Martial arts is so much easier than writing, sometimes. It might just be that I am newer at one thing than the other. A houseguest for a few days not only costs me my buffer of pre-written blog posts, but it takes me about a week to get my head fully back into the rhythm of daily writing. Injuries, sickness and other issues can take me out of my daily martial arts practice, but it never feels like a big deal…training is such a part of me that I know it will resume at the first chance. Writing still leaves me with a smidge of fear instead of confidence.
The nature of my martial arts training has changed over the decades. It’s one of those things that tends to make old martial artists fat. When we are younger, everything is hard and takes more effort to learn, nevermind master. Who needs to workout? Training in skill is enough to burn so many calories that your main concern is how to eat enough. Now, the backbrain is an efficient beast, and can learn new physical skills with little or no problem.
I haven’t seriously practiced with my cavalry sabre in over a year. I just picked it up, a went through my parry and cut patterns in front of the mirror. Every cut was still perfect to my eye, tracking precisely on each line. I could still hear that scary little whistle that comes from the wrist flick cut that passes the sharp edge less than an inch from my ear. It looked perfect, but I know it wasn’t. Small and subtle things are off. Still, I’m about 80% of where I was.
I stopped practicing unarmed arts for over a decade, and my kicks came back at about 20%. They hit about 70% every second or third boxing class, now. You lose a lot of hip strength when you don’t train right. I’m not ready to step back in a ring by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s not saying I don’t feel capable of fighting. I think my unarmed work is substantially better than it’s ever been. I can’t kick as hard or as fast as I used to, but I kick differently. I hit differently with every limb.
I move more, but it feels like I move less. Everyone is faster than me now, but I don’t have to think about what people are doing as much. I’ve spent so much time over the decades working with every possible combination of fighter that my opponent’s movement will never be a mystery to me. It’s a little easier to let everyone else do the work, and worry about putting myself someplace where I’m out of their way, and can hit them somewhere quiet and peaceful.
Excellence is a thing I’ve tasted once or twice, and watched others drink by the pitcher. I’ve trained harder than some of them, less than others, but I never found the answer to the mystery of how to find another taste. After a while you just accept that you have a thirst that will never be quenched. You either learn to develop a taste for other things, or be one of those that decides the drink is bitter anyway. I’ve had a lifetime of bitter, I don’t need anymore…but I will admit I am sometimes envious of those who’ve never had a drop.
So I’m not driven by the desire for perfection, that’s for sure. At least not in the way I’ve seen others reach. That’s a world that I will never know. I’ll never be a celebrated champion. But I’ll never be a bestselling novelist like Stephen King, either. Somehow I still write, and I still train…although god knows there are people who out there who wish I would do neither.
Picking my sabre up in the morning, still in my bathrobe, with my coffee still untouched? There is no reason for that, no winning, no purpose. No one will ever see or know that quiet kind of training. It will never earn me one drop of anything. There is no one to praise me or to tell me I’m doing it wrong. Why do I do it? Why train when it is for no purpose at all. Sometimes I watch people sweating with anguish, trying to earn something with their effort, and I wonder why anyone ever trains anywhere other than in their bathrobe, all alone.
I write for myself, too…all alone in the mornings. I put it up online for the same reason I pick up my swords, my handwraps and mouthguard, and head out to class. We can’t own anything outside our own thoughts, and we shouldn’t long for things we can’t hold on to, but it’s foolish not to enjoy what is available when it’s around. But not as foolish as wasting what’s around us by wanting more. I wonder how dedicated a martial arts practitioner can really be to their training, when their mind is million miles away, reaching for a thing that will never be in the room…