Are you trapped in "Imitation" budo practice?

By C. E. Clark



When we began learning budo we were given the task of imitating the basic or fundamental movements of our art. The examples we were given were that of our instructor and our sempai (seniors). This is the way we learn anything. We observe our examples, then overcome our hesitancy to commit ourselves and take a chance. Over the course of time, some of our efforts are better than others. We tend to remember those and try to improve our performance in the future.

  Our practice is an imitation of what we see and the concepts we have formed about it.





















 "The power is infinite; and the more we develop it naturally, accept responsibility for it, and actualize it each instant while sharing with compassion and the desire to uplift all beings, the more of this power flows through us."









"I don't know...
but I'll find out
and let you know."

At some point, if we have a healthy practice and a good student/teacher relationship, we are receiving enough feedback (both negative and positive), and we begin to show the first signs of confidence in our ability. Our kata practice is progressing and we know and apply the criteria of good practice.

As we continue to grow, we begin to develop real authority that shows in our ability to perform physically and in our emotional/spiritual life and our relations with others.

If, again, someone asks us why we do something a certain way, we might answer, "I can show you why," and answer with some authority. At this point, we are beginning to create budo each instant and taking full responsibility for that creation. People can feel budo from us now as well as listen to what we say when we try to describe it. Our practice is beginning to be more focused. We are beginning to understand our motivations and how to actualize our intent in each instant. We are beginning to get small understandings of what it means to have spirit, body, and technique as one. Our practice is maturing in its natural pace.

If this is a natural learning behavior, why are there so many of us who have been practicing for many years and haven't reached the creative level that has this authority? Many crossroads must be reached where we make the correct decisions, and many developmental stages must be experienced for us to experience this level of practice. If our learning system is flawed, if our inner self is filled with fear, if our instructor doesn't have the ability to help us cross from the imitation level to the creative we will find it very difficult to grow in our practice. There are many other reasons. We all can see them if we look.

Look at your practice. Are you experiencing creative moments in your practice where things "just happen" and feel great, like nothing else in the universe would have fit at that time?

I see students in this stage at around two years of quality practice. They are beginning to develop their own power and authority. Have you been really committing yourself to a true forging practice; and do you feel you should be at this stage of creative budo and are not? Ask yourself why? There can be many reasons or combinations of reasons. I see instructors who won't allow students to grow in ways that empower them. I see those who are afraid to enter this level. Possibly they don't want the responsibility. We may need to develop new habits or new ways of perceiving ourselves in order to have the tools to achieve this quality in our practice. The real practice of budo is the forging of our spirits, not just learning to throw each other around. You can tell if you're on the track. Look at your sempai in the dojo and in other dojo within Jiyushinkai. You can tell the difference between those who can create and really do budo from those who imitate (and often won't acknowledge that they are imitating). If these real budoka can acquire this quality from the curriculum, then you most likely can. If you are on track in the system and are still in the stage of learning where you are imitating your seniors, and you can see where your practice can lead, then keep up the quality practice and have faith and patience.

Real power develops from this practice. Many of us feel this possibility for power and want/need it desperately in our lives. Some feel there is a finite amount of this power in the world and the way to get it is to take it from someone else and then guard it jealously. This is not true. The power is infinite; and the more we develop it naturally, accept responsibility for it, and actualize it each instant while sharing with compassion and the desire to uplift all beings, the more of this power flows through us.

Are you an instructor or senior sempai in the dojo or Jiyushinkai? Why are you an instructor? Do you share knowledge and your practice because you're the senior student and it is a responsibility (or there is no one else who has more "tools" than you do) or because you want power over other people and like the position of being "in charge" of the dojo? Is your motivation to help others become the best they can be, even if they become "better" than you are or to gratify your ego? Do you find yourself justifying and rationalizing why your technique doesn't work sometimes to protect your ego instead of just saying, "I don't know why, but I'll find out from my teacher?" Do you call or visit your instructor or teacher as often as possible to continue your instruction. Do you even have a formal or real relationship with a teacher? Are you trying to learn budo by just imitating others forever without the help of a guide that has been there? Are you practicing and really going through the forging process? Do you have inner feelings that are fearful concerning what others will think about your skill level and your authority?

If you're open and willing to learn, you will have no problems with acknowledging what you do know and what your limitations are.

Once this happens, learning can happen. We all need to look deeply within ourselves for answers to these questions and many others. It's part of budo practice.

"Keiko Shokon" is a saying that Nishioka Tsuneo Sensei (Menkyo Kaiden of the Shinto Muso-ryu) has emphasized on occassion to us. He paraphrases in English as: "Think deeply about the essence of life and make up your mind about what you're going to do and then do it." I think we can all learn this way. This is budo practice.

© Copyright 1997 by C. E. Clark, All rights reserved