Sunday, April 24, 2011

Perfection

I enrolled in the Jan de Jong Self Defence School in the second week of April 1983. My first class was with Ian Lloyd (who today, I'm pleased to say, is a good friend of mine). I didn't start off by doing one class a week. No. I started off by doing two classes a day, six days a week, plus training outside of classes.

It wasn't that it was convenient. Sure, I could do a lot of the classes at the main dojo, 996 Hay Street, Perth, but to add the second class I would have to travel to a suburban branch on some days. I recall sitting in the corridor of a Midland gym, spraying my wrists with 'spray-on ice' and strapping up my wrists because they were so painful. The first wrist twist in the class would undo my pathetic attempts at massaging my wrists through the class. But I continued on. Feeling each and every wrist twist.

I'd never been dedicated to anything before in my life. I'd never applied myself to anything. I'd finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Western Australia the year before where I started off with straight As and ended with straight Cs in the final year. I was saved from Fs because the course was only three years long allowing me to progress from A to B to C. There was definitely a negative correlation between my marks and my social life, aka football club and tavern. Why did I start off my jujutsu experience/journey by doing two classes a day, six days a week, plus ex-class training, given, I'd never applied myself to anything before; never aspired to anything before; and never committed myself to anything before?

It wasn't because I was looking for a way to defend myself. It wasn't because of any sporting aspiration as we did not participate in any form of combat sport. In fact, Jan de Jong was, as many other significant figures in the martial arts were, not a supporter of the concept of combat sports. It wasn't some spiritual pursuit, nor a desire for self-improvement. It definitely was no machismo thing either. Jujutsu had no prestige so there was no attraction to gain some 'status' by training jujutsu. Why?

I've often been asked about my commitment; possibly clinically diagnosed as obsession. I would respond with my Pavlov dog response; that I saw myself improving each and every time I stepped onto the mats. That was hugely motivating for me. I was the quintessential Pavolov dog. ... But I've come to appreciate there was more. More what I saw than what was not necessarily revealed.
March 9. 1877. I have never known such a disciplined people. From the moment they wake, they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue.
This is a line from The Last Samurai. The Japanese culture is known for its pursuit of perfection. 'Japanese traditional culture included the concept that people should strive for perfection in everything they did' (Japan Unmasked: The Character and Culture of the Japanese. Boye Lafayette De Mente)

Anthony Bourdain was the host of a food/travel TV show with an episode in Japan where he tended to focus on the Japanese cultural 'obsession' with perfection. He went 'in search of the relationship between a perfect piece of sushi and a perfect knife blade, the common ground shared by the martial artistry of kendo and the subtle aesthetics of Japanese flower arranging.' Throughout the episode Chef Bourdain returns again and again to the idea of perfection, asking each of the masters he interviews (sushi, kendo, and ikebana) if they believed in the concept of perfection and whether they felt they had ever achieved it in their field of expertise. Paradoxically, though all of them believed in the idea of perfection, they universally agreed that achieving it was very unlikely and, more importantly not the point. What truly mattered was continually improving your performance – doing a better job each time you took up the task at hand. He has a scene with a cocktail waiter that demonstrates the commitment to perfection in his preparation of a cocktail for Bourdain and his guest.
'A man can be an artist ... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy's art is death ... he's about to paint his masterpiece.'
Even though De Jong did not emphasise it, nor did his instructors, the way he taught his jujutsu intimated a perfection path. There was a focus on detail, an attention to detail, and an emphasis on detail. For whatever reason, even though the senior instructors did not focus on the attention to detail to the same degree that I did, the hint was there. The tantalising intimation.

Many believe that you cannot train jujutsu (or aikido or judo) on their own. I would train for hours on my own. Training bodymovements. Training the hands in unbalancing or executing the technique. Training for perfection. When I trained with my partners I'd be training the distancing and execution, because I'd trained the positioning previously. And my aim was, albeit unwittingly, the perfect technique. I recently re-established contact with an instructor of another school who looked to De Jong for guidance - Shihan John Beckman. He responded to my email saying that of course he remembered me, I was the jujutsuka with the precise techniques, or words to that effect. I was precise. That is what I trained for. That was the focus of my training. That is what attracted me to De Jong's jujutsu.

Ujio (played by Hiroyuki Sanada) training his sword work in The Last Samurai is a powerful image of the Japanese pursuit of perfection.

As I now understand, this is what attracted me to the jujutsu taught by Jan de Jong. In engaging in this pursuit of perfection, I learnt to excel in many other areas of my life. I'd learnt how to pursue perfection. Unfortunately, I'd also learnt how to pursue perfection, which is a goal that is not often shared within our society.

6 comments:

  1. Nicely written John. Really enjoying reading your work.

    Howard

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  2. Thanks Howard. Most appreciated.

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  3. Very uplifting article John, thanks. Total absorption in a hobby/interest is a path to happiness. You must be happy!

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  4. Sue ... hmmmmmmmmm ... happy? I am absorbed. I was absorbed in jujutsu. Now I'm absorbed in my work in researching and writing books that facilitate the understanding and study of the tactics and techniques of the martial arts. Happy? That emotion doesn't seen to enter into the equation. I'm hoping 'happy' comes when I've finished this Herculean task.

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  5. Happiness is a journey, not just a destination....

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  6. SueC ... totally agree with you, to a large degree. But sometimes the happiness wanes when the journey doesn't goes on interminably. ... though today was a good day. I could forget the sacrifices and time spent and enjoy the journey that was the research and writing.

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Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.