Begun: 26th January 2011
The reason I love anime is probably one of the reasons why I stay on the path, or the doh. I am endlessly fascinated and inspired by the hard work and determination of others. All my favourite animes feature characters who train and train, and become strong enough to protect others from whatever evil there is du jour.
The point of this thesis, or book, or pamphlet or kitty tray lining, is to explore the difficulties that come with training, the joys and the intense frustrations that accompany each hour spent studying the minute and large detail of whatever martial paths we have chosen for ourselves. Ultimately, the goal of martial arts is perhaps summed up best by Morihei Ueshiba when he said ‘true victory is self victory, day of swift victory’. The point is not to argue which art is better or faster or stronger. Its easy to slip into the denigrations, we all do it, but I hope to throw the net wider with this thought experiment.
I was inspired to write this on a drive home from training, when I was thinking about the year ahead of me, of all the big dates in Goju, and what it would demand from me. Immediately two thoughts occur to me whenever I think of my training. The first thought is ‘wow, I hope I can be the best at all of these things! Let me train like there’s chocolate rewards at the end of every kata!’. There’s another train of thought that says “but where will I find the time? I’m not ready for this, maybe I can try again next year. Besides, all the Goju kids are a thousand times better than me, and Aikido is just too hard to even contemplate grading again.’
Both thought patterns have their value, even if the latter is negative and the former is too gung-ho to be really tolerable. I am constantly on a see-saw of mental statuses, worrying one moment then celebrating the next. It affects my training quite severely, and it is my hope that through further training, and maybe through the guidance and examples of others that I can find some kind of middle ground, the middle of the path that will make this long journey easier. Never less interesting, but perhaps more productive. It will never be less rewarding, but I would like to make progress without being hampered by mental reluctances.
This will be my story and my search for answers, but it is also the shared collection of experiences by others who walk the path, and perhaps we are all more alike than we think. Only time, research and honesty will tell.
I haven’t been training long, not in the sense that anyone could take me or this thesis seriously. And that’s fine, because that’s how it should be. As far as the path of budo goes, I have travelled so little of it in my five and a bit years of training. I hope that one day I can look back at this piece and see some massive growth, and have a good-natured laugh at my younger self. Until then, I hope this will help me find my way there.
Chapter one: Does this gi make my bum look big?
It sounds like the most ridiculous thought process to be having on the mat, but one that’s indicative of many other problems. Its known as the ‘too much mind’ problem, the analysis paralysis that one encounters, often triggered by the intimidating wall of mirrors by the mat.
We all know the joke from Forbidden Kingdom. Jackie Chan’s character shouts at the annoyingly American lead character “you know too much! You must empty your cup!” and the kid throws out his cup of water with a dumb look on his face. For some of us, emptying the mind is the most difficult thing to do. But it is so deeply necessary, for how can the body be given clear direction when there’s a million distracting, clashing thoughts? My mind, like a computer, is both multi-tasking and hyperthreading. Hyperthreading is doing a series of tasks in rapid succession. What martial arts requires is very subtle multi-tasking that only looks like hyper-threading. Each punch must be the rapid flow of energy from foot to hip to shoulder to fist, but alongside that flow breath must be controlled, distance managed, posture aligned. During a kata, the hand must move just so, the back be arched just so, the feet placed just so. We can argue for days about whether each one takes place in succession or together, but either way requires a clear mind.
I can’t be the only one there in the middle of a technique with the buzzing thoughts, the whole process of why is this so hard-is my backfoot right-why is Sensei watching me like that-dammit my head hurts-this person is being so stubborn, grrrr-is this a grading technique-wow I look like a mess-stupid hips are facing the wrong direction and on it goes. Its like a kindergarten of screaming children sometimes, and I don’t know which one to stuff with candy so that they’ll be quiet.
Last night at training it was just Sensei and I, as the other students went to a teaching course. So, we worked on my grading kata. Now, Seiyunchin is a fairly low-stance kata and highly intricate. The difference between it and Saifa is the depth of detail. All the kata are important but there’s a marked difference in potential depth after Saifa. Saifa introduces diagonal stepping. Seiyunchin brings complicated hand movements.
But before the training even started, Sensei sat me down and explained the simple concept of learning to watch and copy others. Somewhere in my life, I decided that I would see what other people did, then rearrange it in a way that suited me. Which is fine, but only after shodan. This is the reason why my footwork is shocking in both Aikido and Goju Ryu, as well as my general movement. I’ve always told myself that I never wanted to be like anyone else, but the problem with this mentality is that I’ve also missed out on learning the tools and foundations of many things. This expands to writing and being a responsible human being. If I’d watched my parents more carefully, I would probably be much better at saving my money, for example.
So, important lesson learned. There’s always space for questions, but right now I will be spending more time watching others and being a little Xerox with tattoos.
And practising Seiyunchin in the kitchen at work.
2 thoughts on “Martial Arts Theory Diary”
I am busy “relearning” Saifa the Shukokai way, and it is different. There is a lot more emphasis to it, or maybe I was concentrating too hard on other things in Goju to notice the finer details of it. It does seem to have a lot more impact, and the subtle differences are taking some getting used to. Some of the smaller moves are suddenly huge and well emphasised, while others that seemed big are now not as obvious but still maintain their power.
My biggest failing is forgetting to look in my kata before I move. That tiny detail, just to look to where you are going, to your “would be attacker” makes all the difference. I keep getting reminded, and everytime, I forget… its like my brain can’t handle that tiny little detail. If I do remember it, the kata flows and I am balanced. Most of the time I fall a bit and am bitty… if that makes sense?
As for emptying the cup, that part only triggered with me in the late part of last year, and when I got that right, everything suddenly started to work. It makes a huge difference. Just focussing and letting go of everything else from the day!
Keep it up. 🙂
Once the hips are aligned, the feet are planted, and the intention is there, kata become easier. I find the most important thing is to move with intention – I am here, but I want the be THERE – and I make it so. Of course now with Saifa having been revitalised in this new Goju, with softer but more effective blocks and a hundred subtle changes, its going to be hard. There’s so much more to learn and even more to unlearn.
Have a spine like a willow – flexible but sturdy, plant your feet in yom quan, relax into your technique and let it flow through you rather than forcing the technique out. And as always remember: this is not a game we play.
Most important of all is drilling. The mind gets in the way of karate. Hours of informed, conscious practise are better than any kind of thinking. Your body knows the way better than your brain does. After all, it is the one doing the moving!