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Monday, August 29, 2005

Languages + Martial Arts

Languages are pretty interesting. Some are ultra complex, while others are extremely simple. But all languages have a couple things in common. One obvious commonality is they all seek to allow one to communicate his or her thoughts, ideas, or current state of being to another as clearly and vividly as one is able. Another pretty sweet thing about languages is that once you have mastered it, you no longer really have to think about it. The words just flow, as if instinctual. Now what if we take that concept and apply it to other things in life... say martial arts.

My old sensei (Tony Avila) and I recently started thinking about languages as applied to martial arts when talking about progress in the arts as his San-dan test approached. We study American Jiu Jitsu by the way (MIT NY). When you first jump into martial arts, it's all about absorbing all of the awesome techniques coming your way. All you can really think about is, "Man, this is so cool!" Then you reach black belt and you realize, "Wow, I still don't know anything." Matter of fact, black belt is like having just learned how to say your first words. Pretty exciting!

So anyway, you learn words, you learn phrases, you learn sentences, you learn paragraphs... The goal is to eventually get to the point where the martial art is no longer something you have to think about, but something that just flows. You become so fluent in the language that you can string together any combination of words fluidly and effortlessly into an amazing piece of prose or poetry. The art is no longer something you merely study, but something you influence, soemthing that has become yours, something that resonates with your very essence. It is no longer something that is out there and you are trying to grasp. No, instead it is something that is in you and you have personalized. Your movements convey your personality. Your teaching convey your experience. Your fluidity demonstrates your level of fluency.

During my old sensei's test, I saw some of this demonstrated. It is amazing what you come to find out when something goes "wrong." What do you do when you make a mistake? What happens when a technique slips, or a stick gets knocked out of your hand? When these apparent "errors" emerge, that is when your true colors come to surface and the level of your language competency becomes apparent. The beginnings of Sensei Tony's language emerged during these times, and they were fluid.

Time to hit that next level.
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