Shut Up and Train

Shut Up and Train

by Jeffrey Brooks

ShutUpAndTrain (1)

Some people in the class wanted skills they could use to make their lives better. Some people were looking for approval. But it did not matter to me which they wanted in that moment, or what their motives were when they walked in the door. In that moment, in that class, I knew that the way they would get good was to train sincerely. The way they would get good that month or that year was to train consistently. Setting that as the requirement for the classes would mean that the people who wanted to get skill would get it, and the ones who merely wanted approval or status would disappear.

Long explanations of how to do techniques are not so helpful. Translating movement into language is inexact and inefficient, and it requires that the listeners then translate the instructions they have heard back into movement. It is more efficient to show a move and then ask people to copy what they see. After repeating the technique many times they become more focused, more fluid, more spontaneous, more in touch with the nuances of the movement. Then refining the movement becomes easy. No long explanation is necessary.

That is why I used to say, when I was teaching karate for hours every day for decades, that it’s best to just shut up and train. I was not commanding people in a condescending or disrespectful way. I was explaining the idea, just like I did here.

So when Sensei Reynolds painted the nine foot tall, three foot wide scroll of the words Damatte Keiko (Japanese for shut up and train) and hung the scroll in the alcove in the front of our dojo, it was not an affront or even a command. It was a reminder that the shortest path to mastery is practice.

Of course there is a time for analysis and reflection and theory. But these are like vitamins in our diet. Very small amounts are healthy and necessary.

Although the dojo no longer exists the scroll does, and the insight it represents continues to be relevant. Because, after training consistently for a time, without anyone having to say so, it becomes evident that the training period does not have boundaries.

We face the reality of our lives every moment. Not just during a training session but always. If our aim is to think, speak and act ethically, if we recognize the danger of permitting our mind and our life to be impulsive and self indulgent, if we learn the value of cultivating a calm, clear mind and an insight that penetrates the heart of reality, then every moment is an opportunity to train.

Then we do not need to freak out when we face difficulty. But what we can do, if we have trained well enough along the way, is to regard the difficulty as the reality of our life in that moment, and take responsibility for dealing with it, and face it, and resolve it or move ahead, with skill and equanimity.

We do not need to collapse into arrogance or wastefulness or self congratulation when things go well. What we can do is recognize the temptations of idleness, arrogance, greed, promiscuity and gluttony and behave properly, using our precious lifetime well, training ourselves to make progress in the good when we can.

We do not need to stand idly by when harm is done to us or others, as if having a weak mild nature that just goes with the flow is somehow good. Instead we can use our strength and skill to help where we are needed and the strength to withdraw when our service is done.

In this sense all of our life is training. And no amount of explanation, theorizing, or approval will substitute for genuine, wordless, skillful life.

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