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Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor


Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor


Discipline and Training
Martial Arts or Formal Education?

by Cheryl Matrasko

About a month ago, someone sent me what appeared to be a desperate letter questioning the legitimacy of some instructor that apparently opened his doors and claimed to be affluent in many martial arts. He also questioned whether it is healthy for his 20 year old son to be living with this instructor, a person he describes: " . . . argues his point ALL the time, and insists that ONLY his way is the right way?" He states his son is strong willed and very independent - and respects this instructor. His dojo allegedly has a uchi-deshi (live-in and learn) program.

Let me state: I have never studied uchi-deshi style. There was no program in existence in the 1960's, 70's, or most of the 80's, in this continent. Japanese yudansha I studied from (such as Koichi Tohei, Isao Takahashi, etc.) have lectured most of us on this mode of study. As a matter of fact, this mode of study in Japan was not offered to women because of sexual gender.

I don't know the dojo that that this young person is studying from and it really doesn't matter at this point.

I have known many Aikidoka in my life, that have been deshi in Japan, however I have no idea what the majority of dojos in America mean when they refer to their dojos as "uchi-deshi". This is unregulated from what many Aikido associates tell me, and from what I have dug up. I would sincerely hope some of them are honorable, but as we all know from experience--- the "buyer beware". You never know what you'll get.

In the matter of the "expert at all martial arts instructor", it is difficult to ascertain whether one can be proficient enough to be called an expert at one martial art, let alone a whole handful of assorted martial arts. It is also takes a very long time to acquire the expertise. As one of my Kung-fu instructors told me (Ming Li - Seven Stars Praying Mantis and Hong Kong champion of 1965), that you may study many different forms, but you pick one form to be your own and you study it primarily.

You cannot be an expert at everything -- no one is that good (maturity, common sense, and experience tells you that . . .), but you can concentrate and focus to be the owner and proficient at one or two things. It's like trying to hold many tools in your hands. You can only hold onto so many at one time. They soon become too heavy and awkward to hold onto. We sometimes want to believe that we are good at everything, that our martial art is invincible, and that we can be a master of all. It is amazing what illusions we want to paint, and what we allow ourselves to sheepishly surrender to. Often times we allow them to cloud our judgement.

In Asian thought, you have to do something over 1000 times to be able to have adequate skill. It takes 10,000 times to become near the level of expert. Training takes time, maturity, patience, and a lot of practice. Knowledge and training cannot be rushed or compiled like pointless - cheap trophies on a shelf (this is not an insult to anyone collecting trophies, but my son has a ton of these cheap  things from scouts and all they do is take up a lot shelf space). My point: It takes years to become proficient at one thing - how good can you really be --- if you have studied a lot of things? The old adage: "Jack of many trades -- Master of None", comes to mind.

From what this man told me, his son is 20 years old. I firmly believe that a person his age should be utilizing his youth and energies towards a formal education before applying himself/herself towards a vocation. If you become better exposed to the formal martial arts world, you'll find that the most refined and well respected martial artists are polished, mannerly, and speak well of themselves. They are cultured enough to be able to handle their own in a conversation on Taoism, Jean-Paul Sartre or Friedrich Nietzsche. These individuals can respectfully support themselves in both the business world and the serious martial arts world.

Formal education can broaden a young person's  perspectives and expose him to other cultures, philosophies, sciences, --- the things he will need to develop and mature for himself. Most of all - he or she will be respected. And this is practical education to last a lifetime and to build upon. After formal education, martial arts can be better sought after.

I question: How much will this young person be allowed to learn or learn for himself in a dojo that has no formal education to offer? How much will he / she learn from an instructor that may have no formal education? How much can be learned when the instructor's martial arts' training and education is questionable, as well? 

Many Japan trained deshi such as: Koichi Tohei 10th Dan and Michio Hikitsuchi, 10th Dan (to name only a few) are very well educated. Their education spans over many subjects, beyond the regular martial arts studies (of Judo, Kendo, Karate, etc.), and is enhanced by the areas of philosophy (Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, etc.), tea ceremony, horsemanship, archery, flower arranging, painting, art, etc. Formal education is a respected characteristic among martial artists. Some of the most famous Samurai were well educated.

In regards to this man's son and his relationship with this dojo --- it sounds as if he has serious concerns about the instructor his son is studying from.

As I mentioned before: " . . . This is unregulated from what many Aikido associates tell me, and from what I have dug up. I would sincerely hope some of them are honorable, but as we all know from experience--- the "buyer beware". You never know what you'll get."

In a response - I asked this man: But if your gut feeling is that this person is not a good influence on your son --- I ask you:

What does your common sense tell you? What does your parental feelings tell you?

The instructor or "sensei", is a very serious role and not for those that want to be "sensei" for the illusion of power. It is for those honorable persons that can instruct with discipline --- yet with gentle firmness, give knowledge and train the student. This role is not to be dishonored, by those individuals that seek to wield the "sensei-role" with abusive intent.

I received a warm response back from this man. But in this note, he stated that he had to stop his son's training at this place because his son sustained a shoulder injury due to repeated hard throwing. He took the trouble to tell me that his son is 5' 7" and about 130lbs and the instructor is 6' and 200lbs.

I would hope a more experienced instructor would be able to recognize an injury to one of his/her students and have the common sense to deal with it, instead of allowing the injury to worsen.

In my traditional training, if you or your partner became injured during workout it has always been customary to stop and investigate. We were trained in Shiatsu to treat minor injuries. We were warned that no one was allowed to be promoted to shodan without first learning the basics Shiatsu. If you could not help repair the injury, you were not learning the martial arts.

Formal education can open many doors, sharpen the rough edges on a young person's mannerisms, and even elicit respect from those around you. It can change personality from a barbaric brawler to a gentlemanly samurai warrior. 



Cheryl Matrasko is a Network Analyst for the department of Networking and Communications at a prominent Chicago hospital. Formerly the LAN Administrator for
Northwestern University Medical School - Department of OB/GYN, and assistant LAN Administrator to the previous MIS of the School of Law. Cheryl started Aikido in 1965,
studying under Isao Takahashi as her first instructor. She enjoyed working out under many well known Aikido instructors during her tenure with Takahashi Sensei and thereafter following his death in 1971. Cheryl has dedicated time with instructors in Northern Shaolin
Long-Fist, Seven Stars Praying Mantis, and Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu. Currently, she is instructing Aikido at Northwestern University's Chicago Campus and founded Aikido World Journal.

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Michio Hikitsuchi 10th Dan 1978
(C. Matrasko as uke)
1978 C. Matrasko

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