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How to Stop Thinking

So often in class we are told to “stop thinking”. However, I hold the following opinion: nobody can stop thinking. Unless they die. Well, maybe some Buddhist monks and cloistered Catholic nuns can get close, after several decades of practice, but most of us can’t. Monkey mind and all that. So, I think teachers tell their students to stop thinking for a few reasons:

1)     They believe students can truly stop or reduce the amount of cognitive activity

2)     They are using a shorthand comment for something else

It seems to me that teachers don’t actually believe they can measure their students’ brain activity, and even if they could, most wouldn’t want to reduce it! So, I believe that option #2 above is more probable. Teachers rely on an abbreviated statement ‘stop thinking’ to denote a much larger statement (whether this is weak thinking on the teacher’s part is another discussion!). Perhaps some better translations of the wisdom that teachers are trying to communicate are:

  • Taijutsus Interruptus – Stop interrupting your movement in the middle of a technique to dissect things. A good uke should take swift and definitive advantage of it.
  • The Dog and His Reflection – Stop degrading the quality of your movement by whipping your head around to see if you are doing it right. Because that makes it wrong.
  • Paralysis by Analysis – Stop analyzing each technique taking only intermittent breaks to actually train.
  • Stop worrying about details – That you are missing the millions of details is not as important as that you are missing big, important things.
  • Don’t judge – Stop judging the quality of your movement. It’s not good, and everyone knows it, so no reason to announce it. Constantly.

Each of these has different implications. All of them may apply to you. So, what are some good habits one can adopt to “stop thinking”?

1)     Follow through – Once the uke attacks (punches, kicks, grabs, strikes, chokes, etc.), it’s game on. Finish the entire technique with a smooth, even flow at the timing or pace that you are comfortable with, and can think through. Even if you are performing a technique badly, complete whatever is happening at the time.

2)     Reduce your reliance on sight – Use your proprioception to sense where your body is in space, rather than your eyes. Wobble boards, balance beams, etc. can be useful in improving your ability to know your body’s location in space. Also, try training with your eyes closed, or look directly at the uke at all times.

3)     Repetition – When in class, train. Tai (body) jutsu not Atama (head) jutsu. Ultimately, the goal is for natural and reflexive movements. Therefore it’s critical that you invest your time in actual training, and not trying a technique 3 times and then (over) analyzing what happened, how other ryu might have done it, how you felt, what Gogyo element most matched the technique, etc. Monday morning quarterbacking, if developed into an ingrained habit, could get you killed, and will annoy your training partner.

4)     Put the big rocks in first – Don’t worry so much about the details. We’ve all gotten confused about the beginning of a technique due to our focus on the POW! end. Instead, get the basic gross movements right. Shiraishi sensei ingrained in me the mantra: first feet, then hips, then spine, then hands. One of the profound beauties of this art is that getting the right distance, angle, and timing right renders the POW! moment often immemorable due to its obviousness. We all have enjoyed that moment, as uke, when one is overcome with an extreme vulnerability in a technique when the tori is at the right distance and angle. “Thinking” about whether the punch was a koppoken or fudoken, while interesting, is simply not as important as the foundations of the art.

5)     Reduce Performance Anxiety – Rather than thinking or making drama-laden comments like “I suck”, “I’ll never get this”, “I can’t believe I am still so bad”, etc., invest that time in assessing your position, your distance, and your angle. Find the kihon and the kamae in the technique, and focus on that. Avoid self-assessment within any realm larger than that particular technique and that particular moment, especially during training. Feel free to discuss how much you suck after class, over tea.

The concepts described above are different faces of the same prism. Peering in each of them, one finds the true cost of ‘thinking’; namely, removing your focus from the current moment. Martial arts are most effective and beautiful when we are reacting in the present moment. All ‘thinking’ is a wedge between the moment in which you exist and the moment in which you are aware.

Over the years I’ve noticed that senior practitioners struggle with this less than beginning and intermediate students. While one might think that this is because they are better and have less to worry about, I think the causal arrows actually go the other way: by letting go of the moment, by reducing the behaviors described above, one truly improves. This concept is certainly consonant with what we constantly hear from our teachers, in so many words.

So, when your teacher tells you to “stop thinking”, consider the ways in which you have let self-analysis, self-judgment, and self-pity cloud what should be a laser focus on the basics, and the present.

Connecting Training to Everything

Training is a conceptual metaphor for life outside the dojo. Perhaps more accurately, an ideal dojo should be a safe place to explore all that happens outside it, not just physical fighting. This is a wonderful opportunity, if you take advantage of it. All aspects of my training are analogous to my daily life. In the full spectrum of our live experiences, from mundane conversations to overall world‐view, our situations (physical, mental, social, emotional, and even financial) all directly connect to our training, through metaphor.

In school we were taught that a metaphor is a figure of speech that one thing is something else. A type of analogy, a metaphor gives learners an ability to conceptualize something new to them. It’s a mental or conceptual scaffold to grasp vastly different ideas, and sometimes that process in itself (connecting vastly different ideas) is in itself beneficial.

If you are having an issue in your life, first attempt to develop a physical analogue of this issue. Then, consider how you address the physical analogue in the dojo. Lastly, consider how your training can help you address the issue directly, rather than its analogue.

Let’s take an example. Suppose you have a history of friendships gone awry. Your college buddies disappear fast post‐graduation, your girlfriends don’t last, and your colleagues at work don’t invite you to happy hours. Upon further examination, suppose you note that you are seen as angry, controlling, and pushy. As you can see, even two of the three adjectives are physical in nature. In class, try to note how controlling you are of the uke: Are you ‘grabby grabby’? Do you use far too much force? If so, use less force; become more sensitive to the uke’s movement through your own softer but more deliberate and controlled movement. Your taijutsu will improve. Then, identify those principles and try to apply them to your non‐training life. Give people space. Rely less upon them. In all your relationships, assume the right kamae, and set the right distance. If they change the distance, adjust so you are still where you want to be.

Does all this immediately and irrevocably translate to and from the dojo? No, but in my experience it does more often than not.

While this more abstract perspective portrays the dojo as metaphor, there is a higher level, as within metaphor’s imperfect nature that essential understanding begins. The limit of metaphor is the starting point to true understanding. Once a metaphor ceases to improve understanding, it becomes crude simplification and a tool of the lazy mind. When Soke speaks of the ‘essence’ of budo or ninjustu, he is referring to that which most uniquely and accurately characterizes it, at a level in which no fitting metaphor exists.

What is Uke?

Here’s a great article by Phil Legare.  I’m just reposting here, all credit goes to Phil!  Check out his site ‘‘, and his original post can be found ‘here‘.


I think sometimes in the Bujinkan we have a misconception about what an Uke is and their role in training. Some think that the Uke is always the junior person and they are solely there for the senior person to learn a technique. Merely sacrificing their body so the senior person can do a good counter to whatever attack is presented. The Uke is supposed to relax and take the hit and “survive” the technique, in order to attack the senior again and again. While partially correct in a physical sense, I think this is a backwards view of the Uke and their role in training.

In every other martial art that I have trained in, the Uke is the more senior person. In fact, in my old art of Kukenpo, you had to be a black belt in order to be an Uke for the white belts. Mark Lithgow notes that this is the same in his sword school, Shinkage Ryu. Why do you think it is this way in other arts, but not so much in ours? One idea I will posit is it may be from the view of how techniques are demonstrated in our art. We see Soke teaching a technique on someone (obviously junior to him) or we train in our dojo or attend a seminar where the Sensei is demonstrating on one of his or her junior students. From these demos, it may be inferred that the junior person is always supposed to be the Uke. I will go even further to say that the Uke may even be perceived by some as the person of lesser value. I say this because I have seen a few instructors purposefully harm their Uke in order to teach them an object lesson or to try to evoke more dedication in their training. I’ve never seen the senior person get trashed. Using training or a demo to teach an object lesson to someone, in public, is wrong on almost any level and its not something a good Sensei should do. This may be the topic of another discussion some day.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” right? But, Soke has said many times in training that when someone gets hurt, it’s the Uke’s fault.

So if you buy into the Uke should be the more senior person, what is the Uke’s role? It’s to help teach the junior person how to do the technique, pure and simple. A more senior Uke will already know how the technique is supposed to work or if not, will at least understand the body mechanics that go into the technique. The more senior person will ostensibly not have any ego attached to “looking bad” when a junior person takes them down. The more senior person knows how to fall and protect himself or herself while allowing the less experienced Tori to go all the way through the technique. The more senior Uke will know when to amp up the attack or tone it down to allow the Tori to learn the technique more fully. The Tori is mostly imitating what was shown, whereas the Uke has to adapt to what is being done to them and adjust their attack to support the Tori to learn the technique. During training I believe the Uke has the opportunity to learn much more about the technique and about themselves than the Tori.

And when we switch and the more experienced person is the Tori, what happens then? The more senior person then helps the Uke be a better Uke, provide a better attack, points out where they should relax, when to escape, how to fall, etc. The senior person, no matter what role they are in, continues to help the junior person to learn. When I teach seminars, I always encourage the Shihan in attendance to help the junior students learn whatever is being taught. In this way we fulfill our roles as Sensei.

Understand? Good. Play!

The much anticipated revised addition of Understand? Good. Play! has been released!  I consider it a must have for Bujinkan practitioners.   You can purchase the book here: Understand? Good. Play? Below is a repost from Ben’s blog with details.


I am happy to report that Understand? Good. Play! — Words of Consequence is now available in a special tenth anniversary edition.

In addition to the complete content of the original printing, the tenth anniversary edition gives a “behind-the-scenes” look at the original U?G.P! project, including reflections by key individuals. The bonus material includes copies of Hatsumi-sensei’s hand-edits to the original manuscript, a look at the design mock-ups used to guide the project, explanations of key photos in the book, and 10 new photographs.


What You Get:

• The original 283 pages of wisdom from the first edition
• An additional 24 pages of material to provide a “behind-the-scenes” look at the original project
• The original 50 photographs of the first edition, plus 10 new photos and other artwork
• Beautiful, stitched, hard cover book with full-color sleeve (for years of reading pleasure)

Price per book: US$39.95 + S/H (approximate equivalent to one training session withSōke at Hombu Dōjō)

Price per carton (28 books): US$1,050.00 + S/H

I am happy to say that the anniversary edition came together quite nicely. With the extra material, the book feels really good in the hand and is noticeably thicker than the original. I think people will like this version better than the original version, which as you know has reached absurd price levels in the used book market.

Information regarding the book is available here.

I apologize for the wait, but the entire project has been self-funded and ran into numerous glitches in life, finance and production over the years. I will do my best to keep the book in print now that I have the resources and time to do so.

I hope you enjoy the book!



Japan Society Accepting Donations

A great way to help Japan.  The Japan Society of NYC is accepting donations.  Because of their intimate connection with Japan, the Japan Society has the unique ability to direct relief dollars to the areas and services where they will have the greatest impact.  Please consider donating and reposting this link to help get the word out.

From the Japan Society website:

Japan Society has created a disaster relief fund to aid victims of the Tohoku earthquake in Japan. Over the years, Japan Society has partnered with several Japanese and American non-profits working on the frontlines of disaster relief and recovery. 100% of your generous tax-deductible contributions will go to organization(s) that directly help victims recover from the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunamis that struck Japan on March 11, 2011.

Tragedy in Japan

Help the people of Japan if you can. Donations for the Japanese earthquake victims can be sent via cellphone text messages. Each pledge is for $10 and will be routed to nonprofits providing disaster relief. The charge will appear on the giver’s cellphone bill.

Most of the campaigns listed below have been organized by the mGive Foundation, a Denver-based charity that manages mobile donation programs. MGive says it vets and certifies the organizations it works with.

  • To donate to American Red Cross Relief, text REDCROSS to 90999
  • To donate to Convoy of Hope, a faith-based organization that does community outreach and disaster response, text TSUNAMI to 50555
  • To donate to GlobalGiving, which focuses on “grassroots projects in the developing world,” text JAPAN to 50555
  • To donate to Save the Children, an independent organization dedicated to helping children in need, text JAPAN to 20222
  • To donate to The Salvation Army, text JAPAN or QUAKE to 80888
  • To donate to World Relief Corp., the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, text WAVE to 50555

Text-based donations raised tens of millions of dollars for Haiti in 2010. Donations may incur text-messaging fees or other data charges, depending on carrier. Sprint Nextel is waiving text-messaging fees for customers who send donations to the Red Cross, Convoy of Hope, the Salvation Army and World Relief (but not Global Giving).

We’ll miss you Kathy.

Bujinkan Training Event in honor of Kathy Baylor

A good friend to many in the Bujinkan martial arts community, Kathy Baylor, has passed away and the community is coming together to pay its respects the best way it knows how–via Budo. In her book, Kathy gave a special thanks to Hatsumi-sensei for his “boundless wisdom, humor, generosity, and light.” The Bujinkan meant so much to Kathy, and Kathy meant so much to so many of us.

Please join us for this special seminar, featuring Doug Wilson from Japan, Jack Hoban, Jeff Christian and many, many more.

EVENT: Bujinkan Training Event in honor of Kathy Baylor
DATE: Sunday, February 27, 2011
THEME: “Kihon Happy”
WHERE: Pearl Studios, Room 1204 (500 8th Ave. b/t 35th & 36th, NYC)
WHEN: 10:00am -5:30pm (with lunch/break/catching up time 2:30pm -4:00pm)
COST: Suggested donation of $30 -$70 (though any amount is welcome. Kat would never want anyone to feel hesitant about attending because of financial burden.)

We hope that all can come together for this very special member of our Bujinkan family. And even if you do not train (or no longer train) in the Bujinkan, you are welcome to come and experience something that was important to Kathy.

Please note that all funds raised from the seminar (after the facility charge) will be donated to Kathy Baylor’s family, for the family to use or donate as they see fit.



Celebrate the Dream

At its core budo is not about domination and conflict, it is about solving inequalities and bridging divides – finding peace and ending hostilities on all levels.  Please consider for a moment the budo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

‘I Have a Dream’
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
-delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.-
Full Video

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

No Shortcuts…

Ben Cole posted a really good article on his blog. I’m reposting it here with Ben’s permission.  Click on the title to swing over to his blog and check out his other great writings.

As a scholar, I have been working on a paper that uses professional sports as a research context. In reviewing the literature during the writing stage, I came across a fascinating paper entitled, “Identity in Sport Subcultures” by Peter Donnelly and Kevin Young in the Sociology of Sport Journal. While the paper has no mention of martial arts, it did contain some interesting commentary that I would like to share, and then reframe in terms of participation in the Bujinkan.

The paragraph of interest is as follows:

“As we have noted, in order to pay homage to the subculture’s focal concerns (Miller, 1958), some novices will undergo anticipatory socialization procedures. That is, they will vicariously perform roles in various situations that they assume are expected of them. For example, a typical trait of novice climbers is to want to display to both climbers and nonclimbers that they are now climbers. This is part of the first stage of identity construction. Display involves wearing climbing clothes and boots in nonclimbing settings, carrying equipment, books, and magazines about climbing as conspicuously as possible, and turning the conversation to climbing as often as possible. Novices have even been seen wearing the extremely uncomfortable boots designed specifically for rock climbing (removed immediately upon completion of a climb by veterans) in a number of nonclimbing situations such as attending class or in a bar. While they may claim to be breaking in the boots, such novices are invariably pleased that one has recognized their boots, thereby recognizing them as a fellow climber. In fact, the purpose of the display is to indicate to nonclimbers that one is now different, and to signal to other climbers that one is now a fellow member and may be approached as such. Of course, what such display actually does is indicate to climbers that one is a novice.” (pp.229-230)

As practitioners, we have all seen such novices running around in the Bujinkan. With their wide eyes and hunger to learn, they are like puppy dogs excited that the Bujinkan world even exists in the first place. Speaking frankly, when I have observed this novice behavior in the past, I dismissed it as the individuals being either dorks or too inexperienced to know better.

What’s intriguing about the description of the novice rock climbers is that it conjures images not just of newbie whitebelts, but also of newly minted Shodan, newly minted Godan, and newly minted Judan in the Bujinkan. Clearly, having reached the levels of Shodan, Godan and Judan, these individuals are not newbies to the art, and they certainly should not be too inexperienced to know better. Yet, there they are….

And their existence always kinda bothered me. Be it an individual who has business cards printed the day of passing his Godan test in order to distribute widely to those in Japan (yes, this happened), or the individual who alters his dojo website within days of being given a Judan even before getting home from Japan (again, yes, this really happened), these activities always left me puzzled. “Perhaps they are just dorks” was the only rationale I could find the behavior.

I had never even considered the role such activities play in the construction of one’s own identity, both as a martial artist and as a member of the Bujinkan organization.

The Donnelly and Young paper continues:

“As novices become more experienced and more secure in their identity as climbers, their need for display will decrease, and they will gradually become conscious that such behavior is not “cool.” Overt display is a rookie error that highlights the subcultural values of coolness and understatement. While display is expected from novices, it may be ridiculed as the individual becomes more experienced. Normally, the more obvious signs of display are removed-ropes are removed from the outside to the inside of a backpack, climbing boots are removed and more comfortable shoes worn when not climbing, and conversations with other climbers turn to the subject more naturally. Recognition of other climbers becomes more subtle. Without quite realizing it, the individual begins to notice the rolled-up magazine, the guidebook in the hip pocket, and the cuts and scars on an individual’s hands that could only have come from climbing rock.” (p.230)

In the Bujinkan, it is not rolled-up magazines and climbing scars that indicate experience, it is the quality of one’s Budo–the shape of the space created by the individual, the subtle adjustments in structure that lead to big changes in the uke’s body, and the facility with which the individual can see the movement of the teacher and replicate its principals. The more mature one becomes in the art, the better the movement.

This brings me to an important theory of learning that also comes from the literature, this time from scholarship on firms. Back in 1989, Ingemar Dierickx and Karel Cool wrote one of the most important papers in the history of management scholarship, entitled, “Asset Stock Accumulation and Sustainability of Competitive Advantage.” As a measure of its importance, this eight-page paper has received almost 4,500 citations from scholars around the world to date.

There were many insights in this paper but the most relevant for a martial arts context is the idea of “time compression diseconomies.” Given the paper’s management audience, the concept was framed around corporate R&D. Dierickx and Cool wrote,

“In the case of R&D, the presence of time compression diseconomies implies that maintaining a given rate of R&D spending over a particular time interval produces a larger increment to the stock of R&D know-how than maintaining twice this rate of R&D spending over half the time interval.” (p.1507)

Said differently, if you invest X over Y number of months to generate Z amount of knowledge, investing 2X over half the number of months will not lead to Z amount of knowledge.

The implications of time compression diseconomies on your budo are profound. Doubling your training time over half the time will not yield the same knowledge creation as putting in your time. You see, some things in the world are “flows” that can be purchased or received, changing instantaneously whether you “have” them or not (e.g., a belt to tie around your waist, a drawing from Soke to hang on the wall, and, yes, even a new rank such as Shodan, a Godan or a Judan). Other things, however, are “stocks” that take time to build up and cannot be rushed; budo is a “stock” not a “flow.” And there is a real danger when students of budo interpret their budo progression as a series of flows (i.e., ranks that pour in), rather than the stock that it is.

People who perceive their budo as flows, and receive those flows in an overall shorter time period than those who take their time, often become disenchanted with their training and with their place in the art (i.e, their identity). They say things like, “I’m X rank and I am shocked that I don’t know Y.” This is because they view their budo as a flow and have failed to recognize that time compression diseconomies have made it impossible for their budo to reflect the flows received to date. As a good friend of mine likes to say, “You can never go back.” He is referring, of course, to people who rush to fill their cup from the flows (i.e., rushing to take the Godan test) and who neglect the fact that they lack the proper gestation time to accumulate stock in the art. If you take rank flows too quickly, it is not uncommon that as your time in the art lengthens, you will begin to feel that your (overflowing) flows do not match your (paltry) stocks. And it is at this point when people start looking elsewhere, rather than looking inside themselves, for the cause of their “flow-stock” mismatch.

I have watched a few people go to Japan every year and return with a new rank. They tell me, “It is rude to turn down a rank.” But they also neglect to mention that they are always asked one question before they are promoted. That question is always the same: “What is your rank?” If previous experience with this question has always led to a promotion in rank, and if you have reflected on your stock of budo and personally do not feel that you should be receiving any flows at that time, why not answer the rank question as a Japanese person might–by avoiding the question all together? A simple, “High enough for now” should suffice and you will have communicated your own understanding of your own budo stock at that moment in time in light of a potential new flow. Soke will be pleased that you see where you are in your own understanding of budo, and will simply continue on….

And hopefully you will, too. Remember: To be successful in budo, you need to know where you are along the path. Do not confuse flows for stocks, and that should help you see where you are and where you need to go.

by Ben Cole

-Reprinted with Ben’s permission.  Find the original article here.

Training Around

During last Thursday’s class (1/6) I attempted to explain my thoughts about students who like to learn from me and frequent my class, but are technically not my student, i.e., I am not responsible for the student’s rank and long term training even though they may attend my class.  I walked away from the discussion feeling that I was unclear and may have inadvertently caused some confusion for the students who were there.  Hopefully this post will help to clarify.

Here’s my disclaimer: Knowing that this is a very wide topic and there are many varying and legitimate opinions, I ask that the reader keep in mind that these are simply my opinions on teaching and a teaching style that I employ.  I am not implying that this example is right for everyone or should be applied in all situations.

My feeling is that students need one teacher who is responsible for guiding them through their training.  This situation allows for many important components to fall into place and helps move the student forward in a clear and consistent manner.  I’m not implying that students can’t or shouldn’t change teachers if they find the need, only that all students should have a single, current teacher who takes responsibility for their training.  I’m also not referring to students who attend multiple seminars (unless the student has no teacher).

Over the 24 years that I’ve been training I’ve encountered several long term students who have taken the approach of loosely training with several teachers and never dedicating themselves to one teacher.  It seems to me that the ‘path’ of their learning widened to the point that they got caught without a clear understanding of which direction was forward and their progress slowed to a crawl (and in some cases moved backwards).  Getting as much training as possible and training with several teachers might look good on paper, but in actuality can cause confusion for the student and hinder learning.

The future of a student’s training is dependent on the present training they receive – I therefore see the training as a path or process.  That path is different (but completely valid) from teacher to teacher usually based on the teacher’s personal experience and perspective on the art.  Having a teacher who understands that what they teach today will affect a student tomorrow and years down the road and who is able to make a connection between the present and the future within the training is (IMO) essential.  I’m not talking about limiting the training or leaving anything out – simply presenting everything in a unified fashion that connects the past, present and future to enhance the learning process.

Now back to the discussion I was having with my class.  It often appears that I tend to drive people off to maintain a small class, but in actuality I welcome (almost) any students who wish to train with me.  I am genuinely thankful to all who put even a small amount of trust in me as a teacher.  That said, people who come to my class but are not my students should be prioritizing their teacher’s instruction in training – not my instruction.  Teaching this art is not a day by day endeavor, it’s an involved longterm process.  I tend to look at people who come to my class, but are not my students, with a feeling of ‘what can I teach them today’.  I don’t assume to place them on the path with the rest of my students.  Their teacher should be providing this path and I don’t want to confuse the student by telling them to focus on ‘a’ and ‘b’ when their teacher is saying to focus on ‘c’ and ‘d’.  The student who attempts both will likely enter a grey area between the teachings of the two teachers which will be counterproductive to their training.

To wrap up, I welcome students into my class – regardless of who their teacher is.  I do insist that they inform their teacher that they wish to attend my class and get permission to do so.  This keeps a lot of unneeded issues from entering the training and it helps to keep the student on track.  I will try to help students who are not technically ‘my’ students in every way that I can – but I feel it’s best to focus on short term (now) corrections that hopefully won’t hinder their long-term learning process.  I also feel it’s necessary to inform these students that they should be focusing on what their teacher is passing on, not what I am passing on.  I do think that too much of a good thing can indeed be a bad thing in the long run.