Maintaining a daily practice is important. Every great martial artist not only advocates it, but has lived it by example. Martial arts mastery is a never ending journey, it doesn’t begin or end in the dojo it begins the moment you are determined to improve yourself and make the appropriate steps towards that end. The journey ends the moment you think you are good enough, or in the moment you make excuses for not practicing.
As soon as you decide not to practice or begin to make excuses why you don’t practice, is the moment you must realize your journey has ended. This is not the same as taking a rest or resting for the sake of practice. Baring injuries, if you go weeks on end without stepping foot in a dojo, or working on the foundations of budo is the moment you have quit following the way.
Those who don’t practice and only talk about mastery are merely telling their own stories and writing their own lines. They will become imitation budoka and won’t ever become the real thing. Imitation plants don’t grow nor do they bear fruit, imitation budoka are worse as they can more easily trick people with their imitation fruit. But, in the end their fruit will only leave a bad taste in the mouth once people taste the real thing. Don’t become an imitation budoka, become the real thing.
I am a firm believer that children are the future, but to create a better future for our children we must educate them and aide their growth. I also believe the Japanese way of teaching and nurturing children through the martial arts aides in creating brighter futures for children. But you might wonder, “what is the Japanese way of teaching?” Here are a few outward examples of the Japanese way of teaching you will find at the Bujinkan Roselle Dojo.
- The dojo is cleaned and maintained by the students, regardless of rank and age.
What this entails is cleaning of the dojo after training and making sure everything is in its proper place. The Japanese term for this is called Souji (掃除), it basically means cleanliness. It is an important concept in Japanese culture and especially Japanese education and dojo culture. At Japanese schools in Japan, from teachers to students (principals on down) clean their respective areas with group leaders leading the cleaning process. At the dojo, this means cleaning the mats and putting away all materials used during the classes and maintaining a clean training environment. It goes beyond just the training area, but one’s own equipment and gear. Shoes are not worn beyond a certain point of the dojo to maintain a clean training environment. So, from age three up to age 99 all dojo members clean and maintain the dojo. Cleanliness in Japanese culture is believed to lead to a clear and peaceful mind, it also maintains a proper healthy habit. (Children should extend this concept of cleanliness at home as a part of training in the martial arts.)
- Courtesy and Respect
Japanese manners and courtesy is a bit different from Western cultures, but at the Dojo you will find them being maintained. Japanese culture as a general hierarchy to it, elders are respected, teachers are respected, senior students are respected and so on. At the dojo, we use a dojo hierarchy and titles in terms of demonstrating respect and using proper manners. Students will call teacher’s ‘sensei’ and their elder students sempai.
During our bow in ceremony you will hear the following phrases ‘sensei ni rei’, it means “bow to teacher” and “sempai ni rei” which means bow to senior students and “shomen ni rei” which means to bow to the front of the dojo. Outside the dojo, or to non-students of the dojo, children are encouraged to use sir and ma’am. They are expected to show respect to people entering the dojo and leaving the dojo. Students are expected to also show up on time, and if late to wait until the teacher acknowledges them to enter the dojo floor and to apologize for being late, same goes for leaving early.
Students are expected to bow before entering the dojo and bow again on entering the dojo mat area. In addition the students are expected to bow upon leaving the dojo mat area and the dojo. The dojo itself deserves respect similar to people.
When a teacher is speaking students should listen, if they have a question they should raise their hand or wait until the teacher is finished talking. They also should listen to sempai in a similar way as to a teacher and not interrupt. It is a proper way for communicating and listening intently. Courtesy and manners are expected to extend beyond the dojo, but bowing isn’t necessary outside the dojo for students unless it is in Japanese environments or meeting with Japanese people in general (demonstrating cultural understanding). Students are expected to be mindful of their own actions and how their actions affect other people given different environments. Think of others before thinking about self before deciding what is the best way to behave.
Students are expected to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when appropriate, at the dojo it should be done in Japanese and it is also a part of our bow in and out ceremony. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are phrases that should extend beyond the dojo. Same thing with ‘excuse me’ and ‘may I’, getting and receiving permission is crucial in the martial arts, as well as asking for forgiveness. These aspects are important aspects that are expected in the dojo and outside of the dojo. Training in the martial arts doesn’t stop at the dojo it extends beyond the dojo walls.
Students are expected to encourage others to do their best. If a student struggles, others are expected to encourage that student to keep going and keep trying. Failure is a common thing in life, students will learn that it is natural to fail sometimes, but it is always important to keep trying and keep making effort. In Japanese there is a saying; “Fall seven times, get up eight”, it basically means no matter how many times you fail, keep getting up and trying. This extends beyond the dojo, to school work and work life. Giving up is not an option, trying, studying and self-improvement extends beyond the martial arts it is a life time attitude and habit.
Older students are expected to help lead, teach, and encourage younger students. Senior students also have a duty to ensure the dojo runs smoothly and that everyone is getting the most out of the martial arts. On a rotating basis, different students will lead warm up exercises and souji, also they will be asked to demonstrate and teach basics as well. Senior students are to be role models to younger students. Mutual respect is expected and encouraged. Having chances to lead also helps develop student’s ability to think about others and how to organize and interact in groups.
- Setting Goals
In the martial arts setting goals are important but setting practice goals are even more important. At the dojo we have a name plate board that has student names listed on placards in Japanese. Students will be taught how to write their names in Japanese and will put their name on the board when accepted as a student of the dojo. Their name plate will move up and down the board based on their practice and attendance as well as their ranks. While for adults we only have three color belts, white, green, and black, kids’ classes will have multiple belt colors until joining the adult class. This will both show their progress as well as a physical attainment of past goals and setting of future goals. This helps with both motivation and creating self-esteem and a sense of pride. Also other students are expected to help others with their goals.
- Class Structure
You will see senior students and junior students in the same class, you will see senior students helping junior students and teachers making sure class is running smoothly and everyone has progressing together. All students will receive personal instruction, encouragement, and critique from the teacher. The teacher will ask questions and expect answers from the students, the teacher will also share stories that encourage moral behavior, motivate students and their understanding of martial arts and life in general. Martial arts training is almost like a moving lecture on life.
- Unseen aspects of Japanese methods
You will see students slowly build on previous skills and knowledge, by improving coordination, balance, and adapting certain behaviors and manners. Students will have self-control, grit, and increased self-esteem and the ability to raise up other students’ self-esteem. You will see an increase in concentration and an attitude of being able to overcome obstacles. You will see students helping others and thinking about others well-being. Martial arts are for the benefit of both the individual and others, it will help secure a brighter future.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of examples of Japanese teaching methods, but it should provide some answers to what it entails. There are other aspects of the Japanese teaching methods in the martial arts, but some are not readily seen via examples. Such as correcting only behaviors only when they are detrimental to the student or tend to be bad, letting the student develop natural according to their own abilities and capacity. Pushing students towards excellence and taking on challenges. Teaching towards their individual strengths and eliminating their weaknesses. But, these aspects are not easily seen it is something that naturally arises in training and learning.
Kuzushi is often mentioned as one of the key elements in performing techniques, but kuzushi goes beyond mere taking the aite’s physical balance.
The concept of kuzushi in Japanese martial arts are similar, although each of them describe it or focus on different aspects. In kenjutsu and kendo, the unbalancing is discussed in terms the tip of the sword or “剣先” (kensen). In kenjutsu the “正中線”(seichusen) and various other places of point the tip of the sword are used to control and unbalance the aite. This also applies to jojutsu and bojutsu, with the use of the tip of the bo pointed along certain lines or used to control or judge the lines. Also various kamae are also used for unbalancing and controlling the aite. In jujutsu/taijutsu kuzushi is discussed in terms of direction of balance and controlling certain space to allow for a throw. Also, various kamae are used to set initiate and control of the directions of balance.
Kuzushi is primarily about splitting the aite’s lines of strength and power, while moving into a place where you are more balanced and have more “strength” (structural strength). An easy way to think about kuzushi is to think about moving yourself or some attack through their weakest lines while lining up your stronger lines along those lines. Or more simply, move where they are weakest, slowest, and can’t regain balance. To off balance an aite effectively requires that one understands their own balance through an attack and defense. It also requires that one understands where their lines of force are directed. These lines of force are understood as the relation between the joints and the direction of force they can impose on an attack and defense. This is also important for cutting quickly and effectively, if your arms and elbows are out of line with your hips and legs you will oppose yourself when you cut. As your force is spread out over a wide angle. This is the difference between a flash light and a laser beam when it comes to cutting.
Balance can only be effectively broken when the other person can’t fight effectively or easily regain balance. This requires a type of training that most don’t know where to look. Examples can be found in Kendo and Judo. In Kendo they have Kakari-geiko (掛稽古) and Ji-geiko (地稽古) which are types of unscripted practice, in the Bujinkan we have basic randori and some kata that require unscripted attacks. In judo, they focus more on randori than most traditional schools as most of the practice is geared towards competitions and matches. Non-compliance in training techniques is a mainstay of the martial arts. It shouldn’t be neglected in our practice, but it also shouldn’t take over the overall practice either like it can in both kendo and judo. However, it depends on the relationship between the uchidachi and shidachi to have an effective practice your uchidachi ought to be better than you.
Also, the mental balance can be taken to unbalance the body. Unbalance the mind and you can unbalance the body. This can be done with varying tempo or capturing the aite’s attention and have them focus on things that lead their balance towards your stronger lines and onto their weaker lines. In kendo, this can be done with varying kinds of seme. Also, it can be done with feints and direct attacks alone obvious defensive lines to open up the weaker lines.
Since this subject is extremely difficult to talk about effectively.
“Great Faith. Great Doubt. Great Effort. – The three jewels of training.” (a zen saying)
In order to get the most out of ones training I think it is important to embody these three characteristics. I am often told to have more confidence by my teachers. Having confidence allows one to move forward and continue despite what happens and despite the unknown future. “自信” has multiple meanings one of its meanings is faith and another is confidence the literal meaning is self-belief. You have to believe in yourself enough to keep going, and keep training, as well as the confidence in ones current abilities to meet the unknown.
Great doubt is also important, without it you won’t have proper introspection to see what you are lacking in your training. To doubt yourself and your abilities is to look at the skills you are unsure of and the skills you need to test. With doubt comes the need to test oneself.
Great effort, in order to achieve ones goals or in order to become really skilled you must put forth effort. The amount of effort you put into training is the amount you will benefit from training. Wishing you were better will not to amount to much, making the effort will. Little things will add up but putting in too little effort won’t amount to much. The saying “焼け石に水” literally means putting a drop of water on a hot stone, which in turn means a little efforts don’t do enough. The greater the effort the greater the outcome.
Having these three characteristics or aspects in training one will progress. This makes for a more perfect practice. The better the practice the better one can become, the better one can become the better the practice.
The Hidden Aspects of Kata Training:
Most martial arts training is begun using kata as the starting point before moving on to henka. Henka is often seen as the goal, or rather they see the goal as the ability to easily and freely change given the situation. Kata training is the bridge to henka and the ability to freely change in any given situation. However, kata training is often neglected not because it is unimportant, but rather it is not well understood. Most seem to merely use the kata as a general guide for a technique. In addition, the kata is often practiced with the wrong mind-set, which undermines its purpose. To neglect the kata is to miss its hidden importance. To see the hidden we should first explore the easily seen aspects of kata training.
On the surface kata training is a practice to help the practitioner to gain insight on how to perform technique. The apparent aspects of all partnered kata are the following: proper distance, timing, posture, position, targets, rhythm and execution of technique. Every kata has a starting distance. The starting distance is primarily based on the target the aite is going for. The starting distance is also affected by the type of attacks the aite is making and the weapons he is using. So, the starting distance of a sword or a bo attack is different than the starting distance of a punch or kick. One’s posture in a kata also dictates the aite’s available targets, it also controls the starting distance. The timing of the kata is also based on the type of attack in relation to one’s position with in it relative to the technique. Rhythm is a product of timing, distancing and positioning of strikes and the targets.
With these basic aspects there are benefits. Kata practice allows the practitioner to grasp the basics of timing and distancing, kamae, positioning and the execution of the technique. This practice helps create muscle memory. With increased muscle memory the movements can become second nature. This also allows for one to appear “softer” with the application of the technique. Proper body dynamics are taught via the execution of the technique along with the movements leading up to it. These benefits are probably nothing new for most people, however the proper practice of kata training is probably unknown.
In every partner based kata, one has a target and a strategy for executing technique. Whether one is an aite or tori one ought to figure out what movement is best, given one’s target and/or technique. This can be clearly understood by a quick analysis of one of the basic techniques. For example, one of the targets an aite has is the throat or the face. He must figure his distance to the target and how to execute the strike. He also must choose how deep he wants the strike to enter the target. Also, the aite must choose where he wants to be next, in case he can’t land the strike. In other words, the aite doesn’t blindly attack, but rather he is attacking with intention and without compromising his position. The aite’s role is first and foremost to look for a way to attack effectively without compromising his balance and posture. The role of the tori is similar. The tori in a kata is defending against an attack. The tori must choose how to present the target, the direction of deflecting or blocking the strike and how he will enter to execute the technique. The tori must adjust and set up the initial distance based on how he presents the targets to the aite. Using any kata these points are probably easily seen and understood. However, there is a deeper dimension to kata practice that is neglected or misunderstood.
Kata practice is not merely for learning a technique or understanding the mechanics of a movement. The kata are passed down for a reason, and the practice of the kata ought to make up the majority of one’s practice. The kata is deeper in design than the mere passing on of the techniques, it is meant to develop the practitioner by pushing past the limits of mere movement. Kata practice is perception training.
The practice of kata allows the practitioner to develop certain senses and certain perceptions that are necessary for henka as well as entering the world of mushin. Through strict kata practice one learns and develops the ability to perceive what cannot be seen or rather the movement behind the movement. Also, it allows to make one’s movement imperceptible. One shouldn’t rush through the practice of kata training, but rather take everything in and carefully control one’s mind and body throughout the kata. It is important to move slowly and precisely in the beginning. Later, the speed of the movements should vary as well as different types of tempo given the control of certain points. To do this type of thing effectively one needs to spend a lot of time working on both the mechanics and one’s perceptions of the aite’s movement, and a lot of time with the kata itself.