On The Mat at Modern Samurai
What is the optimal mindset to cultivate learning?
By Sensei Lou D’Agostino
Life is a paradox. At times, the dojo may appear especially so. Some things are black and white, while others are varying shades of grey. Some rules are absolute, some flexible.
Ying and Yang is a concept frequently referenced during martial arts training and is a wonderful metaphor for life. The truth is that martial arts are part of life, not separate from it. Ying and Yang is the theory of opposites that cancel and balance each other; one cannot exist without the other.
Ying / Yang is simultaneously nature in its purest form and its most sophisticated; a ubiquitous phenomena that envelops, regardless of who we are, where we live: hard, soft; student, teacher; parent, child; good, bad; as old as time.
I wish to explain three paradigms that will allow my students to obtain the optimal benefits and learning experience at Modern Samurai.
Oriental or Confucian mindset: Eastern
In this paradigm, the student rarely questions the teacher. The teacher issues a command, and the student does their best to perform said exercise, drill, or kata. For example, the sensei might say “Practice your blue belt form.” Soon thereafter, an old friend or student might happen by the dojo and engage Sensei for an extended period of time. In the eastern method, the students would still be practicing the blue belt form. It might be five, ten or fifteen minutes since the command to “ practice blue belt form” was issued, but no other command was offered, so the students continue to work at their assigned task without question.
Asset: Discipline, willingness to engage and focus on the required task. No questions asked.
The Eastern way of thinking carries many benefits. One is that a student first tries to emulate and reproduce the physical movement. This requires effort, perseverance and dedication. At some point in time, the student may begin to innately grasp the main point of the task and may gain additional insight on their own as to the benefits of the teacher’s request.
Promotes blind acceptance, incurious approach. Westerners sometimes switch off.
The down side is that anything taken to extremes becomes counter-productive. This results in non-thinking, stifles curiosity, and lacks depth. The result: rote learning, with no ability to apply practical thought processes as simple as “Why am I doing this? How does it help me? In what specific situation(s) or time? Why does it work? Why doesn’t it work?”
Are there times that might be useful? Yes! Many consider advanced techniques the basics mastered. You don’t have to think in some situations because you have already thought how to respond to various stimuli. Thought impedes action or thought can lead you to the right action. You can let fear paralyze you or acknowledge fear and let fear cause you to act: you sense danger and respond appropriately to the threat.
Occidental Mindset - Western
Being curious, inquisitive:
The opposite of the Oriental mindset, in this paradigm, a student questions every detail – “why, what, when, how” -- before even attempting to follow directions.
While this inquisitive nature is an asset versus operating on blind faith, unless the student is totally confused they should first try to perform the requested task unless its unusually dangerous or they have an injury that precludes participation.
The simplest explanation is that while the student is focused on asking their question, they have stopped listening to instructions, and missed key learning points that might answer the question before beginning to practice the assigned task.
Obviously it’s important to be curious and learn how to properly discriminate good, from bad, useful from impractical.
No effort attempted to learn first.
Most questions are self-answered by engaging in the task first.
The down side is trying to analyze prematurely after a few repetitions before one has even attempted to learn a new concept, technique, or self-defense application. Some things take time to replicate, manufacture, and create. The student may not have the experience to weigh the benefits, or to judge why the instructor is providing new material or a different approach. Some skills require more time to receive the desired benefits the instructor wishes to impart.
Modern Samurai Mindset: A Balanced approach – All Asset, no liability
The optimal mindset would be a blend of both eastern and western approaches that balances the order, discipline, and learning approach. Experiencing the eastern approach first, the student often will answer their own question, but should they require additional information, they must ask for clarification.
Flexibility isn’t only about stretching, but also pertains to your mind: you must always remain flexible to new stimulus, new ways to interpret existing modes of operation.
Most of all, if you don’t try the eastern approach first you cheat yourself out of the experience of the joyful process of self-discovery.
Importantly, explicit directions and explanations are sometimes mandatory as they pertain to safety for yourself, partner’ and the dojo.
If doubt exists as it pertains to safety, it’s a student’s responsibility to themselves and classmate to raise the issue immediately. Any student can call a time out, BREAK or STOP if they see an unsafe condition or wish to warn of a potential unsafe condition.
Fail or Succeed?
First try to learn, and engage in an honest effort to apply yourself to the task at hand; improve, and succeed or not. Asking specific questions related to the new topic are always relevant, practical, and timely, provided you tried first.
The student may not have the experience to weigh the benefits, to consider or judge why the instructor is providing this new material.
Sometimes the teacher may invite questions up front, and sometimes the teacher wishes for the student to experience the process of learning, the process of self-discovering before providing precise details.
Balance is the key to success.
Other considerations to help you improve and succeed:
We learn through three senses: visual, auditory, tactile. Which one works for you?
How are your memorization skills?
How is your discipline?
Can you pay attention?
Do you visit the website to review drills, and forms?
Do you practice at home? How often? Duration? If not, why not?
Do you take notes after class? Do you have a Modern Samurai notebook?
Do you take notes on your computer after class? How do you organize this information?
Some great quotes to memorize and live by:
“Get off the X - Steve Tarani
“Be switched on” - Dave Harrington
“Everything is important, everything matters.” - Dave Harrington
“Do the right thing, at the right time, every time.” - Dave Harrington
Yours in budo,
You Are A Role Model
Modern Samurai is more than a school, it’s a community. We like to encourage connections between students of
different ranks and ages because we believe such interactions make for a much richer experience for everyone. We count on the senior students to chat with and make juniors feel welcome and
comfortable; often the newer students are shy or reluctant to break the ice. A little greeting or encouragement goes a long way.
As senior students, we enjoy certain privileges, but these come with responsibilities as well. You are role models
whether you realize it or not. Sometimes you will be in situations where you make mistakes, or are asked to take care of a task you find unpleasant, such as a cleaning task or working with a
difficult student. The younger students watch how you react and deal. What kind of role model do you want to be? Life is a nonstop learning experience. These experiences will help everyone learn
patience, empathy, and resilience.
The Modern Samurai community is our community. Your help makes it a warm and fun place to learn.
- by Ingrid Hsu Modern Samurai / Taekwondo Kukkuwon 3rd Dan
Be prepared, think ahead, plan, work your plan.
Self Defense begins with paying attention to your surroundings. LEO ( Law Enforcement Officers) Military, and professional Self Defense instructors give it a tactical moniker called SA for situational awareness.
You may not be a LEO, 1st responder or Military operator but paying attention, employing awareness, along with having useful tools for an emergency are a good idea.
Cell Phone, Tac lite ( small flashlight) Tourniquet are excellent tools to carry at all times. The flashlight can be used for obvious reasons as well as for self defense, its legal. Ditto a "tactical pen" sturdy pen.
Car accident, motorcycle accident, household accident, knife attack.
This is as real as it gets. Better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.
Warning! This is graphic
Carry a tourniquet even if you aren't armed, you might save someone’s life.