On Sunday I attended a seminar in Niten Ichi-Ryu. This is a sword style that our dojo only trains in once a month so it’s good to travel, train with others and spend a day covering stuff that would normally take several months of teaching time to get across.
The warm-up was left to ourselves to do. So having done my stretches I moved into practising the basic hasso cut which differs to the iai cut that I am used to doing. Our dojo only has two hours of Niten teaching each month, so I try my best to practise out of of class. I’m slightly hampered by having a house with low ceilings (no room to swing the sword) and the downsides of the British weather (wet, numb hands in cold, driving rain don’t really do it for me). But when I can I do, because some practise is better than none.
Or is it?
I was practising my cuts up and down the dojo when the Sensei came over to me. There were a number of things that were leading to my cut being inefficient and next to useless. I gratefully listened to his advice and did my best to correct things. But as the day went on my cuts kept reverting to those very same mistakes that had been pointed out to me. In addition, my sword cuts weren’t straight they were going off at odd angles. Niten is a paired technique. At best it’s unfair to my training partner when I don’t cut straight, at worse it means I end up hitting them by mistake because I can’t do a proper cut.
On the way home I mulled over this basic cutting exercise. Two thoughts developed.
- When there is no one in front of you it’s hard to tell if you are cutting straight. A field or lawn does not provide an indication if you are off by 10 cms (4 inches for anyone from the USA reading this).
- That over the past month I had allowed my cutting mistakes to accumulate because I had no idea I was doing them wrong and no-one had seen me doing the cut and was able to help me correct the errors.
Then I was struck by the gloomy thought that it might be better not to practise at all if all it was going to do was make mistakes and ingrain them in my memory. But it wasn’t long before I thought, “rubbish!” Part of being able to do a technique is knowing the steps and having confidence. If I never practised then I wouldn’t have any sort of confidence, I would be hesitant and uncertain, and I would make even less progress. It’s only by making the mistakes that they get picked up on, I can improve and move on in my understanding. Because sooner or later I will make those mistakes and it’s better to make them sooner.
In addition, just because one part of the technique was in need of correction it didn’t follow that it was all terrible. (My teachers may well raise a sceptical eyebrow if they are reading this!)
Training at our Niten Ichi-Ryu. Photo from Heijoshin Dojo, UK.
It’s too easy to get hung up being perfect. If we obsess with perfection that we become too scared of making the mistakes that are needed. Then we forget that martial arts is about the journey not the end goal. It was Churchill who said, “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
So, am I practising right? I’m practising, and that’s better than not practising at all.