Budō & Listening
by Richard Upcott
“Yes Sensei” “ok got it, thank you” “ah now I see”.
I’m sure we’ve all said these or heard them said during keiko, often after a correction has been made or a point clarified. However how many times do we stop and think “do I actually understand that?” “have I really listened to my teacher?”.
How often does our assumption of having gained understanding get in the way of us actually understanding.
Paying attention during training can be hard enough as it is. There is so much going on with students making refinements and absorbing new material that it becomes easy to breeze through thinking you’ve heard what’s been said and believe you’ve seen what’s been shown, especially if you are going over material you think you know well.
I’ve found good observation is crucial during keiko and by that I mean giving your full and utmost attention to your teacher while they are showing you something. There are a few reasons for this one is obviously that it is good manners, another crucial aspect of koryu, but beyond that you have to develop and internalise what you are being shown on your own.
A teacher will serve as a model during keiko they will not lead you by the hand every step of the way, for good reason as certain things have to develop via self discovery. You can be shown how to cut but you have to develop the correct te-no-uchi, you can be shown a kamae but you have to fit it to your body. These things can’t be done for you.
If you are not paying proper attention you will miss what isn’t being shown, that subtle movement of the feet that your senior does without thinking about it, the body alignment that is used consistently across skill sets but is not the actual point being covered. All these small details will slip by, you have to use your time with your teacher so as to get as much of the picture as possible because ultimately your time with them is limited when compared to the time you may get training on your own.
Then there is the skill of listening per se. Being able to pick out the pertinent points during a lesson, having the ability to hear when you are being told something that may be specific to you, even getting the feel of the dojo, the atmosphere and acting accordingly.
Too often we may think “oh yes I know this, I get what he’s saying” and then we turn off and make what’s being said about us and our understanding whereas we should, in my opinion, be concentrating on what is being said and who is saying it. Truly listening and absorbing the content of the delivery.
We also need to show to our peers and seniors that we have in fact understood or heard them, that we are paying attention and are actively engaged in the process.
None of this is an easy skill but it is one that can be developed and it is useful not only on the mat but in our day to day lives, probably the most useful skill you could pick up from training.