There is a Japanese proverb “beginning is easy, continuing is difficult”. This is very true of training and epitomises the challenge all face in martial arts, and all pursuits for that matter. In martial arts initially students start with great enthusiasm and promise, vowing to train every day and fulfil their dream of becoming a black belt. Alas, for most this is never realised and nearly all fall away at the wayside with excuses such as the pressure of life, work, family etc. This is an object lesson in life with the understanding that discipline is not just a simple thought but a way of life. My teacher Motokatsu Inoue Sensei would often say 1 student in 500 makes it to Shodan in Japan. In the West I suspect this figure could be much higher!
The approach to training and achievement must be like stepping-stones across the river of life and in the true direction of enlightenment and understanding. Each lesson a student does imparts a little more knowledge and understanding and as a consequence puts more responsibility on the student to remember that which he has been taught and practice it. This is the beginning of “Hitori Keiko”. Literally translated it means to train by oneself.
Many train sporadically on their own both in time and content but few benefits are realised if it is not structured and beneficial to the direction they are being taken by their teacher and for that matter, style of martial arts. Japanese espouse the 3 K’s
This in itself is a significant structure for students and should allow the path to be known but alas this is far too often not the case. Too many approach their individual training in an erratic way, working on that only that they enjoy and not balancing the time against the things they should do. This leads to boredom and of course egotism, as the famous Jodan Mawashigeri is cultivated for a few weeks and the muscular posture follows. The key is to work on the fundamentals (Kihon) and piece together the combinations on a gradual basis along with the practice of Kata. Kihon and Kata are the base for building the kumite and assist so greatly with all aspects that they must never be ignored. Many will say it is boring and time does not permit a long session which I understand but this is where the structure of your training must be thought out prior to doing it. It is also important to have a plan, which allows you to rotate over a period. Inoue Motokatsu Sensei my teacher in Japan would carry a card, which he prepared and ticked off after each session confirming what he had practiced. His complete cycle took about 2 weeks and then it would be repeated again. I used to spy with some fascination and interest as he practiced on his own in the dojo whilst we warmed up and were taken through our paces by the instructors. I was not sure what he was doing at first but soon realised the methodology. When he allowed me to get to know him better he often talked of the need to train on ones own and have the discipline to continue it. I realised to my difficulty years later when we travelled abroad together being woken up at 5:30 am to the words, “time to train Julian San”. For him it was part of the day like having breakfast and it was automatic. I must admit that although I train almost every day the times are often sporadic, as I seem to get to bed later and later and are unable to rise so early to train. Welcome to the burden of work.
Training on your own not only allows the practice and review of key principles and the repetition of things needed as you progress but also builds the discipline. This is key and an essential part of Budo. I do not want to because I am tired is always present in your mind but you must be strong and know there is always a better reason why you should and this must prevail.
When I first returned from Japan I would review every Kata every day. This would take some hours, as often I would struggle with something and keep doing it until it felt right. I remember neighbours spying out of their windows in Winter, when I was out in the garden in the snow training. I can’t imagine what they thought! I had the time then and was used to doing this but I had to change as time became precious and the demands of modern life conflicted with the spirit of the old. Over the years since my return in 1986 I have ended up copying my teachers approach and covering kata on a rotational basis. This ensures the movements flow and ensure the kata stays alive in me. I have also designed simple Kihon drills that I do every day. They always trigger combinations but no one-day is the same as another. You always feel differently and as a result this is shown in your training.
Supplemental training for power and muscle strength is also important. Sitting in an office all day and then being physically pushed to your limited for an hour or two twice a week will not compliment your body or allow you to fulfil your aspiration and potential destiny in Budo. I would strongly recommend either the use of classical implements such as “Chishi” and “Tetsu Geta” or get a simple multi gym or cable machine and work of key body parts to assist your training. As little as 15 minutes a day will greatly improve your stamina and durability and assist in reducing the wear and tear on the body and protect the joints, especially knees and elbows.
Ultimately the journey is realised by discipline, sacrifice and being selfish. As I approach 60, training every day is just part of my life now. This is my path whether I share or teach and all should look at this endeavour with honesty and not forget why they started in the first place. Too many teachers now share the realities of words instead of deeds, bodies fat instead of strong and the tie worn more than the Gi! Excuses rolling off the tongue like silky techniques, bad back, bad knee or not feeling well. Sweat a forgotten element to their training!
In August of this year Shingai Sensei will again come to the UK from Japan and teach. Nearly 76 years old his movements and energy are one of the finest examples of a life of hard continuous training and a passion for what he does that burns as brightly now as the day he started. Welcome to the true essence of Hitori Keiko.