“In all these years, I have never taught the same thing twice.” Hatsumi Masaaki
Almost 100 years ago in Moscow, Nikolai Bernstein started investigating human movement, and would go on to coin the term Biomechanics (the study of movement through the application of mechanical principles). Berstein’s work did not make it out of the USSR until the 60’s, and heavily influenced modern day kinesiology.
Something Bernstein discovered early on was, the difference between a novice and an expert was not mindless repetition, but instead “repetition without repetition”. Which is repeating an action outcome, without repeating the movement that produced it.
What does that mean? Gray 2021 (not me, a different Gray) nails it perfectly, he states that skilled performance did not involve one correct movement technique, but instead it involved using a slightly different technique with every execution. And that the key to becoming skillful was not just more strict repetition, but instead repetition without repetition- Learning to produce the same outcome by using different movements.
So when we look at Hatsumi Sensei for example, demonstrating a movement on 3 different people, who all have different body sizes and shapes, he isn't lying when he says he doesn't do the same technique twice. It would be next to impossible. But he can still reproduce the same outcome.
For Ninjutsu practice, this is why flexibility, the ability to move our joints is so important. The more freedom and control we can display, the more variability we can have for movement outcomes. Which means any little obstacles we come across, different heights of opponents, strength or speed etc, our bodies can make adaptations/adjustments (micro movements) to enhance one's form and get ahead of the curve before we pay the price (getting put down by the enemy). These account for how we can practice one kata against different opponents but still achieve the same outcome. A small shift of body weight here, relaxing there, lowering here, pressing your feet there etc… Having a body that is ready to receive feedback (Self and from an opponent/environment), but also a body that is physically capable of being free to move, so it can calculate and articulate and make these changes intuitively is key.
Understanding this gives you a glimpse into understanding words like 体術 (taijutsu) and 柔体術 (jutaijutsu). Understanding that searching for one ultimate repeatable technique is impossible. But having the ability to produce variations which might be imperceptible to the eye, to achieve the same outcome over and over again is key.
This is not saying it's ok to do things your own way 自己流 (jikoryu), and to introduce random movements for no apparent reason in your practice. But rather to say that there is no such thing as perfect technique, or a level or standard to achieve, as its always a moving goal post, and the best way to improve our skill is to ensure our bodies have the capability to adapt to any situation, and if need be still repeat the same outcome.
The pursuit of perfection, efficiency and correct form should always be kept in your heart, but know that its pursuit is 無限 (without limits) and we must strive everyday to keep “levelling up” as my teacher Kacem would say. If you were to practice a technique to a standard that was considered good or even skillful, if we were to film it and break it down, we could measure the technique for places where we could make improvements, and we could do this every time you thought it was perfectly executed too. So this would prove there is no such thing as a perfect technique or a repeatable technique. And that we must never rest on our laurels, but endeavor to keep going always with the image of the master in one’s heart.
So think twice before you say kata practice is boring and repetitive. It isn't true, you are not reproducing the same movement twice. But instead are learning to adapt to small variations dynamically and on the spot to produce the same outcome, and if you are absent from the practice and just check out, you are missing a massive piece of the puzzle.
PS- Our annual Black Friday flexibility sale is only a couple weeks away, this is the only discount we offer. So keep an eye out for it.
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