My early training was constant, but didn’t always take place in a martial arts school.
Class was always the hardest part of training, under the exacting eye of the instructor. Always feeling a little lost at the new student end of the line, looking up at the senior students and wondering if I would ever be able to do the things they did. It felt like a gulf of a million years, watching them move through forms at the speed of light with crisp power and confidence. Working the beginner moves down at my end felt like trying to balance teacups on the end of a two by four while skating.
Exhilaration came from learning a new move, mostly. We did some sparring, little or lots depending on which school I was training in. Sometimes that felt good, sometimes not. Mostly the rush came after class. I remember the summer nights in Nanaimo the most…sneaking up to the dam after class in the pitch black to go for a swim to wash the sweat off, drinking big gulps and talking to each other about the mythical future of women being part of our lives.
What kept me training, what built up the huge amount of hours I spent training, was those quiet easy friendships. There was always something to talk about…martial arts. Always some new thing to try out. New forms, new weapons, and so much sparring. I don’t even remember how many times a week I took classes for the first few years, but I know I spent every single available hour out of class training. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I was able to train 5 nights a week. Even then, most of my training was outside of the martial arts school.
It’s easier to work out in a backyard when you are younger. Home has no distractions, no chores, no other places you have to be. Friends don’t work different schedules, you don’t have to plan to get together in those vanishing moments where your schedules come together. For adults, it’s easier to go elsewhere to train. The martial arts school is less a place you go for the formal instruction, and more a place you have an excuse to go to for training.
I remember staying up til three or four in the morning on a school night, wandering all over town, talking about training, working on bits of techniques. Getting up early on saturday mornings, not to watch cartoons, but to meet your friends for sparring or teaching each other techniques. I loved the SCA as an adult because it was a place where I could meet people who shared that experience, and could think of nothing happier than a whole weekend of behaving like teenage martial artists.
It’s a bit odd now, to be in my late forties, about to leap over that fifty wall, and be back in the place of having all the time in the world to train. It’s so much harder to build up the social circle to train in. It’s late afternoon now, and I know in a little bit students will start to file in the door. There will be happy chatting. Some people will be nervous and covering it, some will be embracing the comfortable otherness of the martial space to give themselves an earned freedom from the daily grind. Everyone will be there because they have found a way to force some time for themselves to train. I’m here to be the exacting eye.
I’m not sure how to make that time for myself to train again. I got back into teaching as my way of cutting time out for myself to train. That time is still available to me. But making that step back to the constant training of my youth? The friends I trained with, the ones that are still living, are scattered all about. Even the ones that are close are working careers and have other commitments. Of course, I’ve got the two Valkyries to train with, once we all get a business/work flow figured out. The big issue is really teaching myself that I’m allowed to train.
You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to let yourself do what you love, but nearly thirty years of adult life can teach some lessons that are difficult to let go. I find myself staring at the training floor sometimes, and telling myself I have things to do…maybe later I will work on some drills.
When I started to train in martial arts, it was like feeling the sun shine for the first time. It felt warm and natural and right. And over and over I was told to leave it behind. No room for an adult to do such things. The slight discomforts of violence, and the frowning acceptance taught me to hang up my belts, and look for different things in life to be happy with. Every return to training was met with greater and greater resistance…and an aging body is a resistance of it’s own.
These are the barriers.
Why do we say that martial arts is about the weak overcoming the strong?
Because life is full of barriers. To be free, we must learn to always overcome every barrier.
In this, at this time in my life, I am weak. Age and a lifetime of experience are strong.
But I am a martial artist.
And I have never known anything but barriers, and I have always found a way past them. I always will.
And Valkyrie will grow to be a place where I will always have someone to train with. It will be more than a school. It will be a backyard. A place to wander through and talk. A place to try out new things and spar with friends. It will be a true martial arts school, a place where we teach the weak to overcome the strong. It will be a place where students learn to seek new barriers to overcome.
As always, it’s the teacher’s job to lead by being the first to do the hard thing.