Every morning before I get writing, I spend a little time in reflection. I try not to plan out my posts, but just write from whatever spark seems to drift up from that quiet time. Sometimes it’s quick…an idea will hit me in a minute or two, and I hit the keyboard right away. Other days idea’s float about, but nothing rises up. I start to worry about the clock and deadlines on those days. Today I woke up with a few ideas, but none of them clicked. So, I spent some time digging around for inspiration.

I’m coming up on a year of daily posts on this blog, which is a frankly frightening amount of writing to have done. At two or three hours of work per post, that’s a big chunk of my life being put onto these virtual pages. The genesis of all this started a lot earlier…about a year and a half ago…when my wife prompted me to get into the habit of writing every day. I’d done the Nanowrimo thing before and enjoyed it, and Courtney challenged me to put that much effort into my writing every day, not just one month out of the year. So I fired up a wordpress.com blog, and started writing one piece of short fiction every day.

Six months of steady writing later, and I started to feel the urge to do something more than just selfish writing. On a long walk with Courtney, we hit on the idea of me writing about fitness and nutrition…which I did, on another blog, for about a month. I started this blog when I realized that I just couldn’t stop writing about martial arts, no matter how hard I tried…even if it didn’t seem like it would be a very popular topic. I’m glad I was wrong about that! Anyway, my morning reading lead me to a bit of fiction that sparked a small idea that has floated up.

Fencing naked has always been a bit of a fun inside joke for the WMA crowd. The manuals are full of pictures of naked fencers, after all, so it seems amusing to joke about being “real” re-creationists. And I grew up in the seventies, which was a weird time…anyone else out there remember the instruction book on sailing that featured a naked woman? Someone want to do a modern historic fencing manual in the buff? …Please…no…

Humour aside, take a moment and imagine fencing naked. Not just no mask or gorget…no gloves, no jock, no shoes, no shirt, no nothing. You would think that fear of contact would be the largest concern, which might make it a valuable training exercise, but I’m willing to bet it would be a secondary concern for most of us. I think the larger issue for most of us would be awkwardness. We are not used to moving naked. Unfamiliarity would make our movements rough. Shame would be a powerful issue. Shame of our own nakedness, and shame of the other persons similar state. The extra body-awareness would also be a major factor. You’d be getting all kinds of feedback you weren’t used to. I’d guess that your fencing skill would reduced by a significant factor.

It’s worth seriously considering this. I don’t mean actually fencing naked, but really thinking about how it would affect you. One of the keys to becoming better as a martial artist, and especially to breaking through a performance plateau, is understanding your habits. This is very difficult to do, because our habits are invisible to us. We are unable to see our own tics, we are unable to feel the shifts of weight and tension we use to support our actions.

Thinking of naked fencing and contrasting it with our normal fencing, we can see just how much we rely on the smallest things. Small things like the lacing of our shoes or the fit of our socks seem less minor when we compare to our naked fencing state. The way we take our guard position might seem natural and easy in our normal fencing gear, but stripped of our clothing, we might start to see how much we rely on external things to prop us up. Every little thing builds up the chain from foot to sword tip. What we rely upon habitually becomes the source of all our strength and weakness. It’s strong if we understand it, weak if we are unaware of it.

When we want to improve our fencing game, we mostly think of tactics or new techniques. When we fail, we commit to working out harder, to training more, to working to remove our bad techniques. We rarely go back to the most basic things, like paying attention to line of our ankle or how we carry weight on our feet, even though those are things that everything else relies upon. The way we carry our hips, or use our arms, is often dictated by things we ignore from familiarity. Excellence in martial arts, and especially swordplay, comes from disdaining familiarity.

Build your foundation from knowledge and challenge. Pay attention to the things you have always ignored.