Martial Arts & Swimming Alone

As a child, I was afraid of swimming in open water by myself; the vastness frightened me.

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I was afraid that the weed that tickled my feet would be the thing that pulled me under.

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I was afraid that if I turned away from the endless horizon that the shore that once harbored me would be gone.

I was afraid with no one there beside me I would slowly sink into the abyss, no one to hear my cries for help, no one to help me re-emerge.

Martial Arts And Swimming Alone Reach

For many, the martial arts generate this same fear.

You could spend a lifetime exploring its depths and never fully understand it all. There is SO much to learn; the knowledge is vast. It’s easy to feel insignificant, treading water, struggling to keep your head above water against its swells.

There are many who have changed styles of martial arts because of one reason or another. Perhaps the politics and drama was too much, you outgrew your teacher’s skill, or you just didn’t see its value anymore. In these moments, you must turn away from the shore, the place from which you came—often with uncertainty—and swim towards a new horizon.

In each of our dojos, we have to fight through the metaphorical weeds: an impatient student, an overbearing mother, a self-absorbed instructor. At first, these things can seem like a threat, but the energy lost trying to avoid these weeds can be better spent by simply swimming forwards.

When you enter these open waters you can jump feet first, or you can dive right in.

But, when you do, remember . . .

No matter the distance between you and the shore, it will always be there to harbor you.

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No matter the depth of the abyss, there will always be a hand to reach to.

And, no matter the weed that tickles your feet, it will never break the surface.

But once you face this vast ocean on your own and swim further away from your shore, you’ll realize that all those who walk the path also swim the same ocean and reach for the same horizon.

But know now, the rewards that lie on the horizon just beyond your reach and your fear…

Will. Be. Glorious.

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Old Woman Cries In Her Sleeve

I once heard a former student say, “I’ve paid hundreds of dollars on Karate. Spent hours of my time practicing. Working through injuries . . . and, for WHAT!?”

The only answer I could come up with is. . . something you should love.

I don’t know about anyone else, but over the short 14 years I’ve been pursuing the martial arts, my expenditure is probably in the hundred of thousands. I’ve spent hundreds of hours practicing, even through multiple injuries for no other reason than I love doing it.

So, when it came to me going to my final destination to train with Sensei McCarthy on his 2015 tour, although I felt like an old woman, there was no crying in my sleeve.

Virginia, October 9th-12th, 2015

At this event in Ashburn, Virginia, hosted by Sensei Darrin Johnson at Ashburn Martial Arts, Sensei McCarthy focused on Hakutsuru Tsuki-naka Ken [aka Chuan Xin Zhong Quan/白鹤穿心中拳 in Chinese].

Tsuki-Naka Ken

Tsuki-naka is the hardest kata I’ve had to learn—not because of its length or because the techniques in it are especially difficult; there are other kata that are far more difficult in those respects (Hakutsuru and Kusanku come to mind).

I believe the reason I found Tsuki-Naka challenging was for no other reason than mental and physical fatigue.

While learning this Yong-Chun based kata I overcame the challenges that accompany excessive travel and training in three ways:

1) Details

2) Zanshin

3) Teaching

Details

When you feel walls of exhaustion hit you, when your body hurts and your mind feels like it will burst with knowledge, concentrate on the details of your technique.

In Tsuki-naka, the movements have elements of dynamic tension and breathing, like those found commonly in Goju Ryu kata, combined with elegant and flowing movements of Chuan Fa.

Sensei McCarthy Applies Eagle Seizes His Prey

It was by focusing on getting these aspects of the kata just right, as well as its footwork, that helped me to keep going even if I wasn’t at my best.

Some may recognize this as an example of meditative state of isshin, single point concentration. For those unfamiliar with this term, isshin is to encompass all of one’s being into a single moment and once that moment has passed to release it.

In other words, the salvation from my practice was more mentally intense practice.

Zanshin

As is commonly expected with Sensei McCarthy’s Koryu Uchinadi seminars, there were a lot of two-person drills and kata applications. This held true with our in-depth analysis of applications for Tsuki-naka.

One movement in the kata includes crossing your arms like a genie and pulling your arms in opposite directions, a solo representation of one of the chokes straight out of our Shime-waza exercise: the rear-naked choke.

Mark Donohoe Applies Choke

Another application for a gyaku-zenkutsu dachi with a gedan barai and uchi uke, was a simple standing arm bar.

Sensei Nick in Gyaku Zenkutsu Dachi

Zanshin or general awareness was key for success in working with partners while in Virginia. Working through my injuries, it was important to pay close attention to how my body was feeling and adapt my training to ensure that I could still have a great learning experience and stay safe.

Communicating with the partners I worked with was a huge factor as well. One of the best things about walking into a Koryu Uchinadi Seminar is every one is really nice and willing to adjust so that each participant can have a positive training experience.

Teaching

Another way of overcoming my injuries in a seminar setting was taking the time to help others.

Once I had a good understanding of the techniques being taught, such as the takedowns, locks and chokes Sensei demonstrated, I took the time to assist participants who might need help learning many of the new techniques Sensei McCarthy introduced.

Sensei McCarthy Applies Ankle Lock

By doing this, I didn’t have to repeat the techniques as often, reducing my chances of aggravating my injury. At the same time, this helped me to gain a better conceptual understanding of the exercise at hand.

Old Woman Cries In Her Sleeve

There is a movement in many Koryu Uchinadi drills and Kata that we call old woman cries in her sleeve.

As I mentioned earlier, with my accumulated injuries and mental exhaustion, I very much felt like an old woman. And although there were no tears shed, I do feel sorrowful that my journey training with Sensei McCarthy was coming to an end.

There are so many other elements of going to seminars than just learning karate.

Camaraderie, travelling to new places, and meeting new people that you would otherwise never meet are just a few other reasons to take the time to go to seminars, not just offered by Koryu Uchinadi, but by any martial arts style.

For me, I go for the Karate, but stay for the wonderful people I meet.

KU Seminar Ashburn Virginia