Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Winning in Jodo

I have written about this before - the idea of "winning" in Jodo. Of course the jo side always "wins", but it is possible for either the jo side or the bokuto side to really win without changing the outcome of the kata. On the bokuto side, for example, if you have to slow your strike down because the jo side wasn't ready yet, then you actually won. Or if you know that the jo side did an ineffectual hikiotoshi, or an ineffectual block that you could have brushed aside easily, then you have won. Or whenever you overpower your opponent mentally ... your kiai throws him off balance so that his finishing strike is wobbly and unimpressive ... then you won.

There is a guy in the dojo whom I'll call Mr. K. He's very intense when he practices, but it's okay because he is also very precise. He can stop and go on a dime, and so it's very unlikely that he's going to hurt anybody, even though he's practicing full tilt. I get the feeling that a lot of people don't like practicing with him. He's intimidating, and I understand that. But at the same time, I think there are too many people waltzing through jodo practices. At the end of the day, jodo is a martial art, and your goal is to overpower or neutralize your opponent and then symbolically "kill" him -- or at least put the jo between his eyes and let him know: "I can keep this up all day, but you're going to lose. So quit while you're ahead."

The problem is that, while you're learning, you get in the mindset where you think, "Okay, this foot ahead of that foot, now strike, now step back..." and you keep thinking of yourself as a "learner". Learners have no right challenging their teachers, right? (This might be a bigger problem in Japan than overseas...) And so I often see people who have carried this mindset well into their "mid-level" practice. They are 3rd or 4th dan, and they can perform the movements with accuracy, but they have no intensity.

In the west, I get the feeling that intensity is perhaps over-rated. People are really into doing things with a lot of power ... smashing, bashing ... but they are maybe doing some things with bad form and unfortunately that intensity just solidifies their bad habits all the more quickly. I think that was my problem sometimes, at least.

So what's better: to practice with intensity, or keep it light? When I practice with people who are really, really good, I am always amazed that they can turn it on and off at will. They are continually switching between hard and soft. Push them, and it's like pushing smoke. But then the jo is right back between your eyes before you know what's happening. They block you ever so lightly - the jo doesn't even touch your fingers, somehow - but then you're slammed down hard into a kuritsuke. As soon as that happens, the pressure lets up and you're free to back away, only to feel yourself cringing because you feel a crippling suigetsu thrust coming on ... here it comes like a freight train, but it miraculously stops with a light tap on your solar plexus. Next it's an immense overhead strike and there's no way it's going to stop anywhere less than three inches deep in your forebrain ... but it does, and it's gone, leaving you wondering why you are almost falling over backwards.

That's what I'm striving for! I might never get there, but it's just cool to know that some people have that.


Blogger Narda said...

Nice post. Mr. K sounds like my own kobudo teacher. As a student, it's scary, and fun, at the same time to practice/learn from people that are intense AND have control. :)

10:17 AM  

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