And so we proceed apace with my verbage on the parallels between martial arts and writing (or, indeed, any creative industry). As you can see by that opening sentence, I've been watching a lot of Shakespeare recently. Which has no connection at all, but I'm enjoying it.
Next point we come to is a tricky one: Co-operation/collaboration.
Writers are often wont to say writing is a solitary art. And it is, in part. We tend to spend long hours frowning over our papers or keyboards, attempting to wrestle recalcitrant characters, swearing at pedestrian plots, and ignoring our long-suffering partners/children/pets.
But after the first draft is done and polished into our best product, we need more than our own eyes and mind to get to the next step.
Similarly with most martial arts. A student can do a lot of solo training and practice. Many arts have kata (practice movements) that can be done alone. And they're great for training muscle-memory, which leads to quicker reactions without having to think.
But for mastery you need other people. You need help. Partners. Teachers. Students.
Aikido literally means "The Way of Peace and Harmony". Which is both about avoiding confrontation, and about harmonising one's movements with your opponent and using their momentum augment your power.
Many people look at aikido, especially, and complain that the uke (training partner) is too compliant. That they run at the shitae (person doing the technique) with a hand conveniently offered and never resist the technique being applied. So the resulting throw or lock looks too effortless and 'beautiful' to be effective and wouldn't work in real life, they say.
(Much like a mature writer's work often reads more fluidly and beautifully than a beginning writer's.)
And it's true that, in aikido, uke doesn't resist; that they sail through the air and fall gracefully; that they leap up and return for more without damage.
What the observer doesn't see is the countless hours spent by both partners learning to finely judge timing and force. Because each partner is different and each training session is spent in learning to read people's body language, gauge their skill level; and in reacting to those so as to apply the right technique in the right way. At the same time, uke is learning respond to the technique in such a way as to not get hurt.
To begin with, it hurts. You feel awkward and clumsy as either shitae or uke. The technique only works because someone is jumping at the right time. You suck and your technique sucks. It feels like you'll never throw or fall with beauty and grace and power.
But, eventually, after years or co-operative help and practice, you get it. The moments where it 'just works' effortlessly become more frequent. Throws become more powerful. Falls become less painful. Anticipating the next problem/attack becomes easier. The subtle nuances of locking a human body into organic origami become easier to see and achieve. Teaching others opens new understanding and you improve again.
It's never perfect, but it's a heck of a lot better than when you started. And you don't have to think about it much.
Similarly with writing. We first put pen to paper by drawing on the practiced knowledge drilled into us by patient schoolteachers and parents. Then, when we are braver, we reach out to mentors, other writers, friends, and ask for feedback, instruction, critiquing.
And man does that hurt to start with. Every sentence turns out to be clumsy and ugly. Plot holes abound and you wonder how you could have possibly missed them. You feel like you'll never be a decent writer. There are often tears and swearing.
But slowly, if you don't quit, you learn to incorporate the feedback into new stories from scratch. And the editing/critiquing becomes more about subtleties and nuance than big, clumsy mistakes. Reading and critiquing others' work helps develop your eye for flaws in your own.
Slowly, with the give-and-take of working with others, you approach mastery.
So seek out other writers. Don't shy away from good feedback and don't take without giving back. Be glad that someone is willing to help you and help them right back.
It's the fastest way to learn to create graceful, powerful writing and stories that work in harmony with the reader's imagination.
So continues my blathering about the transfer of skills and attitude from one part of my life to another. Whether it resonates with anyone else out there is questionable. Hopefully, yes. Otherwise, well, I'm just enjoying putting my thoughts into order, so bear with me.
One of the big things you learn by sticking with martial arts is how to take a few knocks. During my year of intensive training for my first blackbelt, my arms were so covered in bruises that I drew sidelong looks from people in shopping centres. But, to me, they were badges of honor. They hurt, but I'd earned every damned one.
In many ways, physical pain is actually easier to bear than emotional pain. Physical pain from bruising etc heals. Might seem obvious, but there are few things as painful in life as rejection of one sort or another. Emotional pain often leaves lifelong scars that stop you from progressing, due to fear of being hurt again.
But the act of being knocked down - either physically or emotionally - is one we all go through. Some more than others. And the resilience to get back up, again and again and again, is a learned skill. It does come more easily to some bloody-minded souls than others. But it can be learned by anyone.
Martial arts is good at showing you what you can handle. That you can absorb more blows than you thought you could. That you can learn to be better - as long as you don't give up when you aren't perfect the first time. Or the second.
I've mentioned before the gentle art of the hajime class in aikido. Two to three hours of unrelenting action, yelling, bruising, throwing, falling, getting up, falling, hurting, getting up. Part of the agony is not knowing how long the class will go on for. It's up to sensei to decide when it's over. Your job is to access your warrior spirit. To dig deep inside and find the reserves and sheer determination to keep getting up even when your legs are jelly, each breath is painful, and your head is spinning. It's astonishing how far you can push yourself, if you just decide you WILL NOT fucking give up.
We are, in our Western-world lives, far to easy on ourselves. We choose, too often, the simplest path. And we complain when things become hard to achieve. This is why 1 in 100 people who start a martial art (or writing a book) actually continue past the first month. 1 in 1000 of those who continue past a month make it though to one blackbelt (or one novel).
We praise our children for simply existing, for being genetically gifted in some way - beauty, speed, intelligence. In doing so, we do our children a vast disservice. We should praise their tenacity, their determination to learn a new skill, their persistence in gaining each step towards understanding. Not how easily it came to them. How impressive their ability to keep getting back up is. Not how easily they did it the first time.
We need to praise their resilience, not their existence.
Doing so grows adults who can weather hard times. Who can take a publisher's rejection without bitching that the story is 'misunderstood'. Who can logically weigh up a good editor's suggestions for improvement, instead of as a taking them as a disparagement of the writer's genetically-gifted talent for writing. Who can keep submitting, even after dozens of rejections. Keep working to improve their craft until the acceptances outweigh the rejections.
So find your determination. Find your warrior spirit. Keep getting up, even after your heart is bruised and your ego is mashed.
Instead of seeking recognition for unearned 'perfection', seek the will of the warrior-scholar. Seek to learn.
If you look hard enough, you can find life-lessons anywhere and apply them to anything. But sometimes we forget to do that. We pigeonhole Things I Learned from one passion and think they don't apply elsewhere. But my Yoshinkan Aikido sensei is all about living aikido, not just doing aikido. So I figured I'd do a series of short posts on the take-aways that can be seamlessly shoehorned into a writer's world.
We'll start with everyone's favourite: Discipline.
Not smack-on-the-wrist-go-to-your-room type discipline, mind you. Self-discipline and what it takes to start things you're afraid of and finish things that seem impossible.
Aikido is derived from samurai arts, and maintains many of the traditions of strict dojo etiquette. There is a lot of kneeling in seiza, bowing, shutting up, showing you've understood by saying 'osu'. People who lack discipline and are disrespectful of Sensei, other students, the art, or the dojo generally don't last long.
Writing is not dissimilar for the dedicated author. There are traditions to know, behaviors to avoid, shutting up to do, respect to show. All of those require a measure of self-discipline. The effort needed to learn the craft skills. The restraint required when the urge to rant at another author, or a reader, hits. The awareness required to know when you should shut the hell up and listen to what more experienced authors have to say. Mouthing off is easy. Shutting up is not.
It's all stuff that takes self-discipline to learn. (By the way, I'm not saying I'm perfect at it. We're all guilty of wanting validation, and of sounding like idiots sometimes.)
Then there's the daily self-discipline. In aikido, it takes an average of 3 years to get to the first black belt. And that's usually when your sensei smiles indulgently, and says "now you can begin to learn". Because then you're expected to suck up your ego, refine your technique and improve on what you know.
And it's not three years of one class per week. To get from brown to my first black, I trained around 19 classes a week, for a year. My arms were always purple and black with bruises. My ankles were often twisted and swollen (I have hyper-flexible ligaments). I went to sleep picturing techniques and practiced movements at work and at home.
Writing is similar. To complete a novel takes work. Every day, if possible. It takes the discipline to write when you don't feel like it. To write when it's not working. To write when people are telling you to go do something that sounds way more fun in the short term. Most people who start a novel, never finish it.
Just as most people who start in martial arts, never get to black belt.
And, when the novel is done, then the learning begins. Because you must put aside ego and send it off to experienced beta readers (not just your dad or mum). And, later, to an editor. Once you've shelved your resentment at their advice, that's when you start learning how to refine your technique as a writer.
There are many more parallels I could draw in the area of discipline, but I think you get the picture. Now go out and put fingers to keyboard and take the first - or the next - steps towards your writing blackbelt.
I live in Australia - which tells you I have a sense of humour. We're a self-deprecating people, we Aussies. My aim is to, one day, vanish in a blinding flash of enlightenment. In the mean time, I'm doing my best to learn as many