Embarrassed?…Good!

Minowa Katsuhiko sensei
Minowa sensei trying to teach me the intricacies of Jodan Kamae

The other day I was looking at some old video I had taken way back in 2001 of Minowa sensei correcting my bo technique. In the video I was performing Yonegawa no kon (米川の棍), the left-handed bo kata developed by Chinen Sanda (1852 – 1925), and he wasn’t happy with how I was positioning my arms (jodan kamae) before doing an overhead strike (jodan uchi). My right elbow sagged too much, my wrist was bent, my left arm was too low and bo was not inline with my shoulder… in other words, everything was wrong. However, Minowa sensei patiently corrected each and every mistake I had made with a smile and a bit of laughter along the way. He also went into great detail explaining the reasons why the technique had to be done that way (1). Not once did he ever bark at me or loose his temper, even though he had every right too; I was his student and I should have been performing the technique better than I was.

In truth I felt “hazukashii” (恥ずかしい embarrassed /ashamed) that I had done this technique so poorly in front of my teacher. I tried to not let it show on my face and simply bowed respectfully to him and went about practicing the corrections he had just shown me. After watching the video it made me think about not only how grateful I was to him for correcting my technique but also about how I felt at the time. That feeling of “hazukashii” may not make sense to some Kobudoka or Karateka in this day and age and I suspect that most would just shrug it off and go home after practice. Why wouldn’t they as they’ve paid their fees, shown-up for class, got their corrections, and now its time to go home. However these sorts of feelings are important to your Kobudo or Karate-do for a few reasons.

The first is that it is a trigger for self-reflection about your own practice whether it be Kobudo or Karate-do. At a superficial level it may motivate you to think about how you can improve your technique. Do you need more practice time? More one-on-one instruction? Supplementary exercises? Are you over/under-training? All valid questions that you need to answer and hopefully a little bit of “hazukashii” can bump you in the right direction about where to focus your practice time.

Another and deeper reason is that it provides an opportunity to examine the underlying reasons why you train. A cultural practice? A method of introspection? A means of self-protection? A combative sport? Or perhaps its something entirely different altogether. Only you can answer that question for yourself; but you had better know the reason why you train otherwise you are just deluding yourself and wasting your time and your teacher’s.

The final reason is that these feelings are a reflection of your relationship with your teacher. As odd as it may sound that feeling “hazukashii” says something about you and your teacher. The very fact that you feel “hazukashii” means that you value what your teacher thinks and that you want to do your best in front of him. Perhaps this feeling is more common in Japan where teachers are seen more as parental figures than in the west. Still, it is something to consider. I think the importance of the teacher student relationship was summed up very nicely by my friend Fred Lohse in his blog when he wrote:

On a practical level, training takes close personal interaction. If you don’t have long, strong relationships in the dojo, it is hard for me to see how you can possibly have learned much from your teacher.

In closing, the next time you mess up a kata or technique in front of your teacher don’t brush it off but instead take that opportunity to reflect on it and what it says about you and your teacher.

(1) As an aside I am always amazed how some foreign students insist that they are “a direct student” of a certain Okinawan or Japanese teacher when they haven’t studied at their teacher’s dojo for any appreciable amount of time or more importantly are completely unable to speak their teacher’s language.