|Dojo - The place you practice the Way|
However they're preparing themselves for their tests, few of them prepare themselves for the stress of the situation.
In my previous life as an Assistant National Coach, much of what we do is to prepare the sportsman for the rigors of competition. What we do is a mix of physical ritual and mental visualisation. We do this in the hope to bring the relaxedness found in certain aspects of practice into the competition environment. We put in a lot of effort in order that the sportsman consistently enters 'the zone' and of course to peak at the right time.
Without too many words, we do many similar practices in the martial arts.
I remember a time I was planning for a dojo to be built at the back of my house. One of the consultants that participated in the planning process was a kenjutsu practitioner, and whilst he was drawing up rough plans for my little backyard dojo, he described the surrounding and the path he wanted to create leading up to this place. He says traditional outdoor dojos typically come with this 'path' so that as the practitioner is walking up to the dojo, they leave the outside world behind them and prepare themselves mentally to enter the space of the training hall, the place where you practice 'the Way.'
|The dojo. It beckons you and asks you to enter into its world.|
What an elegant way of mental preparation, to have the environment welcome you into this sacred space where you put aside worldly concerns in order to work on the way.
But what is the Way? Just recently I read on another blog that the kanji shows a person balancing on a boat. The Way, or 'do' or 'tao' originally indicated the natural order of the Universe. The later Buddhist connotation indicated a middle path that is achieved through the following of doctrine. Ch'an or Zen, a particular sect of Buddhism further believes that 'do' is about being present; not to be waylaid by extraneous thought.
The place where you engage in 'Walking the path', however, is not to be mistaken for some blissed out state. The path especially for the warrior is a path that is described by constant striving in physical, mental, and spiritual terms. It's partly analogous to modern sports psychology, where the modern approach would be to include any preparation to get that person into 'the Zone' as consistently as possible for peak performance.
|This is the destination all modern sportsmen are driven towards - irrespective of their behaviour or character flaws.|
In addition to the concepts of physical ritual and mental visualisation I mentioned before, lots of this preparation is about stress testing the participant. This idea that a practitioner only has to do technique to perfection and will be adequate for the challenges of real confrontation is ridiculous. Stress testing is a valuable tool to prepare the individual for confrontation and combat. Such stressors that you can replicate in your training environment that will mimic the kind of stressors that you will face in competition or conflict will mean your practitioner will be able to focus on the task at hand rather than be a loose and unpredictable cannon which will misfire at the wrong time.
Facing one opponent is easy? Well, then increase the time of those encounters. Still coming out tops? Bring in fresh opponents. When that's fine, introduce two opponents. Then when that becomes easy, tie up one arm, and repeat. Keep on increasing the odds and make sure the student practitioners keeps his cool. That's stress testing.
The priority of 'Do' of course is not solely on physical preparation as high-level sports people seek, as martial artists we want the mind centred and we want the individual to be progressing spiritually through further study and meditation.
While there are those who would speak poorly of martial art philosophy and traditional training techniques, the Way is not an excuse for poor performance nor does it mutually exclude solid ability. It is merely a philosophy of how things should be. Many think of the Way as tied to those schools which have isolated themselves from practicality or from reality.
I urge all practitioners to understand their path, and to look at how they are improving on themselves.
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