Magic and Mystery

11aYears ago I had the opportunity to train privately with the late Tasshi Jim Logue in Columbia, South Carolina. During one of these Sunday afternoon, backyard-or-front-driveway-sessions, he picked up a pair of manji sai and demonstrated some techniques. I had not seen this particular weapon before and I was, to say the least, mesmerized by what he was doing. The movements were so fluid and fast, yet precise and intentional, that they were magic. I decided on the spot that I wanted to move those weapons in the same way. I didn’t even own a pair yet.

While practicing with my manji sai recently, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and, for a brief instant, saw that same magic again. Yet, the moves I was doing did not seem magical at all as I did them. I have been working with the weapon, on and off, for close to fifteen years now, and it continues to be a wonderful challenge. But, what that mirror showed me is that things can look very different on the outside than on the inside. What I see, as I train, is the flips, strikes, cuts, covers, blocks, and traps that I am trying to perfect. What someone watching might see, hopefully, is  a blur of incomprehensible movement. What Tasshi Logue demonstrated all those years ago was not magic  to him; it just appeared that way to me.

I had a related experience not that long ago that helped me clarify these thoughts. While teaching a kyu-rank student a particular tuite (grappling/joint manipulation) concept, I was pleased to see his eyes light up with excitement after he “received” the technique. This was a movement I knew well, and had done many times, but, for him, it was all new. Try as he might, he could not make it work, but clearly he intends to practice until that changes, no matter how long that takes. What he had experienced was that same sense of magic and mystery… and subsequent motivation to train.

If the goal is to always be improving, it helps to have good motivation. Sometimes that comes from a spark of insight, or something you witness that sticks with you. But, as you progress with your own training, the magic you experienced in the beginning becomes harder and harder to recapture. The more you understand the nuances of what you are trying to do, the less mysteries there are to solve. Or, maybe there are just new mysteries. Either way, you can’t go back to being the naive student you once were. Don’t let this frustrate you. When your techniques are good enough, you can experience the magic again in the eyes of others, as they watch, and are inspired by you.

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