Martial Art and Judo training methods on the East and on the West differ as differ the place cultural traditions.
Those differences create many problems for both sides of the isle: for Easter teachers who are coming to the West to promote their Art and for Western students who are coming to the East to study Art at its source.
Those issues aren’t unique for traditional Eastern martial art studies, but manifest themselves in all cases of East-West or West-East cultural and business exchanges.
When there are a lot of sources to examine those differences from first-hand experience and from throughout research, I’ll touch just a few points that critical for martial art study.
The relationship between Teacher and Student at the East are paternalistic family-like when student expected (and taught) to trust his teacher like a child trusting his parent. It’s for teacher’s sole discretion to decide what and how to teach, and it’s seen as student’s obligation to accept what he taught without questioning and asking for more. Student’s patience in the study is the utmost virtue.
In his book “Mind Over Muscle” Dr. Kano giving his recollections related to Judo training methods from his early days as jujutsu student. “Attack me!” instructed his teacher, Fukuda Hachinosuke and as Jigoro Kano did, he was thrown hard on tatami. And this was repeated over and over again. No technique explanation was given, nor any defense was shown. No question was asked. Just endless repetition of been thrown. Been thrown eventually teach Kano how to throw and this old-days method remains in nowadays Judo instructional toolkit.
On the West Teacher and Student are seen as largely equals and it’s responsibility of the teacher to satisfy student’s desire to learn and to insure it will be done the best possible way. In Western tradition student’s curiosity are appreciated and encouraged.
In the World of traditional Eastern martial arts teachers are seen directly responsible for their students’ actions. To protect themselves in this liability the multi-layer training methods have been developed. At the beginning student taught the harmless basics that will prepare him physically and mentally for further study and will expose his character for the teacher, who will decide if, when, and how to move study to the next level. Then external elements of the art are taught, elements that teacher wouldn’t mind to expose and witch perceived as a hallmark of his art by outsiders. And only after this, after years of study when strong personal bonds are developed, the student is accepted to receive the core inner knowledge of the art. And only one of those students will be selected by his teacher as the next master who will continue tradition, and only he will receive knowledge of the art in its entirety and only when his teacher will fill that his time is coming. The teacher’s concern was preserving his art as his legacy, but not expansion of it among outsiders.
Understanding of this traditional environment helps to make sense out of a number of things in traditional martial arts as they came to the West and to dispel some misconceptions. One of them is role and use of kata within martial art and Judo training methods.
From the Western point of view it’s important to understand that blind copy of the Eastern training methods – often done in the name of preserving tradition – is troublesome.
The other point is who is the teacher?
Until Dr. Kano established Kodokan Judo the vast majority of professional martial artists ware often illiterate who knew little about outside world (literacy was a priced skill in its own rights and not often possessed by by professional martial artists, sure with some notable exceptions to this rule). Dr. Kano was the first who introduced modern pedagogical methods into the World of martial arts. Dr. Kano promoted Judo on the East and to the West as the modern martial art that going beyond just physical fight.
The other martial arts that followed Judo’s footprints to the West brought with them their old traditional training methods that was – and sill is – seen on the West as magical Eastern treasure that must be accepted without explanation. The modern paradox is that many prominent Eastern teachers who moved to the West evolving their training methods in the way that Dr. Kano did to adjust to Western realities, when some Western teachers clinching to orthodox Eastern traditions without questioning and understanding.
I received the first-hand experience with this phenomenon when some time ago I decided to try a Tai Chi class (with emphasis on health benefits of the art). I found one with good reviews not far from my home, called teacher/owner and got permission to observe a class. At some point the teacher – who is a westerner – came over to me and we had a nice chat. He asked me and I told him my background and what I’m looking for and at some point asked him to see the push-hands class (it was only in an advanced class and not in the entry-level class that I was observing). To my surprise he gave me immediate and resounding ‘No’. He told me that his push-hands videos are on YouTube (I saw them prior to my visit; I won’t include any links) and it’s nothing more I can see. I left and never came back, but this story bothered me for awhile until I understood what is underneath – he obviously followed old Chinese multi-layer teaching tradition without its throughout understanding.
I should admit that teaching traditional Eastern Martial Arts in the modern Western World is a challenging task. But dispute the challenges we can find good examples of how it's should be done. One, like Wing Chun Life that takes very traditional Chinese Wing Chun style in it's integration with our non-stop 24/7 daily life.
From this point on my site I won’t address the traditional Eastern training methods anymore and all references are only to the modern Western methods (even some been developed on the East – Judo randori training, as example).
The Eastern idea of multi-layer training works on the West with some meaningful modifications.
When the first order of business is to develop student's interest in the training, the sport aspect of Judo training – and randori in particular – is a good tool for the task. Sport is addictive. The other types of martial arts started to incorporate some sort of competition, be it form/kata demonstration or competitive fights under different sets of rules. This is exactly how Dr. Kano saw Judo training. And this works as long as sport fight seen as Judo training method and not misinterpret as a real fight.
Teaching Judo as sport (as a part of martial art training or by itself) is based on using general sport and combat sport training methodologies. When it’s very wide and diverse topic, I would touch only a few specific points that often not spelled-out and overlooked in discussions, but always found in practice of good instructors.