I was teaching a group of black belts last week, who tend to come and train at the senior session that I hold on a Monday evening at my club. We were discussing the way that we all, as students of karate, learn and develop and the issue of note taking came into the discussion.
I have always attempted in my training to be as open-minded as I possibly can be, drawing on as many different and varied influences as possible. While training with different people, who naturally have different and often contradictory opinions, it can at times become difficult to establish which path exactly that you want to follow.
After completing school, I decided that I wanted to go to art college, and it was there that I decided to start a study of fine art. The course demanded that you generate work – installation painting was the direction I chose – but to successfully pass the course we were also demanded to keep a diary. Within you would discuss your research, your opinions, collect photos of the work that inspired you, and generally use the diary as a central port of call in the formulating of ideas and opinions. Through actively collecting and analysing within this diary I quickly found that my understanding of fine art, its processes and technicalities improved greatly. Adjusting and getting used to the meticulous recording of such information in this diary form however was not so hard as I had been keeping a diary of sorts in karate for many years prior.
I have had the very fortunate opportunity to train with some of the very best Martial Artists in the world. I have travelled, sometimes for hours and hours, to train and develop my skill and expand my understanding. In my karate bag comes my gi, my belt, some water and my notebook. It travels everywhere with me. I remember watching a documentary about Julia Roberts, where she discussed her diary. She lovingly called it ‘All the makings for insanity’. This struck a chord with me, as I imagined the dedicated time that she spends jotting down some of the thoughts that come to her, using the diary almost as a confidant. I don’t write so emotionally as it’s about karate, but I could empathise with the need to write things down in order to help better understand certain things.
Every Martial Art related book I read or DVD I watch, if there’s something that strikes a chord, I jot it down, even when I don’t necessarily agree. This very act of putting into words an idea of someone else, I can help give their idea an opportunity to explain themselves as I write, which is invaluable to me in my attempt to better understand not just the karate I practice, but the karate of others.
I am very much aware that to develop, you have to have inspiration. If you are not inspired to continue learning, then you simply stop learning. This is the very sad case with many instructors that have trained to the point of competency, but for whatever reason, lose that inspiration to continue developing their own ideas. To learn more you have to think more, and this takes energy and can get so confusing. The very act of note taking, analysing and assessing has helped me continue developing.
I remember travelling two years ago by train to go visit my friend Paul Herbert in London. He was having Sensei Hazard down to teach a course, so I was travelling to train with him, so of course my diary was with me to jot down what I learned. While sat there on the train, with some screaming child next to me, and his mother who did little to stop him, a series of ideas came to me. Not necessarily formulated ideas, simply musings you could say, which I promise I do not call them so in a pretentious manner. Luckily my bag was at my feet, so I had easy access, and so I proceeded to fill my long train ride with the very loud chid, with ideas and how I could develop them.
Now when I had time, a few days later after returning home, to sit and actually take the theory and physically put it into practice, some of what I had noted was of absolutely no worth at all, and they will forever remain just ideas. However, their value cannot be measured by their success, but should rather be assessed by the direction their failings sent me on. They say that there is no such thing as a bad idea, now putting my hand over the mouth of screaming lad would have been a bad idea, but the collating of ideas, even those that don’t work out, always has and serves a purpose.
You never know when inspiration may hit. I remember being in a very important lecture about Andy Warhol, when inspiration hit. I of course missed most of the lecture, but interestingly enough what came to me that day, coupled with the notes I made a few days earlier on my way to London, was the basis of a lot of research that I have thus undergone in my training.
Those of you that know me personally will already know that I have, shall we say, an organised existence and I am a firm believer in lists and in keeping records. The notes I have been making for years have helped me develop and push forward my practical self, and are not simply a manifestation of my organisational self, but a tool, that without which, I wouldn’t be the karate-ka and student I am today.
I have been keeping training notes for many years now, and I have detailed within the diaries notes from almost every session that I have taken with the many inspirational teachers I have trained under. When I look back at the notes I made years ago, I can agree that some of it is now not necessarily relevant as it represented me at different points in my study, but reading back through them, as I do quite regularly, I keep myself thinking, and they in turn still bounce ideas to me that I can use in my training.
So I suppose the point I am making here is that the diaries to me are not solid, written in gold and bound for eternity. They are, like me, a work in progress. The karate I practice today is very, very different from the karate I practiced six, seven years ago, and the karate I will practice in six or seven years will no doubt be very different than what I am practicing today. But it is the journey, the cathartic process of using the diary that keeps my brain active, and is helping me develop everyday.
The diary must however go intensively hand-in-hand with the physical training. It cannot simply remain on paper, as theories are no good if they are never given an opportunity to breath physically.
The black belts who come to train with me, have been using a diary format now for a good few weeks, jotting down ideas etc within, and every Monday they come with questions and ideas that we can discuss at length and practice. They are effectively bringing together the many things they are learning from the different people they train with and are effectively starting to develop their own ideas, which in time may take their training, study and understanding to a new level.
Shaun Banfield 08