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One of the difficulties that English speaking people have when they try to learn the Japanese language is that it is a situational language. How you speak in Japanese depends on the context of the situation. You can’t just translate word for word back and forth from English to Japanese.

For example to simply say ‘Hello’ in Japanese requires you to know the time of day. In the evening you say ‘Konbawa’, during the day you would say ‘Konnichiwa’, and in the morning you would say ‘Ohayo’ and that depends on who you are speaking to. If the situation were more formal or you were speaking to your senior it would be ‘Ohayogozaimasu’.

One way to think about how Japanese works is to look at it on an x-y axis. On one axis would be who is involved, are you speaking to your senior, your equal, or a junior? Then on the other axis would be the social context, is this a formal or informal situation? Depending on the context of the situation you find yourself in would determine how you would speak. This means you can’t just memorize Japanese words in order to speak properly and it definitely means you should question whatever Japanese you get from Google Translate.

If you look at that last paragraph you could easily replace the Japanese language with our martial art and it would still be accurate. Many people when they start training want to memorize the movements and believe they are doing the art. The reality is it takes time to understand the art in order to be able to use it appropriately within the context of a situation.

Every situation you find yourself in is going to be different. Is the person bigger, smaller, stronger, faster, angry, drugged, crazy? Is it night or day? Are you inside or out? Hot, cold, rainy, or dry? Are there weapons involved? How many people are there? Do you need to protect any of them?

These question could go on and on because there are an infinite set of possibilities. It is folly to try to memorize the kata and movements of our art in order to solve every problem. This is why you have to study the relationships that are taught in our kata. To understand why they work and how these concepts can be used in other context. The situation you are in will determine the techniques you use once you have internalized the principles within our system.

Even during training you have to be aware of the context of the situation. There are many people that tell me ‘this is the way I train all the time’. Well, when I train I look at the context of the training situation. Sometimes I am at a training with my seniors and I am there to listen and learn, other times I am working out with my friends and we are experimenting, and then I train at the dojo while I am teaching my students. Within each situation my words and actions depend on who I am with and where we are training. Working out at the park with some friends is going to be very different from presenting a session at Ninja Festival even though it is still the same art.

When you are training strive to understand what the context is at that moment. Is your teacher having you do a drill for skill improvement or are they working on a relationship principle within a kata. Try not to do the same thing over and over, you are in this to learn and change. In time you will gain understanding of the principles and the ability to use them in the proper context.

So depending on the context of our relationship: Shitsurei shimasu, Sayonara, or Mata ashita

One Response to Context

  1. Joseph April 19, 2016 at 6:07 pm #

    Wow, I never thought of practicing that way. I’m very new in To-Shin Do and I classified practicing as merely repeating a technique. Thank you for the amazing advice and God bless!

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