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.
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