Sunday, February 26, 2012

Not Thinkin' About It

This has sure been an interesting couple of months.  I've been dealing with quite a bit of stress lately to the point where it has cut into my Kendo and Iaido practice schedule a bit.  This actually wouldn't be entirely bad if it wasn't for the fact that said stress affected my health for a few weeks.  In short, I had the typical cold symptoms that improved, then worsened after yet another hard day at work.  The good news is that I've recovered now after actually putting my health before my occupation (go figure!).  I've also been exercising my new duties as the ECUSKF Officer of Promotions as we set up the next promotion test for early next month.  It hasn't really been a source of stress, but I'm sure understanding what people have to go through to set these things up.  I've had a few hiccups along the way, but I can take the lessons I've learned now and apply them for the next round of exams for sometime in November or December.

Not too long ago, I was watching some episodes of Transformers that I have been recording on my DVR as of late, since The Hub started to finally air season 3.  There was one episode in particular that caught my attention due to a short Kendo scene in it (the scene below is about 15 seconds or so).

The clip above comes from the episode titled, "The Burden Hardest To Bear."  In this particular episode, Rodimus Prime lets the stress coming from his new found leadership position get the best of him and runs off. Later in the episode, he (now Hot Rod again after losing the Matrix) watches a "Kendo" class and ends up getting a very valuable lesson.  More details on that particular scene can be found in the clip below, which is about 2 minutes.

From the above clip, the quote that I took notice to was, "You should not expect to win, you should not expect to lose....expect nothing...One can not think of victory without considering it's opposite...and thinking of defeat distracts the mind from what must be done in order to win."  The subject matter contained in this scene is something that we've all had to deal with in life at some point or another.  While it's much less dire than the situation presented in the clips above, and even most aspects of our lives, it's something that we have to reconcile, and deal with, in our Kendo development.

After some thinking, I've applied the situation previously described with a term that most of us in the Kendo circles have at least heard of, which is mushin (無心).  According to the 2011 edition of the Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo, is defined as the condition of the mind when it is not preoccupied with anything.  On its surface, it's a really simple concept to understand.  Through practice, we must get to the point where we're able to automatically deal with the situation at hand without the outside influences of extra thoughts, such as possibilities of success and failure with specific techniques or the whole match.  As we all know, it's much harder to actually perform.  I would also like to bring up the definition of a possibly lesser-known term, munen-musou (無念無想).  Munen-musou  is defined as  the mental condition of selflessness, free from worldly thoughts.  A mirror-like mental condition which reflects all phenomena.  The mind functions best when it is purely concentrated and undistracted, and the spirit is replete.  That particular term seems, to me, to further define the state of mind in which we need to approach the subject.  Much like how Hot Rod needed to clear his mind of the worries of success or defeat to win against the Decepticons, we must be able to do the same when faced with someone in front of us, or even when faced with no one while just doing suburi.

Now, I think it's important to contrast this from those situations of no thought that occur early in our Kendo careers where we just mindlessly flail about hitting whatever we feel like it.  The difference between that and the state of mind described above is that, in the beginning, while we aren't thinking, we don't have full control over our bodies.  It's like writing a computer program for your body, where you give it some conditional statements and commands and let it do its magic.  The program only works for the situations that the programmer can plan for, which is quite limited.  In the sense of Kendo, in the beginning, we only know how to execute a limited amount of techniques a certain way.  Through time, we must move beyond the computer programming operate in a way where we do what needs to be done without sacrificing any of the basics that got us to that point.  It seems like something that would be confusing to understand, but we all have certain activities that we have done for a long time, like turning on a TV or playing a video game.  At first, we're fumbling around with the buttons and commands.  After some time, we can pick up the controller and perform the tasks that needs to be done without thinking about it.

Of course, this is only my current thinking of what mushin is.  Through further experience, my interpretation could just mature a bit or completely change.  One thing that I do know for certain is that this is something that can only be done in time as we're faced with new experiences through promotion exams, tournaments and practicing with people we're not familiar with.  Unfortunately, unlike the physical applications of better footwork or more efficient strikes, it's not as simple as tweaking an angle here or applying less force there.  It's a state of being that seems like it might take some time without over-thinking the situation.  Trust me, I've tried only to end up being more frustrated than when I started.

Using clips from a cartoon series seems a little weird to me, and possibly to many people.  But as much as we bemoan the depiction of martial arts in various forms of media, they all do come from come kernels of truth.  From that, those aspects get peppered with gross exaggerations to make the shows more viewable or games more playable.  Even a show like Dragonball Z, which was made famous by the 30-minute bouts of screaming and bright flashing by muscle-bound dudes that only live to pummel each other to death, has some basic concepts of martial arts in there if you care to look hard enough.  I'm the kind of person that likes to find those gems from unconventional resources to hopefully understand life better, so I'll continue to do stuff like this when appropriate.

Well, until next time!


Chris said...

Great post! I like the idea that you can't think of winning without also thinking about losing (or success and failure at something).

Good luck with the shinsa preparations, as well!

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