Monthly Archives: April 2012

Learn to Listen

Learn to Listen

Learn to Listen

The Dojo is silent. Ten students all sit with their backs straight, in seiza, eyes closed, breathing in through their noses, out through their mouths. Sweat runs down their backs, seeping from the pores on their heads. Muggy air fills their nostrils, and each student feels their heart beating in their chests and the blood pumping through their bodies. The faint sound of a car accelerating too quickly can be heard, the quiet buzz of the heater. One particular student’s nose twitches, the corners of his lips rising for just a moment, before settling back to their motionless state.

There are many points in my martial arts career I wish I could relive; the first class I ever attended, the first time I was punched in the face, the first time I punched someone else in the face, the first time I executed a diving roll, the first time I really threw someone, my black belt grading, my first student grading. There are many more. You get the point.

Often, we get so caught up in the anxieties of our lives that we forget to appreciate the moments that we live through. Those moments make up our lives and if we’re not present for them, it’s entirely possible to go our entire existences without ever feeling like we’ve lived at all. It’s such a tragic thought, that we could spend seventy to eighty years on this earth, learning, loving, teaching, training, falling, getting up, getting down, succeeding, failing, loving again, experiencing, traveling, hurting and healing without ever really appreciating the feeling of being alive.

The question becomes how to appreciate what you have, how to pay attention to those moments such that you really remember them, such that you really live them, such that your life has meaning for you.

My answer is no more complex than just to listen.

Stop talking, stop thinking, stop planning, stop reading, stop writing, stop arguing, stop waiting, stop fighting, stop working, stop caring, stop moving, stop everything.

And just listen.

Just as with focusing on your breath during meditation or a yoga class, listening forces you to live in the moment. You can’t listen to something actively, meaning thinking solely on the noises you’re hearing without being present. And being present, at least in my experience, gives one a great feeling of appreciation for what is happening right now.

So as you sit at your computer, or stand with your phone, or lie with your laptop, or however it is that you’re reading this, stop. Close your eyes, listen to the world around you. Be present.

And then, perhaps, in a few years time, when you look back on the moments of your life, you won’t need to feel like you want to relive them, because you’ll have already been there fully the first time around.

“The past is history,the future is still a mystery and today is a gift, that is why it is called the present.”

~ Master Oogway (Kung Fu Panda)

 

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What Martial Schools Can Learn from Yoga Instructors

Immersion into Yoga

Immersion into Yoga

With fingers spread wide, she jumps backward into a high plank, spine straight and eyes forward. Slowly, she lowers her chest toward the mat, then slides forward, through her arms and lifts her head up toward the ceiling. Her back is curved, her legs are strong and her heart beats rhythmically within her chest. Just for a moment, her mind wanders, wondering how much time is left in the class, how much more she’ll have to push before a rest. But it only lasts a moment. Realizing her drift, she focuses on her breath, drawing her attention back to the moment, where she is fully engaged.

At the surface, yoga and martial arts seem to aim for very different things. Without real knowledge of either, one could be forgiven for thinking that yoga is about peace, and most martial arts are about fighting. The truth is they can share many qualities, including calm mind, effortless movement, self development and physical prowess. Yoga makes for an excellent compliment to any martial artist’s training regime, and there is much that said artists can learn from the way that yoga studios choose to teach their art.

Immersion

For a practice that is based primarily around breath and flow, the idea of immersion is quite important for a yogi. Ideally, students are focusing on their breathing for the majority of the class, listening to their instructor’s commands and moving through poses in time with their breath (at least, this is what I’ve come to understand). Breaking that flow can be detrimental to the point of practicing yoga (moving meditation) and so immersion becomes one of the hallmarks of a great yoga practice.

In the martial arts, many students yearn for one to two hours of immersive practice, where they can let go of the daily stresses of their lives and engage in their art of choice. When students are brought into a different world, be it competitive, developmental, traditional, combative or whatever, everyone can benefit from less distraction and more concentration on the moment.

In both cases, good instructors create an environment in which it’s hard to get distracted. This relates to tone of voice, class content, dojo or studio location, music, other students, etiquette and more. It’s important to realize that immersion into a style, no matter what style it happens to be, will produce better and happier students.

Invocation of Personality

A friend of mine recently said “it’s hard for a dude to be an earth mother, you know?” He was referring to the different types of voice that yoga instructors use while teaching. Perhaps its because yoga is such an individualized practice, but many of the instructors that I’ve experienced have a very unique way of presenting their material. Some sing after class, some read poetry, some push you hard, some make it easy. There is a great flexibility within yoga to teach in a way that is a reflection of who you are and what you like.

That can be used for martial arts too. While I’m not saying one should throw the rule book out and teach things completely differently, what I am saying is that one’s personal approach to the martial arts should shape the way one presents it to their students. Martial artists should not be afraid to experiment with their practice, to try new ways of conveying ideas, to practice skills in different and perhaps challenging ways. This creates a more sincere interaction between students and teachers, and creates an authentic experience for those within the dojo. In short, students and teachers should be who they are, and teach from that place, rather than attempting to be something they are not.

Concentration upon Principle

I always secretly smile when a yoga instructor says “and then one day, you’ll jut pop into a handstand” because at the moment, I’m so far from performing a controlled handstand that it seems comical. But they’re right. One day, it will just happen. Through continued practice, the performance gap will get smaller and smaller until it happens of its own accord.

The yoga classes I’ve been to seem to place a great deal of emphasis on being where you’re at – concentrating on your own challenge and not pushing yourself before its time. Very rarely will an instructor “force” you to do something you’re not capable of. Instead, you’re asked to walk at your own edge, making tiny improvements with each practice, while concentrating on the bigger picture stuff.

Martial arts work very much the same way. Although many instructors will concentrate on the nitty gritty details and make continual refinements to their students, progress is made far more slowly. One cannot be taught in one day a picture perfect shoulder throw – only through continuous repetition is the lesson learned. Only by practicing principle is enough learned that the throw comes into shape. It’s a puzzle solved little by little, not realized in a single moment.

While there are definite differences between yoga and martial arts (especially when it comes to the application and practice of self-defense) that necessitate different training methods, certain aspects of yoga can be adapted to benefit martial arts experience. Obviously it depends on what your martial art is like, how it’s practiced and what its goals are, but for me personally, the practice of yoga will only serve to enhance my ability to teach and train in the martial arts. As always, reaching beyond one’s knowledge can provide insight and new ways of thinking that serve to improve and develop one’s art.

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.

~ Unknown

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5 Reasons to FULLY Commit to Your Martial Art

Kyuzo Mifune

Kyuzo Mifune Was Fully Committed to Judo

After a long day of teaching, the old master settled into his chair in the corner of the dojo. He felt the weight of a lifetime of training, his joints stiff and a myriad of niggling injuries letting themselves be known as he allowed himself to relax. His uniform was tattered in places and his belt barely clung to his waist, having been tied thousands of times. His face was serene as he watched the younger students throw themselves into the art, full of enthusiasm. A smile crept across his face as he saw one student perform a particularly effective technique and for a moment, he indulged himself in thoughts of his younger days.

In today’s MMA influenced world, a number of new martial artists dabble in different types of arts, picking up a collection of skills that combine to create excellent fighters, capable in lots of areas. The committed martial artist, who has spent their lives in a particular style is quite a rare thing.

Commitment can be a frightening thing. I speak not of commitment to other people, but to a personal path, perhaps a career, a musical instrument, or in the case of this article, a martial art. The benefits of training are numerous, but what of commitment? Devoting oneself to a singular thing means spending the majority of your time with it, studying, practicing, reading and teaching. That time could be spent exploring other things, having fun, socializing, traveling or whatever takes one’s interest. The opportunity cost of commitment is high, but the benefit of committing to a singular path can also be significant.

5. Long Term Friendship

When one moves from style to style, they are likely to make a lot of friends, which is great! Although the point of a martial art is not to make friends, its one of the best side-effects of training and teaching. When someone commits fully to a singular martial art, they end up connecting with others who do the same. With a shared path, sincere friendship blossoms and friends can watch each other develop over time and provide support along the way.

My most sincere friendships have come about because of my personal commitment to a martial art and although I have met a great number of amazing martial artists in my career, it is those who share my path that I connect with most of all. Those friendships I will take with me wherever I go, and they are something that I am greatly thankful for.

4. Transfer of Knowledge & Tradition

When one commits to a martial art, they end up learning a great deal about it. That much is obvious, but often, that dedication leads to teaching roles and the sharing of knowledge. Were it not for the committed martial artists, fully devoted to learning as much as they can about a single thing, the mastery of those arts would be lost and with that loss, the opportunity for new students to benefit.

The martial arts are an ancient, ancient thing. When I think about how long people have been developing martial arts, and how long people have been practicing, I’m amazed. More knowledge has been lost than we can probably fathom, and the more we can preserve for future generations, the more they will benefit. A lot of that depends on the committed martial artist.

3. Influence on Others

Were it not for the few who really push themselves within certain martial arts, progress within that style would be a great deal slower. Sometimes that progress breaks down boundaries between social groups or ethnicities, sometimes it inspires others to want to improve themselves also, or achieve something of significance in their lives, and sometimes, it’s merely that the art itself is pushed into new realms of efficiency and effectiveness. Those benefits can then be shared with others and that influence can only come about when one is fully committed.

As a secondary benefit, one’s teaching becomes better and better when they spend a lot of time doing it. That teaching really helps to influence other students, making their learning easier and more enjoyable.

2. High Proficiency

Bruce Lee famously said that he feared not the man who had practiced a thousand kicks, but the man who had practiced one kick thousands of times. Dedication to a singular art (perhaps throwing or locking systems) means true proficiency in that art. That level of proficiency is an immensely powerful thing. Those who have felt Aikido masters take balance know this, those who have been struck by Karate masters know this, those who have been thrown by Judo masters know this. Perfection of an art is impossible, but only the dedicated ever come close.

1. Depth of Understanding & Appreciation

Perhaps the greatest reason to commit fully to a singular art is the appreciation one develops for that art over the course of their lifetime. Most pursuits have a great deal of depth to them. True appreciation for an art can only take place after learning the basics, delving into the mechanics of technique, solving problems and ascending to higher levels of understanding. The beginner can never understand or appreciate an art in the same way a master does. It requires training and a length of time studying to understand nuance, to notice detail and to appreciate what is actually occurring.

Although I would never say that commitment is the only way to go, it is certainly an attractive path, especially when you’re honest with yourself about your interest. After a time, one’s self defense skills are accounted for, one’s competitive itch may have been scratched, one’s fitness honed. What then? Shallow reasons for training only take someone so far. It is the dedicated practitioner who reaps the deep benefit of a lifetime of training, for both personal and social reasons.

It is my hope that every martial artist can feel firstly that their training has meant personal progression, but has also had some kind of impact on those around them, that they have in some way, either small or big, left the world a better place for their efforts. This, I think, often happens when one commits fully to their martial art.

“A man who has attained master of an art reveals it in his every action”

~ Samurai Maxim

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Why To Create a Personal Martial Manifesto

Where Does Your Path Lead

Where Does Your Path Lead

Although he wasn’t the fastest, or strongest, or most talented of players, he certainly seemed to have the most fun. Session after session, he’d show up, smiling and ready to begin. Sometimes he wouldn’t be able to finish and would rest while the others kept training. Other times he’d sit for the entire class, not quite able to participate. After bowing out, he’d always thank the other students for their time, before heading home to record what he’d learned that day.

He was blind.

When I was a beginner, I loved to fall. There was nothing more exciting within Jiu Jitsu classes than learning how to perform diving rolls, flying through the air and coming back to my feet, smoothly and quickly. Once I started learning more advanced falling, from height, over chairs and around others, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself smiling during those segments of class. Part of me still wants to be a stunt man, and maybe I’ll get to scratch that itch at some point in my life.

As with all things, in time, that changed. These days, I am drawn to the difficulty of live training, the effectiveness and application of technique, the affect that attitude can have on outcome as well as a number of other things. I still love to fall, of course, but my appreciation for the art I practice has deepened a great deal. It’ll change again, likely soon, and I’ll become a different practitioner, and for that reason, I chose recently to begin work on a personal martial manifesto.

A manifesto is a piece of writing designed to convey your thoughts and intentions related to something that matters to you. A martial manifesto explains your attitude toward training, what you want to achieve, what you’re doing to get there and why you think there is validity in your training. It serves not only as a retrospective, but also a signpost, and as an exercise, can help you to develop more complex thought about what you spend your time doing. It doesn’t have to be very long, or very well written. But what it does have to be is honest. You must be as sincere as humanely possible. All real development requires reality.

Self-awareness is one of the most important skills a human being can possess. The ability to put some distance between your mind and your actions, judge those actions as objectively as possible, then return to your life will help you to make wiser decisions, avoid problems, use your time better and be happier with what you have. A martial manifesto helps you to assess your training, for better or worse, and make decisions on what you’re doing. When you look at your training with an honest eye, what do you see?

It could be that you’re driven by competition. It could be that you’re driven by personal development. It could be that you’re driven by the need for self-defense. It could be that you’re driven by making friends. Everyone has different reasons, and they will change over time. Can a blind Judo player win a world championship? Perhaps. Can they show up to a class with the intention of enjoying an activity, participate as much as possible, and get exactly what they’re looking for? Absolutely. No one can tell that person they’re doing it wrong. And no one can tell you that your reasons for training are wrong, that what you enjoy about class is wrong or that you should feel differently.

Your manifesto becomes a testament to your reasons, your unique set of circumstances that cause you to step through the doors of a dojo twice per week. I would argue that you owe it to yourself to think about those reasons. Understanding them just might give you even more reason to enjoy your training.

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”

~ Isaac Asimov

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Let Someone Else Decide

Let Someone Else Decide

Let Someone Else Decide

A smile crept across his lips. The perfect place to sleep! It was near a restaurant, had a heat vent, and seemed sheltered from the rain. It was far enough away from the strip that he wouldn’t get bothered or beaten up. He would be able to hunker down, get comfortable and finally recover. Glorious.

It’d been three days since he last had a real meal, a real sleep or hadn’t felt afraid. Here, he could relax a little bit. He looked up to the night sky and issued a small prayer of thanks, then started to dig through his shopping cart for the blanket he’d found the day before.

As he closed his eyes, the warmth from the vent washing over his unbathed body, his smile persisted. Happy, he fell asleep.

Only a few days ago, I said goodbye to my Jiu Jitsu club, leaving it in the capable hands of a couple senior students. For a while before the change, I wondered what I would do with my time afterward. Improving the club and teaching my students was a huge focus of mine, and my departure means I’ll have more energy for other things. The only question is, what? There were a number of things on my mind, but it would seem the Universe has made my decision for me.

A Question of Direction

Often, we stress about the desires within our lives and the directions we’re moving in. Where do you want to live? What do you want your career to be like? Who do you want your friends to be? What kind of a person do you want to date? What are you even doing with your life? Sometimes, you make those decisions easily, pursue them, perhaps even achieve them, then move onto your next desire.

But what if you’re not sure? What if the questions still linger? What if doubt creeps into your psyche while you’re making life changing decisions? What if you’re not sure what exactly you want? What then?

Letting Go

At that moment, perhaps you can let someone else decide for you. There are always lessons to be learned (from anything), and giving up the sense of control you have can be freeing. Give yourself to your circumstances and see what comes of it.

So for the foreseeable future, I will be investigating Yoga. Today I won an unlimited membership to a local yoga studio, which I’ve been a member of a couple times in the past. Whilst I had originally thought I might pursue something a bit more martial with my new-found time, why shouldn’t I take a look at something that’s been placed into my lap so conveniently?

As much as I espouse taking control of your life and chasing your dreams, letting go of one’s attachments usually has a very positive affect on life. At the end of the day, our dreams and desires for our lives are very much attachments. We carry them around with us and if we’re unable to achieve them, they niggle at us, tell us we’re not doing all we should. But paying attention to what’s around you, and interacting with that, with just that, and making the most of it – this is wisdom. It’s about being thankful for what’s available, not what you desire.

Choose What’s Available

I used to tell my martial arts students that they never get to choose the technique they perform in a combative situation. It’s always chosen by the situation, by the attack that comes their way, by the energy they are given. That’s not to say they shouldn’t try to do the absolute most they can with their opportunities. They, of course, should execute the appropriate response to the best of their ability, but what they cannot do, is predict, anticipate and prepare for something completely unexpected. One can only react.

As it is in martial art, it is in life. Some things we can prepare for, some we can’t. Being unsure of your path is one such instance. However, When you take stock of your current situation, whatever it may be, and react to the best of your ability, you’re more likely to succeed, more likely to be thankful for what you have, and more likely to be happy. And really, isn’t that the point?

So let go of your thoughts, your attachments, open your eyes and see what’s on the menu.

“Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.”

~ Napoleon Hill

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