Sunday, May 10, 2015

Remove What is Not Essential

To the beginning student of the martial arts, it seems like there's so much to learn.  Technique, posture, footwork, breathing, timing... the list seems endless.  Students look at me like I'm crazy when I say "Keep it simple!"

They have a point - its hard to keep things simple when there's so much going on.  But I have a point too.  At the end of the day, succeeding in the martial arts is only to a certain degree about what you do.  So much of it is what you don't do.  We train in footwork not because there's only one way to use your feet, but because the average student uses their feet so inefficiently.  Too many steps, big steps which are too slow, and so on.  We teach posture not because there's a "perfect" posture, but because you can attack and defend much more effectively when your body is balanced.

So yes, there's a lot to learn.  But at a certain point, its less about what you add in, and more about looking at your base and seeing what you can take out.  We take out the wasted motions, the extra steps, the tensing of the muscles that don't add to power.  Michelangelo said something similar about sculpture: "When I look at a block of marble, I see the sculpture inside it.  All I have to do is remove what doesn't belong."

Like most good ideas about martial arts, this extends far beyond what you do when you walk into the dojo.  It applies to your entire life.

There are far more people with an interest in the martial arts than those who actually practice them.  The reason they don't practice is that their lives are filled with too many other things.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  You have to make choices, and maybe your interest in the martial arts is exceeded by your interest in running, or playing the guitar, or watching TV.  If that's the case, then good for you!  Keep at what holds your interest!

But every so often, we get stuck in routines.  We sit down and watch TV, or read articles on the internet that we're not really interested in, because we've forgotten that there's a good alternative, and that we're not really doing what we want to do.

So it's a good idea to periodically throw out everything that's not essential.  Toss out all the old magazines and books that you're never going to read again.  Donate all the clothes that you're never going to wear again.  Remove all the favorites from your browser menu that are no longer really a favorite, and simply serve as a distraction when you're tired or bored.  Create empty spaces in your life, and figure out what you really want to be doing with the space you've created.

Life isn't simple.  But it can be simpler if you make it so.  Focus on what is essential.

Discard everything else.

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