Friday, October 21, 2011

Pusaka - New Djuru

Pusaka is a Sanskrit word; it means, "heirloom," or "treasure." In silat, you sometimes see this term applied to mean that the art is thus immutable–the moves are treasures, and supposed to be passed down without any changes. 

In this view, if the founder of the art did it a certain way a hundred and fifty years ago, then you are supposed to do it exactly the same way today. Exactly.

This is pretty much impossible no matter how hard you might try. Each student, each teacher, will internalize a move and adjust it to suit his or her physiology and psychology. If you don't think so, watch a group class practicing the djurus. No two of them will look exactly alike.

Nor should they. Martial art forms are not synchronized swimming, nor ice dancing. Adjusting an art to suit your physical characteristics is necessary to keep it alive. A five-foot tall hundred woman won't move the same way as a six-and-a-half foot tall, two-hundred-and-fifty pound man will, and it would be unrealistic to expect that they would.  

One size does not fit all.

So there is going to be a certain amount of drift over time, even if your intent is to keep it the same.

Ever ask a senior student to show you a move, then later have the teacher correct it? Every martial artist I have ever talked to about this has had this experience. We aren't cutting cookies here, we are not clones. We don't all look alike, nor do we move alike. The essence can be the same, but the fine details will sometimes differ. 

Then there are going to be those changes that are deliberate. 

I've spoken to this before. In our Djuru One (as taught by Maha Guru Plinck), his teacher's teacher began it with a lowline move, because in the old country, attacks to the body were more common. (Hit somebody in the face or head, you risk a tooth ripping open your knuckles or maybe breaking your hand, neither of which are good things in a place where the nearest medical help might be a long way off. The human mouth is full of germs; the human skull is harder than a finger bone. It is harder to support your family if you are dying from blood poisoning or your hand is busted.)

Guru's teacher moved to America where, he realized, that American fighters were headhunters, so he adjusted the first move to cover that line instead.

Guru Plinck looked at the form and decided that both moves were valid, so he does them both–you cover highline, and then lowline. That's how our branch of the art does it.

He explained how he came to this choice, and who did it which way before, and that has always been part of the teaching as long as I have been involved, coming sixteen years next month. 

(As a watermark, you can tell which branch of Sera a student is from by watching the first move of the first djuru–we do it this way; they do it that way.)

So. All if this is to say that if you are a student of Maha Guru Plinck, you will, if you haven't already, be seeing some changes in the way we do djurus. 

Don't panic. We aren't throwing anything away. The basic motions will be mostly the same. Punches, elbows, wipes, all like that; however, there will be adjustments in the stances and angles and the focus. 

Guru has studied this for a long time, and he's come to the conclusion that there is a better, more effective way, and next time you see him to train, you'll likely be exposed to it.

This is in line with the immediately previous post, talking about a teacher's personal evolution. If you see a better path, why wouldn't you consider taking it?

This isn't the first adjustment. Several years back, Guru incorporated more of a pukulan aspect to the djurus, smoothing out the wipes and highlighting the hip-driven whip-action to add power to the moves. The new focus will augment that even more, incorporating what he sees as beneficial tweaks. The old way isn't wrong, it's that the new way adds something to it. 

If, as I have, you've been doing the djurus for a long time, this refocus is going to require some getting used to. Motions with a deep groove need a conscious, mindful intent to alter. If you have done it one way for ten thousand times, then doing it a different way won't come easy. 

I can already feel the differences in the delivery, but it will take a while to be comfortable doing the new version. 

Just a heads-up for those of you who are in our branch. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Teaching Window

Great teachers don't stay the same. And they have a teaching window that starts wide open but gradually closes. They may still have students when they are eighty, but the gap in that window will be open only a hair–if that. It's not that they become too old to teach; it's that their students are too young to learn.

If you study with an instructor when he is thirty, you won't get the same experience as when he is forty; at forty, not what you get when he is sixty. Because, assuming he keeps on learning and improving, the teacher won't be the same. The menu will be similar, but the food will be cooked and spiced differently.

Here's what I mean:

Once students becomes adept enough to begin teaching on their own, there is an arc that will apply to most of them. It goes something like this: A young teacher has a certain amount of technique and enthusiasm. They tend to be physically fit, as strong and fast as they are going to be, and a lot of what they will show students will rely on being physically fit and athletic. Look at Bruce Lee, who died in his early thirties. Guy trained four hours a day, was always in shape, and was formulating his system. What he taught mostly works only if you are fit and strong and fast. That's because he didn't live long enough to need old man moves.

Just for numbers sake and purely arbitrarily, let's say this age is from 20-35 years.

After a time, and how many years this is will vary, a teacher becomes smoother and more adept at what he or she knows. S/he internalizes the art, adjusts it to personal preference, and masters aspects of it so they become automatic. There may be other influences coming in, other arts, or more instruction in the primary one, and these are blended into what he or she knows–and for the sake of brevity, I'll just use "he" from now on–and the new stuff is passed along to students who are capable of understanding.

Let's say this is from age 35-55.

If a teacher continues questing for better ways, he will start to see patterns and ways of moving more efficiently. He may see other arts, or pieces of his own art he didn't focus on before, and figure out ways to assimilate and blend those in. Technique tends to fade into personal zen. While his physicality can be mostly maintained, there will be a drop in pure strength and speed, the nature of growing older. To counter this, a competent teacher will begin to compensate. His circles will get smaller, i.e., he will shift to more efficient ways of doing the same thing, those that need more skill, but less power. 

From, say, 55-70.

After this, the teacher's skill, if it has been improving, will be of a level that his efficiency of movement is much finer, but his physicality is necessarily less. Much of what he does will be difficult, if not impossible, to show to beginners, because they won't have the ability to understand and utilize the material. Think of it like teaching a first grader to read, but the only material you have to do it is the Essays of John Locke–the material will simply be beyond their ability to comprehend.

This is why the window has narrowed. The pool of potential students has vanished–those students with the capability to see and understand the moves at this level will already be on the path and working through their own transitions to get there. Not to say they might not pick up a thing or two, but they will get it on their own if they keep going. 

At this point, new students can't understand what the teacher knows. Adept students who can understand don't need him to teach them. 

At different times in your life, you will need different teachers. Finding the right one at the right time is the trick ...