No one has taught me more about the essence of martial arts, and especially the experience of sparring (or live rolling) than Shunryu Suzuki. While his teachings were in the Sōtō Zen tradition, and specifically reflections on living — I have always felt his teachings applied just as much to the mat. Here are three reflections on what he taught, and how it may apply to martial performance.
I totally get that people, or should I rather say men treat me differently to other men they may know. The fact that I have both a reputation as a badass, and fighting skills to back it up, has a tendency to make men walk tentatively around me. I am not saying it’s right, but I get put up on a pedestal, which when you are in you’re early 20’s feels great — but in your 40’s makes you feel somewhat uncomfortable.
I have always found it interesting, even amusing, that people who begin to study martial arts, tend to equate complexity with martial efficiency. I think a lot of this stems from the movies. The complex fight scenes we witness in movies are exciting, they capture our attention, and of course just look plain cool. I remember clear as day as a kid wanting to be able to fight just like those awesome characters in my favourite Kung Fu movies. However I can see the level of disappointment in a students face when either I have to tell them, or they realize through experiencing something like live sparring, that things like ‘fancy,’ or ‘complex,’ moves often result in them getting punched really hard in the face.
I have written previously about the severe degeneration I am dealing with in the vertebrae in my neck. I am often in pain, and if it wasn’t for a superb Chiropractor, I doubt I would be able to get through most weeks. This last week after rolling, I felt a tingle in my muscles surrounding my scapular. I have had it before, and normally indicates the onset of a muscle spasm. I didn’t think much about it, until the next morning, when I was unable to turn the key in my cars ignition. Turns out I have likely pinched a nerve in the C6, C7 region. A week of bed rest, chiropractic and physiotherapy sessions and I am feeling mildly better.
Training martial skills so that you can effectively deploy those skills when it matters most in self preservation — are thoughts that occupy most students and instructors minds. This is natural, as no one wants to find themselves in the midst of interpersonal aggression, only then to find that those martial skills you so diligently practiced, night after night, week in and week out, end up failing you.