We are testing next week at the dojo! It is a great time to read this piece from the Kokoro Series concerning rank.
Different people train martial arts for different reasons. Some enjoy the health and exercise, some enjoy the sense of tradition, some want to learn to defend themselves, others the camaraderie of the people they meet and get to know over the years. Whatever the reason, Shoshin Ryu meets the expectations and the needs of the student, without mandating a reason for pursuing the training.
In Shoshin Ryu, the art that is trained at the dojo, there are often several ways to deal with the same situation. It could be considered an error to think that there is only one way. This line of thinking can limit the students ability to think in a broader sense, it can also stifle creative thinking as one follows the path of martial arts. This is why Shoshin Ryu often has several techniques for 1 particular attack. At the dojo, variations are introduced at the mid level kyu (non black belt) ranks in order to start to break students out of the mindset that you only need 1 technique. By having multiple options the mind can start to become more spontaneous, making the student “choose” a path rather than always going to a singular technique. As the student gains proficiency in “choosing” a technique the opportunity for a glimpse of mushin (no mind) become more frequent. With more options the brain can “decide” which direction to go based on the feedback they are getting from their uke (training partner, the one who is attacking). The ability to apply the best technique based on what the uke is doing is similar to “listening” to what they are doing. With the proper amount of training, this decision making process becomes very fast and often, higher skilled practitioners, will choose a technique without having to think at all. This is a goal of all martial artists who pursue mushin.
In a broader sense, we often hear “this system or style is superior to that system or style” and while each martial art has its strength and weaknesses, the idea that there is THE martial art that trumps the rest, can also limit ones opportunities to be prepared for all situations. This is why Shoshin Ryu has strived to incorporate several different martial art techniques from several different martial arts, each having its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Be it the kata of karate, the nage of judo, the newaza of jujitsu, the knowledge of knife and stick of kali, the knowledge of center of aikijitsu, all have something to add while at the same time, not one is complete. Traditional karate students will typically have strong atemi (strikes/blocks/kicks) but may be lacking in their newaza (ground work) ability. Jujitsu practitioners, while having superior ground technique, may not understand the subtleties and nuances of how to use a bladed weapon. Tae Kwon Do students are known for dynamic and powerful kicks but when it comes to unbalancing and throwing a person often will struggle unless versed in a throwing art (i.e. Judo or Aikido). So to say that this style or that style is THE style is false, and belief in THE way can leave them vulnerable to an art or skill that is foreign to them.
By starting to think in terms of A way rather than THE way, students of the arts can begin to apply this thinking to things outside of the martial arts. When dealing with confrontation at work or in a relationship one can see both sides with more clarity. By not attaching one’s self to THE way, THE idea or THE side, compromise and resolution are easier to accept. This mindset can reduce the need to judge others. The ability to recognize (not necessarily agree) another point of view, makes finding common ground easier.
So with that explanation, think of why you train and ask yourself this question: Is THE reason you’re training necessarily THE reason others train? Maybe, just maybe, THE reason you train might be A reason to someone else. Others may train for reasons that differ from your own, does that make it a wrong reason? Or are there a plethora of reasons out there to walk the path of Shoshin Ryu? If you train long enough, the understanding of “A” vs. “THE” can change the way you view yourself and the way you view others. If you don’t currently train, think of the dojo as “A” place to start on your path.
Cross training is a way to alternate your workout routine in a way that can improve your performance, mental outlook, and essentially your overall fitness. Cross training is used by athletes of all levels. I have yet to meet a coach, doctor, or high level athlete who thought that cross training was not a good idea. The truth is that there seems to be far reaching benefits for those who incorporate cross training into their personal workout regimen.
The idea behind cross training is to elevate your performance through overall fitness, rather than training continually in the same way. Say you have consistently jogged 3 times a week for years, but then when a friend not as active as you asks you to go cross country skiing you can’t keep up. Or say you are a body builder who lifts 6+ days a week and are very strong, but then find that you are completely exhausted after a short game of tag with your kids and they aren’t even breathing hard. When you only train in one activity you can become very proficient at that activity. However, you might also realize that you are not in as good of shape as you think you are. Studies have even shown that training a lot for just one activity can increase the risk of repetitive injury.
As a Shoshin Ryu practitioner you are already cross training. You work your body and cardio through activities such as basic drills, kata, throws, ground work, and drilling self-defense techniques. Already you are working your body in a very well-rounded way, which is one reason why martial arts can be such great cross training for athletes of any other discipline. Even if you are a dedicated martial artist, though, cross training can benefit you. Besides the obvious benefits of becoming even more physically fit, it is also beneficial for your mind. If you are familiar with the path of Mastery you understand that you will spend a lot of time on a plateau during your life-time of training. Cross training can give you a different outlet to continue improving during those times that perhaps you don’t feel like you are improving with your martial arts. Perhaps it is while cross training some day that you achieve a personal best and reach a level that you didn’t think you were capable of. If you can shatter boundaries in your cross training you can surely achieve the same in your art.
There are many types of cross training. Weight lifting, cycling, running, swimming, rowing, cross fit, interval training, rock climbing, rollerblading, hiking are just a handful of the many ways you can cross train. You can stay more socially active while you hike or cycle with a friend who maybe doesn’t do martial arts, or enjoy your own training and solitude while you forge yourself through committed training. If you don’t incorporate cross training in your workouts it is something to seriously consider. If you already do incorporate cross training in your workout plan, great! Now use it as a way to not only improve your physical fitness, but also as a way to elevate your martial arts training!
People often ask “what is the order of belts in Shoshin Ryu”. In the adult curriculum the order is White, Yellow, Blue, Green, Brown 3, Brown 2, Brown 1 and Black. Each rank has new kata, throws, ground work techniques and added Gojinjitsu (self defense). With each rank there are added requirements in regards to proficiency in previously learned material as well as emphasis on certain types of motion. In the Shoshin Ryu curriculum concepts are interwoven throughout the belt ranks as well.
As a White belt, students are given a set of kihon (basics), a few kata, a throw and lots of gojinjitsu as well as the basics for ukemi (rolls/falls). The goal for the beginning student is to memorize the techniques, not so much to replicate them at blinding speed but rather to “know” the sequence of moves by recalling them from memory. Everything that is learned is used to provide a foundation of general motion. Knowing how to properly execute each technique, be it a strike or a kata, from the very beginning aids in the ease of learning later on in one’s path to Shodan (1st degree black belt).
Once tested and promoted to Yellow belt, the emphasis is much the same as White belt. More kata, throws, newaza (ground work) and gojinjitsu are added. Additional kihon are introduced and drilled. By this time, the student has been training for a significant time and repetition is the focus. All the curriculum learned as a White belt are still practiced with the expectation that the time it takes for the mind to recall the correct move lessens. Techniques are still coming from memory but from the viewpoint of someone watching, it may look like the techniques are instantaneous. Less effort is required to perform a throw, the rolls are more quiet and become more natural. Lines in motion become cleaner, tension is less and as a result, your body moves faster. Students feel more acclimated to the dojo and typically are less apprehensive about learning something new. Yellow belts also learn to become a better uke (attacker) during self defense and provide more realistic feedback for their partner to work with and improve.
Blue belt is when the student starts to see glimpses of muscle memory. When defending against random attacks some of the responses are being initiated before the student realizes it. The ultimate goal is to NOT to recall techniques from memory but to trust reflex. Reflex is engrained by doing the techniques over and over again. At some point, the body just moves to where it needs to be without thought. Blue belts does not necessarily require the student to incorporate reflex in all their motion (this is what brown belt ranks are for), but the student should start noticing that some of the tools they’ve been building are right there when needed. The kata that you are supposed to know are done with less thought about which foot to step with or what hand to punch with but rather how the foot moves and its relationship to center and if the punch is as efficient and powerful as it can be. Students must still commit to memory the new things they learn, but the time it takes for these moves to become more reflexive and less pulled from memory goes down. Everything is done with less effort, less time and with increased efficiency of motion.
At Green belt the student is preparing to be a brown belt. There is a higher standard as it relates to quality of motion and command of all previous techniques. Green belt is the gate-keeper rank for brown belt. Kihon should be crisp, fast and effortless. The student should understand the key points to each basic and be able to explain the details of how the technique works. Self defense is more real-time and should be effective against a real attack. Speed is emphasized as is power. The lower ranks are about where to be, Green and above are more about how to be. Throws are executed with only the bare minimal effort needed for success. Kata is done with more focus and becomes more than just moving through the sequence. Intent is introduced so that each motion is meaningful. Tiatari (blending) is introduced in order to “round out” the corners of your motion and allow you to accept the energy of an attack rather than fight it. Kihon, nage (throws) and newaza start to blend together in seamless transitions allowing for greater speed and efficiency. Green belt has additional kata, throws, newaza and gojinjitsu added on top of all the other curriculum learned up to this point. At Green belt, the student has a large amount of information and part of the challenge is not only keeping it all, but to make it all look and feel better than it was before.
Brown Belt III and II continue the emphasis of Green with more curriculum added. By this time, nothing “new” is really learned. There are more kata and throws and ground work, but the students realizes that if the previous techniques were trained properly, the “new” material is very much the same as what they already know. Things less tangible become more important. The ability to make all your techniques come from muscle memory and reflex is what is strived for. Concepts like Ma (transition) Ma-ai (distancing), breath, soft eyes and zanshin (continuing spirit) are introduced and the kata, throws, ground work and gojinjitsu become a vehicle for these concepts to be practiced. These concepts are introduced with the hopes that they manifest themselves in the students motion by the time they are ready to test for Shodan. The Shoshin Ryu practitioner will begin to understand that all motion is related and judgment about other martial arts systems goes away since there is a core understanding of root motion. The ability to make connections between different motions becomes 2nd nature. Students will choose between two weapons, bo or nitan bo during this time and begin to drill the techniques associated with each weapon.
The last belt of the Mudansha (non-black belt) ranks is Ikkyu (Brown 1). There is little new techniques introduced, the focus is on making sure all your previous training is polished and fluent. Any kata in the Mudansha curriculum can be executed on command. All throws and groundwork is understood at an expert level and be applied in numerous scenarios. All reactions are reflex based. At this point, the student can deviate from the core curriculum and start to create spontaneously without losing effectiveness. All motions are full of intent and nothing is done without a purpose. Lines in motion are direct without any wasted motion. At Brown 1 the student has everything they need to make Shodan and the time at this rank is meant to allow for fermentation of everything they know. When one tests for Shodan and passes, then, and only then, are they considered a true beginner in the martial arts. The student is now thought of as having all the tools necessary to begin learning the curriculum of the Yudansha (black belt).
©The Forge, LLC DBA the dojo 2015