View Full Version : Mystification of things

30th March 2001, 18:43
I find that as the arts are transferred from Eastern culture to Western culture that mystification of fairly simple body mechanics seems to be the norm.

I am not stating that to master martial applications is easy, but rather that there is a tendency to make things much more difficult than they need to be.

Ominous musings such as,"This is something that cannot be related...blah, blah, blah."

It seems to me that Olympic atheletes have access to all sorts of ways to translate complex human motion into usable concepts. The the work is cut out for them to integrate teh concepts, but the learning material is there.

Too often martial arts practice is left to trial and error and happy accident.

I do agree that some things should be left for self-discovery. I am talking about the fundamental motions here. We shroud it in mystery and then speak as if this is how it has alway been. "More hip, kime, muchimi, move like water, pass like the wind :-), etc."

We go on and on about a lifetime of mastery, which is true, but that is a fiercely personal thing that extends way beyond anything any instructor can do for a student.

There are many stories of many great Sensei receiving Menkyo in a short time by todays standards. We then state, "but they were the amazing X!" Perhaps they were gifted. However, the fact remains that bujutsu was supposed to make people battle ready, not create martial wizards out of them. Certainly, the basic concepts of any style were communicated within a reasonable time frame, as times for battle were uncertain.

Useful application and mastery are two points of a continuum. Too often instructors desire mastery only and fail to impart even a basic working knowledge of mechanics to their students. This saddens me greatly.

I hear fellow students and my own students constantly put themselves down (way beyond a useful level of humility) and flatly state, "I can never get this." They almost take pride in it. In psychology and social psychology this is called the "imposter syndrome" and it is used as a safety fallback to buttress against an inevitable predetermined and self-imposed failure point. Women do it when they are in a male dominated field, provides a buffer of mental protection. Westerners do it in the face of Eastern activities. I don't ever see Easterners do it when they play baseball, funny that.

Why are these "failures" studying the martial arts? Surely there must be other things for which their time would be better suited. If you cannot learn it, then is it being taught properly? Your instructor has managed to learn it. Despite what we think, our instructors are not superhuman or any such nonsense.

I have yet to run across an art that has so completely blown my socks off that I have stopped and said,"Oh my God, this is soooo much more applicable, devastating, amazing, etc. that it just puts everything else to shame." (I have seen more than a few that have forced my capacity to stifle a laugh and a spit take.)

The arts that do seem that way, I find, tend to have more than a little charlatanism mixed in to them. Showmanship, a few mystical musings and an endless slew of robotic drills that never really wind up going anywhere.

So, I ask all of you, what are your feelings on this type of thing? I am sure it has been discussed before, but it still happens and seems to be a particular disease within martial arts teaching.

I ask this, because I am finding that I have been able, with a few simple concepts, descriptions, and drills, to get my students to do in weeks or months what it has taken me and my peers years to learn under more "traditional" pedogogical (teaching) models.

Everyone's thoughts please, this is an issue that I think about quite often.

Glenn R. Manry

3rd April 2001, 14:26
Nobody here has any thoughts on this subject!

You have got to be kidding me.

Let me rephrase the question.

Why in the martial arts, as in no other physical skill, are basic, fundamental movements treated as if only an enlightened wizard will every understand them?

Why do we insist on shrouding our skills with vague descriptions and suggestions, when other athletes (difference between sport and athletics) seem to be able to learn rather complex skills in a much shorter period of time than the average martial artist.

I suspect that much of this comes from the poor communication that has occurred from Asian teachers to Western students (language barriers). These students then passed on these simple one or two word descriptions because they thought they were propogating the tradition.

This is a romanticized version of martial practice. Does modern athletic science have nothing to contribute to martial arts? Certainly Kyokushin practitioners are using these approaches, Ashihara karate, etc. Why is so much of the rest of the martial community resistant to new ways of thinking about the old ways?

Glenn R. Manry

3rd April 2001, 22:03
Hi Glenn.. looks like only two of us ever think about these things !! Unless everybody else has got all the answers and they're just not telling us.

I sort of agree with you about the over use of flowery descriptions but I have to put forward a couple of contrary points.

Firstly I'm not sure that the reason is one translation when the Japanese first started teaching .. many of the more obscure phrazes and names have long histories. I think it's possibly more of to do with how people were taught. In a small dojo where you are training full time ,as professional soldiers would have done, the names would only have been aide memoires for physical movements they had practiced many times. Having said that you don't necessarily want to make it easy for any outsider to know what it is you've been practicing. Hence the habit of "swallows rising blossom on a wind swept day " type names for what we might call "drop to your right knee and gut the bugger" technique.

Now obviously for most of us that is much less of an issue, what with them pesky laws and police and stuff the opportunities for wholesale bloodshed just aint what they were.

However I do still use some 'flowery' language and terms and i do so deliberately. The reason is if I tell people to move forward like water flowing down hill they strive for 'feeling'.. but if I tell 'em to bend their knees and lower their centre of gravity there is a tendency to over intellectualise the technique.. they end up 'watching themselves' and thinking about what they are doing instead of capturing the feeling.

What I find works best is a mixture of the two, I occasionally ask my students.. do ya want the Mr Miayagi or the Isaac Newton explanation.. different people react to different approaches.

Just my thoughts... glad I'm not the only one who's ever pondered on this though !!

or rather .. I am not the only goldfish wondering why the bowl is round (heh heh I'm getting the hang of this eastern wisdom stuff !)

Joseph Svinth
4th April 2001, 08:13
As in most things, there are multiple possibilities.

1. In some cases, the English was the foreign language, and to this day, judo's international lingua franca remains Japanese. Thus you use Japanese terms for the same reason that Japanese boxers fight in midoru-kyu and werutu-ryu (middleweight and welterweight).

2. Marketing. Think about it. If I tell you that all you need to do to win most fights is to be physically fit enough to carry a 50-pound ruck for 25 miles, then play a rousing game of rugby at the end, then generally I need conscription, a war, the promise of a paycheck, a varsity letter, or something similar waiting at the end. I mean, even Navy SEALS don't do stuff this masochistic for free.

On the other hand, if I tell you that "The rudiments of self-defense and the outstanding rules of training and laws of health CAN BE TAUGHT BY MAIL and WILL BE TAUGHT BY MAIL TO YOU and I'LL PROVE IT," well, then there is a good chance that you will save your nickels until you have the five bucks plus the change for a mail order ("don't send cash") that this course costs. (Five bucks was a lot of money in 1934, when this particular ad appeared.) Furthermore, who wouldn't want "The Best Boxing Course Yet Devised At the Lowest Price Ever Asked for a Legitimate, Bona-Fide, Honest-to-Goodness Course that IS A COURSE. No Hokum -- No Bunk -- No Unfulfilled Promises," especially when the boxers featured were Jack Dempsey, Tommy Loughran, and Tony Canzoneri?

3. The magic of jargon. For example, if I say I learned to punch somebody in the nose, well, that doesn't impress one's friends much, now does it? But if I say, "Today I learned jodan seiken tsuki," well, isn't that special? Nobody else on the block knows that, now do they? Ooh.


Failures studying martial arts? I thought most of the Tofu Godzillas were already Sokes, with at least 27 degrees of black belt.

4th April 2001, 14:24

I am not particularly talking about the flowery names of some techniques, but you bring up a good point.

I agree that feeling of a technique is very important, and things like the Chinese classics and koryu naming of techniques introduces a complex layer of meaning.

I am not so convinced about the worrying about others picking up on techniques argument. Most people today are too fragmented in their focus and committment to be concerned with stealing techniques. Dojo hoppers lack the discipline, typically. We are not a society with a warrior class or with warring clans or dojo, so I personally do not worry about it much. The bad ones go away eventually. ;-)


Interesting about Japanese boxing, I know the Japanese also call baseball basubaru (spelling?). The fact is that they still transform the other language into a Japanese word. We seem to attempt to adopt their culture much more wholeheartedly (although we mangle the sound many times so it sounds like basubaru but still isn't an English word :-) ).

Next question(s):

I give three types of learning examples: audio, visual and kinesthetic. I find that if I make the technique accessible from many different angles of learning, that my students eventually grasp at least a part of it, which is a start.

Round house kick (at least one type) is a lot like a baseball batters swing, for example, is a kinesthetic analogy, as is physically positioning their body as they go through the motion. This ippon is like X beat in music (audio), verbal description is also audio. Visual is pretty simple, I demonstrate the technique at different speeds, levels, etc. Teaching visualization and connection to muscular feel is a mixture of visual and kinesthetic.

I have heard people use the, "overexplaining makes the student lazy argument from a lot of instructors." Certainly not in all cases, but many times it has struck me that these instructors are really just lazy themselves.
There is a point where you have to be quiet and just observe what the students are doing.

Do students come to the dojo to just repeat techniques over and over (can't they do that on their own time?). Certainly, that is part of it, but I have seen instructors who just keep saying the same thing. The student is obviously trying to get it, but after X amount of time it is just not clicking. I suspect that many instructors really haven't examined the technique beyond what they were taught. It is an old problem, but obviously it still is out there in spades.

I bring up Olympic athletes again, because they and other athletes get people who can translate the concepts in a short amount of time into useful information. The hard work is still cut out for them, but it is more efficient hardwork.

Letting a student do a technique 500 times the wrong way is not efficient, and it could lead to injury. Yet I see this type of training happen quite frequently.

One thing I do with my students is I watch them do a technique, I make subtle corrections in between attempts, and when they get it (at their level at least) I let them repeat it maybe 2 or 3 more times and then we move on. I leave them ending on a high note, so to speak. My wife calls it "see one, screw one, do one."

What are some strategies you all have used to help students overcome difficulties in training? Or if you are a student, what are some techniques you have noticed from your instructors?

Whew, long post.

Glenn R. Manry

5th April 2001, 09:39
Glenn, carefull this is turning into an interesting and polite discussion... these things will not be tolerated !!

The point about a keeping techinques hidden thrhough flowery names was that that would have happened in the past. I have no problem at all teaching openly to anyone that comes into my dojo.. Like I telly my students the stuff you learn on day one works.. but it won't be for about 3 years until YOU can really make it work !!

Anyhoo on to your follow up question..

Teaching strategies.

I think the best thing I ever did when I started teaching was to take time to teach my students how to watch and how to learn.

I usually show something new about 3 or 4 times and then break it down and let them try each piece before putting it back together..

What I found was the my seniors picked things up really quickly but the newer students were acting like I'd only showed them once. I realised they weren't looking at what I was doing they were just watching me..

So now I direct their attention.. I'll show a throw and explain how it works...then I'll show just the foot work, then just then hand movement etc

Some times I'll send them away to pracitice just the walking or just the blocking etc..

The other technique I like to use is 'themed' lessons.. If I want to teach new technique I'll try and start the lesson with some older stuff they can already do but that has a simliar fundamental body movement. That way they build confidence in the movement and the new techinque feels like a progression rather than just being told here learn this...

Haven't tried getting them to wax my car or paint my fence yet though hmmm d'ya think it'd work ?

Just my thoughts looking forward to reading others..

Joseph Svinth
5th April 2001, 12:14
Babe Didrickson was hitting 275 yards off the tee after just two weeks of training, and winning the British Open within a couple years of starting.

The question is not how to teach a Babe Didrickson to hit a ball that doesn't move, but how to teach someone who is willing to persevere to ultimately reach the high status of -- mediocre?

At this level, keep in mind that different people learn differently. Ideally a teacher teaches each student differently, too. However, that does not always happen.

5th April 2001, 14:16
I agree with you, Mr. Svinth (I called you Joe last time without asking if that is what you prefer), that all students learn differently, and I am glad you said it. It is also true that there are some students who will struggle no matter what you do. What I have found is that adapting to my students to some degree has forced me to learn way more than I would have by simply teaching as my instructors taught me.

I disagree with Mr. Kass' observations concerning Olympic level training. Yes Olympic level athletes progress through levels of training, and many of them are exceptional individuals. However, Olympic female gymnasts peak in their teens, and although some parents are for some reason finding it necessary to start their daughters at age 3, the fact of the matter is that from about age 6 to age 12, these athletes progress from novice to master in a range of physical skills that make anything we are doing look like hopscotch. The reason is two fold, a person with the right type of body, and exceptional coaching. I wish to examine the latter.

Learning kata can take a lot of time, I agree. It does all depend on what type of class you are teaching. In my class, I show basic level applications first and the kata pattern last, so that students have a feel to relate too in their practice. I find this allows for more efficient learning. This is a work into the middle approach to teaching rather than the linear approach I was taught.

I did not say that what they (Olympians) do is easy. I said that the coaching techniques used make their hours of practice more efficient. Certainly everyone can benefit from better coaching (or instructing for those who oppose the idea that they may be a coach). Does it really take 3 years to learn to punch properly, or move, or kick? I have seen boxers who make phenomenal strides in less than a year, kick boxers too. Although we can state that they have limited techniques, they are more fight ready in 6 months than the best of many martial arts students are in 3 years. Certainly this trend can reverse itself over time, but if we have self-defense listed on our doors, then perhaps we might want to tell everyone, "in 3 years."

In relation to the paint the fence, etc. I have found that certain analogies do help. For a drill we call side punching, roughly a 90 degree rotation in front stance for gyaku tsuke (pretty typical basic drill), I tell them to think about moving a heavy bucket of water from one shelf to the other at the target locations. I even get beginners passing the imaginary bucket between two other students. I find this promotes the proper body and weight shift much more quickly than the trial "by" error method. I have a bias towards the kinesthetic method of teaching.

Rob, I volunteer my house and car if you want to send some students over after they finish at your place. ;-)

I am sorry for the civil tone, all of you are insufferable dunderheads :-p (used the thesaurus for that one). There, does that feel more like the other e-budo threads?

Just to clarify, I am not saying these things to put anyone down or anything like that. I want to examine teaching techniques and hopefully lead to some insight that will allow me (and others if they feel it is necessary) to raise the bar. Sorry for the long posts.

Glenn R. Manry

5th April 2001, 15:32
I sponser a small club of adults, so some of this might not apply if you have juniors. (clarification aside)

Personally, along side many of the already mentioned techniques, I'm always careful to explain the 'real world' application of everything we do. This include the results of doing the technique incorrectly. I have found that most of the students I have are more interested in a technique once they understand what it's supposed to be for, and how it's supposed to be used properly. To continue the Karate kid analogy, Daniel wasn't real interested in 'wax on-wax off' until he saw the practicality of it. Granted Miyagi (sp?) was teaching him discipline along side the technique.

I have also found that repetition is a marvellous tool. However, as has already been pointed out, doing the wrong thing over and over will not make the technique right. Instead, I demonstrate a move, explain it's purpose, then demonstrate it again. Then the student tries the move slowly, with me explaining the intricacies of the technique while he/she 'feels' the correct way it is done. I demonstrate one more time, then have them do it alone a couple of times. We then move into a delicate balance of perform/critique until they have the mechanics right. Once the mechanics are good, and this may take as long as a couple weeks, we begin developing the power behind the move.

Again, this may not work for all people, as we are all individuals. I believe the strength of any instructor/teacher/coach/parent is the recognition of each individual's strengths and weaknesses, and handling them appropriately.

Gary Beckstedt
"When the teacher is ready, the student will appear"

6th April 2001, 09:59
Originally posted by gmanry
I am sorry for the civil tone, all of you are insufferable dunderheads :-p (used the thesaurus for that one). There, does that feel more like the other e-budo threads?

Thesaurus? I thought you were watching reruns of The Twilight Zone (remember the one of the teacher at a private boys prep school who called the students "dunderheads)?"

I thought is was an overabundance of bad teachers, not to mention an army of bad students. Well, certificates and black belts heal all wounds, don't they?


Joseph Svinth
6th April 2001, 11:14
Joe works just fine.

And I think Mark has a point. With the plethora of Super Sokeys one finds on the Internet, it appears that True Masters move beyond we dunderheads within the first week or two of training, and surpass the Olympic athletes by the end of the first year.

A problem is that most of us hate admitting that we're average, and will never be Super Sokeys.

Kit LeBlanc
6th April 2001, 15:55

I've a few comments...

I think the flowery language is definitely part of the package of the "ancient warrior arts." Practically, they were code words for what the masters of old were passing on, both to insure secrecy, and I think because they lacked the scientific terminology that we have today adn were probably trying to evoke a feeling or rythm that could not be captured in words.

In many cases, the flowery language is describing something very mundane or common sensical.

As far as the old masters being licensed far more quickly, it is probably because they grew up doing stuff like sumo and playing at fighting arts before actually studying; they were actually experienced in real life battles, which considerably shortens the learning curve. Also, many of the arts we have today, even the koryu, probably have a lot more to their curriculums than they did in the old days.

Kit LeBlanc

Kit LeBlanc
6th April 2001, 16:15
Oops, double post~!

6th April 2001, 17:07
I may be wrong in how I read the first post. But, I think you are right about the flowery concepts. I agree with the posts about the names and using the water analogy for a feeling. What I'm talking about is an instructor who can't tell a student why the technique won't work other than "Oh, you need to develop you internal energy more". What does that really mean?

To go back to use the Olympic athlete analogy. They video tape their performance and analyze it. They even have computers to tell them how to maximize their swing, stride etc. When is the last time you guys video taped yourselves and watched your performance to make corrections in stance or technique? Also, it all goes back to time I used to work out just on my karate for over 1 hr a day on top of going to class 3-4 times a week. I progressed rapidly, only because I structured my workouts, kept a journal of my workouts to know what I needed to work on next. Most of my students don't devote any time to their workouts and wonder why they can't get the material. I won't matter how I explain it in class, they can do the movement in class. But, there is no repitition at home.

That brings me to my final point, anytime you talk about the masters of the past, olympic athletes. They spend LOTS of time practicing their chosen discipline. The "masters of the past" who actually did fight in wars or invading foriegners had no illusions of why they practiced and they taught their students the fast and hard way to fight. Today, many instructors have to spread out their teaching and tone it down to keep the most students for the longest amount of time to keep the dojo open. By throwing in alot of flowery things that will take "years" to develop they can guarantee this.

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT saying all instructors do this, I am mearly pointing to some of the things I have seen in schools in my area.

10th April 2001, 16:48
Sorry all, I started a thread and went on vacation! It was a well needed, but short, escape.

The point about video taping is an important one. How many times have I thought I was doing X, Y, and Z but really was doing A, B, and C? The tape tells the tale. I typically video tape myself about 2 or 3 times a year. I try to do the same with my students. Some people only do it with kata performance, but it is very important to let everyone see what they are doing with an opponent. Certainly boxers use this quite often.

One downside, IMHO, to this is that it has led to more aesthetic performances of kata in the competitive martial arts. Consequently, it perpetuates the loss of the core knowledge within kata, lots of crispy stuff with no flavor or feel in the techniques. This is inevitable, however, and should not prevent the use of this fine tool.

I agree that often times, the flowery language is used to deceive and misdirect casual students from the seemingly obvious, to those of us who have been shown. Secrecy in warrior arts was the norm of the day.

Also, statistically speaking, most people fall within a certain distance of the average on physical and mental skills. However, with better instruction, we can potentially shift that entire distribution over, if not change it altogether, making the average still better than they were.

Many people may not know they are above average, look at Michael Jordan's early years. We have to treat all students as potential diamonds in the rough (yes, I know their are some that just are not).

If an entire group of bario kids can ace the AP exam in calculus (Edward James Almos movie based on a true story), then perhaps we can change our students and push them to new heights.

The authoritarian way is to present the information in one way and make others adapt. This type of intellectual inbreeding prevents the recognition of efficiency, as only those who think in X way are allowed to pass (gatekeeping). This problem is linked to all sorts of other issues in life (discrimination, bad management, etc.).

At the same time, we must take stock of the information that has gone before. However, the more lightbulbs we can get to go off, then the better chance we have of keeping our arts alive and well.

I look forward to reading more.

Glenn R. Manry

George Ledyard
23rd April 2001, 22:02
One of the fundamental tenets of Aikido is that the elements of Mind, Body, and Spirit need to come together to attain the highest level of performance so to speak. It is quite easy using basic exercises in the dojo to demonstrate that technique is not just the total of the physical parts. A good Nidan or Sandan has the knowledge of those parts down quite well. But the difference between their ability and that of an Eighth Dan is not that the Eighth Dan does something mechanically different but that the total package is integrated in a way that produces amuch greater result with far less physicality.

There is no question that a lot of mediocrities use mystification as a screen behind which to hide their failings. I have worked very hard myself to develop the most detailed technical understanding of how technique works so that i can help my students attain their full potential. But I am always amazed by the fact that explantion of the deatils is never enough. There is a level that goes beyond that which in many ways is impossible to explain. I know how it feels when i do it but my students need to discover that aspect for themselves.

There is no question that modern technolgy has provided amazng tools for understanding the mechanics of proper moevemnt and the physiological componenets of high performance. But I think it is also significant that virtually no world class champions are functioning without the sports psychologists. Visualiztion, breathing exercises, etc. are now a routine part of the total performance package and this part is the interface between the physical and the mental.

24th April 2001, 13:58
I agree with your post Mr. Ledyard.

I spend a lot of time with my students talking about visualization drills that they can do when they do not have the space or time to practice physically.

Also, the training of Kiai is a very important part of this development. It is a sounding bell, a timing mark for beginners and something wholly different for more advanced individuals.

That integration that you speak of does take time to master and polish. At the same time, there are drills that I have found that help students to begin to feel what it is that "Sensei" feels so that they can start that polishing quicker.

In karate for example, there is a rigidity, in my opinion, that has crept into the footwork that was clearly not there in the footwork of older masters, judging from films I have seen. Using down block, knee flex, and shoulder twist simultaneously in a drill, I have been able to get my students to develop that alignment and stability in the fleeting instant of a technique. They can usually do this in about three tries under these controlled conditions (thus still more practice is needed). This phenomenon sets off that feeling in the hara and the brain that says, "this is it!" That feeling so often described as ki, as connection occurs from big toe out to the tip of the finger.

Then they have a point of reference. They still need to do the work, but they at least have a point of reference, and it is not a blind treasure hunt.

Some teachers teach like an archery instructor taking people into a dark room and then saying, "o.k. practice." I realize that not all MA instructors are this way, but I see it a lot in karate, mostly because it has become so disconnected from its original purposes. So many instructors do not even know their fundamentals in a way that is meaningful.

Thanks for the comments, you bring up some important points about where the limitations of technical teaching comes into play. Nothing can replace practice, but the practice can definitely be made more efficient.

Aaron Fields
24th April 2001, 17:55
What about the possibility of linguistic differences. As languages are constructed different ( and relate to the brain differently), analogy and description are therefore also constructed different. As to secrecy of techniques, well the human body is not infinite, therefore there are limited methods of twisting, hitting, and throwing you opponent. If you survey combative methods you will find relatively few major variations. In general secrecy lies within the tactical realms.
As to mystification within budo and bujutsu, well in my opinion it is a crock. Anybody who goes on and on about secret techniques or techniques which I will have to jump through hoops for years before experience sends up a red flag right away. If you can't practice it you can't do it real time.
I once had a guy tell me "not to be surprised if I couldn't take him down because he had great control over he ki." After he got up and his head cleared he told me "my ki must be very strong," to which I replied "no. I just have to pee." He never practiced with me again.

24th April 2001, 20:10
I agree with you about the differences in analogy and language. I think this has been a major problem as many karate instructors from Japan and Okinawa would say more hip, more hip but really be referring to a whole mess of kinesthetic phenomena. Slowly, the rest of the body became lifeless and stiff and you have everyone doing damage to their own hip flexors as they try to engage the hip but leave the rest of the body motionless. I've seen it and even been taught this way, it is, in my opinion a great disservice.

I finally read in a karate text one day, can't remember which one, that "hip" involves the entire torso and spine. Finally proof that I was not some type of heretic!Mentioning the hip is just one "feeling" to relate to students. I use many different "feeling" descriptions to demonstrate this sense of body dynamics. Eventually, you can hit on one that works.

Even my sparring partner when I was in college could share with me and I with him through our Japanese/English limitation using various attempts at "it feels like this." If you settle on one, then you stagnate your own understanding.

We must remember that 2+3=5, 10-5=5, 95/19=5, etc.

Gil Gillespie
1st May 2001, 01:06
Glenn, fine thread and maybe the greatest signature/quote of all time! Mazeltov!

I'm late reading this thread but the timing is right because Saotome Sensei just did his spring seminar at our Orlando FL aikido dojo. One of our instructors, who taught yesterday, was uke for Sensei much of the weekend. What he taught yesterday was what he felt Saotome Sensei "doing to him" in technique. It was tiny and subtle, so it needed to be made larger and more obvious so WE could practice it. The whole process speaks to the above post regarding nidans and sandans who can do the technique, but how much further up the Path nanadans and Shihans just have the whole package so totally integrated.

After class I was chatting with my first-ever sensei, a yondan now, who addressed the topic Glenn began. He said it infuriates him how eastern (specifically Japanese) masters make you "take the knowledge from them." (He sat fists clenched to his chest as he said that.) He used several colorful picturesque terms to describe this mindset that are inappropriate to this forum ;o)

Ueshiba Sensei was notorious for never explaining. He just did it and the students derived what they could. It is all to their credit that Tomiki Sensei codified kihon techniques and with Mochizuki Sensei and others exported aikido to the west. Great teachers like Saotome Sensei have shortened the learning curve, bypassing much of the arcane esoteric mysticism.

Yet there is still a realm of learning that must be experienced and delved into. Over time. Years. No matter how much explanation helps kihon, going beyond technique into principle and mastery cannot be taught. It can only be done. If we live that long. . .

My sensei laughingly told us years ago: "Don't worry about it. Just train joyfully. You're never gonna get it!"

9th May 2001, 10:01
Originally posted by gmanry
I find that as the arts are transferred from Eastern culture to Western culture that mystification of fairly simple body mechanics seems to be the norm.

Glenn R. Manry

With the mystifications of simple body mechanics in teaching asian fighting arts, I see four problematic points:
1. The students
2. The teachers
3. The teaching environment
4. Mechanics as such.

1. The students:
As one of my (german) Japanese teachers once remarked: "Who studies japanese culture at the University? All in my class were weirdos, and I was no exception ...."
I think that people setting out on a quest to study the mystic arts of the east, like in Remo- Unarmed And Dangerous, or the "Golden child" with Eddy murphy :) are on average slightly less inclined to find "rational" explanations than the average persons, because it is exactly the "materialistic western ways" they wand to leave behind. For this reason, many western intellectuals (or those who think they are) are attracted by buddism, in the same way as many japanese intellectuals (or those who think they are) are attracted by christianity beacuse they want to leave behind the "materialistic eastern ways". Mystic wisdom has to come from a long distance, and it bloody well has to stay mystic.

2. The teachers
Not all japanes teachers are good at rationalizations. Some may reject it, because they may think that "too much theory" collides with getting a "working knowlege". Other teachers may realize that a student may never be any good, but for pities sake don't want to tell him so, and rather talk about the importance of spiritual growth. A wstern teacher would maybe say: Don't just work out, think a bit, for heavens sake. Other teacher may be the exponents of a long, proud tradition but actually do not know what they are doing themselves because the last in the ryuha to know was run over by locomotives hundred years ago :-).

3. The teaching method
Training with a lot of other deshi in an overcrouded dojou without any direct contact to the sensei may not be conductive to a deeper understanding, when the senpai also don't know what they are doing but won't own up. Not all training is conductive to rationalizations, and when I see
the "first Karate training of the year" in Mid-January under
a waterfall with snow, I don't think that in such a dojou the finer points of biomechanics are fully appreciated. For doing an analysis of movements, you the the opportunities to ask questions, and this is certainly not available in all dojous.

4. I think biomechanics looks much simpler than it actually is. If you have a linear motion, this is easy to understand. Pendulums are also simple. Pendulums affixed to a spring (a straight arm rotating at the shoulder, with the shoulder muscles as a spring) is not quite so easy, because you end up with a characteristic rotation frequency which is hard to beat .
A double pendulum (allowing the arm to bend) makes things more complicated, because the optimal motion depends very much on the type of motion. A triple pendulum (Arm bending at the ellbow grasping a sword bending at the wrist) is no
more straightforward. Now allow for a rotationg motion in the shoulder and around the wrist .... And you have about 8 degrees of freedom without having even moved a leg ....

I do my best to rationalize and analyze techniques as best as possible. Even if i ask my sensei: Please show it again, and slower, and if possible with your hakama up ,
and he usually does it with a big grin, I do now allways get a full analysis of the motion. This is a sensei who allows questions and allways emphasizes the imporance of understanding by doing things yourself, analyze the motion and gives comparisons to golf, baseball .... Even then I have my troubles really finding
the optimal equilibrium position, minimum torque and suchlike, because it is not easy. If you are the deshi of a tradition-meditation-you-gaijin-can-never-grasp-our-mystic-eastern-ways merchant, I think such analysis is practically impossible.

Hans-Georg Matuttis

9th May 2001, 11:07
Great thread! I always wondered what my inscrutable sensei thought about when they weren't making my muscles scream in protest.

Apart from the early need to keep techniques 'secret', thus the "swallow's tail flicks at the butterfly" type terminology, perhaps some of the mysticism is due to the Japanese language itself. I read a book about a month ago about the psychology of the Japanese, and some of the forces and conventions that seem to shape and define Japanese thought. One chapter concerned how maddeningly vague Japanese is in general. There was even a bilingual Japanese scientist who was quoted as saying that when he conducts his experiments and calculations, he 'thinks in English', since his native Nihongo is 'ill-suited to precise thought'.

Perhaps (although I'm not an instructor) some students want and expect the 'make your spirit as the moon in the water' type of thing. Maybe they want 'mysticism' and off-the wall aphorisms...if ya want regular words, grasshopper, take up boxing! :)

My sensei was similar. At the lower levels, he explained more. But as I progressed, and had a base of technique to liken each new technique to, technical explanations slowed to a trickle, to the point where he would only watch intently as if looking for something in particular. Every so often, he would provide a correction. Sottaku Doji he called it: the pecking noise of a baby bird who is ready to hatch, made only when it is ready and not before. He insisted that too much verbal and technical instruction causes the mind to absorb what it can, but does not allow the body to absorb and understand.

Maybe his teaching methods were wrong, as I still ain't a Super Sokey either.

9th May 2001, 16:19

Thanks for your comments.

I don't think anyone here would argue that your instructor is wrong.

I am finding that teaching requires a balance of detailed instruction and description, letting the student struggle with movement, and intellectual discussion.

I have the most problem with instructors who don't allow any communication on the matt in belief that this type of intellectual stoicism is going to produce better martial artists. There is definitely a need for more practice and less talk.

Teaching and learning by accident with beginners, however, is not a good thing as they have more than enough wrong movements with which to waste their time. Trial and error experimentation is much more useful for more advanced practitioners. I believe it needs to be minimized for novices.

10th May 2001, 01:31
Originally posted by Soulend
Great thread! I always wondered what my inscrutable sensei thought about when they weren't making my muscles scream in protest.
Actually, my sensei makes oour muscles scream in protest about all 1-2 months. Then you realize the need for efficient movements, and try to improve your technique.

Originally posted by Soulend
.... perhaps some of the mysticism is due to the Japanese language itself. I read a book about a month ago about the psychology of the Japanese, and some of the forces and conventions that seem to shape and define Japanese thought. One chapter concerned how maddeningly vague Japanese is in general. There was even a bilingual Japanese scientist who was quoted as saying that when he conducts his experiments and calculations, he 'thinks in English', since his native Nihongo is 'ill-suited to precise thought'.

My sensei (my physics-sensei, not my Iai-sensei) would vehemently oppose. He says that Japanese is a very precise and accurate language, just most Japanese don't care about it, an mess it up. I gave 3 (Physics)talks up to now in Japanese after he had corrected my transparencies, choice of words etc., and I must say that English is quite vague in comparison. Example:
Me: "What means 'details' in Japanese?"
Sensei: "In this context, there is no word 'details'. You can only choose a word meaning 'important details' and one meaning 'unimportant details'. Which do you need."
Imprecise use of Japanese often results from "pick the next best word from the dictionary", an approach favoured by Japanese and foreign talkers alike.

My sensei, being fed up after spending 2 weeks correcting the Japanese in 3 masters theses of his students: "We demand entry exams in Maths, Physics and English in our institue. In the next examination commision session, I will propose that we will also demand examination in Japanese ....."

I was talking to another professor in my Lab: "I now try to learn scientific Japanese".
Other professor: "You are lucky. You Professor is the only one in this lab who really takes Japanese serious. All we others are just messing around ...."

Originally posted by Soulend
My sensei was similar. At the lower levels, he explained more. But as I progressed, and had a base of technique to liken each new technique to, technical explanations slowed to a trickle, to the point where he would only watch intently as if looking for something in particular. He insisted that too much verbal and technical instruction causes the mind to absorb what it can, but does not allow the body to absorb and understand.
Above a certain level of skill, our sensei also does not much technical explaning. The reason is, that the statue and therefore the body mechanics of the deshi in our dojou varies considerably, from under 40-kg under 1.50m women up to above 1.80 m 90 kg men. At a certain level you are on your own, as far as optimization of movement is concerned. Therefore, he continuously reminds us on important priciples like balance, controlled execution, and that we should never stop to analyze our motions, just being faster than the next guy is not enough. Sometimes he underlines his statements by referring to other sports, like Karate (for balanced, explosive motions), Tai chi (smooth execution), baseball (timing and watchfullness :)) ....... Some of the more senior deshi (Those who are corrected by him once in 10 training sessions) do a lot detail explaining, and usually they have diverging opinions on details. Sensei assigns students on the middle level (Those who are corrected by sensei every half a hour) to all these senpai in turn, so you are exposed to a lot of different types of execution and are able to chose the best style of yourself. Deshi on the lower level (who are corrected all 5 minutes) are allways assigned the same senpai as to not get confused ....

Hans-Georg Matuttis

10th May 2001, 04:50
Re: Quote 1: Uh, the 'scream in protest' was just a feeble attempt at levity. Didn't think it was paticularly worthy of quoting or commenting on. Dunno if the intimation is that my technique must suck since I didn't train under the same sensei as you, or that I'm too stupid to correct my movements if they are straining me and shouldn't be. Just an off-the-cuff comment that should offend no-one. Maybe my humor is as weak and illogical as my technique...hmmm..

Re: Quote 2: Perhaps the author and the professor choose their Japanese words lazily. Wish I had the book, as the author gave many examples which I now cannot recall, but it is in the shipboard library on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Was just a thought. My Japanese is even feebler than the abovementioned skills in above paragraph. Couple handfuls of social phrases, quite a few words and phrases common in MA, and the required Japanese needed to order a beer and locate the john.

Re: Quote 3: Very interesting.

11th May 2001, 08:40
Originally posted by Soulend
Re: Quote 1: Uh, the 'scream in protest' was just a feeble attempt at levity. Didn't think it was paticularly worthy of quoting or commenting on. Dunno if the intimation is that my technique must suck since I didn't train under the same sensei as you, or that I'm too stupid to correct my movements if they are straining me and shouldn't be. Just an off-the-cuff comment that should offend no-one. Maybe my humor is as weak and illogical as my technique...hmmm..

Sorry, I no offence intended, I just did'nt explain properly. What I wanted to say was, that our trainer makes nobodies muscle scream in protest AS A RULE. On special occasions, he does. Once after such an occasion (we had guests), he moreover scheduled a kind of exhibition performance, after everybody was already tired and on the verge of dropping down. I apologized afterwards and said: Sorry, I could' not move full speed any more and went through it a bit lightheaded, a bit like in a dream and with only 60 % of my potential. He smiled and replied: See? You should allways be able to move like that ....

I did not want to insult anybody by saying that screaming muscles are a sign of bad technique. But usually the muscles screaming loudest are a good indication of where further technical improvement is the most worthwile. Silent parts in the body mean that some improvements can wait:).

11th May 2001, 16:29
No problem at all Mr. Matuttis. Although my sensei didn't really have our muscles "screaming" all the time, per se, we were always pretty exhausted by the end of class. Maybe the difference lies in the fact that I am speaking of Karate and you seem to be referring to Iaido. Anyway, I'm guilty of drift. I'll let the sensei get back to their discussion.

14th May 2001, 01:48
I personally applaud Glenn for bringing up this mystification subject and discussing the lack of clear teaching principles of efficient movement that are foundational to good technique. I am very tired of it from any teacher. Just one example of clear language pointing the wayis as follows:
"Joint mobility is an essence of biomechanical efficiency.
Every joint is akin to a pulley system, and the more pulleys
recruited for an activity, the more biomechanically
efficient the movement. More movement equals less effort...
a very difficult concept for many in the conventional
fitness/sport community (for some reason). As an aside,
there are four simple machines of mechanical efficiency:
Pulley, Lever, Screw, and Incline (some would add others, I
do not for I believe they are only variations on the
"simplest" of the S.M. of M.E.) Each joint can have
multiple functions.
This returns to the notion of Effort vs. Efficiency. "
Scott Sonnon

This comes from a performance enhancement system put together and researched by the Russians for their Olympic athletes and "Spetzna" units in the Russian special forces. Chinese TIMA alude to this moving from the joints and not the large muscles, but it is mystified, and I have been trying to figure it our for 30 years.
ROSS says it in plain terms and shows you how to train your self towards this Efficiency in movement, regardless of style. Not to say it is easy, but well worth while in time and effort in my opinion.

More later ...

Best regards,
James Fraser


14th May 2001, 15:35
Well, here is more of my personal experience with this topic of teachers, mystifiaction, etc., etc., This loyality to at style and a teacher has definite limits and can be hazardous to you training, as I see it. What happens if each of us alone is soley responsible for our training, and what we need can change from moment to moment and day to day. And what each of us needs will be different. Context, safety to learn by trial and error, and mutual cooperation, contribute to lessening reactive fear and panic so each can discover our own idiocyncratic style. This decision to take responsibility is mst difficult. After all, someone might have "IT", if I could only find him or the greatest system.

Even Hatsumi, Masaaki, Soke speaks recently in
these mysterous terms about Yin and Yang and we all really teach outselves. But only the wise man of the Bujinkan can decode what he means. And this is not about secret assination techniques

Here is some of my exerience for your consideration:
I have been training in various arts for 40 years, a kind of "jack of many arts, master of none". In some martial arts, I have trained and been loyal to a teacher for 10 to 13 years. Some times it takes me a few years to realize that Shirfu or Sensei 'X' is leading me in superficial circles and couching this in Chinese or Japanese "mysterious metaphors and sayings", that point to basically superficial circles. Upon discovering this, sometimes I ask the teacher to assist me in going deeper, and sometimes I just get very frustrated and disappointed and basically being lied to for years.

I have a instructors certificate in a Northern Kung Fu system and was told I was on 'indoor' student. Sometime latter I discovered both are not true. I am no more a qualified teacher in this system than the man in the moon.

When I have respectfully asked a teacher for assistance, or train with another style/teacher alsoI got back a response that the teacher felt insulted. Oh well...
Now it does not matter that he himself trained with a number of teachers, supposedly. There is more,but I will not go into it here.

Maybe I am just not a 'good enough character' to have a teacher invite me into the 'inner courtyard', let alone the inner chamber. However, I am basically a good man (ask my wife, family and friends), I have never been arrested and I am educated with a masters degree. I did not know sainthood was required or full enlightenment. But with enlightenment I probably would not be attached to all of this anyway, 'life/death, peace/violence, and so on. A step toward enlightenment is to rise above all polaritities - not easy.
And to extinguish the fires of delusion, desire and hostility. Well, I am not even close, so I guess I will never make it into the inner circle to get the secrets. Sighhh!

Teachers here in Fujian, China say I work very hard and learn very fast. But I am still 'outdoors'. And frankly I resent this after all the years of loyalty and dedication to a teacher and a system.

So, I am not going to do this any more. I will find my own way. Chinese 'Nei Jia Chuan' talks about such things as moving with the integrated joints, not the large muscles. Or, the ankle is a secret in Kung Fu. But that is as far as it goes. There are many other examples, I could go into but will not at this time. I am tired wasting my time, and tired of the mysterious metaphors and run around. So, one of the things I have done is turn to ROSS to assist me in learning HOW and WHY to open, strengthen and unify the joints in movement, plus much more. I ain't hanging on waiting for the real stuff anymore! Being a good student, a good boy, a virtuous, loyal student, etc. is called transference in psychology. Well, enough transference. It is a sure trip to running around in circles, and I have been there and done that.

ROSS has been Very helpful and useful and helpful in demystification of many of the metaphore and some B******* I have heard over the years!

This has helped me a great deal understand the Chen Tai Chi I am learning here, from a very qualified teacher from the Chen Village in Henan Province. Just do it and you will understand it is not enough. I need to know the WHAT, WHY and HOW. That excited me to train and explore me and what I am learning. Learning concepts is where it is at. Real applications of Chen or many other Kung fu systems are great secrets. Maybe the secrets in the quality of movement and the seed concepts, not in the techniques.

The modern reality in the USA is that violent confrontations are most likely to happen as an ambush from a enraged sociopath pumped up adrenaline who want to tear you apart as quickly as possible. I believe the CONCEPTS or seeds of a system need to be taught to a student, not the technique. No matter how many repetitions (research indicate you need to do 8,000 to 10.000 reps for this 'technique' to emerge in this kind of situation) of certain favorite movement(s) you do, in the above situation you may well find yourself responding from your inborn hardwired reflexes, and flinch. You may well have to work very hard to control your bladder and bowel movements. And it is conceivable at least some of us may freeze, not matter how many repetitions we practice over the years. This is partly because these movements are imported and basically belongs to someone else who is not us.

To use and train the flinch or not, that is the question. Much of martial art training is set up to deal with a fight that is expected and mutually agreed upon, to 'square off'. But this is often not the modern reality in the USA. I believe, as Takamura, Sensei (Ha Shindo Yosin Kai Jujutsu) states taht all styles need to challenge themselves by looking at the modern realities, or they will become museum pieces, largely without practical relevance. Concepts or the seeds of a system need to be taught, not antiquated forms, such as weapons forms with flimsy tin weapons that make a lot of noise, and may hurt if you slapped someone with them. Doing less, in Sensei Takamura's and in my opinion, is to compromise the potential safety of students. Form work alone, especially rote repetition, with out detailed undErstanding of the WHAT, WHEN, WHERE AND HOW does not make a STUDENT able to deal with the enraged sociopath indicated above. As the Sensei Takumura said, "the past should teach us and liberate us, not hold us hostage". I say YES to this! Well, at this time in my old life, I don't care, I will get good training and information from where ever I can find it.

Martial Arts training is supposed to build character. I do believe this includes honesty and integrity. But sometimes this only applies to most of the students and not the teachers who have taken me in many superficial circles, until I caught on and quite training with them. This traditional loyalty and respect has many shortcomings, as I have experienced it. It has been a sure ticket to being ripped off of my time, money, and energy in a number of cases.

Thanks again Glenn for beginning a great thread and thanks to 'ya all' for your intelligent and experienced contributions

Best regards,

James Fraser
Xiamen, Fujian, PROC

14th May 2001, 15:46

You may find the Russian perspective on teaching mystification, etc., of interest in light of this Thread.
It is as follows:

By AARMACS (Aarmacs) on Tuesday, April 24, 2001 - 03:36 pm:

"Adam, there is an old saying, "believe half of what you
see, and none of what you hear." There is another saying that most people do not know in its entirety, "seeing is believing, but TOUCHING is for real!"

Most of us are conditioned to believe that morality and
physicality are mutual independent characteristics. This
couldn't be father from the truth. They are inextricably
intertwined. To have morale is to express it. To be moral is to act. This is the moral imperative: to truly believe [in something] means that you will act upon that belief.

This is the difference between preaching and teaching to
one's group. The martial art "preacher" tells one what to
do and demands faith in his word. The martial art teacher
creates an environment where the "student" can uncover the
truth for himself/herself and OWN the "uncovery."

Physical skills are part of something much larger... they
are part of a philosophy. Whether one's philosophy is
deliberate and conscious is the onus of the individual.
Most people do not even know or believe they have an
"operating system" which dictates their daily
moment-to-moment activities. They feel that they are at the
whim of the co-workers, bosses, traffic, politicians,
stock-market, parents, spouse, children inflation, blah,
blah, blah... They have not actualized their operating
system. An operating system is a true philosophy, a system
of thought and action.

A philosophy, or operating system, comprises, a doctrine (or
set of general beliefs, values, morals, ethics - one's world
view or ethos), strategies (general broad-brush plans for
promoting and propagating one's doctrine), tactics (specific
methods of accomplishing and pursuing strategic objectives)
and techniques (moment-to-moment applications of tactical
operations.) Understanding this definition of a true
philosophy, "techniques" are just moment-to-moment
representations of doctrinal beliefs, or moral principles...

For instance, tell a child that force only begets force...
so hitting another child to get what she wants is not
desirable or appropriate. What does this preach? We know
that sitting down and discussing that this behavior sets in
place a cycle of domination/subjugation, based upon the
dotrinal philosophy of "Might makes Right" ("Ad Baculum") is
very sophisticated discussion... and regardless of the
child's (or an adult's for that matter!!!) comphrension, it
is something one is telling, or preaching AT the child.

Place the child in a jacket grappling drill and begin to
share the concepts of yielding in order to address force,
rather than resist or attempt to overpower
counter-aggressively. What does the child UNCOVER from your
teaching (from the safe exploratory environment that you
have created)? S/he uncovers that yielding and guiding
force to protect one's self and the other can be relaxing,
easy, and even enjoyable for all involved. The child does
not realize immediately the lesson that has been taught, but
has transformed her/his entire behavioral pattern, her/his
"operating system" now runs more efficiently because of the
*ownership* of this doctrinal belief in yielding and guiding
force, rather than resisting and overpowering force. "

Scott Sonnon


16th May 2001, 09:48
This is a very fascinating thread. I am wondering how I missed it up until now.

Here are some of my thoughts on the topic. My first instructor learned Shaolin Kung-fu from a man named Ark Wong who purportedly learned directly from a Shaolin monk in his childhood. My instructor learned the traditional way from his instructor. That is, his instructor would demonstrate a technique or a form and then sit down, read a Chinese newspaper and let my instructor figure out what he had just he witnessed. On occasion his instructor would stop him, make a quick correction of some sort and then return to his paper. My instructor agreed with many of you and decided that this was the long way to learn so he taught us in a more linear fashion.

This was over 20 years ago. In the interim I have trained in a number of other Chinese and Japanese arts and have read quite a bit about others. I have also read quite extensively about the Asian cultural and philosophy. What I think I have figured out about this unusual (For us Westerners) way of teaching is that it is FROM THE INSIDE OUT. This way of learning is difficult for us Westerners because we come from a tradition that is linear in its thinking. We process information in the same manner we put together a car or build a house. We start with a schematic and follow a linear process adding pieces one part at a time until we have a finished product. The Western linear manner of learning is completely intellectual in nature. It involves no inner sensing or comprehension of a thing. I specifically used the word comprehension instead of understanding because it is possible to comprehend how to do something without understanding how or why it works. Understanding requires the ability to describe something in a linear fashion but comprehension can be indescribable in linear terms. For example: I can describe in linear verbal terms Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This description will in no way convey the actual experience of seeing the painting or the emotions felt. Words are an inadequate tool to describe an experience. Generally, mankind has used metaphors to describe the indescribable. That is one of the purposes of arts and poetry, to point the direction in which the individual should look in order to experience for themselves the experience the artist is attempting to relate. Since all experiences are highly personal in nature yet still related in their essence we can say, “When you perform this technique you should feel like the wind is moving your body” or “The technique seems as if it is performing itself.” These seem like mystical statements, but they are merely ways of explaining an indescribable experience. The proper technique is felt not just performed. One can perform a technique technically well, but still not project that extra something that someone who feels the technique can. I have experienced these feelings in my original art of Kung Fu, but most notably in my practice of Aikido when performing techniques and when taking ukemi for my instructor.

The best example I can give is that of my former wife. Years ago we attended a church with a well defined hierarchy of who was a member of the "IN" crowd and who was not. My wife was not. There was a particular woman who played the piano the majority of the time for the Sunday services. This woman was technically very proficient in her playing. She could perform complicated finger moves and flourishes. Technically she was superb. On occasion this woman would be absent and my wife would be asked to play for the service. My wife was not practicing regularly. She had no reason too. She played the piano because she loved music and played when the spirit moved her too. She was not technically up to par, but whenever she played she received copious comments of appreciation about her playing from the other church members. My wife played from her heart, from that inner area where the artist becomes one with their art. This spirit came out in her playing and was noticeable by others who were attuned to it. Her lack of technical expertise was more than compensated for by what came from within her.

I believe that this is what the traditional manner of instruction was meant to teach. “That which can be learned, but cannot be taught.” It is the “Ah Hah” experience when a student finally “GETS” it. This knowing can be experienced, but cannot be adequately described so flowery speech was used to help convey the feeling. So what is the ultimate benefit of learning in this manner, and is it preferable to linear learning. That depends on what the student wants to accomplish. I call learning from the inside out “The Long Way” and learning linearly, “the Short Way.” Each has its benefits. The Long Way is beneficial for developing a deep understanding of technique and art. It is the way to reach the higher levels of mastery, because it adds the element of spirit to one’s performance and as we all know when the spirit is willing not much can stand in its way. However, if you are law enforcement personnel or a military man or someone who just wants to be able to protect themselves from the thugs down the street, taking 20 years or more to master an art is very impractical. I teach The Short Way to those who need and want to know something they can use now and expose them to The Long Way as their ability and desire for deeper knowledge grows.


16th May 2001, 16:02
I am new to this forum and don't profess to know anything about teaching (or learning) martial arts. However, I do have the interesting experience of being a teacher in 3 Japanese elementary schools and occasionally a visiting teacher in 3 kindergartens. A lot of the mystification and other seemingly non-Western teaching and learning styles mentioned in previous posts are things I see every day at school. The teachers teach in a very different style - at first, I wanted to judge them as being bad teachers or non-teachers. But they're not. There just is no inherent focus on the efficiency of learning. The teacher presents material. The students repeat it/copy it/replicate it. They rarely ask questions. They rarely need to. If they get it that's great. But if they don't, that seems to be ok to. (The Japanese expression of frustration in learning is sometimes put as - "It isn't going into my head.")It's not to be mistaken as purposeful mystification or a lack of care or effort. It's merely a different focus. I've experienced it directly - I'm often required to learn math or some other subject in Japanese (which I don't speak well) and then help teach it to the kids. It's horribly frustrating, but it somehow works. This style is a perfectly good way of transmitting a Japanese art to a Japanese person. Replicating what the teacher does is drilled from before the age of five. Intense explanations and reinforcing Western teaching styles are difficult and sometimes extremely stressful for the students. I am not addressing (or disagreeing with) the historical reasons for mystification, the Asian philosophy, etc. The short, simple, (and partially explanatory) point is that at a very young age, this style of teaching is naturalized. It's not a problem.
Also, a note on language. Japanese is accurate and precise, but often in a different way than English, as certain concepts are more important to one culture than the other and vice versa. Also, it is more polite to be vague, and common speech patterns avoid the more exact attributes of the language in the interest of fitting in and getting along. Gesture is far more important and, perhaps, harder for non-Japanese to pick up.
There's my 2 cents (plus 3 dollars).
Joan M. Bennett

19th May 2001, 16:22
Mr. Brown,
Thanks for your lenghy response and view points.
As I indicated earlier, what you refer to as the 'long way',in my experience, may never get to the 'short

To Quote Takumura, Sensei of Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu, "Many classical ryu in Japan [or shir in China] have not adapted their techniques to address modern realities. They cling only to antiquated forms
[and mystifications] and in the process, often neglect the concepts which form a particular traditions core...Without the addition of an instructor's own wisdom, experience and most importantly, techincal innovation, the art in just several generations is but a hollow shell of what it once was. Without the consideration of modern realities to challenge and arts effectiveness, it becomes a museum piece whose only modern relevance is that of a historical curiosity...The past should teach us and liberate us, not hold us hostage." I understand the use of metaphore. I also understand that metaphore and "poetic language" has been used to describe methods and techinques and this knd of language was a deliberate way of encoding and mystifiying what was being taught, so only the "people who are really ready to "get it, will get it". In fact, this is a way of hiding and keeping secret.

I have had an experience recently where a teacher here in China showed my the real details and ways of very efficient movement of Chen Tai Chi's "Buddha's Warrior Attendent Pounds Mortar". Maybe some very gifted individuals could somehow 'figure' all this out, but these persons are few and far between. Watching this teacher do this movement twice was a 'mind blower to me'.
There were no mystifications, frills or flowers here.
Just 20 years "eating, sleeping and ......." Chen Tai Chi, growing up in the Chen Village, Henan Provence. His teachers (include the current 19 generation inheritor, Chen, Xiao Wang) DID teach in specific detail and they did not mystify. There is a book in Chinese by Ma Shirfu, about the extensive and detailed day and night training in the Chen Village, and there was no mystification in this training. Mystification is for the 'outdoor students'. There was a very detailed analysis of technique, movement, form, and principles, and very difficult training. 'Why', 'How', When', etc. was clearly explained and PRACTICED.

And the teacher did not demonstrate once it twice and then sit down with his arms folded, and smoke a couple of cigerettes waiting to see if you discovered the "feeling" of the movement he just taught. Or even walk out and go to lunch and not come back or show up once in 6 months, having a student teach me, until I quit. ( that is my experience with Southern Chinese teachers).

And watching Mr Chen every week end, shows the result of the Chen Village training and teaching mentioned above. The quality, relaxed power and highly detailed and efficient movement is right there for those that can see it. I did not see it before, but he only has to show me once, with sometimes a few words of expaination, and I understand, although, as he says I may not be able to do it for a year or two. My response is often dropping my mouth open and saying to myself, "Woowh! I find this a very motivating expereince. This kind of experience in my 40 years in this MA field is extremely rare, too rare as I see it.

So, mystification is code, and meant for the 'outdoor student', as I see it. A few talented ones may be able to decifer the code, but most will get lost in the labrynth of mystery and metaphore trying to follow the teacher and/or style's dogma to find the"ahaah!, or the illusive and hinted at enlightenment. And these experiences never come. I heard Masaaki Hatsume, Soke of the Bujinkan say a few years ago that one of his nine ryu ha could be learned in 3 years with a willing teacher and student. But not unless a teacher really is able and wants to teach in a clear way. At high levels of spititual development perhaps metaphore is the only way to communicate, but not around the foundations of a system. Granted the teacher cannot do it for the student, but he can point the way as Mr. Chen did this morning and has done in the past. As with a most revered Bodhisattva in China, Gwan Yin with a hundred arms, the teacher needs at least a hundred arms and a thousand fingers to point the way(s). Even with a teacher with these many arms and fingers, traveling the road is not easy! Without, it is almost impossible.

Best regards,
James Fraser

19th May 2001, 21:52
Mr. Fraser,

Very interesting information. Thank you.

Do you believe Chen Tai Chi instructor's method of teaching is a common way of teaching, historically?

Do you believe that the "flowery teaching method" was a minority teaching method , historically?

Do you believe the "flowery teaching method" was used to weed out the serious student from the dilettante?

I agree that to see through to the foundations out an art takes a certain mental facility. First, you have to figure out that there is something more, then attempt to find out what that something is and then persist when the going gets tough and confusing.

This is how I learned Aikido. I could only attend class once or twice a month so my learning curve was handicapped from the beginning. My instructor taught with the "steal the technique from me method". When I attended Aiki-jujutsu classes it was even more difficult. You could practice a technique wrong for half the class before the instructor would tell you it was wrong and even then he genereally wouldn't tell you specifically what you were doing wrong. He would just re-demonstrate the technique a couple of times. I already had 20 years of MA experience behind me and that helped. It still took me quite a bit of study though.

I have always viewed forms (kata) as a creative expression rather than a direct reflection of fighting technique. Further, forms teach graceful movement, build the cardio-vascular system and teach how movements can be connected into a progression. To be sure there are are martial actions. The details, however, cannot be deciphered by just anyone.

If would you like to e-mail me personally, I am interested to learn what you are doing in China and what arts if any you have had the opportunity to observe and train in. Also, I would be interested to learn what other unique teaching methods the Chinese implement.


26th May 2001, 16:53
Thanks for your reply and your expereinces.

My wife is native born Chinese. She was reading and translating a book give to us by my one of teacher Chen, En's senior students. This the book by Ma, Hong, refered to previously, on living and training in the Chen Village, Henan Province.

In the evening, 6 indoor students, Ma, Hong being one of them, would begin training with the Shirfu, the first hour being a detailed analysis of the movements in the form, as to how to move, detail and why, and also the functions (note that 2 Tai Chi Teachers here in China have said to me that the goal of Tai Chi is methodlessness, so the functions are not greatly emphasised, bbut they were taught to give ideas, or "seeds" for exploration)except for the young at heart, out dorr students, who needed to know the functions, or apathy sets in.) Any way, the next hour is spent following the Shirfu doing the form, and the third hour is devoted to practicing the form, with the teacher moving around making corrections of each student. The teacher then goes home at 10:00 P.M. and the 6 students continue to train until the we-hours of the night some times. Training begins again the next morning.

The book says that anyone who wants to be a good martial artist, must do the Chen form at least 10 times per day. To be a master, 20 to 30 times per day (it has been done). The first set takes about 15 minutes to practice each time. The prime purpose of the first set is to train the legs. And it does do that!!! The second set trains the waist and the "jen" or double edged sword is to train the wrist joints, all according to Chen, En. And with just these 3 sets, most of us are about 6 to 8 years into the Chen training. Then there is Chen push hands, san sau, broad sword, iron fan, and so forth.

The first set is taught all the way through once, roughly. Then there are two more cycles, each correcting and refining the movements, and giving ideas or seeds concerning functions.

I learned some Chen from two Chinese teachers in SF, USA.
They emphasised the "flowers" and I quit after 3 years of staying on the surface. The way of teaching in Ma, Hong's book is for indoor if not inner chamber students. For those born, raised and trained in the Chen village, and mostly have the family name of Chen, like Chen, En, the training is clear and specific, as described above. As for the rest of us, that depends on the teacher and his openness and willingness to disclose "the depths". My experience in general, so far, is that they are not, as my name is not Chen. However, so far Chen, En is very open, and willing to teach and demonstrate. Watching quality of his movement is
inspiring, to say the least. He says I can "get it", and not many can get "it". I hope so after all these years and at my ripe old age. Chen is very complex and certainly has the martial qualities sometimes fairly obvious, at least Chen, En's version does. Others may be more flowery, depands on the lineage. Chen, En's movements has no flowers and there is no non-sense, or wasted movements. "The man gets right to the point."

The Chen form teaches detailed coordiantion, relaxed and explosive movement, basic seeds or Chen principles, ( for your decifering pleasure), proper alignment, flow, efficient and natural movement with the joints, and how to consentrate energy (vs. dissapating it), if the teacher will show these details, and so on. In motion, ssome of this is very difficult to see, unless pointed out a few times. Again, some can never understand, so I was told, not matter how much the train. In these cases, no amount of correction matters. The corrections are taught, but if not learned, the teacher does not force anything, and stays at the level just above what the student can handle.

I live across a running track from a "Jing Wu Gwan (martial training hall)" and "Wu Shu" department at a Chinese University. There are over 100 students here majoring in Wu shu. They learn many styles over there 4 years here. This training is not easy and often 4 to 6 hours per day plus theory classes. The focus here is on training for Competition! This is a very different focus than with traditional teachers outside of the university setting. University training here is for the young, us old guys can't take it and it is not good for us anyway. This is not in depth training in one system for years. For example, they teach Ton Bei Chuan here, and it has a lot of acrobatic jumping in it, but I recently saw a old master out side this university do Ton Bei and he did not jump around at all. I have little interest in the university approach in China. Except, I am getting to learn a good and safe Chi Gong system. I like that. This took 6 months for the head teacher here to admit knowing any Chi Gong. She was 'paranoid', because of the government's going after the Fa lun Gong cult here in China, as a national threat. Any chi gong in this area, thus, has gone underground.

Originally there were no forms in most Kung fu, just techiques or patterns joined together, kind of flow drills.

My background is as a 'jack of many and master of none'. This includes Chen and Yang Tai Chi, Bujinkan, ROSS (Russian MA's)Shorin Ryu Karate, Liuhebafachuan, Lan Shou Chuan, Hsing Yi Chuan, Capoiera, Wing Tsun, Judo and Tae Kwon Do, and so on.

I hope I addressed your questions. Thanks for the dialogue.

So, historically what I described earlier is the historical method to INDOOR or IN THE MASTERS CHAMBER level students in the Chen Village. I suspect this is true with other styles, also. Outsiders can be taught 'many flowers, weeds, or horse s***', depending on the teacher. Chinese language in daily life is not a direct language. Teachers can be direct if they want to really teach a

I hope I addressed you question and comments. Thanks for the

Best regards,
James Fraser

26th May 2001, 17:20

I saw a descripion of Krev Maga from Israel and there is no mystification there, just adaptation and innovation to times and modern contexts. I like that a lot. This agrees with what I know about ROSS and Russian 'Systema'.

"The Krav Maga is not an eclectic martial art system, rather, it was developed with the perception that the classic martial arts were lacking various elements. The defense needs in the eras that the classic martial arts were developed were different than those of today. New unique techniques for defense against pistols, guns and hand grenades were considered needed, and therefore developed. (My emphasis in caps)

Krav Maga has no katas or specific sequences that must be followed. Students use the basic moves in conjunction with any one of a number of other moves to fend off an attack, the key idea being adaptability to new situations through improvisation. Emphasis is put on speed, endurance, strength, accuracy and co-ordination especially for intensive Krav Maga training. (Note the emphasis on lack of forms and ¡°the key idea being adaptable to new situations through improvasation...¡±)


Since the Krav Maga by definition is for self defense, it does not have any constitution and judicial rules and therefore there are no contests and exhibitions. The training is for practical usage in the every day reality. There is a colored belt system with a Black Belt typically granted after 8 to 10 years of practice. Spiritual and philosophical aspects are studied only at the Black Belt level. "

Get information from this website: http://www.bway.net/~muldoon/km.html

And another perspective on lack of mystery and direct and innovative teaching method that are relevant to modern times is as follows in this interview with Sensei Takamura:

"Conducted by Marco Ruiz , Oct. 1988
Edited by Marco Ruiz and David Maynard*

I was honored to meet Sensei Yukiyoshi Takamura with his senior student, David Maynard, this past November in San Jose. He has been quietly teaching Shindo Yoshin Ryu in this area for over 15 years. I am especially honored because Takamura Sensei has never before granted an interview. Being a student of iaido, I was introduced to Sensei Maynard while inquiring about the purchase of a particularly beautiful Nihon-to. When he mentioned his teachers expertise in kenjutsu my curiosity was piqued. I had heard stories about Takamura Sensei but had never met him or any of his students. Being a rather interesting local martial arts personality, I inquired about the possibility of an interview for this newsletter. To my surprise, a time and place were soon agreed upon. We conducted the interview at Takamura Sensei's home over a wonderful lunch provided by his charming wife Mishiko. I found him to be an interesting combination of deeply held passions, controversial opinions and casual levity. I hope you enjoy this interview with him as much as I did.

* Due to Takamura Sensei's occasional difficulties with English I decided to request Sensei David Maynard's assistance in the editing of this interview. Many of the concepts discussed were quite complex and included Japanese usage and terminology I was unfamiliar with. I felt that having Mr. Maynard involved in the editing process would minimize the possibility of any errors or misinterpretations on my part. With Sensei Maynard's assistance I attempted to clarify any confusing passages without altering the provided information, opinions or explanations. Any confusion caused by these efforts are ultimately my responsibility and I sincerely apologize. - Marco Ruiz

Hello Sensei. My name is Marco Ruiz. It is an honor to meet you.

My pleasure. (Takamura Sensei bows deeply then shakes my hand. We sit at a small tea table in his living room)

Sensei, When did you begin your training in budo?

I do not know for sure. My memories of being in the dojo go back very far. Both my father and grandfather made me train while a young boy. I was already accustomed to being in my grandfathers dojo so I probably started actual training around 5 or 6.

So you were taught by your father & grandfather?

Yes. My grandfather, received a teaching license from Katsunosuke Matsuoka. He in turn taught my father. My father and grandfather both taught me. Matsuhiro Namishiro Sensei continued my instruction after the death of my father and grandfather.

Matsuhiro Namishiro Sensei? Was he a Shindo Yoshin Ryu practitioner as well?

Yes. He was one of my grandfathers most talented students and my fathers closest friend. He also trained extensively in Shinkage Ryu Kenjutsu and Shindo Muso Ryu Jyojutsu. He had the greatest influence on my sword technique. Although my grandfather trained in Jikishinkage Ryu under Kenkichi Sakakibara, and taught this art to my father, the majority of my instruction was in Shindo Yoshin Ryu. I learned very little sword technique from my father or grandfather.

Interesting. Do you know why? In most traditional dojo, the sword is always taught first.

My grandfather evidently considered the passing of his Shindo Yoshin Ryu teaching license to be extremely important. He intended to pass it to my father upon his return from victory in the war against America. Sometime in 1944, the realities of what was happening in the Pacific war must have led him to realize that my father might never return home. When I was only 14 yr's old my grandfather formally presented me with a menkyo kaiden at the dojo. This was entirely symbolic as I was in no way proficient enough to deserve such a license. He privately instructed Matsuhiro Namishiro Sensei to complete my training if he and my father did not survive the war.
Confirming his greatest fears, both he and my father died in 1945.

It's 1944? Matsuhiro Namishiro Sensei must have been in the military as well as your father? Wasn't your grandfather afraid he might die as well?

No. Prior to the war Matsuhiro Namishiro Sensei was severly injured in an accident during kenjutsu practise. He was completely blinded in his left eye. This injury left him unfit for military service but did not seem to affect his martial ability. Upon his recovery he was as good as ever. We often tried to take advantage of his compromised vision but it was as if he could see better without his eye. He occasionally wore an eye patch of sorts. The sliced open eye socket made for a gruesom reminder of the seriousness involved with kenjutsu training. Ocassionally he would remove the eye patch and insert a wooden eye with a slice painted on it to frighten his opponents during a shiai. I remember one time when a young tough entered the dojo in a military uniform saying that he could cross a bokken with anyone. Namishiro Sensei flipped his eye patch up and exclaimed that he had once been so bold but had lived to become more humble. The young tough sort of slinked out of the door as Sensei explained how hard it was to get a wife looking like he did. Namishiro Sensei bellowed with laughter after the guy left. He was quite a sight.

Pardon my curiousity but were your father and grandfather both killed in the hostility of the war?

Yes. My father, Hideyoshi Ohbata, was an high ranking army officer and reportedly died on Saipan late in the war. My grandfather vanished during one of the firestorms that raged in Tokyo during the American bombing campaigns. We believe he was in the Asakusa area staying with a friend when he was killed. This area of Tokyo was completely destroyed by the bombing. One morning he was suppose to attend a meeting including the press and local politicians. He did not show up which was very unusual. The call immediately went out and many of his friends, including the students started searching for him. Many of his friends had connections with the police and the search for him was intensified but he was never found. It was a great loss.

I have heard a story that your grandfather was well connected politically and that he knew many famous martial artists including Daito Ryu's Sokaku Takeda and Yoshin Ryu's Hikosuke Totsuka.

Yes. My grandfather, Shigeta Ohbata worked in the newspaper business as a reporter. He had many friends in government and politics. (Takamura Sensei gets up and goes to a table in the next room. After digging thru some drawers, he returns with several pictures for us to look over.) My grandfather met Takeda Sensei but I doubt that he knew him very well as he never really spoke of him. He did know Kotaro Yoshida fairly well. They had mutual friends in the newspaper business.
It's interesting, twenty years ago nobody had ever heard of Sokaku Takeda. Now I get asked about him all the time. There is a magazine in Japan that has done some very good articles on him. Many people attempt to minimize his perceived influence on Aikido. That is too bad because it is very disrespectful to Ueshiba as well as Takeda. Would it not be just as disrespectful for my students to minimize my grandfathers influence on what I teach today? What I teach and the way I teach it, is quite different from what he taught me, but his influence will always be there and deserves proper recognition.
Many people also attempt to make Ueshiba Sensei into a god. What foolishness. Ueshiba Sensei was just a man. Maybe all this talk of Takeda Sensei will bring the Aikido world back down to earth. Many will however resist it because it's always easier to convince people to follow a god....

Sorry, I sort of got off the subject. Where were we?

No. That's fine. I asked you about your grandfathers acquaintances.

Oh yes, Totsuka, you also asked about Totsuka Sensei. He was evidently quite fantastic. My grandfather trained at his dojo before he met Matsuoka Sensei. In his day he was thought to be the match of anyone. An absolutely wonderful technician. In his prime it is said he was unbeaten by anyone including opponents much larger than he.

You mentioned Kotaro Yoshida. I'm sorry but I'm not familiar with him. Who was he?

Kotaro Yoshida was a Daito Ryu student of Sokaku Takeda. He was another martial artist of phenomenal ability according to my grandfather. His was instrumental in Morihei Ueshiba being introduced to Sokaku Takeda. He is also well-known for instructing Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyokushinkai Karate and Richard Kim.

Did you ever meet him or any of the other martial artists with whom your grandfather was familiar?

Yes. Kotaro Yoshida visited our home several times while I was a young boy. I did not care for him very much. He was not a friendly man, especially towards children. I hid under the floor once when I knew he was coming to our house with my father.
I have recently found out that Kotaro Yoshida had a son. This was interesting news as my grandfather never mentioned that he had any family or children. The son evidently traveled to America and eventually passed their family art to a student in California. I cannot remember the students name but I witnessed several demonstrations by him in Los Angeles many years ago. If I remember correctly, he was a police officer. I did not realize who he was at the time, but I do remember that the demos were quite impressive. I conversed with Richard Kim once about this gentleman and he said he was aware of him. I have a video tape of him given to me by one of his students. He is an excellent technician. I wish I could remember his name. *
My grandfather also knew Ishikawa and Inose, both sensei of Shindo Yoshin Ryu. Of course Matsuhiro Namishiro was quite a close friend. ( In one group photo we think we recognize Sokaku Takeda. We ask him who else is in the photo. He points out his grandfather and Katsuda Hiratsuka, the famous Yoshin Ryu master.)

* Upon later reflection Takamura Sensei remembers the name, Don Angier.

Where was your grandfathers Dojo located?

Northwest of Tokyo. A wealthy man named Hasegawa had helped my grandfather build it. He was involved in the construction business and was also a student. By the time I was training he was no longer around, but my grandfather mentioned him often. In bombing raids during the war the dojo was destroyed. I never saw it after the bombings, but Namishiro Sensei did. Tears were streaming down his face when he returned. He said nothing could be saved, not even my grandfather's swords.

Was the dojo ever rebuilt?

No. Several years ago we tried to find the location of the original dojo but everything is so different now. It was impossible to tell where the exact location was. Even the streets are all different now. A few landmarks told me that I was very close, but again, everything was so different. The last time I saw my grandfathers dojo I was only about 13 or 14 years old. You see, we left Japan soon after the dojo was destroyed eventually settling in Sweden. I returned to Japan many times over the years but never really tried to find the exact location until recently. My mother had moved back to her original home in Otsu so I seldom had an opportunity to look for it.

How did leaving Japan affect your training?

Not too seriously. The first two years in Sweden were very difficult. Fortunately Matsuhiro Namishiro Sensei came to Sweden about two years after our arrival. He had made a solemn oath to my grandfather promising to complete my training. He moved in and soon continued my training. This lasted until around 1958. He decided to moved back to Japan during one of our many visits back home. At this point, he told me that my training was complete and that I needed to start teaching. I believe he liked Sweden very much or he would have moved back earlier. When my mother decided to move back to Japan in 1949, I figured he would encourage me to return with her. Instead he encouraged me to stay in Sweden. I was very surprised. Later he explained to me that I needed to learn how to survive on my own outside Japan. Years later, I ended up moving to America.

What led you to America?

On a business trip around 1958 I visited San Francisco and met Mishiko. She convinced me that the weather here was much nicer than in Sweden. I agreed, so I asked her to get married. So here I am. (Laughing, Mishiko strikes her husband on the head with a chop stick as she passes by.)

I believe the kanji outside the dojo says "New Willow Heart" . Is that correct.?

Actually I prefer "New Willow Spirit.. My grandfather explained to me that when Shindo Yoshin Ryu was created, the name actually meant "New Willow Spirit". As time passed and the style developed it's own traditions, the character for "new/shin" was no longer seen to be appropriate, so the character for "divine/shin" was chosen as the substitute.

So most Shindo Yoshin Ryu dojo translate the name to mean "Divine Willow Spirit" ?

Yes. Only this ryuha uses the character for "new" in the name. I chose to return to the original kanji, meaning "new", to recognize the changes I have made to the traditional curriculum. Perhaps in the future, my students will have the same problem as the mainline school concerning the use of the kanji meaning "new." I hope so.

When and why did you reorganize the traditional curriculum of Shindo Yoshin Ryu ?

That is a very complex question. Let me see if I can explain it clearly. Any martial art is really a set of concepts and ideas. Physical techniques are important but not the defining elements of a style. I have heard some people say that this is not true, that they have secret techniques. So what! I bet another style has techniques that are similar to their "secret techniques." I would guess that what they actually have is more correctly described a secret concepts. All jujutsu traditions do similar joint locks because the joints in all human beings operate in the same way. There really are no new joint locks. It's how they perform the locks that differentiate the styles. The concepts used in the application of the locks are what are important. These aspects are what make one tradition different from another. They are often the okuden.
When I came to America I discovered that many traditional techniques were simply not applicable to the realities facing my new students. Jujutsu techniques in their original form were not intended to address these modern situations. When I first started teaching, students began to ask me how I would deal with a boxer, or with a karateka and so on. At first I was surprised because I was not sure that I had the answers. I had to carefully examine this. I realized that the answers were right in front of me. I was busy focusing on jujutsu techniques when it was jujutsu concepts that were the solution. Techniques did not matter because they were guided by concepts. New techniques could be devised to address new realities while embracing the time honored concepts that form the arts core. This would not be abandoning the art. This would allow the art to maintain its effectiveness and relevance to a new generation and era.

That is a fascinating position. What do sensei who embrace a more classical approach think about this? I would assume that they are critical of your position.

They are free to have their opinions. I am free to have mine. I am not really concerned with what other sensei think because my authority to teach does not come from them. My authority to teach and to make the decisions I have made came from my sensei. I am most concerned with the welfare of my students and living up to the responsibilities that have been entrusted to me. I am comfortable with the reality that my students may actually use the art they are learning. The same cannot be said about the students of most sensei that embrace a more classical approach.
Many classical ryu in Japan are now just pretty dancing. It is so sad. They have not adapted their techniques to address modern realities. They cling only to antiquated forms and in the process, often neglect the concepts which form a particular traditions core. Some people wish to preserve the arts exactly as it was in olden times. This is commendable but usually folly. With very few exceptions, no existing koryu reflect even a fraction of the arts technical heritage as practiced in eras past. It is impossible for any teacher to transmit 100% of an arts traditions, yet many koryu believe that the student should do everything exactly like the teacher, to so preserve the art. Without the addition of an instructors own wisdom, experience and most importantly, technical innovation, the art in just several generations is but a hollow shell of what it once was. Without the consideration of modern realities to challenge an arts effectiveness, it becomes a museum piece whose only modern relevance is that of a historical curiosity. The proof of this error in thinking has many historical examples to back it up. Katsuyori Takeda clung foolishly to outdated techniques of battlefield engagement even though he was aware that it's effectiveness was seriously compromised. New strategies involving a devastating technical innovation, the tanegashima (musket) were employed by his enemies. His samurai were cut to pieces in rotating volleys of musket fire by Oda Nobunaga's ashigaru. One of the most impressive armies in Japans history was efficiently decimated because it's leader was unable to part with a strategy that he knew was compromised by changing realities. Romantically drawn into doing things as they had been done successfully in the past, he was defeated by his traditional mindset. This strategy of old, and Takeda's failure to adapt in the face of overwhelming evidence to change, cost him everything.
I will not allow a similar flaw in technique or mindset to compromise my students potential safety. My grandfather often emphasized that my jujutsu must really work. That it must become my own jujutsu. And that someday my students jujutsu must become their own. That was his legacy to me and it should be my legacy to them, as well as him.

WOW! That's probably the best response I've ever gotten to a question on that subject.

That's too bad. The answer is obvious to those not shackled by the past. The past should teach us and liberate us, not hold us hostage.

How did you find learning & teaching different in the west compared to Japan?

When I first came to America I realized that the western mind was not going to be taught in the same way as a Japanese mind. The American situation was just too different. Americans are by nature more skeptical and suspicious than Japanese. Western freedom of thought permits a student to examine and question things in a way that would be totally inappropriate in Japan. This is both good and bad.
On the bad side, it can lead a student to dismiss a technique or concept as invalid just because he has not put in the time to learn it properly or delve into its secrets. Students that fall into this trap never master their basics. Later in their training you find gaping holes left by ignoring important lessons that the student chose not to pursue because he couldn't see the value in them. When I find a student like this I usually will not accept him. It is too much trouble to undo the damage done by this mindset and a mediocre sensei.
On the good side, it allows for a much greater flow of information between student and teacher. It also allows a greater level of creativity by the student. Students with strong basics and freedom of thought far outdistance the more traditional Japanese model.
The best of both worlds actually exists in concept in Japan. It is called "Shu Ha Ri." It is a theoretical method for transmitting any classical ryu. In practice however I believe it has had limited success. Cultural realities in Japan historically don't encourage individuality. So while a great foundation for learning is built, the creative freedom to expand upon it is seldom realized. For proof of this just look at what has happened in Judo, or even Sumo for that matter. The more innovative foreigners have been dominating Judo. Europeans and Korean's are impressively driving the technical innovations in that sport. Foreigners are slowly making these same inroads into Sumo.
Sometimes Shu Ha Ri is correctly applied and innovative traditionalism keeps the arts core and practical truths in tact. Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu is one of the rare examples in the koryu world where Shu Ha Ri has in my opinion been successful.

There is a rumor that you are extremely selective about who you choose as a student. How many students do you currently teach and what are the criteria you use when selecting a potential student.

I believe I have about 35 students total. The question about how I select a student is difficult to answer. Let me see... Much of my criteria is based on gut feeling. I just look at a student, look in his eyes and see what I see. If I don't see what I am looking for, I just say "no thanks." I am very sensitive to someone's potential for learning. I do not like un-teaching students either. I prefer a student with past martial arts experience but also a totally open mind. See, it's not so much that I am selective, it's just that so few potential students have the proper qualities.

It's the same thing is it not?

(Laughing) I suppose it is.

Another observation made about you and your system of instruction is that it is unusually rough. Is this true?

I don't think that is an accurate observation. The term "rough" implies to me frequent serious injuries. Are we more realistic in the way we approach our training? I must say yes. When we practice striking, we strike very hard. If you miss your block or technique you will get hit hard. We practice unorthodox attacks and we practice them at very high speed compared to most dojo. We intend to instill a more realistic amount of stress into our situational training. The fear of receiving hard strikes at high speed creates stress that simulates the fear response felt in a genuine confrontation. Eliminating this type of training only converts the art into calisthenics. It does nothing to prevent injuries. The false sense of security that exists in many dojo's actually cause a complacent mind and increases injuries. With a complacent mind a student is allowed to relax his situational awareness. He lets his guard down and gets injured. If you want to see a lot of injuries go to some Aikido dojos. People are frequently injured because they don't feel threatened in that harmonious environment. In my dojo the techniques are not harmonious, they are threatening. The situations are threatening. If you are threatened in the street, it feels similar to training in the dojo. Isn't the training in a martial arts dojo suppose to be like this? The term "martial arts" are thrown around a lot without any idea of their meaning. Martial means war or conflict. In a martial arts dojo we train for conflict. Without physical and psychological conflict there is no "martial" in martial art. Fear, to be overcome must be confronted and experienced. Fear must become part of your life experience. Appreciation of fear and the appropriate reaction when confronting fear is the sign of a mature martial artist. Are not your dojo mates and sensei the ones that you should ultimately trust when learning to confront your fears. In a real dojo, they are.
Remember that most people who call themselves martial artists are nothing of the sort. Most dojos are not martial arts dojos either. They are glorified social clubs thriving in an environment of emotional stimulation which is heightened by a false or extremely limited perception of danger. When real danger shows itself in such a dojo the participants run for cover. In a real dojo the participants run towards the conflict.

If you had to provide only one bit of wisdom for someone seeking a martial arts instructor what would it be?

Everyone is looking for a master or guru in the west, but the word master is so overused today as to be meaningless, much like having a black belt today is meaningless. A genuine master is almost impossible to find because you won't quickly recognize him. He is much more than a teacher. Genuine teachers strive to be masters but only one in a hundred thousand finish the journey. There are only a handful of true masters on the whole planet. Funny how they all end up in the San Francisco yellow pages. (laughing)
I tell people all the time this truth. It is not amendable or conditional. "Anyone who calls himself a master or allows his students to refer to him as 'master' in his presence, isn't a master." Occasionally he may be a well-meaning teacher who misunderstands the definition of the word, but most of the time he is an ego driven narcissist seeking adoration. He will have very little to teach because there is so little room in his heart for his students. Instead of looking for a master, just look for a good teacher with a sense of humor, especially if he's driving a crummy old car. (Laughing, while motioning towards his old Toyota.) My old friend and sensei, Matsuhiro Namishiro used to say "There must be lots of smiles along the way or the journey is not worth it." He was correct you know.

Thank you Sensei. This has been a real pleasure.

For me also."

So what do you think to this estemed Sensei's comments in this time and place of the USA?

James Fraser:cool: :look: :idea:

Jeff Hamacher
19th June 2001, 07:49
Originally posted by Gil Gillespie
After class I was chatting with my first-ever sensei, a yondan now, who addressed the topic Glenn began. He said it infuriates him how eastern (specifically Japanese) masters make you "take the knowledge from them." ... Ueshiba Sensei was notorious for never explaining. He just did it and the students derived what they could.
just as you said, Gil, i'm a day late and a dollar short with this post, but what the heck.:)

the learning approach you describe is referred to as "waza wo nusumu", literally "to steal the technique". i attended a martial arts seminar in 1998 (it's held every year by the Budokan specifically for foreign students of martial arts) where Kondo Katsuyuki (of Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu) was speaking. he explained that this was the very essence of martial arts teaching methodology in the not-too-distant past. not surprising, really, when you consider that this is precisely what Takeda Sokaku taught to his son Tokimune, and what Tokimune taught to Kondo. i assume that Ueshiba also received similar instruction. Aiki News publishes some good resources on Daito-ryu; you'll find more details there.

Yet there is still a realm of learning that must be experienced and delved into. Over time. Years. No matter how much explanation helps kihon, going beyond technique into principle and mastery cannot be taught. It can only be done. If we live that long. . .

and that's the point. my experience tells me that the same is true of tea ceremony and music. so much learning must be apprehended by direct experience. Zen teaching refers to it as "direct pointing", where a master would simply draw a student's attention to something happening right in front of him, as if to say, "there is your answer".

on the other hand, any teacher would be foolish to dispense with verbal explanation completely. the good teacher takes the best of all available teaching approaches and adapts them to their own purposes. out of time; looking forward to your reponses.

cheers, jeff hamacher