27 September, 2011

Intuition and Learning

I was reading a great post over at Goju Kenkyukai entitled Stop Making Excuses.  I thought it was a great post, so please take a look over there.

But, as usual with good source material, it made me think.  In my usual disjointed style, here are my thoughts.

First, the use of Shu Ha Ri as a guide for the phases of a person's education.  It made me look up the definitions of both shu ha ri and jo ha kyu (with which I am more familar).

Jo Ha Kyu

My Sensei has always mentioned the importance of utilizing jo ha kyu when we are performing iaido kata.  There is a certain element of drawing in the enemy with a purposefully slow beginning, increasing the pace to be prepared for the attack, and continuing the acceleration in order to arrive on target before the enemy can react to save themselves.  There is also an element of Go No Sen to this, in that you appear to begin behind (you are actually so aware that you are well aware of the coming attack (or at least I should be)), then catch up to the present, then get ahead through body positioning, intent, focus, and application of a waza designed to accomplish this feat.

He has also mentioned this in our karate classes, although usually this is more from the point of warming up, or presenting techniques or forms that are correct (to the best of our ability).  The first time you do it, jo, you move more slowly, "remembering" the movements and techniques with your body and loading them into muscle memory.  You might make a few mistakes in a kata you haven't done in a while.  The second time, ha, you increase the speed, bring some elements of kime, speed, or power into play, while consciously correcting your form.  Finally, kyu, you are at your maximum of speed, power, technique and focus.  That is the form you would want to present at a grading, for example.

I raise this, as it is a related metaphor to that of Shu Ha Ri.  Although the meanings are different, the application and intent are similar.

Shu Ha Ri

Upon reading about shu ha ri, I found that it was much more apt to Garry's use than my own understanding.  But for the sake of discussion, the similarities are simple enough to see.

At the shu stage you are learning.  When learning a form it is necessary to go slowly to understand and learn the movement.  At the ha stage we are removing ourselves from the slow original, breaking away and trying to add in the sum of our education to date.  Finally, in the ri stage, you are at the peak, having transcended the previous attempts, achieving (hopefullly) perfection.

Alright, maybe its a big of stretch, but I don't think its too far from the mark.  At any rate, this is also a great way to view education, particularly from the context of the martial arts.  I have been thinking about this aside from the above, so I wanted to share my findings/thoughts.

There is a bit of a divide in the way in which Western thought and Eastern thought attempt to reach the same goals.  Any one who has read or visited an Asian martial art school, or trained with old masters of the arts, can attest to the importance of observation.

In the Western world, education is something to be questioned, analyzed and set out before everyone was discussion and understanding.  The empirical method has been the mainstay of modern scientific thought, and to a large extent this has affected the view of the entire Western world and its cultures.  Something needs proof, and answers are given to those who ask.  If I recall some lecture material from Sensei Richard Kim, this would be tied to the intellect - he would say this was public knowledge of the external world.  It is a valuable method for exploring and understanding the world we live in.

In contrast, we have the Eastern approach focusing on a more internallized and intuitive approach.  The student follows the path of their teacher, accepting that their wisdom is sounds.  After all, a teacher is one who has tread the path before - they know the pitfalls and has some meaure of wisdom with regards to what and how to view and use what the student will find.  Richard Kim would call this private or self knowledge.

Now, lets get back to the martial arts.  Are we learning more about ourselves on this path of insanity (what sane person prepares for a day that they hope won't come and might mean their death ;) ) or more about the external world.  I would have said, in my own naivety, we are learning about the outside.  After all, all philosophy aside, we are training to defend ourselves in the real world.  We want to come home safely, when all is said and done.

But the more I thought about it, especially after Garry's post, the more I realized that we are on an internal journey of self perfection.  That is the mastery which is the peark of the mountain we all climb.  And it really made me realize that this was a case where the West needs to listen, watch and take the steps that the East has done already.  How else can we learn and internalize the concepts we strive to understand to an unconscious level without developing the intuition and internal knowledge of ourselves.

05 September, 2011

Kumite vs Kumitachi

I have been thinking recently about the history of karate, the "invention" of kumite (in its various forms) and comparing it to the koryu practice of kumitachi.

First, lets break down both words.  My japanese is horrible, so if anyone can confirm/deny my translations, it is appreciated.  Kumi is a noun meaning a set, group or collection.  It has the implicit meaning of pre-built or pre-arranged.  Tachi means sword, and Te means hand/fist.  Kumitachi is often translated as a pre-arranged two person sword form/practice, and kumite is the same but for empty-handed combat.  The meaning inherent in each is a format to let the student understand the techniques being worked on in an environment which, while somewhat safe (at least to start), still adds in the variables and challenges presented by a thinking human.  The responses of the attacker, while arranged, are subject to distance, timing, correct execution while at speed and under duress, to name a few variables.

During a recent seminar, I had the chance to practice some kumitachi of Ni Ten Ichi Ryu (the sword style made famous by Musashi).  I really got into it, despite being banged around, and I found myself trying to emulate the feeling behind the techniques.  Oddly, this is something I have yet to experience in kumite, the karate equivalent.  I have tried to embody certain animals while sparring (crane and tiger, most often), but there was never the driving force of worry of injury.

While injury is prevalent in sparring conditions in karate, I think that most people do not take it as seriously, mainly because there is no clear weapon.  Even using a "soft" weapon like shinai, there is a greater sense of urgency, danger and realism that is often not captured in karate sparring.

I found this after recently working on footwork.  While the footwork was interesting, it was not a new concept and I found that I have been using similar techniques unconsciously.  I hope to attribute my use to over a decade in the arts, but perhaps it was mere fluke.  But this brought me to the realization that I wasn't getting as much out of my kumite as I did out of the kumitachi.  My partner was never in any danger of doing me serious harm - if they had been armed with any form of weapon, the intent and seriousness of my response would be altered.  I realized that this same intent was not mirrored by my partners - jiyu kumite (free sparring) was more of a game.  Indeed, the footwork we had been working was from a sort of "bouncing" movement common in sport fighting.  The term we use if yadi-yashi or yadi ashi, neither of which I can find as correct or adequate translations.

This led to another realization on my part.  I don't care for sport kumite.  While footwork, distancing, timing, stances, generation of power are all the same, the sort of in and out bouncing movement is entirely in-congruent with a realistic self-defence scenario.  My interests lie outside of that, to something which stretches to reach the mental state of ancient warriors of times past.  The ability to summon and maintain mushin (no-mind) and assert my ability to get home alive is the real goal.

This is the attitude that I will strive to induce and use in my own sparring from this point onwards.  But this leaves the question, what should replace traditional kumite?  Is it just a matter of intent?  Do we (karateka as a whole) need to work more realistic scenarios, pulling from our knowledge of kata?  While some may do this, I cannot say that this is my case.  I have yet to internalize the intent of kata and been able to apply it in a kumite fashion (perhaps due to the aforementioned sport-style).

A sobering set of thoughts, on my end.