Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jan de Jong Pt 14 - The Mon Grades


Jan de Jong introduced the mon system at the front end of his grading system in 1978. I am of the opinion that this is the pinnacle of the Jan de Jong school of thought.

In an article written by Mike Clarke for Australasian Fighting Arts in 1991, De Jong provides the following answer to Clarke's question, 'Do you think that was a good idea, to change the system to suit the students?':

Yes. I know what you're saying, but you know you can learn all the time. And if the results are better one way than the other, why carry on in a way that gives poorer results? I'll give you an example. In 1978 a Major Greg Mawkes MBE asked me if I would go and teach the army self-defence. I said okay and soon afterwards found myself teaching members of the SAS and the Commandos. Shortly after I had started to to do this the Major and I had a discussion about things. He told me that he thought the method of fighting was really good and he was pleased with that. But he said the men were having some difficulty understanding it all. I said this was the usual way of things and that my students were the same. He then explained the army did not have unlimited time to spend on this and that what he needed was quick results.

So it was at this point I had to think things through and see what I could come up with. I looked at the usual way the army taught things and decided I would alter the way I was teaching and come more in line with the army way of doing things. Well, do you know, the people started to pick things up much faster then before, and they could do the techniques much better than before! So I had a talk with my instructors and said I thought that we should change things so that we were teaching everyone like this. And at that time we changed the way we taught the students. The techniques were the same, it was only the method of teaching them that was different. And since then things have been much better.
This answer speaks volumes for De Jong on so many levels.

Prior to the introduction of the mon grades, the first gradings were the kyu grades (see a previous blog). The kyu grades are specified defences against specified attacks, albeit graded in shinken shobu no kata format (see previous blogs). The mon gradings consist of eight grades. Students 12 years and under start at first mon, 13-15 years start at 3rd mon, and over 15 years at 9th kyu. The reference to kyu in the mon system reflects De Jong's conceptualisation that mons are for children and kyus are for adults, however, the ninth to seventh kyu grades are part of the mon system and adopt the mon format. Lets look at the final grading of the mon system, seventh kyu, as an example of this format.

Breakfalls (Ukemi Waza) - demonstrate specified breakfalls.
Wakai no Kata - demonstrate a kata De Jong designed to introduce punching, kicking, and blocking at this level.
Throwing techniques (Nage Waza) - demonstrate specified throwing techniques from specified attacks.
Bodymovements (Taisabaki) - demonstrate specified bodymovements.
Unbalancing (Kuzushi) - demonstrate specified unbalancing techniques from specified attacks.
Locking techniques (Kansetsu Waza) - demonstrate specified joint-locking or joint techniques from unspecified attacks.
Basic blocks and attacks (Uke and Atemi) - demonstrate specified blocks and punches from specified attacks.
Reflex (Shinken Shobu no Kata) - see previous blogs.

I'll speak from a jujutsu perspective, although, many of the observations are applicable to most other martial arts. A review of the jujutsu literature will quickly reveal that the art is taught as defences against attacks. As tricks, which is in fact how H. Irving Hancock and Katsukuma Higashi describe each of their defences in The Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu.

Gerry Carr, in Biomechanics for Coaches, advises breaking down sport skills into phases. This reduces the possibility (probability) of the student being overwhelmed by the complexity and speed of the skill they are trying to learn, and makes it much easier to look for errors in their performance. He suggests that many skills can be broken down into the following four phases: (1) Preparatory movement (set up) and mental set, (2) windup, (3) force-producing movements, and (4) follow-through (or recovery).

Masatoshi Nakayama, in the classic Dynamic Karate, is a rare example of a martial artist dividing his skills into phases. When discussing the height of stances, he explains that 'the form of a particular stance is different in the ready position from its form at the time a technique is applied. The form of the stance immediately after the technique has been applied again differs from the preceding two. There is a delicate change at each stage, although the form looks almost the same.' Interestingly, for me at least, this reflects the injury science division of the injury production process by William Haddon into pre-event/pre-injury, event/injury, and post-event/post-injury phases. This is included in my book on the application of injury science and pain to the martial arts tactics and techniques.

Jigoro Kano, of course, is very well known for his division of judo throwing skills into kuzushi-tsukuri-kake, unbalancing-fitting in-execution. Tadao Otaki and Donn F. Draeger, in Judo: Formal Techniques, suggest this division is not only used for throwing techniques but also for techniques used in 'grappling situations'. However, I've never seen it used outside of throwing techniques.

What is De Jong's division of his jujutsu's skills? Based on the mon grades it is taisabaki-kuzushi-waza, bodymovement-unbalancing-technique. He had difficulty in separating the three, particularly when I discussed this division with him when writing Jan de Jong: the man, his school, and his ju jitsu system for him. But they can be divided into these three tactical components for analytical purposes (I refer to them as tactics as the technique is the end part of the tactic). Even De Jong did not fully appreciate the insights he'd achieved and the power of those insights.

We were teaching in Sweden one year and De Jong asked me what he should teach. I said bodymovments. He was very much opposed to the idea based on the grounds that the seminar participants would be bored with this 'mundane' exercise. I argued my case, and as a reflection of De Jong, he did teach bodymovements (albeit at the speed of light). At the end of the seminar we ended up with approximately ten instructors/black belt students requesting private lessons. Not in any of the techniques we'd taught, but in the bodymovements. They could see the uniqueness of this approach and the power of the division of tactics.

Another example of the utility of this approach. When living in London I attended Richard De Bordes pencak silat classes. Their pencak silat was very, very different (and highly recommended) to what I'd seen at De Jong's school. They didn't break their skills into phases of any description, however, I did. Even though they don't use the same bodymovements, nor unbalancing to any great extent, I could still apply this analytical approach to understand and study tactics taught in a relatively foreign martial art. I may not have been immediately proficient, but I knew what I was trying to do. I could practice the component parts of the tactic.

As a full-time instructor working at the Jan de Jong Self Defence School, I was engaged to teach more private lessons than any other instructor in the school. My approach in analysing and teaching techniques/tactics was taisabaki-kuzushi-waza. As Carr suggests, 'errors occurring during an early phase of a skill are bound to affect all the phases that follow. So when something goes wrong at the end of a skill, examine not only the last phase but also earlier phases to see if the root of the problem lies there.' I found that the vast majority of the corrections of a private lesson student's technique lie in the bodymovement. Fix the bodymovement and the unbalancing and technique took care of themselves. I suppose the students paid for my understanding of this methodology as much as they did in my expertise in executing these techniques.

Based on my study of the martial arts tactics and techniques, among other 'scientific' concepts and theories, for my book, I now divide the tactics of any martial art into kamae-taisabaki-kuzushi-waza, ready position-bodymovement-unbalancing-technique. This is a method of analysing the tactics, even when the tactic may not incorporate an element.

But breaking down a skill into phases is just analytical thinking. De Jong uniquely went beyond analytical thinking. Systems thinking has been described as the art of seeing the forest and the trees. According to Russell Ackoff, one of the founding fathers of the systems thinking movement, the difference between analytical and systems thinking is not that one analyses and the other doesn’t, but rather that systems thinking combines analysis with synthesis: analysis, taking things apart, and synthesis, putting things together and understanding how they work together. The fundamental assumption on which the systemic thinking concept is based is that everything is systemic. Everything interacts with (affects and is affected by) the things around it. This is not unlike the worldview adopted by many eastern philosophies.

De Jong broke his tactics down into their analytical elements in the mon grades. He would then teach exercises where the different elements were mixed. Different bodymovements were used with an unbalancing method to execute a technique. Different unbalancing methods were used with a bodymovement to execute a technique. Different techniques were executed using a bodymovement and unbalancing method. De Jong's 'thinking' evolved into systems thinking that was reflected in his mon grades.

One (nameless) instructor who now has is own school has dispensed with the mon grades. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. The mon grades have a degree of circularity that was influenced by Minoru Mochizuki's teachings. The kyu grades are more linear and direct, possibly reflecting the Saito brother's original approach. I would argue in favour of not going back to teaching 'tricks' but rather to embrace the systems thinking approach that De Jong adopted, even though he was unaware of it. It has to be said, the De Jong grading system is not seamless. The mon grades prepare the student for the dan grades more than they do the kyu grades. Having said that, they provide the student with the analytical and systems mindset to understand and study the 'tricks' in the kyu grades.

I've found a lot can be learnt from studing De Jong's grading system than simply studying the gradings. Even before I discovered the concept of systems thinking, I knew there was a more holistic approach being taught by De Jong. He wasn't just teaching a martial art, he was teaching a martial arts system. As Ackoff said: 'System is more than just a concept. It is an intellectual way of life, a worldview, a concept of the nature of reality and how to investigate it – a weltanschauung.'

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