Use Your Words

We’ve got a few new students in the dojo right now, which is great. (Welcome Jovan, Zak, Jeanna, Bob!) I enjoy sharing our art with new people, and really hope that they stay and become old friends and training partners. I also enjoy the opportunity new students give me to examine how we are training, and teaching. One thing that jumped out at me the other day is that when you train with people for a long time you don’t need to speak as much. A nod or a gesture might be enough to say “step it up”, “go softer on that, I’ve got a small injury”, or “you are still leaning a little forward; it is costing you both speed and power and I should not have to correct that anymore. Straighten up, raise your eyes, and tuck your hips”. (Yup, that last is from training on Thursday, and was communicated with a raised eyebrow and pointed look at the waist.) But with new members the shorthand that develops over years isn’t there, so you must use your words. And so must they.

There is a sense that “the dojo is for training, not talking” in most dojo. And that is correct- it is for martial arts practice, not chatting. But what exactly does that mean? Shut up and train is good advice for someone that prefers talking to doing, but it can also be really bad advice for someone who is not clear on what they should be doing. Speech is one of the things that makes us human. It is a powerful tool for sharing information. So use it! That does not mean blathering on incessantly, or talking about whatever pops into your head. It means to use all the tools at your disposal to learn.

talking 3

For teachers, explain clearly what you expect people to do, and why. Do it quickly and concisely- don’t get too attached to the sound of your own voice- but don’t expect your students to understand what they are supposed to do if you don’t tell them. And contrary to common practice in the martial arts, the why is often pretty useful. “Because I told you so”, while it may instill obedience and possibly a form of discipline, does not give a student any way to measure themselves except by your approval. Not the best measure, really. Instead help them understand the reasons for a training method so they can start to measure how they are doing for themselves. Not endless description and use of obscure terminology, but concrete descriptions and reasons. Convey information.

And then listen! Give students opportunity to ask questions. Let them figure out where they are confused, listen to that, and try to help them through it. This is harder. It is the leader’s role to facilitate clear communication, but also to stop incessant questions when they are not helping. You have to figure out a good balance- enough room for good questions but not so much talking that you don’t actually get time to do what you are talking about! That balance is going to be different for each student, and requires the teacher actually listen to the student, not him or her self.


But perhaps the most important use of your words is between training partners. Words allow you to train better. For example, in kotekitae partners can take the “just go really hard and see how that works out” approach, but since the goal is working just over your partner’s comfort level, and different partners will have different thresholds, it saves a ton of time, limits injury, and helps development if partners just say to each other “harder” or “softer” as needed.  Discipline is the key, as it is in most of our training. You need to discipline your words. Use them carefully, and clearly. You need to be able to ask your partner to push you. That is a rather important discipline as well; part of it involves understanding your own failings.

In my opinion, a silent dojo is a poor one. People are missing out on the opportunity to learn from each other if they don’t communicate. But a chatty dojo is also a poor one, probably undisciplined and unfocused. There are times for a few words, especially during certain types of paired practice. And there are times when talking is simply the wrong thing to do. Kata is a good example here- except when getting direct instruction you should just be working on it, not talking about it. Finding that balance is up to the dojo and the dojo leaders. Maybe you should discuss it?

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