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If we diligently develop our technique…

January 24, 2010

Aikido: Principles of Kata and Randori, by Nick LowryI guess you could say my dad is pretty into martial arts. I have no idea how many martial arts he does (and how many he’s proficient in), but I imagine that it’s a lot. I know that he is particularly interested in aikido. He says that as an old man, aikido is better for him now than a lot of other martial arts styles would have been. (Or maybe I made that up.)

When I was younger, my dad would try to get my brother and me to learn aikido along with him. We weren’t very interested at the time, although I do remember going a few times and learning some *very* basic techniques. Since we have gone to college, I know my youngest brother has been more “into” aikido. So, I guess that’s good.

Anyway, a long time ago, my father gave my brother and me this aikido book: Aikido: Principles of Kata and Randori. At the time, like everything else, I tossed it aside. I only found it again recently and decided to take it back to college with me.

The author, Nick Lowry, says quite early on:

Shihan Karl Geis has stated that he finds that the main difference in Aikido styles is not so much in the technical data (after all, good technical principle is good technical principle, no matter what style), but in the manner in which a given system is taught. Some styles stress the philosophical, esoteric, and internal aspects of training early on, while others (this style included), stress the external, pragmatic, and technical side. In either case, we know that the total picture develops over time, and eventually, the student becomes proficient in all areas. Our style’s emphasis follows the traditional budo understanding that “if we diligently develop our waza (technique), our kokoro (minds and hearts) will be improved.” In other words, by constantly refining and improving our technical work, we are also constantly refining and improving ourselves, in both obvious and subtle ways. With this understanding, we begin with the focus on the technical side of aikido, not as a rejection of aikido’s internal and philosophic aspects but as a means toward growing into them naturally, effortlessly, subconsciously.

The line “If we diligently develop our technique, our minds and hearts will be improved” resonated with me.

Even in applying this to other areas (say, personal philosophy, accounting, fencing, what have you), the advice doesn’t change much (after all, good technical principle is good technical principle)…but the difference in in what the specifics of technical principle is.

In Mormon thought, we have a similar concept. We speak of “living a commandment to gain a testimony of it.” The idea, which we may quibble on its implementation as it relates to LDS commandments, is that commandments represent “best practices” and, by practicing them, we recognize these as such.

The problem is if we doubt what the “best practices” are (and we might do so in a couple ways). After all, if we learn something that turns out not to be a best practice, then that’s detrimental in the long run (have you ever tried to unlearn a bad habit?) So, even though diligent development of technique is critical to improve hearts and minds, we also need some awareness of our hearts and minds in the first place to know what is “improvement” and what is not.

Or, I dunno. Maybe you don’t. But I do. Even though I’m a pretty practical person, learning arbitrary pragmatic “best practices” has rarely gone over well. For me, I have to have an understanding of the pragmatic value of a technique or teaching. If I can’t intuit the pragmatic value of a technique, then I won’t know how to diligently develop the technique, much less avoid diligently developing bad habits by accident. (And it’s just my luck in such cases that I usually do develop bad habits.)

Nevertheless, slowly, but surely, I’m beginning to understand the pragmatic value of things I’ve been learning. I’ve begun to understand and develop a conceptual framework, or, as someone else put it, a worldview, for evaluating the things I’m learning. So, now, accounting isn’t so much about memorizing journal entries just because “that’s the way things are.” Fencing isn’t just about memorizing arm placements just because “that’s how things are done.” Things aren’t perfect, of course, so there’s a lot that does seem completely arbitrary. But the shadows are being illuminated.

Epee Guy

Never would've expected to use geometry in fencing...

Instead, I can begin to evaluate the overarcing goals — what is accounting trying to achieve? For one, accounting in the U.S. is trying to achieve much different goals than accounting in, say, Germany, because of different social, political, and market orientations (e.g., micro-user bent for financial reporting or macro-user?). In fencing, things are a bit more clearcut. What am I trying to achieve? The rules for an epeeist are simple: hit the opponent. Don’t be hit. Understanding the mechanics of the human body and its relationship to the epee in hand are crucial to understanding (and then committing to) techniques diligently. Even awareness of geometry helps.

I feel like I’m getting somewhere, as a result, in these things. I don’t feel totally lost in my accounting courses. Even if I don’t know the particulars of handling a transaction (or if I don’t agree with the official handling), I can generally guess what the issue is, at least. (Of course, I am far from expert at this. There are plenty of issues I’m clueless on.) I don’t feel like a total n00b in my fencing (Of course, I still get thrashed by plenty of fencers. But I am better able to guess *why* I was thrashed.) It’s pretty satisfying. Now that I have a framework for evaluating the practicality of things (whether fencing techniques or accounting treatments), I can work on diligently developing my technique. In the process, I can feel my heart and mind improve.

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From → Dad Talk

4 Comments
  1. This is one of the things they tell managers in the business world: don’t just teach your employees what to do, teach them why they’re doing it. If they understand the principles behind things, then they can innovate better ways of doing them, deal more capably with unexpected scenarios, and they will also be more motivated to follow proper best practices.

    On a different note, I’ve been trying out Tae bo lately… šŸ™‚

  2. The perfect addition to this post would be a video of you fencing. Just saying.

    On a more related note. I recently read this great book called “Unconditional Parenting” in which the author points out the whole “do the right thing, worry about why later” philosophy fits perfectly into the traditional behaviorist parenting approach practiced in America…which he argues (and I agree) is correlated with a lot of unfavorable outcomes.

    He suggests that when we teach behavior (technique, in aikido terms) over context, we end up with adults who may know what they’re “supposed” to do…but are not the most authentic (or happy).

  3. If I *had* videos of me fencing, I’d cherish them. I can barely get people to take good *photos* of me fencing.

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