Wednesday, 21 December 2011

MMKDG - Session #8 A POV on the Progression of Martial Arts Training

Date: Sunday, December 11 starting at 11:45am in the Heritage Lounge at the JCCC
Participants (4): P. Schramek [5D], M. Suen [3D], P. Suen [3D]
Topic(s): A Point of View on the Progression of Martial Arts Training

Recently in Kung Fu class, we were taught how each movement should transition from one to the next, flowing in such a way that the energy created previously, is not wasted.  Physical laws of gravity and momentum are harnessed by the body to maximize power with minimal effort.  This is concept is more difficult to comprehend and implement in Iaido due to the nature of the art. Staying low to the ground and moving slowly, do not lend well to the forces we're describing, however, the mindset is the key. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in order to maximize your control and power, you must first lose control and relax. Only then, will your body be free to act when you mind commands.

Take your typical walking kata in Iaido. When is your intention set? Are you attacking at the first step or just going leisurely on your way? What if an enemy attacks you in the middle of a step, how can you react? While your body may be flowing from one movement to the next, your mind must be flexible enough to flow and focus when necessary.  It important that your mind is calm and not be concerned with worry, or fear, for these negative emotions fragment your mind and your body so that they are unable to act as one.

Have you ever noticed that everything you becomes easier when you are in a good state of mind? When you are calm and happy, relaxed and malleable, your actions and intentions will flow naturally to a positive outcome.

How do you get to this state through martial arts training?
  1. Train in the physical. Balance. Strength. Flexibility.
  2. Train in the mental. Balance. Strength. Flexibility.
It is not an accident that I chose these descriptors for both types of training, but progression is the key. 

What is the path and how do I know when I've made an achievement?

Schramek-sensei noted that he's often most of the way through a current grade before he realizes that his level has reached it. (i.e. Only when he was close to grading for Godan, did he feel he had finally reached an adequate level to be considered a Yondan).

This awareness has also been described as a quality that, only those that have achieved a certain level will be able to see what others cannot see. Or in other words: "the more I know, the more I realize how little I know"

So, while the training will allow you to perceive the path, it is your mindset that will determine how you travel down it. (see reference to

Eventually, everyone reaches a state where they must make a choice. To see what they are lacking and to challenge themselves to become better.  However, if you let your mind get trapped, or stuck, you won't be able to see your choices. Hence, you must be flexible.

Meditation allows this. It allows you to see your own demons or traumas, and gives you the choice to overcome them. To see beyond what is in front of you to what is all around you. To be content with oneself and celebrate it as a group.

One of Japan's most famous swordsmen, Miyamoto Musashi, had achieved such a level. He no longer needed to compete to prove himself. He started learning from his friend Takuan Soho about meditation, and eventually gave up fighting, both physically and mentally.

Now I'm not saying meditation is the natural progression from martial arts training. In fact, I believe they are one and the same, and must be treated the same if one is to find the ultimate benefit.  Meditation is not only training of the mind, and Martial Arts is not only training of the body. Each person must choose their own vehicle. One that aligns with their own values, personality, and character to take them along the path.

Where do we begin?

Both meditation and martial arts start with physical training. Whether through sitting, running, breathing or jumping, one must forge the body to open up the mind. It is like those days of doing kata after kata, until your muscles ache and your joints are screaming out for relief. Your body will be forced to release the excess strain.

Similarly, when you put your full self into your training, your mind must push all extraneous thoughts and worries away. It is like you are filling it up with so much, that there is no room for anything else.

You must also try looking through different perspectives and try to understand how you are different. When interacting with people, a lot comes through subconsciously. The training will help you become aware of this. Sometimes this doesn't come easy. Sometimes you might have to try to verbalize what you think and allow your subconscious thoughts to bubble to the surface. 

How do I know what I think, until I see what I say?

In Meditation it is called "Journaling". In Iaido, it is called the "Mu Mon Kai Discussion Group (MMKDG)".  =)

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