Shorin Goju and Mysticism.

Robert Barton 

            We of Shorin Goju have been said to not believe that there are mystical components in martial arts training and skills. And that our instructors endeavor to convince others that these mystical components do not exist. This is not entirely correct in that this is neither our position nor our goal. The position of Shorin Goju is that there certainly may be some mystical aspects to the way some people train but that most of what is presented as mysticism is not mystical and has rational explanations. It is in these cases of things being misrepresented as mysticism that our instructors are often vocal.

            There are generally three reasons which motivate the misidentification of a skill as mystical. The first is that the demonstrator wants to wow and impress and so is dishonest. Alternately the demonstrator simply does not understand the actual explanation of the skill or technique and so is ignorant of the truth because he or she either does not bother to learn it or has not had the opportunity. There is also the case where there is a communication barrier and while the demonstrator understands the truth he or she simply cannot convey this to an observer. Personally I like to think that the second reason is the most common and that in most cases people are well intentioned but ill-informed.

            It is quite possible for a person to develop seemingly incredible skill and perform amazing feats without ever truly understanding what he or she is doing. It is often the case that this type of thing can become multigenerational with a series of instructors learning to do things and teaching their students to do things without ever fully understanding them and never being able to articulate what is happening. When these things start to be done without explanation or understanding it becomes easier to attribute them to various things through magical thinking. In instances where an instructor was separated from students by a language or other communication barrier such as cultural outlook it is not uncommon to see magical thinking start to take root.

            I have shown through classes and workshop that much of what is passed as mystical has very clear principles and may be rationally examined. Most of these things can be understood, articulated, taught and learned through rational means. It is the responsibility of a good instructor to articulate and teach students and a qualified instructor is able to teach many of these things. When these things are demystified and are clearly communicated it may remove some sense of awe but it does allow students to learn to perform these things much more effectively.

            Shorin Goju instructors are taught to examine and explain and to try to communicate to students as clearly and effectively as possible. The nature of our approach leads to clearer understanding of principles for our students. In that process we often demystify things which we feel perhaps never should have been mystifying. It is neither an intentional attack upon the mystical nor a denial of the existence of the mystical. This approach attempts to make things accessible and attainable to students and if in that process some treasured personal beliefs have to be reexamined then so be it.

            We realize that this occasionally engenders negative reactions in some of our peers. While I have seen some instructors upset by our clearly explaining something and demystifying what the instructor is doing I have yet to see a student who has something made clear have an unpleasant response.  Students wish to learn and they learn best when they are taught with clarity. As martial artists ourselves we try to understand things as much as possible and we apply a rational examination of all issues. As instructors we try to communicate martial arts information as clearly as possible. Our intention is not to erase mysticism or to attack mystical practices but our intention is to demystify that which can be rationally understood and articulated in an effort to present that information to students. 

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