Discipline and Martial Arts … in our day
Greetings again from San Diego. In this post I’ll be covering the topic of discipline with respect to martial arts training…
It is defined in the dictionary as:
- A field of study
- Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
- (a) Control gained by enforcing obedience or order. (b) Orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior. (c) Self-Control
- A rule of system of rules governing conduct or activity
As an instuctor in a martial arts school, I often hear from prospective students that they are looking for more discipline in thier lives. I think what they are really saying is that they are looking for someone to tell them what to do to produce whatever they have determined is their goal. In many cases there is no defined goal. In these situations, we must ask: What’s the point?
Having just returned from an excellent seminar on the “Koppo of Ken” — “The bone of sword” — hosted by Phil Legare and taught by Mark Lithgow — It became very apparent to me that old-school discipline often seen in the movies is no longer appropriate for most people. During a discussion I had with Mark and Phil regarding a particular technique, we touched upon the many layers that exist in this kata and how it was critical to embody one layer before another can be truly understood. As students of our respective discourses, we must be brutally honest with our level of embodied skill as flawed assessments or bias due to conceit, arrogance, or pride will result in a skewed interpretation of reality. In this case, our ability to design action or produce outcomes that are reliant upon our skill. In some cases, it can get us killed.
In the old days the definitions of #1 and #5(a). This is discipline enforced by instructors upon students. “Do this, do that, do what I say…” My perspective is that this is child’s play. It is discipline designed for children who don’t know what to do and do not possess the capacity for self-directed thought. In battlefield arts such as Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, to produce mastery discipline must lie with the student. The delivery of material clearly and accurately is the instructor’s responsibility. The responsibility to embody what is taught, to “take it off the table and eat it”, belongs entirely with the student. This is driven or produced by our current society and culture. Gone are the days where there were very few ways to learn fighting skills. A prospective student had to first be accepted into the school, most likely serve an apprenticeship period, work at the school, be obedient to all seniors, and someday finally begin his training. Not many today are willing or able to place themselves into that situation.
Discipline today lies with the student. With the cost of information being virtually zero, what is left is the embodiment of those skills. There is no one to tell you what do to. For us to walk the path of mastery we require a new definition – Self-directed thought, action, and practice.