Do. Think. Don’t Think!

arnoguchi“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think” Socrates

Sensei once said nearly the same: “I don’t teach my students, but I teach them to teach themselves”. That is the same idea except that in Budō thinking is not possible.

If you think the movement while doing it, nothing good gets out of it. The thought process is only present in the studying phase, not during the battle.
We had a Kukishin ryû class yesterday with Noguchi sensei, and the ease with which he was unfolding the waza didn’t let any opening for thinking. Beyond the form lies the beauty of natural movement. When Noguchi sensei does a technique, he more or less always follows the same pedagogical pattern, i.e.:
1) basic waza read dusky from the denshō;
2) breaking the waza;
3) changing the beginning of it to adjust the kaname hidden within to the intentions of the opponent. (1)

This last part is always the most interesting because when he does it, it is hard to see the original form. And this is where Budō is different from Socrates. There is no thinking involved. Noguchi doesn’t think, he does henka after henka, without stopping. Those of you familiar with his classes know what I mean. Each class is a permanent rebuilding of the waza based on the kaname.

As we were uneven in the class yesterday, he asked me to correct the students which gave me a good chance to witness the whole class from the outside. This allowed me to understand better his modus operandi. When I train as a student, I’m doing my best to follow his body flow. Being an observer yesterday, gave me a deeper vision of his moves. Learning the original waza is a necessary step when your study Budō, and at a certain level, you have to forget these basic forms to dig deeper into the feeling they contain.
Many practitioners do not understand that. I often see high ranks doing waza correctly according to the text, but never going away from it. In a way, they train like “advanced beginners”.

As a Shidōshi, you have to know the basic technique. And Sensei repeated it again during his first class of the year. But to grasp the essence of Mutō Dori, one must not stop there. The real fight is not possible if you simply do the form. Waza are only valid if you can free yourself from them.

The secret is to teach the written waza and to train the kaname beyond the form. And to do that, you have to study more and to think a lot about the invisible part which lies within it. If you don’t, you will never be able to grasp the natural body flow which comes with direct adaptation.

Once you have acquired the waza, you have to destroy it. Once destroyed, you do not need to think, you use uke’s intention against him. This three-step process in Japan is called “Shu Ha Ri”, or “absorb, innovate, depart”.

Here’s how it works: “In Shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation.
Next, in the stage of Ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process, the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in Ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act following what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.” (Wikipedia) (2)

Each class with Noguchi sensei is a fantastic opportunity to see this process in action. But thinking is only possible during the first two phases Shu and Ha. Because Ri is a pure reaction, and the only thing to do is to ride the waves of uke’s intentions.

1. Kaname: 要, vital point; cornerstone; keystone
2. On Shu Ha Ri:

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Author: kumablog

I share here on a regular basis my thoughts about the Bujinkan martial arts, training in Japan and all over the world, and

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