Friday, March 5, 2010

About Training

What is it about training that draws you? Back when I was a kid doing Tae Kwon Do on weekends, it was the fun that I had. Especially when we get to spar. Doing one step kata was far from my idea of fun though. Rather it seem boring after I remembered the different defences. Far from my mind was the need for endless practice to hone perfection. After all, when I was a kid, training in Tae Kwon Do was about the belt.

Even as I use to hang cardboard targets on the clothesline to practice jump kicks, because we couldn't afford punching bags, it was for the fun of it. The idolisation of heroes in movies who could jump effortlessly in the air and dish out 3-4 kicks before touching the ground. Now that's cool! So I did it, in the hopes that one day my efforts would be looked at by other kids as 'cool'.

I reached my teenage years and joined Judo because I thought having different arts would really make me into a good fighter. Learning ukemi on the first day brought me to my senses and I never showed for class again. Endless repetitions of slapping the tatami wasn't my idea of fun.

In Junior College, I stayed on with Tae Kwon Do. Effectively being a terror in the class where no one wanted to spar with me. I joined Silat just to get an activity in my Duke of Edinburgh program sorted out. If there ever was need for martial arts, it was then at that boarding school. Fights in closed door sessions was ubiquitous. Kids who had martial arts background were always asked to spar with seniors who love to fight. We, in the end, started Fight Club way before Brad Pitt found his on the silver screen. Yet, even as I ran each day, swung on gymnastic rings, lifted weights and did my katas, training was nothing more than something I just did.

There was no meaning.

Aikido was something that I just loved. Loved and looked for in my early years yet I did not find till I was in university. Even so, I waited a year before I joined because of a back injury which I thought would be prohibitive in training. Finally, I decided that I couldn't give a damn about it and that I was not going to miss my chance to learn this art. So I joined and ultimately found that my back had nothing to worry about. Funnily, enough, here I was almost 8 years down the road, doing ukemi again and I loved it! I rolled everywhere after my first class. I rolled all the way back to my apartment, on the tar road actually. (ok, an exaggeration. But honestly I did roll a hundred meters at least). Luckily my class was at night and no one really drives along lonely paths near university campuses at that time.

I was hooked and learning Aikido became a passion. I looked forward each week for class. Soon once a week wasn't enough, and I began to take the train to visit my teachers' teacher up north. I read books, scoured for videos, attended seminars and learned all I could about this art. Friends that joined with me gradually left, and I wondered what was wrong with them.

Even so, my training was based on how fun it was to learn something new each day. How cool it was to do those ki tricks and joint locks that I never knew in my kicking and punching days. Woe to my cousin who would dare try to grapple with me again.

Is there really a point to this long winded rambling cum reminiscing you may ask?

I believe there is. You see, it never occurred to me of when I started to really train. Back when I first started and even years down the road, I marvelled at visiting shihan's teaching us this cool new waza, or weapons technique or skill. It was one step to conquer at a time. Learning to break fall, learning this, learning that. One day... it stopped being about learning something new.

One day, it just became about how to get it right. Somehow, I've made the switch from chasing teachers to teach me new things, to just looking at what I have and polishing it. Sure, there's plenty more to learn from teachers. But learning from them now is more about understanding rather than acquiring. For me, I've acquired too much already as it is. Now its about mastery.

The wonderful thing about learning is, how it changes throughout your life. Nothing is constant. What I know now as true, might be far from the truth years down the road. Yet, at that point in time, it became a significant step towards getting to the next level. Some might say that learning is like peeling the layers of skin from an onion. In the end what you thought was something at first glance, looks entirely different after a few layers have been removed.

When I write this, I remind to myself that new students have yet to go through what I've gone through. Therefore, is it really fair to expect them to train the way I train now? Just because we know the value of learning one way, doesn't mean it other ways is not important.

So, each person must go through the spiral staircase. Peeling away a layer at a time until they arrive where they started, but at a different level. Understanding a bit more and knowing they have more ground to travel. It cannot be short changed by an idealistic teacher, nor an overzealous student. One step at a time is all it takes.

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