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Budo, learning and transmission

Budo, learning and transmission



Budo, learning and transmission: from active student to owning one own’s progress – by Alexandre Grzegorczyk


Transmission is an inherent part of the human social construct. The questioning of and will to understand this notion has been growing stronger over the last centuries. Marcel Maus defines transmission as a cornerstone of the human society. The discovery and exploration of techniques were encouraged by the inherent teachings they provide. Efficiency was increasingly improved through practice. Centuries of knowledge have reached us and are still being integrated in our practice. The past influenced our current technical diversity.

But first, it is important to look into the notion of technique and have a clear understanding of its meaning. Here is the definition of Marcel Maus, pioneer in bodily techniques and their transmission. “A technique is any traditional and efficient act (and in this, it is not different from a magical, religious or symbolic act). It has to be traditional and efficient. If there is no tradition, then there is no technique and transmission. This is an aspect differentiating humans from animals: by the transmission of techniques and, most likely, orally.”

The notion of a technique as a traditional act is interesting. A technique can be transmitted through centuries – if it is recognised, by a group or a culture, as efficient and interesting to teach. For example, some techniques of the past are still a source of inspiration and reflection nowadays. And the transmission of techniques represents itself a technique: the teaching technique (the form).



Budo and transmission

The first kanji[1] of the term Budo, Bu (武) signifies war. It can be found in many Japanese terms in relation with the military domain: Buji[2] (武事), Buryoku[3] (武力) or Bujutsu[4] (武術). The second one, Do (道) represents the way. The term Budo can therefore be translated as a martial way. Budos were mainly theorised during the 20th century. They stood out due to their teaching methods and their adaptation to the practitioners, inspired in great measures by military training. One of the most compelling examples would the image of students repeating the movement of the teacher in unison, as observed by Leo Tamaki in his article.

If the transmission of Budos is still infused with the somewhat authoritarian Japanese model of teaching, Japanese experts established all over the world however have adapted themselves to the cultural diversity. Their ways of teaching evolved with them.



What makes a good teacher?

In his book, “Aïkido étiquette et transmission”, Tamura sensei specifies that “the most important part of teaching is to be a good teacher […] it is important to know the desires of the students, their needs and what they require most at the moment.

He mentions the notion of pedagogy and the importance of understanding the needs of a student to help him/her to progress. A key notion in being a “good teacher” is the continuous research to improve the transmission technique and to help a student fulfill his/her potential. As Tamura sensei specifies, “a good teacher is not the one who only is stronger physically or only has better techniques.”


Tamura Sensei, picture from E.N.A website


Learning and teaching have been the topic of numerous theories, each with some good points. However, it is easy to get caught up in using one “recipe” and forget what matters the most: the student in front of us. Some students will learn by observing or imitating, others prefer to receive the technique or to repeat the movement over and over again. The teaching process is not set in stone and the role of the teacher is to adapt the content delivered to match the student. Ideally, the student would grow familiar with the forms taught and become able to progress autonomously, requiring a smaller input from the teacher. The initial knowledge is acquired through transmission, but experiences and developing autonomy are two key factors in the progression of a student.

Too often, I have heard of teachers telling their students not to explore by themselves or attend seminars with other teachers, because it was too early. Yet, the curiosity of a student clearly demonstrates his/her desire to progress. In my opinion, it would be wiser to appreciate this curiosity and encourage such behaviour.

Developing autonomy, exchanging with other practitioners and independently looking for knowledge are qualities every teacher should aim to develop in their students. The first step towards a student taking the lead in his/her learning process is the development of the ability to observe. “The teacher needs to help the student understand the importance of really observing the techniques of the masters, the senior students as well as less experienced practitioners. To progress, it is important to compare one’s techniques to the techniques of others.” Tamura sensei.

Observation is particularly important in the context of the relation to the other, and its implications. It will allow the student to progress through the Shu, Ha and Ri stages. The learning process is a balance between the knowledge available and the ability to receive it.


Teaching according to the principles of Shido

The Japanese term Shido is composed of two ideograms. Shi (指), means “finger” and do (導) means “way” (same kanji as in Aikido). Shido can therefore be translated as the idea of giving a direction. This principle is inherent to the role of sensei[5], the one that leads us on the way.


Initially, the quality of the teacher is mainly based on the ability to teach the first level: the form. This idea relates to the concept of Shu. Shu is the stage of integration where the student meticulously imitates the form of the teacher. “Every learning process goes through the imitation phase. To start with, the teacher will try to get the students to reproduce the technique demonstrated as exactly as possible, without discussion.” Tamura sensei.

Once the form is integrated and the technique mastered, it will be possible to further explore the work proposed. Although the form is important, it is only the tip of the iceberg. This is when the teacher becomes a guide. Such pedagogical qualities are displayed in the asobi geiko[6] of Kuroda sensei, or by Leo Tamaki within the Kishinkai Aikido. A trial and error process begins for the student, leading to a gradual understanding of the sensation of each movement.


Picture by Shizuka Sasa-Tamaki


Perceiving with the body and understanding the sensation

The relation to the self and to the other are notions inherent to bodily arts. A body is so much more than a tool for practice; one does not just have a body, one is a body. The body interacts with its environment and, through it, develops its unique senses. These developed senses allow us to learn without necessarily using a mental process. One of the main challenges related to bodily arts is the uniqueness of each sensation. The wide variety of bodies one encounters will modify and diversify the sensations perceived.

Setting up pedagogical situations where students will experience perceptions is very important. These situations allow the students to create their own idiosyncratic real benchmarks. “The body is not a machine, it is a path to walk.” Taffanel J.

The role of the teacher is to find the best moment to guide and interact with the student. After the stage of imitation, the student will progress to self-study and experimentation, in order to understand the principles taught through the techniques. Experiencing these sensations through interactions with others and understanding the meaning of these sensations are key steps towards an autonomous learning process. It will lead the student to the stage of Ha. This stage corresponds to the “destructive” stage, as defined by Sugano sensei. “The student works in directions sometimes opposite to the teacher’s; the student experiences as many situations as possible to truly assimilate what was received in the previous stage”. Going beyond the next stage, the learning process developed by the sensations will improve the ability to instantly adapt to the body of aite[7]. This skill is important in Aikido, more specifically during free work when it occurs without having to think about it.

The teaching process is not limited to a technical curriculum. It also includes raising the awareness of the student’s role in his/her learning. The role of a teacher is to form a student taking the leadership of his/her progress, a student equipped with the required skills to progress on the way they have chosen, and also in life.


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Picture by Shizuka Sasa-Tamaki


Original article by Alexandre Grzegorczyk “Budō, apprentissage et transmission: le rôle de l’élève”, published on 25/05/2016. Link:


Open translation by Nathan Augeard, with permission.


[1] Kanji: adopted Chinese characters used in modern Japanese writing system. Synonym: ideogram.

[2] Buji: military affairs

[3] Buryoku: military power

[4] Bujutsu: literally, martial technique (the interpretation and meaning of this term is very subjective)

[5] Sensei (先生): literally, the one that is born before; figuratively, the teacher.

[6] Asobi geiko: educative exercise allowing to work on one or more principles in specific movements.

[7] Aite: this term can mean both partner and opponent.

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