Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Single Repetition Practice in Martial Arts

I'm going to give links to a couple of really excellent articles I read on the internet recently.

The first comes from The Dragon's Orb, and is about the concept of  "ichi go, ichi e." One encounter, one chance.

Years ago when I studied aikido, the style I studied was not smooth and flowing in our every day practice. We broke down our techniques into very clear distinct steps. We practiced a "Square" style, in that at every instance throughout the technique, we wanted to impress the ideal alignment and form into our bodies.

Square, clear, razor sharp. Yoshinkan is sometimes criticized as being rigid, but that is not the fault of the training system; it's the fault of the practitioner who can't move beyond that method of training.

Later on, I learned the Wu Family Taijiquan Square form. The same ideas applied.

Now I am pursuing Baguazhang, another normally flowing martial art and yet once again, I find myself following a Square method. It feels like home.

What's all of this Squareness have to do with Ichi go, ichi e? What I learned in Yoshinkan was that each repetition, each PART of each repetition was an opportunity that we would encounter once and never have again. Given this one precious moment that we would never again see, didn't it behoove us to have our minds and hearts in the right place and try to make that movement right NOW as close as we were able to come to perfection?

This is an idea that permeates all of Budo and I believe all martial arts practice. Below is an excerpt from that wonderful article. The full article may be read here.

The term  is also much repeated in 武道 budo (martial way).  Budoka need the reminder not to cheat the moment in their martial brushstrokes.  Where can we find "failure" and "dishonesty" in the budo practice?  My first thought is in not owning mistakes “retouching”.  The first touch of a budoka is as pure a moment as when the brush touches paper.  We ‘retouch’ when we refuse find the mechanics that make it really work.  Instead some budoka choose to program unrealistic partners – expecting them to fall rather than find legitimate technique.  The aspiring artist robs themselves of genuineness of form because they have chosen an easier way. 

 is used to remind those who become careless and break the flow of techniques to stop techniques midway to "try again," rather than moving on despite the mistake.  This is another form of retouching.   As budoka we own the mistake and deal with the problems that arise from it.Even though techniques may be attempted many times in the dojo, each should be seen as a singular and decisive event.  In a life-or-death encounter there is no "try again."  There is only the one chance to deal with the problem.

When I learned to practice the Wu Style Taijiquan form, I got beyond "making" myself perform the form slowly. Rather, I learned to just not be in any particular hurry and was content to let the form unfold as it would. I found that the form was an excellent tool to work on my patience.

At Gaijin Explorer, the author has posted a very nice article on the time between drawing the arrow in Kyudo and of actually releasing it. It is during this time, this "gap" that we can really work on ourselves. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

So I asked my kyudo sensei what I'm supposed to do in the draw just before I shoot, and he answered 忍ぶ (shinobu).

If you notice one thing about kyudo, it's that you hold the draw position (会, kai) for a pretty long time, about 8 seconds. For a lot of beginners, or maybe even well-seasoned practitioners, that 8 seconds can last a really long time to stand there holding the bow at full draw. In fact, your arms are probably shaking from the pressure and in your head you may have already finished and want to start the next arrow. This summer during my trip home, I tried archery for the first time and was totally shocked at the lack of time you hold the draw. I found best success actually when I pulled and immediately released. But in kyudo that definitely won't fly.

So you hold the draw for about 8 seconds. In that time you're very slowly breathing out ... very very slowly ... through your nose. You're also looking at the target, and just that with your eyes; not blinking, not thinking, just looking. You're also spreading your arms apart from the chest. This is in fact probably the best answer to the question of: "What are you doing in the draw?" You're spreading your arms apart, from the joints in the shoulders, from the center of your chest and your whole being extending towards the target and equally away with the other arm, as you're also stretching upwards and downwards from your spine.

 But ...

what the hell are you really doing in that 8 seconds?

My sensei read my question exactly as I meant it (the wonders of a good teacher/student connection), and he said: "忍ぶ, shinobu".

忍ぶ translates as roughly as "to be able to stand...", "put up with...", "to endure ...", and also "to hide." 


Felicia said...


Rick Matz said...

Those are two terrific blogs.

Melissa said...

Beautiful post. For me lately, my focus is as much on what my mind is doing as I practice as it is on the mechanics of movement, whatever form I'm practicing. I've noticed that with more proficiency in my movements, the temptation is always to let my mind wander. It might not wander far - often I find myself imagining how I would teach a move to a particular student, or how I can help a student overcome a particular problem - but it's far enough. I love the idea that each moment of practice is your singular chance to achieve that mind-body connection.

Rick Matz said...

Yes, pay attention to what you're doing.

How you would teach someone else is a separate transaction that deserves your full attention at a different time.

walt said...

... translates as roughly as "to be able to stand...", "put up with...", "to endure ...", and also "to hide."

Re-minds me of the foundational Yin you wrote about in The Phoenix Tastes Like Chicken. Thanks!

Rick Matz said...

That's the sort of thing I wrote of,thanks.

Paul said...

Rick, do you know many Wu-style practitioners in HK fail to understand (and therefore appreciate) the square form as well as you do? No more East vs West. We're living in a tiny place called the world...

Rick Matz said...

@Paul I wasn't aware that the Square form was under appreciated in HK. Please fill us in.

Paul said...

Yes people hold different views, below is a comment from an experienced practitioner

"From what I saw the square form in Wu-Cheng lineage is taught first. I also started with it. The explanation given was that in that way it is easier for you to memorize the sequence from one side and this allows your teacher to correct your posture and stance on every single movement on the other. No directing chi, no power generation"

Rick Matz said...

Eddie Wu, the Gatekeeper of the Wu Family style of Taijiquan, said that you could learn everything Taijiquan has to teach from the square form.

Paul said...

Like it or not, it is one of those never ending debates in tai chi circle. Unfortunately, as experience has taught me, it is not always fruitful or definitive to consult the Holy See on every issue concerning Christianity...