The Art of Dying
The importance of routine training can not be overstated when it comes to the development of any skill. Some people say ten thousand hours makes you a professional, yet many of the skills that are of the greatest value do not fit into any profession. In fact the development of our character is immeasurable and shouldn't be compared to things as superficial as finance. To train self-defense, is to dawn the cloak of confidence and well-being, but it might as well be an invisible cloak as far as modern society is concerned because we tend to go unnoticed.
It doesn't matter if the lifestyle we aim for is visible, it still requires the daily dos of training that can be hard to fit in after 8 hours of work. Of the small percent of martial artists that are able to maintain their training through the unpredictable and often inconvenient surprises of life, we must make a plan to ensure the progress of our direction. There are so many moving pieces that must be continually adjusted in our system: balance, reaction, speed, power, trapping, kicking, push hands, bag work, weapon work, foot work, etc. etc. etc. There are literally thousands of things to work on and it all has to be done in a tightly packed schedule before or after work.
How do you determine the best method of progress? Bruce Lee said, "Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own." Phrases like this sound great on posters, bumper stickers and cereal boxes, but after training long enough you will know that we are unable to determine what is useless. Generally a movement that you do not yet understand is useless, but through years of practice it could become your favorite and most effective technique. If we only value what we understand today our arrogance will cause us to throw away tomorrow.
But Bruce Lee said another quote that I believe hits the heart of every martial artist in one way or another, "You must learn the art of dying."
On the surface this quote seems to say, "Have no fear of your opponent..or accept the situation without thought of the result." It does mean these things, but it also means so much more. It points to the daily battle that takes place within ourselves. Knowing what to train and especially having the strength to make yourself train every day, is a way of teaching your "self" to die.
The "self" represents the fleshly needs that are basically your animal instincts. We work our jobs so that we can gain something, whether it be food, power or some form of gratification. We can perform very challenging and difficult tasks just to make sure that the flesh can continue living. These may seem like mere survival instincts at first, but like anything, the more you train the more powerful it becomes. Anger, depression, and envy are also parts of the flesh: attachments that attempt to control the quality of our survival.
But your spirit, is the real you; the driver behind the fleshy machine. Your true personality and nature are stemmed from your spirit. When you are younger your spirit mostly dominates your flesh, continually inspiring you to imagine and explore. For a child everything appears magical and it takes years of disappointments to teach you how to lose your faith and to finally accept only what your five senses can understand. Humans are a living contradiction, forced to make decisions between the flesh and the spirit. When you feed one, you starve the other and therefore part of everyone continues to die daily.
You could say that the development of any skill is the spirit's ability to overpower the need for the body's comfort. Every from of progress is a discomfort for a lengthened period of time. After work my body says, "I'm too tired to train, I'm going to rest," but my spirit says, "get your ass out there and train." After years of teaching my flesh to obey my spirit regarding martial arts, my flesh has become dead in this area. I am no longer tempted to not train, or at least the temptation of not training can not compare to my spiritual need to improve my movements.
You will often hear people say this is mind over matter. However this can also be misleading because the mind is also a part of your flesh. In fact, it is the mind that continues to look for a reason to do something or to not do it. The spirit never needs a reason, the spirit just does. A reason is an attempt to explain what we have no authority to understand. Why do you like martial arts? Why do you like music? Why are there places that you wish you could travel to? These are all questions proposed by the spirit and therefore can not be answered by the mind. Quiet the mind so that the spirit can grow.
Every time you choose progress over comfort, you strengthen your spirit. This is the first and most important step of beginning your training. But as I said before, "How do we know what is useless or what to discard?" If my wife asked me to take her and the baby to the mall and I refuse because of my training, have I fed my spirit or my flesh? What if a man hits me while I'm out with my friends? If I hit him back, which part of me is fed?
We live in a world that is a part of an infinitely large universe and all things are connected. This means that every simple thing lies in the midst of complications. When I choose the needs of my spouse, I've denied my "self," which is my flesh. When someone makes me angry and I deny that anger, I am also starving my flesh. The art of dying means that you are almost always denying your first natural and instinctive reaction. You will find that this process at first will be quite painful. It hurts to hold your tongue after you've been insulted. It takes great strength to not seek revenge.
Whether it be for reasons of martial arts progress or family time, to deny yourself is to put the need of something else ahead of yourself. It's difficult to do or understand because it is the definition of love. Because I love the gift of martial arts that God has given me, I am able to celebrate with the movements that I've learned. Like child, I explore into the infinite possibilities of magical movements. The flesh says, "I have to train," the spirit says, "I get to train." By learning to love not having your way, you've learned to love life.
This realization will dramatically raise the quality of your training, which is far more important than the quantity. My training schedule is much like a reflection of my life so I don't discard anything, but I give each item a season. I generally have three overlapping seasons happening at once: Immediate, short-term and long-term. Here is a little example of what Xing yi Season looks like:
Monday Xing Yi Warm up 30 min Moon Daggers 30 Minutes Sparring 30 Minutes Research 30 Minutes Footwork 30 Min.
Tuesday Xing Yi Warm up 30 min. Moon Daggers 30 Minutes Sparring 30 Minutes Circle 30 Minutes Applications 30 Min.
Wednesday One Movement 2 hours
Thursday: Xing Yi Warm up 30 min. Moon Daggers 30 Minutes Sparring 30 Minutes Combinations 30 Minutes Footwork 30 Minutes
Friday Xing Yi Warm up 30 min. Moon Daggers 30 Minutes Sparring 30 Minutes Research 30 Minutes Power Training 30 Minutes
Sunday Free Flow Training
This is a rough outline of the schedule I've been doing for the last few years. However the Moon Daggers is on a three month schedule and I've already switched it out for another weapon. The immediate goals are to prepare you for the day to day and possible events that could happen. I adjust them according to my moods, interests or recent crimes I see on TV. The short term goals are to get me deeper with a concept that I am searching for, hopefully unlocking a new philosophy that can be trained. The long term is generally something I will need to work on for a few years at least. I don't change the movements, but I change the situation quite often, sometimes training on something elevated, slippery surfaces or anything my creative mind can find. The long term is always a pain in the ass, but it always brings forth the most valuable treasures.
This mirrors how I do my other goals in life as well. Currently I'm writing my new novel, which is my long term, I am always alternating between art and music for short term and my day to day learning consists of writing Chinese, filming, acting, and designing martial arts curriculum.
When you make a time schedule that everything overlaps, you will find that it all becomes possible if you are patient and persistent. You don't know when you are going to need something, so why discard it? Everything is useful and beautiful if you let yourself fall in love with it. Everything that you are able to do is a celebration of life and once you've developed it, share it with those in need. Progress is spiritual food and the world is starving.