You never forget how to ride a bike – maybe I’m just extraordinarily stupid, but
I’ve proven that one wrong.
I was spending the weekend with a girlfriend in a small Japanese village and had volunteered to make a conbini (a wonderful little Jap-English corruption of â€œconvenience storeâ€) run for some drinks. Since it was a nice day, I figured that, rather than drive the two kilometers to the 7/11, I would just borrow my girlfriend’s bike and enjoy some fresh air. Things were going well for a few minutes. Then, as I was coming down the hill toward the store I realized that I couldn’t remember how to stop. “Oh, shit!”
I fumbled as I tried to turn and simultaneously jump off in the parking lot. I didn’t fall, but I’m pretty sure that I looked like a complete idiot to the crowd of high school students hanging out on the curb as I skidded to a halt. Once I regained my balance and composure, I looked down at where my hands were gripping the handle bars and noticed the brakes. “Oh yeah, brakes…”
I’ve forgotten how to ride various other “bikes” too.
For example, at the 2006 American Taido summer camp, Mitsuaki asked me to help someone with henin no hokei. It seemed like a good idea at first – after all, I’m the guy who knows all the hokei, right? I used to be one of the only people in America to know any of the women’s hokei, and Iâ€™ve since learned almost all of the hokei in Taido. But when I started watching this student move, I realized that I couldn’t remember it to save my life. Unfortunately, she was just learning the routine and couldn’t keep things straight any better than I could, so I had to ask one of my students from Tech to help her instead.
Afterwards, I just couldn’t believe that I had forgotten a hokei. But I did forget. I mean, I totally forgot it. I probably should have been embarrassed, but my parents raised me to have a high threshold of self-consciousness (in other words, I usually don’t notice when i’m making a fool of myself).
The moral of the above anecdotes is that, even if something is common sense, it’s folly to take things for granted. Indeed, Einstein is noted for saying that common sense is â€œthe collection of prejudices and assumptions one acquires by the age of eighteen and then believes until death.â€ I think that’s a pretty good characterization. When phrased in terms of “prejudices and assumptions” common sense doesn’t sound so attractive an attribute to possess. Everyone knows, when you make an assumption, you make an ass of u and… mption? Anyway, to the point –
I try to learn from my mistakes, so in addition to relearning henin no hokei, I’ve been hunting lately for other instances where what-I-thought-I-knew and what-I-could-actually-bring-myself-to-use were incongruent. Here’s what I found:
Reality Sneaking Up On Me
It’s always good to begin a list that you know will reveal uncomfortable realities with something nice. I was recently surprised to find out that my nengi is good. This came as a shock since I’ve always thought of nentai as my worst/least-comfortable technique in Taido. However, that lead me to practice it harder than I did sen or ten. I’m pretty good at both of these types of movements, and now my extra nentai practice seems to have paid off somewhat.
Next, I need to work on hen and un. A lot. I had assumed that my hen and un were ok, but a technical checkup a couple of weeks ago reveals that I was mistaken. I’ve long been aware that my shajogeri is awful, but I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed in myself for letting my other hentai kicks slide so far. Though my defensive jumps have improved lately, my untai attacks are a lot weaker than I remember. Of course, some of this may have to do with my standards becoming stricter, but in either event, my un and hen are not up to snuff.
Another thing I thought I had down was maai, which in my definition includes, but is not limited by, distance. My recent tournament performance and some comments from friends and teachers reveals that my maai is not nearly so good as I had thought. What seems to be happening is that I can accurately judge the timing/spacing of my engagements defensively much better than I can while advancing on an opponent. This is bad news, because relying on the ability to defend or escape is not typically a sound strategy. There is a time and place for everything, including aggression. I can move aggressively, but when I do so, I find myself falling short of my target all too often. This tells me that, even when I am attacking, I still harbor some uncertainty/indecision which is preventing me from devoting myself to a course of action. This has negative ramification both on and off the court.
My gentai is poor. This is another weakness come to light as a result of tournament participation. As someone who is constantly telling students the importance of gentai, I’m ashamed to realize that I’m not doing such an exemplary job of it, myself. Gentai is the return to a safe, detached point of observation after an action – in jissen, this means returning to kamae after a strike. While the efficacy of shobu-ippon rules is debatable from the perspective of fight training, there are sound philosophical reasons for doing so – at least part of the time. Part of my problem here is that, in recognizing the necessary continuity of all events, I don’t really think in terms of endings or finishing. However, individual tasks within the larger continuum do, indeed, have conclusions, and there are always consequences for failing to see them through. This is something I need to work on both personally and physically.
Another thing I’ve recently discovered is that rebuilding my endurance is a bitch. I’ve always been in “good” physical condition. I’ve twice developed a slight belly (as a result of testing a few dietary theories – one of which was based on the notion that obtaining the majority of one’s caloric intake from ice cream and beer was a sustainable strategy), but it didn’t last long either time. I’m strong; I’m fairly fast; my body fat fluctuates between “athletic” and “low-average” levels; but my endurance is crap. What’s worse, I’m finding that I really don’t enjoy doing the work to improve it.
Symptoms and Causes
All of these incongruencies I’ve found in my Taido practice are symptoms of deeper personal issues in my life. I’ve always had a hard time gathering the self-discipline to do unpleasant-but-necessary tasks, even when they aren’t all that difficult. I also have a history of leaving projects uncompleted. I tend to deal well with external pressure and can handle most challenges as they arise, but I’m not what I would call a go-getter. I thrive on changes that occur because they allow me to use my creativity, but I don’t have Uchida Sensei’s gift for dreaming big and catalyzing changes. Finally, I tend to let things slide once i’ve accomplished some arbitrary minimum achievement goal. Sometimes I forget that we lose what we don’t use – and there’s plenty I’m not using to its full capacities.
Without getting into a self-psycho-analysis, which would probably interest most readers about as much as watching me get a vasectomy, I have a few theories about what is causing these issues in my life. And I also have a few theories on how I can go about turning a few of them around, though a couple of them are pretty confounding at the moment. Perhaps working towards finding solutions for a couple of these issues will give me some insights into the others as well.
I’ll have to wait and see on that, but I’m pretty optimistic that by continuing to apply Taido thought processes to my personal issues, I’ll be able to keep evolving and growing as a person, as a teacher, and as a student. Of course, I’ll never approximate towards perfection, but each successive issue of which I become aware is one I can attempt to improve, and doing so will in turn give me greater capacity for seeing and understanding other aspects of myself that could use some work.
I believe that this is a process we can each apply to our personal lives and to our Taido performance. Doing so with conscious intent is the road to mastery.