Ancient Drills

Do you know any ancient drills? I am surprised that I do know some. Of course I was not aware that I knew any until we were in the middle of a blocking exercise and our Sensei said “you know that this is from an ancient drill…” Of course we did not know. We did appreciate Sensei asking the question.

I am not sure what it is about the thought that the “ancient” practitioners of karate did the same drill we were learning that makes it so thrilling to be associated with that particular drill. The sensation of doing the same exercise that made someone else great was part of the emotion I felt as he said that we were performing an ancient drill.

Our Sensei was able to teach an ancient blocking exercise that brought home the circular movement of good blocks and the truth behind all blocking. Here it is: properly performed, all blocks are shedding blocks. Of course we do not mean shedding like a Golden Retriever! We know that when someone is holding onto us a big part of defending ourselves is to shed the hold.

Our dojo knows self-defense and we have numbers associated with each of our various self-defense techniques to ensure we pass along our knowledge in a systematic way of learning. We had already learned how to block and perform self-defense moves. Included in these lessons was the shedding of holds, especially in number 3. This ancient drill teaching put a cap on the knowledge about blocking and self-defense for me and several others who were with me in class that day.


Sensei Mae and Sensei Glen performing the ancient drill

Thinking back on my karate journey I know I have learned other ancient drills. How is it we have modern material or why not just learn the ancient ones? How have modern drills improved the ancient drills? Due to the infrequency of “ancient” drills being taught, are we right in assuming that karate is a modern art? Our Sensei says that all knowledge is open for discovery. He has learned, through practice, effective methods of teaching and essential truths behind moves. When our system was formed, he took the best of what worked and taught us that material. If it was ancient and did not work, we did not learn it at the dojo. Of course, ancient drills that work are an essential part of our curriculum.

Being a researcher, I looked up ancient in the dictionary (having been in existence for a very long time).  I found that we could argue that karate is “modern” or we can say a long time is 100 years making it ancient.  We live today in a modern world and we are learning a traditional martial art. I like the tradition in its best form.

Much of karate is shrouded in ancient mystery being practiced in secret societies or by the very wealthy. I had never given it too much thought. Of course it was the wealthy who studied karate, because who else in ancient times could hire a private teacher or even write it down.  Karate is said to have originated in some form prior to 1,000 AD. My experience comes from Funakoshi (the father of “modern” karate) through my Sensei in the last several years as I journeyed to black belt.

The point of our ancient drill is conditioning for our arms. The “ancients” were likely well off and required toughing up to succeed in the martial arts. The ancient drill we learned fit perfectly into Middle America where we are not working the land with our hands to earn a living or hitting a blacksmith’s hammer to fashion metal. Like the ancients, we also need to toughen up our bodies.

So, what is an “ancient drill?” One explanation is: if we can imagine Funakoshi taught the drill as an “ancient drill” or one pre-dating him and likely with no known school or author, then that would appear to qualify the drill as an ancient drill. Please leave me a comment below with your thoughts on what qualifies as an ancient drill.

Are you excited like I am to learn an ancient drill or exercise? Let us know in the comments below. I think that it does not make a difference how ancient is ancient to a newer student of the martial arts. It does influence how it makes me feel when our Sensei says we are performing an ancient drill.

It has always been exciting for me to imagine myself doing the same drill that the “ancient” practitioners of karate performed. Sensei Mae and I will continue to work on our conditioning and we are looking forward to the next ancient drill being taught.

What ancient drill or exercise are you practicing? Leave us a comment below. See you in class soon.