Saturday, June 22, 2013

Jan de Jong The Innovator

To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person who has studied Shihan Jan de Jong OAM 9th Dan's history and his grading system. Five have completed the technical requirements of the grading system, including myself, and others have completed up to various grades, but I am the only one who has studied the system itself. And do you know what arises from that study? A far greater respect for Shihan de Jong as an innovator.

Shihan de Jong is not given enough respect for being an innovator. Sadly, for many, his work has to be the product of the Tsutsumi Hozan ryu which was transmitted through the Saitos (his instructors) to him. If that is the case, he was merely a librarian. But my study of his history and his system tells me he was much, much more than a librarian. He was an innovator.

De Jong adopted the most Japanese of traits. He didn't just adopt from others, he adopted and adapted. Tempura was adopted by the Japanese from the Portuguese and then adapted to become uniquely Japanese. As was Buddhism, but not from the Portuguese.

I know for a fact that De Jong developed the mon and dan gradings. These gradings have more in common with each other than the kyu gradings, which tend to not quite fit with the mon and dan grades. The kyu grades came first, and were based on his Saito experience and exposure to judo and jujutsu in WWII Europe. The mon and dan grades came after his training with Minoru Mochizuki and when Yoshiaki Unno trained with him in Perth, and they reflect that experience.

The mon grades reflect a graduated approach to learning skills. Inherent in the mon grades is an analytical approach to teaching and learning skills. It involves breaking defences down into phases. De Jong said he developed the mon grades based on his experience developing a close combat system for the Australian Army. How do the army teach skills? They break skills down into phases. De Jong found this increased the knowledge and skill acquisition of his students.

This analytical method was not fully appreciated by De Jong and his instructors. It is a powerful tool, not just for learning his methods but for understanding and studying the methods of any martial art. An explicit understanding of this analytical method means it can be used deliberately rather than casually or accidentally.

One senior instructor has dropped the mon system from his grading system. Why? He suggested to return to the 'traditional' Tsutsumi system. That is very short sighted and possibly based on a need to be associated with a centuries old tradition originating in Japan. The dan grades have far more in common with the mon grades than the kyu grades, so does he drop the dan grades as well? You lose the analytical method by dropping the mon grades. Does this analytical method now form part of the 'secrets' of the system which only dan grades are privy too (if they are even understood)?

De Jong's dan grades are designed to produce instructors, and De Jong was justified in being proud of his instructors. They are world class. But they can be better if they understand the lessons the dan (and mon) grades teach.

I'll go out on a limb and say he developed the entire grading system. He adopted elements from other systems (particularly Yoseikan), but he made sure they fit within the overall structure of his school of thought. He adopted a systems approach, and everything he adopted had to fit within that system. It was a good first attempt, but it has to be remembered it was a first attempt. It should not be considered written in stone.

To be true to De Jong's legacy, we should likewise aspire to be innovators. We should adopt a kaizen mind set, continuous improvement. We should look outside our school and not just inside it. But we should adopt or change with a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve, and that should be for the betterment of our students.

One instructor has dropped the sword grading developed by Sensei Greg Palmer to prepare the students for the dan sword gradings. This grading taught and tested their ability to use a sword which prepares them for sword kata with an opponent in the dan grades. It's a logical, graduated process. Why drop it? If the answer is to reduce the onerous requirements of the grading system on students (it is one of the most comprehensive I have ever seen), then why did he introduce 10 new sword kata?

There are improvements that can be made to De Jong's grading system. We are living up to De Jong's legacy if we make those improvements. If we don't make those improvements, we are not following in his footsteps. But first we have to study the grading system, understand it, and understand what we are trying to achieve.

I am a huge fan of Isaac Newton's quote: if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. My aim is to see further than Shihan Jan de Jong. Far from being arrogant, this is following in the tradition set by De Jong. If any instructor is not aspiring to be better than de Jong, in practice or understanding, they are doing him a disservice.