It’s not a sprint!
It’s often said that ‘anything worthwhile doing, is worthwhile doing well’ or that ‘it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey’. Whilst these might be cliché, they definitely apply to our training in budō.
Unlike sports of any kind, budō does not ask us to peak or taper for a bout or big event. Budō asks us to be ready anytime and anywhere and anyhow for what is needed to be done in life. This means, we as budoka do not switch off the martial mindset or physical training. Nor do we intensify training to fulfil an often ego-driven short-term goal (like a game or race as I mentioned above). Therefore, training, or more specifically a life in budō, is and needs to be a ‘slow and continuous burn’ that evolves over time.
By ‘slow burn’, training in budō, as a way of life, needs to be sustainable over a long period of time to reap the benefits throughout your life. Training in budō also should provide the opportunity to get better in all areas of yourself with age, and your martial capacity shouldn’t diminish in efficacy or power as you age. Conversely, sports (including competitive martial arts) promote athletes that are young, physically strong, fast, and/or nimble, and have a career pinnacle that often ends at around the age of 30. Therefore, to achieve at the highest level, practitioners need only become expert in a very specific skill set, at a very specific moment in one’s life, and this skill set is determined by the rules of ‘the game’ in which one competes. This is so that the competitor may excel over another competitor within the same skill set within this ‘perfect age bracket’.
Speaking from experience, when I used to fight competitively, my training was very specific and not overly varied in the number of techniques or strategies that I would engage with. Yes, I had to be physically fit, strong, and fast, and training was arduous and repetitive (and often boring as hell) because I was simply learning to be better at ‘the game’ or ‘ring craft’ than my opponent. I look back now on this and realise that the only thing I really took away from this process was resilience and a sense of athleticism that would later fade over time. I don’t believe I became a well-rounded human from training and competing to be the No.1 fighter in Queensland and 2nd in Australia; nor did I become a well-rounded martial artist, to tell the truth. Since putting away competitive fighting and representative sports, and swapping it solely for a life of budō, I believe my life has become enriched to no end. And I don’t ever see a day in the future before I die that my aging will prevent me from doing well that which nourishes me physically, emotionally and spiritually. Training in budō continues to provide me the opportunity to become a more effective martial artist with confidence in my physical ability, and subsequently provides me with the ability to engage more positively with other humans in all areas of my personal and professional life. That is not to say that I don’t stuff things up and get things wrong often. Just ask Cindy! It just means that I get it wrong less and get it right better with budō. I sincerely hope that your training in the dojo may provide you with the same never-ending benefits.
However, with the benefits of training in budō, and unlike training in sports, one thing that must be considered is that we generally never end a cycle of training for a rest period. Most sportspeople would train rigorously for a season or an event and then follow it with a restful period to recuperate. However, this is not budō. Budoka must manage a sustained and disciplined training regime that finds the personal balance in our lives; this is unique to the individual depending on one’s added demands of work, family, age and body condition. Without continuity in a sustained training regime over time, budoka won’t experience the benefits of their training permeating into all areas of their lives – it will simply remain solely physical and only be with them while they are on the mats. Additionally, you will find that sports people train independently for their own personal (or team collective) gains and accolades. However, budō on the other hand, asks us to work more cooperatively with others and consider the service element of our training: How we can better contribute to society as a result of our training. After all, the word ‘samurai’ 侍actually means one who serves. So, in my experience, if you want more from your training, then it’s not always about intensity and what you will get out of a particular session, but it is about continuity and service! Afterall, the journey is what nourishes and enriches your life, not the ever elusive ‘destination’.
I’m sure as we all age our bodies will ask different things of us in our training. Some students in the dojo are experiencing this now. Despite the gradual diminishing of physical strength over time, personally I am really enjoying the gradual replacement of youthful exuberance and physical (external) strength with the potency of the centre line and focussed concentrated power through consistent and persistent attention to basics (as I alluded to in my closing year demonstration last year). So as the year begins, take the time to return to basics – strong base through low posture; straight back; correct weight distribution; move from your centre; etc., and slow your kihon dosa down. Feel your connection to Uke, move uke, don’t just expect them to move for you, stay low, condition your legs and core. Also, take the time to condition your body gradually and purposefully in a sustained way that you can maintain over the long haul. As martial artists it’s our responsibility to personally condition our bodies diligently so that our martial training on the mats is amplified and that we can minimise injury (although injury is something that can’t be completely avoided due to the nature of what we do). If you expect the martial training to do all the conditioning work for you, you will never access the potential of the technique as you are asking it to fulfil a function that it is not designed to do. If you are unsure of what you could do for your personal conditioning, just let me know or drop it into your goals for the year and I will work with you to provide simple and effective ways to condition your body according to your level of fitness, age and body needs. Also, please feel free to make full use of the equipment in the dojo before and/or after class (see the photo here). Again, if you need help with how to use the equipment effectively and safely, please ask at the desk and I am more than happy to help.
Having said above that training must be sustainable, it also should be age-bound. In other words, to get the full benefit of your training in later years, one must first engage in rigorous and intense training when young. Only then can the hardness give way to softness in later decades with experience. One can’t substitute and expect results in decades to come if never engaged in hard training in one’s earlier years. This is why – as the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido Gozo Shioda Sensei said before he died – there is so much ‘empty aikido around the world’. These people have avoided the rigorous and hard training and started with soft ‘empty’ techniques that have no substance – they have never transitioned from the hard and rigorous where a strong base of technique is felt, developed and understood. Budō (as an artform that goes back centuries) is first developed and felt in the body before it can be intellectualised in the mind. In other words, the hard work has to be done physically and you can’t short-cut the journey – its not a sprint! Now this might seem in contrast with the earlier points of ‘slow burn’, but let me assure you it is not. When we are young, we must use our bodies physically to their fullest capacity, while our minds are still weak, to develop strength of body. And when we are older, we must use our minds to their fullest capacity (utilising our experiences and insights over time) as our body’s physicality diminishes, to develop wisdom and make the next generation even better. As budoka, we are amongst the few in the world best placed to achieve this; we are amongst the few in the world who can maintain physical capacity longer whilst developing mental fortitude long into our older years. In essence, I believe, budō allows for the perfect synergy between body and mind for sustained contribution to society to the day we die.
Enjoy your new year of training everyone!