I respect your opinion!

Also, Cady-san wrote:

Or, help a student of a particular art see some variations on principles and waza he/she already knows. Of course, seminars also give like-minded MA types an opportunity to schmooze and talk shop over a sake or beer, which in itself can yield new insights. But as opportunities to truly learn principles and plumb the depths of certain arts, IMO they are no more useful than the typical software tutorial. And as far as revealing the depth and "secrets" of an art, forget it!

Meeting new people is always nice, and learning something of how other styles move is also interesting, and I get a workout. If this is all I achieve, I typically am happy anyway.

But I invariably learn something of value from every seminar I go to (not that I go to all of them, mind you!). It might be a method of teaching, way of describing a principle I already know, or as you say a new application or variation of a technique I already know. You can watch these things on video, but it's not the same as feeling it.

More than half of the people that attend a given seminar end up being current students of that system anyway, so working out with them can be interesting perspective on application and body movement.

And while most of the seminar may be fundamentals, that is where the secrets usually are anyway. But I find the instuctuors will usually drop something higher level somewhere in the seminar anyway, for those that are paying attention. Some instructors will actually lay out extremely valuable principles in the open, assuming that only those that are at a level to understand them will be able to use them anyway.

In any event, it really depends on the instuctor of the seminar in regards to what you will learn.

Bruce-san, your viewpoint is valid, and although my personal views of seminars may be generally be different than yours, my comments were not intended to imply that there is anything wrong with exchanging waza and methods as long as that is agreed upon ahead of time, as you mentioned.

Though I do not think this open minded attitude is all that popular yet, from what I've seen.

Mark-san, it really comes down to advertising the seminar correctly. If the seminar is advertised as "an introduction to the art of Nintendo", then I will go assuming that I will get a taste of the art, and a feel for it's instructor. If I learn something specifically of value, then that's great. If not, I know more about the art that I was curious about. But in this example, we can assume that the instructor is not really interested in "teaching" the art, exactly.

In Aikido, many instructors choose to hold open seminars instead of closed seminars, so that any Aikidoka can attend if they like, even though most attendee's may be students of the instructor. Aikido tends to be much more open minded that way - at least within Aikido students.

For instance, Yoshinkan and Aikikai move and ukemi totally differently, but they also apply techniques totally differently too. It's actually quite interesting, I think.

Your right that I may not have typed my thoughts very well in my last post, but what I meant was that an instructor may offer "samples" of more advanced principles or techniques that they are really hoping the student will not retain permanently. Only save the experience so that they may understand the worth of the art being taught. If they are able to "keep it", fair enough. But the instructor may have preferred that the person become a student if they really wanted to train further in such principles.

In some ways, if you give an open seminar you could say that "your leaving yourself wide open and you get what you get". If you don't want people to "steal" your methods, don't teach them openly.

But is there any kind of implied understanding about "seminar etiquette" in regards to what is acceptable and expected of participants? Seminars are kind of a newer idea, but I feel a sort of implied understanding with the instructor when I attend one.

Is it really a free for all these days?


[Edited by Nathan Scott on 10-06-2000 at 04:54 PM]

Mark Jakabcsin
7th October 2000, 00:48
"But is there any kind of implied understanding about "seminar etiquette" in regards to what is acceptable and expected of participants? Seminars are kind of a newer idea, but I feel a sort of implied understanding with the instructor when I attend one. "

What is the 'implied understanding with the instructor' that you perceive?

As far as 'seminar etiquette' goes I assume each person has their own set of morals and standards. I always wear a white belt and try to not compare the demonstrated art to my knowledge base while at the seminar. I do my best to listen and attempt to understand what the instructor is teaching from their perspective, i.e. try to learn their reasons and methods without looking through my perspective which is jade by my experience. I do admit that it is impossible to do this completely I do feel that it is the best approach (for me) and I generally learn the most when I do this. Days after the seminar I can compare and contrast with my knowledge/frame of reference but if I try to do that during the seminar I find that I generally miss learning the other persons perspective. Keeping my mind open is difficult and challenging.


7th October 2000, 04:24
I go with Cady on the schmoozing, though perhaps my idea and hers are a bit different. When I go to a seminar whether as a leader or as just another student I tend to see the experience as an opportunity for people to max out on the subject at hand. I have run into individuals who come to seminars who want to prove that whatever is being offered is garbage. I have run into individuals who are there solely for the social possibilities. For myself, I need to be around people who want to take time out from the standard demands of jobs and relationships to just marinate themselves in a passion. There are friends that I have who rebuild cars and bikes and have one helluva time waiting for the next flea market (thats' "auto-jumble" to my British cousins)or car show. Both my wife and I have numbers of friends that go antiquing or garage sale-ing every weekend it doesn't rain (and some that it does). For me a seminar is a chance to talk-shop with other MA.

Now, having said all that, let me say that in the last few years the experience has been getting steadily thinner. I make fewer and fewer seminars because it seems like the beer and brats get more verbage than any exchange of information. Most of the individuals who seem like they would have anything interesting to share rarely seem to get past Hi-how-ya-doin. These are the same ones who spend the better part of the seminar broadcasting about how they just wish they could get out on the mat if it wasn't for this old football injury/bad back/pinched nerve/bad knees/hangover/whatever.

I'm sure there are ardent seminar buffs out there somewhere but I'll bet that some of the best stuff gets passed around at select little gatherings where people spontaneously start comparing notes and the evening just flies by. Anybody been to one of these little smokers lately?

Best Wishes,


Richard A Tolson
7th October 2000, 04:57
Since I give open seminars, closed seminars and attend others seminars, I will share my thoughts on the subject.
TEACHING OPEN SEMINARS: I use these to introduce people to our art. Valid theories and techniques are taught openly in a way that others can take them back to their dojo and practice them. It would be foolish for me to assume that if someone likes the techniques they will not incorporate them into their curriculum. I expect it and hope it strengthens whatever style they teach.
CLOSED SEMINARS: The same techniques and theories are taught to those who have signed a kishomon/keppan. However, precision of technique is emphasized, henka are explored and the theories are re-examined.
SEMINARS ATTENDED: I go to seminars to see how other styles apply their strategies. I am not as interested in learning new techniques, as I am in seeing if the strategies are similar to our own and if so how others interpret them.
Hope this helps!

Nathan Scott
7th October 2000, 21:40
When I mentioned seminar etiquette, I was referring more to what is considered proper in regards to how you use the techniques and teachings gained in a seminar. Of course these expectations would change from instructor to instructor, as mentioned, and hopefully the advertisment and instructor/host would have a clear understanding of the purpose of the seminar.

In this case, the host can provide the atmosphere that best suits the requirements and any restrictions the instructor asks for, and the instructor has to carefully select what they are going to show the attendees. I would submit that both these conditions are necessary to ensure a comfortable relationship between host and guest.

But back to properness, maybe it's just me but I assume that when I go to a seminar (unless indicated otherwise) that I am welcome to learn what I can through my experience, but that I am not welcome to teach my own style using the terminology and perhaps any "proprietary" techniques or principles unless I am a student/instructor under the teacher already. Again, Aikido might be a bit of an exception to this. In my mind this is an implied understanding as a guest to the seminar.

Kind of like if you were permitted to view someone else's class, the teacher would probably not be thrilled if they heard you were later using (perhaps incorrectly at that) terminology and theories that might have been mentioned during the class viewed. That was not the purpose of the viewing - it was to audit the class to see if you were interested in studying, not to give away methods of the school or tradition.

Does this sound like an overly conservative view?

On another note,

I guess I haven't noticed a decline in the energy and training at seminars. One of the last ones I went to was a Yoshinkan Aikido "Osu festival", in celebration of Ueshiba Sensei. It was all day training, with a short lunch. It's not often that you can get other people in a room training for a full day unless it is in the form of a seminar or in this case, a "training celebration".

I picked up a couple of small points, met some people I didn't know from this area, and got a full day of training. Sweated alot, and for once I was more tired from keiko that I was from sitting in Seiza.

That is my one big gripe. I am a big fan of hearing theory and explanations, and even a good story occaisonally. But alot of seminars are 15-20 minutes talking and demonstration mixed with 10 minutes of actual practice. You have just enough time to get the blood pumping and then it's back to resting your bodies weight on your compressed knee joints. This makes me far more tired than a full day of keiko, and has become a bit of a pet peeve of mine!

Where's Neil-san; the king of seminars?


Cady Goldfield
7th October 2000, 23:02
Originally posted by Nathan Scott
Where's Neil-san; the king of seminars?

I beg to differ with that designation. By far the undisputed king... no ... EMPEROR of seminars is Jun Akiyama, although he but quietly lurks here. You want to hear about seminars, you talk to Jun. Think he was even at one of Obata's Slice Fests(tm) a couple years ago. :)


Nathan Scott
7th October 2000, 23:07
I beg to differ with that designation. By far the undisputed king... no ... EMPEROR of seminars is Jun Akiyama, although he but quietly lurks here.

Is that right? I know of Mr. Akiyama (through the Aikido-L days and the aikiweb stuff), but have not corresponded or met him - I don't think.

I Think he was even at one of Obata's Slice Fests(tm) a couple years ago.

No kidding, huh? That's a nice name. I'll bring it up to Sensei and see if he likes it: "Obata's slice fest and chili cook off"


Cady Goldfield
7th October 2000, 23:13
Hope ya realize I said that with the greatest regards. I'm just a punny kinda person. :) Although I'm not big on seminars anymore, that's one for which I'd make an exception. Wish I could attend a cutting seminar and have a chance to try tatami and bamboo. It sure lets you know whether you have your cuts down!


Neil Yamamoto
8th October 2000, 01:39
Hi all,

I go to seminars simply because it is one of the easiest ways to see people I know, like and respect all in one place.

I no longer go to many seminars unless there are a number of people I know and like attending as well. So I see a lot of the same people at the ones I do choose to attend simply because we all think highly of the people teaching these seminars.

The things I get from seminars are:

A nice mental break from students and the people you are used to training with all the time. Stirs up your brain.

A chance to see how other people with very different perspectives look at an art or specific techniques.

A chance to meet people you know by reputation. That's how I met some guys like Nathan Scott, our own sword slinging moderator, and Ted Tenold.

I do not go to seminars any longer looking to learn a lot of neat things. What I do go for is to place myself in the company of people who are not going to treat you as "sensei".

I'm with Nathan though. Most seminars you end up exercising your patience in putting up with BS more then anything.

Nathan Scott
17th October 2000, 21:56
On a (possibly) final note,

Judging from the predominately liberal attitude regarding information presented at seminars, I would guess some instructors will choose to either not give open seminars anymore (maybe allow visitors for demos only) or may choose to teach open seminars using a more obscure method of teaching in hopes of retaining the essence of their art inhouse.

If that becomes the case, how do you feel about spending money to go to them? Are you getting your money's worth?

It would depend on your reason for going, I suppose. Those that attend an open seminar because they are interested in the style and want to take advantage of the opportunity to give it a try should be satisfied regardless.

However, those that are hoping to borrow techniques or methods will likely be frustrated.

Those attending open seminars will have to acknowledge that there is an increasingly strong possibility that what they are seeing or learning may not be the "real art".

But then again, as someone recently reminded me, what you see is not always what you get when you view a class or seminar. Retention of proprietary information in ryu-ha is not exactly a new idea! :)

If you really want to know about a classical style, your probably going to have to apply for membership and be patient!

Just some thoughts...