Monday, April 21, 2014

What's behind your motions?

I recently saw a karate demonstration and as the group went through their forms and pre-arranged self-defense routines, I found myself becoming disappointed.  They were going through the motions they were taught, but...there was nothing there.

Turn to the left, block with the right, spin 90 degrees, make a sound on this punch, etc.  In the beginning, this is where new students have to spend their time and focus, because learning the shapes and sequence is often the best place to start.  But when the only difference between the new students and the older students is that the latter know more material, something's wrong.

At first glance, it would be easy to say the missing component was confidence, but where does confidence come from?  Repetition?  The repetition was there, but the confidence wasn't.  I believe what was missing was intention - the meaning behind the movement.

An instructor that just teaches the movements and how to make those movements look better is cheating their students.  Looking at a karate kata, I can tell someone exactly where their limbs should be in a given move and maybe they can nail it perfectly each time, but it'll never as powerful or as dynamic (or as useful) than if I told them what the movement could be used for.  Especially if I attacked them in that manner and made them defend with it. 

Ever seen someone breaking boards or bricks?  The cliche that you hear is you have to think through the board.  If you try to break something without hitting through it, you'll break your hand (or head, or elbow, etc.)  In taiko, hitting the head of the drum produces a much weaker sound than hitting through the drum, just past the actual surface.  On a very basic level, that's a sort of intention.

For taiko, there are many options to reach a higher level of intention:
  • What's the mood of the song? Are you supposed to be happy?  Intense?  Channeling a feeling?
  • What role are you playing in the song?  Are you up front and the "face" of the song?  Are you on percussion and able to help people connect?
  • What's the venue?  How does having an outdoor audience shape your projection vs. an indoor one?
  • What kind of group are you in?  Are you allowed to have your own personality or is the group supposed to look unified?
  • What are you thinking about when you're playing?  Are you letting yourself enjoy the song?
There's a lot of variables, but you get the idea!  Intention is part acting, part passion, and part practice, but intention can only come from understanding.  A good instructor should impart their own understanding  while encouraging students to think for themselves.

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