KISS (not the band)

11 Dec

In my last blog entry, I wrote about the challenge of change, drawing from the experience of just recently closing down and relocating our dojang of many years. We’ve now finished four classes in our new home and I think people — students, parents, instructors and ME — are more at ease that Everything’s Going To Be OK. I knew we could do classes in a different training environment but I was still stressed that too many others would not. I did not want students to quit because of disappointment, nervousness, or even fear. Just because we’d be training in a different kind of space.

Possibly quite different to many eyes. Parents in particular looked a tad agitated the first night or two. Lots of pacing and peeking. A change from dedicated, matted training space to a wooden gym floor in a shared building (an elementary school), from a lobby for waiting parents and guests to an alcove and cafeteria, from having lots of training paraphernalia standing around to keeping just the basics we really need stored in the small room off of the gym. It’s much more simple, and I like it, even prefer it, in many ways. It’s more old school, similar to the way my son and I started training 21-plus years ago. We earned our black belts training in a space like this. We’ve respectively achieved Third Dan and Fifth Dan rank. Most people never make it past two years, higher color belt rank.

Last night, while at one end of the gym with the class, I pointed out to the teens and adults present that now we had extra lazy space, lots of space to space-out in when practicing. Not necessarily good. I noted to the class that the small area at the end of gym to which I was confining the current activity was probably as big as our Korean Great Grandmaster’s first gym when he moved to the US, with as many, or even twice as many, people back then training in that small sized space. That type of environment forces focus and attention. (I don’t know the exact details of those circumstances, but I’ve heard some recollections from one or two people who were there; forgive me if I’m wrong in any way.)

When you train in confined space, you have to really pay attention. There is no “lazy space.” We have plenty of space in our new location, which we can actually use well. But specifically to the plus side, our new gym could be called more spartan than our previous dojang. To train in a more spartan environment requires a different type of focus and attention, a type of determination and adaptation, more concentration, self-awareness and self-protection. There is then, in another way, less lazy space.

Our entire wonderful, western/US culture is full of lazy space, whether physically, mentally or spiritually. We have more opportunity than ever before to spread out (in all ways), to not have to adapt, concentrate, focus. We have more forgiveness in many ways, whether comfy chairs instead of the floor, no-fault insurance, mindless mental preoccupations and time wasters, or mats in the dojang to make us feel more secure. A lot of lazy space, more distraction, and a lot less demand to focus on, or appreciate, what is most important and essential.

Martial arts are fundamentally about self-preservation, literally life or death. Most people practicing marital arts will never face those circumstances, much less simply compete in a sport competition. Many people even practice martial arts largely for fitness. Many kids participate because it can be fun, and parents believe it to be good for their development in some way.

I’m not sure where is the line, or more so the broad transition zone, between true martial practice and fluffy “martial activity.” If anything, there are multiple lines or zones. I do know that there is a whole lot of crappy, fluffy martial arty stuff out there, and it generally goes along with comfy, cushy training spaces, nifty non-essential training goods that someone is making money selling, and low-demand, low-pressure, make-everyone-feel-good (or comfortable) pedagogies. Participants are drawn in by image, marketing, accoutrements, and non-essentials, and think they’re getting more, but actually are getting much less.

Now that we’re rolling in the new space, I’m appreciating the focus on “just training martial arts”: simplicity, narrow focus, less fluff and distraction. Just training. Toughening up a bit, both physically and mentally. For me, this change in training location is part of a larger process I happen to have entered into more recently in life of reassessing the fluff, the distraction, the non-essential, the most fundamental, most important and most valuable.

For ages the sages have essentially told us (more or less) KISS. Keep it Simple. Focus on the essential, the fundamental. This is a good thing to consider in martial arts training. It is a good thing to consider in your profession, perhaps as a supervisor or leader. Make sure you are covering the real essentials. It’s a good thing to consider in family and other relationships. It’s a great concept to keep in mind during these upcoming holiday times. A KISS almost always makes things better.

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