Mundane Training

(Renegade Taiji Article 23) – Patreon.com/rjma members only

 

The agreement between the teacher and the disciple must be understood before vows are taken or training can really begin. In some cases, masters would accept formal disciples when students are still new to the art and had not yet proven themselves. In this case, the agreement had to be crystal clear before any vows are taken. Each lineage, and even master to master will have different discipleship requirements. But, in general, they all have similarities to one another.

 

Obey the Teacher

 

This is often the English used to convey two concepts in the disciple’s vows. First, trust (Xin Yong) includes being trustworthy yourself in your dealings and secondly trusting your teacher. Trusting your teacher is the foundation of martial arts training. If you don’t trust your teacher’s knowledge, judgment, or practices, you should walk, and go find a teacher you do trust.

 

Teachers must always have the best interests of the student in mind and students must trust that is true. That allows for the real training to take place. The second part of obeying the teacher is loyalty (Zhong Cheng). This can be described as Yang Jwing-Ming wrote “You must bow to your teacher mentally and spiritually. Only this will open the gates of trust. A teacher will not teach someone who is only concerned with their own dignity. Remember, in front of your teacher, you do not have dignity.” (Yang Jwing-Ming, Feb. 25, 2013). It sounds a bit harsh when put this way but it is pointing at a deeper truth. A good teacher will never ask a student to do something that has no purpose. Every single exercise or task should be decided upon for each student according to their needs.

 

This brings me to looking at training methods that are typically reserved for disciples. These are typically referenced in movies and legends where a master gives students seemingly menial tasks that later are revealed to have had a secret lesson within. These types of stories are from grains of truth and many training methods do not look pretty, are not fun, and almost NEVER make sense when they are first taught to you. Rather than use a common trope from cinema like Karate Kids “Paint the fence” I want to look at methods I have been taught or use when I teach others.

 

Shoveling

 

Master Ma seemed to always have too much snow at his house. Too much on the sidewalks, too much on the driveway, too much on the lawn. Shovels were handled from a low horse stance when digging and then changed to a forward bow stance when throwing the snow. Of course, that snow could either be thrown forward or backward over the shoulder as well. Getting caught slacking was always met with push-ups – snow push-ups – which suck.

 

Driving the rear foot into the ground and twisting the hips to dig and drive yourself forward to throw the snow is a lot like working on spear exercises but now with dynamic weight. Returning to the starting position is a reverse twist of the hips back to the horse and trains power in the opposing direction. Turned out he felt the garden needed work in the spring too.

 

Any mundane activity can be turned into an opportunity to train but not necessarily by making whatever the task is “martial artsy”. The outward appearance of a task can be a very different thing than what is happening within the person performing it.

 

As an example, I would like to quote Master Jason Deatherage of the

 

Woodcut School of Swordsmanship

 

“Swordsmanship is essentially a pursuit that is fraught with risk. If one isn’t actually in danger, one must appreciate potential dangers, or study past ones, in order to keep the mind sharp and awake to sudden changes in circumstance. Woodcutting is no different. A sharp and heavy splitting axe can strike a knot or an area of twisted grain and deflect in unpredictable directions. Likewise, a piece of wood might be weaker than it appears, and the axe will fly through it and out along its natural downward curve towards the woodcutter’s foot or leg. A tree must fall before it can be cut into firewood, so the woodcutter must facilitate the fall of thousands of pounds of wood without being in the way. Sometimes that tree could fall on the woodcutter’s hut, or the privy, or other vital structures that sustain life in the forest, so a mistake that doesn’t even directly injure or kill the woodcutter could still have very bad results. All of the other perils of the forest can also be considered, cold weather, forest fire, deep snow, hungry animals, bandits, heavy rain and wind, falling trees and branches, illness, rock falls, etc. These are things not considered in the average training hall or sword school. Add to this the ongoing necessity of cutting wood to sustain the ability to make and maintain fire. Unlike fighting, which is rarely as necessary as it seems, there is always a need for firewood. In these mountains, a winter without fire would be short indeed, and your thawing remains would feed the forest animals in the spring if you slacked off for a minute on this vital task. The stakes are high when cutting wood, and the swordsman could learn something about his trade from the woodcutter. The reminder that there is a purpose beyond the actual act of wielding the sword or axe is important to one’s understanding of the techniques and intentions behind the use of their chosen tool. The reminder of the huge web of Relationship that surrounds everything we do, or experience is critical to moving towards a broader and deeper understanding of the sword. Surrounding oneself with the constantly shifting relationships of Nature in a setting that makes those relationships impossible to ignore offers a vital perspective to the study of the sword. Finally, to understand that life and death hang in the balance for the woodcutter to an even greater degree than they do for the swordsman can help put risk and danger into a useful perspective that can teach deep lessons.”

-Jason Deatherage 2019

Outwardly chopping wood would look no different when Master Deatherage did it from any other person. But what is happening within can be deep water to swim in. From changing the movements cascades of the body during normal activities to walking methods, sitting methods, throughout your daily chores will bring you more hours of training time than hitting any class a couple times a week will allow.

 

Martial Arts training as Master Deatherage pointed out and fighting, in particular, is a rare occurrence. Our ability to hand to hand defend ourselves in the modern world is relevant of course. But, much more time throughout your life will be spent shoveling, raking, washing dishes, and maybe even painting a fence. It might be worth looking at how you can get the most out of your movements each day.

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