Christmas is a very special time of year for me, as it is the time when my training becomes both the most physically intense and the most mentally deep.
Why this should be, I am not sure. I think, however, that there are two main reasons. The first has to do with the nature of human culture and the meaning given to festive seasons; the second to do with my early karate training.
Every culture has a major annual festive season, for the Chinese it is the Lunar New Year, for Muslims it is Eid, for Hindus Divali and for those in the christianised West, it is Christmas. This is traditionally a time for reflection on the past and planning for the future. Such festivals are not only a time for celebration but also for introspection. At such special times of the year, there is a feeling of infinite possibility for renewal and change. This same feeling is one which may be harnessed and injected into martial training.
Raised, as I was, in the UK, Christmas is the festival season that most resonates with me. Ever since I first started martial arts training, at the age of thirteen, this has been the time of year when I do my most intense practice.
This brings me on to the second reason that my training intensifies at this festive time of the year, namely because of the Japanese tradition of shugyo, or austere training. Since my forst exposure to the martial arts was through the Japanese art of karate, I learnt very early on that the Japanese undertook intensive periods of harsh training at both the hottest and the coldest times of the year. My reading of books such as Moving Zen, further reinforced the idea that when it was cold or snowed, outside was the place to be and martial arts training the appropriate activity.
Of course it seldom snowed in the South of England where I lived, especially at Christmas. Nevertheless the festive season was the one that I associated with such hard training.
In the cold of winter in the small scout hut, which served as our dojo, I was often the only student. On those occasions my instructor would tell me to do my own training, while he got on with his. Inevitably, however, he would come over and correct my techniques, or suggest some ways in which I might improve.
When not training at the club, I would train alone in the garden, or on the beach with my training partner. These sessions, particularly when it snowed, were very special for me. Something about the extra effort needed to brave the cold and continue practicing when freezing extremities cried out for a warm fire, made these sessions seem somehow worth more than at other times of the year.
Several years of “special” winter training, instilled in me the habit of deepening not only my training, but also my research, at this time of the year.
Now that I live in Malaysia, and snow is no longer very likely, I still find myself training more intensely at Christmas, than at other times of the year. This always goes hand in hand with a period of deeper research. This is the time of year when I reread my notes, or search through books, old or new, to shed more light on whatever I happen to be working on. With the advent of the internet, there are also innumerable resources available through a quick google search.
This year, spurred on by the news that Master Xu Shu Song has been invited to teach our art in Mainland China, I have been re-exploring Grandmaster Zheng’s legacy; in particular Douglas Wile’s translation of “Zheng Manqing’s Uncollected Writings on Taijiquan, Qigong and Health, with New Biographical Notes” (Sweet Ch’i Press 2007).
So as a belated Christmas gift from me to you, I will leave you with a couple of short passages that are currently inspiring and fuelling my training. Wishing you all Happy Holidays and looking forward to a great year of training in 2013. Heng Ha!
“Zheng Manqing has said that during his taiji training, he passed through a stage where every joint, sinew and muscle in his whole body felt as though he had been cut with a knife. Nevertheless he clenched his teeth and persisted in practice.” Zheng Manqings Uncollected Writings on Taijiquan, Qigong and Health, with New Biographical Notes. Douglas Wile, Sweet Ch’I Press 2007 p34
“In the beginning, taijiquan consisted of just thirteen postures, and they were practiced individually. Today’s fixed forms have nothing to do with the original ideas of our forebears. Everything in the world, every kind of knowledge or form, is a negative side effect of progress.” Ibid. p.88
Books I am currently reading (Just for you Vicky!)
Willpower Baumeister and Tierney Penguin 2011
The Inner Art of Karate Tokitsu Shambhala 2012
When Buddhists Attack Mann Tuttle 2012
Meditation and the Martial Arts Raposa University of Virginia Press 2003