The Art of Winning Blog

Monday, April 29, 2013

Overcoming Attachment

by Lisa Turner

I had it all figured out. I was a brown-white belt, and it was my last chance to early promote: to skip a chunk of training and test early for my next belt. For me, that meant the "danger belt," the both coveted and feared solid brown belt that would grant me the dubious honor of being randomly mauled without warning or provocation.

So I announced to my teachers my request for early promotion. I was confident in my abilities to do so. I knew my kata, I understood the concepts in brown-white. I was quite sure I "got it," had it all figured out.

For the next two weeks, I went to one or two classes or seminars a day, every day. I spent hours defending against stomp-kicks and hook punches, grappling on the ground, wiggling out of chokes. Every day for two weeks I stood in line at the end of class and waited for my red stripe. Every day, they passed me by.

My confidence began to lag, and I became acutely aware of being observed during free response. I found my limbs and torso at odds with my brain. The moment a fist came up or a foot swung out, my defenses, all the kata I knew so well, flew from my brain like wild birds from a cage.

I asked "What am I doing wrong?" My teachers said "You're muscling through the kata. Use your natural power, not muscle."

Oh, okay! I get it! I trotted happily out of the dojo and mulled over "natural power" for the rest of the day. I applied it to my life: to ego-wielding business associates and discourteous drivers and unruly children who knocked over houseplants and glasses of juice. I didn't have to use muscle against these! I just had to use "natural power"!

Yeah, you're right. That was too easy. 

So at the next class, during free response, I thought "natural power natural power natural power." The kicks and strikes came. My brain thought "natural power," but my limbs flailed and lashed. After class, I stood in line and waited for my red stripe. They passed me by.

I left the mat, almost in tears, overwhelmed with anger and frustration. I had this all figured out! I  had worked so hard! I wailed, barely able to contain myself, "What am I doing wrong?" My teachers said, "You freeze. When you come up against a problem, you get stuck. You stop moving.   Then you get mad at the problem."

Holy crap. That, I got. It was like a key in a lock; the tumblers fell into place and the door swung wide. This revelation, of course, wasn't just about my training. It was about my life. Images flashed before my eyes as that graceful truth settled like a cool, silk blanket over deep and difficult events from my past, small annoyances from my daily life. I burst into tears and, at that moment, something inside me came unstuck.

Here's the thing: life isn't tidy. It's not predictable, or controllable. At the end of it all, it's not neatly stacked and bound sheaf of paper; it's a tear-stained journal with dog-eared pages. Neither is life to be mastered, or figured out, or wrestled to the ground. It's to be experienced, to be danced, messy and chaotic and downright ugly as it sometimes is. And it's the same with this path.

My teachers also said "You're trying so hard in free response, you're forgetting to enjoy it." I heard that. For me, the lesson was: just stop. Trying. So. Hard. Stop muscling, and efforting. The point of ninjutsu, really, is to be effortless.

In the next class, as the strikes came, I kept moving. When I got momentarily stuck, I took a deep breath. I quietly and gently started to unravel, edges softening, hardness melting. I felt my natural power—for me, that meant my center, my intuition, my place in space—and I just kept moving. And yes, you're right: those lessons apply to life. Move from your center, without effort; if you get stuck, breath and keep moving.

After class, I stood in line and waited for my red stripe. Which I got.

That was fun, but that wasn't the point. For me, the point was the lessons I got on the way (though I'm mighty excited to be randomly mauled without warning or provocation). And when I am, I think I'll just breath and keep moving.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why I Train by Chris Chandler

Martial arts? Me? Nope, not interested. At all.

My kids, now 10 and 13, started training at the Quest Center in the fall of 2011. I was glad for them and supported it heartily. But I was happy to sit on the sidelines. Not long into their attendance at the dojo, the kids started asking me, "Mom, are you going to try a class?" They were well aware that I could try a week of classes for free and were so
enthusiastic about their own experience, they wanted to include me. And they saw other families training together. But, as I said--martial arts? Me? No thanks. And so I demurred. I was vague. "Oh, maybe someday." "Not this week." "Not sure."

They soon grew wise to my vagueness and started asking, "When? When will you come to a class?" I couldn't figure out how to duck the question and so, reluctantly, I named a date. Then I spent the days leading up to my class wondering why in the hell I said I would do it. But I had made the commitment to them and I wouldn't back out. I was hesitant and nervous and unsure. It wouldn’t be going too far to say I was dreading it.

I got out there on the mat on the appointed day as a beginning student in the Earth element. I took my first 45-minute class in To Shin Do. To my shock and surprise, I was immediately hooked. There was something so compelling to me about what I experienced on the mat, I signed on the dotted line and started my training. That was eighteen months ago.

From the start, I had the sense that this art was far more than just learning to fight. Yes, it offers practical training for defending oneself but it is much larger than that. Practicing To Shin Do quickly brought me back to a feeling of being strong--physically strong certainly. But it also makes the wheels turn in my head, makes my brain work and stimulates my mind in a way that makes me feel stronger too. Because it is a tactical
and strategic art, it requires the body and mind to work together.

I heard from others about the transformative power of this art. Although it wasn't immediately clear to me how this happened, I believed it. I felt inspired every time I was on the mat--by my instructors and my fellow students. About a month after starting my own training, I attended graduation for the first time and watched beginning to advanced students test for new belt levels. What I saw (and see each time I attend graduation) left me awed and thinking, "I want to do that!" To watch someone skilled in this art is to watch a dance, a ballet, full of skill, intensity, beauty and spontaneity.

Several months into my training in the Earth element, I began to get a glimpse of how the skills of the mat slip into your life. The Earth element is about being, well, "earthy." Grounded, centered, solid, having both feet firmly planted on the ground. In earth classes, I often had the image of being a boulder in a stream, water rushing and crashing by while remaining still and firmly planted. Although I have meditated on this image before, it wasn't until having the repeated physical experience of earthiness through my practice that the image and the state became more accessible to me in my daily life. Kids running around the house screaming? Fighting in the backseat of the car? Puppy chewing my clogs? Bit by bit, it became easier to be the boulder in moments that called for it. The chaos could rush by but I could remain planted, solid,

Now I am in the Water element. Water is about embodying flow, the ability to move out and back like a wave, to approach the shore and then run back out. Out, in. Away and toward. Retreat, approach. The paradox of the water element, one my body struggled to learn and accept, is in the brief retreat first, before doing anything else. We tend to be heady and action-oriented as a culture so we learn to rush in to defend or intervene. Training in the Water element brings me daily reminders that it can be a good and legitimate choice to just get out of the way before doing anything else. Even a small but well placed step back can, literally and figuratively, give you time and space before your next move.

In literally embodying a state such as earthiness or brief retreat, my mind takes it in at a deeper level. It
becomes a part of me in a way much deeper than mere intellectual understanding. There's great power in the marriage of body and mind. Including a somatic or body element is part of the wisdom of many ancient spiritual or philosophical practices. I am starting to understand how strategy on the mat for defending a physical attack translates into choices about the "attacks" or challenges life throws my way.

That isn’t to say that I am always able to access these states. Being human and less than-perfect, there are plenty of times when I am not able to bring my training into life. But I am better at noticing the moments that slip by me. Bringing awareness to the misses “out there” is the beginning of greater clarity in the moment, just as misses or missteps on the mat bring greater recognition of the most useful physical response.

That's why I train. It’s the intertwining of the physical and the mental, the way that one constantly informs the other, that makes this path so compelling.

Chris Chandler, Why I Train
copyright 2013

Monday, April 8, 2013

Self Defense for Women: April 22

On April 22, Daring Divas and Boulder Quest have partnered to bring a women's self defense class to Boulder. Join us on Monday April 22, from 6:45-8:30 and prepare to defend yourself!

Do you (or someone you know) want to feel more confident and capable of taking care of your safety?

Mary Aitoshi Stevens and Daring Divas USA present a dynamic gathering where she'll share simple techniques to de-escalate conflict and defend yourself verbally and physically.

Do You Find that You:
  • Worry when walking to your car alone?
  • Panic about overwhelming conflict?
  • Have one answer you hope will answer everything, like running away?
Do You Want:
  • More confidence?
  • To be solution oriented?
  • To unleash your potential?
In two short hours you are going to learn how to de-escalate conflict, to read what’s happening in a threatening situation, and to respond to emotional and physical violence.

This seminar is going to uncover these universal secrets in a simple and effective manner with techniques that you can save your life immediately!

$15 Register for Women's Self Defense class

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

10 things I like about being Ninja

10 things I like about being a Ninja

1.    Flying through the air and landing softly (something I consider a miracle)
2.    Swords (truly, blades are just pretty)
3.    Many ninja are hot; all ninja are better looking than average (the longer they train, the truer this is)
4.    Rolling on the floor and leaping through the air (wheeeeeeee)
5.    Punching, kicking, grabbing, throwing and never getting injured (as long as I'm doing it right)
6.    Legitimate lineage and brilliant An-Shu (you are coming to Copper Dagger, right?)
7.    Practical self defense (it works if you use it)
8.    Best teachers in the galaxy (Get connected online)
9.    Ropes, chains, and blades (LOVE)
10. Life mastery through martial arts (thank you)

What are your favorite ninja things?
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