Monday, May 16, 2011

Creating Your Own Style (Or Not)

While searching for a suitable taiji class in Japan, I came upon a class where the teacher created his own taiji set, esssentially, his own taiji style. It set me thinking, what is good about creating your own style, and what is good about sticking to what your teacher has taught you.

If Yang Lu-chan did not create his own style, we would not have Yang style taiji today. Similarly for Sun Lu-tang and the other founders of the major taiji styles. Yet, there must be reasons why these major styles have survived for generations, and therefore there must be value in continuing to practise these styles as they were handed down from generation to generation.

I think a style needs to be significantly different in order to set it apart and for there to be benefit in learning it. For example, the Yang style focuses on the soft aspect of taiji, while the Sun style uses a different type of footwork. A style should not be just a gathering of different movements.

Your Own Place

I once read a book about Sagawa Yukiyoshi (佐川 幸義), a master in daito-ryu aikijujutsu. In the book, there was a portion when he talked about the difference between him and his teacher, Takeda Sokaku (武田 惣角). Master Takeda did not have a fixed dojo, insteading wandering from place to place to teach. Sometimes he would stay in a certain place longer if he can find a suitable place to teach, otherwise he would stay for a short while to give seminar-like lessons. Master Sagawa, however, set up his own dojo, a fixed place for him to teach. Unlike his teacher, Master Sagawa believed that it was important to have his own dojo. And I think I understand why.

A person who teaches martial arts full-time spends a portion of his time teaching. Yet he also has time in which he is not teaching. However, without his own dojo, he cannot utilise that "free time" for his own practice and research. If you have your own dojo, you can use the time between lessons to practice, to research, to ponder, without having to worry about finding a suitable place. In a way, it allows you to maximise the time in honing your skills. Imagine, if you wake up in the middle of the night with an inspiration, if you have your own dojo, you can just walk in and pursue that inkling. Maybe that is why Master Sagawa chose to have his own dojo.