Physical Training July 2009
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The Correct Use of Technology

copyright © 2009 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved

I am sitting at my cabin table, with a folding keyboard, a netbook computer and an old scavenged monitor typing this onto a usb data stick.

On my Ipod touch is a film of a couple of menkyo kaiden doing a set of kata that I am learning. I tuck it into my gi and pull it out to watch while practicing. I have previously made notes which have been transcribed onto my computer, sent to all the other students who were at the seminar where we learned this set of technques. I sent it by email and they sent their comments and corrections back to me by email. I then incorporated their comments into the file and printed it out so that I can also refer to it while practicing.

Can anyone tell me why I would ever simply try to remember what sensei said a month ago to a jet-lagged set of students who all have a slightly different set of recollections as to what was said and shown? Can anyone tell me why trying to do this is somehow better than learning from my book or my video?

And yet I continue to read on that very same internet that allows us students (scattered over three cities and many hundreds of kilometers) to chat with each other, that one should not try to learn the martial arts through videos or books. It boggles my mind. I've been practicing the martial arts for 29 years and when I started nobody ever said "don't read books" or "don't watch video" In fact when the first video recording cameras appeared we all jumped at the chance to get sensei's performances on tape. He encouraged it, and encouraged us to watch. Those same menkyo kaiden 8-dans watched us video-tape them and nodded their heads and even repeated things when we asked. They were teaching, not trying to keep things from us.

Since that time three decades ago when I started, I've been on the "bleeding edge" of iaido and jodo in our area of the country, at least for our organization, so I have had to get my instruction where and when I can. That meant, in a very large degree, watching as many videos as I could make or find, and reading anything I could get my hands on. I didn't have a sensei to check me at every practice but there was no way that any of my sensei ever said to me "don't practice on your own or you'll develop bad habits".

And yet I read this very advice on the net over and over. If you practice without supervision you will:

Develop bad habits
Learn it wrong
Never understand the correct timing
Hurt yourself
Hurt other people

Here's my response to those points. If you practice, with or without supervision, you'll develop bad habits. If you don't practice you won't develop any habits at all, good or bad. You can correct bad habits, it's called learning!

You can't learn without practice and the more practice the better. It's easier to say to a student "no the other foot forward" than to say "OK now you move your right foot forward.. no your other right foot.. and then you twist your wrist upward and.... Aaargh, go learn it wrong from the book and I can spend a lot less time correcting you than I would teaching you. In fact go learn it from some other instructor in another line of my martial art and when you become my student I'll teach you the "right" way to do it in less time than I would spend teaching a raw beginner. Yes there is a "right" way to practice the art, it's the way I do it. When you're in front of that first teacher than the "right" way to do it is how you learned it from him.

In other words you can't learn it wrong, you can only learn it different.

The timing changes with each and every teacher. It may seem that many teachers in the same style have the same timing but put them in a row and have them do the same kata. You'll see different timings from students and teachers and students of the same teacher, let alone from two teachers of different lineage.

Hurt yourself? With a sword presumably? OK go do something safe instead like rock climbing or sky diving or skateboarding. Same with hurting other people, go ride your bike down the sidewalk or drive to work instead.

And don't talk to me about learning from books and videos from a place of complete beginnerness. I've seen it done, and I've done it myself. It's entirely possible.

When I started we had books and photographs. A bit later we had video tape, big shoulder cameras and tube televisions. Now we have tiny cameras that take video and tiny screens that we can tuck in our keikogi. With all this at our disposal it is a downright insult to our instructors to come back class after class without having learned as much as we could be learning. Don't be afraid of technology, it won't bite, it will record faithfully what sensei taught you last time, and every time you watch it, it's as if you had one more class. What teacher would object to that? Certainly not me, and not any of the teachers I've been fortunate enough to study with.

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