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AsimHanif
03-04-2004, 03:06 PM
Style or substance

Lately I have been following a page from Tohei Sensei when he said he stopped listening to what O'Sensei was saying. He just did it. That is how I really trained for years but somewhere along the way I began to get too theoretical. "Just doing it" (to borrow from Nike) has brought me back to a nice place in training. I feel I'm getting the essence of what is being taught and the outcome is the desired one. But now I have been getting comments like "that works but do it this way or that way". I understand that just because you throw someone doesn't mean that you are doing it at the highest levels, but I have been doing this long enough to discern technique from physicality although it may be that I am not embracing certain philosophical principles. To me it seems that "this way or that way" is usually a matter of style not substance. If it helps fine but if not why force something that is not natural or effective?
My question is how do you separate substance from style? (And not piss people off?:-)

George S. Ledyard
03-04-2004, 08:44 PM
Style or substance

Lately I have been following a page from Tohei Sensei when he said he stopped listening to what O'Sensei was saying. He just did it. That is how I really trained for years but somewhere along the way I began to get too theoretical. "Just doing it" (to borrow from Nike) has brought me back to a nice place in training. I feel I'm getting the essence of what is being taught and the outcome is the desired one. But now I have been getting comments like "that works but do it this way or that way". I understand that just because you throw someone doesn't mean that you are doing it at the highest levels, but I have been doing this long enough to discern technique from physicality although it may be that I am not embracing certain philosophical principles. To me it seems that "this way or that way" is usually a matter of style not substance. If it helps fine but if not why force something that is not natural or effective?

My question is how do you separate substance from style? (And not piss people off?:-)
If you take a technique like kotegaeshi, there are as many variations as there are styles of martial arts. Each group says "No that way isn't correct, this is the proper way to do the technique!". What I have found is that all of these variations work, they simply need to be applide in the right circumstance. If it works, it is correct. I think getting hung up on particular stylistic details has no real function.

Ghost Fox
03-05-2004, 06:48 AM
I humbly agree with George. From my limited excursions to other dojo and other "styles" of Aikido I realize that every school has a theory of how Uke will attack even if it is not stated overtly. Some school have Uke that attack with a blitz attack, while some are more conservative getting off the centerline when they attack. If you understand the theory behind the attack, you more readily understand how the technique works. That's why learning variations, Oya Waza, and Henka Waza are so important because on the streets you don't know how an assailant will respond to your gentle guidance.;)

:triangle: :circle: :square:

Ted Marr
03-05-2004, 08:48 AM
I'm sure everyone's heard this old joke in some form or another before, but it's still instructive.

Q: "How many aikidoka does it take to change a lightbulb?"

A: "10,000. One to do it, and 9,999 to stand around and say 'in my style, we do it slightly differently...'"

Yeah, there are a lot of styles out there, which teach slightly different ways of doing things. So learn as many of them as you can. Each will (probably) be good for different situations. At some point, we all make a transition away from "will this technique work" (in a self-defense sort of way), and towards "can I make this technique work even better". The answer to the first is that whatever works, works. The answer to the second depends on what "better" means to you...

Oh, and on the Tohei thing, I've heard that O Sensei, despite being arguably the greatest martial artist of his age, was also a terrible teacher. If Tohei stopped listening to him at some point and just started watching, it probably had more to do with that than with him wanting to strike out in his own direction...

AsimHanif
03-05-2004, 09:39 AM
I agree with all said above but how DO you separate style from substance? In other words how would a mid to senior level student differentiate this? Obviously there are even many high ranks out there who take an all or nothing approach.

And as an instructor, how conscious are you of teaching the essence of the art and not trying to make your students "clones" of you or the master of your particular style?

It seems to me that there are a lot of instructors who may not be aware they are doing this. Especially if they don't have a reasonable amount of exposure to other systems.

So what are the keys if any? George I'm sure along the way you have picked up some tips on how to avoid this???

happysod
03-05-2004, 12:02 PM
I've been very lucky, no one wants to do aikido like wot I do :D

Seriously Asim, if you don't want clones, keep clear of the instant "no that's wrong" and see if they're doing a valid technique first (even if it's the wrong technique). You might even get lucky and they end up finding a better way than you. I try (stress try) to keep my mouth shut unless the student gets totally lost.

George S. Ledyard
03-05-2004, 04:37 PM
Oh, and on the Tohei thing, I've heard that O Sensei, despite being arguably the greatest martial artist of his age, was also a terrible teacher. If Tohei stopped listening to him at some point and just started watching, it probably had more to do with that than with him wanting to strike out in his own direction...
I think I would describe this differently. O-Sensei wasn't a "terrible teacher", he simply didn't see himself as teaching technique. Saotome Sensei trained for around fifteen years under the Founder and says he can remember three times in which O-Sensei actually talked about how to do a technique.

It took a number of special teachers like Shirata Sensei, Saito Sensei, Tohei Sensei and others to attempt to create a systematic approach to teaching technique. In fact every one of the Uchi Deshi did this to some extent when they commenced teaching.

Now this rather begs the question... if the Founder didn't teach technique, what was he teaching? What was it that he thought was the most important thing to communicate about the art to his direct students?

The fact that his message was difficult for many to understand, or that for some people the message didn't fit their interests, led some to focus on technique as if that were the art. But I think O-Sensei's focus in his training and teaching would perhaps cause one to reevaluate that notion.

Mark V. Smith
03-06-2004, 02:15 AM
Mr. Ledyard beautifully illuminates the point that it is not the technique that is at the heart of what you are learning :do: . Do not worship the technique, there is no "one true way" in the technique. The technique is just a tool for learning. See the technique, do the technique, feel the technique, repeat. Then learn.

I have an example from my experience. I was at a clinic with my favorite 8th dan shihan ( no slight intended to other shihan of course ) when he showed us shomen uchi sankajo osae ni (Yoshinkan naming obviously) with 3 steps rearward to the take-down. Step back once, step back twice, step back a third time, then turn and pin.

Now this is a rather ridiculous exaggeration of the movement in the technique and he would never want to see it done like this on a test. On the other hand, I think he also wouldn't want to see it done in just one step on a test if uke's movement didn't warrant it. I think his point was really something like "I'm sensei, you are not. My job is to lead you to budo, your job is to follow me on the way. Stop trying to do what you imagine works best, stop trying to analyze, stop trying to intellectualize. Don't guess, don't predict, don't fall back on what you already know. (If that was enough, you would be there already.) Don't worry so much about separating substance from style, train sincerely and it will reveal itself to you. See the technique, do the technique, feel the technique, repeat. Then you will learn."

So good on you for a 'just do it' attitude and don't take "that works but do it this way or that way" badly but as a gate to deeper understanding.

Then again, I was only about 3rd kyu at the time so I might have entirely missed the point. :freaky: :D

tedehara
03-06-2004, 06:27 AM
Style or substance

Lately I have been following a page from Tohei Sensei when he said he stopped listening to what O'Sensei was saying. He just did it...This appears to be a misinterpetation.Ki: A Road that Anyone can Walk pg 43

Tohei reevaluated all the Aikido arts which he had been taught, thinking of them in terms of mind and body coordination. Although this was not the way Ueshiba taught, it seemed to be what he himself did. Ueshiba's Aikido techniques were flawless from the point of view of mind and body coordination, but his teaching was vague and mystical, and often contradictory. From that time on, Tohei paid very close attention to what he did, and largely ignored what he said...Tohei did not become frustrated with O Sensei's explainations and just started practicing. He had gotten the theoretical structure of mind and body coordination from Tempu Nakamura Sensei of Tempukai. He used that to evaluate Ueshiba's Aikido.

This shows that K. Tohei had his theoretical understanding from outside of Aikido, why he changed from the teaching method that O Sensei used and how he was able to apply this theory to a practical application.

Goetz Taubert
03-06-2004, 12:29 PM
Some thoughts on how to differentiate technique and substance:

No force in technique. Stop when you feel it coming up, start again. Force means possible pain for uke, it indicates unsufficient technique and nages mind set on fighting. What is teached as basic technique, named later as i.e. ikkyo, nikkyo, sankyo, kote-gaeshi and so was not meant to work via pain or pain/injury-avoiding reaction of uke (surely it can be done forcefully, but this will miss the key idea). Uke shouldnít get irritated by the technique to get his/her mind on stronger resistance or evading. Uke should feel comfortable, even when the technique is very fast.

Donít allow openings to be attacked while doing technique.

When the technique shown allows to perform in the manner described above it has the potential for Ąsubstanceď.

On the individual level the Ąpotential for substanceď allows the mutual developement of nage and uke through the performance of technique in the direction of individual aiki (with healthy bodies).

AsimHanif
03-07-2004, 09:47 PM
Hi Goetz,

in this case I'm talking about getting to the essence or outcome of the technique as opposed to getting transfixed into a certain way of doing something. In other words because we are all different physically, emotionally, etc various techniques may have to be tailored to the individual. If I try to do it exactly the way I am shown, I may have problems. I am not saying that a particular does not work - maybe just not as effecient for me.

Actually Ted reminded me of something. When Tohei Sensei went to Hawaii, he found he had to do techniques differently, not as he was taught or had been doing them.

So my point is when teaching technique it is important to point out that "this is a template that should be adjusted as needed".

I THINK when Tohei looked at what O'Sensei did, he was looking MORE deeply (than just the surface).

kironin
03-07-2004, 10:35 PM
I agree with all said above but how DO you separate style from substance?
If you are moving in way that makes good sense for the attack given and you can explain, demonstrate, and understand the situations under which that applies and why, then it's substance. Pass it on to your students with the whys. If you can't, then it's probably style. Be honest with your students. Maybe, if there is an answer, they will find some answers you could not once they know there are some questions. Then again you can always ask your teachers, and meditate on the answers by training.

I really get bored nowadays when people start

talking about O Sensei or Tohei Sensei some 50 years ago did or not. What matters is the next class. The rest is smoke.

Craig

AsimHanif
03-09-2004, 10:44 AM
I agree Craig. Personally I reflect on the past but keep moving on.

I just don't see alot of distinction being made as to the various ways of "adjusting" a technique to fit the needs of the practitioner. I know new people (especially if they have not prior arts to draw on), go crazy trying to execute techiques exactly as shown that will never work for them.

G DiPierro
03-09-2004, 06:49 PM
If you take a technique like kotegaeshi, there are as many variations as there are styles of martial arts. Each group says "No that way isn't correct, this is the proper way to do the technique!". What I have found is that all of these variations work, they simply need to be applide in the right circumstance. If it works, it is correct.Even if this is true, these necessary circumstances are usually not taught as part of the technique. So if a particular variation relies on uke creating a certain situation with respect to nage and uke does not do that, then the technique will not work in that situation and hence will be incorrect.

But I'm not even convinced that everything taught in aikido actually works given the correct situation, unless you broadly define the concept of "correct situation" to include over-cooperative ukes tanking regardless of the technique. In terms of realistic martial situations, I think a good deal of what is taught in aikido does not work.

I think there are several reasons why this is the case, but I won't go into them in this post. What I will say is that in terms of kihon waza, I think it is clearly possible to separate movements into categories of correct and incorrect, and I don't think there is any question that at least some of the things that are taught in aikido are incorrect. The only question is how much and which ones, and as students and teachers of the art I feel that it is our responsibility to investigate these questions so that the art will continue to progress.

I think the original poster realizes this, but does not know how to deal with teachers who tell him to do something that he does not think works. My own personal answer for this is usually to just to do my own version of the technique when I feel that the version demonstrated is incorrect. I think that practicing techniques that do not work only develops bad habits, and I believe that the widespread practice of such incorrect techniques in aikido is the primary source of the major problems in the art.

Different teachers will react differently to this, and there is no single guideline that I can give that will cover all situations. For example, I was once visiting a dojo and the teacher that day came over and insisted that I do a technique in a way that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt to be ineffective. He, of course, was convinced that he was correct, and even offered some pseudo-explanation that clearly made no sense, so I just said "OK" and then did it his way to be polite.

To do so, though, I had to stop at the point in the technique where I would have done a more correct movement and instead do something had little effect on the uke, thus creating a gaping hole which my partner at one point decided to exploit by forcefully reversing the technique. I told him not to do that again, and after he seemed unwilling to cooperate, I explained that I was doing the way his teacher showed, even though it was ineffective, and that I could continue to do it that way with his cooperation or I could go back to doing it my way, and I asked him which he thought would be the more polite course of action in his dojo.

By then, another presumably more senior student came over and told me to just do it the way it was shown, and we had no further problems from there. That was one of the more extreme situations, though, since most teachers will normally not get involved if you are intentionally doing a somewhat different variation that clearly works.

It has long been my personal rule to never correct a student unless I can convincingly explain why what I'm proposing is more effective than what they are currently doing. If I can't, I'll let them keep doing it their way until I can figure out exactly why my way is better. Sometimes, it turns out that it is not, and then I will change what I'm doing. I'm always willing to consider whether something I'm doing is ineffective, even when I am the one teaching. I believe that this is only correct attitude to have if you want to keep learning and improving. If you close off your mind and assume that what you are doing is automatically correct because you standing are at the front of the mat, or you have been practicing a certain number of years, or you have a certain piece of paper from an organization in Japan, then you stunt your own growth. Sadly, this is all too common in aikido.

jgrowney
03-12-2004, 08:25 AM
Instead of focusing on the differences between styles, why not focus on the similarities? I've trained at a bunch of different places and what I've found to be really stimulating is to find the commonalities between all the styles which lead to some sort of universal truth.

Jim

AsimHanif
03-13-2004, 12:58 AM
I think the original poster realizes this, but does not know how to deal with teachers who tell him to do something that he does not think works. - Giancarlo DiPierro

Actually Giancarlo, I don't have a problem personally. I posted this in hopes of getting feedback from others. I make it a point to TRY to illustrate to those who become frustrated that the important part of any technique is the underlying principle not the interpretation. I think many times though instructors get caught up in what a technique should "look" like instead of the results.

I once had a student who tried to execute a technique exactly as I did. I am 5'6" 150, he is 6'6" 260. It wasn't gonna happen:-)

You see this all the time in the dojo when a tall person and a short person work together.

Giancarlo your points are well taken.

Reuben Lee
03-27-2004, 05:45 AM
I think the original poster realizes this, but does not know how to deal with teachers who tell him to do something that he does not think works. - Giancarlo DiPierro

Actually Giancarlo, I don't have a problem personally. I posted this in hopes of getting feedback from others. I make it a point to TRY to illustrate to those who become frustrated that the important part of any technique is the underlying principle not the interpretation. I think many times though instructors get caught up in what a technique should "look" like instead of the results.

I once had a student who tried to execute a technique exactly as I did. I am 5'6" 150, he is 6'6" 260. It wasn't gonna happen:-)

You see this all the time in the dojo when a tall person and a short person work together.

Giancarlo your points are well taken.
I think the original poster realizes this, but does not know how to deal with teachers who tell him to do something that he does not think works. - Giancarlo DiPierro

Actually Giancarlo, I don't have a problem personally. I posted this in hopes of getting feedback from others. I make it a point to TRY to illustrate to those who become frustrated that the important part of any technique is the underlying principle not the interpretation. I think many times though instructors get caught up in what a technique should "look" like instead of the results.

I once had a student who tried to execute a technique exactly as I did. I am 5'6" 150, he is 6'6" 260. It wasn't gonna happen:-)

You see this all the time in the dojo when a tall person and a short person work together.

Giancarlo your points are well taken.
Well, it is important to discern , firstly, wether the style has the substance.

And also, consider this : Doing a technique a certain way may work (or have "substance" - in your words ) for you but not for others .

So what then ?

Assumming that doing a technique a certain way works for you :

Simple. As an instructor, you have a basic curriculum on the technique right?

Train the beginners on the basics of the technique. For example, all techniques in Aikido have a basic form and pose , the angle you should turn at, the basic footwork . Do that first.

Then as they grow in fluency and basics of the Art and it's techniques , teach them to vary the techniques according to the circumstance and what would work for them.

This is how the Aikikai instructors train us .

Now, thinking on this line, what is AIkido ? Harmony with another person's KI right?

Put this in physical dynamics (without arguing about KI ) : it is to harmonize with the force of the attacker and defend yourself.

But your attacker will vary in ....size, shape, method of attack and mental disposition.

So, how is it, that after getting the basics of techniques right(footwork, extension, turning at the right angle bla bla)can there be a debate on who's style is correct or not ?

It defies harmonizing your motion with the attacker.

Once mastering the basics , getting the basic motion and footwork right and re-tuning your instincts to Aikido, we should all seek to vary it (harmonize our techniques ) with the attacker(s).

Therefore, if you know your technique (assuming if you know ), Asim, listen not to certain instructors who tell you that their way "is the best" -It's way off in terms of the physical dynamics and philosophical dyanmics of Aikido.

:ai:

Magma
03-27-2004, 08:38 PM
I think Rueben is getting at some of the same points that I would make in response to this question.

Maybe the question shouldn't be "style vs. substance," as you have phrased it, but in "technique vs. principle." This is also at the heart of what other people have been saying when they talk about learning techniques from many different styles so that you have more tools in your toolbox when it comes time to use them in real life. Still though, I don't think that a fine enough point has been made of it.

Yes, there is something to be said for having multiple tools for multiple applications. Have you ever gotten a screwdriver set with interchangeable bits? Depending on the set, you could get about 10 different Phillips head bits in the set. They are all similar, but all meant for a particular screw type, a particular application. But I'm talking about something deeper than this.

I'm talking about the principle behind the technique... what gives the style its substance, as it were. Each different style is going to approach this in slightly different ways. IMO, understanding these principles is more important than perfecting stylized kata-type techniques that will never come off perfectly in a real-life application.

If we understand the balance, timing, spacing, focus, etc., then it doesn't matter that when we are attacked we don't exactly follow the "style" one particular instructor might want to see in class... because in that moment of application of all of these principles, what we do *becomes* aikido. Our aikido. Mine. Yours. Fitting these principles to our body.

So, when an instructor is correcting you to do something this way or that, maybe they are focusing on perfecting kata style technique. Then again, are you? Those moments are a good chance to remember that you aren't really learning technique as an end to itself. Maybe, when you think the instructor is trying to correct your style more than your substance, maybe they are really trying to get you to see the substance in a different way. Don't think of it as "this foot here, now turn your hips," etc. It's really the principles behind the techniques that they are trying to help you with... just in their own way.

Alan Lomax
03-27-2004, 11:59 PM
Asim Hanif

My question is how do you separate substance from style? (And not piss people off?:-)

Asim,

The short answer to your question is, I donít, especially when you added the caveat ď(And not piss people off?:-)Ē. A good many Aikido folks are pretty sensitive and very protective of their respective styles. Really though, itís not difficult and no different today than it was long ago. I just keep my BS detector on high, train diligently and take the time to enjoy what Iím doing. I see what does and does not work( has or does not have substance). Substance or not, everyone demonstrates style. Time coupled with experience will be what really gives me the answers I am looking for. In your profile you seem to have a good combination of both Martial Arts time and experience.

We have lots of great folks to teach us all kinds of variations, styles and historical points of Aikido. We are lucky to have even more information and skills training available to us now, than the very students of the Founder had available to them. So many Aikido folks give great lip service to ďrelax, move naturally and harmonizeĒ. When the rubber meets the road, many of the same folks donít show much tolerance for others because they have become accustomed to a particular dojo, group or style.

Quite simply, no matter what the style, if it works, it works. Yes, that is overly broad but it is also the direct and simple truth of the matter. My students reflect the style they learn while training with me. I reflect the style of the sensei(s) Iíve gone to for training, as well as the influence of my students.

Iím quite happy with this. The style Iíve developed and demonstrate is a signature, of both my own and of those whom I have received and accepted training. This signature (style) I demonstrate is a form of credentials. My demonstration of application whether effective or not, lends credit or discredit to me, my teachers and my students. In that line, my style tells people something about what they can expect in substance. The substance(effectiveness) of any style is in the application/ demonstration.

Most of my training in Aikido has come under the teaching of great senseiís that I couldnít understand much of what they were saying. Most of whatever they did explain to the classes was lost on my ears. I think that was to my advantage. I had to learn more by seeing and feeling than by explanation. I learned a different way than most of the other students around me. The major difference with this is the other students can explain with great detail what sensei taught them about the waza. I on the other hand, had better stick to mostly showing folks how to actually apply the waza. What I do explain is almost solely based on what I think I understand from feeling.

When I go to visit at other Dojos or begin training at a new Dojo, I donít go there to force my style on them. I am the visitor, the odd man out, I adapt to whatever their Dojo norms are. This is just polite etiquette. Why would I go there if I didnít want to learn their style? I expect the same of students and visitors coming to my training. When I invite another to teach in my class, I instruct my students to use that teacherís style during that training. This is also just polite etiquette. Why would I invite them if I didnít want my students to learn their style?

Folks who go to someone to learn about Aikido then find themselves thinking they are better than the sensei, teacher or instructor, should pack up and find another place to seek training. Seek a level that satisfies what you really want. The last person you should seek compromise with is yourself.

Best regards

Chris Li
03-28-2004, 12:44 AM
I think I would describe this differently. O-Sensei wasn't a "terrible teacher", he simply didn't see himself as teaching technique. Saotome Sensei trained for around fifteen years under the Founder and says he can remember three times in which O-Sensei actually talked about how to do a technique.
That goes for his writings as well - I can't remember a single place in which he discusses techniques except for the pre-war manuals, and there's some reason to believe that he didn't actually write those.

As for teaching, well, neither he nor Sokaku Takeda really taught much of anything at all. They went up and did their thing and you got it or you didn't. This is, of course, in itself a method of teaching, I suppose, though not what most people would, by western standards, call "teaching".

Both Takeda and Ueshiba raised a number of competent students, so the method seems to have worked, although I sometimes wonder if that wasn't more due to the fact that both of them were personally inspiring to their followers than it was to anything else.

Best,

Chris

AsimHanif
04-05-2004, 01:10 PM
Alan and Chris, I think you both understood what I was getting at. I may not have layed it out very well though.

I agree with both of your comments. Just getting up and demonstrating a technique with very little commentary has always worked for me. Yes - you either get it or you don't.