The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

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 ~


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Out of Time

There was a very good post about our perception of how much time that we think we have when it comes to martial arts training in particular and in life in general at Kogen Budo. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.


Throughout my career in martial art training, I would say that the majority of people I’ve met–my fellow students, my peers or acquaintances,  are people who are happy to train with what they think is an exemplary teacher. For a number of reasons, however, (lack of drive, humility, reticence to push themselves forward .. .  . .), they act as if they have an endless amount of time to learn the system.
That’s not so. Your teachers age, and as they do so, invariably, they cannot move as they once did. Some not only lose skill, but they lose knowledge. Others lose wisdom itself. Still others change: what seemed so important once is irrelevant to them as they approach, ever closer, to death, and their students’ mastery of their particular combative art no longer seems that important. In other words, their fire has burned out.
Some teachers continue to burn, training themselves rigorously even into old age, still discovering new aspects of their art. However, even if aspects of their art become more sophisticated and deep, there are often certain physical actions that they can no longer perform. Yet the student, quite naturally and sincerely, imitates the teacher, as they are now–particularly if they’ve no memory of him or her in earlier days. For example, when I first went to Japan and met Donn Draeger, he invited me to train in Shindo Muso-ryu. (it was, in a sense, the ‘entry level’ koryu for young people he was mentoring). There were a number of reasons I chose not to enter Shindo Muso-ryu or establish such a close relationship with Donn (I hadn’t travelled half-way around the world, giving up the life I knew, to land easily within the protective tutelage of someone who had been ‘there’ first…I wanted to find my own ‘there,’ different from his). In any event, the most important reason was watching Shimizu sensei, already old, shuffling his feet in 15 cm steps, and watching huge guys copying him, shuffling their feet and swinging their jo and sword much like their rotund elderly teacher.
I recently got a bad hip injury – it’s improved somewhat, but it’s unclear at this point if I’m going to make a full recovery on this latest injury. After a month-long break, I’ve been training for a week and I’m crippled in regards to certain movements. For example, I cannot do a ke-ashi, the emblematic kick of Toda-ha Buko-ryu. So when people ask me how to do this technique – or any one of a number of others that I can’t (at least right now) accomplish, I can merely explain it (but verbal explanations may well be inadequate) or refer them to archival films on our website of myself or my teachers in earlier days. But my understanding may well have changed since that film, and anyway, that is not even close to the experience of observing your teacher in the flesh, or even more important, experiencing them use a technique to ‘kill’ you over and over. Learning with the flesh is not the same as learning with the eyes or ears.
My point is: do not be complacent. Do not approach learning at a leisurely pace. Train as if your life depends on it (it may), and as if  this may be the only opportunity to learn this particular bit of information (that may be true). If you don’t hear it, perceive it, embody it now, the opportunity to learn it may never come again. Or without seeing  your teacher perform the technique, without an opportunity to feel yourself impacted/defeated by it, you will never conceive of what it really means. As those in my Valencia Dojo can quickly recall this week, I taught a nuance in the use of the sword vs naginata that an outside observer will never perceive, but a practitioner, weapon-to-weapon, will definitely experience. It radically changes your effect on shitachi, allowing you to have time and space to accomplish taisabaki (body-displacement) to get in an advantageous position. It’s something I just discovered myself, after struggling with this technique for almost forty years. However, what if, a few years from now, I can no longer do it? If not learned now, lost forever.

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