Bruises: How students don’t learn – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

A friend in Japan sent the following:

“What to do when what the seniors are doing seems unnecessarily harmful? Squeezing the forearm where the pulse is, so hard it’s leaving bruises and female students are being approached at work about possible domestic abuse? Yonkyo, in other words.”

Yonkyo indeed. First, I have an observation on yonkyu, and an opinion. The observation is that yonkyo as most people think it should be done, doesn’t work unless there’s a bruise on the arm. My opinion is that yonkyo isn’t a pain technique. Any technique that needs to be applied two or three times before it works isn’t much use. Yonkyo is the same class of technique as ikkyo to gokyo, it’s a control of the whole body through manipulation of the arm and shoulder. Pain has nothing to do with it. In other words, if you can’t do it on a fresh, strong arm, you’re doing it wrong and squeezing isn’t going to make it right.

But that’s just my opinion so take it as that, I want to go on to a general consideration of abuse in the martial arts.

It exists. In fact, it is systemic in the true sense of that word, it is built into the culture as it exists today, but it is also being bred out, in large part by the presence of female students… In my opinion, I have not done any multigenerational sociological studies of abusive attitudes toward the arts. If someone else has, I’d like to know.

In the meantime we are left with opinion and anecdote so, to continue.

Budo has always been a young man’s thing, and boys like to bang into each other. The old rough and tumble of “testosterone poisoning”. Budo provides, has provided, a “safe space” for boys to bang into each other, so let’s just leave that part of it alone.

Unfortunately, budo has also been used, especially in the last century, for other things. In Japan the budo were used to prepare those young men for the wars of Japanese imperialism from the invasion of Taiwan in 1874, just three years after the formation of the Imperial Japanese Army and six years after the restoration of the Emperor, through the second world war. It took very little time for the culture of budo to become militarized and become a sort of junior boot camp for the army. Budo was to teach the entire population (rather than just the samurai class) how to endure, how to obey and how to sacrifice.

This culture was not suddenly wiped out in 1945 when the Imperial Army and the Butokukai (the standardizing, government controlled body for Japanese budo formed in1895) were disbanded. By the second world war budo arts such as kendo were places where one learned how to charge the enemy lines with a spirit of sutemi, bouts started 30 feet apart, first strike winning the match. The rules may have changed in the 1950s but those who learned under the old system were still present.

For a lot of budo, the training of beginners is not so much instruction as weeding. The same is true of Western sport by the way, one doesn’t join the football team in high school to learn how to play, one applies and is weeded out by the coach. This is still the pattern for much of the budo world. We make students “sit outside the gate”, we make them do endless days of mindless kihon to get rid of those who are “not serious”. This is not instruction, this is selection, is it any wonder we tend to select for those who are strong, tough-minded, and determined? Otherwise known as forceful, make-it-work, head-bangers? The sort who will squeeze the wrist until it has a bruise while doing yonkyo, instead of wondering why their yonkyo isn’t working.

To look at the culture of modern martial arts we should not look at the culture of the founders, the culture of 1645, but at the culture of three generations ago, of 1945. To look at what the martial arts are in our generation we look at our grand-teachers, and to look at what our students will be teaching we need to look at our teachers and within ourselves.

Bruises weed out, they select. Is this what we need in the arts today? Perhaps, if we are preparing our students for war, preparing them to endure, to obey and shut up. Is that our purpose?

Bruises happen, but they ought to happen by accident, not by design. If you bruise your partner while doing a technique, you have failed, unless your art is a striking art, in which case you have still failed. A bruise is neither “pulling your punches” nor breaking bones, it is some sort of sloppy middle ground.

The abuse of those who cannot control their emotions exists everywhere, not just the martial arts. It exists in relationships, in pre-schools and in old-age homes. The women who are being asked about domestic abuse at work because of the bruises on their arms ought not to wave that concern off saying “I got them in class”. Those women and those concerned ought to be asking themselves if those bruises were the accidental price you pay for a good practice or the result of sloppy students and equally sloppy sensei. In other words, the result of abuse. What is the difference between a husband who loses control and hits you and a training partner who loses control and hits you. If you say one is OK “because you agree to it by being there”, tell me which one that is.

Still, generation by generation, the arts change to adapt to the culture they live in. The growing number of women in the arts will change them, perhaps for the better. Perhaps not.

One thing I do know, I never learned a thing from some ape squeezing the hell out of my wrist while trying to do yonkyo, even when it gave me bruises.

The bruises I got by stepping the wrong way, by not paying attention, sure. Abuse from my seniors only ever taught me that those seniors were abusive. It didn’t engender endurance and stoic silence, I learned that as a child, it only ever engendered contempt. It taught me nothing about the arts except that abusers exist in the arts as much as they exist outside those arts.

Not much of a lesson.

Kim Taylor
June 4, 2017

July Niten and Kage seminars:

photo 3 (2)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s