I’ve known this quote in various forms over the years, including ‘A man that can’t dance has no business fighting’.
Nobody seems to know exactly where this comes from; some say Confucius, others say it’s an old Celtic proverb. And even more disagreements occur over what it actually means. Some equate dancing with community, fraternity, even love and happiness, to counterbalance against the cult of the sword and the necessity for violence. I believe that you can make of it what you want.
I originally took it mean the skills needed to be a successful dancer have a similarity to the skills needed to be a successful fighter. Coordination being paramount; but also reading the rhythm and tempo of what you are reacting to. Taking the bigger picture it could be said that you read and react to elements of the physical world outside of yourself; so you perceive and measure the mood and intention of external forces and respond in a balanced way.
But it is interesting to stretch this comparison with the dancer even further. Take it from the point of a pair of dancers, imagine ballroom or passionate Tango. At first glance the connection between the pair is about cooperation, they work in a collaborative manner; they mesh perfectly and display their grace and fluidity effortlessly. Making a comparison with fighters this seems like a complete contradiction; two people who engage in combat don’t act like dancers, they try their utmost to baffle and confuse the opponent, they try to ‘wrong foot’ their attacker and fighters try hard to not get caught ‘flat footed’.
But perhaps that’s a little too narrow.
For example; there is rhythm in fighting. In free engagement you can dictate a rhythm for your opponent to unconsciously follow, draw him in, lull him into an expected pattern and then…break it. An opponent can be led by a shift in angle or stance or deceived by a posture or attitude. In Wado this can be done in free fighting and features in the more subtle elements of some of the paired kumite. In some of the more overt Jujutsu based paired kata Uke is forced into a response that is drawn out of him by Tori who leads him towards his own destruction. So there is an interplay going on. The usually accepted understanding of Uke as one ‘who receives’ is far too simplistic. Uke is not the stooge, fall guy or goon of Tori, there is two-way traffic going on here; this is an interplay of forces and intentions.
It’s a big subject, but…
Just to throw more mischief into the discussion, here is a quotation to leave you pondering. Nietzsche said, “I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star”.
Shimmy or sashay around that one!
With the internet there are so many ways to put your opinions out to the world and the problem is that when people are given the platform to state their views they will seldom have the courage to change those views should some new piece of knowledge come to light that challenges them.
If you do find that something you’ve stated as a fact turns out to be untrue, what do you do? Stubbornly hold on to your theory clinging on desperately to any piece of scant evidence that will support that view? Or do you crawl into a hole never to venture out into the world of opinions again? Or, do you re-evaluate, take stock, admit you were wrong and re-calibrate your views? I hope that all of us are big enough to do the latter. A quote attributed to Mohammed Ali is that “If a man looks at the world when he is 50 the same way he looked at it when he was 20 and it hasn’t changed, then be has wasted 30 years of his life” .
So it is with views about martial arts. I would say that people often carry on doing the martial arts for different reasons than the ones they started. For some people it starts with lack of confidence or even fear, for others it’s the buzz you get from the physical exercise. But carry on long enough and these issues either disappear altogether or are pushed to the back of the list. Opinions change, ideas change, your attitude changes, lifestyles and life choices change and your body changes. If your martial arts training is grown up enough and has scope and depth there will be room for changes of opinion or even changes in lifestyle.
If your martial system has the hallmark of a certain maturity to it then lives and opinions can flex comfortably within the framework of the system. The irony is that viewed from the outside Japanese Budo may look rigid and locked in its bubble, but this should not be the case. Budo should help to make better people and it is my view that it can act as a lens to help you address some of the bigger existential issues in life.
But understanding what goes on inside the world of Budo is not easy, even though we tend to reach for easy descriptions. Human lives are just as complex if we live in Western Europe or the Far East.
To bring it closer to home; when we try to get a handle on what Ohtsuka Sensei was thinking when he devised the Wado Ryu, we have to place our thinking in a Japanese context. Things don’t happen in a vacuum; creations such as Wado Ryu are influenced by all manner of cultural forces. When Ohtsuka Sensei first presented his creation it wasn’t to the world, it was to the Japanese Budo establishment, the world had to come later. This creation did not spring fully formed; it was refined over subsequent decades, even today there are people who cannot comprehend this idea of refinement over time and want to preserve Wado in a time capsule. If the Art world had allowed such a thing to happen artists would be scrawling on cave walls!
Like Art Wado moved on and still continues to move. But I think that where Wado has an advantage over other martial arts who may be struggling to move forward or even survive, is that its key principles are simple. In Wado there are no flowery extras, no pseudo mystical obfuscations, the rules are easy to understand – it’s the ‘doing them’ bit that is difficult.
Both Abraham Maslow and Abraham Kaplan are credited with the phrase “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. I have seen this phrase used as a great leveller in discussions relating to martial arts training, particularly when someone’s entrenched ideas need a good shake up.
In 1964 Kaplan called it ‘The Law of Instrument’ and it is used to describe the tendency towards very narrow explanations. Although it has negative connections it can be a useful litmus test for our own ideas and assumptions.
I remember getting into a discussion about punching in Wado and trying to suggest that there was more going on than just the idea of developing punching power. The person I was discussing this with was very much of the opinion that power punching was the only reason we operate Junzuki and Gyakuzuki the way we do. I have to admit that in my early years of training that was the way I thought too. Any kind of strike had to have as its one single goal destructive power. Later on I was to meet people from other styles who also used blocks as strikes – I liked the idea and started to use forearm conditioning training, until I smartened up and realised that I was just inflicting damage on myself for short term gain.
For me it took an embarrassingly long time to shake these ideas off. ‘More speed more power’ didn’t cut it any more. The idea of turning myself into the human version of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile was all beginning to look like a juvenile fantasy. But it is an argument that is bolstered by the view that the destruction of our ‘enemy’ using only our fists and feet is our sole objective – that is, the ‘hammer’ approach.
But our Wado toolbox is a much more interesting and sophisticated place; yes I’m sure there is a hammer in there; in fact there is more than one kind of hammer in there, but there are far more subtle tools. Some tools at first glance look bewildering complex, some, annoyingly simplistic yet still do not easily reveal their usage.
But to continue the analogy; being shown the tools or even laying your hands on them for the first time does not mean that you can use them effectively. Like a good workman on the job, there is a lot of accumulated knowledge that comes into play even before the toolbox is properly opened, and practice and reflection, as well as learning from those more knowledgeable than ourselves are essential to becoming a skilled craftsman.
For those of you who know the joke about the old bull and the young bull contemplating a neighbouring field of heifers, I won’t bore you by retelling it. For those of you who don’t know it, Google it.
But basically it’s a parable highlighting the benefits of age and experience over youthful enthusiasm.
So… how to relate that to a martial arts situation?
Look around most well established Dojos and you’ll see a range of ages and grades. But it’s not the spread of grades that interests me, it’s the age demographic.
Personally I find that as a rule the more mature person can often be the better student. Yes their flexibility and general physical condition will not be as good as the youngsters, but their life experience and knowledge of their own capabilities tends to be more grounded. Mentally they are generally able to evaluate their developing knowledge and skills in a more mature way, and as long as they are able to ‘empty their cup’, their capacity to digest the more complex ideas is greater than most people half their age. For Wado this is a great advantage. The late Reg Kear described Wado Ryu as ‘a thinking man’s karate system’, and the more you climb the tree the more there is to take on board. Not that we should get carried away with the cerebral aspect of what goes on in a Wado Dojo, because it’s no good just having it in your head, you have to be able to physically do it. The intellectual and the physical in Wado are like two wheels on an axle; one without the other would make forward motion impossible.
I remember in the long distant past a particular Sensei criticizing another Sensei’s karate as ‘old man’s karate’, I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now. But I believe there is a maturity in karate practice.
A 5th Dan’s Pinan Yodan should look quite different than one performed by a 1st Dan. As long as the mature karateka has kept their training consistent and not wrecked their body through silly training methods they have the capacity to work towards the higher ground.
But what about the youngster?
Twenty year olds should train and fight like twenty year olds, not like fifty or sixty year olds. All experienced Sensei should see this and create training opportunities that are age-appropriate. I always think of my cat and what he taught me. When he was a kitten he would frantically climb the curtains. Why the curtains, there’s nothing up there, I wondered? Answer; because he’s a kitten, a fizzing ball of pent up energy looking for an outlet. I ask all the senior experienced instructors; what were you like when you were twenty?
I suspect you were like the young bull.
I cannot recommend this podcast highly enough.
The ‘Food for Fitness’ series is a must for anyone who wants to understand their body in an intelligent and healthy way and tap into the latest theories and ideas.
The particular podcast I want to draw you to is, ‘The Back Mechanic’. This is an interview with Canadian back expert Dr Stuart McGill. McGill is an amazing source of information. His book titled, ‘The Back Mechanic’ is an excellent source of information and also supplies detailed material on self-assessment and diagnosis. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Back-Mechanic-Stuart-McGill/dp/0973501820
McGill highlights the dangers of bad training regimes based on outdated theories which seem to make the assumption that the body will survive anything you throw at it, and will just run and run forever.
It made me think of conversations I have had with our excellent physiotherapist who has been a terrific help to many members of our Dojo.
I say ‘our’ physiotherapist because David Schofield has been an advisor and general fixer for our student’s tiny niggling injuries and even more complex physical problems for a long time now. This is all part of our healthy Dojo regime, where we encourage our students to exercise more intelligently and avoid things that will damage the body.
David was telling me his views on the current trendy training methods, like lifting tractor tyres, hoisting kettlebells and ‘boot camp’ style training. Some of these more macho misguided types keep David in business. Incorrect lifting techniques, bodies not properly prepared or warmed up all supply a queue of clients for physios and osteopaths to fix.
The ‘Bootcamp’ military style training is a case in point. I find myself sceptical about how sedentary office workers can throw themselves into a method that works really well in a military environment? After all I don’t suppose the military regime buys into the idea of gently easing new recruits into their PT sessions. My guess is that it may even be designed to weed out the weak ones. I don’t think it transfers easily without some serious readjustment.
‘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.
4th and 5th February 2017. Chelmsford, Essex.
Hosted by Shikukai Chelmsford.Training times and Venues:
Saturday 4th – 2pm to 5pm
Sunday 5th – 11am to 2pm.
Dan Grading (subject to letting Sensei know in advance) – 2pm to 5pm Sunday.
Danbury Sports & Social Centre, Dawson Field, Main Road, Danbury, Chelmsford, Essex, CM3 4NQ.
Last year parking was tight. They have opened another car park for us now BUT the farmers market is on to 1.30 so do have a look at the parking map (at the bottom) to ensure you don’t get caught.
Also, the changing rooms where a bit muddy. They have ensured us this will not be the case, although they might still be a little snug!.
Members (up to date Shikukai license):
Weekend £ 35.00
One day £ 20.00
Kyu Grading £ 12.00 (A Kyu grading is subject to confirmation from Sensei)
Weekend £ 40.00
One day £ 25.00
Any questions to me please firstname.lastname@example.org, 07989 257044 or PM me on Facebook.
Payment – Please pay on arrival. Should you prefer you can pay in advance to our Club Bank Account. Please contact me for details.
Gradings – Subject to demand a Kyu grading can be held during training. There will be a Dan grading on Sunday after training.
Ages – Suitable for ages 14 and above.
Travel – should now be easier as Chelmsford is just off the A12 dual carriageway and has excellent train and bus connections providing good links to Stansted Airport.
If anyone needs lifts to and from the airport, venues, hotels etc then just let us know. We have plenty of people who can run you about.
Accommodation – I suggest staying in Chelmsford on the Saturday night. The restaurant is then in walking distance. However, other accommodation is available. Chelmsford offers a greater choice of accommodation options that will hopefully suit everybody. As we will be driving to the training venues your hotel location should be based more on what suits you for the Saturday evening.
We suggest you either stay where Sensei will be (Atlantic Best Western Hotel) or choose from any number of options out and around the area. The Premier Inn next to the Train station is a good location as well. Sensei’s hotel is well placed for a night out in Chelmsford but, please note the restaurant is a good 20 minute walk through the town center from this. So, Sensei will of course be given a lift. However, the walk through Chelmsford centre and back will offer many opportunities for a drink and to meet some of Essex’s finest.
Saturday evening – The evening meal will again be at the Chinese restaurant http://www.san-restaurant.com/. It is not exactly all you can eat. But, you can choose several items for each course and then they are all put in the center and you grab yours or let them be shared around the table. I can’t quite remember but we did made it work well last year.
As there may be a lot of us service can be a bit slow. There may be as many as 30 to 40 of us, so I think it might also be quite snug. The cost is £ 20 each (including Service charge). Drinks will need to be purchased separately. I suspect you will need to group together on separate drinks tabs. They say this is not a problem. I will provisionally book for 20 to 30 people. But, if this increases I should be able to up that to 30 to 40.
I really need to know if you are coming to the meal.
Other things to do – Chelmsford is the County town of Essex. The town centre has really good shopping, restaurants and leisure (ice rink, swimming etc). You are also a 20 minute train journey from Westfield shopping centre at Stratford along with the Olympic village. From Stratford you can get on the London Underground and quickly get to O2 arena, Westminster etc.
Maldon is still only 20 minutes’ drive away if you fancy some bracing sea air, or Freeport designer village for a truly designer discount shopping experience. 20 minutes’ drive towards London (on your way home) is Brentwood, home of The Only Way is Essex. If you are unlucky it is possible to spot the cast in their natural habitat.
Contact and questions – Any questions to me please email@example.com, 07989 257044 or PM me on Facebook.
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?