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You’re Doing It Wrong

When people start training with us, we show them the way that we want them to do techniques. For each technique, we ask them to use a specific stance, footwork, placement of their hands, angle of off-balance, weight distribution, spatial relationship to their partner, and so forth. Of course, we do not expect all of that at once – it is hard to learn more than one thing at a time. So we certainly do not try to “fix” everything. A student needs to practice the gross shape of the movement before they can successfully fix details (more about that in a future post). But we do have a pretty clear idea in our heads of how the technique should look. That is natural, of course. Every martial arts style has a systematized body of knowledge, and every instructor should have a clear sense of the goal toward which they are guiding the student when they make corrections. So when I teach a joint lock or throw or strike, I ask the student to try to understand the way I want them to do it, and to practice until they can do it that way. The thing is, though, other martial arts styles do some of the same joint locks, throws and strikes that we do. And they do them differently from the way we do them. In fact, within Eizan Ryu Jujitsu, the instructors may have small differences about the details of even basic techniques. I know that the way that I teach the technique works, so does that mean that everyone else is doing it wrong?

Obviously, it doesn’t. There are many different versions of every technique, and the majority of those versions can work. When I teach basics, I teach the version I do because it has the elements that I most prioritize in basic work, and also because it works best in the context of the entire system. When I see a knowledgeable martial arts practitioner doing nikyo or a foot sweep or a hook punch differently from the way I do it, I assume that they have been taught to do it that way for a reason, by an instructor who had different priorities in basic work, or who was teaching in the context of a different movement system – or who just prefers that version because it feels better to them. I can totally understand that. A long time ago, I was training in an aikijujitsu style, and the very knowledgeable and caring instructor wanted me to change something about my ukemi. I worked on doing so, because when I train, I try my best to do what the instructor wants. But when I was thrown quickly, I would fall back on (see what I did there!) the version of the fall that I had been doing for the past nine years. The instructor was very concerned – he said that I would break my leg by taking the ukemi that way. While I was doing my best to do it as he wished, I was certain that I would not, in fact, break my leg doing it the way that I had been for years.

This experience taught me two things. The first was a new way to take a particular fall. And the second is that one must be careful about labeling a different version of a technique as “wrong,” or saying it will not work. The other practitioner’s version may differ from yours, and may have defects – a moment when one is at more risk of getting hit, a diminishment in how much power is applied, a greater likelihood of being countered – but it may also have advantages that your version does not.

Does this mean that when a student in my dojo comes in with a different version of a technique that we teach, I just let them do it that way? No -- I would not be doing my job if I did that. I ask them to do the version I teach as basic, and I expect that they will try to do so. I teach that version for a reason – often several reasons – and when we are training, it is our job to do what is asked to the best of our ability. If they are clearly doing a version they have been taught (rather than just not being able to do what I am teaching), I just tell them that I want them to do it the way I am doing it. And if they want to ask after class, I am always happy to explain why I teach it the way that I do. I don’t ask them to throw away their previous knowledge – just to put it in their back pocket and learn some new ways.

What I avoid doing is telling them that they are “doing it wrong” or that the way they are doing it “won’t work.” There are many effective versions of every technique, and I am always happy to learn more.

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