What does the sheep stand for?


May 25, 2014
Yossi Sheriff

So, this is a Kurd riddle: A farmer has to cross the river with his only sheep, a sack of cabbage for the winter and a big wolf. What he sees when he comes to the river is one tiny boat with place for two. It’s either him and the wolf, and then the sheep eats the cabbage, or if he takes the cabbage, the wolf eats the sheep.
You get the picture…

So it’s a simple kid’s riddle and the guy can solve it with some extra rowing, some extra work.

When my teacher told me this, I just figured it’s a lame riddle.
“Nope,” he said, “the point is not how to juggle the passage, the point is that the wolf comes with you”, he said: “you have to take the wolf”.

So I am watching my wolf, sometimes it scares me, there used to be a time it got me into trouble, many times it protected me, but for sure, my students, and many of my friends here in Israel have a wolf.

So the riddle is not one of transportation, instead it points to the necessity of being the master of the things you carry with you, voluntarily or not.

wolfImage CC BY-SA 2.0 by Dennis Matheson

Dancing into martial art – Egypt and Rajastan


July 4, 2012
Yossi Sheriff

Information can be embedded into many things. If it’s an obvious, modern, WYSIWYG stuff, then even our slowly evolving wiki might not be enough. As one of the students complained: “isn’t there a way to make the Ninjutsu clearer?”.
I thought: “Clearer then this start of a Ninjutsu portal? clearer? I have to think about it, I thought it is too clear”

But sometimes people are not afraid of ambiguity, do not rush through fog or gifts that come wrapped. Sometimes we rejoice in a little mystery. Instead of trying to reveal it all one can embrace the intangible. It is happier this way, more exciting.

When I was young, years ago, we played a bad game. My kindergaten teacher gave a kid a wrapped box. Then one kid would open the outer wraps, pass it on to another kid and at the end the so called “winner” would be left with some stupid eraser. Why open it? The box can sit, unopened, till the very end of time.

It makes me smile, hiding is such an un-cultural thing to do, the exact oposite of my wiki effort. Reveal nothing, and love it.

Insights about martial arts can be this wrapped secret, this is why I love Ninjutsu Kata.

To us, modern guys, it should all be revealed as quickly as possible. This lack of patience is the mark of very disturbed kids. Everything should be understood immediately. The girl should be undressed A.S.A.P.

Hah, this is porn. Porn everywhere. Watching the unwrapped humans reveal it all, either in an adult site or inside the UFC octagon. And at the end we get nothing, less then the kindergarden eraser.

Why open it?

Maybe just a little bit, a hint. When I look at the video my Yoga teacher, Nir Adin, posted I see the Yoko Aruki step, I see work against several opponents, but even more – I see harmony. As we, martial arts practitioners sometimes guess, not all humans come to attack us, the majority just want to interact.

These insights, these experiences, are embedded inside many folk dances, from Egyptian Tahtib to the dance done during the Holi festival in Rajastan. Here is the mesmerizing thing.

Video of multiple friend – opponent dance, Rajastan

Sunday in Jerusalem dojo – Multiple opponents


June 2, 2012
Yossi Sheriff

After repeating the Kukishin Ryu drills that we learned last week we are revisiting the multiple opponents street arena.

The emphasis placed by Ninjutsu on distancing and movement (Tai Sabaki) is mirrored in several other martial arts and especially the highly regarded in AKBAN – Jogo do Pau.

We will use Moto gata of Hira ichimnonji to learn the basic footwork against several attackers.

Video of Multiple opponent stick fight in Jogo do Pau – Master Russo


Jerusalem Ninjutsu – AKBAN

The unnecessary


January 26, 2012
Yossi Sheriff

Yossi Sheriff
Translated by Oded Levi – AKBAN Canada

A student asked me: “Can I do the warm-up with a T-shirt and only then put a Gi on? It’s too hot inside this heavy uniform”. “That’s only logical” I thought, “only logical”.

We wear a Hakama, a little black skirt, and also a heavy Gi, we put our big backpacks and walk the desert for the desert gathering, we do not use GPS. It’s just a taste of the many unexplainable things we do. There is more to these then tradition or toughness.

I acknowledge the fact, many of these habits are unnecessary and can be made easier, but there is a place for it, it has to do with the concept of respect. Work, respect, must always border the unnecessary.

When I recounted the dialog above in the Dojo, one veteran told me: “In the Suez canal, in the Yom Kippur war, we knew it’s the end – either we’ll die or we’ll get captured by the Egyptian army. We felt like it’s the end of the world. We didn’t know if we’ll live to see tomorrow”.

I looked at him; I didn’t know what to say in front of the veterans. I’m kind of an ancient guy, but in the Yom Kippur war I was a kid in elementary school.

“And then what did you do?” I finally inquired.

“We cleaned our weapons, we checked the platoon’s machine guns, and then we tidied our uniforms and meticulously shined our shoes”. I took a good look at him – he never misses a class and in the Yom Kippur war he polished his shoes.

In our culture the question asked is: “What’s in it for me?” that’s a different way of saying: “why should I do it?”.

In any old school, the question is completely different. Rather then ask about the the functions of the anatomy we sing to the heart. When one answers a question about roses with a mathematical equation one is stuck, there is no perfume in the answer.

If a practice, a Budo, is completely logical and necessary it’s good but not powerful. To be powerful is another realm, to be powerful it has to earn the statue of a rose. It must not be fully explainable. Treating our elders well, not stealing even when no one’s looking, putting on a Hakama and a Gi especially on a hot day and, please do not forget – practicing a traditional Martial art in the modern battle field of the middle east.

Budo, with it’s health benefits, with the level of security it allows its practitioners, gets its power from somewhere else. Practicing for many years is the essence of the unnecessary, and so is the seed of personal freedom, the freedom to work hard. Zorba the greek summed it up: “This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition.”

AKBAN rose

Respect


January 12, 2012
Yossi Sheriff

Yossi Sheriff
Translated by Oded Levi – AKBAN Canada

“Why didn’t you put the nutrition program on the website along with the fitness program?” a student once asked me.

In 1985 I lived in retirement home for the elderly, for a few weeks. I slept in my dear grandmother’s room to look after her. Back then I don’t think there were foreign nurses for that. So I had to do it. The old people had three meals a day and I had to mentally brace myself for these meals. Every meal was a tough event, a herd of old people storming – I am not sure it’s a strong enough word to describe it – the food.
The tenants were focused on the goal – to eat well, lots of it, and fast. There was this one old woman who helped those who needed help sitting down, washed hands and served food for others in her table. “That’s the Rebbetzin, the woman-Rabbi”, they told me when I asked.

I know a guy, Danny, who only drinks water and a specific kind of water- spring water he drew himself and stored in glass bottles. It’s the same thing I’ve seen with the Rebbetzin at that retirement home in Katamon, Jerusalem. something that in our culture is usually directed toward another person – happens with them towards something else, to an action. I will give a name for this treatment, I call it: “Respect”. Respect like this is the un-necessary, the un-reasonable, the un-expected respect and thus – a rare commodity.

Usually respect is directed to another human being as an expression of hierarchy and that person’s social status. But there is another form of respect. In the old school regime, respect is expressed also to a technique, an object, to a way of life. Through the observation and the action one can practice respect to movement, to someone, to something.

Respect, “re-spicere“ in Latin, means “to look, to observe again”.
What are we looking at again and with what intent? What is this useless action we voluntarily take? How do we look and from what reasons? It’s very important, it’s the fundamental root of our art.

The actions can many, but not the intention. One can take the sword and perform the bowing ceremony. But early in the morning, if I myself draw it, I just hold the sword in the scabbard with both hands, I balance it and look at it, I don’t bow to the sword, I just look at it, I carried it in my backpack for many desert gatherings and I don’t bow to it now, but I remember the intention of bowing. After many years it’s not just a sword for me, the repetitive, useless observation made it into something else. And it’s not just the sword, it’s the kick in the morning, the tsuki in front of the opponent.

What are these? To what dimension does everyday act transcend if it’s respected?

“You need to work for respect” they say in Hebrew. It doesn’t just show up, it’s an effort. And this effort outlines the road between respect and weakness. To ogle pretty ladies might be re-spicere, but it is no respect. It’s not an effort.

The Rebbetzin just wants to devour the food too, but she has years of work expressed in every single action, in an elderly home of all places.
Respect does not have to be based in morals or ethics, it is based on power, the only power we can independently develop. Gideon in the bible knew enough to use it to separate the people from the warriors. Giving your seat to an old man is useless, un-necessary work and thus Powerful.

To respect the food we eat, to respect the technique or the stranger is not an easy work and not an easy choice. We don’t look for easy choices, in Akban there are no shortcuts, it’s not a catch phrase, it’s the ability to work.

Yesterday some young guy came to practice, he broke his hands three weeks ago and they took his cast off. So he came with the bandages and just did kicks and sit-ups. That’s what he did to himself and to his own core, thorough this he can breath a master’s air, through this he’s more than just a guy.

And for us, martial arts practitioners, there is an added barrier; we are supposed to manufacture respect in the midst of strife.

A year ago ten people attacked an Akban veteran from Jerusalem. They came with sticks, brass knuckles and knives. He lived to tell the tale: Just when they showed up he took the Kukishin standard battle stance- Doko Ichimonji.
In his greatest stress somthing in him remembered his genetic code. This is how he started, this is how we start being marvelous – from something we do anyway- there is no shame in our everyday practice, with us it’s Ninjutsu, for someone else it’s Karate, Tai chi, Vegetarianism, Judaism or Islam. They are all good. Respect and shame do not live together, shame and inner weakness do. The useless action, the additional look, the attentiveness – they go against the bon-ton, respect is not fashionable, it is my grandmother.

The same respect monitors the heart beats of the martial artist, the carpenter and the poet. And for this ancient monitor we set the clock a few hundred years back, with the right awareness, with useless repetition. In the Dojo it’s the Kata, in the music class it’s the ancient instrument, an old music score. In another place it’s a quill and a parchment. And when the practice walks the same path for hundreds of years, it’s a potent journey.

Our path is a deep desert gorge. There the rocks lie and wait for the careful step to move them. You put your feet in the the old Ninjutsu kamae and it happens – There are ancient footsteps on this road, quiet ones.

No need to look for it in monasteries, quite the opposite – here’s the nose and it’s right under it.

And if it’s a meal than it’s the respect for the food, it’s not a given – something died for it, someone worked hard for it, it’s the food and it can get better. If someone shares this attitude then it becomes better, hench our community.

So this is what I know, this is how the nutrition program starts, this is how the martial art I learned from my teacher goes. It’s no wonder I didn’t dare yet to publish it like the fitness program – a nutrition program that is based on respect for food can only be understood by someone who was hungry and chooses to be hungry again.

This is the obvious and also the hidden side of ‘practicing respect’ in my Dojo. Only a person who was hungry will practice correct eating without acting as if he’s practicing correct eating. Only a person, who witnessed the un-separateness of violence from life, can practice non-violence.

Respecting food starts with sometimes being hungry, when have you been hungry lately? Respect for our Budo is not punching The Buddha.

Godan – My Test for 5th dan


December 29, 2011
Yossi Sheriff

By Yossi Sheriff

Translated by Oded Levi

In the early 90s arrived to Israel for the second time Masaaki Hatsumi, the teacher of my teacher, Doron Navon. Hatsumi arrived with the Japanese shihans.

It was a great Ninjutsu seminar; it’s just that I missed it all. I got sick a day before the seminar. My fever was so high that most of the time I was almost hallucinating, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch TV, I just lied in bed for a few days and looked out the window.

At the last day of the seminar all the veterans met and Moshe Kastiel called me on the phone: “Sheriff, we are having dinner for the sensei before he flies back to Japan, maybe you can come over?”.

“Forget it Kastiel,” I told him, “I’m sick to my bones, it won’t work for me to sit through dinner and chat in Japanese”.

“Sheriff, stop with your nonsense. Tonight at seven we’ll be in the ‘Turquoise’ restaurant in Jaffa. Don’t miss the sensei. You’ll be there.”

Moshe was right- I was there. My spouse helped me get my clothes on, put on a jacket and a tie and drove me to Jaffa. I sat in the restaurant next to her, feverish. Everybody ate fish and sish kabab. I was sipping slowly mint tea and wiping the sweat off my face.

Throughout the dinner the sensei made jokes and had some drinks. All of a sudden he looked at me and said: “Godan!”
I didn’t get it.
The Japanese and all the Israeli instructors were there so I thought he’s pointing at someone next to me. Doron Navon said to me: “You’ll have Godan now”.

“Godan” in Japanese means “5th Dan”, a test that’s also called “Sakki” – testing the killer intention. Sensei is standing behind the person who’s taking the test, raising a sword made of bamboo called “Shinai”, closing his eyes and striking down with it. The person taking the test is supposed to dodge it.
I told Doron I can’t do it, sick, next time. Doron heard me but said: “Your Godan is tonight”.

Everybody paid, put on their jackets and coats and started walking to the ruined houses, between the restaurant and the Arab neighborhood.
There was a piece of land there, next to some broken-down walls, and the rising moon lit it beautifully.

I gave my spouse my jacket, took the tie off and set in Seiza.

There was a small problem though- the sensei’s Shinai was already packed in the van that will drive them all to the airport, so Uri T- a sharp student of Doron’s, ran to a pine tree near one of the houses, clung to a big branch and broke it from the trunk. Then he cleaned it off all the small branches and gave it to Hatsumi sensei.

There was another problem- the neighborhood was near-by and we were a big group of Japanese and Israelis- a strange sight. I kept sitting and the Shihans, my spouse and the Israeli instructors formed a circle around me so no one could see through. Hatsumi sensei burst out laughing seeing the huge branch Uri handed him. He gave the branch to Doron and walked behind me while him and Doron were laughing. I already closed my eyes sitting down and thought that I should have opened the top button in my collar. Still sitting.

For years I’ve trained for this test. Even though Doron said there is no way to prepare for it. I’ve always tried to sharpen the senses in order to hear or feel the strike and the intent behind it.And that’s what I did that night, in old Jaffa. I sat with my senses sharp- prepared for everything. At some point I felt something and jumped to the side on the ground- when I turned around I saw that nothing happened yet- Doron and Hatsumi stood far from me, looking at me silently.

I jumped because I thought I felt them. Then it got very quiet. I sat in Seiza and the sensei said behind me: “Leave everything”.

I don’t know what happened to me – suddenly, after many years, after many fists fights and one war, I stopped being prepared – I suddenly found myself to the side on the ground and everybody clapping.

While I’m writing this I’m thinking about what Dan, one of Akban’s veterans, said to me. A good summery for every method and practice.

He said: “If you’ll prepare for everything, you’ll be ready for nothing- so prepare for nothing”.

The next morning I woke up healthy.

Fukushima 50 against the 47 Ronin


March 17, 2011
Yossi Sheriff

Yossi Sheriff

In the year of 1703, forty six Samurai cut their own stomachs open. I believe they did it happily. They left another Ronin to tell the story. That’s what happened, a guy named Kira Yoshinka caused a Daimyo to cut his stomach, commit sepuku. The Daimyo, Naganori, left 47 samurai that swore to avenge his death. After two years of working in various jobs the ronin gathered in a snowy night, penetrated the stronghold, killed Naganori’s retainers and slit Yoshinka’s neck after he refused to commit suicide.

The modern visitors who, till this day, visit the graves think of the immense loyalty, but hidden inside this myth is another, twisted, value: the ancient solution to injustices in this life – death. Ruth Stein, in her invaluable book, explains the logic of the shahid, she sums it up with the header of the first chapter: “Evil as Love and as Liberation: The Mind of a Suicidal Religious Terrorist”.

It’s Thursday today, the 17th in March 2011, 308 years ago, at the 20th, very near to Sakura, forty six smiling heads rolled on the ground. Reluctantly I join the myriad of people who got inspired by this horror. This is a horror myth that is cross cultural, from the Philistines’ Dagon temple to Karbala – death of other as the solution to unsolvable problems.

Death as the riddle solver: a peasant from Frigia ties a knot that can not be opened. Alexander of Macedon, the person who later kills hundreds of thousands, starts by killing the knot, he cuts it with his sword, and for this symbolic solution some people highly commend him.

Alexander dies at the age of thirty three from an illness or poison. In his private battle he does not dance with the sword, he dances with microscopic bacteria. It seems that he would be happy to exchange manner of death with the forty-six Ronin.

Presumably it seems like a similar thing, in essence it is deeply different. The difference between the shahid and the technician is in the right the first one claims over another person’s life. The shahid and the ronin feels just when he kills, that is the hole in the logic of the killer. To hide the illogic this hole must be shut completely with anger. Anger and hatred are strong, much stronger then many other things, but not from all things. Anger and hatred are losing this week.

Today Japan is in the wake of a terrible disaster and on the brink of a possible nuclear tragedy. At the Fukushima facility the cooling water evaporate and the fuel in the reactors slowly heats in a process that might lead many people to death they did not choose. In Fukushima there are some technicians still trying to solve this impending catastrophe. They say that there are fifty, Fukushima’s 50. I am looking at the fifty and looking at the 46. It will not be the same kind of death because the process is different.

Hatred, loyalty and bravery are watching, astonished, right now on the Fukushima compound they are loosing. Something for which we have no words for is taking place right now. Loyalty, bravery and love are getting a deadly dosage of radiation. My heart is with Fukushima 50.

“Winner Effect” and “Loser Effect” in Martial Arts


December 16, 2007
Ido Kron

Researchers in the field of animal behavior noticed an interesting phenomenon when regarding territorial fighting fish: these fish, the males to be precise, fight each other following a breach of territory. Researchers saw that a fish that has won several times in a row has a better chance of getting into an additional fight, as well as having a better chance of winning this fight. Conversely, and with even greater statistical significance, a fish that has lost several fights has a smaller chance of going into another fight and a greater chance of losing it or retreating in the middle (see reference no. 1). These phenomena have received the terminology “winner effect” and “loser effect” respectively.

 

The biological reasoning behind this phenomenon is clear: a fighting fish risks injury and wastes energy in each fight, as well as elevating his risk of being preyed upon. Consecutive losses place the fish in a certain hierarchy. Previous losses affect his behaviour and he avoids confrontation when possible. Furthermore, if presented into a fighting situation, he would prefer to finish it quickly. Quite often this fish will lose the fight. This is the loser effect.

 

Winner and loser effects have also been studied and presented in mathematical models in the evolutionary concepts of the game theory (2).

In a research conducted on territorial mice (3) it was found that mice had a significantly higher probability of winning their fourth fight, when followed by three previous wins. Also, the time lapse of the fourth confrontation was shorter, and the probability of “freezing” instead of fighting decreased significantly. Another interesting finding was that there was a strong correlation between the number of wins and the level of Testosterone in these mice. Testosterone, the main male hormone, is linked to male sexual development as well as to aggressive and competitive behaviour and social dominance.

 

The correlation between rising Testosterone levels and the winner effect are further pronounced when neutered mice are used (4). In these mice, consecutive wins were not sufficient in sustaining the winner effect for long periods of time. Additionally the winner effect causes the mice to improve their chances of winning in the future without regard for their initial combative capabilities. This study shows that as with fish, the winner effect is present in territorial mammals, and it is Testosterone hormone-dependent.

 

There is scientific evidence that in man there is also an increase in Testosterone levels preceding an imminent fight as well as following a fight. Testosterone increases coordination, cognitive abilities and the levels of concentration during the confrontation. It was found that among competitors that won, Testosterone levels were high and dependent on the elevated spirit of the winner. This effect was found among Judo practitioners as well as among chess players. On the other hand, Testosterone levels within the losing groups decreased (5). Researchers speculated that the reason for elevated Testosterone levels among the winners has to do with the fact that they stand before more competitions in the near future, as opposed to the losers who would rather abstain further fighting and risk injury.

 

The loser effect has also been studied on other animals (6) and is applied to other fields such as economics (7) and politics (8).

I would like to deduce from this phenomenon on martial arts in general and the martial school I study in AKBAN.

 

It is difficult to defeat a veteran. It is hard for me to beat someone who wins fights with me every time over. Even if inside I know I have improved, narrowed down gaps in technique, worked on my weak points €¦ evolved. Still, some hurdles are difficult to pass.

When I begin Randuri (practice fighting) with someone who has beaten me in the past, the mind and body do not work properly. Perhaps it is the mind that prevents the body from working as it should. I think too much, react too late and surrender positions. What chance do I have of winning to begin with?

 

On the other hand, there are those that cannot beat me. I feel that they give up on submission too easily, do not attempt to go into attacks, do not follow through with the techniques and look rather despaired against me. I, on the other hand, feel rather confident working with them. I allow myself to be a little more adventurous in Randuri, try out new techniques without concern and put myself willingly into bad positions. Often, when these same people work with other practitioners, it is noticeable that they give more of themselves, go all the way. This is an interesting phenomenon.

 

People are complex creatures, at least on the emotional-conceptual level, more than any other creature. The intricate social concept enables people to learn from the experience of others and apply this experience to them. “Who is wise? He who learns from all men”.

In a group dynamic, it is very simple to identify the dominant person, the authoritative person, the leader, and follow them. On the other hand, it is also easy to spot the weak person, the lowest in the chain of command. This can be noticed in groups of children playing.

 

These same characteristics enable us to see who is stronger or weaker, winner or loser. Even without personal experience, from observing alone, it is possible to assess within a group of trainees who is the strongest. If I fear him before the confrontation, the loser effect begins to have impact on me, even if we haven’t yet taken a bow or shaken hands. The winner effect has disadvantages as well: excess self-esteem, disrespect to the opponent and at times a feeling of having “reached the peak” and stopping the running (9). The loser effect has an advantage: a lower probability of being hurt.

 

The winner and loser effects are just a part of the whole picture, of course. There are many factors that affect us prior to and during Randori: technical level, physical fitness, fatigue, daily troubles, moods etc. However, psychological and hormonal effects have a direct or indirect influence on us as well. If De La Riva comes to Israel to train with us, and I do Randori with him, I wouldn’t do a violent Randori. Not just because he is tens of times better than I am and I fear his response, but also out of a feeling of respect and the fear of injuring or being injured. These reasons are also included in the loser effect. This can also be seen in Randori with the coach when he says “work, don’t be shy”. This hurdle is also difficult to pass.

 

 

1. Yuying Hsu and Larry L. Wolf (2001). The winner and loser effect: what fighting behaviors are influenced? Animal Behavior (61), 777-786.

2. Michael Mesterton-Gibbons (1999). On the evolution of pure winner and loser effects: a game-theoretic model. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology 61, 1151-1186.

3. Temitayo O. Oyegbile and Catherine A. Marler (2005). Winning fights elevates testosterone levels in mice and enhances future ability to win fights. Hormones and Behavior (48) pp 259 267

4. Trainor B.C., Marler, (2001). Testosterone, paternal behavior, and aggression in the monogamous mouse (Peromyscus californicus) Horm. Behav. 40, 32-42.

5. Allan Mazur and Alan Booth (1998). Testosterone and dominance in men. Behavioral and Brain Sciences (21) pp 353-363

6. Hugh Drummond and Cristina Canales (1998). Dominance between booby nestlings involves winner and loser effects.

7. Anthony J. Richards (1997). Winner-Loser reversals in national stock market indices: Can they be explained? The Journal of Finance Vol. 52, No. 5, pp. 2129-2144.

8. http://www.nrg.co.il/online/archive/ART/389/579.html

9. http://www.akban.org/blog_en/?p=124

Holy disagreement in culture and martial arts


December 2, 2007
Yossi Sheriff

By Yossi Sheriff

Many veteran practitioners already know our multi personal work method: maintaining the last item on The AKBAN Code is too much for a single person cooperation is needed. Cooperation among people is not some simple dance. It entails some heavy arguing and disagreement. I wanted to explain why this aspect should be documented, why arguing is necessary.

Martial art and AKBAN-Wiki
One of the reasons for creating the AKBAN-Wiki is the fact that we are not sure of the precision of our technique, we are not sure of our fighting conclusions and perspectives. It might be more correct to say that we are sure of some of the conclusions and techniques but tend to sanctify their discussion, and such discussion might refute some of them.

Can martial art profit from discussion, from scientific disagreements? I believe that any field of knowledge not only needs but must have criticism. Therefore we use critical point of view to preserve the old concepts, examine them, find more adequate ways to practice and argue, we argue a lot. Sometimes politely.

Just two days ago I tried to show how to perform an ancient kata. The Tel Avivian veteran practitioner with whom I worked did not have to argue loudly with my point of view. He simply disturbed me. With time, we might find ways to do it together. This is serious work that requires years of patience: patience for the difficulties of fighting, and patience towards people.

The reasonable amicable relations in AKBAN and the many capabilities of the veterans have helped us build a structure of distribution, gathering and examining of fighting knowledge and techniques. Through semantic Wiki we created a database that enables change, improvement, comparison and further investigation. We have opened our discourse to anyone interested.

Someone might criticize our whole endeavor, saying: “This is no longer a traditional martial art.” And we can answer: “Tradition is a complex cultural structure, especially for those who rigorously observe tradition, especially people like ourselves.”

I’d like to shake up a bit the usual take on tradition, by bringing two different examples that are unrelated – neither to each other nor to traditional martial art.

Through these strange examples I thought I would show at least three things:

1. Traditions that seem frozen have undergone long periods of change and accommodation.
2. Tradition is the result of multi-voiced discourse.
3. Proper results require specialists.

Wikipedia and multi-voiced discourse the need for specialists

Writing encyclopedias is a tradition that is well-worth using for observing the process of opinion exchange and transformation. The editors’ work involves gathering information, writing, editing, cataloging and publishing. This practical work is founded upon a tradition that is hundreds of years old. The process of writing encyclopedias took place in groups that were committed to the idea of gathering information and considered themselves authorized to voice their opinion or edit the opinions of others. The encyclopedia would seem like an example of frozen knowledge after it was completed. However, the actual gathering of information is an accumulative action. The Encyclopedia Britannica epitome of knowledge and order published annual update volumes.

A look at the work process on Wikipedia discloses both the power of exchanging opinions and the reservations as to the free exchange of opinion. Many articles on Wikipedia and central entries are regularly monitored by an elite of editors, Sysops and bureaucrats. Free editing today is only possible at the periphery of knowledge. Anyone can write an entry about their favorite chocolate. But changing a single character in a central entry such as Islam or USA might immediately sound the alarm among a large number of people in charge who will then immediately provide a return to the former state.

The tradition of gathering information relies upon a backbone of entries as exact and objective as possible.

Multi-voiced discourse serves this backbone of entries and exact knowledge with one reservation the discourse must be supervised by responsible experts.

Talmud not everyone participates and the debate is worth showing

A Gemara page looks like this: a central text, itself a discussion of a passage in the Torah or of resulting texts, is framed by other texts written in later periods. Some of the texts are in Aramaic, others in Hebrew of various epochs.

Visually, the Gemara page is a rare phenomenon in religious writing. The Talmud page uses not only different languages and scripts but goes further a-field and even presents disagreement and differing points of view on the same page.

One might look at the page and see far beyond its contents see the editing considerations. The editors of the Talmud, those who signed the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud), took a decision: rather than a canonic text, they presented a mosaic of interpretations, all perpetuated upon the same, single page.

A critical overview of the contents exposes the limits of this multi-voiced discussion. Not everyone is invited to join it. The Karais, for example, are not direct writers. Their opinions are always presented in a roundabout manner, and always by one of the authorized writers. The Karais are a good example in this context since in spite of their belief in the five books of the Torah, they are not partners, by choice, in the Jewish multi-voiced discourse. The community of writers in the Talmud believes in scholars connected to the source of knowledge, on the one hand, and to the reality of community life, on the other.

The Jewish prayers, dress codes and blessings before meals are all products of a multi-voice discourse, not of Scriptural edicts. Wearing a skull cap is not dictated by the Torah. The Bible hardly mentions prayers. Until the sages wrote contents and turned them into permanent tradition, Jews hardly prayed. They offered animal sacrifices.

Karai dialogue perpetuated Orthodox fixation. According to the Karais, if the Torah says “an eye for an eye”, one must take the Law literally because of the text’s sanctity. But a community that tries to live in reality understands that the law must be interpreted so that it accommodates changing life circumstances. The Talmudic discussion surrounding the strict revenge verse indicates that the meaning intended here is proper financial restitution.

The Jewish multi-voiced discourse has never ceased in spite of the tendency on the part of a good many to declare certain of its versions sealed and signed. The rabbinical books of Q&A (questions and answers responses and later interpretations of sages) are a part of this interpretative multi-voiced discourse. Naturally, Jewish tendencies that have been pushed aside from the mainstream created separate textual and interpretative trends.

This is a big question: Is it better to debate in that same studying space, in the same dojo, on the same Wiki page, or perhaps behind one’s back? Perhaps the momentary position should be perpetuated, or a new method developed? A new dojo maybe?

I believe that taking the argument somewhere else smells of psychological difficulty. It does not serve knowledge, only the fragility of some of our features.

Someone who removed himself from our studying space in AKBAN, Mr. H., concluded this well by saying: “I prefer to walk all the way to Afghanistan to change batteries in a listening device rather than sit at my aunt’s with my family for a holiday dinner”. And this is the crux of the code: friendship is physical presence, on the same page, in the same dojo, around the same camp fire, and that is no simple matter.

Forecasting by stupidity


November 26, 2007
יוסי

By Yossi Sheriff

There was once a naqshabandi who wrote on the mosque wall: “The idiot-teacher’s corner”.

He requested his students to watch people as they entered and responded to the inscription.

“A passer-by responding to the writing in a certain way is ripe for studies. Another who responds differently will not be able to sustain more than a brief period of studying”, said this sage to some of his students, and asked them to be attentive.

It is said that eventually, although he never inquired about the matter, his forecast proved to be precise.

I have no gift of foresight, no such good insights, but I would like to have them.

Budo Ninjutsu is a martial art with no shortcuts. Years of perseverance are the only way to contain the huge accumulation of material and to practice it. Therefore, the instructor invests enormous efforts in his pupil. This is a lot of work measured by the needs of the practitioner, the instructor’s experience, and the strengths possessed by both.

If I had the gift of foresight, I would spare myself futile effort.

On the Sisyphean path one encounters those who stop. When a veteran pupil ceases to practice, I still sense that “oops” feeling anyone gets upon realizing that a unique, single copy of the dissertation he had been writing for over seven years has been deleted from his computer. Not just deleted, deleted with no backup.

“oops” indeed.

It would be helpful to foresee who is “capable” and who is not, who is worth the investment and whom one had better reject to begin with.

One evening, ten years ago, an expensive dinner at a restaurant in Jerusalem put an end to my attempts to foresee who is “capable” and who is not. I forecasted that Guy R. (who has since only intensified the frequency of his training) would stop training, and I even betted with Lior the price of a meal. If my memory has not been totally softened by the blows to my head, I recall that Gadi, Michael and Yoav also came along for the bet so I had to pay a lot for my mistake. It was nice evening, although the kebab was nothing to write home about.

So guessing didn’t work.

What did work prior to that dinner and still works today is an altogether different mechanism called filtering.

Such filtering mechanisms are scattered like mines, even where they seem quite innocent. I would like to stress that these are filtering, not testing mechanisms. There are people not “capable” of Budo who are quite capable in many other fields.

I wished to remain with those “capable” of many years of practice.

Some of the filters are straightforward, warm-up (Himum) for example. A person who looks for comfort and shirks work will not last more then several weeks. Another filter is the never-ending demand to show one’s training partner consideration (“sensitivity” in the code of ethics). Whoever cannot overcome his egocentricity in class will develop strong frustrations that will undermine his determination and will.

The pupil faces yet another obstacle. It has to do with the fact that I am an average human being, and sometimes there are problems between us because I am also a mediocre teacher. In this relationship I am sometimes in a position of a relatively young person teaching older and smarter people than myself, or alternately, teaching people much younger than myself for whom I represent much more than I actually am.

Problem.

It is big problem because some of those who can, who are “capable” of long years of Budo practice trip against this stone after many years on this path. As Dan once said:

“If we watch people walking along a riverbed, often one person slips on a stone, and then following him, many others will slip on it, just the same way he did.”

I don’t know what exactly are those stones that make veteran pupils trip after years of practice, but I do recognize a large, obvious, much earlier stone: in the relations between a teacher and a novice. It is a fictional image that the beginning pupil projects upon the teacher. In martial arts one stumbles upon into this stone incessantly.

At times the teacher willingly puts on this image and cooperates with this honey-trap which means trouble for both teacher and pupil.

The teacher who must always prove to be omnipotent, who has spent fifty years at the Shaolin monastery, who has been Israeli and European champion of the secret dragon society and is 11th Dan and head master of the most excellent method in this part of our galaxy… this nonsense knows no limits. If the young pupil buys it, no great harm is done. But if the teacher, after years of illusion, believes this story as well, then no doubt this is not a mere obstacle but an unbridgeable rift for both.

Filtering out those romantic vessels who wish to train only with Bodhidharma or Musashi themselves is simple: one must simply say one’s personal, unpleasant truth I too burp occasionally, my technique is not impeccable, I am the teacher and still I lose many fights, sometimes I’m sad, at others too merry, and from time to time I seek some good advice.

Another human being.

Although I am neither a naqshabandi nor mevlevi, this now seems to me a fitting heading for my locker at the dojo: one day it’ll say “The private locker of a mediocre, sometimes very stupid Sensei”. I cannot foretell by people’s response to it whether they are “capable”, but I seem to prefer teaching only those who can live with this truth: human beings are so much more than headlines and titles.