Home Is Where You Hang Your Heart
By Glenn Catania
One of the most important lessons I have learned from this martial art is to have respect for all that came before you. This can mean many different things to different people. This is how I was taught and absorbed it. We are not a cult or a military organization. We are, however, aware of where this art came from. It came from the necessity to protect one's self and family, and the right to live as a free human being. I try to remember that every time I train. When I'm on my way to a class, I think of two things I really want to focus on that night. It might be relaxing or breathing or whatever, but this gives me something extra to focus on along with the techniques we are being shown. This is not to say you should not think about everything every time, but it puts more of an exclamation point on it for me. When I'm walking from my car to the class I reflect on my strengths and weaknesses. This helps me plan what I need to do to improve both.
I have seen many people walk into a dojo and just bow. I was always taught that this is where you take a moment to think about the people who created this art and what they had to go through for that wisdom. I imagine a battlefield and all that I think goes with it. The aching, burning muscles that are firing but want to rest. The striking and kicking going on, the weapons flying. This may sound dramatic, but that's war, and at one point that was the reality faced by martial artists. So I take a moment to salute these brave souls and remember what I am here for, what I am trying to learn. This does not mean we should all be very serious and dark-minded all the time. On the contrary, I try to relax and enjoy myself in training. But I also try never to forget where I am and why I'm there.
When class is about to begin, I watch the ritual of my friends stretching and practicing wrist locks and throws, and I always feel a subtle anticipation of the excitement to come. When my teacher comes into the room, I immediately stop joking around or talking and direct all my attention to what he is saying and doing. It is very important to be a good listener. Even if you think you might have heard something before or seen it a thousand times, you haven't. Don't cheat yourself. It's always different and you will always pick up something new if you listen very closely. Don't get me wrong, my teacher is not a god to me, but he has much experience and knowledge that he wants to share with me. You can bet I'm going to take in as much of it as I can. Give your teacher all your respect and attention so he can help you get where you want to be. I think the actual training we do after each demonstration should be the version of the technique the teacher showed, not what you have always done. Do what he says to do, otherwise, why be there? There is a reason he is changing the omote gyaku. Don't question it. Instead, learn how it is different and how this version of it is making your opponent react. I also want to say that there are many people who are too preoccupied with rank. Sure it is easy to say when you are a black belt, and I would be lying if I said I never thought about shodan before I received it. But I never let myself get too caught up in it. I was taught from the beginning that rank is not what this is all about. Train hard and you will become skilled and be happy with your development. A martial art is a journey, not a destination, so why give yourself an end goal? I have never asked anyone their rank, and I don't care. I have asked "how long have you been training?" and I have a lot of respect (and envy) for that.
I am where I am because this is where I want to be, and home is where you hang your heart. Flow By Don Houle I want to address a concept that is important to taijutsu and that we hear a lot in the dojo - flow. What exactly is this idea and how can we develop the ability to flow? Flow, or "nagare" in Japanese, refers to a smooth, free transition between movements. In taijutsu, this can best be observed by watching one of the shihan (senior instructors) when they demonstrate a kata or technique that effortlessly turns into a variation due to an unexpected movement by the uke. When the unexpected occurs, instead of being caught off guard, the instructor is able to respond appropriately to the change without hesitation. A non-training example might help. The next time you are doing some physical activity that you are very familiar with (unlocking your front door, getting into or out of your car, dribbling a basketball), mentally step back and "watch" your body as you move. You don't have to stop and think before making each movement, it just happens. Now, how does one develop that ability? The simple answer is practice. Daily repetition of familiar movements will lead to the creation of an unconscious "muscle memory" of that particular movement and will lead to confidence in your ability to perform the movement. When you are training on your own, a great way to work on this is to perform a kata or some series of movements with which you are very familiar. For example, practice moving from kamae to kamae - hoko no kamae to doko, to jumonji, to ichimonji to hicho, etc. In order to avoid any hesitation, make sure that you decide what posture you will assume before you finish each movement. Then, without stopping in one kamae, begin your move to the next kamae. (You could use the same progression over and over in the beginning). Make your movements slow and precise until you feel comfortable. Now that you have practiced on your own, work on your flow with a partner in the dojo. The next time your instructor demonstrates a movement, work through it a few times as you normally would. It takes some time to create that muscle memory that I mentioned above. Now try it a few times without stopping and thinking between each part of the technique. Just let your body move in a relaxed manner. Your mind should not be focusing on any one part of the technique, and you should have a strong, confident feeling as you perform the movement. Confidence is the key! Remind yourself that you have done this movement before and that it is not something new.