Krause cites the following as Sun Tzu's principles:
Self-competition and national competition.
While we in the College do not practice the second, the first is certainly true, as indeed is the natural healthy competition within the organisation. People naturally want to do better. As a coach you will need to recognise the two situation and nurture each accordingly to enable students to gain from the situation. It is up to you to ensure that in these 'competitions' no one loses.
It is also important to know when to 'compete' particularly against yourself. Where there is no benefit, action is a waste of effort.
2. Show the way/leadership.
The world is full of good managers but few are really effective leaders.
Correct and effective leadership, Sun Tzu tells us is vital to success on the battlefield. Only a coach he embodies most, if not all, of the characteristics of a leader will motivate his charges to excel. He must lead from the front be it in the form of a perfect demonstration or simply just being there.
He will work and live by a set of rules or ethics that may encompass, but will not necessarily depend upon, external guides. He teaches from the heart. It should be mentioned here that the Amateur Sports Karate Organisation is a non-profit making organisation and no instructors get paid, thus taking away the possible motivation of financial gain.
He gives direction, sets examples and is flexible enough to adapt his teaching to the newest beginner to the most senior student.
3. Do it right/ma-o-shimeru.
A coach must have strategies to cope with every situation; formed strategies and formless strategies. At all times he must present to his charges a progressive, decisive way forward and be able to demonstrate it.
Coaches in other fields may get along with intellectualising techniques and ideas, but not in the Amateur Sports Karate Organisation.
The formed strategies will be set ways which he has developed over the years of his own training, to help people attain a specific goal; the mechanics of gedan barrai, for example. The formless strategies are the vehicle on which the application of all techniques, all kata, all the years of kihon are passed on.
There can be one set way to coaching. Water finds its own level but rivers never take the same path. The coach must be able to negotiate all paths.
4. Know the facts/be constantly aware of your surroundings (terrain).
Generals employ spies, Sun Tzu recommends it. Modern companies, while none may admit to industrial espionage, place a lot of stock and resources in knowing the market place they are in. Failure to do so can be fatal.
So it is with the Amateur Sports Karate Organisation coach, he needs to be constantly aware of his surroundings, both in the dojo and in the marketplace that he recruits his students from. This is also about a heightened degree of sensory acuity in carrying out the teaching and practice of karate.
In any battle you need to know what is going on around you.
5. Expect the worst/plan!
The coaches strategies should take into account the worst - in College terms that everyone may leave. The atmosphere created should be such as to keep the students there, keep them practicing because they really want to be there.
There will also be times when the students do not perform as well as you would have hoped. This is where a high degree of flexibility in approach is vital. A willow tree bends in the wind and so the branches, being supple do not break.
6. Seize the day/be decisive.
The simplest methods are always the best for advancement. And lots of simple things add up to lots of advancement and by their nature are easier to attain. This puts less of an emotional strain on the students and offers feedback and goals quicker.
Speed is always of the essence in victory.
Successful strategies for the coach will be ones that are simple, quick and easy to understand and avoid difficult methods of practice.
Often a complex kata will be broken down into its constituent parts or techniques. Concentration on these smaller parts is easier, less overwhelming and also allows for simple well rehearsed strategies of teaching to be employed.
7. Burn the bridges/ seek out the edge of chaos.
Sun Tzu recognized that people are motivated by profit and gain.
The successful coach will motivate his students by clearly showing them the benefits that are available to them. He must focus on the positive, what is there to be achieved rather than the negatives, the risks, this adds the possibility of demotivation at seeing all kinds of imagined and unreal obstacles before them.
But the coach must also push his charges into realms that they may never have gone before. The student must be coaxed or seduced out of his comfort zone into areas where there may be no comfort (and quite a lot of discomfort!) at all. Once there it is vital that the student stays there and so the coach burns the bridges that crossed the gap of decision.
This place on the edge of chaos is where great leaps of progress and learning take place, but it is also a terrible and unforgiving place, of dreams and nightmares.
8. Do it better/ unpredictable.
Sun Tzu says there are only two strategies. The expected and the unexpected. Adaptability and innovation through the effective use of imagination.
Anyone can plan for the expected, but by definition it is impossible to plan for the unexpected.
Students are taken to many places on their journey of learning, but to progress at some point they need to be taken to places they have never been before. In this way will the teaching of unpredictability and imagination be passed on. By action rather than thought.
In battle it is always the innovative than triumph, they can take the possible out an impossible situation and turn it to their advantage, usually be sheer imagination.
9. Pull together/ promote a common direction.
It is one thing to instigate a practice or training method, it is quite another to put it all together into a meaningful part of a much wider goal. Whatever that goal may be. It must be realized that all parts of the practice are not really isolated parts at all, merely elements of something much greater.
The only way the Amateur Sports Karate Organisation coach can achieve this is by effective training. Long term training promotes a sense of sharing in the goals of the organisation, of belonging. It is at these moments that the teachings of the coach are most effective. And everyone will pull in the same direction, generally. Some may adventure out on their own from time to time.
This is when the benefits of practice are most obvious. And it also within this framework that 'bumping up' is most easily dealt with.
It is vital for the coach to stay focused and aware of the direction his students are taking. This information must be passed on from practice to practice to ensure continuity.
11. Keep them guessing / deception.
In warfare, deception is one of the greatest allies you can have.
If an enemy has no idea of your strategies or where you are going to attack, he will, by necessity have to defend many points and thus an initially stronger enemy will become weakened.
The strategies of coaching must be so adaptable as to appear to be 'made up as you go along'. Thus coping with all and any situation.
The coach may use deception with the student to enable him to think more about a given idea, practice more, etc. But it should be noted that this deception is in no way immoral. The student will in turn learn (consciously or unconsciously) the strategies of the teacher and use them to deceive his attackers.
War is obviously high risk, can be fatal and is about killing and is immoral. The mindset for the two activities are completely different and parallels cannot be taken at all levels. This is no doubt the moral dilemma the samurai had when the entered that period of enforced peace under the Tokugawa Clan in the early 17th century. The thrust of a wooden bokken at a classmate can never equal the thrust of a flashing blade against an enemy's torso.
Having said that, martial arts teaching should always be about reality and the situations are as real as they can possibly be. Students are taught to evade attacks effectively and easily, expending as little energy as possible from the very beginning of their training. This enables the later attacks to be very real as evasion becomes second nature.
Sun Tzu's work is about strategies and how to effectively use them.
© Courtesy of Noel Hannan, Sensei in the Arts