Thursday, April 17, 2014
My associate and I were recently discussing how to best describe (and teach) the various instructed motions that we show to our students. Our “problem” was with how the student should be shown those motions. Many of the motions are initially taught to students in a manor that emphasize a particular aspect of the motion (as opposed to the manor which it is utilized in a defensive application). Though it's possible to teach the motions in their (final) utilized form, there are often certain aspects of the motion that a student can/will disregard if those aspects are not emphasized to them individually (or sufficiently).
Part of our “problem”, has been with how those motions are initially (imagined?) presumed to be performed (via casual observation by the student). When a motion is viewed independently (out of context with an application), numerous misinterpretations can be made.
For example, the Forearm strike (or “block” if you prefer). Our instruction (as with all beginning motions) is started with the tori's arm's being at their sides. This motion is commonly taught with the utilized arm sweeping across the tori's body (at groin level, close to the user's body) and traveling upward to a position that places the tori's hand (with the elbow bent) at shoulder level. It then travels forward, to a position that extends the utilized arm's hand/elbow forward.
This motion is initially taught as being a forward arm motion (though, it is often misinterpreted as being a sideways arm motion). That presumption is often made because the student hasn't been shown (as yet), that they will also be rotating their body accordingly (either to their left, or right side), thereby determining that the motion utilizes the inner, or the outer side of the arm. Regardless of which direction the tori is rotating, the arm's motion is performed in the same manner (it is the rotation that determines that it be considered either an inside or outside motion).
As the student gains experience with utilizing the motion (in application), they will often short-cut the motion (beginning to motion forward when the hand reaches the opposite side's waist level). This causes the motion to move forward during the process of raising to shoulder height. “Visually”, this can appear to be a sideways motion, but it is still (mainly) forward. When the student is rotating their body with the motion, the appearance of sideways motion is created (and thus, the confusion).
The problem, is that beginning students haven't (as yet) began to rotate (their body) with their arm motions, and therefor will motion their arm sideways (instead of forward) to perform the parry/block/strike. Though (somewhat) accomplishing the motions intended purpose, it is an extremely weak motion (when compared to the forward motion, that it is intended to be).
In an effort to ease the learning curve associated with performing these (and other) basic motions, our students are (often) allowed to perform these arm motions in a sideways manner (initially). This means that the student will then have to modify their arm's motion as they progress in their learning.
My initial feelings about this, are that I disagree with allowing them to perform the motion in an incorrect manner (at all). (IMO) the student should be shown the correct (final) manner of performing the motion, and they will have to contend with the higher degree of difficulty (in learning the motions performance). Though (possibly) more difficult for the student to learn initially, I feel it better to learn it in the correct manner that it (should) will be utilized, rather than have to learn to modify it later (because of poor initial practice).
I consider this to be akin to our instruction of kata. When we first demonstrate a kata to one of our students, they are shown the “skeleton” manner of performance (without the inclusion of various nuances and motion detail). As they become more familiar with the basic structure of the kata, those details are included. When the student is shown their next kata, those nuances and motion detail are included (because they have already learned them while practicing the previous kata). There is no (instructional) reason for them to not be included (from the beginning) once they have been learned. Various kata will have distinct/different motions (that haven't been shown to the student in a previous kata), and those motions will be included as the student progresses in their performance of that kata's skeleton form.
We've already been doing this (manner of teaching) with our instruction of tuite. Beginning arm motions should be taught in the same manner. The fact that something that is taught to a student can't be immediately utilized, does not invalidate the motions validity. What we teach takes time, and practice to learn. Additionally, we do not instruct children (under the age of 16) at our school, so comprehension should not be as great a problem for our students (as could be the case for some schools).
Prospective students are often under the impression that we are there to provide what they want, how they want it. That's only accurate to a certain degree. We provide instruction in a particular methodology, we do not teach what is commonly being taught at (many) store-front dojo. What we do teach, is what has been shown to us by Taika Seiyu Oyata. That instruction has been modified and improved over the past 35 years (by him), and we intend to adhere to that method of instruction to the best of our knowledge and ability.
Many of the prior methods/techniques and training methods that he (Taika) employed in the early years after his arrival in the U.S., he abandoned later as not being relevant, or of value to/for training (ie. “Bogu-sparring”, over-use/emphisis of the makiwara, tamashiwara etc.). A lot of his attention was focused on efficiency of motion (be it leg, arm or hand motion). With that as our premiss, we are continually attempting to improve our own instructional methods.
Part of that attempt, is in eliminating any unnecessary “steps” to a technique's instruction. Oyata had the luxury of only teaching Yudansha level students (and no, “seminars” don't count as instruction, they were only for “introduction to”, and/or “examples of” purposes). Oyata left the instruction of the “foundational motions” to his (Yudansha) students (to teach to their own Mudansha/kyu-rank level students). By the time that those students were of sufficient level to study (directly) with Oyata, they had already (theoretically) been shown all of the “basic” motions. His only goal was to teach those Yudansha how to effectively apply what they had been shown.
Now that Taika is gone, we (his Yudansha students) have to determine how to teach those lessons he provided to us, effectively, and efficiently to our students.