When you first visit a new place, you quickly sum up the ‘lay of the land’ — the general layout, if you like — but generally we wouldn’t deem ourselves an expert on that place after only one brief visit. To claim expertise would require numerous visits, a willingness to ‘delve deep’ and walk the back alleyways, so to speak.
Well, the same goes for martial arts technique. When we are introduced to a technique or concept for the first time, we can hardly call ourselves ‘expert’. That takes numerous ‘learnings’, over years perhaps, practising that technique and seeing how it connects with other techniques. A very good and simple habit to develop is revisiting those techniques we think we already know well. Each revisitation will unearth some new nuance; something we didn’t see or appreciate when we were first exposed to it. Revisiting old ground with open eyes and a new mindset almost always unearths better understanding.
This habit is important to acquire and develop, especially in this ‘age of information’ when it is so very easy to become distracted by a different idea on even a daily basis. Although I love and thrive on the easy access to information we enjoy today, one benefit of my early training back in the ’80s was that information was very hard to come by and so we naturally defaulted to repetition of the fewer things that we knew; this not only built a solid foundation but also a burning passion for something — anything — new! Today, many martial artists are in some ways like spoilt children in that they can get whatever they want, whenever they want, whether they are ready for it or not. To balance this out, the habit of revisiting things we think we already understand can serve to ground us and strengthen our foundation.
No matter who you are, there comes a time where you need a break from the daily routine. I long ago adopted the habit of regularly undertaking some form of revitalisation regime and it has served me well, and given me longevity. Revitalisation can come in almost any form; for some it might be training in a different art for a month (or even a week) just to break routine and shake things up a bit. It could also be something very different from martial arts practice; for me it is hiking in the wilderness or fly-fishing.
I have done a lot of this over the past three decades, including many trips to the remote Kimberley, the headwaters of many of New Zealand’s backcountry rivers, the outer reaches of Mongolia and some remote, uninhabited islands in the Pacific. I’ve island-hopped by canoe off the northernmost tip of Australia, made dozens of trips into the moonscape of Tasmania’s Central Plateau, adventured in uncharted Arnhem Land and hiked off the trails in the Sierra Nevada, Southern California. I love being out there, with everything I need on my back and pristine nature all around. It’s a detox, if you like, from the fast-paced, ultra-convenient, technology-driven world we inhabit. I always return more eager than ever to take up my usual training and teaching routine. It’s like having a huge vitamin-B shot — really worth doing, and doing regularly.
Almost everyone makes some kind of resolution every time 31 December rolls around. It’s a strange thing, really; especially if we wait until that very day to do something that we could really undertake on almost any day we wish.
Reinventing ourselves, or to be more accurate, reinventing a part of who we are, can be a very healthy and rejuvenating practice. As a martial artist, I was always up for the idea of reinvention; I baulked at the idea of practising the same thing in the same way for my entire martial arts career. Change can be a very positive thing and a willingness to let go of the familiar and reinvent some part of who we are can be life-changing to say the least. Habits, both good and bad, are powerful things, and breaking away from their pull can feel near to impossible at times, but once their gravitational pull is weakened, it becomes easier and easier to move away from an old and no longer beneficial version of who we are.
As we near the end of another training year, think about these three ideas. Longevity in our practice is something that will pay huge dividends, but it does require a little attention and effort. The rewards, though, far outweigh the cost.
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