December 1, 2009

Why do we train?

Tomo and I just returned from our fifth trip to London, England, in three years. We had a terrific time of it. Everyone was enthusiastic and many have supported us from the beginning. Special thanks to Steve Kovalcik, without whom none of this would have been possible. He is my good friend and a dedicated student of Budo. If you're ever in London, I recommend training with him if you get the chance.

We had quite a good time at the seminar, concentrating on 'tactical space' - out maneuvering opponents safely and efficiently. But beyond the Kukan, beyond the sword, and 'nawa no kankaku,' the most fun and fulfilling part of the weekend was by far defending others. As one participant said with a big British grin, "it just makes you feel good." He's so right. And why? Simple: coming to the defense of others is what training is all about; there is just no better reason to train.

When folks tell me they're interested in "self-defense," my answer is usually short - join a nice gym, get into shape, and learn to run as fast as you can. Running away is mankind's oldest form of self-defense - all children should be masters of it. Sure, it makes for lame stories over beers, but it'll keep you safe.

For most of us, though, it's difficult to explain why we feel the need to train. We just do. And we're content to leave it at that. But if we were to explore why, we might just find, not a reason we can all agree on, but a truth none of us can deny; one that tells us, we are a person who chooses not to run away. If you are new to martial arts or deciding whether to begin, this realization alone can inspire the first steps onto the mat.

The truth here is common sense: martial arts began when early man couldn't run away, when he had to defend someone else who couldn't keep up, like a loved one, a spouse, a child. Is it really any different today?

In a previous post, I wrote that fear was the root motivation behind anyone choosing to train martial arts. I still believe that. Fear, in all its various forms, can be a powerful motivator for change, a challenge to surmount, so we can rise to our own personal image. But, the best reason to keep training, is to learn to defend others, for it points to the deeper moral imperative at the heart of training itself - the acceptance of our role to deliver security to loved ones as well as the rest of the tribe. In others words, warriorship.

I understand for many, training is a personal endeavor, one tied to their own wants and desires, and the need to overcome fears. But the simplest and best way to overcome fear in high-stress situations and life and death encounters is to dedicate oneself to protecting someone else, a loved one, a friend, even someone we don't know, someone who simply needs our help. Suddenly, we're not so afraid, we have a job to do and the skills to do it.

I am honestly unsure whether those training solely for themselves can ever really overcome their fears. Submersing oneself in the minutiae of the art (or any art for that matter), looking constantly inward, searching always to collect that next technique, can segregate us from the application to our daily lives, the part that compels us to live better than we did the day before. As I see it, this is the difference between practicing and training.

Of course, some degree of practice is necessary, I just don't rely on it to make up the bulk of my experience. Practicing techniques, memorizing and perfecting them, cannot calibrate their application, cannot teach us when it is right to use them, when we should stand down, and most importantly, when to stand up.

"Solo training" is practicing. Moving through Sanshin, Ukemi, swinging a sword and staff around is similar to staying at home to read the Bible, instead of going to Church for the religious - it supplements training, but it's not the same. It's not the same because it is the volunteering of our time, the sacrifice of it, to meet with like-minded others and experience the group ethic, when practicing becomes training.

Going to church doesn't make one good, but it does provide a time to learn how to apply the lessons of life - just like time spent at a dojo should. We choose to volunteer our time to learn a physical philosophy that challenges us to back it up with ethics (morals in action). There is power in the group ethic, for it's easy to cheat in the weighing of priorities on our own, but much harder within the group, which is why it can help coordinate us.

So, in your own dojo, try setting up scenarios to protect others. Make changes to the variables and placement of the 'good' and 'bad' guys and seek to apply Taijutsu's tactical efficiency. At the very least, you'll have fun. At most, you'll get 'activated' and realize there's something more to it. And, of course, there is. Marital arts wouldn't exist, if there were nothing worth fighting for.

Training is overcoming - overcoming the physical (technical), mental (tactical), and spiritual (ethical) odds that align against us everyday. Training is the way we acknowledge to ourselves and others, that the volunteering of our time, the sacrifice of our money and resources, the endurance of soreness and pain, the acceptance of infinite patience, the perseverance of bygone ideals, the preservation of universal values, and the belief - the simple belief, with childlike naivete - that merely because we live, we can make a difference ... are the means by which we accept the burden of knowing what is worth fighting for.

Don't just practice. Warriors train. Go train.

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