Monday, December 18, 2006

Progress toward what

Yesterday I wrote a lot about Progress. The tone of the poem I used as a lead-in to my ideas could lead folks to conclude that I am anti-progress. I am not. Judo, for instance, is all about progress. Take, for instance, one of Kano's two ruling principles of Judo, Jita Kyoei, is often translated 'mutual benefit,' but can also be translated loosely (and better in my opinion) 'you and me going forward together.' I don't think that progress is bad, but I do think that we should carefully consider where we are progressing to. To paraphrase Confucius (reputedly), "If you're not careful about the direction you're going, you will end up where you are headed." That sorta echoes Millay's poem about 'rolling downhill.'
Progress implies a goal toward which we are moving. What are our goals in aikido and judo? What should our goals be?
I am currently reading an interesting book by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher titled 'Mastering Jujitsu.' The authors make an interesting point about why non-grapplers (and non-Gracies in particular) got so thoroughly smashed in the early MMA contests. In most martial arts (according to the authors) there is no instruction in performance goals - more what I'd call strategy. Most martial arts (according to the authors) teach various tactics and techniques and spend little time on figuring out strategies for the use of those techniques. When a martial artist who is prepared tactically but not strategically gets into an unfamiliar situation (i.e. on the ground with a Gracie) not only do they have no technical base to handle it, but they have no place to go to make their tactical situation better. They freeze and get pounded because they have no hope. The authors contrast that to their jujitsu, in which they explicitly teach that position-A is better than position-B is better than position-C, etc... So, when they find themselves in the neighborhood of position-C for instance, they automatically know they ought to start tactically working toward a better position. Thus the grappler that is placed in a disadvantageous place knows where to go and has hope for the future.
Our aikido is (in my opinion) particularly strong in this area. Thorough training in kihon (tegatana and hanasu) provides a deep understanding of proper posture, how to move in good posture, and how to move back toward proper posture when you are thrown out of whack. The addition of a relatively small set of foundational techniques (nijusan) allows lots of repetition in the few techniques that occur most often in randori. The chains teach how to move around in the neighborhoods in which the techniques live, and they also teach the 'positional hierarchy' that Gracie talks about in his book. The addition of the Koryunokata rounds out the system with many of the variations and applications found in the older schools of aikido and jujitsu. So, when the aikidoka is thrown into an unfamiliar situation, he knows if he keeps moving toward principle, keeps moving toward good posture, just keeps moving period, that he has hope of ending up in more familiar territory.
Kodokan judo is not inherently deficient in these areas either. I think that the strategic thinking skills of some judoka may have been restricted through participation in a particular set of competition rules. The Gracies changed the rules to a more realistic training situation (so they think) and the first judoka that participated under the new rule set got beat up too (though I seem to recall a European Judo champ doing pretty well against Gracie in an early UFC.) Gracie doesn't appear to have anything that Kodokan does not - they just have a different rule set for randori and competition. But that is just my $0.02.

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