Happy New Year!
As 2017 kicks into gear, I wanted to write a bit on where I am in my Shugyo (martial path) and my focus for this new year. Reading back over my past blog entries, I see the winding path of my own evolution in understanding and perception. Through my words, I can still feel the roller coaster of frustration, confusion and inspiration. The one constant throughout my writing is that I was always reaching for something, yet struggled in knowing truly what that "something" was. I was chasing an elusive and unknown thing, guided by an ever changing and undefined "feeling".
During this last 2016 training year, my blog entries seemed to take more of a philosophical approach and the frequency slowly diminish. The truth was simply due to the fact that I was no longer finding words to express anything concrete, so my hesitancy to put it into writing was a reflection of my own insecurity in putting a definition or commitment to where I was. Something was changing inside of me and in my training - and I felt strongly that to conclude anything in writing would trap me in a limited view of the experience. Interestingly, that is also why you won't see much written by me on the experiences I had training with the Shihan and Soke in Japan.
But, there has been a shift, a new awakening and purpose for my training. Over the last year, I have had several opportunities to train and communicate with certain teachers who helped me to realize that what I had been striving for all these years, what could only be described as a "feeling", was actually quite primal and basic. It wasn't about the kata, the history, or even lofty philosophies. It was simplicity. Not simplicity in an elementary sense, but simplicity in a deep and rich sense.
This realization has also shown itself in my own personal life, as well. I turned 49 this year and the older I am getting, the more I crave simplicity in my relationships and professional life. I have either eliminated or cut down the influence of those relationships which are toxic, or negative. I find myself ignoring negative people and "stuff" more, choosing instead to focus on that which is uplifting and adds value to my life. This process of detachment has caused me to also look at my own martial path differently. Those people and things which used to seem so important to me actually have become less important. I no longer worry about trying to meet the expectations of others, this crazy "peer pressure" phenomena that often can place burdens on people which are contradictory to the balance of one's family, career and personal goals. I no longer judge myself against others, as we all have our own situations, goals and understandings of life and budo.
All I see now is myself and the role I play in building a strong foundation in those relationships which matter the most (family and my inner circle of friends), the successes and goals I want professionally to benefit my family and myself, and in my martial arts training to develop myself and my body so that it enriches me in ways that impact every area of my life. In order to reach this level of growth, I have begun to dig inward, to dissect my own beliefs, habits and assumptions. I have begun to explore what it is that truly fulfills me, inspires me and provides both clarity and peace. All those things really are wrapped up in one "feeling" and it is that feeling which is providing the compass for me in who and what I want to invest my time, energy and focus on.
In my training, I have begun to let go of what I now see as inconsistent, unstable and seemingly random training ideas and methods. Instead, I am focused on the very basic, the "one". What I mean by that is this strategical concept of "one line". This is in motion, as well as structure. With the concept of the shortest distance between two points being a straight line, having a movement that is as linear and direct as possible, with a structure that lines up on that line, time itself shortens and perception challenged. It takes less energy to have all parts moving together in one direction and force is condensed and multiplied like a laser. Defensively, one line allows the body to be covered and concealed by the most forward point, since everything else is stacked up behind that point. Not only are vitals protected, but also there is the strategy that everything which deflects from that singular forward point will continue off the trajectory at an oblique angle and miss the rest of the body. It is offense and defense in one body and action.
Two concepts which resonated with me this last year are:
Kobo Itai (offense/defense in one body)
Kobo Jizai (attack/defend interchangeably or freely)
What also resonated with me is the concept of Ichi, or One, and how it plays into Kobo Itai and Kobo Jizai. A singular point of structure and balance allows for movement in any direction, whereas two points of structure and balance do not. In order to move, you have to shift between points. If your point is unsupported, you can't change until you reach a supported point. Take, for instance, a wide stance with your center line (Seichusen = True Middle Line) in the midway point between your feet. Now try moving any direction, other than using the knees to shift forward and back. You will find the natural tendency to move your body (center of weight/balance) towards one leg in order to move the other. You essentially unload the leg you want to move, then move it. Otherwise, you are committing your weight into the move by "throwing" your leg and body in that direction. If you move your body, your vitals go with it, so committing your body and weight in a motion is to commit all your vitals into it. In addition, by having to unload a leg, then move, you are using two actions. Your attacker is attacking in one action. Therefore, you may avoid the first attack by unloading a leg, but the second attack will happen as you move your body. This might be okay for slow, drawn out, step by step sequences of a kata, but in a flurry of sudden attacks, it is not fast enough.
One line of structure and balance allows for instant movement and rotation. One line, one move, one chance or moment. Life and death hangs in that precise point. In my opinion, that "one" is the kaname, the point on which everything is hinged.
It is important to note there are different ways of moving and different
ways of holding the structure and balance of the body, but since I am
writing about a beginning, I am showing the beginning as being "one"...
So, mastering this One Line requires a progressive work with the body structure. Exercises which build flexibility and range of motion are needed, with an emphasis on the strength and flexibility of the tendons and ligaments. This can be found in the Junan Taiso and Ryuutai Undo Ho sections of our training, but there are also many other great methods which work, too. As someone who is older and with conditions like Lumbar Scoliosis (curvature of the lower spine), this challenges me to work even harder at this. Moving in one line is also a major challenge, as the stress to the joints and connective tissues is based upon one's ability to maintain a one line structure while moving from position to position. Many people open their center as they move, which reduces and even eliminates the quality of the one line structure I described above.
Other basics that I am working on include emphasizing the role the knees play in structure and movement. By initiating all movement with the knees and allowing the sinking action of the body to extend my knee past my supporting foot, this also puts to the test the importance of strong, flexible tendons and ligaments. Range of motion isn't just circular, but also along linear lines which descend down the farther they go. The farther down you go, the more flexibility and range of motion are required of the hips, too (to avoid "Gaijin Butt", or sticking the butt out to compensate for lack of flexibility and range of motion in the hip sockets).
Those are just a few examples, but there are other points which are also important to me, yet "basic" from a foundation perspective. Besides your structure and balance (i.e. Kamae), an often glossed over part of training is in the areas of Tsuki, Uke and Keri. More than just punching, blocking/receiving and kicking, these three are critical to the rest of training. Their effectiveness is directly proportional to the quality of your structure and balance, which in turn must rely on your flexibility and range of motion (see the progression of training?). For Tsuki, you have to be able to strike along one line, as this allows for maximum timing (remember the shortest distance rule?), while covering your vitals and allowing you to close and contact with decisive and penetrating force. For Uke, being able to "receive" on one line allows you to move all your vitals off the attack line and shield them behind your forward point. Whether you are executing Dakken Uke (receive by striking) or Uke Negashe (receive by using a kind of deflect or parry), the body still does the same movement, to take one line of structure, balance and timing. For Keri, kicking is projected from the body structure and balance, but kicks also need to be done in a manner that allows for change without losing the one line of structure and balance. If the body weight moves off the structure and balance line, the body "falls" into the kick - or back when the kick meets resistance.
The importance of the structure and balance being on one line not only is paramount for Kamae, Uke, Tsuki and Keri, but it also is equally paramount in all the weapons we train with. So, the common link between weapon and fist rests in the body, but not just body, but on one line or point. Like the center axis of the In/Yo (Yin/Yang) wheel, there is no separation of polarities, only singularity of the One. That is what I am seeking, beginning with the One of my training, but also bringing together the three parts of my life - Family, Work, Training - into one life, my life.
This leads me to my last point, that in this new year, I am embarking on a new venture. I have begun to do Facebook Live video broadcasts through my public dojo page. These broadcasts are centered on living as a martial artist in today's world, beginning with discussions on balancing the family, work and training parts of our lives, along with strategies and ideas to maximize results in all three. Please visit my dojo page, follow along in the broadcasts and please help by being involved in the discussions, giving thumbs up and hearts, and Liking and Sharing the posts!
If you have read this far, then hopefully you have an idea of what I am trying to express. You certainly are free to have your own ideas and understanding and certainly I respect how you choose to live out our Shugyo. My only hope is that maybe something I've written has spurred some new thinking or perception. But, this blog is about my life, my training and how I understand things. As we are all different, I hold no expectations and only use this as a vehicle or method to try and express what is most often too difficult to put into words.
Also, know that we all are evolving in our lives, so what I written now may not express where I am later. We all continue to grow, which is why it is always important to "keep going".