Wednesday, 22 September 2021

This is the time of the year when, at least in the land where the beaver roam, the leaves are falling.

This autumn, our socially distanced classes on the Driveway Dojo have experienced some extra dividend activity as far as falling objects go: acorns and such, and debris tossed down by squirrels who may be trying to test our reflexes. All good, as the monks back in the mountains of China would say.

Indeed, every falling leaf is like a training partner, a gift of awareness, an object that resonates with every movement we make. When practicing our basics, or one of our forms/Kata, or when we imagine a partner gripping our wrist as we proceed to go through every step of a wrist throw by ourselves, that single leaf floating down to the ground becomes a member of our mind/body union with our surroundings. From which tree is it falling? How is it moving in the air (back and forth as it floats; circling in a gentle spiral; turning over and over)? Awareness remains a deep part of living martial training. In fighting, the leaf, the tree, the wind and the substantial air in between the fighter and what is in her field, are all part of the oneness. In martial health, they are partners in energy work, rejuvenation, calmness and the air around the martial artists provides him with molecules that calm his arthritis or lower his blood pressure.

Training in Tai Chi, for example, always involves the internal coupled with the external, and the external here is made up of the substantial that lives within the field of training. So how did the leaf sound as it touched the ground? Which direction did it drift when it was pushed along by the breeze? Was the leaf curled up or flat? Where did the breeze originate?

This link is just a wee bit over the top but hey, there’s an element of autumnal awareness in the clip –

The hermit nuns and monks in the mountains never really practiced alone. If you train outside, you’ll notice that each proceeding minute brings change to everything around you: shadows change; the colours change; sounds change. The sun or the clouds or the rain are never the same from one minute to the next. Neither is your experience in the training field.

Before these suggestions sound too farfetched, please consider these items –

1.     You’re training is likely severely restricted to just yourself during COVID. Maxine is no longer thumping down hard on your head with her gorilla-sized fist. (We had someone like that back in the Hatashita days: she’d attack you and close her eyes at the same time. It was like being inside a casino whether you lost all your chips (i.e. teeth) to the house or not).

2.     Sensory perception is vital to multi-opponent sparring. At least the leaves are doing you a favour by falling here and there, in front of you, behind you, in clusters or in singles with that light crackling sound when it hits the ground. Advanced martial artists read their opponents. An opponent’s gait, the opponent’s face, the sound of his or her voice if they talk, the depth of their breathing. Do they seem nervous, skittish, angry or deeply confident? In the absence of a human training partner, you can still practice those skills via your natural surroundings.

3.     We’re currently living in unusual and indeed stressful, times. As we navigate through our daily lives, we tend to “run up” against people and situations that rev up the old stress machinery. Working on sensory perception the martial arts way, is first, of all, a form of meditation. As we begin our practice, we bow and stand until our mind/body is unified. This is extremely important. You can block and redirect stressors all day long but if your core energy has been compromised or is depleted, the level of stress will just continue. Training with the leaves, so to speak, allows you to work on your core energy stability while dealing with whatever is situated around you. You and your surroundings become one; you are a unified being inside that one. This is healthy, and it is what we need during these times.

On the flip side, those trees nearby can supply you with lots of training partners. For example, you can practice kicking the leaves as they drop from the branches. High kick specialists love this. Or you can take a staff out with you or a sword. However, if you happen to live on a suburban street, you might cast an image the neighbours might never forget. The next time FedEx delivers to the wrong address, the neighbour will probably point over to your place and say: “Oh, that’s for the guy who hates leaves. He lives across the street.”

I’ll leave you with some falling leaves rolled up in music –

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