I was 5 years into my Isshinryu study. Two of those years I also studied Tang Soo Moo Duk Kwan. I had been the student throughout, always doing what my instructors required.
Now I was an instructor of youth, still training myself, and alone.
I attended tournaments as a way to push myself. Learning of course how much I didn’t know, and how the lack of sparring partners was inhibiting my own study.
So I began to accept offers from others I met at tournaments to visit their schools.
And as it turned out, the one thing I was interested in, having someone to spar with, was not what I encountered. Only one of those schools used sparring as a regular practice.
Most of the other schools never sparred when I was there.
Not my intention, as I never became their student, but I paid attention to what was being studied, and along the way began to learn new things.
That led to what was probably the most important skill that I ever developed.
Learning how to learn, very quickly.
I very quickly realized I was seeing interesting things at time, and things I probably only had that one chance to see, and then attempt to learn.
As a student learning involved much repetition under the eyes of my instructors, them giving many corrections.
But now it was different. I wasn’t the one being taught. When I saw something interesting I was not the one being taught. Nor was I in a position to receive reinforcement on what was being shown. I was encouraged to participate in those classes, but from friendship.
This was before availability of video recording (or availability of movie camera’s for me) . I just had my senses and my memory to rely on. Very quickly I began taking notes of what I was shown. Then when possible, would work on that material on my own. It might have been a move, a form application, a form or something else. Whatever I got was an improvement of 100% from where I was before. And even if not identical to what was shown, if I made what I retained work, that was good enough for me. I wasn’t trying to get that system.
Then I began training in Yang Tai Chi Chaun with Ernest Rothrock, later venturing into the study of Chinese forms. I saw many of his students tests and classes. That formed some context of what he was teaching. I never attempted to learn his system, my own studies were quite engaging.
But one Saturday afternoon working on my Tai Chi, at his main school, I observed him preparing for a demonstration. I saw one move where he just appeared to walk thourgh an attack and then go to the floor, his legs entangling his opponent taking him down. I was very intrigued never having seen anything like that before.
It was nothing I studied with him. When I went home I took out my notebook and made some notes on what I thought happened. Working out how I would do so. I had no adults to practice with and it just became a private study.
When I visited other schools, I was the guest, and no one ever asked me to teach.
About 8 years later, a group I used to belong to was having a group training session at my school. Ernest was there and that move was one of the things he taught that day. I fully understood what he was teaching, from my notes, I had worked out the essence of what he did, and I discovered I could do it too.
Which brings up another thing about clinics or occasional learning situations.
Many times no one remembers when they were shown, just that they did whatever was done that day. Unless you are the instructor and can instantly insert the movement/form into your curricula, the movements with regular practice becomes instant vapor wear.
Another time this became a thing was the first time I went to train at Sutrisno Tristan’s dojo. During the class he had his students perform what he called a kyu aikido drill, 8 movements long. For 15 minutes I watched his students work on their technique. One person in the middle, surrounded by 8 attackers, who attacked one after another. Basically the defender used their technique to take their opponent to the groung, going to the ground yourself to control them then rising into another attack, either that or entering the attack to project the attacker to the ground.
Then he turned to me and asked if I would like to try it (of course I was being ‘tested’ as to what I could do). I was able to do the entire 8 defenses they were working on in order.
Later I learned 4 more of the defenses (12 of 20).
That was the only time I did that there. Many years later were he was up in Derry to do a clinic with my students, he saw my students working on that drill. He turned to me and asked when I saw that. I told him on the first night I visited.
He then went on to address current changes he had made to the drill (with him there were always different levels of practice) He did not explain why, and of course more work for me.
But it was at that 2nd class, I saw an entire different level of techniques, ones I have never seen since, but I learned and have my notes, never to be forgotten.
One of those movements stands out.
On the street, the two individuals are just walking past each other.
The movement used was extremely quick, the bodies passing each other shield others from seeing what happens. And after the strike you just walk away as their body drop to the ground.
I am not interested in giving further description. I have shared what happens with my senior students.
This is an entirely different class of technique from what most consider the use of karate.
I only saw it one time, that was enough, as I had learned a bit about how to learn.
But a single lesson. One that would be repeated so many different times in many other settings. You either get it one time, or you don’t.
I was not perfect but I have had my moments.
At times I learned diverse forms from one instruction period.
I remember when I learned a Northern Mantis form at one clinic. Then worked on it forever making it mine.
Or the time at a Bando Summer Camp I was shown the Bando Short Stick form one morning, And a lifetime later I still had what I was shown. Perhaps it was or was not the entire thing, I don’t know. But what I got works, the 100% ahead rule in any case.
The most severe test was later when I met Sherman Harrill. That first day he showed so much, and I retained 27 applications from what was shown that day in my notes. A year later Garry Gerossie shared a video he had made of the day, and there were probably 150 applications shown. I was not perfect, but satisfied that what I got passed my 100% test of things I did not know before.
Then I worked and worked harder and harder to retain more and more of what Sherman Shared.
5 years after his death I finally met John Kerker, and or course that was amazing too. As time passed I would attend his clinics for about ½ a day, then having a 3 hour ride home after. That evening I would pull my notes together and then send John a copy of what I remembered I had experienced.
You control the vertical and horizontal of your life.
You decide how much you can learn, you must make the effort to retain what you see.
Even if only one time.
Anything you retain in a 100% improvement from where you were before.
And how you use that knowledge is of course up to you.
As time passed, when I attended a fantastic clinic with oodles of valuable movements, all of which made it into my notes. It would often take 5 or more years before I realized where to place a portion of that material into my program. And there would be just as much didn’t fit. After all the program has its’s own logic of existence.
I always learned, even if some of what I learned didn’t fit what I was teaching.