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.
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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.