Monday, August 16, 2010


     The western approach to the study of a given martial arts tends to be, well...a bit shallow.  In many cases, it's viewed as a pastime,  a hobby to which we give only a small part of our attention on one or two nights a week.  In this regard, it's not much different than bowling, scrap booking, or any one of a million other hobbies that people "do."  And when they've "done" it for the evening, that's the end of it until next week. 
     Even in the Orient, this kind of superficial approach is becoming more and more prevalent.  People attend a martial arts class at certain times and on certain days but other than that, they don't give training much of a second thought. 
     I suppose much of this kind of attitude comes from their expectations.  That is, people want different things (out of martial arts) such as self-defense, fitness, or whatever.  If what they want out of it is superficial, that's how they'll approach it.  Kind of like an aerobics class.
     Those who want more out of it, who want to really delve deeply into the subject must immerse themselves in it.  Completely.  For these people, training and study never ends.  It's a perpetual thing.  This is what martial arts were designed for...immersion.
     It doesn't necessarily require that you save up your rocks and pennies and hop the next flight to China, Japan, Korea, or Okinawa - although that actually would help - but it does mean that you need to acquire a real grasp not only of the techniques of the art (which anybody can do), but the culture from whence it came, its history, its underlying philosophy, the principles upon which it is based, and much, much more.
     A martial art is not only so many techniques and forms and putting on a baggy uniform twice a week.  It's a way of thinking.
     It's a way of living, a lifestyle.  It affects everything that you do.  It affects how you think, how you feel, what you are.  If it doesn't, you're a hobbyist.
    Not too many years after the martial arts stepped onto American shores we began to see Americans trying to develop their own 'American karate" and so forth.  And while America does have a lot of good ideas to offer the traditional martial arts, it also has a lot of poison and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference until it's too late.  I recently saw an ad for a karate school which advertised it as "fun and fitness for the entire family."  It mentioned something called "family game time" and a host of other enjoyable social activities but it didn't say much else.
     It was almost enough to make a grown martial arts teacher vomit.
     It reminded me of a large martial arts school back in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (where I ran a school more several years before moving to the Omaha area) that offered not only kicking and punching but a wine and cheese bar, too.  Peachy.
     If that's their approach to teaching, it's almost certainly their approach to training and a serious student would want nothing to do with such schools.
     Immersion has little to do with buying fancy uniforms, weapons, expensive kicking bags, and such.  Our martial arts forefather had few, if any, of these kinds of things.  They made do with what they had.  Although they almost certainly would have taken advantage of today's martial arts supply companies, owning all kinds of nice "martial arts things" isn't what made them what they were.
     It was the way they lived their respective arts.  Day in and day out.  They didn't "do" their karate or xingyiquan or whatever just on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  They lived them.  Constantly.  Every day.
     Over the years that I've taught I've had several pupils tell me that they really wanted to master a particular weapon - sword, staff, or whatever.  And I've always told them that if they really, truly wanted to master a weapon they must not only strive to master its techniques and form(s), they must practice the great secret of weapons training.  Here it is:
For at least two hours every day at home, carry that weapon with you at all times.
     Yep, that's it.  If you want to carry it around for more than two hours a day, that's fine...but two hours is a minimum.  And probably several hours a day on your days off.  You don't have to constantly practice the strikes and cuts.  Just tote it with you and never put it down during that time period.  Ever.  For any reason.
     After a few weeks, the weapon begins to become an actual part of you.  You're used to having it with you.  It doesn't feel foreign to you.  It doesn't feel like a weapon, per se.  It becomes as natural as your hand.  You see, that "feel of a foreign object" is what prevents most people from ever mastering a weapon.  They only hold it in their hands for a very short time each week.  They never really get used to it.  It'll always be foreign to them, no matter how hard they practice during training time.
     But if you just go about your daily life at home and carry it with you constantly, you get used to it and it literally becomes an extension of you.  You'll find yourself "playing" with it, turning it and doing all kinds of different things with it to amuse yourself.  And that's the secret.  Your spouse may think you've gone over the edge...! 
     This same secret applied to the empty-handed aspect of martial arts.  Don't just do it on training nights.  If you do that, it'll always feel "foreign" to you.  You have to carry it with you all the time.  Eventually you'll start unconsciously "playing" with it to amuse yourself.  That's when it begins to become a part of you.
    And immerse yourself in your chosen art.  You have to go beyond physical technique.  The physical technique is just the outer shell of the true art.  You have to look inside.  Training involves more than just physical practice; it involves study of every aspect of the art and then learning how to apply what you learn to your life.
     Like my teacher once said, "Kung-fu is more than just punching and kicking.  Anybody can do that."


  1. Very nice and very true. How many people really do train in the arts only a couple times a week and consider themselves "martial artist?"
    I have been involved in the martial arts since the age of 15 (now 40). I have never obtained a black belt in any of the styles I have trained in. I have not been a steady "student" at any school because of work, finances, transportation or family obligations but I still find myself "training" in my mind. I read Black Belt magazine monthly. I have numerous books on various arts and I have recorded documentaries off TV about the arts. I study them and learn what I can from all these sources.
    I also visualize techniques in my mind. Playing out the moves and how I would perform them.
    I have loved the arts for a long time and would love to be a teacher of them someday. To try and pass on my love for the arts to others. A long term goal that I someday hope to achieve.

  2. Outstanding! In my classes I explain to the students that if they practice their techniques and move differently as if they're at the dojo, they'll always think at their waza as 'at the dojo' and it won't become part of them. However, if they practice naturalness and move normally when training without artificial preparatory 'get ready' stepping, hitches, or telegraphing, then they're practicing all the time, even when they're outside the dojo as long as they're moving normally.

    Hence their art becomes indistinguishable from daily life and their attacks become incredibly fluid and undetectable from their normal movement.

    It's the same thing in magic... hmm, you've given me a great idea to write about in my next blog. With permission I'll link to this article and piggyback off of it.

    Yours in JU,