Old Brain, Young Brain Kim Taylor May 17, 2023

Looking back at what I’ve said for the last month or so, some things come into focus. For instance, higher ranks are less able to change/adapt/fix their skills than lower ranks. Older students a bit less flexible than younger students.

Don’t panic, it’s just a matter of desire and internal chatter. Why would higher ranks change? They’ve got the rank, they must be doing something right. Older students? Where’s the incentive to change?

If you don’t want to change, you won’t. Simple as that, if you, as Mansfield sensei says, practice to practice, you’re good, it’s all exercise.

If you want to change, here’s what I’ve been saying in the last week. Some of what I’ve been saying, that is, I talk a lot.

1. Shut the puck up. To change something you have to concentrate. If you chatter away in your brain about who said do it your way, ask yourself if you’re still doing it, think about how you’ve always done it….. just shut up. One thing only, should be in your brain, and that’s the change. Nothing else should be going on because, as in a crowded bar, it’s hard to hear the fellow you’re talking to over the rest of the noise.

2. Break it down to simpler movements. If you are having trouble with a skill, you will probably have trouble with a part of that skill, the rest being fine, or correcting itself as you correct the troubled part. If it’s not turning your hips far enough (Jodo) then turn lots, make your body comfortable to turn far enough (practice to change).

3. Stop looking for the magic formula. I often say that strikes in Jodo are the result of sliding down the stick. But what happens when you have a movement that means you can’t slide. Maki Otoshi is one place where there’s not much room to slide, Tai Hazushi Uchi is another. If you try to save room to slide while doing Tai Hazushi Uchi, you will probably shove your base hand (on the end of the jo over your head) forward. Now your magic formula has just got your base wrist cut. To do the magic formula, you’ve created a problem. If you can’t slide, you can’t slide. So don’t slide.

I think this is one of the biggest problems I see these days. If it’s written in “the book” it must be universally required and so if you don’t do it you’ll fail your grading. Ugh.

A question last night was about how to hold the jo overhead for Tsuki Hazushi Uchi. So hold it like a long armed fellow and your head is exposed to a cut. Hold it the other way and your grip may not be textbook, but your head is covered. Which is correct? Don’t think about it, if it gets you killed, it’s not correct, so don’t get killed, then worry about how spiffy you look.

4. Look at your partner. Honestly, this is not for the beginners who are still trying to figure out which foot goes where. But if you’re still trying to figure that out at 5-6-7 dan, you’re not there yet. Go back to basics, learn it correctly this time. The way we do the kata is the correct way to do it. Trust the kata, trust the teaching, and then, when you want to do things well, forget your basics, trust that they will be there when you need them, and look at your partner. Defeat his attack, complete your attack. Stop thinking! Stop with the formulae! Hit the target from the right distance in the right timing with the right amount of force. That’s 5-6-7 dan. Up to that, by all means, work on the old “this foot there” stuff.

5. Trust your training. Your sensei really isn’t Coyote the trickster, he really isn’t training you to fail. Do what you’re taught because you trust your sensei. If you don’t trust him, if you listen to twelve or fifteen other people, looking for that magic formula, you aren’t anywhere at all except right back at beginner level.

Look, if your sensei isn’t any good, if he can’t teach you, if you don’t trust him, go study with someone else. Nobody gets brownie points for loyalty any more. Loyalty was a scam created after the warring states period to keep the boys from wandering off to someone who would pay better.

Grading panels are like sensei, if you don’t trust them, if you don’t respect them, don’t stand in front of them and complain. Just don’t. Grading is expensive, if you’ve got no use for it, don’t grade. I just listened to someone saying that their last grading was some of their worst technique, and yet they passed. That is NOT reason to think badly of the panel, your opinion doesn’t count in a grading. Instead think, “Hey, maybe sensei taught me well,” or “Hey, maybe I’m ‘there’.”

6. Figure out what you want. If you’re in this to become a better student of the art, good. Follow what I’m saying. If you just want a grade (for respect, for your students, for the ego gratification, etc.) then schmooze it up with the panel, bribe them if you can get away with it, certainly practice like hell to do what you’re supposed to do. If you want to grade to see where you are in your practice, then do not practice for the grading, instead walk in there and say “So how am I doing?” And be happy with a pass or a fail. What you want out of your practice will absolutely affect how you learn.

7. When you get up there and are still trying to fix something, function over form. Look at the kata and say to yourself, What is this for? Does this work? Why does it work? Stop trying to look pretty and start figuring out how it works. This is for when you’re up there, at 5-6-7 dan. Before that, look pretty.

This is some of the stuff I’m seeing, saying, and thinking these days. If it’s useful, good. If not, also good, because, as we all know, I’m not your mother!

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