Saturday, April 15, 2006

Old School


Corporate mentality quasi-martial arts schools are now flourishing. Gone are the days when a prospective student required an interview before acceptance into a dojo. More and more schools are pushing contracts and the hint of quick and easy rank promotion in an attempt to get people to sign up. Slick advertisements, and schools that claim knowledge to everything from submission wrestling to yoga has become the norm. It's ironic that the bushi - the classical warrior, had contempt for the merchant class, although recognized its necessity in society.

At one time, a student would literally spend years learning the nuances and applications of a single kata. Indeed, the original method of transmission of an art was almost exclusively through the teaching of kata. The master would scrutinize his charge, and with the exception of his stern instruction, rarely if ever, said anything. Donn Draeger, in his writings, recalls an instructor correcting his form with "terrifying coldness". Compliments and accolades in the traditional ryu had to be seriously earned, and over a period of time. The forging of kokoro (fighting spirit) and character took precedence over flashy technical skills in the classical dojo.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Onimitsu2004 said...

The master would scrutinize his charge, and with the exception of his stern instruction, rarely if ever, said anything. Donn Draeger, in his writings, recalls an instructor correcting his form with "terrifying coldness". Compliments and accolades in the traditional ryu had to be seriously earned, and over a period of time. The forging of kokoro (fighting spirit) and character took precedence over flashy technical skills in the classical dojo.

While things must have been that way in mainland Japan (where I think Mr. Draeger spent most of his time), in Okinawa, things were very different. While the bushi mindset was very similar, training was less strict, and instructors were more approachable, almost family figures. The focus lay in relationships - Higa Yuchoku, when speaking about training karate with Chibana Choshin noted, "The man was more important than the style." In Japan, you had sempai-kohai. In Okinawa, you were kyodai, and while Okinawans used the sempai-kohai terms, the relationship was more like "aniki" and "otouto" - older brother and younger brother. Students closest to the instructor were the ones who advanced the most in terms of skills as the instructor revealed more to the students he had the best relationships with. The hardcore militarism Draeger may have observed and that some dojos observe in the U.S. today is a result of mainland Japan's systemization of karate training (as introduction of karate into the Japanese school system occurred at roughly the same time of Japan's rapid modernization, military buildup, and wars with Russia, China, and later, the world).

5:00 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

This isn't the first time I've been told of the Okinawan's informal approach to training. But we can't attribute everything to the Japanese. Even if the Okinawans had a relationship with their students that was characteristic of a "family", it should be noted that Okinawan karate, in part, was introduced to America via ex-US military personnel. Certainly they had an influence on the way karate was taught that continues to this day.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous blackbeltmama said...

My dojo definitely takes the more family approach to learning. There are so many schools in my area that pop up in strip malls, charge ridiculous rates and then leave the students stranded when they go set up elsewhere under a different name. Plus, they promote all the time with all these in between belts that cost a lot of money. It really is a shame.

2:58 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

The original belt order when martial arts first arrived in America was white, green, brown, and black. Most schools now have 7 - 9 belt ranks prior to shodan. I suppose the more belts one tests for, the more money goes in the school owner's pocket. One school near me has a camouflage belt.

8:50 PM  
Anonymous Bob Patterson said...

Two comments:

Black Belt magazine has an excellent article on the life of Draeger. It was either this month's or last month's issue. You should really check it out. His work is now on my "to read" list.

Belts and belt rankings. I tend to side with simple belt colors and spartan uniforms.

See my April 14 post:
http://www.taozenchi.com/bcpblog/?p=288

At a recent tourney I saw a person in a camoflauge belt. I never got a chance to ask him what rank he was or the name of his school. However, it look really bad IMO.

~BCP

8:57 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Thanks Bob.
I saw your 4/14 post and left a comment, maybe you didn't see it. I'm going to check out that Draeger article. There's very little written about Draeger's life, even on the web.

11:19 AM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

Camouflage belt..

That's a first...

I did hear that in new styles of martial arts, those kind of things are popping up.

I hate those guys who do things the wrong way. Giving a bad image of martial arts.

Unfortunately, good potential MA will end up in these school and lose interest, believing all of it is a scam. And frankly, that's too bad.

It really sucks, in fact.

For everyone displeased with the arts, there will be word of mouth to about 10 or 12 people.

People should be aware of signs, before signing up for classes. You go there with the best intentions, thinking that with all you've learned about karate and stuff, people in there will have good values, which is often the case.

Still, there are warning signs.

Anyways. Too bad it happens.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Miss Chris said...

Hello again. The martial arts school I belong to also has its faults as far as promoting it's students to their next belt rank. As I have vented about in my blog, an advanced belt promotion requires a successful boardbreak. One can perform their required katas and self defense techniques with great form and mistake free, but if they can't break the board...they fail. No matter that MANY other students messed up on their katas (forgot moves) and had to keep starting over...but they broke the board and received their next belt. Their answer to me when I made this complaint was that basically "it will catch up with them on the black belt exam." How does that motivate a student to make their katas perfect when it really doesn't matter? Luckily, myself and my daughter have done the board breaking and we are always motivated to do our best even if it doesn't "count". But many students aren't like that and I think it makes the school look bad.

5:58 PM  
Blogger supergroup7 said...

I wonder how many people would really want to have that Sensei/ student relationship. I'm guessing that many karate students of today go to class, pay their fee, and just want to learn how to kick/punch effectively. They are not really looking for an instructor that will sift through their mental formation, and challenge them to learn patience, self-control, humility.. and other mental aspects of the art. I could see the modern student saying "you are my teacher, not my therapist". However, this is just a guess.

7:00 PM  

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