Saturday, December 10, 2016

Kurushi 苦しい ([Lame] Excuses)

Kurushi 苦しい ([Lame] Excuses)

There are many words and expressions for 'practice' in common usage. Renshu 練習 is a term derived from metallurgy, meaning to forge (strengthening, adding whatever characteristics are meant to be imparted while removing impurities) but has been used for centuries in reference to practice (initially, meditation).

Keiko 稽古 is a slightly more holistic term a compound of two kanji (chinese characters) kei (consider, ponder or think [about]) and ko (old). Keiko implies a marriage of practice and study with an eye toward appreciating the roles of previous generations reflected in our traditions. There are also far more specific turns-of-phrase for things like austere practice (Shugyo)

As you may have gathered from previous blog entries, the notion that consistent practice is integral to acquiring any worthwhile skill is a one that we hold near and dear. Creating (and maintaining) a meaningful Nichijo no Renshu (daily training) can be difficult; not everyone has the inclination or interest to do it, and even for those who do, there are no guarantees of Awesomeness, only proficiency (and even so, not quickly). Let's look at some of the most commonly heard excuses.

Before we start in earnest, for the purposes of this essay, let's define practice as: a means to connect the observed (external) to the soma (comprising mind and body- the internal), creating cohesively consistent and usable 'assets', girded by the basics and principles of your art or way (which can then be used both internally and externally). One key component to 'practice' is repetition, but unlike training*, practice can't be done mindlessly (ultimately, good training can't either...); if training is about reinforcing core mechanics, practice is how you express those taijutsu (literally, body skills).

It takes too long/I don't have the time”

A period of focused, mindful, practice is of far more use than a much longer (but scattered) session. In truth, many arts' basics can be done in a relatively short period of time. Realistically at the beginning of an art, you can do everything you know in well under 20 minutes. With a greater volume of material comes a requirement that you select what you will devote your time/energy to during any individual session (FWIW, Kihon [fundamentals] should still factor in).

I'm not in the right shape”

And you plan to get into shape by doing... what now?

When beginning in an art, you'll spend some time doing conditioning (even if you are in competitive athletic shape). Why? Because each system has unique requirements for things like balance, connection and flexibility that being 'in shape' will be good for, but miss the mark. After achieving a baseline, it is necessary to maintain or surpass that conditioning level, lest you come to an intellectual understanding with no means to physically manifest your art. Does that mean that you will be an olympic-level athlete? No, not unless you train to be, but for every art or way there are some specific things that make learning the method go more smoothly; conditioning is high on that list.

I tried training but I didn't seem to be getting better”

If you're at an early stage of training, it is likely that you won't feel the improvement; that doesn't mean that there isn't any though. Later, you will hit plateaus or even start backsliding- (often what seems to be regression a good sign in part because it heralds the transition from forcing things to work to actually making use of the appropriate basics).

With that said, if your daily regimen is the same at year 5 or 8 as it was at year one, something may be hinky** By the time you've been around for a while, even if the amount of time that you spend practicing daily is the same as when you started, the focus will necessarily have shifted. Rather than taking days-off and bargaining, making the choice to engage in a consistent daily practice is of far greater use than skipping days and doing marathon 'make-up' sessions (if you can regularly find hour[s] in your day though [outside of livelihood, familial responsibilities and sleep/health maintenance] do that!) So maybe changing the concentration of your time may make a difference.

I can't remember what we did”

How good are your notes? If you aren't taking them, you're depriving yourself of a critical study tool. If you are but still get home and can't figure out what the heck you meant, you may need to find a better method. Some folks use pictures, descriptions, outlines or combinations of some or all; the idea is to find something that works for you (check with seniors, teachers and classmates, they might have helpful suggestions).

I don't want to do it wrong”

Okay, let's change contexts for a moment (just to fully appreciate what an insanely counterproductive notion this is)- imagine a child saying, “I'm not going to read (or practice reading) until I can read perfectly.” That makes zero sense. Here's the bad news- if you practice, you're gonna spend some time doing it wrong, but, there's good news too- if you've done the preliminary training, you can only do it 'wrong' for so long; at some point, principle, body method and theory meet*** to steer us in the right direction (sometimes, despite our brains' best efforts).

I need to be better first”

This is, in some ways, a continuation of the previous excuse. Improvement through practice assumes that you aren't starting from 'perfect'; the process of shedding unhelpful tendencies/habits while building-in more useful ones (liken that to creating a sculpture from a block of raw material) simply doesn't happen without practice (or to strain the allusion, carving). The sculpture gets better the more you carve to a point. Beyond that, it's no longer a matter of removing material but of polishing to bring-out the fine details. Even if the competence is obvious to you, that polish and 'finish' work allows the intricacies to express themselves.

Now it's true, we're not blocks of wood, granite or marble. We're complex(ish) creatures with bodies that (usually) aren't ideal and are never (totally) free from discomfort. With that said, what daily training offers to those willing to participate is the process of working with those raw materials of body and mind (and to, through exertion, develop ourselves into something more today than we were yesterday. Not ideal, just better.

I get enough from class, I don't need to work at home”

Maybe that's true. However, if even a chance exists that we gain more through the process of practice and study itself than merely the acquisition of 'skill;' perhaps expending effort every day offers rewards beyond getting good at punching, kicking, throwing and using tools. Heck, one might even suggest that training is, itself, some kind of path...

Yours in Renshu,

Jigme Chobang Daniels, instructor
Aoi Koyamakan Dojo

*We are drawing a distinction here between training (conditioning and development work for strength, posture, alignment, etc., usually in service of integrating core structural and movement principles), and practice, which points to acquiring, understanding and refining those principles. To be reductionist, training (development and observation of your body, position, power uses, spinal and joint placement, etc.) is the scaffolding that allows you to do things that you're expected to; practice (observation of the external and bringing it into your sphere as developed through training) lets you build more complex structures, so as to do things that you want to.

**At that point, have you been training in your art for 5 years, or, as people are fond of asking, “have you had the same year five times?”

*** This is not to say that it is impossible to misunderstand or think about things incorrectly, only that with correct training the physical expression will out... eventually.

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