Self-Set Limitations

Very interesting reading from “The Thoughtful Sensei” blog. Reinforcing the importance of revisiting the basic principles of all techniques and preserving them as they were originally intended – Phil.

As we progress though our martial arts career we set out goals and how we will reach them. The rub sometimes comes however in how we maintain that or those goals once we actually do reach them.

I was involved with a filming project years ago with my old Sensei and I was taken through just about the entire advanced kata system with personal one-on-two lessons (me and my uke). One film covered Koryu Dai Roku Kata and my uke and I must have spent a year to a year and a half working on that one kata of 39 waza in order to get right to Sensei’s satisfaction before we filmed it and demo’d it at a summer clinic. That was some work and he covered the correct way to illustrate each principle (as embodied by “a” waza) plus how to allow uke attack and confound (or attack and then attempt to cancel out tori’s efforts).

Notice I said “illustrate each principle as embodied by a waza”. This is probably one of the most confusing and least understood rationales behind correct and principled kata practice and staying within the template. You are not simply “doing technique” after technique; you are using a physical koan to illustrate a universal principle. You can argue with me that varying a specific technique can be done but it’s difficult to state that “modifying and changing” a base-line principle has any efficacy.

After all that work some 15 or so years ago, I looked up one day and realized that I had forgotten big sections of roku and could no longer simply step on the mat and throw it so I went back and pulled out all my notes and old VHS tapes (this was all pre-DVD) and re-taught myself the kata correctly. As we worked back through it all the old comments and excessive verbosity that Sensei had made came back and in fairly short order the kata started to feel the same.

Thinking on this phenomena I realized in a moment of mental insanity (partially fueled by sitting at the sushi counter, where I do some of my best “ki-analysis”, with too much uni and sake in me while I screamed “omakase” at the cutter and with him yelling back “gomen nasai”) that if I had not made a committed effort to go back and remember it the way I was taught I could have lost it forever and simply have gone forward doing progressively weaker and weaker versions while fooling myself into thinking that all my new variations are the way that it’s always never been done before.

The difficulty, and indeed the trap that waaaaay too many Sensei fall prey to, is that of mental laziness. Much has been written about the proclivity of the human mind to work on learning something and then once it starts to feel “good” we slack off and never progress past that point. This is likely where the phrase “good enough for government work” comes from. A real danger here from the ego standpoint is that of knowing more than everyone else around you but not knowing as much as the person who originally taught you and who was billed as the “go-to” all those years ago. If not careful, a Sensei at that point will begin to self-reference, fall prey to the “halo-itis”and now you’re really in a tsukemono (pickle) barrel.

To read more of this story please visit the Thoughtful Sensei’s Blog

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