Sunday, 22 March 2015

心技体 Shin, Gi, Tai is Needed to Form Good Habits

One of the things that every non-Japanese Sensei struggles with at one point or another is introducing Japanese language and culture in the training sessions. Even if your dojo is mainly sports centred this is still a topic of concern, I am sure. If you are teaching children, believe me, they will pick up and remember the things you say and what you introduce to them in class and some of those things, if not the majority of them, have the potential to change their lives.

(The author teaching a small Children's class at the Chito-Ryu So-Honbu Dojo, 2014)

I believe that it is the teacher's responsibility to set their students up for long-term success. I always try to consider this when deciding what to teach and how to teach it, as I am sure you do, too. The problem is never with the students or their potential to grow and learn and succeed, the problem is in the organization and delivery of the information. Furthermore, by rushing through the material or spending too little time on it the outcomes will suffer. Remember Karate-do training is all about developing good habits. Therefore, it only makes sense that we should follow the same approach with introducing this information as we would for instilling and developing good habits in our students. In order to do this, I would recommend looking at how habits are formed and strengthened.

Habits Good & Bad Are Formed the Same Way
In the English language we only have one word to describe a regular tendency or practice, whether it be good or bad the word used is 'habit'. A simple explanation of how habits are formed and strengthened would resemble the statement made by the American philosopher and author, Mortimer J. Adler, "Habits are formed by the repetition of particular acts. They are strengthened by an increase in the number of repeated acts. Habits are also weakened or broken, and contrary habits are formed by the repetition of contrary acts." While this statement appears to make perfect sense, it is far too simplified. The process of habit forming is actually far more complex. I believe that Stephen R. Covey's definition of a habit is very interesting. In his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People he defines a habit as "the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire" (p.47).

In Japanese, however, good 'habits', 習慣 Shu-kan and bad 'habits' 癖 Kuse, have completely separate vocabulary. You may have noticed that the 習 Shu in Shu-kan is the same Shu as in Renshu (練習) this character is also used with 学ぶ Manabu to describe 学習 Gaku-shu the process of Study; creating a knowledge base or physical condition through the repeated practice of specific actions. On the other hand, 癖 is always associated with 悪 Aku, also pronounced O which is Evil, Wrong, or Bad placed together with Kuse, 悪癖 Aku-heki the characters descirbe (falling into) bad habits or relying on some kind of Vice. It is also implied that it is much more difficult to form good habits than bad ones especially when talking about self-cultivation. If you look at the Confuciun or Tao teachings upon which the philosophies of Japanese martial arts and Karate-do are based on you will see that there is a great deal of importance placed on 練習 Ren-shu, practice and 鍛練 Tan-ren, Tempering, or Forging, to develop a discipline; self-cultivation. The paradox is that the desired result is a state of Naturalness and flow in one's actions and intentions. Slingerland offers a very nice quote by Kupperman (1968) in his book 無為 Effortless Action (2003):
It may seem paradoxical to speak of naturalness in a sense in which "nature is art." The paradox disappears, however, once we stop thinking of education as merely placing a veneer over our original "nature." Once we realize that education can transform what a person is, we realize that it can in a sense transform prople's natures. What becomes naturally is very much a product of training and habit. (Kupperman (1968: 180; emphasis added) 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Do we Practice Bun-kai Enough?

The more I practice and teach 形 Kata the stronger I feel about the importance of also practicing 分解 Bun-kai. Bunkai, is the practical application of the various 技 Waza, Techniques in the Kata. In the Chito-Ryu system any Sensei include the practice of various forms of Bun-kai to enhance students' practical knowledge of basic 基本 Kihon including such pre-arranged movements as 体さばき Tai-sabaki, which has its roots in Judo, to more complex attack and defence sequences such as Hen-shu-ho and Jun-ni-ko. Such practice also deepens our understanding of Kata. But, how many regularly practice the specific Bun-kai to the Kata?
By deconstructing the Kanji for 分解, as we have done in the past, we can attain a better understanding of what 'Bun-kai' really means. 分 Bun, in this context means a Portion of the Kata. This is fairly straight forward, but Bun can also have another meaning. First let's look at 解(く) Kai also pronounced Toku has multiple meanings from untie; undo; unfasten, to solve; answer; and work out (a problem). Placed together with 分 Bun used in a different context, this time 分る Wakaru, to Understand 解 Kai which is also often used with the kanji 理 (理解) to define understanding. This tells us that Bun-kai is an integral part of Kata practice that is necessary for understanding the Kata and the unique defence and counter attack techniques therein. That is to say, we cannot fully 'understand' the Kata if we do not practice the Bunkai.

For the past few years, I have been spending the majority of my training time with the Senior High School (SHS) athletes at Buntoku SHS where I teach English communication and coach the Karate-do team. Our training consists mostly of preparation for high level competition 競技空手 Kyo-gi Karate and, although we practice Kihon almost everyday, we inevitably end up spending more time on Kumite than Kata. Recently, in preparing the students for their upcoming 初段審査 Sho-dan Shin-sa, Black Belt Examination I have noticed that their techniques are severely lacking in some key areas. Speed and Power along with Breathing and Timing are often focused on during the training but the techniques in the Kata are still insufficient. This got me thinking, if all of these athletes are in great shape physically; flexible, strong, and young, then why can't they perform these techniques properly?

The answer, I believe can be found in their awareness and practice of Bun-kai, or in this case, the lack of Bun-kai practice.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Looking at 無為

In this post I would like to talk in more detail about the term 無為 pronounced Mu-i in Japanese and Wu-wei in Chinese (Mandarin). This concept is often associated to the Taoist approach to living, but aspects of this concept are also very evident in our Karate Do training. At the centre of the concept is 自然 Shizen, taking a natural approach to life and the problems that one may encounter. The concept stresses that the world we live in is made up of opposites and that we need one in order to appreciate the other. This is further applied to combative strategies and theories of dealing with conflict. However,  this has also been wrongly interpreted by some as meaning "to do nothing." I have seen this approach to dealing with conflict applied in various situations here in Japan and have grown to appreciate it very much. The more I am exposed to these concepts the less I want to translate them and simply be receptive to them.

For the sake of introducing them to you, I will try to outline a few important terms in order to build a foundation of knowledge to help us understand the connections between these concepts. I would first like to point out the difference between  不 Fu and 無 Mu.

Fu is a 'negative' and is often coupled with other Kanji to imply more of a meaning of 'Not' like in the case of 不動心 Fudou-shin or 不安定 Fu-antei where Mu is more often translated as lacking the existence of ~, or simply as 'nothing'.

Shi-zen is a term that I am sure you have heard before either in the Dojo or in your Japanese cultural studies. 自然体 Shi-zen-tai, literally meaning a 'natural' state of the body's posture, is a state that we are all forcing ourselves to realize. In this lies the problem.
In order to understand Mu-i or Wu-wei we must first look at a few other terms such as 自然 Shizen mentioned above and the Asian concept of the relationship of man and nature. All of the Asian philosophies with which I am familiar place man on the same level as everything else in nature, that is to say that man is not placed higher than anything else in nature whereas in Western philosophies man is placed higher because of his ability to reason. We must consider such things when we reflect upon these concepts within the Karate Do context as well. The concept that the 敵 Teki, for example, is not some external thing or somebody that needs to be conquered, but rather something within ourselves that needs to be calmed and controlled. In order to understand this we must also take a deeper look at how the terms like 精神 Seishin, 気 Ki, and 養成 You-sei are used in the context of Karate Do.