Broad or Deep

8:00 AM Monday, February 2, 2009

One evening after training at the Jundokan International dojo (sure, I can name drop with the best of them) I was invited to Chinen Sensei’s home (oops, let me pick that up too) and we and talked, oddly enough, about karate. After about a half hour, Chinen just looks at me and says, “You teach too much; you need to go deeper into what you have.”

What he was saying was simple and often overlooked: something that is designed for everyone rarely reaches anyone. Come again?

I was teaching too much material, and as a result studying too broadly. My art was suffering, my students were suffering and we did not even know it. So I returned home and went to work. I pared down the dojo syllabus, stripping off much of what had been added over the years by so many instructors before me. A codified set of movements, and officially named moved written into the canon of the art; I chipped away at them all.

After the list was completed, I dove into the forms for more study. Oddly, the deeper I studied the farther the bottom of the information receded from me. All of a sudden, I was deep and not broad. My focus was now not so much on pattern as it was on the simple turning of my knee, the pushing of a foot, or the alignment of my spine.

And I am stronger for it.

So I pass on Chinen Sensei’s advice to me to you now. It might be right for you or it might not: you are the judge of what is best for you.


  1. Just responding to validate the wisdom of going deep. I also received this lesson of going deep rather than broad from both my Zen and Karate instructors. It makes a big difference for everyone. Thanks for encouraging others to do so.

    David 'Shinzen' Nelson

  2. Well thanks David. As you know it really is a lesson that changes everything.

    Kris Wilder

  3. You lookin' at me!?

    jeffrey cooper

  4. Thanks Kris. I also got this lesson from Gosei Yamaguchi (Sorry, had to add to the name dropping lesson :). He taught by having us do the same basics over and over and over and over. Eventually I got past the boredom and realized it was never the same twice. I started thinking about each aspect of the movement, and how to approach it from a soft style versus hard style. Your Sanchin book was a great reference to this approach, in writing.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


  5. Iain -

    Great comment - When we get proof points like the same lesson from divergent sources it only lends credence to the message.

    It is also nice to here you find value in, The Way of Sanchin.

    Thanks for jumping in.


    Kris Wilder

  6. I have been out of the posting game for a while, decided to step back for this reason.
    Last night I spent a whole hour with my students on Mai Geri and Oi Tsuki, going very slow, breaking it down by count.
    Focusing on all the little things, was great!
    Quality over Quantity! Chinen was very right about that.


  7. Yep. We have a relatively small number of forms and techniques in our version of silat -- I expect a diligent student could learn the basic motions of them all in a few months, maybe a year, were it taught that way.

    S/he wouldn't have mastered the art in that amount of time, of course, but it's not really that complex a system.

    Simple isn't the same as easy, though ...

    Steve Perry

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