Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Acceptance of Truth.

I’ve had quite a productive training week this week in terms of karate sessions – a good session both Sunday and Monday night (not so much at home… but that’s a whole other story). That’s not really what I’ve been mulling in my head to post about today though.

Monday night at training Shihan said something that’s had me thinking all day. He’d made a silly reference to some mystical mythology in response to what a student had been doing. He joked that he shouldn’t really say that because I would probably take it as gospel and blog about it. It was only a passing comment, an off the cuff remark, but it’s had my brain whirring a little today (nothing like a bit of self analysis on a wintery Wednesday morning! LOL).

Clearly, I wouldn’t take what Shihan said in this instance as Gospel……..but I do in other things. When he (and the other Sensei) talk about things karate related, I do take them at face value. At this point in my training (12 months into my karateka journey) I don’t think I know enough to question what people with much more martial arts experience tell me.

So, when we begin to learn karate, we take things on trust. We have faith that our instructors know what they’re talking about. We believe what they tell us is right. That it will work. We trust what they tell us about effective blocks and strikes and kicks. We trust that they know what they’re talking about when they discuss body mechanics and pressure points. We listen when they tell us which moves belong in our kata and where their origins lie and how they should be interpreted and applied.

Conversely then, one must wonder if there will come a point where we start NOT to believe. When we start to think “Hey, I don’t think that’s right. I think it would work better this way”. When this question raises its head, then what? We have two courses of action it would seem. We can choose to ignore that inner questioning voice, to continue to trust what we’re told. Or, we can act on it. We can change what we do to reflect what WE believe, not what we’re told to believe. Is there a point when it becomes acceptable to do that? When is it?

At 2nd Kyu?

At 1st Kyu?

At 1st Dan?

At 5th Dan?

At what point, if any, is it okay to stop taking the word of your instructors as the truth and start defining your own truth?

From everything I’ve read so far about the history of karate its clear that the early karateka training under Okinawan masters didn’t question. If they wanted to learn karate they did as they were told. They worked one Kata for 4 years until they could do it perfectly, blind-fold, in the dark, on uneven ground, with 40 people attacking them (okay, maybe not quite like that, but you get what I mean ;)).

That said, if none of them had ever questioned the truth of what there were told, surely karate would just be karate. It wouldn’t be Shotokan, or Isshin Ryu, or Shito Ryu or Shukokai or Wado Ryu. There wouldn’t be diversity of karate styles if people didn’t at some point believe they knew a way to do it better.

I’m sure there are karate purists out there who would argue that change of any sort is a bad thing when it comes to martial arts. What do I think? Well, to me, everything must evolve. If things don’t they become stagnant, they can lose their fitness for purpose. Evolution breathes new life. It allows for growth, for improvement, for expression of changing times and environment.

Which brings us back round to the when. When is it okay to question the truth of what we’re told? When is it okay to act upon it to enact change?

For the moment, at this stage in my karate journey it feels disrespectful of me to question the truth of what my instructors (with 10/20/30 years karate experience) tell me. For the time being, should I hear that inner questioning voice I choose it ignore it. To have faith. To believe. To trust.

Later in my journey? Who knows? Only time will tell.

For now?

Acceptance of Truth.



  1. In our dojo, questions are encouraged. I don't mean the clarification-types of questions, I mean the deep questioning. Sensei said it's one of the major differences between American karate schools and ones in Okinawa and Japan: the fact that American's need to questions and challenge everything that's presented to them.

    My sensei and I have been known to butt heads at times (like over my desire to spar in the men's division at local competitions). It's one of the things I like about my school. I can openly disagree and it's considered a strength rather than a weakness or character flaw.

    One of the places that we first think outside the box is with bunkai. Because of differences in size, weight and body strength, what works for you may not work for me. Here is the first place we challenge the status quo. "Sensei, you said this kneeling elbow strike is an attack to the knee. I can't get up very fast...I want to make sure my opponent is down for good. Can it be a strike to the face as we're moving down?"

    He'll usually say something along the lines of "If the move is executed correctly, a strike to the knee would keep them down. But try it. If the move works for you, it's good bunkai"

    Sorry for the long comment. I was just moved to write.

  2. Thanks Stacy. No need to apologise...I love that you felt moved to respond.

    I agree with you regarding the difference in Western and Okinawan/Japanese Dojos. My Shihan also encourages challenge (especially in terms of Bunkai. He's a firm believer that if it doesn't work in reality then it's of little use).

    The lack of questioning at the moment is very much to do with my confidence as a karateka. I'm really only just starting out on this journey so I don't really feel confident enough in my knowledge yet (if that makes sense). I'm certain when the time comes that I feel I can raise valid challenges my instructors would respond well (in fact, I imagine they'll probably say "about time!" LOL).

  3. I think you would question if it didn't make sense to you, though, Marie. I get what you are saying - I'm only 6 years in myself - but I'm also 6'2" and 150lbs. Things that work for my 6', 230lb sensei or the 5'2" 100 lbs (female) training partner don't work for me always. So I ask "what if...?" Sometimes I get the same response as Stacy ("a well-placed technique SHOULD... - but try that and see how it works for YOU") and sometimes I just get the beginning of that. But I only ask because I wasn't able to at my old school (or I never got answers that made sense, which is why I'm not training there anymore!).

    I think as time goes by and our paths get a little worn, we "see" things and wonder about them. That's just part of human nature, I suppose...

  4. Marie, I think the points you raise in this blog are very serious. There can be a fine line between asking an acceptable question and making an unsuitable challenge to your instructors authority. You need to be very sensitive to the culture in your particular dojo and know what is or isn't appropriate.

    In my experience I have occasionally misjudged the appropriateness of my comment and felt bad about raising a challenge to my instructor. Every time I have turned out to be wrong and he right - basically I've just revealed my ignorance and inexperience!

    Often we challenge the effectiveness of a technique because we can't make it work. This may not be the problem of the technique but just that we are not experienced enough to make it work.

    I now don't question the effectiveness of anything until I have spent a lot of time practising it. Usually the difference between a technique not working and working well is very subtle - a slight change in hand/foot position, a little more unbalancing or rotating, a slight downward pressure may be all that is needed to turn an awkward ineffective technique into an easy brilliant one.

    My advice is to give yourself a chance to learn the subtle nuances of a technique before you challenge it. I have learnt this lesson the hard way! Approach questions from the point of view of "Am I moving my feet correctly with this technique?", "How do I get this unbalancing trick to work better?" or "Can you suggest how I can alter this technique when I have a bigger/smaller partner?" This is better than "I don't think this technique is very good sensei I can't make it work for me". It will nearly always be you that 'doesn't work' rather than the technique. I would advice 'biting your tongue' when you feel the need to make a negative comment about a technique and give yourself longer to understand it/practice it. Your instuctor will know better than you so continue to trust him as you already do.


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Maira Gall