Monday, May 25, 2009

We no longer need a Dojo.

In the post Learning outside the dojo I said that with the information being available from so many sources you are able to learn outside the dojo. This begs the question do you still need to attend a dojo at all?

I have had the good fortune to visit several martial arts training venues in and around my home town over the last 15 years. Some have had a very traditional feel, complete with kamisa in the training area, sprung wooden floors and Japanese calligraphy on the walls to very informal, which are simply a hired scout hall with chairs piled high around the walls where you have to drag the mats out from under the stage when practicing throws or falls. I have even been told of a particular Ninjutsu school nearby where on visiting, the class consisted of watching a video and then practicing what they saw on the video. The students seemed satisfied with the result so is there anything wrong in doing things this way? So given the wide range of venues which are all considered dojo's do you really need to visit one in order to train effectively?

Well in my opinion YES! The dojo, irrespective of its fittings and furnishings is the primary place of instruction. The dojo environment, is where the student must be taught the basics of respect and discipline. It is also in the dojo environment that the instructor/sensei can impart* knowledge to the student. Sure, I am all for self study and believe I am sufficiently proficient in a variety of styles and techniques to learn from videos and books BUT it is in the confines of the dojo that these techniques move out of the theoretical into the functional realm. It is only under the supervision of an instructor that some techniques can be safely practiced in order to become part of the ready arsenal of the samurai today.

Take a very simple punch. This technique is found everywhere, from the pre-school play ground to the local pub. So everyone knows how to punch right... right? Wrong! clenching a fist and throwing it at someone else does not constitute a punch. Correctly rolling your fist will ensure you do not break fingers or knuckles when you make contact. Then all the aspects of keeping the muscles relaxed until the moment of impact. Rotating the fist and ensuring you strike with the first two knuckles and the fist horizontal, punching from the heal through the hip allows you to generate board breaking power. Do not tense the shoulders... I have just touched the surface of a basic Karate punch. What about the vertical fist used for the basic wushu punch... is this poor technique?

The dojo creates the required environment for this learning to take place. While training, your senior students and instructors can keep an eye on what is happening and correct a technique so that you practice a good technique rather than reinforcing bad technique.

But what happens if there just is not a suitable dojo where you stay? Ah, here is a real problem. One I am struggling with as I make plans to move to a new country. I would love to hear your comments and then I'll use these comments along with my thoughts on the issue to draft a post on Samurai Today. I look forward to hearing from you.

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*impart... This is a topic for another post, and I will visit it again later. 


knife-fighter said...

Albert san, You have touched on several very important points. Students who are completely self-trained, or who feel capable of going from basics to advanced through books, DVD or other media are only fooling themselves. Asan istructor, and eternal student,I realize the folly of taking shortcuts and bypassing the one on one training with a senior practitioner. What eventually evolves is only a shadow of the form, not the true art itself.

Albert Sjoberg said...

Knife-fighter, thank you for the comment. Yes, the truth is that something extra is imparted in the dojo setting which is not available from any other source. You also made a very valid point... there are no short-cuts!
So if you happen to find yourself in a situation with no Dojo nearby, it might be worthwhile to plan a monthly pilgrimage to a nearby dojo so supplement your self study.

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The Book of Five Rings

It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way. - Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Geshin