Today marks a small milestone for me. I recently moved 17,000 km away from my home dojo and have been training alone since then. In January I set myself some goals for the year, and this short essay marks the completion of the first of my milestones.
The first 100 days of solo training have now passed, I haven’t trained every single day but I have tried to do something on as many of those days as I could. I have been lucky enough to have a small training space in the house that we are renting in Suffolk and have tried to recreate, in a small way, something of the wonderful space that I was lucky to share in Sydney.
In my little dojo I try to pay respect to the traditions that I learned when training with my peers, senpai and sensei. The difference being that I do it alone. This has been harder than I could ever have imagined.
I have always been the first to tell people that budo is not a ‘team sport’ it is an individual journey. It is a journey that we share with like-minded people if we are lucky we build lifelong friendships along the way. But it is none-the-less an individual path. So, while I knew I would miss my training partners and my teacher, I thought that continuing my training would be difficult but achievable. In short, it has been but it has not been that simple. I have found parts of my solo training pretty straight forward. Conditioning exercises, suburi, solo ukemi and general fitness, all relatively fine if lacking the needed corrections. Then I reached what should have been an obvious problem; the art that I devote my training to requires a training partner.
Though we have kata that kata is not stand-alone and is always trained with an uke. The effectiveness of any technique can only be felt with the appropriate feedback of a committed partner, or under the watchful eye of a senpai. I have neither and have to trust my memory and other resources to try and keep myself on the right track. This lack of feedback can apply even to my conditioning training and I have periods where I doubt whether I am executing these exercises correctly. Am I training in bad habits? Is any of this worthwhile?
Along the way I have come to the conclusion that for me and for my martial journey the important thing at this stage in my training is to keep going. I have attempted to keep my motivation up by setting myself goals and to working towards them day by day. I have created challenges that encourage me to pick up my bokken or to roll out my mats. It would be easier to not train at all, for want of partners or a dojo, but that is an eventuality that I fear the most and trying to avoid that is what keeps me going. That and the hope that some of what I am doing will be useful.
Going back to the title of this article the pun is intended but possibly a bit obscure. What do I mean by Do Rei me?
Do, ?, is the Way or the Path, commonly known as part of Budo, the martial way/path. This is the well-travelled road that I am journeying on.
Rei,?, is courtesy or respect. Our art form, Daito Ryu Aikijujitsu begins and ends with Rei and our sensei teaches that Rei will save your life. I try to show equal respect in and out of the dojo but this is outwardly displayed by my adherence to our traditions and forms.
Me, well me is just me trying to do my best. Respecting the teachings and traditions of my art, as I attempt to follow this path.
Solo training is not an easy nor is it an ideal way to train, it can and should be used to enhance your training and if necessary as in my case it can be used to maintain some level of connection during periods where one has no alternative. Budo is not an easy path to follow but I personally believe that though it is at times a difficult path the rewards greatly outweigh any negatives.
So, today as I marked 100 days of purposeful solo training I contemplate the 100 days ahead until next I travel to Japan and again get to be with my friends and to train again with corporeal training partners. I look back on the personal milestones of the 100 days past, I reached an unintended goal of 50,000 suburi, I have shiko’d for over 3 km and sat in seiza for 7 hrs. These are not meaningful goals, and all completely arbitrary. For the suburi, having no idea how many I could do and a rudimentary grasp of what I was doing, I had aimed to achieve this target over the 200 days and so I have been pleasantly surprised to meet it at the halfway mark. I had done very little suburi prior to this but interestingly I have found that I have been drawn more and more to suburi, almost as a surrogate-training partner. It has given me something physical to connect with, has strengthened or at least maintained my grip and as I have extended the repetitions and type of suburi it has allowed me to push my boundaries. I share this not out of pride but as an example of the type of unexpected benefit that my solo training has brought me.
There is no substitute for training with a competent partner or for training under the supervision of a compassionate teacher. Solo training won’t replace that. I’m hoping that it might keep me fit and focussed during this potentially long period until I find someone else to train with. The alternative is not to train at all or to change style, neither of those options appeal to me.
Here’s to the next 100 days and who knows, maybe another 50,000 suburi. Only 500 per day it would be great to have you join me.