To Talk or Not to Talk – A lesson in Traditional Martial Arts

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To Talk or Not to Talk…


A lesson in Dojo Etiquette

Dojo Etiquette

It’s so tempting to stop and talk, isn’t it?  When you are working on a technique and your partner is making what you consider to be a mistake, or perhaps you are having the difficulty and can’t seem to replicate what you think you saw Kaiso do. What should you do?

Our usual solution is to stop and have a discussion with our partner to try and think and talk our way through the problem. This is not an optimal solution, and we need to take a different approach. Perhaps you have heard the expression “get out of your head!” Talking instead of doing is one manifestation of being caught in our thoughts about technique rather than focusing on doing and feeling.

In a traditional dojo (of which ours is one), we learn by doing, not by thinking or talking about doing. Of course communication is important! It only becomes a problem when it crowds out actual physical practice or worse yet, is made a substitute for it. We need instead to carefully observe the mechanics of the technique, and then try to move our bodies to get as close to what we think we saw as possible. I say “think we saw” because what we see will change as we advance in the martial arts.  At first we might just notice gross movements – where the right hand goes, or where to step. After a while, we can watch Kaiso do the same technique and notice things that are much more subtle – where is his intention? How is he incorporating spiral motion?

The point here is that we should use our practice time together to do as many repetitions of techniques as possible, moving our bodies more and our mouths less. With consistent effort, our techniques will come to look more and more like Kaiso’s, which is after all the main objective in the beginning and intermediate stages of training.

See you on the mat!

Dojo EtiquetteAbout the Author – Renshi Jim Lehrer:  Jim Lehrer, Renshi is a martial artist, business executive, Zen practitioner, and general Japanophile. He has studied numerous martial arts over the years, but found his true love in Bushin Ryu Aiki Bujutsu and holds the rank of 2nd Degree Black Belt as well as a Renshi Level Teaching License. When not in the dojo he can be found (actually, would prefer not to be found) in silent retreat or at home with his wife and their three dogs. You can find more of his writings at


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