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

A random phrase in my notebook that hasn’t been crossed out so presumably I haven’t written about it. I can see why, it would make folks angry to call them spoiled. Fortunately, when I speak of this or that, nobody figures I’m talking about them. Human nature, it’s some other club, some other schlub.

The first thing that came into my head was an image of some sort of spalting, a fungus in wood that will eventually weaken it to the point where it will break. Obviously I didn’t mean that. I meant, I suspect, a club that has a very highly ranked instructor and lots of rank underneath. These are great places to begin your martial arts training, one would think. Lots of potential instruction, lots of skill to live up to.

Yet it often doesn’t work out that way, it depends almost entirely on the people in the club, specifically, it depends on a few of the seniors and on the sensei. The culture of a club is largely independent of rank, but a concentrated pool of rank can have an effect.

Example 1: A club with lots of rank, a kindly sensei and a comfortable influx of beginners. This is your ideal, from the sensei on down is a sense of responsibility and caring for the beginners. These guys tend to hang around together outside the dojo, certainly going for beers after class. The place is more like a social club than a place to learn how to beat people up. The technique can be very high-class but it’s applied without competition, even when sparring. They like to share the skills with the new folks.

2: The same club, but the seniors have become a bit obsessed with “getting good”. They may be good, maybe not, but the presence of beginners seems to slow things down. Why are we taking so much class time to teach this simple stuff when we could be getting to the advanced stuff? The seniors seem a bit more self-absorbed.

3: A club where the seniors and perhaps the sensei are in it for ego satisfaction, they have lots of rank and are looking for more. Most of the time is spent trying to prove how much better they are than the other guys. Not much joy for beginners coming into this place.

You can make up your own situations but mostly the idea is that a club is welcoming or not depending on the people in it, rather than on the rank. Rank doesn’t necessarily chase out beginners.

Nice, but spoiled? Where was that? I don’t think I caught what I was thinking when I wrote those two words. Let’s not look at it from the senior point of view but from the beginner side. You walk into a club that has bags of rank and they don’t just chase you back out the door. Good, now you have constant feedback and every question is answered instantly, fully and accurately. There you go, now you’re a banana on the counter top, next to the oven. You’re in a hothouse, you are going to ripen and mature very quickly. You’re going to get to the sweet spot in half a day.

And then spoil.

Too fast, too easy. Is that all there is to this stuff? Fine I know what I need to know and I’m gone. Moving somewhere else to learn something worth learning, something I need to try a bit to understand.

Too fast, too easy, I’m now an expert, I know bags of stuff these new beginners don’t know, and I learned it in half a year. I’m wonderful, I’m a teacher and I’m going to teach them stuff. Never mind trying to tell me anything, I’m busy teaching and sharing my expertise. What do you mean there’s more? Nobody ever told me there was more, and what more could there be? Punch at this angle, cut at that direction. They said do that, I did that, we’re done, right? So back off and let me teach these new guys.

Too fast and too easy can mean that a student, by being spoon-fed, never learns how to learn. Learning how to learn is tough, teaching someone how to learn is tough, much tougher in a “spoiled dojo” a dojo that is spoiled for skill, spoiled for choice of highly ranked instructors. Got a question? Ask and it’s answered immediately and by six people tripping all over themselves to tell you.

Nothing that comes easy is worth much.

Then there’s the attitude of the senior who grew up in this club. “It’s easy” so those who don’t find physical skills easy to acquire are treated as lazy. “It’s difficult” we seniors can do this stuff at an amazingly high technical level and so we are going to keep moving along this path. The skill required is going to be higher and higher so that you beginners are going to be AMAZING. Or so that I can say “look at that, you can’t do that, give me respect”.

You know, I keep harping on this, but budo is a bit more than technique. Those who have trouble learning physical technique can be some of the most stubborn, determined, hard to defeat people around. Who do you want beside you on the battlefield? The hothouse flower who has never been tested, the guy who can twirl a stick really prettily, or the guy who is going to plant his feet, grit his teeth and stand his ground because that’s all he’s ever done.

You don’t know if you haven’t been tested. When it all comes easily you don’t know if it’s going to be strong enough. Is it lipstick on a pig? Apparently guys are getting calf implants these days, does that mean they can drive strongly when attacking? Or does it just look like they can, because they’ve got thick calves?

There’s no strength without stress. There’s no skill without effort. No resiliance without resistance.

We all spoil, it’s just that we do it faster under ideal conditions.

Kim Taylor
Jan 3, 2019


April 6, Seito Bugei Juku seminar in Peterborough.

May 17-20 Annual CKF International Jodo and Iaido seminar and grading, (Kurogo sensei and Mansfield sensei) Guelph.

August TBD. Montreal Jodo seminar and grading with Eric Tribe, Ed Chart and Japanese instructor (TBA)

November 8-10 Annual CKF International Jodo seminar and grading (Kurogo sensei), Mississauga (Port Credit).

iaito, bokuto, bokken, jo, shinken, karate and judo uniforms, books, videos and other…

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