Thursday, 16 September 2010

How do you teach 'Do' in the dojo?

Karate is often described as being a 'Do' art, a Way of life, not just a means of self-defence or sport. Most martial arts have a 'do' side and a 'jutsu' side. Practitioners of karate-jutsu are very much focused on applied karate: the development of karate as a realistic and effective fighting system. Practitioners of karate-do use karate as a means of improving the self through the development of positive character traits, the elimination of ego and the unity of mind, body and spirit. A karate-do practitioner may also look at how this self-development can be applied to other aspects of their lives.
This does not mean that karate-do practitioners are not interested in learning effective applied karate or that karate-jutsu practitioners do not develop any of the mental or spiritual aspects of a martial Way, but their focus may be different. In fact, you may argue that you can't become an effective 'fighter' without developing some of the deeper mental/spiritual states associated with the 'do' side of the art; or that you won't develop the desired mental states without hard training and developing the practical application of fighting techniques.
How do you teach someone the 'do' aspects of karate in a dojo? Can you teach this? It is easy to see how you can teach the practical side of karate - how to block and punch, how to kick, how to escape from grabs or defend from various attacks. But how do you teach the higher mental states such as zanshin, mushin or kime? Are these just the consequences of years of hard training or do they require acquisition through more conscious, active means?
Take kata for instance. Some people refer to kata as moving meditation. It has been said that all martial artists should learn to meditate in order to develop focus, mental clarity and mind-body unity. Well we don't meditate in our dojo so does kata practice count as meditation? People's attitude to kata practice varies enormously. For some people it is just about learning a pattern (a 'dance' mindset); for others it's about perfecting the pattern for competition (an 'aesthetic' mindset); for others it's about learning fighting techniques ('practical/applied' mindset) and only for a few does kata seem to be about mind-body unity (a 'do' mindset) and can therefore be considered meditational. In other words it doesn't matter how you teach kata, it's how you learn it that matters.
What about kihon practice? Does that teach the 'do' aspects of  karate? I have often thought that standing in lines doing constant repetitions of punching and kicking in front of a 'critical' instructor who makes constant corrections is not just physically exhausting but is a test of the spirit too. One competes with oneself not to slow down or give up - to put the same effort into the last punch as the first. Is forging the spirit in this way intentional on part of the teacher or is it a 'side-effect' of this teaching method?
My more limited experience of training in a jujitsu club is that this repetitive training to the point of exhaustion is not in their teaching repertoire. Teaching is much more pragmatic and technical in nature. Does that mean that jujitsukas don't have a mental/spiritual dimension to their training? I find that hard to believe, after all, the samurai (the original jujitsukas) had highly honed mental focus and clarity of mind when going into battle.
Perhaps the 'do' aspects of a martial art are taught through the dojo rules and observance of etiquette? The emphasis on bowing and showing respect, the honouring of your partner's technique and working cooperatively with each other for mutual benefit. Perhaps insisting on this type of behaviour helps to hone the positive character traits required in one who 'seeks the Way'.
I can't help thinking that perhaps the onus is more on the student than the teacher. Perhaps only those that seek the Way will actually find it.....
So, is it possible to teach student's about the 'do' aspects of karate or other martial arts within the dojo? Do you actively do this in your dojo? How do you teach it?
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John Vesia said...

Teaching karatedo effectively would require a decent role model as a sensei. Of course this is true of the combative aspects (-jutsu) as well, but karatedo -at least to me - means being able to take your 'lessons' learned in the dojo into the real world (among other things). So if you're lucky enough to have an instructor who somehow conveys this message, then I guess that's how -do is 'taught.'

Journeyman said...

I really enjoyed your post, I've thought about it a lot.

I often have this type of 'chicken or the egg' debate with myself. My own journey is full of many contradictions. I insist on my training being realistic and effective in the real world. But I also struggle to ban ego from myself. But the more I learn effective fighting methods, the less I feel a need to prove myself. And so the circle goes back around.

I agree with John that leading by example is the most effective way to teach 'do'.

Two quotes from your post that I think ring true and have significant meaning are:

"In other words it doesn't matter how you teach kata, it's how you learn it that matters."

- this could apply not only to kata.

"I can't help thinking that perhaps the onus is more on the student than the teacher. Perhaps only those that seek the Way will actually find it....."

- I can't agree more. Most arts, traditional or otherwise, contain all the ingredients for both 'jutsu' and 'do'. Mindset, focus and hard work are what's needed to put it all together.

If person #1 has never wanted to learn how to punch and is forced to do one a thousand times, he/she will still not be a good striker.

If person #2 really wants to learn how to punch, he/she will be a more effective striker than #1 after only a few dozen.

What separates the two? Desire and mindset. You can't teach someone what they don't want to know.

Sue C said...

John, a good role model is definitely a pre-requisite. I'm not sure it's enough on its own though. I think students will only take away what they want to learn or what they think they should be learning unless the teacher is more explicit about what it is he/she wants the student to learn.

Journeyman, 'desire and mindset'- I couldn't agree more but can the teacher influence the mindset of the student through his teaching?

Journeyman said...


Can a teacher influence the mindset of a student? Good question.

The best chance to influence mindset is to make the training as relevant as possible to the student(s).

Using real world examples in training or staying up on current events and having scenario based training or discussions can be helpful.

The act of recognizing that there are different areas or aspects of study can allow a student to get a full picture of what can be gained from any martial art.

The simple act of a teacher referencing different aspects can often reach students with varying goals.

John Vesia said...

According to martial arts historian Donn Draeger there are four ascending levels of training:

1. gyo
2. shugyo
3. jutsu
4. do

Ironically, the ultimate attainment of -do in the student might only come when there is nothing left to teach her/him.

Here's an excerpt from Draeger's Classical Budo:

"So close has the relationship between the trainee and his master become that they understand each other in complete silence. This is because the trainee's mind has been trained to attain approximately the quality of his master's mind, sensitive and perceptive to the slightest workings of the master. But there is a touch of sadness at this stage of the trainee's development. From the outset of their relationship the question of how far the trainee would travel in his quest for -do has not been the concern of the master, for only he knows that someday the trainee must go on alone. It is only now, at the -jutsu stage, that the trainee realizes this. He is exhorted by the master to 'climb on the shoulders of the master' and surpass him."

So according to Draeger, -do has to flower in its own time for the student. Maybe there's no such thing as jumping straight to the -do aspect of karate or any other art.

A good reading source for karatedo (and much more down-to-earth than Draeger's works) is My Journey With The Grandmaster by Kyoshi Bill Hayes. Without getting into it too much, this work addresses (and may answer) some of the points about kata and kihon practice that you raise in your article. I highly recommend Hayes Sensei's book (it's a quick read, unlike my rather lengthy response!) - I have an email link to the author on my blog if you're ever interested.

Sue C said...

Journeyman, ..'act of recognising that there are different areas or aspects of study..' This hits the nail on the head for me - you can't learn something that you don't know exists! I think teachers can probably help students by making them aware of what these various aspects to martial arts training are. Thanks for the discussion :-)

John, thank you so much for going to the trouble of providing all this information to me. This sounds very close to what I am looking for so I'll definitely be checking out kyoshi Bill Hayes book.

Edward said...

Being a teacher of martial arts requires a great deal of patience and strength. Most students are not easy to pick up especially beginners because they are still on the process of accepting that fact that they are actually doing martial arts. John is right effective teaching requires you as a master to be a model.

Sue C said...

Edward, I agree that being a good role model is the single most important aspect of being a martial arts instructor. To be able to deal with the changing needs of students as they progress through their training must be incredibly difficult. Thanks for commenting.

blackbeltsuze said...

Great post. I've always thought of myself as more doer than jutsuer!

Sue C said...

Hi Suze, I'm more of a doer myself! I've just signed up for your new blog by the way - your wado journey sounds like it will be interesting!

fishface said...

"Karate is way of learning to kick some serious butt It is also a unique form of physical expression...a
pathway! It's a mechanism about understanding oneself, life and the
world in which we dwell; the further down its path one travels the
deeper within one gets, until it becomes evident that it's not really
about a destination...but rather, the journey"
Patrick Mccarthy

Sue C said...

Fishface, great quote! I had the pleasure of training with Patrick McCarthy earlier this year - a great man!


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