No "Experience" Necessary?
What is training really about? Often we think of the physical techniques, and the day to day practice that goes along with polishing those forms, but in reflecting upon my own journey, and having witnessed the journey of many others, I can tell you that there is usually much more to the story.
For many, training is about the “experience.” Now, I don’t necessarily mean that in some superficial way, like equating it simply to the ambience of a nice evening of dining at a fine restaurant, but certainly atmosphere and other factors do play a significant role. To really get to the heart of it we must ask ourselves, what does it take to keep someone connected to the dojo and returning to practice each day? I would submit here for your consideration that it is indeed about a total experience.
For so many the dojo represents something very special, and often provides them with moments that are not easily substituted in other walks of life. Think for a moment about why you first walked up the stairs, then for a moment about why you became a member, and finally think about why you are still training. Many feel that initial spark, but then what? Perhaps you weren’t quite sure upon entering, but a beautiful practice space helped to convince you to hang around and give it a shot. So then what? Maybe you had that first conversation with a new classmate, which led to your first time bowing onto the mat, and a successful first class. Eventually you found your groove, you realized the depth and fellowship of the community, and the feeling of leaving the dojo exhausted but accomplished. Maybe for you it’s a well-executed technique, a conversation with a classmate, or a smile and an encouraging word from the teacher. Perhaps you have an unspoken rivalry with a classmate, trying to see who can figure things out first, and even though you never say it, it drives you to keep coming. It could be about a belt, or rank, or simply the fundamental human need to make progress. Whatever it is for you, it all lends to a unique and total training experience that keeps you on the path and moving forward.
So, now what? The current health situation has robbed us of our daily dojo fix, and what we are left with will likely only appeal to the most dedicated among us. All those wonderful experiences mentioned above have been replaced with a simple routine; get up, train, do it alone, repeat. Seems a bit lacking, especially for those who have not yet developed a deeper sense of austere training and the knowledge base to carry it out. I am of course following this routine myself, and it will do for now, but of course I miss my school and my students. For a teacher, or at lest for this teacher, being in the training hall with all of you brings me great joy. Techniques are really just techniques.
Martial arts practice is already quite a challenging endeavor, and to carry it out in isolation is indeed more so. I am here to lend some encouragement and ask you not to give up. Yes, I am going to tell you to dig deep and to look inward for strength, but I am also keenly aware of your longing for the “experience” of practice, and I remain dedicated to finding a way to get us all back to it as soon as possible.
Stay safe, Stay well, keep training!