Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Order In Which Material Is Presented To The Student

When I trained in Yoshinkan (Yoshinkai, Yoshokai) Aikido, each years' testing techniques showed a clear, systematic introduction of new techniques built upon previously learned skills. 

Recently at Martial Arts Training Thoughts blog, there was a post examining which kata was used by a given karate style and the order in which the kata were taught. 

I think this is an interesting topic. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Below that, I have an excerpt from a post at The Classical Budoka about how kata are organized in modern budo and in ancient koryu arts. That full post may be read here.

Order of Kata: Progression, Individual Needs, or the Way of the Disciple?

I have been thinking a lot about the order and progression of kata, specifically within the Goju system.  Recently reading an article at Total Karate brought some of these thoughts to the forefront.

I have seen a lot of theories about the order and progression of kata within a system.  Since I honestly don't have much of an opinion of the goju kata and their order (perhaps a case of being too close to see what is in front of me), I have been doing a lot of reading.  I don't think that this was often written down in the past by others, as I have found scant resources dealing with this topic specifically, and definitely little to nothing from the older masters.  I should note, I am still working through some older material at the moment, so there is still hope.

First, let's start off with some definitions.  When I refer to order I refer to the order in which the forms are taught within a system.  When I refer to progression this is an admittedly loaded term which is bundled with the assumption that there is an increase in difficulty or skill with later forms versus beginner forms.

Now for some theory.  Why have more than one form in a system?  Many of the arts are founded on a few principles which are supposedly recorded in a core form, usually the highest in the system.  This form is said to contain everything in the school - by practicing this form you can see the basics that have been isolated for training specific skills in other forms or drills.  For more on this line of thought, please see another post at Classic Budoka.

Another possibility is that the higher forms are more difficult.  Perhaps as a beginner you must learn the most basic techniques that will help you survive.  AS you progress, you can refine the technique into more subtle movements.  In this progression, the later forms are more minimalistic and obviously more difficult.  This has a certain logic to it that draws my mind to it - like learning in school, why start with calculus when you don't understand the basics of arithmetic?  But logic nor my own tendencies necessarily dictate reality...

Another possibility is that you learn a form or two to gain the skills you need.  Then you realize that something is missing, and in your research find it in another form.  So you pick it up to round out your skills and strengthen your own weaknesses.  So a form you learn later, and perhaps teach later, does not have any inherent difficulty or skill refinement that is a progression from earlier forms, but rather a new set of skills that are equally important for someone with only the preceding forms as a basis.

And now from The Classical Budoka...

96. Kata Classification in Koryu

July 12, 2013
One of the things I had to wrap my head around when I started to do koryu after over a decade of training in shinbudo (the more “modern” martial Ways) was that there were different levels of kata.

Judo, for example, may have harder kata forms that are meant for more advanced study, but they are not clearly demarcated. Nage No Kata can be considered by some teachers to be more applicable to beginners than Ju No Kata, but there really is no formal restriction that keeps beginners from learning the latter, more complex, subtle form. Nor are any of the individual techniques taught in a stratified, restrictive manner; rather they are simply taught from the easiest and most applicable to the more individualistic and complex, according to the individual instructor or the necessities of testing and ranking. In large part, this must have been influenced by Kano Jigoro’s approach to education and pedagogy. He was, besides the creator of modern Kodokan judo (and hence a distant ancestor who laid down the basic DNA for all modern grappling arts influenced by judo), one of Japan’s most important public school educators at the turn of the 20th Century. Kano embraced the open, facts-based, inquiring nature of Western educational theory. Besides training sessions, he would hold lectures on the philosophy, theory and mechanics of judo. By his actions, we see that Kano believed in disseminating knowledge; not just within the new Kodokan style but also distilling important information from the various different jujutsu ryu before they faded away, taking their knowledge with them. He wanted to open up education.

Also, too, karatedo had kata but no real hierarchical structure as I’m about to describe. Some kata were harder, more technically complex, but once you reached a certain level of ability, you would conceivably be able to learn all of them per the judgment of your teacher. I suspect this may have arisen from the very different nature of traditional Okinawan arts compared to traditional Japanese arts. As an Okinawan karate friend related to me, from his interviews with very old karate sensei in Okinawa, before the consolidation of the kata into specific “ryu,” karate was taught more like how the art of sanshin (Okinawan “shamisen,” or three-stringed musical instrument that strikes me as a kind of Asian banjo) was taught. You apprenticed yourself to a master and learned that master’s specialty, perhaps two or three songs that he’s famous for singing. In the same way, you’d study under a karate teacher and learn perhaps two or three kata and the basics. When you reach a certain level, the teacher may tell you, “Okay, you have learned as much as you can from me. Now go study under my friend in the next village. He’ll teach you his own special kata (or song, if it was sanshin),” and off you’d go to work on a couple more kata. Pretty soon, after making the rounds of different teachers, you end up with your own specialty or flavor and start your own little school (a karate or sanshin club), or you would decide you’d rather not be a teacher and go back to studying under a teacher that you really like and whose style and emphasis you want to emulate.

With modern kendo, the standardized Kendo Kata were established by a committee for grading purposes. Everyone learns them for ranking. There’s no “secret” kata only for higher ranks. There is, therefore, only one level and you are judged by your performance per that open and widely understood parameters.

With the koryu, however, there are different ryu whose methods are so different that you can’t compare and contrast one person’s technical abilities directly with another person. Some of the gross body movements may be similar, but the execution and direction, the timing and intent of similar-looking cuts and strikes may be totally at odds from school to school. So I can understand why, in casting about for a standardized set of kata that would unify kendo players or iaido practitioners, you need a system that would hold everyone to the same form and application.

But beyond that, within each koryu ryuha, there are classifications of kata based on your ability to absorb the teachings, on a technical physiological level, and on a mental/theoretical level. Grossly speaking, I am referring to what are called the Shoden, Chuden and Okuden levels of kata.

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