Monday, June 27, 2011

Progress not perfection

"It takes a thousand days to make a fist, a thousand days to learn a stance and a thousand days to learn to strike". Its possible this saying isn't shared by many martial artists, nevertheless its important to understand what is meant by this saying. You don't hear this shared in many schools because it can be disheartening to the western mindset of " I need everything yesterday". If you listen closely and are fortunate enough to be in a school where this philosophy prevails you will hear it in every class, in one form or another. I have to admit that if someone told me at the beginning of my training that it would take over three years just to learn how to make a fist, I may have seriously reconsidered the whole endeavor. It is the kind of lesson that is self affirming. By that I mean you understand it to be true after you have realized that it took you a thousand days to learn how to make a fist.

In our school there is a mantra that is shared by one of our instructors. "Progress not perfection", which is usually followed by "gradually and eventually". Both are related to each other but they are not the same. What they convey is the attitude needed to excel at something like the martial arts. You do not develop proficiency in what we do overnight, it takes years and years. Years of progress not perfection, moments (long stretches) of frustration followed by brief flashes of insight and ability. One example that comes to mind: A student was working on an evasion for the better part of a year, in essence learning to move the head out of the way of an incoming fist.
Time and again that student kept getting hit, but one moment (and I was able to witness this), a fist came and the student moved effortlessly out of the way, no thought- just pure reflex. It was graceful, efficient, and quite amazing to see. That is progress. The fact that the student continued to get hit in the head afterwards does not negate the fact that the evasion occurred. Progress not perfection.
This is not to say we should not strive for perfection, of course we should. Its a worthwhile goal. It has to be done prudently though, with the knowledge that perfection is difficult(many would say impossible) to attain. In my decades of practice I have yet to do a perfect kata, it doesn't stop me from striving to do so each and every time I practice.

Progress reveals to us that perfection is ever elusive, once you think you have gotten closer to perfection, the bar is raised yet again, the target shifts to a level that is even more difficult, one you didn't even know existed before that moment. That is how progress works and that is why we never quit. If we do quit and settle, then we admit to ourselves that we no longer are seeking perfection, we have grown complacent. In our school we have a character that reads constant polishing. Each day no matter how brightly we have shined in the past we must continue to polish, remember it takes a thousand days just to begin.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

Friday, June 10, 2011

Many paths - One way

My style is better than your style. Another variation of this, is my version of said style is better than your version of the same style. What this ultimately leads to is a demonstration of ego in what should be an egoless expression. Where does this sentiment stem from? Usually from those martial artists, who are starting upon the path and get caught up in the excitement of beginning something new and exotic. Inevitably it leads to comparison and criticism.

What you discover over time is that the longer you train the closer the martial arts are in purpose and expression. What does this mean? Well it was not unheard of for advanced practitioners in the past to hold black belts in several different types of martial arts. They believed that it was important to be exposed to different types of martial arts and schools of thought. This is not to say they dabbled in the different arts, jumping from school to school or art to art. They would usually only pursue a second black belt after many years in what they considered their primary art, and even then the training in the second art was just as vigorous and dedicated as the training in what they considered their primary art. Why was this done in the past and why is it not so commonplace now?

It is my opinion that in the past, even though many of the arts were kept secret for reasons of safety (your enemies should not know your most effective techniques) or the preservation of transmission, when like minded practitioners trained, ego was less of an issue than it is today. Today because of the commercial aspect of many schools, students are discouraged to try other styles or methods. What if they like that school, instructor more than this one? What if I lose that student? These are the motivating factors in this behavior from many instructors. What is occurring however is the creation of narrow minded martial artists who come to view their way as the only way.

So what should be our position as martial artists? Realize that there are many paths, but only one way. Respect other martial arts and artists as you would like to be respected and realize that the opportunity to learn may come in many different forms, if we are open to receive the learning.
Martial arts is a summit-less mountain with many paths on its face, upon which you encounter fellow travelers. Some join you on your path and others take divergent paths, but the mountain is still the same.

strong spirit, strong mind,strong body
Sensei Orlando