Two Key Elements for Training in Budo

Mimicry & Intention

By Chuck VanDine

Yon Dan The Gi Yu Honbu Dojo


The last several months have been very demanding in regards my training.  Starting around March of 2014, I decided to start focusing time to prepare for testing for Yon Dan, 4th degree black belt.  To say the least, Yon Dan is a very unique test.  There are over fifty techniques to learn which encompass taijutsu, hanbo jutsu, jo jutsu, and bo jutsu.  This benchmark is also unique in that it is the last major hurdle you have to overcome in order for the movements to become your own.  In other words,  Sensei Sandhu begins to allow you to add your own spin to the kata as they are taught at the Gi Yu Dojo.  It is the first glimpse in to the art form becoming yours!

Around the same time I decided to pursue this challenge, several kohai from the Gi Yu Dojo also decided to step up to the plate and challenge their next rank test as well. So, as to help them prepare for their exams (as any good senior student should do to help others in the dojo and community) I balanced my time at the dojo between preparing for my test and helping others prepare for their test.  During this period, I noticed two interrelated elements required to passing Yon Dan and all the previous tests.  Mimicry and  Intention.

The first element, mimicry is defined as the ability to “copy” what is shown by the instructor.   Sensei Sandhu has mentioned multiple times, that when one begins martial arts training,  we must attempt to completely mimic the movement of what is being taught.   Regardless of whether you are shorter, taller, smaller, larger, quicker, slower, weaker, stronger...we conform our movement to resemble that of Sensei's.

Therefore, when we are preparing to test for the next rank, we need to accurately compare our movements to Sensei's movements.  There are several tools available to assist us in this task.  First, we learn the movements by showing up to class; asking a senior student for some one on one time; and reviewing the student manual and rank review DVDs.   We can then use mirrors or videos of ourselves to compare our movement to Sensei’s.   Yes, we can ask a senior student or Sensei to review our movement which is highly encouraged, but we should also foster independence in our martial art training.  Being able to genuinely review our own movement without being egotistical is an invaluable skill and is essential in your personal ability to grow as a martial artist and person.  

The second element, intent is defined as having purpose.  We must foster our attitude within the movement, a purpose for why we are doing what we are doing.  This is a long process, a lifelong process because our movement can take on any number of flavors.  In the beginning though, developing our intent resembles mimicry in that we should focus on making our techniques precise, smooth, and powerful.  The difference between the two elements is that one is the honing of physical performance while the other is the honing of mental fortitude.     

For example, when first learning a new technique we should focus on proper body movement (mimicry).  Once we become proficient in the technique, then we start fostering a specific frame of mind to have while in the movement (intention).  That frame of mind might be that your technique will be unyielding.  Maybe it will be soft yet purposeful (precision), efficient (smooth), or maybe unyielding or unstoppable (powerful),

After years of training, these intentions can become ever so unique.  For example, in one period of our lives we may want all our movements to be fast and thunderous or maybe we want our movements to be unbalancing and vague.  Yet in another, we may want our movement to embody the characteristics of a natural element like water, the wind or a diving hawk!

When I think of mimicry and intention I think of a gymnast’s balancing beam.  On one end we have mimicry and the other end we have intention.  We must start our martial arts journey on the side of mimicry and work our way to the intention side.  Once we get there, we will start back at mimicking another idea and then work to putting purpose in to the idea and movements.  This long journey has been proven time and time again, you can’t  ”cheat” or jump ahead…you must stay in the “box” of strict learning and once you have thoroughly learned the movements with the correct intention/purpose…then you will be breaking out of the box and the technique, the idea, the art is yours!