Dojo: Itten Dojo
Location: Mechanicsburg, PA
Join Date: Nov 2004
Re: Progress at Itten Dojo, DC, etc.
I really appreciate Mike's kind words, and I know he would like us to chime in with our perspective on how this exploration of internal strength has unfolded for us, so I thought I might describe some of the circumstances and attributes that have facilitated our practice.
As an independent dojo, we've had the freedom to adapt and incorporate the study of internal strength, in a way that might be difficult for a dojo with a strictly defined curriculum. Too, the technical syllabus created for us by Ellis Amdur was designed from the start with the intention we pursue these skills. We're careful not to violate the paradigm Ellis established, but we've always had considerable latitude within and upon the framework he constructed to expand or refine our practice.
We're a small dojo, so it's somewhat easier to keep everyone pointing the same direction as we evolve. The persons who become integral members of the group may be quite diverse in many respects, but they share a deep commitment to all members of the dojo advancing together. Members of this group also tend to have a "prove it" mentality, as well as the ability to critique themselves reasonably honestly, two factors I believe critical to progressing in the study of internal strength. Given the nature of training internal strength, particularly the subtlety of forces and effects involved at the foundation-level of training, it's plenty easy to delude oneself with regard to one's progress, and I can readily imagine a group less inclined to criticize themselves or each other engaging in a collective fantasy.
For dojo considering whether a pursuit and incorporation of internal strength is feasible, I would offer the following:
1. As has been said many times already, you must get hands-on instruction from a qualified teacher, someone sincerely interested in your success.
2. At least one person in the dojo must be fanatically dedicated to the project, investing a huge amount of personal practice outside of formal classes, in order to lead the study. If the head of the dojo isn't in the position to make that commitment, he or she must delegate the responsibility. In our case, Budd Yuhasz has primary responsibility for acquiring the raw material, and we collaborate within the instructor cadre to determine what, how, and when we incorporate to the curriculum the insights and skills we're acquiring.
3. Even though I'd been exposed to bits and pieces of these skills in the past, everyone in our group, including me, is a beginner. Consequently, we view ourselves as a research group, recognizing that no one person is going to be the best at everything. As one person makes progress in a particular skill or application, we analyze what that person seems to be doing more correctly than the rest of us, and imitate.
4. If you're not willing to have your practice turned on its head, don't take off down this path. Things will change, dramatically, as the internal skills begin to infuse your techniques and approach to training. Trying to accommodate the changes within a rigidly standardized practice would doubtless be very frustrating.
5. Being able to balance cooperation and competition is absolutely necessary. I don't mean "competition" in the sense of sport, but rather in the sense of mutual testing. At some times during training the only way to make progress is to provide an optimized circumstance for one's partner; at other times making progress requires the opportunity to fail.
6. With multiple people pursuing what are at heart individual skills, the group needs to find a way to be consistent for the sake of the dojo as a whole. Not everyone's going to progress at the same rate, so how group training is conducted becomes its own challenge. One thing we try to do is agree on fundamental forms of exercises, so that regardless of what the seniors do in their personal training we have common ground on which to build when we're together.
7. Follow up with the people further down the path. Whether it's by means of attending or hosting seminars, or by sending a dojo representative to the teacher, continue to acquire additional training. This is a very long-term endeavor, and it would be kind of a waste to be satisfied with just the results gained in the first couple years.
8. In the beginning, pick a single source for internal training. The researchers/teachers now making this information available have differing methodologies, and trying to mix and match might be counterproductive. Once a strong foundation is laid, however, seeing more of what's out there would probably be a good thing.
Having been involved in this study for a bit more than one year, I can recommend it whole-heartedly. In addition to being utterly fascinating and very deeply challenging, the study of internal strength is a heck of a lot of fun.