All martial arts share a “sameness”. It is not my intention to compare different martial arts, or view the merits of any particular discipline. The following should help both students and instructors. Fellow students share the problem of understanding what is required (in the early stages simply to remember where feet and hands go, then how to move in the sequence and manner demonstrated.
We have tended to mechanise the way we teach compared to the traditional eastern way. An insight into the differing view can be gained from religious beliefs, we would say, “God made the world”, as compared to ”Buddha grew the world”, This difference is greater than is first apparent. Making implies it has parts, it can be undone, and it can be assembled. This concept has influenced us throughout the ages, encouraging making things like cars and spaceships, technology in our everyday life leading from the concept that the “earth was made” which opens a question, ”how”. A child with toy will take it to bits and hope to reassemble it. The term “grew” is less questionable one tends to accept that things grow, it incorporates a feeling of inner peace, of harmony, a concept of growing is beautiful and natural.
Traditionally the teacher demonstrates the “move” and tells the student to “practice”, with no further explanation. Years ago I was under an instructor who taught in this manner, he would show his displeasure at my lack of understanding by attacking me harder and harder, this was his way of telling me that my last effort was hopeless. But no word to help me correct my errors, week after week, month after month, year after year I would leave the dojo black and blue, on one occasion he became particularly communicative and told me to “feel the move”. This is excellent advice but at the time meant little to me. There are instructors who will make their students practise for years with no verbal explanation of how or why.
One sees far too many teachers and students practising movements as if they were a dance, there is a vast difference in martial art and dance movement. Apart from the strong use of centre, low gravity, good posture, awareness, relaxed upper body, focus, blending, strong hip, both mind and sprit work in harmony, and one would hope to develop a oneness with self and the universe.
We learn best in the early stages by analysing the move, and practising to the count of three, an example would be to show the “stance” as the start position, then on the count of one move feet and hands so, and on the count of two, move etc. Katas can be demonstrated in a similar fashion. One feels it's mind boggling in complexity, I had at times to dig deep to keep going, I used to think that if a chorus girl has to learn many complex routines per year, so can I. It is only when we have remembered where feet and hands go, that Martial Arts can start.
Be it katas or paired techniques the repeated movement establishes new body architecture combined with automatic response, it is not, what you do but how you do it.
The instructor will constantly repeat instructions, some will be quite meaningless others hard to incorporate. The following should open little doors of understanding.
In our early development it is often useful to have a mental image, an aggressor projected in front of us. This image helps focus and stabilise our movement, as one progresses we must be able to dispense with this thought, it becomes limiting, stifling mental and physical development. Mental thought changes the aspect of our physical ability, the mind will have to move from a mental focus of centre, to a feeling of energy from the ground flowing through and then extending outwards, and at times reaching out to the sky and beyond. Simply put we must abolish the image of someone in front of us to progress. It is possible to achieve a oneness/harmony with the universe, such achievement would make it impossible to be struck by a aggressor as one would be in perfect harmony with him. On the larger scale such harmony must give great wisdom and peace.
There are some instructors who teach their students to be overaggressive, “no gain without pain”, “ hit hard till they are senseless”. It is my humble opinion that such training mostly covers the teacher’s lack of ability. It is unfortunate that students are being asked to hit wood, bricks and suchlike objects with hands or other parts of the body, and take blows from sticks/mallets, etc. I look in amazement at the Herculean displays in competitions/ shows, It must be said that mighty as the displays are, they share much in common to a stage act in traditional music hall, and less to today’s martial arts. We must understand that we are unlikely to stand all day in a battlefield swinging weapons and being thumped by others. Traditionally one would be expected to fight for family, lord or Emperor, skill and strength where a matter of life or death, chances of surviving to an old age were limited. Today we can expect to achieve the status of elder citizen, overaggressive training will surely result in damaged joints in these later years, the instructors duty is to provide an environment of safe training and promote long-term heath.
The novice will memorise where to place his body, hands, and feet. We must concentrate attention on the use of centre, all movement should be connected to the centre.