Thursday, May 03, 2012

A Note From Montreal

Montreal was a blast, and I was too busy to write about it.  Now is a good time to fix that.  A small group of good people, a beautiful city to walk in and free-range environmental brawling on a condemned floor of an historical building.  It may get better than that, but it was damn nice.

Marilene, of Monteregie Aikikai was one of the participants.  During one of the lunch breaks (did I mention some fantastic food in Montreal?) she shared a little diagram on a napkin.  A Venn diagram with the big circle marked 'dojo' and three intersecting circles within the big one labelled 'humans' 'etiquette' and 'technique.'  She was putting into pictures that creating a dojo (not just good training, but creating a good, long-term place to train) was finding a balance between the techniques, the people and the ritual.

People are important.  If they don't like each other, they won't train for very long.  Same if there is no trust for the instructor.  Or if things are unpleasant.  Absolutely true.  But the essence of any training, of any learning, is to grow and change.  Not just combatives or martial arts or any specific style.  Anything you put effort into should change you (though a lot of people seem to put a lot of effort into avoiding change.) But change is always uncomfortable and often hurts... especially if the intent is to prepare the people for ugly things.  And there are a lot of ways to make people feel better, and maybe most of them blunt the training.  But people are important.  No people, no training.

Etiquette is one of the interesting ones.  I always think of etiquette as 'forms of respect.'  I can feel absolute respect and show it by my cultural perspective and still be profoundly insulting.  Good intentions are no protection against acting like a jerk... (Worst example, from an SCA event decades ago, a person who can generously be described as a punk said, "I don't have to be polite.  I'm chivalrous.")  The etiquette in martial endeavors is special as well.  What we practice is (or should be) dangerous, and that goes for those who practice at well.  Every culture of dangerous people has a detailed etiquette, whether bushi, vikings, soldiers, prisoners or gang members.  There are some universals (I know of no violent subculture where touching someone else's weapons without permission is acceptable) but some of the rules are very culturally specific.

Etiquette can also mean the ritual, too, and sometimes that is a form of respect without the respect, or with the reason forgotten.

Lastly the techniques.  My opinion, but there is no way to learn this stuff without at least pain, and injury is usually a possibility.  The very nature of it makes it easy to drive away people.  Further, good combative/martial/SD training is intensively about violating social taboos.  Deliberately violating the rules of proper decorum by invading space, controlling behavior, causing injury...  So the very thing you are teaching violates standard etiquette.

It's an interesting model, and Marilene put a lot of thought into it.

And it gets more complicated.  Human and etiquette intersect and are influenced by relationships vertically (student/instructor), horizontally (student/student) and many degrees of laterally (insider/outsider and ally/enemy).  Technique taught (and this affects etiquette and people) also have to be scaled.  Safe and effective are almost inversely correlated.

Then the two big ones that affect all other things-- purpose and context.

Purpose, of course, has dimensions.  Self-defense?  Dueling?  Raiding and war?  Exercise?  Performance?  But there is also a sneaky one that for many people may be more important and more valuable but is almost always unconscious.  Is the purpose for the student (all of the examples-- SD, dueling, etc. are to make the student better at something)?  Or is the purpose for the relationships?  Is the training about the school, the system, or the hierarchy?  Subconscious, but if there's koolaid being served it is to preserve or create a relationship.  That focus sometimes rewards magical thinking and outlandish promises and false confidence.

The other, of course, is context.  In what world is the student expected to use the skills?  Only within the safe nest of the school?  In the modern world complete with cell phone cams and self-defense laws, traffic and blood-borne pathogens?  Or in an imaginary or reconstructed medieval world?

Complex idea.


Josh Kruschke said...

"Deliberately violating the rules of proper decorum by invading space, controlling behavior, causing injury...  So the very thing you are teaching violates standard etiquette."

Standard? By who's (cultural) definition?

In some cultures violence us part of etiquette.

Would mokey dancing be a form of etiquette?

Anonymous said...

Very good article. Very thoughtful. Useful. Thanks Rory ! -MG ;)

Ymar Sakar said...

One time I saw an instructor get angry because a student was not able to do something "correct" after the instructor repeated the same instructions 3 times. The instructor then instead of replacing the student with someone who could do it correctly or demonstrating the move with someone else to show what the error was, walked up behind the student that had been told to make a correction, and initiated a semi pushing contest which involved several techniques half done that spun the student around, back and forth, loosening up the gi and messing up the hair.

The instructor then told the student to go off to the side to do some pushups because there would be no arguing on the dojo mat, as the student's voice got louder and louder, and more heated as the situation began to make less, not more, sense.

Later, the instructor said something to the effect that this was done to show the student what was wrong and to correct the technique. The techniques the instructor used, without the proper reigi of bowing to one's partner before hand or after, were joint locks and off balancing throws, which had nothing to do with the technique the student was working with a class mate on. The ostensible explanation I heard was that the instructor had to do this for the safety of the dojo.

Putting your hands on people in anger, losing control, and using faux reasons as justifications for one's misbehavior, is not safe. Rather the opposite if you ask me. If that had been done to somebody else, say an ex con that worked at McDonalds (beat a woman almost to death because she chased him to the back after being verbally violent over not accepting 50 dollar bills), things would not have gone well. Not well at all. Some people are dangerous and in control. Most are not dangerous at all, whether they be in control or not. But some are dangerous and out of control, for several reasons.

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Anonymous said...

I have recently started teaching at a Dojo in Taiwan.

It was weird when I started as our "style" likes to get close in and I was showing something using the thumb under the nose or the eyes.

I noticed people were uncomfortable doing it. We were training weapon defence and it turns out that in Chinese / Taiwanese culture it's a big "No-No" to touch the face...

So, what I was teaching violated standard etiquette...but I explained being hit with a stick or cut with a knife is much more offensive...Great blog Rory. Thanks!