I spent an hour this morning training two movements that were discussed at length during a seminar a couple of weekends ago with Taika Seiyu Oyata. I hope it is the first of many such hours. You would think that both ideas were brand new to me but, in fact, neither were revelations. One was series of hand motions similar to movements in kata and other drills. The other was a jo technique that I had been taught previously.

The revelation was how new each movement felt when I concentrated on it to the exclusion of all other techniques. It became clear that I had not practiced these “pieces of the puzzle” anywhere near enough for them to be second nature. Ironically, at the seminar I was corrected on one of the movements while my student was praised for doing it right – and he learned it from me.

It reminds me of the old adage, “Those who can’t do, teach.” I have always found this to be quite offensive to teachers who, in general, I hold in high regard. But teachers can know a lot about history without having “been there” or a lot about writing without having written a book. On the other hand, martial arts instructors are expected to be able to “do.” Our subject is not an academic one that can be studied and taught as an outsider. However, the more time you are in martial arts, the broader your intellectual understanding grows, whether you are practicing the techniques or not. You know how something is supposed to work such as leverage for an arm bar, or weight shifts for a kick. But don’t think for a minute that this means you can do them. You can only “do” if you have lots of experience “doing.” You can only “do” a movement correctly if you do it that way unconsciously.

So you might say that the second revelation from my morning workout (and the weekend seminar) is the awareness of a common disconnect between knowing something intellectually and doing that same thing physically. Most techniques begin with thought and explanation. But unless we take the time to isolate and train them to a point beyond thought, we cannot truly say that we can do them.

Writing this blog is an intellectual exercise that does not make me any better at my karate. Reading it alone will not help you with yours. But being aware of the difference between thinking and doing should help us both focus even more on “doing” the next time we train.

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