Sunday, August 1, 2010
Roles in Formal Exercises
Like traditional Japanese martial artists, I recognize that free play is completely useless and meaningless when it comes to learning unarmored forms of combat, and that repetitive drills and formal exercises (called kata in Japan) are vastly superior and far more realistic when it comes to learning a true martial art.
When I first started teaching the Kunst des Fechtens, we simply called the attacker in these drills or formal exercises the “bad guy” and the defender the “good guy.” This nomenclature emerged as a joke, really, but as I thought about it I came to realize that this joke cost me a training opportunity, namely, being able to reinforce their real roles to the partners. Now, we refer to the attacker as the “teacher” and the defender as the “student,” regardless of their actual relative ranks, and emphasis is placed upon having the teacher lead the student through the exercise through correct use of measure, timing, etc. Again and again we emphasize that the student cannot learn properly unless the teacher teaches him the correct lesson—that is, does his attack correctly in all respects.
In his book on the ten kata of modern kendo, Paul Budden expresses this idea precisely, and also gives us some vital insights into the nature of formal exercises. Kata are often thought of derisively by poorly-trained modern martial artists because they never have the discipline necessary to advance far enough in training to fully understand them. Done properly, however, formal exercises, like kata, become living things that teach the reality of combat far better than two partially-trained students who just want to fight will ever learn in their clumsy attempts at free play.