Martial Musing: Randori As Warrior Dialogue

Free sparring has long been a way to test ones skill and understanding in the warrior arts. A small shift in perspective in the goal of randori brings massive rewards. I will share my view and approach to it.

Randori (????) is a term used in Japanese martial arts to describe free-style practice. In the dojo we do emphasize randori as a means to test ones skill and create new understandings. We usually have one person get in the center, and from that point on everyone just attacks the person in the middle.

Sometimes things get heated, and emotions flare. And its my job as Sensei to bring things under control. One one such occasion I was trying to explain the difference between “winning” the randori session and “learning in randori.”

When the student views the randori session as a mere fight the objective is to win. And we begin to rely on our most trained attribute and favorite techniques to do the same. And that is quite all right yet something is forgotten. The literal meaning of Randori is “chaos taking” or “grasping freedom,” implying a freedom from the structured practice of Kata (preset forms).

What we do when we hit a brick wall is to stop the session and together find a way out of it. This to me is the essence of Randori or Kumite or free sparring. When this shift happens in the dojo everyone wins. No sacred cows here, and every option is explored. This is the beginning of true Warrior Dialogue, and for me captures the essence of freedom from the known. Also we all learn what works best.

So try this next time you spar or do randori

1) Instead of testing your attributes and winning, begin to see it as an inquiry – begin to see each attack as a question posed to you. Now examine all possible answers, and most importantly the best answer for you

2) When you get stuck in a particular place or technique, return to your basics. I return to my Tai Sabaki (body positioning methods) and have discovered that most answers are there. When you do this particular method for a while you discover that “Advanced techniques are basics understood and done well.”

3) Get into the mode of multiple attackers on one, and its ok to get knocked out or tap out. The moments of “failure” can become what the Nobel Laurette Bucky Fuller used to call “Great moments.” Failures become great moments when you stop and learn from them in real time. Randori provides the best opportunity for great moments on the Warrior Path, when you approach Randori right.

When the student gets this, s/he begins to see randori as “dialogue” rather than a test. This step is critical as now the student is no longer viewing the sessions as something to win, or show his might. Rather s/he begins to understand that is is an opportunity to truly make this an inquiry into what works best. It becomes about finding the right way together with other students and the Sensei. In short everyone wins.

As always I remain open to your thoughts and constructive criticism. Until then train hard, and enjoy the chaos taking.

Mahipal Lunia
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www.TheRenaissancePath.com