Sunday, March 04, 2007

Deeds, Not Words

Martial arts training is a metaphorical landscape filled with boobytraps. One of those boobytraps is spending more time thinking about or analyzing a technique than acting. I think every martial artist is caught in this trap at some point in his career. I'm not saying that we shouldn't reflect on our training, far from it. I am saying that martial arts are inherently physical activities, and we need to experience the activity. The time to act is on the mat. The time to think and talk is off the mat.

Lately, I've been trying to get myself out of this trap. Training time on the mat is precious, and every moment should be as active as possible. I am eager to take the reflections from my past training time and put them into practice in the next session. In the past, I asked lots of questions, or goofed around, or otherwise wasted valuable minutes talking instead of acting. This is a hard habit to break. Despite my efforts, I still find my mouth running more than I'd like in a class.

I've also realized that I'm not alone in this. Many of my fellow students are doing the same. At the risk of sounding too egotistical, I think this goes back to our discussion of sempai and kohai. My example has encouraged my fellow students to run their mouths in various ways instead of training hard.

I'm not just talking about wasted time in jokes and joshing on the mat. The most insidious example of wasted time that appears to be valuable is the infamous, "Can I see that one more time; from a different angle?" Some training time should be devoted to the demonstration of technique by the instructor. Occasionally, we may even be exposed to a lecture. (Another of my sins when I instruct...) But it is the student's responsibility to pay close attention to the demonstration, and then try the technique. We may get some understanding from asking questions after the demonstration, but it is nothing to the understanding we get when our own bone and gristle meets an opponent, or crashes to the mat. In short, we are better served by trying and either succeeding or failing.

If we expect to learn, we must experience both good and bad technique. That is how we will know the difference.

On the other hand, if you are failing at some point in the technique, that is a perfect chance to ask a question. It will clarify a specific weakness in your movement. Likewise, we should be grateful if some training time is devoted to watching fellow students perform the same technique. We may see strengths and weaknesses both similar and different to our own, or even the instructor. Watching our classmates sheds light on our own abilities.

So let me suggest to my training partners that we all make a concerted effort to talk less, and move more.


Holy Mother Eph said...

When my teacher starts talking, I don't mind, because usually he is sharing important principles that relate to life and to karate. Martial arts have always been not just a training of the body, but of the mind and spirit. Maybe my teacher's words don't seem as profound as some famous ancient Asian's eloquently worded wisdom, but they are still truths that he has learned. I am grateful for his willingness to share that with me. You shouldn't underestimate the impact of sharing your personality with your students either. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

curiousstudent said...

So what you're saying is..

"More smackin' and less yakkin!!!!"

But even Hatsumi Sensei says "Understand? Good! Play!" If I don't understand I have to ask.

jrf said...

There is a time for every purpose under heaven...

Note this carefully:

I am not saying that we should not analyze our actions, or ask questions about things that perplex us.

What I am saying is that martial arts are primarily a physical activity. The quality of your answers will improve if you seek them first in your own experience before asking them aloud. But that does not mean you should never ask questions of your instructors or sempai. But after you have asked and received an answer, you must test that answer through more action before you can internalize the principle.

Our time on the mat is very precious. It should not be taken up by idle chit-chat.

That's what blogs are for.