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.