During some random internet task I stumbled onto a fairly common image. It’s certainly nothing unique or even interesting, and yet I feel like it possesses a special quality for martial artists. After all, could anything be more aptly descriptive of the process of following a martial way?
You’ve probably seen the ‘work in progress’ figure attached to websites, work sites, etc.
As we continue to endeavor in our martial arts,we realize the endless cycle of self analysis and improvement that comes with training. That mindset of laborious persistence is key to long term success in the arts, and we must therefore always be a work in progress.
Perhaps simply emblazoning this figure across our gi might be a more worthwhile patch than any modern sponsorship, advertisement, or world championship logo…
I thought this was a pretty fun concept, but then a few voices of wisdom on facebook took it a step further. They suggested martial art specific versions! So without further adieu, for your viewing pleasure:
As New Years hits we are presented with a bittersweet moment where we reflect on things past and look forward to the future. What was in 2010 will never be again, for better or worse.
A significant part of Budo is coming to grips with mortality and learning how to make decisions, and once made moving forward strongly and bravely so as to better confront the next challenge. It’s with that in mind that we should look back fondly on 2010 no matter the circumstances, knowing we can grow and learn from every experience.
As time continues to march, I’ve sometimes wondered if my love for the martial arts would wain. Over the past decade or so my involvement with the arts has, like a steam engine, slowly built in strength and speed. What was once an average 3-day-a-week activity has turned into a life pursuit, one which I have carefully intertwined into my every day dealings. My work, my writing, my training, my reading all revolve around finding slivers of growth, and helping others find theirs as well.
I’ve learned to build in breaks and purposefully put down my training, even if for just a few days. Even so, there’s always that concern and wonder if one day I’ll find myself falling out of love; when I’ll wake up and not want to touch a gi. So far, after 15 years, it has not happened. Not even close, actually.
It’s beyond my full understanding but the arts have a way of becoming the best part of you, if you let them. Letting go of them would be letting go of Ikigai.
It’s with that I wish you a 2011 filled with strong spirit, so that you may overcome your obstacles and achieve those goals which will help you make the world a better place.
Perspective is important.
If you think about it one way, I’ve been involved in the martial arts for a long time (14 years). I’ve been doing kata for longer than I’ve been driving.
If you think about it another way, I’m a karate baby. Bill Hayes knew twice as much as I do now 30 years ago. Sadness and depression for me.
That’s why it’s never too soon to address not just the physical nature of your training, but the mental approach as well. In my opinion, you should think by year and train by day.
Think By Year
In order to access the deepest parts of your martial arts you simply cannot be in a hurry. Everything takes time and the pacing of proper training can’t be done at modern-world-speed.
We have a joke in our dojo called “okinawa time”, which means that things will happen when they happen.
For instance, if a class starts a little late – don’t worry about it. If you can’t figure out a technique, there is no need to stress. You have the rest of your life after all.
Thinking By Year is a process in which you set your goals not a few months ahead but a few years ahead. For example:
- Is there a new kata you’d like to learn? Settle into the idea of focusing on it for two years.
- Would you like to improve your kicking? Set a reasonable regiment of kick drills that you can accomplish every week for a year.
- Do you wish to understand the bunkai of your forms? Pick a form and critically analyze it over the course of three years.
The goal of this process is to reset the mind out of modern pacing and slow…things down…a bit. Instead of hurriedly acquiring the gross movements of a kata, why not examine every little body change and nuance? After all, you’ve got two years to think about this kata so there’s no rush to get on with it.
Now you might be thinking – Matt, it’s a little tough to think in years when my next testing is 3 months away! You’re right about that. In modern training where structured kyu ranking is involved, year-thinking is often not a great option. However, once you achieve black belt, designing your own training should be a top priority.
Train By Day
The main problem with Thinking By Year is procrastination. If you’ve got all the time in the world, it’s easy to wait until next week to put in some real effort. Of course, when next week arrives there are new reasons not to focus. And the week after that will hold new reasons again.
The idea of “surviving” or “coasting” through a class is a big-time disease for many students. It can take the form of physical laziness (which we’ve all seen), or mental laziness. Mental laziness is an acceptance of going through the motions and “getting your workout” without putting any thought into improvement.
Training By Day is a method wherein every time you step onto the dojo floor you strive to improve just a little bit. You reach for a small piece of understanding that you didn’t possess the day before.
One of the great big , mysterious, super inner circle secrets of the martial arts is that improvement takes place in painfully small increments over a hefty amount of time (interspersed with highly valuable ‘ah ha’ moments).
You need the short term fortitude to make those small steps, and the long term commitment to not feel hurried or impatient.
* * *
As a sidenote – living on “okinawa time” has been a great means of stress reduction in my life, and a source of aggravation for my friends and loved ones when they try to make plans with me.