Showing posts with label Comfort Zone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Comfort Zone. Show all posts

Monday, March 30, 2015

Budo Isn't Life

Young lady walking through a train station in Japan with a sword across her back.
Photo Copyright 2015 Girgoris Miliaresis

Budo Isn't life.  It's training for life.  

I was reading an article about a writer who became a carpenter, but didn’t stop writing, and it made me think about the mistake I sometimes see people make with budo.  Budo is a Way, and as ways go, I think it is a great one.  You can explore strength and conflict, peace and stability, action and quietude, moving with things without being moved by them, and many other points that are important in life. For all that, budo is not life.

I’ve see a number of people over the years who become so involved with training in budo that they let the rest of their lives go to hell.  They often become fabulous martial artists, but their personal lives are train wrecks, with disasters everywhere. These are people who make the mistake of putting budo training above everything else in their life. Budo is training for life. When you let the practice become so large that it squeezes out everything else, including the application of the training to your real life, you have completely missed the point. In fact, you’ve failed as a budoka.

Budo only has meaning in the context of a complete life.  When your training gets in the way of a complete life, you should be asking what’s wrong. If your only friends are people you train with, why don’t you have time for anyone else? If budo has replaced all your recreational activities, why are you becoming so one faceted? If budo is the only thing you enjoy, why is that?

Budo is difficult. Training is hard work. That’s fine, it should be. If you are training so hard that your only relationships are with your training partners, maybe something’s wrong there.  One of the lessons of budo is not that training is hard work. The lesson is that life is hard work, and if work hard at it, you can do good things. Good relationships take hard work. If you’re spending all your time in the dojo, you’re avoiding the relationships that you need to be working on. Good relationships with friends, family, coworkers and partners takes at least as much hard work as training in the dojo.  

Letting budo training squeeze all other relationships out of your day-to-day life is a sign that there are things you need to work on. The problem can be lots of different things. You could be avoiding difficult situations that you’re not good at and you don’t feel comfortable with. You could be focusing on doing something that makes you feel good and gives you a sense of accomplishment to the detriment of maintaining healthy relationships.  I admit, maintaining healthy relationships isn’t something you can brag about. You don’t say “Yeah, I put my wife’s wishes ahead of my own and did those dishes instead of an extra set of kata last night.”  It just doesn’t sound as cool as “Dude, I pushed myself and squeezed in two extra kata sets last night.  I was completely wiped out!”  Maintaining good relationships just doesn’t work as bragging and ego building material.

Budo training is hard work and the returns are slow and difficult.  If you are letting budo training muscle everything else out of your life though, what are you really getting out of your training? If you are learning it for self defense, but you’ve given up every other part of your life to train, what’s left to defend?  Make a full life so you have something really worth defending, friends and relationships and people who love and value you. A life with nothing but dojo training in it doesn’t build anything of value, and all that training never has a chance to contribute to the world. Budo is a Way, a Do, 道, that reveals better ways to travel the path of life. You can’t travel that path in the dojo. You have to go out the door and interact with all parts of life, even the boring ones, the ones that don’t do anything for your ego, and especially the ones that are hard for you.  The lessons of the dojo aren’t really learned until you start applying them.

Girls heading to Kyudo practice in Japan.
Photo Copyright 2015 Grigoris Miliaresis

Budo training should help us conquer our egos. Budo training is an ongoing lesson in doing the hard work that doesn’t have quick returns and isn’t glorious. I’ve been beating my head against the wall of kata that make up Shinto Muso Ryu lately.  It’s not easy to remember all those kata, and to keep each branching straight in your head so you don’t accidentally slip from one kata into another at a juncture that is similar in more than one kata. On the other hand, this is so fundamental to the art that nobody is ever going to pat me on the back and tell me “Good job Pete.” just because I remembered the proper sequence of steps. If I can’t remember those, we can’t get to the real practice.

I don’t get any ego polishing from this. It’s just part of the training.  In fact, the longer I practice, the less ego polishing I get from any of the training.  It’s something I do because of the way it informs and improves the rest of my life. Budo is about dealing with conflict in it’s rawest, most straightforward form.  The same strategies and tactics and practices apply to life though, both in the way we train in budo, and what we are training.

We go to the dojo and we train. Training feels good and I enjoy it just for its own sake.  That’s a lesson right there.  Enjoy things for their own sake. It’s something that’s easy to forget to do.

The training teaches me to deal with the discomfort and pain and exertion required to get good at budo. This is perhaps the most basic lesson we should be getting out of budo practice. It’s also the easiest to ignore. It’s a lot easier to put forth the exertion, to put up with the discomfort and the pain, for something I really enjoy doing than it is to apply that lesson to something that doesn’t have the immediate reward of being something I love to do. Having cultivated that ability to endure pain and discomfort though, it becomes an ability I need to make use of nearly every day outside the dojo.

The effort necessary to maintain good relationships isn’t easy. Sometimes it is downright uncomfortable, and even emotionally painful. If I can exert myself in the dojo, than I can put similar effort into being a good human being with those around me.  It’s not easy.  I know there are several people in my life that I would love to smash, or at least be rude to and then ignore.

That’s not good budo though. Good budo extends those lessons everywhere in your life. You take that ability to exert yourself, and you make effort to endure emotionally uncomfortable and even painful situations and treat people well. Every practice we work on remaining calm and undisturbed while people attack us physically. Shouldn’t we be making the same effort to remain calm and undisturbed when people attack verbally and emotionally? Is it any wiser to allow someone to manipulate you verbally or emotionally outside the dojo than it is to let people manipulate you physically in the dojo?

If your focus is only on getting better at your budo so you can defeat others in competition, you’ve completely missed the point.  Budo training isn’t about defeating others in any sort of competition, it’s about improving yourself.  If your reason for training is only to defeat others in a game, you have already defeated the purpose of the training. The lessons are not lessons about winning a game.  They are lessons about life.

If you’re only applying the lessons about structure and ma’ai and timing in the dojo, you’ve missed out. All situations have structure and ma’ai and timing. A good life really requires that we apply the lessons of perseverance and endurance and continuous effort for improvement to all aspects of our lives, not just the ones that we are comfortable with. In fact, that’s probably a good clue about where you need to apply the lessons you’ve learned in the dojo. If there is an aspect of your life that you’re not comfortable with and that you keep avoiding, it might be time to apply the lessons of budo to that area of your life.

The newly revised and hugely expaned edition of Old School by Ellis Amdur
If you’re doing budo all the time because it’s what you’re good at, I’ve got bad news.  You’re going to to have to get good at other things to be a good budoka.  Even in ancient Japan people recognized that someone who is only good at budo isn’t a well-developed person.  The phrase 文武両道 bunbu ryodo stretches back to at least the Kamakura era. It means roughly “martial and academic are both of the Way.”  Even then it was recognized that a person who only mastered martial arts was not complete.

In the dojo, we train to be able to handle someone trying to crush us with their strength. We practice remaining calm as our partner is trying to hit us with their hands, a stick, a chain, a sword. We strive to remain cool and relaxed while people attack. If we can do that in the dojo, but we can’t do that in stressful, uncomfortable situations outside the dojo, we’ve completely missed the point our our training. To be true to the training of budo, we have to strive to apply the same lessons we practice in the dojo to every corner of our lives.

Budo should compliment all the other aspects of our lives, and help us improve them. It should never become so dominant that it squeezes the rest of life out. Even professional martial artists need a life beyond the dojo. It’s worth noting that one of the greatest martial arts teachers of all time, Yagyu Munenori, was known not only for his budo, but he was also known for singing and performing Noh theatre. Many budo teachers in Japan are known far outside budo circles. Kaminoda Tsunemori of Shinto Muso Ryu is recognized for the excellence of his calligraphy.

If you do budo right, it is very much that dangerous road that Bilbo Baggins told Frodo about ““It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  It will creep into every corner of your life and force you to face those parts you aren’t confident about, and work to polish them just as much or more than it demands that your polish your strikes, cuts, and throws.

If you’re serious about doing budo, you have to get out of the dojo and have life. You have to work at making that life a good one, and making yourself better in each aspect of your life. Real budoka don’t hide from the world in the dojo. Real budoka train, take a shower, and then go out and engage their life and the people in it, while applying the lessons of the dojo to all the difficult, uncomfortable parts to make them better.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Getting Out Of The Comfort Zone

We like training.  It’s fun. We value it.  Training is good for us.  That’s why we do it.  We like what we are doing and what it does for us.  All those benefits that budo training is supposed to give are great, right?  Budo is great training for the body, all that exercise and developing speed and agility and strength.  Then there are those mental benefits of being calm and centered and confident and mentally resilient.

Expect when we aren’t actually getting most of these benefits.  It’s easy to train and not really progress.  I know there have been periods where I went to judo and did the whole workout, and never really progressed or improved in any of the areas I just listed.  Yes, it was a good workout and I maintained my level of fitness.  Yes, the exercise felt great.  Yes, I did a lot of techniques, but they were all techniques I already had a reasonable level of mastery of.  Yes I had to focus and work my mind but it was more of a reinforcement and repeat of lessons learned.  I knew what I could do, and I did it.

What I didn’t do was more.  I didn’t push my body to its limits of strength. I certainly didn’t do anything that made me develop my speed or agility.  When it came to mental training, I did things I was already confident that I could do.  It’s easy to be calm and centered when you’re working well within your comfort zone.

None of this is really training.  It’s more like maintenance.  It’s more like keeping up with what I’ve achieved in the past.  It doesn’t improve me in any way though.  In truth, even when I’m doing those things, I’m diminishing.  When I don’t test my limits they start shrinking because I’m not sure where they are.  If I’m not out close to the edge, I lose sight of where it is and my imagination always makes it closer than it really is.  When I’m not sure where the edge is I naturally give myself a plentiful safety zone so I don’t accidentally stray across the edge into uncertain territory.

I will admit, there are times in life when just treading water is tough enough. Most of the time though, we can do better.  The question is, how do we know we’re doing better?  A simple clue is your answer to the question “Am I in my comfort zone?”  If you answer yes to this question, you’re not getting any better.  If you’re not in your comfort zone, even if you’re just a little bit outside it, you’re pushing your limits and growing.

Ultimately, I’m responsible for the progress of my training.  I have to push myself and find people to help me advance each step along the road.  In judo, if I just show up every week and do my stuff, no will say anything, and people will be happy that I’m participating.  If I want to to really learn, they’ll be thrilled. It’s my choice, and my responsibility.  We each have to work at pushing our limits.  

For most of us, the first time we step foot in the dojo we are pushing against more limits than we realize.  We are learning to master our bodies and our minds.  We are learning about power and conflict dynamics in the most fundamental way, by actually learning to fight.  We are learning to go beyond the raw physical conflict and master our minds and ourselves.  Often, we are pushing limits society has told us we can’t go beyond, that we can’t be deal with violence because good people don’t do that.  It can be difficult if you’re male.  I can’t imagine the pressure against that first step if you’re female.

Once we’ve taken that first step and trained for a while, the new danger is complacency.  After we achieve a certain degree of competency at budo, or anything, the danger is leaning back, letting out a big sigh, and thinking “I’m good”.  At that moment we’re in danger of stopping dead in the path and not learning anything new.  This is true of anything we do, not just budo.

In a lot of things in life, a certain level of competency is sufficient.  One of the wonders of budo is that there is no such thing as good enough.  I have been privileged to train with people in their 80s and 90’s who were,and are, striving to improve.  They still get out in the dojo and actively work at becoming better today than they were yesterday.  Scroll down here and you’ll see the number 91.  That’s the age of Hada Hidetoshi when he passed his 6th dan in iaido on November 19th this year.

The key to this is to keep searching for that edge.  If you’re outside your comfort zone, even just a little, you’re growing.  So how do you know where that edge is?  Well, first, are you at all uncomfortable?  For many years I had the good fortune to train with a wonderful man, Hikoshiso Sensei, in Shiga, Japan.  The last 20 minutes of every training session was left for randori (judo sparring).  I always ran and grabbed Sensei because he was so good I couldn’t do anything to him, while he could toss me any time he wanted.  I learned from every 3 minute session he gave me.  I noticed after a while though that most of the time no one asked him to do randori.  In fact, people went out of their way to avoid meeting his eyes and getting asked to play (and yes, it was play.  He always had the biggest smile through the whole session.  It was pure fun for him).

I finally asked some people why they never trained with him and they all told me “He’s too good.”  They didn’t want to train with someone they felt they had no chance of throwing.  They didn’t want to go out of their comfort zone. On the other hand, that was exactly why I loved training with him.  For me, it was a personal victory when I progressed enough to be able to break his balance a little.  I wasn’t near to throwing him, but I had become good enough to affect him.  Yes I knew I wasn’t going to throw him.  Yes, I knew he would throw me.  It was exciting and I really had to work and present my very best judo just to stay standing.  

Over time though, my comfort zone increased.  Practicing with Hikoshiso Sensei made everyone else much less intimidating.  After Sense had thrown me around, even the big, tough guys didn’t seem nearly as imposing.  And then one day a miracle happened.   I’d been working on a technique, with Sensei in mind, I admit, and one day the universe aligned in my favor and I THREW Sensei.  He was laughing in joy and excitement before he hit the mat.  He was as thrilled that I had progressed far enough to throw him as I was.  When he got up, he made a bow to me with a grand smile, and then we came together and continued the randori session.  It was fabulous.  

If I had, like some many others in the dojo, stayed in my comfort zone and only trained with people I was already able to throw from time to time, I would never have progressed to the level where I could throw Hikoshiso Sensei.  

You have to go out past the edge of your comfort zone.  That’s the only way it will get bigger. If you look at a training partner and think “There’s no way I can do anything to him” than you’re probably outside your comfort zone.

If training with someone makes your heart beat a little faster and your breathing pick up, that’s another good sign.  When I do jodo or kenjutsu, there are certain partners who I know will be coming in faster and harder than I’m used to.  I trust them to not hurt me, but still, I know I’m out on the edge of my ability to keep up, and I may not be able to get out of the way in time, or get the block up, or place the counterattack properly to stop them.  It’s thrilling.  I know I’m learning when I train with them.  They push me to improve every time we meet.

Another clue is your mind.  Are you worried about making mistakes?  Are you concerned that you could fail to do things right?  These are clues that you are in the right zone.  If you don’t have questions about your ability to do something, you’re not pushing your limits.  If you’re not concerned about completely blowing the movement or getting overwhelmed in randori or sparring, you’re not advancing.  If you are putting yourself out there, and making the mistakes, being overwhelmed by your training partner, then you’re pushing on down the path, and your comfort zone is expanding.  

Don’t stay where you are.  Budo is a path, not a seat.  Don’t give in to the temptation to sit down and stay where you are.  There is always more to be learned, another hill to go round and another river to cross.  Push yourself.  Take the losses.  Make the mistakes. Go where you can’t win.   It doesn’t always feel like it, but when you push your limits, you are progressing, and that development can show up when no one is expecting it.   I was barely dreaming of it, and I know Hikoshiso Sensei wasn’t expecting it.  One day though, everything I had learned about sensing and responding to movement that I had learned from hours of frustrating practice when it felt like I was fighting a mountain came together, and suddenly Sensei was airborne.  And laughing all the way to the ground because I had learned enough out there on the edge that I could catch him in a bad movement.