Right now it can feel like every day is the same. Working primarily from home. Not seeing friends, not going out, not traveling, just the same 4 walls. Training can also feel the same. Keeping distance and training outside has meant for a real change in our practice, with a focus mostly on kata. That is great, I love kata, but it is a very small slice of the pie.
And yet, as happens so often to me, training has become the vehicle for another important perspective check. Sure, the days can feel like the same day over and over, Covid Groundhog day ad-nauseam. But training has forced me to notice something else.
Every day is different.
As we’ve been pushed outside we’ve been pushed to interact with the world differently. We have always done our Saturday mornings outside for much of the year. But now even on days, and nights, when the weather is inclement we are in the park. So I’ve trained through moonrise, rain, sleet, rainbows, snow, frigid temperatures, brilliant sun, mud, large dogs running at us, pitch darkness. It has been lovely, and challenging. We feel the weather, feel the seasons change. One evening heavy clouds hung low over the area and I expected it to be really dark, as we train after sunset right now. But the cloud cover dispersed the moonlight, and caught and reflected the ambient light from the towns around. While the week before, on a clear cloudless night, it had been hard to see each other 10 feet away, this evening I could see a squirrel at the far end of the park. I suddenly remembered playing hide and seek with the neighborhood kids over 40 years ago and saying “its cloudy, its going to be harder to hide!”. I had no recollection I once knew that, but yeah.
In our “regular” lives it is easy to miss it. Much as we keep our bodies insulated from changes in the weather, the seasons, we can easily feel we are able to keep other things stable, that some things are constant and won’t really change much. But being pushed out into the world reminds you that regardless of how you are feeling inside the world around you is changing every day. And so are you. Every time we come down to train it is different. The weather, the light, the feelings and thoughts we bring with us. Right now it’s particularly easy to feel you are stuck on repeat, but we are not. And letting yourself fall into that feeling is letting all the good things happening now be wasted. The time to be wasted, never to return.
And there are good things happening. Not just silver lining Covid good, but actual benefits. In training, not being able to do certain things has reinforced how important they are, and made me think about the appropriate place of kata in our practice. Having to focus on a smaller amount of material has given me more time to just train, or just teach, without also managing a hovering set of goals and material that can feel overwhelming. Being reminded that picking that stuff up and putting it down is up to me is a huge benefit.
On top of that, with fewer elements of our practice in the mix I have had to change my teaching substantially. This has been a fantastic lesson. I’ve never taught 8-10 kata to anyone in less than a year before. But literally everyone training is running with it. It is fun, and fantastic to see. It will leave these folks with a larger body of material to draw from when we can return to our regular focus on paired practice. It will also help me continue to stretch people, to hopefully be a better teacher and training partner.
Keeping every day different is one reason we have covered so much material. Creative disruption, perhaps. While our training is subject based, as always the goal is skills not content. My challenge has been to decide what essential skills we can focus on with so much fundamental material out of bounds. One down side to having what seems to be a steady dojo experience is that it feels like things are always available, eventually. But they are not. You or your teacher can move, have a health issue, or simply get old. Life can get in the way. Sometimes scarcity is a blessing. It adds emotional weight to things, a need to learn them now or lose the chance. So I decided to keep stuff flowing, perhaps a little too fast. Keep people working to keep up. Develop the “waza wo nusumu” mindset, in part by keeping learning opportunities limited, putting the onus on students to get it before we are on to something else. Fostering skills in observation, mirroring, taking and holding information. Doing so without getting bogged down in some details we cannot address at the moment and instead pushing everyone to apply what they already know to each new thing, and hopefully see the way they are woven together. Like fighting- dealing with confusion, and not enough time.
The goal, as always, is to have the dojo be stronger, more knowledgeable, more skilled. If we use this time as a place holder, that won’t happen. You can’t pause. But so much is out of bounds it is easy to feel we are stuck on repeat and just waiting to be able to do more. That feeling is a lie. Our minds, with that sense that we can keep things stable, are tricking us; if we just wait entropy takes over and we lose skill, knowledge, and time, and we may never get it back.
Having to deal with the pandemic is making me reassess how to teach and how to interact with our traditions. It is making me look at priorities, and in the dojo it turns out they are pretty simple. Train and keep learning myself. Share what I know with people who want it, and in turn learn from them. Make sure everything we do supports our goals and if it doesn’t, discard it. There is no time for it. If there are things I am “waiting” to share, or do, stop waiting. And I want to be sure training is supporting those goals now. It must be bringing people, and myself, up faster, better, and with a personal hold on what we do right now.
As the seasons change, I can feel those changes in my body, my training, daily. It is a wonderful reminder. As we do mokuso at the end of each training I find myself listening to the stream, feeling the wind, figuring out if I have to move my feet off the uneven slippery lump of snow I am standing on so I won’t fall over (and so I can let my body relax, feel my structure, and in turn find and release areas of tension in my frame). Internal, external, they interact. And even the “inclement” days, like last week’s wet half frozen sticky snow that required the slowest ugliest turns I have ever done so I wouldn’t torque my knees or ankles, are beautiful.
We are all changing, and one point of our practice is to make sure that change is what we want it to be. Don’t get trapped by that sense that we can wait, or that things are going to stay stable. They aren’t, and even if you don’t see the changes till later they are still going to happen. Embrace it. Feel the seasons, and the discomfort, and the beauty. It may be a little hard to feel it right now, but every day is indeed different. The question is, I guess, can we see those differences, can we be part of them as they happen, and if we can what will they bring?