Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Do you ever teach?

Those who cant do teach. That is the prevailing thought, especially in the sports world. This is not the case in the martial arts world however. This came to mind when I was recently asked by a parent upon my entering the dojo, "Do you ever teach class?" It was fair question, most people prefer to get taught by what they consider the highest ranked student of the school. When I am in a the dojo I am teaching whether I am in the class or not. I occasionally meet with each instructor before class to discuss what needs to be covered in the class and with whom.
Then I realized it goes further than that. In the same manner I am constantly learning the same applies to my teaching. I am always teaching. It is not something I just do at certain times of my week, but rather a state of being student/teacher is a natural way for me. I was not disturbed by the question. Our school has grown to the
point that there are students who have not seen me teach their class. I do however  make it a point to try and visit every class at some point during the month. When we started at the location we are now, I did teach every class since I was the only instructor there were no other options. But as time passed and the school has grown we now have several instructors and many more training to become instructors. One of my driving philosophies in having a dojo was the furtherance of our style.
It is why the school is not named after me or a style I created, this was intentional.
We are the only school of our style which is not to say there aren't many students spread out far and wide. My driving philosophy is that the students embrace the art they are learning and not any one instructor. I know its hard to combat this, especially with our younger students. They will naturally gravitate to one instructor more than another. Each instructor has their class to teach and on occasion another instructor will substitute. Most of the students react well because the emphasis is on the learning, not the instructor. One of the things I have seen in several schools are instructors who do not embody the physical ideal of the style they are teaching. I find it very hard to believe that an instructor who doesn't maintain a regular training regimen will be competent enough to convey that knowledge to others.
As an example lets look at kata. At any given moment during a kata training session you will hear me say that kata has no shelf life. It is an exercise that must be practiced-daily. In martial arts its very difficult for an instructor to teach what they don't know. Students learn in a variety of ways some kinesthetically, others aurally and others by modelling. In many cases its all three. Then I express to my students that the  only way I can keep their kata straight in my head is not due to some mystical power conveyed to me or reading about it. Its simple-I practice everyday.
 Every instructor has  facets of their own instructors in their teaching. My own instructor is considered superb kata practitioner. When I first met him and saw him execute a kata, frankly I was surprised . I didn't think kata could look like that. A few years later I had to go to a fight class and I'm watching this black belt basically disarm and exploit every opening present to him. Add that to the fact that he used his legs like arms and kicked at will. When I looked carefully I realized that this was the same kata practitioner from years earlier the same person who would become my sensei-Shihan Cormack.
One of the key things I learned from him and try to show my students is that you can be good at kata, phenomenal even. You can also be phenomenal at fighting. Underlying this is the attitude of being a complete martial artist, of learning everyday. Even though its something I do personally, thanks to one of the seniors at the school we now have required reading for the adults to further their understanding of art and kata they are practicing.

Here is one of the ways I was shown to avoid getting hit( we still show it this way in our school). We would go over the theory of what we call the 8 blocks. Basically blocks to avoid deflect and slip(aurally/modelling) Then we would practice the blocks until I became proficient (kinesthetic/modelling). We would then spar where I would be the attacker and Shihan was only defending(kinesthetic/modelling). Then we would spar where we both attacked and by this point those 8 blocks are reflex and intuitive.

This is how we teach, but if I really look at it this, it is how my teacher taught me, so in a very real sense he is still teaching, everyday at the dojo. Everyday we are exacting about our kata and our kicking and how a punch is to be executed. He is teaching at that moment.

This is something that we must understand on very deep level as students and  instructors, what we teach remains. We are a link in a chain of instructors, with each link adding something to the overall chain. Remember that learning and teaching is not relegated only to the dojo, but to life.
So to answer the parent who asked if I ever teach class. The answer is yes, I teach every class.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

Friday, February 28, 2014

How important is rank?

Due to other time constraints I haven't written in some time I will maintain this as a bi weekly blog until I can devote more time to posting here. Thank you for following!

This post is going to make a few of you upset. Feel free to comment below.

The rank you possess is artificial.

 It doesn't tell me who you are as  human being and it doesn't inform me as to your level of skill. It doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things either. If the prognosis is you have six months to live-your first thought is unlikely to be "But I'm a black belt!"
If your child is in danger, your rank isn't (or shouldn't be) at the forefront of your mind. Your rank is not a determining factor if you get assaulted. No would be criminal is going to ask you your rank at gun or knife-point (it may actually work to your detriment).

 In fact outside of the microcosmic world that is your dojo, your rank is virtually irrelevant. This is evidenced by the differing of opinion in what a rank means among styles and occasionally even within the same style but differing schools. I know this may be news to some I have to confess it took me a long time to learn.

So why have a ranking system?
Ranks 8th kyu to 1st kyu and Shodan and above were created to gauge the relative knowledge of a student. A mental shorthand for instructors. The creation of the dan-i system attributed to Jigoro Kano and later borrowed and implemented by Funakoshi is said to have originated in 1924.
Around the inception of judo, Kano devised the system to determine where a student was in terms of their training. When used for its intended purpose ranks are instrumental in encouraging a student to train and increase their knowledge base.

There are schools that still exist with the Menkyo or Shogo rankings in place. In these schools the attitude is "Expect nothing" come to the dojo and train hard. I like that position because it keeps the ego in check. If you arrive at a dojo with this attitude then everything is welcome. These systems are beyond the scope of this post, but take a moment to research  them both, it will prove informative.

What happened?
At some point it's my opinion the ego entered the equation. Which usually happens when dealing with humans. How could I possibly be a third degree when the school down the road has a 7th degree and surely I am more skilled than he is? Therefore I should be at least 7th degree but in order to show my superiority I will promote myself to 9th degree thereby ending all doubts. I know this sounds far fetched.

Unfortunately it happens often. Once ego enters, its hard to remove its influence. If its not ego driven, sadly its profit driven. Very few instructors want to be Sensei irrespective of rank. In fact I think it would be an interesting experiment to award stripe-less black belts and see what the reaction would be.

Is rank static?
I hate to break it to you, no its not. Many of the practitioners of old practiced until they could no longer physically do so. Even after they could no longer physically train, they taught( some into very advanced years). Why? Because martial arts by their very nature have no shelf life.The moment your training stops being consistent, your retention suffers. If you are a senior student (shodan and above) and haven't trained in many years I can guarantee you that you are no longer at the skill level or proficiency you were when you received your rank.

What should you do when you return to your training? Wear a white belt. More importantly if asked what rank you are the most humble reply would be-"Currently I am a white belt."
I say this from experience having stopped for two years in my training. When I returned I put on a white belt for some time. When I visit other schools where I am a student, I put on a white belt.
This is not to state that I am the most humble. I have to fight ego as well. Putting on a white belt helps me keep that ego in check and keeps things in perspective.

Does this mean we disrespect those who came before us? Those who paved the way for us to be where we are today? Absolutely not. Yet even the masters and founders of styles recognized that their lives were like seasons. They diminished so others could grow. They respected each other regardless of style practiced and shared knowledge with each other.  Many of the founders never received a ranking (some being awarded posthumously) because they understood the inherent danger in ranking without wisdom.

My position
In our style we don't focus much on rank. I like the "expect nothing" mentality because then it means you give everything to your training. I think rank has a place in martial arts but it has been misused and abused and frankly doesn't really mean much these days. I would rather get to know the person and sweat with them on the floor.
 That will tell me much more about who they are than the belt that is tied around their waist. In the end I always tell the students especially the kids- its not the belt that makes the student, but rather the student that makes the belt.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why the dojo is not a gym

 Its January so let me wish you a Happy New Year. This is the time of year where many people rededicate themselves to physical fitness. It is the time of New Years resolutions.
 In our school January is the month of Kagami Biraki, the start of a new year. We usher it in with hard training and pushing ourselves past our perceived limits.Cultivating new energy for a new year.

Its very similar to what is happening in many gyms at this time of the year.. The dojo however is not a gym. Let me share my thoughts and show some of the similarities and then I will explain the differences. In both locations the purpose is to go and stress the body. You can work hard in both the gym and dojo.  Both places are designed to transform your body. Both require a commitment on your part. Both can be social settings and both produce results.
On the surface they seem interchangeable as if one is just an expression of the other. It would be a mistake to think so.
 Let me explain the differences between the two.

A dojo is a sacred space.
This is the definition of sacred in the context of something that is worthy of spiritual respect or devotion, not in the context of any of the worlds religions. When you enter a dojo you respect the space because of what it symbolizes in your life. When you enter a gym, at least when I enter one there is no sense of the sacred demonstrated by me or that I can witness by the members of the facility.

A dojo is a place of transformation.
You will be transformed in a gym. If you are consistent and train with regularity your body will change. In a dojo the transformation runs deeper. When you train in a dojo you are faced with who you are at your core. The transformation takes place on an incremental level, subtly. You wont always be aware of it occurring, but it is happening.  You will experience the outward of transformation of your body like in a gym, but you will also experience an inward transformation. Your entire demeanor will change, you will acquire patience, with yourself , with others and with the process of growth. You learn to embrace the journey as opposed to being focused on the destination. This is a very different mindset from being in a gym where the goal is what matters.

Training in a dojo requires hard work
Training in a dojo is hard. It requires a level of commitment not usually seen in a gym. You must be willing to push yourself beyond what you think your limits are on a consistent basis. This is not to negate the hard work required in a gym, however the hard work required in a dojo transcends the physical and enters the spiritual. You are not only working on your body but your entire being as a whole, spirit mind and body are impacted.

Ego has no place in a dojo
There is no room for your ego in a dojo. It only serves as an obstacle to learning. You cant bring your ego into a dojo and expect to progress because it will constantly remind you of what the other people in the class are doing how much better you are or how much worse you are than those around you. It seems to be quite the opposite in a gym where ego gets fed on a regular basis. I can lift more than the next person, my body looks better and so on.

The dojo is a community
You may be a regular at a gym and even have training partners which make the training in a gym easier. When you commit to training in a dojo you become part of a community, a family. You learn not just be concerned about yourself but about the journey of your fellow classmates. The social setting in a gym is one of isolation in most cases. In a dojo your are on an individual path as well. The difference being that you are connected to those that came before you and after you. The sense of connectivity is what creates a dojo family. We have all walked the same path some have started before others, but we are still on the same path.
In a dojo you come just the way you are and are accepted. There is no ideal you need to measure up to. The only limits that exist are the ones you impose. The only comparison that exists is when you compare to yourself of the past. Each person in the dojo serves each other. We spur each other on when our energy wanes. When we think of quitting we reach out and extend a hand to help you continue.

Though they may be similar but, a dojo and a gym are not the same. They each serve a purpose and it depends on what you seek in your life and in your training that will determine where you invest your time and energy.

strong spirit-strong mind- strong body
Sensei Orlando

P.S. I wanted to share with all of you that I just released my latest book and you can find it HERE. It was a pleasure to write and I hope you enjoy it as well. If you do pick it up please leave a review.