Mean Sensei Part 2: Bushi No Kokoro

I recently wrote about an experience helping with promotion testing at my sensei's dojo, where I had to work with a student who wasn't fully prepared. I had to find the path between challenging her and discouraging her when she could not remember her kata.

To continue the story: the next week, Jane's [not her real name] test continued. She still owed me the kata she'd been unable to show me, but first there was kumite -- sparring. After a couple a matches with other young, kyu-level students, our sensei sent Jane to line up against me.

Mean Sensei, Nice Sensei

To teach any subject, I think, sometimes requires one to take a tough edge. However much you may encourage a student, you must also be an honest critic. The balance required is different for different topics; an art teacher can be more of a softie than someone teaching medical school, both because art is a more subjective field and because the results of an artist making a mistake are generally less harsh than those of a medical error.

While there are subjective aspects to martial arts training, I think that at least at the kyu levels grading students centers around fairly objective questions. Does the student know the kata and techniques that they are supposed to? Can they demonstrate the appropriate physical strength and stamina? And does it look like it would actually hurt if they were to hit me?

force, violence, and peace

From the archives, an old mailing list post.

matt henderson <> writes:

>Raj....the first time Rog. gets pounded across the face, or sees someone he
>loves being physically attacked, by whatever name he calls it, we shall see
>a man become violent or either we shall see a man who wrings his hands and
>pisses his pants.


From the archives, an old mailing list post.

From: Tom Swiss <>
Subject: Re: kumite
Date: Thu, 06 Sep 2001 11:50:51 -0400

Our good friend Matt Henderson <> had a long and
thought provoking post on kumite and other stuff a few days back, and I've
finally got some time to sit down and say a few things about it.

Reflections on the "Peaceful Warrior"

From the archives, an old post to the "CyberDojo" mailing list.

From: Tom Swiss <>
To: "" <>
Subject: Reflections on the "Peaceful Warrior"
Date: Fri, 11 Apr 1997 18:07:45 -0400

This lags behind discussion on the list. It's also a bit long,
rambling, and personal. You have been warned...

"Know Yourself, Know Others"

From the archives, an old mailing list post.

Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 13:26:19 -0400
From: Tom Swiss <>
Subject: "Know Yourself, Know Others"

Hi folks. Thought I'd share this with you. In two weeks (yikes! Only
two weeks left! Ahhhhhhhhhh! Panic!!!) I'll be testing for sandan. A brief
essay is art of the requirements. Here's mine. Enjoy.

Know Yourself, Know Others
Tom Swiss

thoughts on rank

Since this weekend my sensei made it more-or-less official that she wants me to start training to take my godan test at the next opportunity, it seems appropriate to begin this new blog with some thoughts about rank in the study of karate.

As with much of the framework of contemporary martial arts, the dan and kyu ranks as we know them today in Japanese arts were invented by Kanō Jigorō, the founder of judo, in the late nineteenth and earth twentieth centuries. (The system is possibly based on a ranking system from the game of go.) Going back before that, in the older Japanese arts there was a menkyo, or "license", system, and also the shogo system of titles for teachers (renshi, kyoshi, and hanshi). Some aspects of the menkyo and shogo systems survive to the present day, but in Japanese karate they are secondary to the kyu/dan system.