‘In the Dojo – A Guide to the Rituals and Etiquette of the Japanese Martial Arts’ by Dave Lowry is a tremendous book and one I would recommend to any serious student of Japanese martial arts; especially those who have just started and gotten to the point where they are convinced that this is for them.
I had known of Dave Lowry’s writing for some time and loved his first autobiographical book, ‘Autumn Lightning – Education of an American Samurai’. Lowry goes some way towards explaining Japanese culture to Westerners in a clear, direct and engaging way. But ‘In the Dojo’ goes further by methodically providing answers to all those burning questions, or puzzling contradictions found in Japanese martial arts.
Lowry supplies important cultural information which makes it easy for Westerners to understand that preconceptions; or looking at things through Western lenses can lead you up the garden path. There’s a lot of myth busting going on in this book and Lowry is keen to avoid the gloss and romanticism and tell it like it is. For example, he tells us that training in a traditional art can be dull and repetitive and that just because someone is addressed as ‘Sensei’ doesn’t mean they are going to be Master Yoda.
Let’s be clear, Lowry is no armchair commentator. His books, ‘Autumn Lightning’ and later ‘Persimmon Wind’ give colourful accounts of his own immersion into traditional Japanese Budo, I would also recommend these books.
Chapters in the book are: The Dojo, Visitors, The Uniform, The Hakama, Weapons, The Shinto Shrine, Contemplation, Bowing, Martial Language, The Teacher, Money, The Student, The Dojo Year and Glossary.
It’s almost a given; a taken for granted aspect of training, we make assumptions about speed.
There’s no doubt, we as martial artists need to be able to be the fastest we can be. Like the gunfighter in the old Western movies, quickest on the draw wins; the slowest hand loses.
But I wonder if speed as a concept would bear a closer examination?
I want to avoid the biomechanics of speed; that’s best left to the Sports Scientists; except to say that slowness can be avoided by understanding relaxation and unnecessary tension; this is something we pay attention to, particularly in Wado. Sugasawa Sensei once said that no tennis or golf coach would ever say to his protégé, ‘you need to be more tense!’
Way back in 1979 I came across a book called ‘The Amateur Boxing Association Coach’s Handbook’. In an attempt to give myself and my student’s an extra edge I studied the book carefully and I borrowed exercises and drills to work into my routine. But what particularly interested me was the short section on how to get young boxers to appreciate that concept of speed. The coaches recognised that the youngsters under their guidance needed a realignment of what they understood speed to be. They were carrying around assumptions and misconceptions, based upon…what exactly? The coaches wanted to expand their experience in a very physical, non-verbal way (no amount of explaining about speed can get you to appreciate just how fast the human body can move).
Recently a friend had their first experience of watching a top class Wimbledon tennis match between two of the highest seeded male stars. They told me that there was no substitute for the actual experience of witnessing up-close the sheer power and speed of the serve and the reactions needed to respond. Raonic hit the second fastest serve in Wimbledon history (147mph) to Andy Murray in the recent Wimbledon final, and Murray returned it! These types of experiences are what the boxing coaches were struggling to get across.
In the handbook the answers were a little thin, but the fact that the issue had been raised was enough to make me question the idea. The book mentioned one method. The suggestion was hill running. But this was hill running with a different twist. The suggestion was a very steep incline, full speed, full tilt, balls to the wall sprinting downhill! Yes, downhill!
I could imagine many a young boxer whose legs fail to keep up with his body arriving in a crumpled heap with gravel rash on his chin!
I once visited a sports museum in Pittsburgh in which the public were invited to run alongside a virtual 100 metre projection of one of the world’s greatest female sprinters. It was an amazing experience!
So maybe what we think is fast is really an illusion and it’s up to coaches, teachers and Sensei to develop ways of creating new experiences for our students. I have a few ideas, but they have been at the experimental stages longer than I would care to admit.
Welcome to the new look Shikukai Chelmsford website.
With additional features and the new design we hope you will find the site to be more accessible and informative. We have all the features of the old site and more. You will also find that the new site is more compatible with smartphones and tablets.
The site will provide easier connections to social media and give you all the information you need for up and coming events.
For more years than I would care to remember I have often wondered if what we now do today in Wado Dojos is a true reflection of what the founder Ohtsuka Hironori intended?
I did once see the late founder, and watched him demonstrate his art. It was Crystal Palace 1975; I was only a year into my training and competing in the UKKW Nationals. The audience waited in reverential silence as the elderly master assisted by his son gave the familiar display he always did in his later years. However, this one was different.
There was an error in the well-rehearsed display which resulted in Ohtsuka Sensei fractionally leaving his hand in the path of a descending katana blade – the result was a wound which many of us did not see, until tiny drops of blood appeared on his otherwise perfect white keikogi top. Ohtsuka Sensei seemed untroubled and carried on with the demonstration. First aid assistance was given to the old master at the end of the performance and he seemed unfazed, almost amused.
From the mid 70’s onwards I spent many hours working in the Dojo with Japanese masters all doing Wado Ryu karate. But there were differences; even contradictions.
It took a long time for me to realise that through these differences I was possibly getting a glimpse of the real Ohtsuka. It was like looking at him through a different set of lenses, with degrees of refraction and distortion.
This was frustrating in a way, a bit like trying to identify someone by their image seen through opaque bathroom glass; as I shifted my viewpoint ever so slightly the image distorted and changed. I struggled to make sense of it. But it was more complex even than that. The late master always said that Wado was a work in progress, and those with capacities and knowledge greater than mine continued to hone and refine the art; the ground was shifting and the lens was shifting as well.
Koryu martial artist Ellis Amdur said that success in the martial arts was easy…. All you had to do is pay attention! I think he is right, but I would also add a couple of things.
First you have to empty your cup; and secondly you have to be prepared to be hard on yourself and try to bypass a tendency towards observer bias, and that very human weakness described by psychologists as ‘cognitive dissonance’. Meaning; when confronted with anything that contradicts what we think we have already established we filter out the contradictions and cling to those aspects that we feel we already know. That is not really ‘paying attention’.
I learned a valuable lesson on this when acting as Uke for Ohtsuka Hironori II over ten years ago. On that occasion I experienced the full weight of his Kote Gaeshi and it came as a genuine surprise and painful shock! At the time I tried to work out what he had done and developed my own theory based on previous knowledge. It was only recently that I figured out what had really happened and how far my original theory was out – until another theory comes along anyway.
As one penguin talking to another penguin please bear with me on this.
At one time we all lived happily on one huge slab of ice. So secure were we that we believed that the ice was sitting on solid land and that things would never change.
We observed that occasionally discontented penguins would hop onto adjacent lumps of floating ice and start to form their own penguin colonies. Many of them drifted off, some were never seen again. Some could be seen in the distance, or we could hear them yelling, trying to convince us that their decisions to split away were correct and how we who remained were all wrong.
But we remained content and seldom thought of the future – why should we –we’re penguins.
Then the penguin colony was abruptly rocked by reality. We found out that we did not live on solid land at all; we too were on a floating ice floe, albeit a very big one. The dawning of this fact came when the colony itself suffered a huge catastrophic split. The fault lines were always there but we did not see them; we just thought they were part of the landscape.
The split was not a neat half and half one, it was ragged and uneven, some bits bigger than others. It should have been clear from the beginning that each of the splits did not stand an equal chance of survival; some were going to melt and shrink faster than others.
From the penguin’s point of view; when the catastrophe happened; where you ended up depended on where you were standing at the critical moment.
The frozen scene has been chaotic ever since. Imagine an ocean cluttered with ice floes; which inevitably encouraged penguins hopping from one minor ice floe to another.
So, should penguins ponder the future? Or should we just go with the floe?