When not practising Shoto Budo, I usually can be found watching ice hockey and during a recent NHL contest, a commentator made a statement that I found interesting
"Hard work will beat ability if ability does not work hard".
I am not a natural athlete, anything but, and sometimes I look at other members of the organisation and envy their skills, flexibility, power or stamina. When looking at great practitioners, whether they be martial artists or superstars from other sports, it appears that they do things easily. In reality, whether it is Roger Federer, Lionel Messi or Sidney Crosby, they have worked tremendously hard to improve, develop and refine their abilities. It only looks easy.
Bringing it down to my own level, I have often thought "I will never get that" or "I wish I could kick like him" when encountering a new technique yet, given time and with practise, I eventually get there. Not perfected or mastered by any stretch of the imagination but at least I understand the techniques where I can work to improve them.
This progress was apparent to me over the last couple of weeks during practical application of the Nijushiho kata. I first encountered this during a course when I was a yellow belt and to say it confused me would be a massive understatement. I could not grasp the moves of the kata and the application practise left went over my head, with several metres of clearance. It was another "I'll never get that" moment.
Fast forward to May 2013, and revisiting the kata for the first time in a few months, I found I could quickly pick up the shape of the kata. Again, it is not perfect but the confusion my yellow belt self experienced is no longer there. As we worked through the application, not only did the moves come to me more smoothly than before but I could see much more clearly what they were for and how they would work. Several years of training has, I believe, improved my ability to develop and retain new skills.
It would appear that it is the hard work that creates the ability, and the ability is developed by hard work.
To illustrate this further, Hugh has often said that he is not a natural athlete and that he has got to where he is through blood, sweat and tears. As a ninth Dan black belt, clearly he has a huge amount of ability but every week we see him training hard and working to continually learn and improve.
Looking back at how my own skills have developed since I began practising and watching how, even as a ninth Dan, Hugh is working to improve his skills, I draw inspiration and motivation to continue working hard on my training. Who knows, maybe one day, ability will follow.
Until the next time, keep your guard up!
Practise! That old quote, usually attributed to classical pianist Arthur Rubenstein, came to mind this week after two nights of training that illustrated several areas that I will need to work on as I prepare for my next grading.
We spent some time on Tuesday working on controlling an opponent in a standing position, using either a one or two handed grip holding an opponent's head. The picture shows Hugh and Eric demonstrating this and we can see both are vying to control the other's balance. This is a skill that that Hugh has been teaching us for some time and, well, I am still terrible at it.
I struggle to maintain a level of control over my opponent although, more positively, I feel I am getting better at escaping and regaining position when my opponent gets the advantage. It seems I am not the only one as come Wednesday night, a few folks were complaining of stiff necks. This says we have got the technique correct - we are trying to defend just using our neck muscles rather than full body movement. If we can all get that movement right, both the control and escape will become easier and nobody will need Deep Heat on their neck the next day. Practise, practise, practise.
Onto Wednesday night and Hugh spent some time teaching me and one of our junior members the kata Hangetsu Den. Personally when learning a new kata, I like to get the basic shape of it and then work on refining it. Right now it would be fair to say that this kata is very very ragged and needs a lot of work. Practise practise practise.
Still on kata, we then did the practical application of Heian Nidan and I love the kata applications for a couple of reasons. Firstly it helps to learn the shape and sequence of the kata and secondly it provides a "guide" for how the moves could be used. When we start teaching application to the junior class, they often say "but nobody will attack you in a kata formation". This of course is absolutely true (unless you happen to encounter a rogue karate club) but it does teach you how to handle multiple attackers, different directions and a variety of useful moves. With time it comes together and the moves can be freed up rather than performed in such a strict formation. Practise practise practise.
Finally, both nights saw more work on the guard passing / guard defence moves that I mentioned in the last entry. Interestingly this week I found both attack and defence worked much better than last time, and I had much greater level of comfort in holding an opponent in a full guard. However, I wasn't quite as successful at translating my guard into a submission which Hugh pointed out was due to me giving my opponent too much space to move. It is a small detail but in following the guidance I was able to move from guard to a triangle choke, albeit a little bit awkwardly. Practise practise practise.
You may have spotted a recurring theme in this piece but as Shoto Budo's technical director, Billy Haggerty, often says "you get good at what you practise". To put it another way, and paraphrasing the opening quote, how do you get a black belt? Practise!
Until the next time, keep your guard up!
Scott has been training in Shoto Budo since 2007 and is a 1st Dan Black Belt. He is working towards his 2nd Dan grading.