Wednesday, October 17, 2007

As Time Goes By...

Ever see a self-defense course offered consisting of ten easy classes? They promise to distill the most effective techniques from all martial arts and turn you into a lethal weapon inside one semester.

These must be popular, because I still see them.

I suppose one of the most common questions a newbie to martial arts will have is, "How long will it take me to earn a black belt?" Followed closely, I'm sure by, "How long are the classes?"

Time. We're obsessed by it.

As martial artists, we need to be concerned with time in a different way. Time is both our ally and our enemy.

Our awareness of time as a factor in our training usually comes somewhere about the point we experience our first grade promotion. At that point, the newness has worn off, we've been validated, and we begin to see the long road ahead of us... (Usually no further than black belt).

We understand that it takes time to learn all the techniques we must know for our black belt test. But often our sense of the time factor is thrown topsy-turvy after achieving black belt. Until that point we were focused on that goal. We accepted that we couldn't learn it all at once, so time was measured, somewhat, in terms of how long between the moments our teachers showed us something startlingly new.




Joint Locks



Ah-ha! Weapons.

But those are distractions.

All along the way, sometimes embedded in the instructions on how to execute a technique, and sometimes shouted out between strikes in a sparring match, are little tidbits of advice from your teacher. These are the really important lessons.

"Keep your back straight."



"Line them up."

At black belt level, your progress is really measured in the time it takes to peel back the onion layers of those little lessons.

But first, you must learn that teaching a technique may pass knowledge, but that is not the same as experience; which becomes wisdom.

And only time builds experience and wisdom.

In this sense, the time you spend in practice is your ally. Only time exploring the puzzle will solve it. The more time you spend, the more pieces you'll put into place -- eventually. Because you can't force the understanding. Things only make sense after you've had the RIGHT experience, and you can never be sure when that will come or what it is. So you do spend a lot of time waiting.

Unfortunately, time is also an enemy. Time is not an unlimited commodity. We all have other commitments. And we all owe Eternity a death. Therefore, our practice time is precious. Time spent in class with an instructor to guide us is always limited. We need to approach our training time with congenial seriousness. Time wasted on the mat goofing off is lost forever. Have fun, but keep improving and work hard.

Certainly, you shouldn't panic if you have a bad class, or an injury that sidelines you from active training. This should be seen as an opportunity to review your mistakes and weaknesses. Or you can still attend class and observe; maybe even catch up on you note taking.

This advice is not that same regarding learning how to fight (and by extension, kill). I can teach you how to kill somebody reasonably dead within a few weeks. Killing is no great skill, and is best learned as part of the enlightening process that dying is just as easy and life is precious. (Of course, once you learn how to kill someone, you still need to spend time practicing it, and the time you spend will improve your chances of accomplishing it... Gosh, I'm sure there's a hidden lesson in there too.) Ideally, people take up the lifelong pursuit of martial arts with broader goals than smacking people into oblivion. Real fighting is only part of the equation, and takes greater or lesser importance depending on the student's circumstances.

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