Habits – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

The topic of habits comes up all the time when talking about kata based budo. Good habits, bad habits, how to break a habit.

A habit is not the ability to do a complex movement, that’s a movement pattern, something you gain the ability to do by “wearing it into the bones” but it’s not a habit, or perhaps I should say I don’t want to call that a habit. I’d like to define three different things, movement patterns, reflexes and habits.

A movement pattern is the ability to block with a shoto while cutting with a daito. It’s complex, hard to learn, but once learned it can be done without thinking about it. This is the ability to shift gears on a car, clutch, shift, gas and off the clutch.

A reflex is snatching your hand away from a burning pot, it’s not under conscious control and can be suppressed only with the most massive effort.

A habit is a patterned motion in response to an external stimulus. Stress = more beer. Driving to your workplace at 10pm just because you turned that way out of the driveway and you aren’t thinking about where you’re going.

Habits aren’t good things in budo. Movement patterns are. Reflexes are not to be fought, but reflexes can be, should be, shifted into movement patterns. When our house was being built, I was standing on the ground and the boys were wrecking the second floor. I had a hammer in my hand and was talking to the foreman when a board came down toward my head. I stepped forward and tapped the board behind me. Suriage men was the movement pattern, don’t try to catch it, stop it, just step forward and tap it into a new trajectory. The reflex was to duck something coming at the head. The movement pattern was added into the reflex because I practice avoiding things coming at my head all the time.

Not 30 seconds later I went around the corner and a 2×4 stud came down from above, this time slightly in front of me. I stepped back, waited until it hit the floor, reached out and grasped it before it could tip over and set it aside primly. This time I was suspicious the boys were testing me and I did not look up to see if this was true or not. (If it was they would have got shit publicly, in front of me, rather than later in private from their boss).

Reflex plus movement pattern is not habit. Those were two different movement responses to the same reflex action.

A habit in a kata is to do the kata mindlessly. Not with mushin, but mindlessly, not paying attention. You can check to see if your partner has a habit by stopping or slowing down in a place where you normally do not. If your partner swings into empty air you can tap him on the head and say “habit”. The external stimulus is to be doing the kata, the habit is to carry on in the absence of the expected external trigger.

How would you know if you’re doing iai from habit or patterned movement? You need to figure out how to create your imaginary opponent and then how to make him change up the timing. Or, horrors, do the kata as partner practice.

Your sensei can tell you if you’re doing iai out of habit. Habitual iai kata are hollow, nothing there, not even you, let alone an opponent, real or imaginary. To me it looks like your eyes are rolled into your own head. You’re looking at your thoughts rather than at your opponent.

If you’ve got a habit, how do you change it? For instance one of the students this weekend was blocking with the shoto by turning that sword downward. Done with the correct body movement this can throw the partner’s daito backward as per jodo. If not, also as in jodo, the partner can disengage and bring his daito back online. I said “keep the tip up to prevent his disengage”. We were doing Ipyoshi uchibarai and he remarked that he “had a habit” so I said “key on touching the forearms together as you strike him”. This keeps the tip above the left hand.

The important part of that was the key. You can’t change a habit by saying “damn I did it again, I really shouldn’t do that”. You have to find a key and work on that. Preferably a key that gives you immediate feedback, like the feeling of your wrists touching each other.

Other habits are not so simple. I needed to lose some weight, instead of saying “OK I’ll put fewer calories in me”, which would not work, or hasn’t yet, I said “no more drinking at home”. So I have to go out, I drink my two pints, I go home. The key was to get the beer out of the house for a while. Now there can be beer there but I don’t drink it.

Cottage doesn’t count.

But back to my student and his habit. The habit was to turn the shoto tip downward at that point in that kata. Use a key and fix it. But the very next kata requires the shoto tip to be downward to sweep a low attacking sword to the left side. If we were talking habits my student would be conflicted by these two kata/habits, one that says tip up, one that says tip down. Instead, think movement patterns which can be selected and “fired” at need. Low attack, shoto blocks with tip downward, high attack, tip up. Now, instead of trying to build good habits, we create movement patterns and concentrate on being able to select the correct patterns for the particular situation.

Basketball layup, habit or movement pattern? High jump, habit or pattern?

Niten Ichiryu is where I figure out this sort of stuff folks, want to do it too? Click the link below.

Kim Taylor
June 25, 2017

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July Niten and Kage seminars:

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