Leading up to the New Year, I ran across a number of proposals for people to make a special effort and do some sort of training every day. I was a little surprised, because I thought, perhaps naively, that most people do train every day. Training feels good. That’s one of the big reasons I’m still studying and practicing and training after all these years. I really enjoy getting into the dojo and training as often as I can. That’s what most people seem to think of when you talk about training every day. Everyday training though is what you do all that other time when you’re not in the dojo. Our training shouldn’t be what we do in the dojo. That’s where we learn what we have to work on. The real training is what we do in our everyday life.
We go into the dojo and we learn and we practice and we refine. What are we learning and practicing and refining? If we’re doing karate, we’re learning stances and movements, and how to strike, block and kick from those stances and movements. In judo we learn to move with good posture so we can throw without being thrown. In weapons arts, we learn to to handle a sword, staff or other weapon while moving so we are strong and stable and not leaving openings where we can be attacked. Is there anything common about all of these descriptions?
I’ve said before that the only things I really teach are how to walk and how to breathe. Once we start learning these fundamentals, there is no reason not to practice them all the time. How good our budo is depends on how well we master the fundamentals of moving and breathing, so we should be practicing these things every chance we have. We spend a lot of time in the dojo getting our posture corrected, being told what we are doing wrong with our legs and body. These corrections aren’t just for the dojo. Budo practice doesn’t stop when we bow to our teacher, say “Thank you” and leave. That’s when it begins.
When we walk out the dojo door, we’re walking and breathing. We are moving. We should also be practicing applying the lessons about how to stand and walk and breath. Way back when I started judo in the dark ages, the US Judo Association test requirements included, from the first test, a demonstration of shizen hontai, or natural body posture. Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? We had to demonstrate natural body posture. If it’s natural, why check for it? It turns out that good body posture isn’t really natural. Our natural postures are loaded with problems. We slouch. We push our heads out in front of our bodies. We look at the floor. We’re stiff. We don’t balance well, and have all sorts of other problems.
Good shizen hontai really isn’t natural. It’s optimal. It’s about standing in an optimal manner that is ready without being stiff, relaxed without collapsing, and capable of moving in accord with whatever happens. There’s nothing natural about this. Shizen hontai, it turns out, is tough to do right. Even after a couple of decades of practice, I’m still working on it. Standing around is one of those everyday things that I do that is practice every time I do it. It’s just an everyday thing that is part of my everyday practice. When I’m standing still, I check how I’m holding my head, and make sure it’s floating properly. I feel how my legs connect to my pelvis and make sure the weight and stress is equal. I make sure my butt isn’t sticking out in back, that my hips are under my shoulders and above my ankles. There are always little things to correct. I won’t even talk about all the things I’m trying to fix in my sitting posture.
Walking is really tough. I have to pay attention to where I’m going while I try to correct various problems. When I get too involved with fixing my movement, I’ve been known to walk into doors and walls. So in addition to making sure I’m moving smoothly, maintaining good balance and posture, keeping my whole body working as a coordinated whole and breathing properly from my diaphragm, I have to pay attention to where I’m going. I’m nowhere near good enough to try that walking and chewing gum simultaneously thing. That would be a disaster.
Standing and walking are everyday activities. These are activities I do every day. The are also integral parts of my training. The more I integrate proper stance and movement into my everyday activities, the less I have to focus on them when I’m in the dojo training. I practice the fundamentals all the time, because they are fundamental. In judo and jodo and iaido, good fundamental movement and posture is more powerful than anything else I can do.
Good movement and posture isn’t just for the moments of the kata, or the 3 minutes between “Hajime!” and “Yame!” Good posture and movement is for every moment of every day. It’s great practice for what we do in the dojo. It makes the practice in the dojo more relaxed, more a part of me and less something that is being imposed upon my body by my mind. Body and mind are working together. Even more though, this is the everyday application of what I’m learning in the dojo. I’m walking casually with good balance, proper, relaxed breaths, and solid, stable movement.
When I’m under fire in a meeting or a discussion or dealing with one of the many complete jerks the universe seems to have such an abundance of, I’m standing casually with proper balance, relaxed and breathing deeply, with relaxed shoulders and back, nothing showing that the verbal attacks could be upsetting me, relaxed even though the jerk is trying to intimidate me by getting right in my face and trying to steal my personal space. It’s amazing how powerful a practical application of budo this is. No matter how intense the attacks and the attempts at intimidation, it’s surprising how quickly they wilt and melt away when they don’t have any visible effect. I’ll admit, it can be almost as stressful as when my teacher decides it’s time for my training to be ramped up to the next level of intensity, but that’s part of the training and the application. The more I make these fundamental parts of budo fundamental parts of my everyday training, the less effort it takes to stay relaxed and stable and calm regardless of what’s coming at me.
This is budo after all. Budo is a path that leads through all parts of life, not a single place set apart from everything else and hidden from the rest of life. It’s supposed to seep out of the kata and dojo and permeate our whole lives, our whole selves. The first, and perhaps most important part of us that budo should color is how we move and carry ourselves. This should be something that gets worked on and polished all the time.
Training isn’t something we do every day. There shouldn’t be anything special about training. Just like taking a shower, getting dressed and eating breakfast, training is an everyday activity. Don’t train every day. Make the everyday your training.