View Full Version : Pressures to Conform

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07-28-2004, 07:05 PM
Okay, let's say there are a many types of training models, but let's focus in on two or three of them - two or three of them that posit a sharp distinction between what is "right" or acceptable and what is "wrong" or unacceptable.

In particular:

a. In this training model folks are taught a way of doing a technique because that technique is perceived to "work". Variations on that technique are also introduced and trained in but these variations are also only accepted because they have been deemed to "work." There are other variations known, but they are rejected from the curriculum as "do not work." In this training model, there is a selective process that is made up of biomechanical sciences, martial sciences, and tradition. While traditional, this model is not traditionalistic.

b. In this training model folks are taught a way of doing a technique because that technique is perceived to be of the tradition. Variations on that technique are also introduced and trained in but these variations are also only accepted because they have been deemed "of tradition." There are other variations known, but they are rejected from the curriculum as "not of our tradition." In this training model, while there may be a concern with what works, what is traditional can and will often over-ride what is practical. While traditional, this model is also traditionalistic.

My question is this:

Which model do you feel requires more conformity from a new student? Which carries more pressure - to do only what is "right"/"works," or to do only what is "traditional?" Or are the pressures the same?

If you have trained in both models, it would be great to have you share some experiences.

Thanks in advance,

Janet Rosen
07-28-2004, 09:21 PM
David, I'm not sure I totally understand your differentiation, so please excuse me if my response seems tangential or "off."
I did briefly, for two to three months, train at a dojo that "does it this way because the man who founded this dojo did them this way".This sounds to me like what you call "traditional."

It was a very welcoming and supportive dojo, one in which I felt very comfortable as soon as I walked in. However, it quickly began to feel like a museum piece rather than a living art, and as such I knew that, while I was being nurtured, I'd never be encouraged to experiment, I'd not grow or progress there.

I did train, prior to that, for several yrs at a dojo that probably fits your description of a "it works" dojo: very technical orientation. One right way.

In the sense of pressure for conformity for a new student, I'd say they are about equal. And I'm not sure that conformity per se need be a major issue for a beginning student.--If the overall dojo atmosphere is respectful of the students, and the training is safe training, then it may take a while for a particular student to chafe. And some never will; working within the parameters is ultimately very satisfying for some folks.

Then there's the rest of us who know there's a big world out there...(wry grin)
Don't know if this is close to the kind of feedback you seek...?

07-29-2004, 01:20 AM
I've had experience of "you will do it this way", and "this is what works". Personally, I'm up for learning all variations regardless of whether someone thinks they work or not, but I think you have to leave the "you will do it this way" behind at some point if you want to develop your Aikido. Don't get me wrong, this is a fine way to learn the basic principles within a technique, but it limits what you can do. An Aikido technique should be applied in response to a situation, this will be different everytime (different uke, different movement, different speed, different reaction time etc.). If you try to do exactly the same thing every time, you are more likely to find yourself in a situation where the technique doesn't work. Practicing variations allows you to respond at different moments in time, i.e. allowing you to apply a technique when uke falls into it rather than trying to force uke into it because you only know one way of doing it.

just my tuppence



07-29-2004, 01:42 AM
Hi Janet,

Yes, I think you understood my question most accurately, even if I was at fault for not being a clear as I should have been. Only the first dojo you described, I would have called that one "traditionalistic" - where "what has gone before" justifies EVERYTHING that comes thereafter. Still, I get your point. It was most insightful. Thank you for sharing.

I particularly loved your analogy of a museum. I have often described said process in a similar way, in other threads - of an art facing a "museum death," for the very reasons you described.

I would also agree that the over-all atmosphere plays a role in how much "pressure" one comes to feel, so I was assuming that such things could be taken as "overall being equal." Like, with all things being equal, say in two dojo where the folks are friendly, the sensei is caring, everyone is healthy and happy, etc., what model would provide the more pressure to conform. I think you answered that quite well, and I would have to agree with you - that with all things being equal, it is about the same.

let's see what other folks have to say.

Again - thank you for replying,

07-29-2004, 03:34 AM
Daniel, my own "blowing in the wind" theory depends on both schools not having filled their card as regards allowed techniques/attacks etc. Once both systems have developed to the point where they deem they have covered all possible scenarios, neither approach will allow deviation from the "book".

My vote would be the "would it work" group would be more open to experimentation than the traditional. My reasoning is that the "does it work" philosophy must take into account both the attack, the relative sizes of the attacker/defender and any terrain features within the scenario. This contrasts with the the more traditional approach where a valid technique will be considered valid despite any externals, thus limiting the permutations you can add to the system.

Right, it's been ages since I played these mind games, where have I gone wrong this time? Your turn

07-29-2004, 09:14 AM

Yes, I would also tend to agree with your point as well. It does seem that if you could stretch things far enough into the future, a model that is working under the assumption of "would it work," would still have to operate under that assumption and thereby continue to test its own premises. In the testing of those premises it would have to be open to new materials, at least as far as testing goes. A student then of this model might not feel so restricted or pressured because although they must still limit themselves to what works, what works is itself, to some degree, a matter of testing things and thus of constantly introducing things for testing purposes. I think, however, that such a person would only feel the openess of this model after they have been in it for a great while - when they have learned to apply the model's accepted premises in a variety of infinite combinations.

This does not seem to be the case with a model that is traditionalistic. It seems that after a point in time, testing one's techniques for viability becomes totally beside the point. It does seem possible then that a traditionalistic system could very well de-evolve into something totally impractical and thus turn into something totally antithetical to what it was in its original state. In this way, because "tradition" was given as the final reason for everything, after a while the "why" of a technique goes from being totally arbitrary (i.e. "just because") to being totally unaswerable (i.e. "I don't know"). No doubt, when a "why" of a technique comes to be totally unanswerable, a student will feel a great deal of pressure to conform as he/she will have no true subjective capacity to make the technique his/her own.


07-29-2004, 09:35 AM
I come from an FMA/JKD, non-traditonal, because-it-works, background. The feedback through application was pretty immediate, so conforming (or accepting) was pretty easy.

I now train in Tenshinkai Aikido, which is pretty traditional Aikikai style. Some of it goes against my FMA/JKD background. So conforming (accepting) took discipline. But, my Sensei (Phong Sensei) could make it all work in a very practical application. Therefore, the traditional does work, for him. With time and training, I begin to get glimpses that the traditional does work for me too. It just take more time, discipline, and patience.

Lyle Laizure
07-29-2004, 11:46 AM
I am very fortunate to have a sensei that encourages experimentation. After all that is what training is about, making the art your own. My first day in class he told me that "the individual doesn't conform to the art, the art conforms to the individual." This holds true today in his dojo, as well as my own.

07-29-2004, 11:51 AM
Hi Lynn,

That makes sense.

If I can springboard a bit off of your post - it seems that having things "make sense," or at least having them make sense according to an ideal one can adopt for oneself, is one of the determining factors for how much "pressure" one feels. Such that if one is interested in what "works," an interest or a direction toward that end by a given teaching model is always more tolerated or at least experienced as having less pressure since the given student is also being driven by that end themselves. This of course can happen in an art like JKD or even in at art as traditional as Aikido - as your experience notes quite well.

In addition, this seems that it can also be the case for folks interested in in traditionalistic ideals. Such that, folks that have a drive to invest themselves in an act of preservation can thereby reduce the external pressures to conform by having already internalized that ideal to some degree.

All this would seem to suggest that we are dealing with relative pressures and that their potential seems to be equal in both models. It is all a matter of how much and how soon one can take on the ideal of the teaching model within oneself.

Maybe we are being limited by our experience however. It seems that all of us thus far (it seems) have had teachers that have "right" and "wrong" ways of doing techniques. So though we have been within the two models, we have still pretty much had the same experience: There is a right way and there is a wrong way. But I've heard some folks in other threads speak of there being no wrong way. I've heard them challenge the idea that a sensei's version should carry enough weight to draw a clear distinction between "right" and "wrong." As I said, this was not my experience at all. My teacher was very clear about what was right and what was wrong. Still - it's not just Aikido folks that talk about Aikido in this way. A similar voice comes from the Koryu folks when they talk about Aikido. They seem to posit a view of Aikido that is a matter of things being a "free for all," etc.

I wonder if folks that have spoken thus far have come from dojo where there is one main teacher. In the dojo I trained in there was only one main teacher. There were other folks that had teaching licenses and that taught classes, but all of these folks, as with all of the students, were in the struggle to learn and apply the main teacher's technique. Folks that strayed from that form were forced to fall somewhere between doing things wrong and/or doing a variation. There was no equally valid technique that could be different (in principle).

In other words, if we were taught by the main teacher to enter during the upward movement of a shomenuchi strike in the technique Ikkyo omote, riding the strike at the elbow with both hands, so as not to clash with the strike, a different teacher could do this technique with one hand on the elbow of the striking limb (still going up) and the other hand striking or checking, etc. But a different teacher from the main teacher could not show a variation of Shomenuchi Ikkyo omote, where he/she catches the strike on the way down, or where one hand is on the elbow and the other hand is on the wrist of the striking limb (which is only possible if you make contact with the arm on the way down). This would not be just another variation of this technique, this would be wrong according to the principles we were first taught by the main teacher - principles that could be verified by anyone that tried to do the technique at full power and full speed (with true martial intent).



07-29-2004, 12:04 PM

Thank you for replying.

If I could ask...

Was there some premise by which you were able to determine what "fit" and what "did not fit" with your person? Would you equate, even if just broadly, "fit" with "right," and "did not fit" with "wrong," or could you equate "fit" with "practical" and "did not fit" with "impractical," or is there some major difference between these types of categories that you think one should note. If there are, what might they be?

Was your encouraged experimentation ever equal to a "free for all?" For example, where you ever shown a technique by your teacher and then able to say to him/her, "Well, that's fine, but I'm going to do it this way for now." Or did your experimentation have to take place within premises that were deemed valid by experience and tradition? In other words, what was the nature of the experimentation you were encouraged to participate in. Could that experimentation be equated to the "testing" I mentioned could be present in the "will it work" model - even if just broadly? Or was it something entirely different from the variation and/or "testing" one can usually see within the two models I mentioned at the beginning of this thread?

Thanks in advance,

07-29-2004, 11:35 PM
IMHO, when the internal mental map matches the external reality territory, things go well. When they don't match, we have a rough time. Pressure is more a factor of the rigidity of the map. The territory is simply what it is.

07-30-2004, 12:42 AM
Excellent point Lynn.

07-30-2004, 01:05 AM
Lynn, disagree almost entirely (and interestingly thus David who posed the original q). While your own openness (or lack) to an art/dojo whatever can become a problem, the initial query was regarding two different approaches to teaching rather than an individuals idealism.

Now I think everyone starting a martial art wants to learn and part of learning is experimentation (just ask any primary school teacher). Now if a system (for whatever reason) blocks experimentation, I don't think you should then claim the student is being unduly rigid because they get frustrated with the "territory".

Sorry , but too often I've seen this type of logic used to hide poor teaching methods - I prefer an older catch phrase, "a bad workman blames his tools", in a similar way a bad sensei blames his ukes and a crap martial art only has itself to blame.

(OT - where did that territory/mind map phrase come from, I feel as though I've wandered into a dilbert cartoon?)

07-30-2004, 02:45 AM

Well I think Lynn is simply noting that a person's individual resistance to the underlying rationale of either model, of any model, is going to play a role in how much subjective "pressure" one feels to conform. I don't think he would say that experimentation is not needed. An analogy might be this: If the speed limit is set at 65, a person who usually drives 80 is going to feel like they are being forced to go very slow. Whereas a person that always drives 65 isn't going to feel "forced" by the speed limit at all. I saw Lynn's point as valid because it seems to be relevant whether we want to talk about who's responsible for such things or not. Pressure is always going to be related to one type of resistance or another.

I do however agree with your point on experimentation. In that light, how would you categorize arts that are traditionalistic in nature - that resist experimentation for the fear of the change it might bring? Like would you say that some Koryu - those most similar to other types of preservation societies - are not at all about learning then? Or is that a different type of learning - such as trivia, or other types of mnemonic recordings are different types of learning that fall outside of experimentation?

Thanks for replying,

07-30-2004, 03:10 AM

In answer, I'd have to start to add waffling caveats.

If the art is merely maintaining traditional moves, then yes I'd class this more as learning esoteric trivia than a living art. The information you gain may be of use (i.e. a very traditional move may actually work for you "in the str33t"), but this is secondary to real role of maintaining a link with an historic tradition - actually why this is always considered a "good thing" is beyond me, but that's just a pet peeve...

If the art is about maintaining traditional principles or mores, then yes there is room for experimentation and true learning as the components are not as fixed. Instead it becomes more a question of interpretation, as in painting. There are many schools of art which can be identified quite distinctly. However, the artists own interpretation is not neglected and works using very different materials can still be seen to be part of the same school.

(At this point I'd like to point out that yes, for a change, I'm feeling rather mellow this Friday, but I'm still more of a engineer than an artist - if it doesn't work, try hitting it!)

07-31-2004, 10:27 AM
Sorry , but too often I've seen this type of logic used to hide poor teaching methods - I prefer an older catch phrase, "a bad workman blames his tools", in a similar way a bad sensei blames his ukes and a crap martial art only has itself to blame. (OT - where did that territory/mind map phrase come from, I feel as though I've wandered into a dilbert cartoon?)


Sorry if I stepped on some personal toe.

The model applies both to students and teachers, Uke and Tori, equally.

I just find it easier to change my map than to try to change the world. I tend not to want to blame others. Even poor teacher have something to offer and I want a way to learn from them. As a Sempai, I want to be able to adjust my teaching map so I can help students who learn differently. As Uke or Tori, I want to own responsibility for my learning and training. Ultimately, I am responsible for my learning in a traditional, non-traditional, or experimental situation.

I think it was Chomsky that said "the map is not the territory". What is one man's crap is another man's fertilizer.