by Whispering Pine
These are truly difficult and testing times for most people, including me. The students at our dojo as well as I are hoping to get back onto the mats, to start practicing again, and to see and reconnect with one another soon.
Physically, we need to move, and to work on strength, mobility, and flexibility. The body has accumulated a lot of pent-up excess energy over this long period of lock-down. When this is over, well, who knows?
Unfortunately, our waistline has a tendency to expand with the excess of delicious food we consume, and also maybe due to the lack of exercise, which is not enough to burn off the entire surplus. Our behind is having too good a workout, and has become victim to a slow process of settling down, following the law of gravity.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. We just have to get ourselves up and out, to change things. This requires some effort on our part.
A change of scenario is needed, and a good mental disposition and strong will power will be handy of course, which most us have been training for and developing over the years at the dojo. Discipline, courage, patience, perseverance, adaptability, mental flexibility and … fill out (other attributes) in the blanks.
Legally, we are allowed to carry on with our practice only outside the dojo and with less than twenty-five students, so that is what we have been doing. We practice physical distancing as necessary. Of course, we are already quite familiar with the concept of a safe combative distancing known as ‘maai’. In the practice of the martial arts, it helps protect us from our training partners, from being too close, and from a possible surprise attack. Today, we wear a mask and practice physical distancing to protect ourselves from an invisible opponent.
As the weather get cooler and colder, as rain adds itself to the mix, and as the number of daylight hours dwindles, it has become much harder to get ourselves out to practice. It is just not comfortable or convenient to have to dress in layers, wearing touques and mittens to keep warm—so much preparation is required beforehand, instead of just putting on a gi and belt.
Training in the semi-darkness, outside the dojo, makes one really long to be inside, where it is warm and brightly lighted. However, training in unfamiliar conditions and different situations can add another element or aspect to our training. It can improve our awareness and make us pay more attention to the environment, leading to more caution during practice.
At every class, we start with a proper warm-up. We start by warming up the core of the body and slowly work toward the extremities. We stretch, we rotate, we twist, and we bend the different parts of the body to slowly wake it up. As the air gets cooler, it is more critical to prepare the body properly to avoid injury. A properly warmed up body moves better, more fluidly.
Since we are training with the bokken, it is easier to practice physical distancing. A bokken is a carved, wooden imitation of the famous samurai sword. A bokken is usually about a meter long. A good quality one is usually made of oak and has a good balance to it when held in the hands.
Practicing in the cool semi-darkness with less visible distractions helps me concentrate better. Often, during training, I will suddenly feel calmness come over me. All the stresses, concerns, and worries of the day suddenly lift and drift away. I feel a load has been lifted from my shoulders. I feel peace, tranquility, and happiness swell up in my body. Oh what a feeling it is! It is very much like the sensation I feel in the spring when the snow begins to melt. The weight of the snow is lifted from mother earth. All nature comes alive. The green shoots start to sprout again. The birds start to sing and the honking of the geese in the distant sky can be heard.
Breathe in… deeply, and exhale… soon all difficulties and any inconvenience will pass and become just a memory.
Do not shy away from initial difficulty.
After this has passed we can look back and give ourselves a pat on the back and be glad that we endured.