Thursday, 5 February 2015

5 + 1 Tips for getting back into the dojo

* Updated Feb 5, 2015 at 8:30pm EST

I hit several milestones in 2014 - one of those being the decade (Iaido) and half-decade (Kyudo) mark of training in the martial arts. Looking back at the past 10 years, I feel humbled by experiences which have enabled me to develop as a person, and given me hope for the future. Sticking with anything for this long can be considered an accomplishment. Life brings on numerous priorities that fight for a share of your time. Whether it is school, work, family, other interests, or even the challenges you face in dojo, the reasons for resting, taking a leave of absence, or even quitting, far outnumber the reasons for staying.

In our society, or even as human-beings, we are constantly drawn to the new and exciting. Our thoughts naturally value short-term profits over long-term dividends. The psychological term for this is "hyperbolic discounting".

So if you were to ask yourself: "What will I choose when faced with these kinds of decisions?" Will you take the bait and savour that Baskin Robbins "Jamoca Almond Fudge" ice-cream cake (seriously, look it up) for instant gratification, or will you stick with the Chia-Hemp Seed Mix soaked in Almond Milk for its long-term benefits. How far will you go? This Far?

Over the years, I've been tempted. Perhaps even strayed several times. But something always kept bringing me back. Those reasons are never the same, and it's important that everyone find their own personal motivations - but make no mistake, it is ALWAYS your choice. Nothing is more gratifying than recognizing that you and you alone have control over the decisions that you make.

Here's a list of a few challenges I've faced in the past and thoughts that helped me overcome them. As expected, each challenge is successively more difficult than the previous one, but isn't that how we grow?

Year 0 / Snowstorm
It was mid-February 2005. Toronto was being pelted by 20-30cm (8-12") of snow and the windchill was forecasted to be nearly -25C (-13F). The house was toasty warm and the smell of hot chocolate inviting. I could have easily popped in a VHS of Jurassic Park and watched it for the 367th time, but I thought. "Heck, why not go to the dojo?" Only about 8 others showed up, and we had one the best practices I can remember. (Tip #1: "Heck, why not?")

Year 2 / Forgot My Hakama
Have you ever gotten to the dojo, only to realize you forgot one crucial piece of equipment? Maybe it was your Iaito/Shinken (use a bokuto), or maybe it was your Obi (tighten your himo). But what if you forgot your pants? ..... Wait a minute, I'm wearing pants... That night, I put knee pads over my khakis and practice anyways. (Tip #2: Practice is what you do, not what you wear)

Year 4 / Injured Ankle
I love playing basketball. I used to shoot in the drive way for hours and hours, regardless of the rain or sun, night or day, through hot summer humidity or frigid winter winds. On the court, I played a reckless style of ball (sort of like Iverson or Wade), and due to my short stature, injuries were something I just play through. Unfortunately, I have weak ankles and tended to sprain them every couple of months.

 Let me tell you, it sucks going to dojo and not being able to practice. You watch others and think "I wonder if I could do this" or "I think I could do better than that" - you see things that you don't normally look for, then realize "I just learned something there". (Tip #3: Don't practice through injuries, but use it as an opportunity to develop you mind)

Year 8 / Lack of Free Practice & Mental Block
Our class at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto is the largest dojo (by registered members) in Canada - potentially North America (someone correct me if I'm wrong) - We have over 45 members in a club that does exclusively Iaido. Of course, not everyone shows up all at once, but a lot of the time, the floor can get pretty crowded. When safety is a concern, it's imperative that everyone practice the same kata and move at the same time. This leaves little opportunity to do free practice, and as you get more advanced, the ability to experiment, stop and think, then try different things is crucial. At one point a couple of years ago, I had thoughts of quitting - the practice wasn't fun anymore, I felt restricted.

Remember what I said about having a choice? Opportunities always arise when you have the patience to wait, the persistence to push on, and the drive to make something better. I could have decide to quit, but as it turns out, we were able to gain an additional timeslot at the JCCC for exclusive free practice - for students and for instructors. After every Saturday now, I feel reinvigorated and motivated to continue training. (Tip #4: The choice not to act is as important as the choice to act)

Year 10 / Major Life Events 
Last August, Hanna and I welcomed our first child; daughter Atsuki Roselle Suen into the world. I can't even describe the kind of joy I feel when thinking about this little bundle of joy. I've felt emotions on scales I've never felt before - either happiness when she laughs and smiles, or anger when some inconsiderate stranger makes a loud noise that scares her into crying.

When something as significant as a child comes into your life, it's important to reevaluate your priorities. What do the martial arts mean to you? In the future, I intend to write a post on the "Purpose of Iaido/Kyudo", but for now, I'll just say that I am a devote believer in their ultimate goals. See Concept of Kendo and Shin Zen Bi

As parents, are ultimate hopes and dreams is for our child to grow up happy and have a better future. The goal of my Iaido and Kyudo practices are unconditionally linked to this vision. That is why I continue. (Tip #5: Tie your training to your purpose in life)

I received several comments on Facebook with methods they use to stay on track and I'm really enjoying reading those. However, there was one that really stood out for me that I just had to add on. 

(Tip #6: Find a training partner)
This is so fundamental to my being able to persevere, that it's a wonder I left it out. For those that don't know me, or we've only recently met, I have a twin brother (see his blog here) and we used to do everything together. He was my basketball partner when we braved the winds and rain. He got me started in Iaido and later, Kyudo and even later, Kung Fu. The type of shared motivation and support is very powerful. When Hanna and I got together, that feeling again multiplied. 

Commitment to anything comes in waves. Sometimes you're highly motivated, other times you're less so. Having a training partner can help neutralize these waves: when they are high and you are low, they'll motivate you to go. When they are low and you are high, you'll motivate them to go. Hence, a mutual benefit. 

While I'm lucky that I've always had the closest and dearest individuals in my life be my training partners, here's some advice from Yoann Arrouet (Shidokan Iaido Club in Montreal) for those who don't:
"Even if I don't have relatives doing iaido, I do have dojo partners. We started almost at same time, seeing them going a step further, it kicks me and making me feel : I can't be distanced, I have to fill the gap. I try to maintain that fellowship/competitive feeling through training... And to maintain that, only one solution : go to dojo and train; no one will do it for you !"
I completely agree. It's all up to you.