Guest blog by Yogasteya member Stephan Yamamoto
With this year’s topic of teaching advanced techniques in my seminars, I had to realize that — in a non-Japanese context — most practitioners do not seem to have much of an idea what advanced movement are about, be it in the martial arts world or any movement-related setting. How then do we move like “masters”, black belts, or gurus? How do we develop a deeper understanding of the advanced contents of our art or practice, and how do we keep it fresh, interesting and alive… especially when teaching?
A popular approach in martial arts is to “copy your master” in order to excel. This means that your techniques and their embodiment ought to become the same as your teacher’s. But this would mean the exact opposite of being creative, developing your self and discovering your own individual technique. Sticking with the basic movements or — to use the common rhetoric’s of zen — keeping the “beginner’s mind” is therefore an appropriate approach for beginners and intermediate students, but not for advanced students or teachers.
Another way to slow down and refresh your appreciation for your practice is to simply be nice. Sure, we train and do our practice for the purpose of unveiling our true self, becoming a better person and serving mankind, thus creating a better world. But that doesn’t mean you have to be the good guy, fitting in, not questioning the mainstream and not standing up for your desires.
When we are on our yoga mat, in the dojo or facing the small challenges of day-to-day life, we are constantly implementing change. We don’t accept standing still. Progress means questioning your status quo on a daily basis. Several years ago, a charismatic teacher of Karate once told me, to be good meant to be better than yesterday. I am experiencing this to be true in my martial-arts-related yoga practice as well. We eliminate the things blocking our way to excellence by permanent practice. And this leads to only one conclusion: Training your body — in yoga as well as in martial arts — is subversive!
Our limits are not those of our body — our limits are permanently being constructed by others. We don’t do yoga for the sake of ‘being good’. We do yoga for the sake of being ourselves. And that equals tearing down social categories of gender, age, beauty, and success. Being “you” means you cannot fit into any social category that forces limits upon you. Failing to be authentic stops the process that generates advancement and mastery. If you ever doubted your training, others have slowed your process down.
So, being advanced in your movements is to keep this process free of limits and categories. Being subversive keeps your practice fresh. Being subversive is the idea of living a life of excellence — be it a yogi’s or a martial artist’s life.
Stephan Yamamoto, born and raised in Germany, spent several years in Japan accessing the traditional martial arts from a pragmatic perspective. He is teaching Karate and Iaido (drawing the sword) as a somatic experience on seminars throughout Germany, using the basics and the ideas of alignment taught in Yoga. He recently went back to university to study and research on asiatic-inspired body culture at the department of religions studies in Heidelberg. Connect with him on Facebook and check out his Tumblr weblog.