Why should we train without question?

Students sometimes misunderstand the point of ‘training without question.’ They feel it as a devaluing of the knowledge and competence they already have. As though asking them to withhold their questions during training is the same as saying their questions are not intelligent or valuable.

The fact is, their questions very often are intelligent; and at the same time, those questions are not nearly so important as the askers might think. The great majority of questions asked during training do not need to be asked, and in any case, will be answered through physical practice.

There are few experiences more exhilarating than training hard in a strict traditional dojo, – the kind where talk is out of the question, – repeating a technique again and again with a partner as imperfect as oneself, feeling the technique a bit wrong, keeping at it, and gradually starting to feel how it might be made right. This is the work of the body, and it can never be done by the mind, certainly not by the mouth.

We Westerners ask questions more from habit than anything else. This is what we are taught in school: Asking a lot of questions means you are smart. If you don’t get something right away, question it. If something’s not going right, get someone to tell you how to fix it.

What we too seldom learn: How to stay silent, look and listen, without interjecting our own distractions. How to persist through the discomfort of not knowing, so we can finally learn deeply and well. How to refrain from asking for shortcuts when we are capable of going the full route.

Certainly, some questions are asked simply in an effort to get a handle on things. For example, “What is this move for?” – When learning a kata, having a handy answer will help the student to shape and remember the move. But it’s the instructor’s job to meet that need, not the student’s job to ask. A good instructor will find ways to convey what needs to be conveyed, and point the student down the right path. The student needs to remain open. Both need to do their proper jobs.

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