Fixing things – Dec 30, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

I try, I really do try not to be a “guy”. I sat down in the cafe and noticed the footrest on the stool was missing a bolt and hanging down. I substituted it for another but of course I noticed that the footrest on that one was loose so I spent five minutes fixing it.

I really did try not to, and the fix won’t last long, you can only turn rusty ikea fasteners so tight with your bare hands. But it’s a compulsion. The bolt will at least be there when someone gets around to fixing it properly.

There are some things that you can fix but shouldn’t, like the cafe’s stool, not my job. Some things you fix, like the brakes on your car, you know they’re broken and it’s your job to fix them or have them fixed. Some you fix even if it’s not your job, like that tricycle on the road.

Then there are the things that you may figure are broken but really shouldn’t fix. It may be that it’s not your job, it may be that they are simply badly designed in your opinion, but work just fine for others. The car mirror comes to mind as something that really isn’t broken and isn’t in need of fixing. Don’t glue it in place, your wife will yell at you when she next uses the car. It can be adjusted but it isn’t to be fixed.

Some things work the way they do for reasons you may not think of right away. The martial arts are all about fighting right? So you’d figure that would be what we ought to test in a grading, if your technique isn’t practical, if you couldn’t survive a fight with what you’re doing, you ought not to pass.

The academic equivalent of this is the original university model where you read a subject for three or four years and then you get tested on it. One test, pass or fail after four years work. A couple hundred years of “fixing” later and you come to my school years. A midterm and a final in each subject each semester, so maybe 20 exams a year. Now, after another generation of “fixing” the system and largely on the insistance of the customers ‘er students, there seems to be 5 to 10 little quizzes and tests per subject per semester plus an exam or two, nothing counting for more than 20% of the mark, ever.

The modern budo situation is not to teach the art for 5 years and then kick the student out into a life and death situation (as if that ever actually happened) but to test students for a level of competance appropriate to their time in training. Have you made the level or not? This is not life and death, it is anything but. You are not tested against the fighting skill of someone else, but against an agreed upon standard.

Simple yes? The assumption that budo is about fighting and winning is not what is being tested, so the system is not broken if someone passes their first grade with skills that are not equivalent to someone who has been training for ten years. Are they good enough for someone at six months? Fine, pass.

So where do we test the fighting skills of someone in the budo? Well personally I don’t think we test them at all, but I suppose some would say we test them in tournaments. The thing is, unless the tournament rules dictate that there are no rules, and that a loss is defined as being put into a state of being killable, it’s not about fighting, it’s about sport. Hell even warfare has rules, there are things you are not supposed to do, and if you are about to tell me they are done, all you’re telling me is that people break rules.

So why do we test people in the budo when the only real way to assess fighting skills is to put a student into a life or death situation? We test students because students like tests, and our job as teachers is to design tests that are passable. Students like tests? Of course they do, they like the validation of their skills. What they don’t like is failing the tests, but most know that’s good for them, that it makes them work harder and all that.

Tournaments? Did the judges like you better than the other guy (iaido, gymnastics, figure skating…) or was he stronger, faster, tougher than you that day (boxing, kendo, running, shotput…). Fun, personally satisfying, a test of who’s a better high jumper in that particular meet, all that stuff.

But ultimately, no matter how many tests you pass, no matter how many tournaments you win, you are going to get old and some kid is going to be able to beat you up. At least with the skills you learn if you’re just learning fighting.

So, do we fix the martial arts and make sure it’s more about fighting since that’s what it’s all about? Is that what it’s all about?

If you’re going to fix something make sure it’s actually broken before you do. Oh, and make sure it’s your job to fix it, I used to get into a lot of trouble when I worked for the University by fixing the wiring or the plumbing or painting the walls of the lab. Wasn’t my job and there were folks whose job it was to fix things. Sure I may figure the centrifuge can be bolted to the cement block wall, but maybe the physical resources people would know that the vibration would destroy the morter and make that wall fall down. Not saying I ever did that but I have heard gasps from folks who have walked into rooms and seen such things.

Some things you fix, some you don’t, even if you can, and some you check with others to see if they are actually broken.

Kim Taylor
Dec 30, 2015

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