The Core of a Dojo Pt. 2 : The Basics

When we talk of “basics” in karate, what do we mean? When I read what other consider “basics” I find that they involve principles that have taken me years to develop. There are escalating levels of what one may deem basic in one’s training. What is “basic” for me as a black belt differs greatly from what was basic for me many moons ago as a white belt. There are tangents surely in what they intrinsically imply, but the mechanics are distinct. When I “return to the basics” in my training, what am I actually returning to? If I stand before a newly arrived student with my 30+ years in karate what “basics” do I teach: the basics I have learned through the years, or the ones he or she must learn that first day? Teaching is always a sobering experience. Where do I begin? Where I just left off, or where that person is standing? I must go back, put myself in their shoes. Those are the basics of which I speak. I must retreat back down that spiral to that first day.
Closed fist, open hand. Breathing, walking. Dojo etiquette. Mechanics. Monkey see, monkey do. First things first. The “I know nothing” approach, the “humble” sensei, sounds nice and politically correct. But my “know nothing” is nothing compared to a new student’s “nothing.” He or she truly does not know anything. And the risk lies in falsely teaching them that their “nothing” is actually their first step in a spiritual quest. Dispense with the koans, teach the mechanics. Learning the ABC’s is not a philosophical discourse.
The basic Goju stance for a white belt is a clumsy looking thing. All the clumsier in a white belt. I teach them how to close their fist, how to stand, how to breathe and walk, where to look and where not to look. But not as an invitation to dialogue. It is a “no questions asked” stage. Monkey see, monkey do. To teach anything beyond this is showing off, showboating under the guise of sharing. Only when a person truly accepts that they know nothing are they willing to learn. That white belt doing Gekisai ichi with barely two months of training may feign he or she knows, may ably fake it. But if I am able to stick my finger in his fist and undo it, he or she knows and has learned nothing. That is the “basics” I am talking about.
So I walk slightly in front, close my fist and say “do as I do.” They must follow, I must lead. This is heavy shit. There precisely lies the humbleness: to assume the lead, set the example.
Freaky shit.

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