Teachers and Students

In Japan, the relationship between teacher and student is a strong one.  It is akin to a parent and child with responsibilities that reach beyond the dojo.  The primary duty of a teacher is to aide in developing the student, passing on crucial information, initiating the student in the methods and skills, and ensure the student can lead a righteous life.  The student also has responsibilities to the teacher, to use these passed-on skills in a moral manner, to behave in a manner that doesn’t paint the teacher in a negative light, and to earnestly study and improve. 

The teacher teaches via examples not by mere rules or regulations; they teach in a natural manner.  If students have negative tendencies, the teacher leads them away from those tendencies towards something positive instead.  A teacher encourages the student when they fail, and delights in the student’s successes.  A teacher acknowledges their strengths and further develop those strengths and acknowledges their weaknesses and provides a path to overcome them.  A teacher is a lantern that lights the way and provides the general direction, each student holds their own compass; it is up to them to determine the which path will lead towards the destination. Both teachers and students put forth effort to ensure knowledge and skills are passed on and developed.

We respect our teachers and teachers respect their students, teachers care for the students’ development and aren’t repressive, although teachers might push their students towards excellence, and push students beyond their self-imposed limitations; teachers care about the overall well-being of their students.  Students merely must respect and assist teachers when possible and refrain from doing or saying certain negative things.  Teachers and Students are family, friends, and mentors; a relationship that is built on trust and respect, by choice, not by blood or obligation.  Obligation only exists, if a student and teacher agree to the relationship or bond.  

Over time a student might leave a teacher, seek out new teachers, or lose contact with a teacher.  However, that teacher is still your teacher, you can never undue the connection you made, the quality of the relationship may change, but a teacher and student bond endure despite the quality it may have over time.  Your teachers helped you get to where you are now, respect that connection.  Teachers also may have many students, each one of those connections endure as well, delight in their successes after they left you, delight in being a part of their individual journey.  Even if students turn towards the perverse or unethical, learn from your mistakes to prevent another turn in other students.  Life is about choices; choose both your teachers and students wisely.  There is always a trial period before being accepted in the dojo by a teacher and a student accepting a teacher. It is a mutual agreement of trust and respect that both students and teachers are giving and earned.   

Budo and Proper Practice

Budo and Proper Practice

Budo is often difficult to define. The term budo is made up of two characters “武” and “道”. The character “武” has many meanings. It can mean “bravery” or “valor”; it can also mean “warrior” or “military arms”. The character “道” also has many meanings. It can mean “road”,” path” or “course” and “moral teachings” or “journey”. When combined we can arrive at several possible translations. However, it is unnecessary to disambiguate the two characters into precise English terms. Instead, it would be better to allow the concepts of the characters to swirl about. Nonetheless, let’s focus on the process of studying and practicing budo.

Budo is a practice. It requires continual self-refinement and self-directed diligence combined with daily practice. One doesn’t practice budo without these three aspects. Unlike religion budo doesn’t require you to believe in anything. One merely maintains a daily practice for self-refinement as an act of polishing a mirror until the mirror reveals a true reflection. Even if one polishes the mirror over and over, they might be polishing it incorrectly or unevenly. The polishing of one’s mirror requires certain systematic and pragmatic approaches, without it one might polish their mirror with sandpaper or use caustic cleaners to quicken the process, but in doing so one will destroy their mirror so that it never reflects a true image instead it reflects a distorted image. The act of polishing our mirrors takes time and diligence with an even amount of pressure and control – this is what is known as “proper practice”.

Most martial art schools have a natural progression and transmission method of teaching. In the old days, masters often didn’t teach the secrets or the principles of the movement; instead they taught the movement and instructed the student to repeat it over and over again, without ever speaking about the principles. When the student showed promise and their movements became crisp the master would initiate the student into the principles. Only after many hours of practice and diligence on the side of the student would the master speak of the deep principles of the movements.

Today, teachers may begin by teaching the principles, which in effect is akin to spoon feeding the student. This act of spoon feeding kills the progress of the student, if the student doesn’t have to rely on his own abilities he may not pursue what is just out of his reach. More often than not, even the teachers only have a superficial understanding of the principles and merely parrot what they have heard without really understanding it. The principles won’t be understood without proper practice, to the effect that a principle without practice is a song without a single note. To avoid superficial understanding of the principles proper practice is a must.

Japanese Dojo for Children

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.

  1. 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.)

  1. 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.

  1. Manners

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.

  1. Encouragement

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.

  1. Leadership

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.