The Cold November Train
Since 2012, I have been a student of a full contact form of traditional Karate called Traditional Tsuyoi Ryu.
Tomorrow, I am faced with my biggest challenge in it yet; my 1st Dan grading.
I am following paths to mastery in 3 different areas; business development, music production and martial art — this writing being focused on the latter.
I consider myself no master of martial art, in fact I’m familiar with many flaws I feel I have. My flexibility and posture is awful, I go through big stints of becoming unfit by being gluttonous with food and alcohol, I am yet to hold any tournament awards and have picked up injuries through lack of skill when fighting. I’ve got issues… Tight shoulders and can’t touch my fingers behind my back, particularly with my right shoulder. I’ve got interior pelvic tilt and tight ankles, which might be spurring from the hip flexor being so tight. But, to look at this from an optimistic angle, I am aware of what I need to act upon to become more skilled in this art and this is the subject this writing is based around.
For the past year, I have set myself up for an intense training-centric month in November 2016. My plan was for full immersion in the mindstate of being a warrior…
To help keep my mind from being distracted from my priority, one of my tools to stay focused has been to (again) read classic martial art books including The Art of War - Sun Tzu and The Book of Five Rings - Miyamoto Mushashi (this is a special little book and things I read in it are evident in the words of Mas Oyama, Bruce Lee and Conor McGregor — examples of great martial artists through different ages. This shows that this book is timeless and truly a pure source of martial study). I’ve also read some lesser recognised Kyokushin Karate books which have been very helpful in sharpening my techniques.
I have also been listening to The History of Rome podcast on Spotify, which is huge but has been extremely helpful in helping me think from that of a mind of a strategic military leader.
Most importantly, I have the privilege of training with our style’s Sosai, Gerry Bryan, who has the experience of a lifetime dedicated to the study of martial arts and first hand experience of violence, as well as training with and providing training to some of the most skilled martial artists worldwide.
I have been watching many martial art videos. Everything from Kyokushin gradings and tournaments, to UFC fights (both live and specific examples of stand-up fighting), to specific martial arts history documentaries and videos covering war strategy applied by the Ancient Romans.
I’ve been trying to adopt many things I’ve been subjecting myself to from these videos. I have seen techniques that I don’t use that I know will be helpful for fighting and applying them to my sparring routines, I’ve been watching the general rhythm of effective fighters and tried to emulate that in my fighting style, I’ve listened to cocky but great fighters like Christopher Eubank (Jr & Snr), Mike Tyson & Conor McGregor and the language that they use and the authority and presence they have when talking; and whilst I want to remain humble — in mind I want to be undefeatable, so I aim to think like these guys do.
I feel that I have adopted a miliary mindset this month, which I have used in my other paths of mastery. Taking a militaristic approach to other areas of my life has assisted me with strategic thinking and getting things done across all areas it’s been applied. I feed this back into my karate training mentally and feel congruent whilst sparring.
The concept of Shin-Ken or ‘to do with a sharp blade’ has been very helpful in helping me take action and do what is needed to succeed.
The philosophy of ‘osu’, which represents an unbreakable spirit and continuing through strife or feeling of wanting to stop has been essential in keeping me grinding in many areas of my life where I’ve felt like giving up but have known that the diamond is made in the pressure applied.
The act of not showing my opponent what is inside my mind is another example of military psychology which I’ve taken outside of its context and used in many other areas of my life where I’ve needed to act authoritatively and with pure unwaivering self-assurance in order to ensure a necessary task is carried out.
When you put yourself inside the shoes of somebody who is a master of their self you inspire others to treat you as such. So leaders above you entrust you with more responsibility and less-experienced people look to you as a mentor. It becomes your duty to honour your position and ensure you’re always progressing positively to earn your position as a leadership figure.
Therefore, being a martial artist is also a constant and not something you become and stay without always practicing both mentally and physically.
Health & Training
Beyond mind, equally important has been my attention to health and training this month. The first thing I needed to do was kick [a pun!] alcohol completely, I have not touched a drop since October 30th. This has been pivotal in my current feeling of readiness for this grading. Had I have continued drinking this month, I’d have likely sacrificied the liklihood there is of my passing this grading test.
Alcohol has had me distracted for a good part of this year. Without realising, I’ve been numbed, stupified, depressed and made lazy by its effects. It’s not obvious what the results of alcohol are on your mind & body until you stop it long enough for them to recover fully. Physically I’ve been weaker, less resilient to pain, less eager to fight and train, felt heavier & slower and fell into cycles of being in the wrong frame of mind and turning to drinking and back around again.
I’d lulled myself into a confusion of thinking that alcohol helped me either with creativity or, after a day of work, ‘relaxing into being able to work on my own stuff later’. This was complete bullshit. Less than a week into giving up alcohol I become a machine. This month has been a non-stop journey of waking up early and then being productive all the way up to going to bed. Being off the booze and sleeping well, I’m feeling the best I have in a long time. I’ve got energy all day, I feel enthusiastic, I’m training harder, I’m pushing myself through more and I’m thinking straighter.
I’ve been a person before who focused on looking after himself, I had a good stint of this in 2014. This month signifies a return to that person. I’m not losing anything by not drinking and being training-focused, I’m returning to a better version of myself who I liked being.
I have been training Karate 4 days a week in November. I’ve been highly motivated and enjoyed every moment of training. There has only been one or two occasions where I felt that going to training was something of a burden (but went and ended up enjoying it all the same). Before this month, quite often I felt like I was losing connection with training and felt detatched and distant. Now, I have found the fun of it again. Even with the thought of 5+ knockdown fights tomorrow, I sense a feeling of excitement and actually enjoying the rhythm of the fighting around the pain.
I feel that my technique and kata are up to scratch for the grading and as Sosai says, in this respect I’m not doing anything that I’ve not done before. Only nerves are a hurdle — so if I can conquer them I should be fine.
I’ve enjoyed this journey and enjoyed this training. I’ve enjoyed waking up feeling refreshed every morning rather than slightly hungover and like each day was a bit of a burden just to get out of bed. The fact is, it’s not just living more healthily this month that’s been good, it’s the productivity that results from it. I don’t just feel productive with training alone, my work life has picked up too. I feel more focused and more tenacious to get things done.
Whilst I’ve had practically no social life this month, December will be the complete opposite of that. But, I’ll still be training 4 days a week, I’ll still not be drinking other than socially and I still will start progressively improving my diet.
I suppose if I look at tomorrow as literally as I have been metaphorically, if I don’t pass my grading tomorrow then I die. All I have written above is irrelevant then, because only the writings of those who have a legacy will stand testament to its own truth.
If I don’t pass this grading, I’ll feed gutted and disappointed in myself. I’ll feel temporarily dead inside and it will take some time to pull out of that. But, the only thing I could do would be to get up and try again. There is no failure, that is embedded too deeply into my psychology for me to not follow through.
With what I’ve experienced and learnt in the last month, I will walk the world a different man regardless of my success in this grading or not.
This month alone my prime realisations are that alcohol is no longer something I want to indulge in beyond socially, I have found ways to more deeply access subjects that I immerse myself in and how to prioritise the things I consider most important.
The martial artist has a responsibility to protect morality and justice, fight for the good and set a good example to the next generation. That is another reason to train. My reasons for training have gone beyond simply protection and development of myself or in reaching personal goals — I’m finding the higher purposes and, as usual, they tie in with my other principle virtues.