Saturday was one of the longest on record as far as I’m concerned. After a late (well, later than I’d have had ideally) Friday at the dojang where we hosted a birthday party for one of our junior – now senior – students, I managed to get about 3 hours sleep before the alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning, the start of an epic day’s traveling and Tang Soo Do.
The reason I was up so early was to join my instructor and another Dan grade on a trip to what was billed as a Master/Dan seminar. In Rushden. Rushden being five-hundred kilometers from Cornwall. Yeah…. Anyway, bleary-eyed and really not with it, we hit the road under the cover of darkness and rolled Eastward. After a couple of necessary rest stops we found the college we’d be spending the day at with about twenty minutes to spare before the seminar began, and I don’t think it really hit any of us until then that we hadn’t eaten! I scoffed down a banana and some water and did my best to wake myself up and get loose, I knew we had Master Kumar Jr leading the start of the lesson, so I knew it was going to be hard. I wasn’t disappointed, I hadn’t sweated like that for a long time, and looking back on it now it was good. Isn’t the power of hindsight wonderful? .
We were lucky enough to have Master Jan De Vry taking the majority of the seminar, with a firm focus on Kyok Pa – Destruction, or breaking. Anyone who’s been through a few gradings will have had a go at some breaking, usually with a strong kick or punch, and most people will have at some point felt the pain of a failed break. It’s not just the physical pain (and it can really hurt), it’s the short-term (and sometimes long-term) psychological damage it does, and the resultant damage to confidence and technique. When someone fails a break, you can pretty much guarantee the next time they’ll do one of two things; either hold back because they know it hurts, and as a result probably hurt themselves more, or try too hard on the next attempt which adds tension, takes away speed, and often removes the accuracy too. It’s all mental of course, there’s really nothing physical stopping 99.9% of people completing a break, and so we spent the best part of 3 hours working on the mental aspect of breaking, in combination with the physical.
The concepts we worked on are things I’ve thought about a lot in the past, things like relaxation, using the weight in the limbs to do the work and so on, but mentally connecting all of these things is a lot harder that it sounds like it should be. I won’t go through exactly what we worked on, for fear of a) trying to illustrate something I still don’t fully understand, and b) boring you all into a coma, but suffice to say by the end of the day I was happily breaking boards with very little physical effort from an inch away, and even managing some nice two-finger breaks. Ok, they weren’t two inches of pine or anything as dramatic, but it’s very easy to see how it can be applied and increased to cope with just about anything put in front of you.
The biggest thing I took away from the day was learning how to use breath to separate the conscious and subconscious, and then being able to trust fully in the subconscious doing what it needs to. I like the way Master Jan is able to happily work with both sides of the martial arts compass; the body mechanics and science of the West, and the esoteric, meridian and chi based thinking from the East. There’s no ‘this one is right, that one is wrong’, just a healthy respect for both. I also had the dubious honour of being his example dummy for most of the day, apparently he likes having someone substantial to demonstrate on to prove the techniques work. I still have the sore ribs and bruising on my chest as a souvenir from the day.
The other thing I like about these days away is the less-obvious things I take away. Seeing and working with other high grades from around the country offers a sense of perspective, and really helps me feel the kind of inclusion that being part of the EMTF promises. We’re all there for the same reason, all unified by one common interest, and it feels good.
After some sparring led by my instructor as part of his fifth Dan pre-assessment, and a chance to try to cram in the third dagger form (easier said than done with a brain addled by traveling, tiredness, five hours training and a distinct lack of food!), we hit the road again and chased the setting sun back West. Well, we would have done if it wasn’t for rain and cloud for most of the trip. By the time we got back home around midnight I was running on autopilot, until I crash-landed in bed. I’m feeling the pain more today after training last night, and my hamstrings, instead of being formed from some kind of good steak (yes, I’m made of meat) seem to have been replaced with tough old jerky. Still, I can’t wait for Wednesday and getting back to it all over again .