Sunday, 27 September 2015

'Ukemi' Can Break More than Just Our Fall!

It's not What we do in the dojo that counts, but How we do it.
Why do some people excel while others do not when training under the same guidance, in the same dojo and using the same menu of exercises and drills? this is a question that we must all consider as both students and teachers of Karate-do. Of course there is no excuse to flat out training wrong. I am not talking about this. I am talking about those who are training to better themselves and who's approach to training is based on a strong foundation, but end up progressing at different rates. As a teacher this is troublesome and if you are the student progressing more slowly it can be very discouraging.
As a student I always tried to do the best I could, as I am sure every student of Karate-do does. Some of the things I did to get better were, watching the movements of my Sensei and Senpai and copied them. I listened to their advice and thought about what this advice meant to me. Since coming to Japan I have had to deal with language barriers and personal physical limitations, but my approach to learning karate-do has not changed. I continue to play an active role in my learning. Over the years I have enjoyed many successes as a result of simply being present and engaged. But, over the years teaching children of many ages I have noticed a shift from students being actively engaged in the process of learning to being passive and disengaged. Therefore, my approach to teaching has changed.

There is a word that I would like to talk about in this post. It carries a lot of weight, you might have heard before, 受け身Ukemi. When you hear this word you probably think of the various kinds of break falls in Judo and Karate. And if you did you were not wrong. But, there is another way to use this word that I feel in its definition has huge impact on the way we learn and teach. In many of the well-known martial arts this is indeed a term used to describe "the art of falling safely." However, as a linguistics terminology this same kanji means "the passive, passive voice." Moreover this is commonly used in Japan to describe such things as being on the defensive, having a passive attitude, and passiveness in general. As a school teacher I have seen this passivity in the classroom and it is very disheartening to see young people with so much potential so uninterested in their self-betterment. I stongly feel that karate-do training can help inspire students to become more inspired about learning, but it is up to the Sensei to recognize this debilitating quality in their students and guide them away from forming the habits that will keep them passive.

Please keep in mind that Passivity and Politeness are not the same thing.

Even though most karate-do training sessions are lead by the Sensei or senior students it is so very important that the rest of the students participating do not become passive in their approach to learning. We must all think deeply about what we are doing, ask questions and search for the answers on your own, and actively participate in the sessions.  We must never allow ourselves to get lost in the crowd. To attain this we must demand more from ourselves and attempt to apply the advice from others in doing so it will become easier to hear, 聴く Kiku and apply what they are sharing. This curiosity and excitement is what gives us the strength to overcome the obstacles in life both in and out of the dojo. Showing respect, 尊敬する事 Sonkeisuru koto is not the same as passively, 受け身 Ukemi doing what you are told. Our actions should always be grounded in gratitude, 感謝の気持ち Kansha no Kimochi. perhaps if we can understand this we can more deeply understand other terms like 素直 Sunao which I talked a little bit about in an older post.

(Kansha, Gratitude, Kanji written by the Author, 2015)

No matter how you may excel in the art of ti (karate-do) and in your scholastic endeavors, nothing is more important than your humanity as observed in daily life.

‘Ti’ Junsoku (1663-1734)

In Asian philosophy there has always been a strong connection between man and nature. This can be seen in many texts and works of art. The philosophies that have guided the growth of Japanese martial arts are no different.

We can see a close connection to the art of ti (karate), academia, and nature in the quote above. The underlining principle that a karate-ka doesn’t simply learn the moves like a formula, but rather strives to develop a well-rounded and healthy life style that is balanced and innately human. What does it mean to be human? How do we show our humanity? It is believed by many that we show our humanity in our daily acts of kindness and courtesy, through our acts of courage in the face of danger, and in our restraint and self-control. In short it is in our humility that we show our true strength. What a concept. What a great lesson to learn. I believe that offering the opportunity to school children can change their academic lives and greatly increase their potential for success in many other areas of their lives as well. “Those who follow Karate-do must consider courtesy of prime importance. Without courtesy, the essence of Karate-do is lost. Courtesy must be practiced, not only during the karate training period but at all times in one’s daily life” (Funakoshi, 1973).

I Feel that the true power of Karate-do can be seen in the everyday actions of the participants'. It may be said that through their acts of kindness toward others and genuine gratitude, Kansha, the character of a Karate-ka is shown. This is what I like to call a 'quiet strength' that can be found in those who are confident enough in themselves and their abilities that they don't need to brag about either, but will give their all in any given situation. They have developed this character and practiced this behaviour by taking an active role in their self-development. This quiet strength is not passivity, it is Karate-do.

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