Sunday, January 27, 2013

Is respect automatic?

Feeling deep admiration for someone or something, elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements. That is the definition of respect. The submission or courteous yielding to the opinion,wishes or judgement of another is deference. This is the attitude expected in most dojos. My question is should it be automatic?

Within the context of your chosen path should you automatically respect those who have come before you or should you scrutinize who they are, not only as martial artists but as people? If I have more stripes on my belt does that mean that I should expect deference from those who may not have as many stripes?  It is, I admit a complex situation and yet also simple. It is complex because there are several variables at play. It is simple because at its essence it comes down to- respect must be earned, in and outside of the dojo.

Granted, in each dojo there are rules of etiquette that should be followed, rules that were established to promote order  and to keep us present to the fact that we are embarking upon the study of an art that can and is dangerous. I am not advocating disregarding these norms of etiquette. However it has been my experience that within the higher ranks the respect and deference seems to flow one way. The seniors may expect this behavior towards them, but it is rarely demonstrated by the seniors towards their juniors. I recently witnessed this behavior in action.

 A shodan was having a conversation with a fourth degree instructor when another fourth degree student interrupted the conversation stating that he needed to discuss something of import with said fourth degree. This incident made me think, how would have that fourth degree reacted if the roles were reversed?  If the two fourth degrees were in conversation and the first degree needed to speak with one of them would an interruption be tolerated?  My other thought was, that by stating that he needed to discuss something  important he was implying that whatever was being discussed currently was not as important as what he had to say.

Now this may or may not have been true, but the act denotes a certain level of arrogance. Where is the respect? Does a first degree merit less respect than a fourth degree? Does a white belt deserve less respect than a black belt? When we realize that ranks and stripes are all artificial ( a statement which I'm sure will throw many high level sensei, shihan, kyoshi and hanshis into an uproar) and that what matters is the person wearing the belt, not the belt itself, then we will be able to relate to each other as fellow students along the way.

When seniors treat juniors with respect regardless of rank, then arrogance cannot have a foothold in the dojo or their life. This is when respect becomes mutual, deference natural and humility a way of life.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A return to basics

January is our month of Kagami Baraki. For those unfamiliar with the concept it comes from the Japanese tradition of celebrating weddings, opening days or any event worthy of being celebrated. In a dojo it is usually the start of a new year and it is marked by a day of intense training where everyone comes together to train and sweat together. Our school is slightly different in that we celebrate the entire month of January as our month of Kagami Biraki. Everyone knows the classes are harder, more intense and are comprised of mostly basics-lots and lots of basics.

When I first received my shodan ( first degree) I figured this was it. Now I would finally learn the secret techniques, now all the black belt knowledge would be unveiled, imparting upon me a kind of super human ability to execute my techniques! I walked into my first black belt class full of expectation, I was  ready. Imagine my surprise when the next two hours of training was spent doing basic punches, kicks, and blocks. We even went back and did our first white belt kata over and over. Surely this was a fluke maybe it was just a way to get  the new black belts used to the idea of a black belt class? Next class was more of the same and the class after that and so on. This is not to say that I did not learn advanced techniques, I did.  However  those advanced techniques were usually made up of basic techniques executed in a different way or several basic techniques joined to make one advance technique.

And so our emphasis this month is a return to the basics. We always stress our foundations but this month especially so. In returning to our foundations we can learn several things. We can see how far we have progressed and how far we still have to go. We can deepen our understanding of the art we have chosen to study by looking at its foundation and deconstructing techniques and kata. We can learn the functionality of what we do, why does it work and how. All this comes from going back to the basics. I also learned one other thing, that the higher the rank the more time you spend with basics, its quite the circle that is indicative of the arts we study. You train long and hard, invest many years, tears, blood and sweat-so you can be perpetual beginner.

As an aside, the photo is a picture of Morio Higaonna's hands. Anyone who trains for any length of time runs into his name and his influence on goju-ryu. Look him up.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

Monday, January 7, 2013

The strength not to use strength

We live in a culture of strength. Everywhere you look strength is lauded. Its in our societal thought space  "Only the strong survive"  is an unspoken accepted "truth." In this month of resolutions most of the ads are geared towards get fit, get healthy. Underlying that is... be strong.  I am reminded of the ads in the comic books when I was younger. Where Charles Atlas would help the 98lb weakling become a paragon of strength. No I'm not really that old but I used to collect very old comics.

We have a tendency to shun weakness, real or perceived.
 So the real question is- What is strength? Webster states that strength is:the quality or state of being strong, capacity for exertion or endurance, the power to resist force, power of resisting attack. Is this really strength? 

In the dojo there are several manifestations of strength. The strength to crank out numerous push ups is one. The strength to hit the makiwara over and over never wavering is another. How about the strength to come to class when every cell in your body is telling you to stay home? The strength to face that senior who is going to hit you. The strength to face that junior you have to hit? The strength to drill kata over and over until it is hardwired into your body and you are physically and mentally exhausted. These may not be the socially accepted definitions of strength but they are examples of it nonetheless.

You see its not all about physical strength. What happens when you become older and physical strength is no longer a factor? Or when you are the senior (in age and rank) facing that 18-20 yr old at the height of his physical prowess? It is as these times that we must have the strength not to use strength.  For while being physically strong is certainly an asset, In training it is not the goal but rather a side effect.

The strength that is required in the dojo is more holistic. You need to be strong in every aspect of your being not just physically. I have faced behemoths that towered over me and handled them with relative ease because of their dependency on physical strength. Likewise I have faced my Shihan who weighs in at about 128 lbs and stands an entire five feet two inches and have been dismantled by him on a regular basis. So its not the physicality of strength. Mental fortitude is as important as physical strength. Precise techniques give that physical strength a vehicle for expression. Spiritual strength underlies it all.

So the next time you view someone as weak, take a moment to truly evaluate if that person is weak. If it is in the dojo it may be that they are so strong that they appear to be weak, for only the truly strong can be gentle.  
Outside the dojo the same applies. Those who are truly strong may not appear to be so at first glance- look again.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando