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The body echoes the mind. Mental strength and the power of excuses.

According to many eastern philosophy’s, the mind and the body are closely linked. The body echoes the mind. I’ve often wondered about the power of mind over matter, magickal theory (I’ve dabbled) and how much control, besides the physical movement of your body, your mind has over external things. I also have been contemplating the connection between injury and illness with the mind. I have seen many an occurrence of someone focusing on an injury or illness to the point of making it worse.

People are so preoccupied with making excuses as to why they cannot do things. The simple reason is that people are frightened of failure, they think it makes them weak. They maintain this front of being strong and then making an excuse of why they cannot exercise that strength. This is true weakness.
Facing anything with complete conviction, making no excuses, attempting to overcome ones perceived problems and still failing is true strength.
You cannot know success until you have known failure. Failure is not a negative thing, it is the enabler of learning, understanding and the path to success.

There is a tendency amongst most people to focus on negativity. Events occur as they will, but the mind will generate the negativity of that event. It is simply how you approach things. If during a bout of jigeko, I attempt a technique and it is a failure, I try never to look on that as something negative. I could say “That didn’t work. I’m no good at that technique.” Or I could say, “That didn’t work. What can I change to make it work.” I always assume a failure is my own understanding not being up to scratch yet and something I can improve. Telling yourself that you should have been able to do it is lying to yourself.

This leads naturally to the conclusion that if mind echoes the body and body echoes the mind and in a state of mushin, your mind echoes the mind of your opponent, then also your body will echo the body of your opponent, thus you will feel their intentions and an instinctive counter will be obvious.
This is the nature of debana waza.

Last week I went to training feeling decidedly not 100% but had decided it would not hold me back and as a result, had a very good session. My upset stomach was something that I had to control and overcome. As such by the time we had finished, I’d completely forgotten about it.

It’s like the mental process of how you view pain. Pain is an indicator that something is going on and differentiating between something serious and just tension or tiredness is something I think you develop over time while training.
It leads to mental strength and that is the core of where these excuses and strength to continue come from. I think having children gives you a lot more mental strength than you expect. Dealing with sleep deprivation is probably the first parental challenge. Being able to still get up, look after your child and do day to day stuff, go work after all night in a hospital room on about an hours sleep is just par for the course. True story.
Grossed out by vomit and other bodily excretions? You won’t be after about a month. Children are also very good at making you less attached to your possessions.

During my time fencing, I went up against a guy at a couple of competitions who was in his late 60’s and had Parkinson’s. He was without a doubt one of the best fencers I came up against and he turned up to the piste, with a limp and shaking violently. As soon as he came to en-guarde the shaking stopped and I scored not a single point against him. His movements were extremely small and I never even saw or felt where he hit me.
I’ve always held him in my mind as a perfect example of someone who didn’t let themselves be held back and didn’t make excuses for failure. A prime example of how to overcome challenges.

And if you want another example of someone who doesn’t make excuses…

Tell me again what your excuse is.

Tell me again what your excuse is.

Contradiction, keiko and efficiency. (The Purge pt3)

So this weeks session consisted mainly of running through the basics of kirikaiesh with 4 of our new members.
As it goes, it was a fairly sedate session, for those of us who’ve been doing it for a while anyway. I’ll have been doing kendo for 2 years in August so I’m still a newbie too but in terms of the club not so much.
During our suburi, we did 100 jogeburi. As it was called out I suddenly felt for my newest dojo mates and remembered the first time I had to do 100 of any suburi. It’s really hard.
These days I don’t even think about doing that. 100 is normal and fairly easy and it’s all down to efficiency of movement.
At one point I had to stop doing kendo for a couple of weeks because I found I couldn’t lift my left arm above shoulder height. I had no idea what was going on or how to sort it. The doctor did little more than give me anti-inflammatory medication and the inevitable physio referral form. The medication did wonders but I skipped the physio. I’ve had physio before for various things and to be honest it’s never really made any difference. What has made a difference is careful examination of what is causing the pain and then how to fix that.
I used to get terrible neck pains, all the time that would drive me to the brink if insanity. Physio did nothing, acupuncture had much better effect but didn’t cure it. Repositioning my monitor and keyboard at work did. Fixed it completely because I carefully examined my physical state and worked it out. I’ve never been exactly in tune with my body and having dodgy eyesight has never helped my hand eye coordination so to actually work something out physically was a big step forward for me.
Coming back to the arm, I realised I was just being too tense and jerking my arm as I was cutting which resulted in pain and weakness. I fixed it by relaxing during suburi and refining my cutting action to the point that it takes nearly zero effort. I was told to do this on many occasions before I properly worked it out, I don’t always catch on quick, but it took me time to properly assimilate the information and work out how to apply that to myself. I am reminded of the Buddhist adage: “You have to find the truth for yourself.” This is true in all things.

So while I was imparting this information about efficiency, something occurred to me. How do the concepts of mushin and Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku fit together? Mushin is about cultivating a state of absence of thought or anticipation. Simply being in the moment and performing the cuts as and when needed. Not thinking about what to do next. They should just happen.
Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku is about concentrating on one thing. This makes perfect sense in terms of a training session. Picking one thing that you want to work on throughout the whole session and during ji-geiko is a superb idea. I distinctly remember one night just concentrating on my seme to great effect.
But to the untrained mind these seem like contradicting things. How can you be of no mind and not thinking when you are concentrating on one thing?

When I first started to meditate, I found it hard to empty my thoughts and not think. You try not to think, then you think about not thinking, then you scold yourself for thinking about not thinking. It’s hard to get the thinking mind to stop. It’s like your reality filter. Everything you see, hear and experience is passed through the mind filter and some sort of conclusion is made. That drink was sweet, the sun is hurting my eyes, the tree is far away. This is unnecessary.
One of the main texts I read on meditation said that in order to cultivate emptiness of thought you have to first be able to focus the mind on one thing. The mind wants to jump all over the place and wants to look at things so you have to give it a focus. It states about picking a point in your nose where you can feel the air moving over it and concentrate on it. Because your breathing is mainly automatic, you should be able to just observe and concentrate on the feeling without thinking about it. Every time the mind drifts, you bring it back to that point.
The more you do this, the more it becomes easier and easier to do, to the point where your mind is no longer making a conclusion about things and becomes quiet. Something we should all try to remember is that the mind is a tool and as such does not have to be switched on all the time. You don’t keep a hammer in your hand while you’re trying to do up a screw. You have to cultivate the simple fact that the mind does a job but the mind is not the be all and end all of who you are. Once you manage to quiet the mind properly, the true experience of life suddenly comes crashing through in much greater detail, colour and texture but you are no longer thinking about it. It simply is, as are you.

So this is where the Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku and mushin come in for me. I feel like Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku is a preparation. A seed to be sown in the psyche before mushin. You don’t have to be constantly concentrating on the one thing. You’ve sown the seed of concentration. Concentration is not the same thing as thinking either it is focusing your attention while drawing no conclusion.

This all links to the efficiency as well. It’s not just efficiency of the body but also of the mind. I primarily focused on the concept of efficiency after reading the following book:
Matrix Warrior by Jake Horsley. Not only is it a wonderful piece of overthinking, but a superb piece of focus on how to cultivate efficiency of body and mind. I picked up my hardback copy in Poundland and it’s £1.50 on Amazon for the hardback. Just buy it. Okay, it’s based on a fictitious world, but that hasn’t stopped most religions.

This is how the third part of The Purge is being built for me. Cultivating efficiency in everything, mind, body and life is extremely important. If your mind is distracted by many different things (thank you internet) then you are not being mentally efficient. Why should your concentration not be constantly focused towards your goals in life? Why distract it with frivolous things for the sake of entertainment? This is the mind doing it’s best to be used, it doesn’t want to let go. It wants to run everything.

Lastly I feel as though I have always fallen foul of doing too many things. I work IT support and in the past have tried my hand at everything. I’ve been a jack of all trades and a master of none in all aspects of my life. This ends now. Outside of work I have in the past, played guitar in a metal band, played solo acoustic gigs, done drawing, sculpting, snowboarding, skateboarding, car modification and customisation, writing (okay, I still do this), prop replica building, electronics, old computer collecting and repairing, theramin building, guitar effects building, DJing, PC gaming, kung fu, fencing, theatrical sword fighting. The list goes on and I have had and still have some of the things that enabled all these things to go on. It’s just a big mess.
I have now vowed not to let this continue any more and focus on much less. If you spread yourself too thin then you get good at nothing. I’m not great at any of those things listed really. I’m better at some that others but in no way would I call myself an expert in any of them. The things I have worked most on are guitar playing (about 25 years), fencing (about 12 years), various computing activities (30 years). I consider myself an expert in certain computing fields, but in no way am I an expert in others. I’ve spread myself too thin.

Too many things, possessions, activities, attachments, are all fuel for the mind to have something to do and take control of you.

Efficiency must be applied to everything and to do this I must purge it all.

!m!

 

Update:  I’ve changed this post a little as I was somewhat confused before about the concept of fudoshin. I have now changed that terminology to the correct one as I don’t wish to confuse anyone or myself. I will explore fudoshin another time.

 

Floors, feet and decent shoes.

I’ve recently started reading Geoff Salmon Sensei’s blog and found a mine of information on Kendo.

After reading his post on floors it made me think about whether there is a problem with the floors in the UK for Kendo. Geoff points out that the Dojo floors in Japan are much better suited to Kendo as most of them are purpose built for it and sprung correctly. Here in the UK you tend to get fairly generic sports hall floors that are either tiled concrete, which is a complete no no, or the strange composite. Occasionally you get a good sprung floor in maybe a dance studio or some school gyms. It seems like very few floors in the UK are suitable for Kendo as our own club experiences will echo. Trying to find a decent sprung floor hall with enough roof height to swing a shinai is a pretty tall order. Here in Bedford, out of the many halls we could use, there are are only maybe 3 or 4 that are of the right floor type and big enough. Then you’re onto the matter of cost and most places are just too expensive.

Meirinkan was lucky though. Our first place was just big enough and cheap enough for us to train twice a week and be affordable. The floor was not ideal but it was good enough. It was a former dance studio with a wooden sprung floor that had been covered in some sort of lino like flooring. This was simply because the wood itself was in such a bad shape, full of splinters and raised nails, that the floor itself would have been unusable. A hammer became essential equipment but the floor was very nice for Kendo, bar the odd patch of duct tape. After the heating broke and spilled water all over the floor and other reasons beyond our control, we moved to the basketball court, gym hall at my former middle school. The floor in there is much better maintained but probably not as well sprung as the first place and much harder on the feet.

Lots of people seem to develop Plantar Fasciitis during Kendo training. I went through a rather debilitating bout of it for about 3 months after the venue change and even stopped going to training because of it. I was blaming my technique, the floor, the heavy clutch in my car everything but the answer was something much simpler.
Shoes.

In this country, and others, I think a lot of people are guilty of just buying cheap shoes that look nice. Very little thought is given to wearing something decent to help and support your feet. The number of times I hear people moan about a pair of shoes really hurting their feet but they love them too much. Women are probably more guilty of this than men but we can be just as bad.

Just before my bout of Plantar Fasciitis I had bought myself a very nice looking pair of boots from Brantano that were right up my alley looks wise. It was after the zips on the side broke after only a couple of months and I took them back to the shop to change them that I realised that they were messing my feet up. I asked to change them and they were fine with it.
“Oh yeah, their one of our own brands so we can change them. Sometimes the quality isn’t great as they’re pretty cheap and cheerful.”
In other words, not very well designed to help and support your feet. After this I bought myself a decent pair of North Face walking shoes to wear most of the time and slung the cheap, pretty much brand new pair of boots in the bottom of my wardrobe. Within a few weeks my foot problems had cleared up completely. I trained hard again and had no issues.

The thing I think we should all remember as Kendoka is that Kendo is hard on your feet. When you’re outside the dojo, put something decent on your feet that will support them and look after them. If you wear crap shoes all day and then go home and put your feet up all evening, it’s probably okay, till you’re about 30. If you wear crap shoes and then go and hammer them at the dojo twice or more times a week then you’re probably not giving your feet time to recover. Either way, decent shoes are never too expensive. I also have a pair of Itallian made boots that cost me well over £100. They are extremely well made, lovely to wear and never make my feet hurt even if I wear them for a whole day.

Seriously, get some decent shoes.

!m!