Doing the Work

Full disclosure: I wrote this entry a few months back but it never got posted. Well, better now than never.

Today’s morning practice provides a great example of why “doing the work” has so much value in terms of developing in the martial arts. After some vigorous warm-ups and a few rolls, I looked at the clock and I started thinking the age-old “how long should I train today” thoughts. With a mountain of work to do at my “real” job, I settled on thirty minutes of kata. My mind then wandered to recent comments by a fellow karateka regarding the last kata in our series and I decided to work on them in reverse order, starting with that one.

Since this has never been a favorite kata of mine, it has certainly been neglected and I figured I should run it a number of times before moving on to the others. 50 minutes later I swept up and left the dojo having experienced a completely unexpected workout. What happened in between is what solo training is all about.

After four or five runs through the kata, I felt something happen on a particular turn; I moved my feet differently than in the previous versions. I stopped to consider this section and this change. It felt more “right” than the way I had been doing it but why? After some time on the movement I understood the difference. My body felt more comfortable. My balance was better, my angles were suggesting other applications.

The footwork repeats itself often in a basic drill in our system so I decided to work the change into the drill as well and found it had a whole new feeling too. Then things got interesting. The voice in my head, which I talk about often, spoke up. This lead to ten more minutes of related footwork drills all based on moving my feet independently as opposed to at the exact same time. I finally finished up with a few more passes at the original kata plus a couple of others that had been on my mind.

So much for running through all the kata. On the other hand, I let the training take me where it wanted and spent far more quality time in the dojo. None of this was my intention but all of it was a result of showing up and settling in to “do the work.” I ended up doubling my training time and rediscovering a principle that I was not applying consistently. Now I have something new to focus on in all my katas. I will admit that there are plenty of times that no such breakthrough develops but, if you stay open minded and work on one thing even a little longer than you might want to, you often see things you would otherwise miss.

Lesson of the day: Once you are warmed up, relax and quickly decide on how many times you want to run through a kata or exercise. Once you have picked a number, increase it by at least 50% (enough so that you groan to yourself and say, “that sounds boring and tedious to do it THAT many times). Then, don’t let yourself off the hook – do it THAT many times and see what happens.

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