Teaching what can’t be taught – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Jiki Tsu, Mushin, Kigurai, I’ve been talking about wanting to pass those things along to my students. The problem is how to teach it. Do we just repeat the kata for years and assume that somehow deeper understanding will appear? Emergent properties do exist, but no matter how many kata I’ve added to a curriculum, nothing novel shows up. What happens is that the kata get polished, the movements get smoother, but it all remains superficial.

Tournaments? They are supposed to provide pressure to the student, they are supposed to provide an opportunity for character development. That may be, tournaments are a game and sportsmanship is a good thing, fair play and all that. The thing is, I’m not talking about being a good sport, learning how to follow rules. Playing a game often has no consequences except winning or losing. Certainly iai and jo tournaments, which are judged, have no real-world consequences. Some sports do, boxing comes to mind, and I have met some kendoka who have an iron core. Kendo sport is “full contact”, it can hurt.

Some sort of pressure is going to be required, for sure. How about gradings? I don’t see much character building in gradings. Nervous? Sure OK, but it’s the sort of nervous you get with public speaking. Most of my students are in University, and most of those are post grads, so exams aren’t something they have a problem with. Again we’re talking real-world consequences and if you fail your 4dan iai grading what’s the consequence? Getting too drunk the night before the grading and forgetting to bow is the usual problem with my guys, they don’t worry a lot about passing budo ranks, not when they’ve got PhD comprehensives to look forward to. Those are real-world consequences, 15 or 20 years of post-secondary education on the line.

Even if the first couple of budo gradings are nervous-making, if students are being trained correctly, if they are acquiring kigurai and all that other stuff, their grading pressure ought to fall away.

So what can I come up with?

Maybe a fickle sensei, one who keeps changing his tune, who figures it’s his job to be irritating. A sensei who figures he’s the sand in the oyster, the irritation that creates the pearl. Make students doubt their own memory “didn’t you say something else last year?”. Make them ask questions “how is that going to work, seriously, there’s no way that can work, you are going to have to show me”. Make them think “OK he said one thing last week, and now he’s saying something else, I trust him, so how do these things fit?”

Ohmi sensei says his method is 1. show them, 2. make them sweat, 3. criticize them. This is a modification of a famous sensei whose number 3 was “praise them”. Praise is over-rated, it’s useful if you are looking for a good student evaluation but it can create feelings of “good enough” in a student. You don’t want that, you want doubt, you want to create a need, an urge to keep working. It’s sensei’s job to say “good enough” when it needs to be said, if a student believes it, they are no longer a student.

A second method of teaching this extra-technique stuff is to demand that your senior students be mind readers. At least that’s my claim to students who look at me and say “use your words, what the hell do you want me to do”. I pull this a lot when using a student to help demonstrate in front of the class. It seldom fails to make them angry, especially if I’m “making them look like an idiot in front of everybody”. In point of fact, a lot of the time I don’t have words for what I want them to do, I don’t know what I want them to do, I’ve got some vague feeling in my head that right now, if I demonstrate for the class, some sort of lesson will show up. So I say “cut” to see what happens. Honestly, my brain is empty much of the time.

Which is mushin. How can you teach “cutting from the void” if you have no void. Mushin is the spontaneous creation of a technique at need, without rationalization. How do you do that with your head full of words?

How do you learn how to read your opponent if you know what he’s about to do? That’s what sports are supposed to do, give you the chance to “free style” it, to learn how to react to unpredictable events.

So when teaching don’t let the students fall into habits. Partner kata don’t look very good when both sides are in their own little world and things are happening separately, with contact being made almost accidentally. Memorizing each side is great for beginners, it’s something you have to do, but we’re talking about what goes beyond this. How do you force students to pay attention to each other?

Variations, contradictions, forced changes in timing, anything to get them out of their own heads and looking at what their partner is doing.

I don’t really have an answer as to how to teach this stuff, but I know that it doesn’t happen if all you do is correct footwork and etiquette. That stuff is basic, we all know that you can fail your ikkyu test for a sloppy uniform or a bad bow, the reason for that isn’t that uniforms and etiquette are really important, it’s that they’re really easy to teach.

What I’m talking about is that stuff way down the road, that you can get failed for at 7dan. How do you teach students to be the eye of the storm, to have a calm, solid core of self-efficacy (not the same as self-confidence) that will allow them to deal with anything that life throws at them?

Do I know? I guess, mostly. I’m pretty sure it’s different for each and every student who arrives at the dojo, and I know it’s the same for all of them.

I also know it can’t be taught, it has to be uncovered.

Start digging.

Kim Taylor
Jan 29, 2019


March 2-3, Clark Hall, Port Credit seminar, Iaido and Jodo with Galligan and Taylor.

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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