June 25, 2008

Serve the meal, not just the ingredients

Imagine sitting down at a restaurant and ordering your favorite dish. You take a sip of vino and stuff a napkin in your collar, but when the food comes, it’s not a meal at all, merely the ingredients to it, raw and uncooked. Had they been prepared together, it might have been something tasty, but as they stand they are simply store bought, separate parts of an uncompleted whole. Last Friday night I tried to avoid that when a visit from a couple of out-of-town guests, brought in by one of my students, turned out to be his younger sister and mother. They were passing through and wanted to see and experience training for themselves, but had zero experience between them. I took it as a challenge.

I like to think I can teach martial arts to almost anyone, but these were certainly not our typical student types. So, we started with an overview and I used instances from their own lives to show them how they already thought “tactically” in certain situations. For example, when given a scenario about being followed, they gave all the right answers about what they should and shouldn’t do. I explained training as the physical interpretation of that way of thinking, as we practice to out maneuver opponents, gaining leverage to prevent them from harming us or others. Then we sat on the floor and I showed them how to use their weight and posture to give way to gravity as the first method of experiencing Ukemi, injury prevention. I used images like ‘the body has no corners,’ and showed them how to spread out on the floor as they moved, like a water balloon, instead of like a ball. In about ten minutes they had a good feel for it.

They also seemed to get the rest of the night as well, learning to move their feet first, breaking balance with their movement, instead of looking for some technique to escape the various grabs and punches the gang were giving them. By the end of the night, they were even changing their movement, using Henka to escape. It was all pretty cool.

What I didn’t show them was how to perform anything “correctly” - no form, kata, techniques - I felt it would‘ve wasted their time, muddled their contextual understanding, and even bored them, turning them off to even the possibility of training in the future. It seemed to work, as Mom and sis had a great amount of fun and sis was intent on learning more.

Too often, it seems to me, we can get caught up ensuring the freshness, origin, or pureness of the ingredients, and forget our role is that of chef, not the freshness-origin-pureness patrol. Chefs fit ingredients together at the time they need to use them, noting how they apply to the whole. This creative preparation is a challenge to make certain every meal is edible, nutritional, and tasty.


Dr g said...

Could talk more about the idea of having ingredients and not a meal?

James Morganelli said...

Doc G,

The 'ingredients' are all the pieces that make up the training of our art, be they kata, strategy, tactics, or techniques. As I stated, too often we can find ourselves trying to ensure the freshness, read newness, of information, as when I see people flock to the "Back from Japan" seminars, as if Soke finally taught everyone the four-step technique for walking through walls or something and we just gotta have it. We train with those we trust because it infuses us with their understanding, their 'feeling' for the art, not because they will bestow unto us the ultimate Dragon/Tiger technique called the "Driger" that miraculously defeats all others.

Legitimacy issues abound when we are challenged as to the origin/pureness, read authenticity, of our art or its movements by researchers, experts in Koryu, or those who can read old Japanese, claiming the real stuff, the true stuff, the actual stuff, has been misrepresented to us, or worse 'dis-represented' by Hatsumi sensei and his Shihan for their own nefarious reasons. In this case, you either buy into it or you don't. You either trust your teacher and Hatusmi sensei, or you don't. In a world increasing in relativistic thinking, ambivalence toward tradition is coveted as a sign of thoughtfulness, and we will surely see increasing challenges to what the Bujinkan is and represents; this uphill path will not get easier, but will in fact rise even higher for those governed by their need to satisfy these 'issues' for themselves, or worse, those raising them. I would give no more time to these people than I would someone who decried my spirituality, beliefs, or morality based solely on their particular view. For me, proof's in the pudding, man, and either you can live it and do it, or not. I am not interested in not.

In the end, I find all these concerns to be the preoccupations of hobbyists, and symptomatic of the kind of 'groupthink' we may each find ourselves afflicted with from time to time. The need to ensure ingredients is a quixotic quest; the ongoing search for the 'secret truth’ of the Ninja. But how does one discern the truth, let alone a secret truth, from an art seeped in deception, mystery, and ambiguity? We train. We train because the truth is in the training - to own the moment where we can create Taijutsu. It is an open secret, one we can only endeavor to comprehend through consistent and contiguous training throughout our lives, choosing to live life from the perspective of the warrior.


doc g said...

James, Can I call you James. No. Okay, Very well.
Mr. Morganelli.

I would love to hear your thoughts on owning the moment vs owning the technique. I think both can give you the feeling of confidence but only one can really save your life/make it better.

doc g

Anonymous said...

Hey James, I read your article. AWESOME!!! I had soo much fun learning from you and I will definitly be back to learn more.
Thanks for everything,