In my journey through Budo, I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to train with many of the modern luminaries in karate, Kobudo etc. However, training WITH someone should not be confused with training UNDER someone. In the former case, when we attend a workshop or even a deep-dive weekend with a notable teacher, we may pick up some key pointers that help tweak our technique or enable some self-growth spark. Thanks to the availability of online seminars, it is now possible to attend workshops with notable instructors to whom otherwise we may never have an opportunity to learn from and with.
However, I would argue that training under someone involves a much deeper dive into learning, knowing and being. While training WITH someone generally never moves beyond some technical and one-dimensional instruction, training UNDER someone enables a teacher/student relationship to evolve. If the teacher is good, they will learn the student's strengths and build upon them. In professional teaching, we call this accessing prior knowledge. We grow a host of inter and interpersonal skills and a more profound technical skills-based and expertise within a particular field of study. It is about a relationship wherein there is regular and deep learning that goes from the mundane to the profoundly personal. Time and frequency are central. There is a substantial need for contact over a protracted period; in the case of martial arts, I would consider at least 2 or 3 years to be the bare minimum, with anything less than six months not qualifying to say we trained UNDER someone.
When we train under someone, the teacher gets to know the student as an individual and can support their evolution of technique and understanding. There is an opportunity for the student to learn the methodologies, mindsets, and approaches sincerely that their teacher embodies. At a deep level, the student learns to see and understand the world through the eyes of the teacher. In essence, the physicality of confrontation is translated through the problem-solving knowledge and skills that the student has learned from the teacher. The learning which has taken place enables the student to think their way out of the problem. Their movements become unconscious as they have fully absorbed the teacher's understanding - at this level of understanding in martial arts the conscious mind has been replaced with the intuitive or unconscious mind - the mind is untethered from knowing and has become.
When done at its very best, the student leaves the teacher as a more fully aware and articulate human capable of navigating the world and its opportunities/challenges.
Perhaps this is the true essence of 守破離 or Shu Ha Ri, which IMHO is not well understood by those who lack patience and a willingness to work hard and be wrong. Outside of Japan this concept is often connected to individualism, which may miss the mark by quite a bit as there is a difference between 割れる , 看破 and 押し破る.
Okinawan and Japanese Budo
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan