What ever martial art you do there must have been the first time your sensei/teacher pushed you to the limits until you were physically tired and barely able to lift your arms to block, or find the energy to think of a different throw or arm lock to the one you had just done six of. There’s something exhilarating, if physically exhausting, about pushing yourself to those limits. Sweat drenched, muscles screaming from lactic acid build up, lungs gasping for air and still Sensei shouts, “keep going, I didn’t say you could stop!” And when you do, finally, stop and inwardly acknowledge there’s going to be some bruises and aching muscles tomorrow, your face has a huge grin on it.
We must be mad. But it’s fun!
The guy on the right must be tired if he’s gripping bis sword by the sharp end! Image: http://www.medievalchronicles.com/medieval-swords/bastard-sword/
What use do these intense periods of training have? I live a fairly gentle lifestyle outside of my martial arts. It’s highly unlikely I’ll be attacked by a set of Japanese samurai on the streets of the UK. I don’t lead the sort of lifestyle that results in large numbers of people trying to pick a fight with me. Does this mean these tests are a little over-the-top
During one of these sort of tests at Iaido last night we were training one on one alternating between attacks and defences. Sword cut straight to your opponent, they block and then they carry out a counter-attack, which you block and respond with another attack, and so on. In the middle of it all Sensei called out, “your best Iai comes out when you’re tired!” Does it? I tucked the thought away, carried on, and after class gave the statement some thought.
When you’re tired you stop thinking, There’s no energy to think and so your body reverts to the muscle memory you have built up through endless repetition of exercises. This is why towards the end of those sessions we default to the techniques we know best. My “default techniques” in Jitsu are O Soto Gari, Tai Otoshi* and Ippon Seio Nage and in Aikido it’s Irimi Nage. These are techniques I learnt and understood early on in my training and so are firmly ingrained into what I do.
I have not been doing Iaido long, around a year. We rarely do these sort of pressure tests (three times since I started) and last night was the most intense of those tests to date. What become clear to me was how poor some of my techniques are. How wobbly my basic cuts are, how my body movement is all over the place, and how my blocks fail to block (hence today’s bruised hands). My default is not good and I need to gain that muscle memory. We all know that the only way to improve that default is to practice as much as I can.
So does your best martial art performance comes out when you’re tired? Once you have reached a certain level then I think this statement is true because your default is good. Like many people I tend to overthink what I do and I know that when I stop thinking things flow more naturally (if throwing someone on the ground and putting an arm lock on them is natural). If I want to achieve a default of being good in Iaido then I need to put more practice time in and spend longer focusing on the basics.
I don’t think it’s enough for me to just do the basics. The practice time is the time to do them with thought. I need to think about my body posture, which muscles need tension, which ones need to be relaxed, how the fingers tighten during the cut, the length of travel during the sword, how I move into the cut. . . The list goes on. I need to do those cuts with consideration again and again. And when I’ve done that and my arms are aching, then I need to go wild and just do the technique with no step-by-step thought. And that’s just one day. The next day the same, and the same. The beauty of Iaido is that you can practice so much at home even if my neighbours do think I’m odd when I do practice on the lawn.
I felt quite determined at the end of the session yesterday as I was suitable embarrassed at myself for my performance. Things take time to master, but that time is the time spent training not sat on my backside between lessons.
* Tai Otoshi has to be one of my favourite throws when done from a punch (not the way it’s done it judo or BJJ). The moment someone comes at me with a good roundhouse punch I don’t even have to think, it’s a case of absorbing the punch, whipping the hips back, moving the leg back and all the while dropping my centre. I love that throw!