Training Notes For The Beginner
First of all, try to relax. It is normal to be nervous but tension makes learning difficult. Everyone you see in the dojo has gone through exactly the same thing. For there was a day when everyone, even the Sensei, tied on a white belt. If you find yourself getting frustrated; take a break, relax, and talk to the instructor or one of the senior students. Remember that your instructors and seniors are there to help you learn.
Second, be cautious while practicing. Do not overwork yourself and Do not work beyond your capacity. Know your limits. You should notify the Head Instructor of any physical problems that you may have before class begins.
One of the most important rules is to have respect and courtesy for others inside and outside the dojo. Respect and courtesy is given not only to the instructors and sempai but to all others - the junior students (kohai) who follow you, visitors to the dojo, etc. You should maintain your self-control and composure at all times.
When training, an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competition is called for. This is necessary because the techniques we learn can have terrible ramifications if not practiced properly. Severe injury can occur to yourself, your partner, or others in the dojo if you are not mindful and careful.
A true martial artist wishes to do no harm to anyone and prefers a peaceful resolution to conflict. Therefore, skills developed in sensing trouble and avoiding it are preferred rather than using the physical abilities one develops as a result of training. Sensitivity to situations and trust in instinct and intuition become the martial artist’s best tools. These qualities are honed every time you step in the dojo. In other words, practice not only the technique that was demonstrated but also “tune in to where your partner is at” and sense their state of mind and being.
PRACTICE AND FORGET
Don’t get stressed over trying to commit everything to memory. The repetition of the techniques during practice will take care of that. New students are often overwhelmed with all the techniques and new information. It is very difficult to commit it all to memory. When you read a book, for instance, it would be quite difficult to repeat the entire book word for word. However, you would know what the book was about and understand the story. Approach your training in the same way. It is a journey. Each class is a special chapter of its own.
Through varied repetition, all the basic techniques will become ingrained. The basics are then practiced with a wide range of attacks in order to find the common principles involved. These principles can then be applied universally in response to any attack. Techniques may vary but the principles remain constant.
FIRST DAY AND EVERY DAY
Train with a spirit of an open mind and take each class as a brand new experience. The old adage of “you never step into the same river twice” comes to mind. The water continually flows and and is constantly being replaced by new water. Even the river bed continually erodes and is replaced.
You are not the exactly the same person you were yesterday nor will you be the same tomorrow as you are today. Even if you practiced the same techniques at the last class, conditions are always different, you are different and completely new insight can be gained.
We are dynamic, ever-changing, complex individuals in ever-changing environments of weather, temperature, stress, temperament, emotions, and degrees of healthiness. You are an individual created anew every time you open your eyes in the morning. You face a new day with new opportunities and challenges. You are presented with both negative and positive outlooks and you must constantly choose one or the other. One can be debilitating and draining, sapping you of precious life energy. The other can provide you with a life force that is fresh, continually revitalizing and will see you through the difficulties that come your way. Make no mistake about it; you do have a choice. How you choose is up to you.
ENJOYING THE CLIMB
Approach your training, as you would climb a mountain, one step at a time. Breathe deeply and fully and feel the exhilaration of being alive. Every once in a while, stop and take a look around. Look at where you are now, where you were before and see the progress you have made. Relax and enjoy each new level. When looking at “how far you have to go,” do not be discouraged. Discouragement is something you wave at but do not invite in.
When climbing a mountain, it is difficult to see the actual summit. Many times what you think is the summit turns out to be just another ridge line when you reach it, and the summit seems as far away as before. Take heart, real progress has been made. Keep going steadily and enjoy the view, it gets better all the time. There will come a time when you realize you have reached the summit, your goal, and then, to quote Dag Hammarskjold, “only when you climb a mountain and have stood on its peak can you fully realize how small it really is.”
Set your goals, but don’t be overwhelmed by them. Climbing a mountain is not an easy thing to do, so enjoy the journey and have perseverance. The martial arts are exhilarating and demanding. Congratulate yourself, because you reach a new level every time you enter the dojo.
RETURNING TO THE FOOT OF THE MOUNTAIN
In order to become an experienced mountain climber you must climb again and again. Once you have reached a summit you must return once again to where you started.
So it is with training in the martial arts. Having reached some proficiency, you must constantly return to the basics, and keep a humble yet curious attitude in your practice. Return again and again to a fresh “beginner's mind,” that precious state where all possibilities are wondrous.
THE SPIRIT OF PRACTICE
According to the martial art’s ideals and ethics, merely practicing with the idea of defeating or injuring your partner is unacceptable. You should protect your partner with benevolence and reverence for their well being and look for an outcome that is mutually beneficial. With the martial arts the optimum goal is to avoid conflict.
“To fight and conquer in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy with no fight at all, that's the highest skill.”
“When you reach real ability you will be able to become one with the enemy. Entering his heart you will see that he is not your enemy after all.”
-Sword Master Tsuji (1650-1730)
The purpose of testing is to give the student a guide by which to gauge his daily, monthly, and yearly practice. Tests are meant as an exhibition or demonstration of the student’s level of understanding of martial arts principles and techniques.
Prior to testing you will be required to complete a minimum number of classes. Once this is achieved you will be eligible to test. Preparation for testing should begin well in advance of the actual test. Don’t wait until the last minute and attempt to cram for it. If you don’t prepare properly, don’t expect to pass or even be allowed to test. Every day you train you are being evaluated in order to determine if are familiar enough with the required techniques.
Students should be comfortable performing the required techniques and the pace at which they should be performed. Your performance should demonstrate clearly that you have attained the proficiency required of that rank, and then some. Also, as you advance up the ranks you will still be responsible for knowing all of the previous ranks requirements. If you need help in preparing for your test, ask your instructor or a senior student. They will be glad to help.
You should attend all tests even if you are not testing and you should support those who are testing. The best way to show that support is to be in the dojo and in your gi. While testing is in progress, all present should be respectful of the testing procedures. If you must talk, it should be done quietly. Keep movement to a minimum. Walking or moving around and talking is considered rude and distracting to the examiners, the participants, and to others in attendance.
Keep in mind that the point of martial arts training is not to focus exclusively on acquiring rank, but rather on bettering yourself.