There are lots of things about practice I don’t like. I don’t like cleaning up afterward. I don’t like all the little nit picky preparations. I don’t like getting up earlier than would be otherwise necessary. I used to hate practicing the boring old fundamentals. I still hate practicing the parts that I’m not good at. Those are the parts that I need to be practicing though.
As with everything, we like to do the parts that we are good at, and we tend to avoid the parts that we aren’t so proficient at. I do train in budo in large part because I enjoy it, I like how it makes me feel, and because I like what it teaches me. I don’t always enjoy the lessons though. I hate discovering that I’m really bad as some aspect of practice. I hate learning that my ego is bigger, more involved in what I’m doing, and has more influence on me (I love to tell myself that I’m beyond that, but practice keeps teaching me a different lesson).
It’s easy when we start. We’re lousy at everything, so all aspects of training are tough. As we progress though, we don’t progress at all things at equal speeds. Of the various style of budo that I practice, I’ve been doing Kodokan Judo the longest. I’ve gotten reasonably good at certain aspects of it, such as groundwork, especially chokes and arm bars, while my standing techniques have not improved nearly as fast. This creates situations that my ego is all too happy to exploit, but when I let that happen, I don’t learn anything.
My groundwork is much better than my standing techniques, so in Judo randori (grappling sparring), I can “win” much more often and more quickly by taking things to the ground. Unfortunately, if I do this, I’m not practicing and improving my standing skills, and those need the most work. This is one of the traps of ego. It’s more fun to do stuff we’re already good at. I’ve been doing judo for a while now, so it takes a little bit of courage for me to say, “Hey, there’s this whole section of judo that I really need to work on. Will you help me?” I’m used to being the sensei, the guy in front with all the answers, and climbing down off that pedestal can take some work.
I learn a lot more when I work on the parts that I’m not good at though. Lately, my personal focus at Judo has been Uki Otoshi. It’s probably the most difficult and least used throw in the entire Kodokan Judo curriculum. It requires perfect balance taking, timing and execution. That might make it the best throw to practice. I also noticed that Kano Shihan and the other greats who created the Nage No Kata put right there are the front of the kata, so you can’t miss it. My theory is that I will learn much more from studying something that is extremely difficult, than I will from practicing the more popular, and frankly, easier throws.
To do uki otoshi, you have to do everything correctly, so when I practice it, I become more aware of my partner’s balance and of the timing and space connecting us. I’m forcing myself to extend my abilities and my understanding and my awareness. And as these skills expand with practice at something I’m still really bad at, I find that my awareness and understanding of balance taking, spacing and timing are better when I’m doing other things where I’m not as inept as when I’m doing uki otoshi. That’s improving my Judo as whole.
This practice is just about anything but fun though. I can’t begin to count the ways of not doing uki otoshi that I have discovered so far. Every one of these inept variations teaches me something. I’m slowly dialing in on my target, a smooth, clean uki otoshi.
As I’m writing this, I had a small epiphany. This is the throw my teach Hikkoshiso Sensei used to toss me around with the first few years I was in Japan. He would wave his arms a little and I would go flying. I’ve always felt that I started to get good at a Judo when he couldn’t throw me with that technique anymore (it didn’t stop him from throwing me around like a rag doll, it just meant that he wasn’t doing it with uki otoshi). I still can’t execute a decent uki otoshi, but I can see already I’ve learned something, because suddenly I understand what he was throwing me with all those years ago. Of course, if I had focused on the tough stuff sooner, I would have understood this that much sooner..
I’m never going to be a great judoka, I know that. But if I only ever do the parts I’m already proficient at, I’ll never get any better than I am now. If I just want to have some fun at practice a couple times a week at practice, I guess that’s ok. Judo offers so much more than just a some fun exercise, that if I don’t work at learning something every practice I feel I’m wasting a great opportunity for learning, improvement and growth.
Practicing the hard stuff is frustrating, tiring, annoying and sometimes disappointing because I don’t achieve the results I think I should. It is also far more gratifying over time. Doing what I’m good at is a reliable bit of fun, but that feeling doesn’t last. Practicing hard things isn’t fun, but it is so much more satisfying every time I figure out something new or discover that I can do something I couldn’t do at the last practice.
It really doesn’t matter what art you are studying, it’s always easier and more fun to do the bits that you are best at. If you can set your ego aside though, and give up on the fun of being good at something for a while, you’ll learn far more, and make more progress by working at the bits you don’t understand yet. Unfortunately, we rarely make huge improvements by repeating things we already know how to do. The leaps in understanding and skill come when we work on something we can’t do yet.