I am deep in practicing and learning martial arts (MA) and self-defense (as time permits). I am taking weekly private lessons (inspired by the Peak book) in Thai boxing and practicing at home. I have figured out that to understand the internal martial art of Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) better, I really need to get solid base fighting skills. And Thai boxing is perfect for it since it has only few techniques and thus is really focused on these basics. I am exploring the ZBB principles of effective body use - put my whole body into a punch or kick, using only the necessary muscles without tensing others, staying maximally relaxed, staying balanced. I have a lot to improve and explore in individual punches and kicks but they are kind of OK. But I struggle with staying balanced and keeping the correct body structure and mechanics when I have to flow from one technique to another in combinations. If I cannot manage this, how can I hope to move well in TCC? It is a really good learning - and, at the same time, an unforgiving test of my skill. Another level of challenge is provided by drills and sparring that force me to learn to move, see an attack coming, avoid it (hopefully!), and provide the experience of hitting and getting hit. (For instance I wouldn’t have believed that a fake low kick that turns into a head kick can effectively happen outside my field of vision - the change thus being invisible to me - and surprise me so much even though I knew it was coming.)
I have been also learning about effective solo practice, primarily through the (awesome!) books Solo Training by L. W. Christensen and The Fighter’s Guide To Hard-Core Heavy Bag Training by Demeere and Christensen. I have learned a lot of useful principles, practices, exercises, and workouts and am setting up my own home training regimen centered on my current need of learning the basics well.
I still haven’t figured out why I am doing martial arts. Sure, it is a lot of fun, it is great for health (if you respect your body), and it is cool to be able to defend yourself (at least in theory ;-)). But how does it contribute to my ultimate goal of mental and spiritual growth, as described by Jung and others? MA is often associated with spirituality, especially in Japan and in the case of TCC. But there are also many non-spiritual MAs (boxing, Thai boxing, …) and many great TCC practitioners where rather rascals and fighters than wise holy men. Ralston mentions in the ZBB book that martial arts became for him a tool for studying the mind. I have to yet figure that one out.
I continue with the year-long Zen Body-Being e-course. I don’t really keep up with it, partly due to the lack of focus and thus practice, but I occasionally make some minor progress. I hope that over time it will add up (enhanced by and enhancing my practice of the Alexander Technique). And I plan to go through the course repeatedly on my own in the coming years. This stuff is extremely important - but also correspondingly challenging.
I have entered my third year of practicing the Alexander Technique (
an educational process that develops the ability to realign posture and to avoid unnecessary muscular and mental tension while correcting one’s faulty self-awareness and practicing non-doing). I make slow but steady progress, becoming aware of some unnecessary tension and being somewhat closer to the ideal state. My teacher tells me it is much better than it used to be. But I am sure there is still a very, very long way to go. And I am slowly embarking on the process of eventually becoming Alexander teacher myself. I cannot imagine how I will ever be able to do it, to gain the necessary sensitivity and understanding, but it is worth trying anyway. I believe firmly that the best way to learn something is to (try to) teach it to others. Also, the book How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live: Learning the Alexander Technique to Explore Your Mind-Body Connection and Achieve Self-Mastery provides some great insights and exercises that will (do?) help me a lot.
On the personal front, I am challenged to become more patient, understanding, and empathetic. I would like to not get frustrated and angry no matter what, at work or with friends. And I need to become a little less self-centered and devote some of the time I use for study and practice to nurturing my relationships and to attend to the needs of my close ones. Relationships are like flowers - they need regular watering and care or they will eventually wither away.
What is next? I am soon starting a new project and will have very little time for study and practice in the coming months so I do not make any plans. But perhaps I will find a training partner to explore self-defense with. And I play with the thought of eventually finding some youth in my neighbourhood willing to explore martial arts and self-defense together, though I see this as quite unlikely. I will continue with ZBB, Thai boxing, and the Alexander Technique as much as I will be able to.