Keep the Art Alive
I want you to imagine two possibilities: The first, is that your martial art is a fixed, unchanging artifact crafted in a time long past. Those great masters capable and worthy of making innovations are all long gone. The art, as it is in this moment, is all that it will ever be.
Now I want you to imagine a second possibility: Your martial art is in constant flux, forever changing with time, and shifting with different influences. Practitioners everywhere are in an endless process of reimagining and reshaping the art. The art is alive.
The reality is that both of these paradigms exist simultaneously, but only one gets to be true for you. Which one do you choose? If you are like me then you chose to embrace the latter!
Read on to learn how you can keep the art alive!
This cannot be overstated. I'm not going to make the leap and say that pressure testing is the most important piece to keeping the art alive, but one could definitely make that argument and I'd have a hard time disagreeing. After all, how can we expect to know what truly works and what doesn't if we don't actually put it to the test?
Pressure testing serves as the art's self-correction mechanism. It is hard make an argument for an ineffective technique or theory after you witness it get shredded by the pressure testing machine. It will not allow faulty techniques or theories to survive. This is a good thing.
Pressure testing gives us instant feedback on the effectiveness of any given technique in a particular context. It is not perfect, but it is the best method we've got for that end. It doesn't care about your pride, or your impeccable lineage, or your theory about how you think something should work. It is only concerned with the truth. It keeps us honest and it keeps us humble. It also provides us with confidence that our techniques will work against a resisting opponent. Most importantly, pressure testing makes the movements come to life. You can actually feel the techniques and see their effect as you perform them or as they are performed on you.
That's right. The study of martial arts is a serious pursuit but who ever said that play isn't as well? In fact, play is actually pretty serious stuff. Humans are hardwired to play. It's natural, enjoyable, and healthy. It is our optimal mode of learning. You don't need me to tell you that you will naturally improve if you enjoy the process.
Our training often consists of repetition. Repetition is good. It helps instill muscle memory. However, it is also easy to let repetition get very boring. If training becomes boring you are less likely to focus and ultimately you are less likely to train. Obviously, that is not what we want.
The key is to optimize your training by infusing it with play: add objectives, challenge the clock, engage in friendly competition. Trick your brain into thinking it is playing a game. Be creative and you will benefit! I recall once at a seminar a wise old Judo professor told all of us, "Have fun. If you aren't having fun then why are you doing it?"
Experimentation is closely related to both pressure testing and play because it involves a little of both. The art is alive and you can learn just as much from the art itself as you can from any teacher. With enough understanding of basic precepts you can start discovering your own techniques and adapting the art to yourself.
This should be encouraged. If experimentation is happening in a dojo it is a good indicator that the spirit of karate is alive within its walls. Experiment relentlessly. Note what works and what doesn't. Don't expect every idea to succeed and don't be disappointed when one fails. In experimentation, failure is just as valuable as success. Why? Because success and failure each have something important to teach you.
Expand Your Circle
It is too easy, at times, to cloister ourselves in our own schools and our own way of thinking. Look beyond your own dojo or style for ideas and answers. The thing about a blind spots is that we cannot see beyond them from the same perspective that creates them. Furthermore, we often don't even know that a blind spot exists. It is not until we expose ourselves to a different perspective that we are able to overcome our ignorance.
Collaborate with other martial artists or anyone with knowledge to offer. Pick each other's brains. No one has the complete picture and the only way to see as much of it as you can is to view it from the perspective of others. The connections that you establish now could be catalysts for future growth.
The fact is that there are just some things about the art that you can't learn inside the dojo. It takes curiosity as well as the the drive to follow it. I am grateful that my sensei has always challenged me to do my own research. He will often deliberately let questions go answered in the dojo so that we will research the answer for ourselves. In the process, we gain a better understanding and more appreciation for the knowledge than we would have if he had just given us the answers himself.
There are so many resources out there that not having access to information is simply not a valid excuse. The very fact that you are reading this right now means that you have access to the most powerful source of information in history (and no, I'm not referring to my blog...I'm talking about the Internet).
I'm sure many people reading this are already doing some if not all of these things. So just start documenting what you are already doing. Take notes during or right after class. Record videos of yourself training or your sensei's instruction. These things can be used in the future for reference or for study.
One of the major things I encourage students to do is start a training journal and make regular entries. The earlier you start this process in your martial arts career the better. This is a great way to record your thoughts about anything that relates to the art. If you stay committed to writing and reviewing your journal often, I am confident that you will be able to hash out ideas and draw connections between them much easier than before. It is also a great way to track your own progress. You can gain many insights about a subject by looking back over your old entries to see what the "old you" had to say about it. This is especially useful if you plan to take on students one day or perhaps already have them.
One crucial aspect of keeping the art alive is sharing it with others. The art cannot survive if it is not passed on. Perhaps you are already a sensei, but one does not need to be a sensei to do this. This one is simple. You know what you know. Share that. Don't reach and try to share what you don't know. That is detrimental. It is perfectly acceptable and even respectable to admit to the limits of your knowledge.
I've tried to keep these ideas simple and to the point. Many of these just require effort and a bit of creativity. I hope you will start to implement these things into your training and breathe life into your art.
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