Training for Self Mastery

February 2018
 
“Everything that has been achieved is merely a preliminary exercise for the achievements to come, and no one-not even one who has reached perfection-can say he has reached the end.” This quote from Eugene Herrigel touches on an important theme for martial arts students. The experience of perfection, or completeness in martial arts, often only occurs after many years of practice and thousands of repetitious movements. Sometimes, however, it can be experienced by a complete beginner. Herrigel wrote “Zen in the Art of Archery,” and years ago I remember taking a girlfriend to practice archery with me. I showed her how to draw the bow and loose the arrow. Her first shot went straight to the center of the target, the gold. I was thrilled, as she was, at the experience of everything going “just right.” The moment was complete, perfect. Of course, this joy of the novice at a flash of perfection, while wonderful, does not mean that mastery has been achieved. Mastery requires consistent high level performance over time.
 

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(Jo Ellen rehearses an elbow strike to the chin with Sensei Meyer)


Repetition often leads students to feel bored. Getting just as excited about a punch or kick on the twentieth repetition, as you were on the first attempt is often difficult. Repeating the move for the five hundredth time is often a rote performance, containing little of the zest, intensity and quality necessary to achieve perfection. Yet, only after many thousands of such excellent repetitions can the move become so smooth, relaxed, reflexive and energized that it feels perfect.
Within the Mudokai curriculum, I have done my best to disguise the repetitions. I have placed the fundamental exercises into different contexts at each belt level, in order that the students may see them with fresh eyes. I understand that new gold belts usually think that when they can roughly get through Pinan Nidan, that they “know” the Kata. These students find it incomprehensible that a Black Belt student, having been many times a champion, is performing the same Kata now, as she attempts to win her next title, as she was when she won her first. What is more, she is getting the most out of it now, and performing at the highest level. For Black Belts, this is the way to mastery, not just of karate, but of themselves.

 

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(Shiaii winners with trophies)


Remember, knowledge is the result of combining the correct information, with correct practice, over time. A while ago I read Chuck Norris’ book The Secret Power Within. I have met Chuck on several occasions and found him very likable. He did not seem particularly scholarly, although I have always been impressed with his achievements as a martial artist. The book is excellent and probably much easier reading than most of my newsletter articles. I recommend it to all students and parents as a work of quality from a contemporary American Karate Master. Sometimes just a glimpse of perfection can be sufficient inspiration for us to pursue knowledge. Chuck’s book provides “Zen solutions for real problems” in a very “reader- friendly” way.


Shihan Robert H. Mason © 2018