Principles. The ideas behind a system that reflect its designed purpose and without the effective operation of which the system fails. Put another way, an ingredient that imparts a characteristic quality.
In our arts principles usually refer to the ideas behind a given system. But they can also refer to the ideas behind the approach people take to their practice. One of the principles of my practice is to keep an open mind. In fact our dojo motto is Open Mind, Joyful Training. But principles can’t just be ideas, they have to be acted upon to be worth anything. Acting on this principle means I should get out of my training space and experience other arts, other approaches. Put someone else in charge once in a while.
The last weekend I had the good fortune to be invited to take part in a weekend retreat my friend Russ Smith gave at his Burinkan dojo. As it happens, this weekend was about principles. Smith sensei has a strong background in our Goju Ryu, as well as a number of other arts, including Pak Mei, Ngo Cho Kun, and Ming He Quan. This background has given him a unique window on some of the common ideas behind these various systems, and how they relate. He spent the weekend working us through an approach to this information that started with ideas- principles of movement, interaction, energy, structure, power- and included a simple but effective methodology for working with them in a randomized way, enabling experimentation with the ideas directly, as opposed to through pre-set techniques. It was all great fun, and I found it a very clear approach to material that is often shrouded in mysticism, clouded by deliberate obfuscation, or simply misunderstood.
Working with the ideas behind our practice, instead of examples of these ideas (kata or techniques) sounds difficult to do. It isn’t, really, but it does take some work, both to get there and not to fall back on familiar habits. I won’t go into the details of the training. It is not that important, and not my story to tell anyway. But I must say I was impressed with the organization of the material and the clarity of approach Smith sensei showed. That made for a weekend that was both intellectually and physically challenging, and a lot of fun.
I was also impressed with the other principles on display. The ingredients that imparted the characteristic qualities of the weekend were of course Smith sensei and his material. But they were equally the people participating. The students and training partners in the Burinkan and the guests there were, to a person, kind, interesting, focused, generous, and skilled. This really made the weekend, as it allowed us to take the material and work with it without fear of injury or lack of experience. Everyone had a slightly different spin on it, but the ideas stayed the same, and the central idea, that we were there to learn, play, and assist each other, made everything else possible.
Thank you Russ, and Marcus, and everyone else that made the weekend so much fun. I learned something from each and every person there. I feel like I came away with a lot to think about, which is great. I could list things I took away, but again that not really that important, and could be a little boring. But thanks to Russ sensei and everyone’s hard work there was certainly a lot to take away. And above all I can’t imagine many better ways to spend a weekend. That seems like a good starting principle for any event!