Monday, February 17, 2014

School Culture

The sparring school part 2

Libby (red belt) sparring with Kimberly (brown belt)
There are many different aspects about a martial art school's culture; is it inclusive, is it secretive, is it focused around building the community, student or character development etc. etc. and all outside of the scope of this series.  This series has a more narrow focus in relating the culture of the school as it relates to training.  This is a continuation of school culture as it relates to the sparring focused school so please read that post first for context.

As I watched Libby perform her kata, her form was very good, however later in the instructor’s conference, I pointed out some concerns to Mrs Hawkins which she replied was their (the instructors) fault.  Specifically some of Libby's blocks weren’t in the right places, twisting of her hips for power generation was non existent, at times her hands weren’t clenched tight when punching, there was no turning of the head prior to turning (to see where she was going), her stances were off slightly etc. etc.   

At one point during the exam, I asked Libby after watching her run through Chug-Mu where a particular technique was, she replied “to the neck” but she was striking about rib level.  I then had her run back through the kata again with more power and told her to focus her techniques and to her credit she did, although her focus for other techniques were still off. 

When asked later by sensei Hawkins what was the reason that she practiced kata, Libby recited verbatim why you practice kata for belt tests listing out four reasons without hesitation.  But when sensei Hawkins told her “that’s good for why you do it for tests, but what is the purpose of kata or why should you practice it?” Libby didn’t have an answer.
In short I believe there was no real thought behind the techniques of the kata other than needing to memorize the movements for her next rank promotion.  Compared to the amount of time devoted to the sparring part of the exam and her skill in sparring, it seemed clear where the focus of the instruction lie.

This isn’t alone to sensei Hawkins’s school by any means.  I’ve talked with many other school owners and instructors and it is common to hear something like the following “We only practiced kata for tests, we mainly spar.”  “My instructor didn’t like katas, so he took out some”.  I’ve seen this not only here in Texas, but also in Oklahoma where I lived and trained for a time.  While in Oklahoma I met a whole group of instructors  who didn’t know any kata or forms above Wha Rang which is our 2nd brown kata.  A general view on internet forums is that it is more important to spar than to learn kata so I believe that many many schools focus more on sparring and sparring related themes such as prearranged punching and kicking combinations etc. etc. for advancement than kata,  and proper basics (blocks, hand techniques and kicks).

So is this bad?  It depends upon how you look at it .  On the face of it focusing on sparring and fighting can produce really good people who spar, if that is the focus of the school.  Likewise having only a few kata to learn means that the student can really perfect those kata and have really great looking forms.  Having only a few self defense techniques to practice also allows more time to spend on punching and kicking combinations, more time for sparring etc. etc.  So schools with a sparring culture I believe will produce some students who are good at sparring and who can look good at kata as well.  I though see some down sides to the sparring culture school.

Let me be clear here I’m not saying that the sparring culture school is bad, or that Mrs. Hawkin’s school is bad, or Libby didn’t or earn her rank; far from it.  The sparring school culture generally produces a type of student and it is what it is, nothing more and nothing less.  In future posts as I write about  the other types of schools my reservations about the sparring culture type schools, as well as the other cultures, will be brought out in greater detail than trying to discuss them here in this post.   

Next week I’ll discuss my experience coming up in a sparring culture at my sensei’s private dojo.

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