Tuesday, March 18, 2008


A quickie question for y’all: What are some examples of things that you do in your martial art practice that don’t particularly serve any pragmatic, functional purpose – you just do it that way because that’s the way it has always been done?


  1. "Polishing the mirror" at the end of tegatana. At least as far as I can tell serves me no real purpose except to demonstrate the effort and time it takes to rise with big steps...but I don't see any practical application yet.

  2. I contend that doing things "because that’s the way it has always been done" does itself serve a pragmatic psychological purpose--one that most of its adherents would be loath to admit!

    As a martial artist, I try to make the best of whatever circumstances I inherit. Sometimes that means studying a "meaningless" form until its subtle and sublime purpose finally becomes apparent; other times, it means gleaning the wheat and discarding the "traditional" chaff. It is really a complex issue.

  3. Sure, Chris, good point, but what about things like kneeling, clapping three times and saying "oh my gosh a mouse" before class and then kneeling again after class and saying "domo arigaro mr. roboto"

    I realize that ritual has a psychological effect and that much of what lies within a kata is below the surface. I was just interested in seeing what folks thought they themselves did for no functional reason.

  4. Clapping is a good example. If I am not mistaken, it was imported to budo from Shinto.

    Is shengong pragmatic and functional? It depends on the level of one's practice, I suppose. Still the issue is complex.

    For example: if you brush your teeth by rote (as opposed to brushing with knowledge of purpose), is that any less effective at preventing cavities?

    The conventional answer would be no. If we follow that reasoning, we'd better keep clapping at the end of class, until we understand precisely why the practice was introduced (lest we miss a subtle benefit).

    Some research suggests, however, that the "subjective" understanding of "objective" action does influence the outcome. Following that reasoning, we may as well stop clapping if we "know" doing so is worthless, because the "knowing" would preclude the benefit anyway. In this case, we've tripped ourselves up by pretending to wisdom.

    (Sorry if I ruined your question, since nobody will be able to follow this with "movement X is just worthless". :) )

  5. While Movement X perhaps can have a hidden meaning that is as yet without understanding. There are things that we do in class that having nothing to do with training. In particular, I'm pretty sure that everyone is in agreement that sitting is Seiza is bad for your knees, yet plenty of schools require that students sit this way.
    Why? What positive purpose does this serve?
    I mention seiza in particular only to point out that while there are things that seem neutral, and should be practiced in case they have some hidden value; others seem to be inherently degenerative and we should consider removing them from our practice.

    As to hand clapping, there are observable benefits to brushing your teeth. Even if you don't really understand what's going on, you can tell something is different. Hand clapping seems to me to have no such observable effect. There should be a limit on how much we assume is hidden in the "old ways."

  6. I try to stay out of these, Patrick. We have a move called polishing the mirror that looks like a "silk reeling" exercise and seems pretty useless, until you figure out that it is one of the best ways to get behind a threat who is trying to take your head off. Some things that seem a bit odd or even worthless (like the deep stances in karate) are critical in a real fight, but usually not for the reasons instructors explain them.

    At the end of our kata we do this little hip wiggle. Made no sense to me, until someone pointed out that I did it right after I was tased and seemed to recover. I've since noticed that is does more for adrenaline control (and for sending a message to the bad guy) than any breathing technique... but I have no idea if that is what the founders intended.

    The jujutsu roll differs from the judo roll. The jujutsu roll will eventually do horrendous damage to your knees, but it has the advantage of bringing you to your feet facing the threat.

    In one of our kata, uke drops his shoto after taking a double blow to the kidney and bladder. It's a training artifact because it needs to happen, otherwise he will land full force with his floating ribs on the tsuba... but I expect to hear instructors teach that the hand opens automatically with those strikes. If humans don't see the reason, they will make one up.

    I have far more problem with crappy explanations of moves than with the moves themselves. There is a Filipino knife move where the off hand goes to a weird place for no apparent reason... unless you know that blood splashes and sprays and you need to keep it out of your eyes.

    Some of the early practitioners lived in a world with a level of violence that is hard for modern people to imagine. Because of that a lot of their stuff makes sense in application, but it isn't always readily apparent in training. We just haven't been exposed to enough blood and fear to really see it.

    Sometimes. Or I could be completely wrong.

    Take care.

  7. Yeah, we have a few rituals that I continue to perpetuate - bowing is one of them. I keep it for several reasons: group awareness and mindset.

    I try to stay out of these, Patrick. We have a move called polishing the mirror that looks like a "silk reeling" exercise and seems pretty useless, until you figure out that it is one of the best ways to get behind a threat who is trying to take your head off.

    What Rory said above really struck a cord in me. Since 2004 I have abolished all drills, self defence, and one steps handed to me through the syllabus from my 'old school'. I then took the objective of all those exercises and associated them with techniques within the patterns that I have been taught.

    I also added as much personal experience and 'other' skills I've gained through the years (from my school and externally) and associated them with the techniques in the patterns.

    There are however techniques that remain unexplained because the syllabus in itself is adequate to teach a good bag of skills, and I don't particularly feel the pressure to explain each and every single down block or lunge punch.

    They are far from ritualised as they basically act as part of the entire pattern, and connectors for the major applications.



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