1.) jo (wooden short staff) - 10 minutes
2.) ken (wooden sword) - 10 minutes
3.) striking - 10 minutes
4.) stretching - 10 minutes
5.) standing meditation - 20 minutes
"No one messes with my mornings." is what my first tai chi teacher in San Francisco used to say. He is very much a great inspiration for my morning routine. This is a man who slept on average of three to four hours a night. He would wake up long before dawn and begin his four hour morning routine of various meditations and internal Chinese martial art forms. I asked him how he managed on so little sleep, and he said "naps." But he also mentioned the energy he gained from his morning practice, and that he didn't like sleeping anyway. Since meeting him, I've strived to create my own morning routine, and have generally been able to do so for the past year. The primary motivation for this morning routine is to not only maintain, but advance my practice as a martial artist since I've been away from regular training at a dojo. Above is the skeleton of my training. Below are the explanations.
- basic techniques
- 2 forms: "31" and "13"
I begin with the jo to wake up into the practice.
- basic techniques
Ken practice comes after the jo because I think it is a little more difficult on the body. This is due to the stop-and-go nature of the sword which ignites certain muscles more than the jo, as well as an emphasis on deeper front stances.
The jo and ken practice are mainly used to maintain the fundamentals of aikido without practicing with a partner. For example, the movements of irimi and tenkan, and empty handed movements that utilize the same movements used in ken and jo training. I also focus on keeping my back straight, not igniting unneccessary muscles (especially the shoulders), smooth breathing, using my hips to generate power, and being as rooted as possible through movements. But all the qualities in that last sentence are something that I focus on in all parts of my martial art training. In my eyes, this is often all I'm doing when I'm training; it is everything.
A.) upper body
- right/left (r/l) jab
- r/l cross
- r/l jab - cross combo
- r/l front/rear (f/r) hook punches to head and body level
- r/l f/r uppercut punches to head and body level
- combos chaining all previously practiced strikes
(Generally I practice these with closed fists, but will often introduce different methods such as
open hands, elbows, etc.)
B.) lower body
- r/l f/r snap kicks
- r/l f/r roundhouse kicks
- r/l f/r back kicks
- r/l side kicks from neutral stance
- r/l step behind side kicks transitioning into each other with one step
(all kicks aimed at various targets throughout practice)
C.) shadow sparring with all previously practiced strikes
This is the odd-ball of the group. Striking is the seemingly least relevant to my daily life and current formal martial arts practices. However, I maintain this practice for various reasons. First, it's a way to remember the techniques I first learned in the martial arts with Hawaiian Kenpo. Second, I feel these really help the self-defense side of my training. What if I'm in a situation where I need to use a strike to stop an aggressive attacker? Nothing seems to work more effectively in distancing an opponent than using a side kick, or turning the lights out on someone like a cross. However, this is also dangerous concerning the law, which I am constantly made well aware of thanks to the Isshinryu Blog by Mr. Charles James. Don't want to lose my case for self-defense with bloody knuckles, right? Perhaps it is really anti-practical ... mmmm. Thirdly, the training makes my body feel great. It gives my muscles the kind of workout I just can't feel with aikido and tai chi chuan. Some days I go through the striking at tai chi speed, and others I rage through it with all the power of a young adult male, and that is good.
One big flaw with this training, is that I'm never actually hitting anything. You could also say the same with the jo and ken training. Also, there is never a living partner across from me to work with. This is something I'm very conscious of. There is no way to effectively simulate a training partner in my opinion. However, I make efforts to imagine partners as clearly as possible. What this does is acclimatize my mind to practicing these against an aggressive opponent.
The other day my friend playfully reached out his hand to slap me. My instincts caused me to reach out and slap his slapping hand out of the way. Is this good? I'd answer, "No". In fact I was quite upset with myself afterward and thought about it over and over again. I wish I had just stepped out of the way. Much more simple and effective. The point of my martial training is to condition me to move in a relaxed and effective manner in the face of aggression. What I did was meet that energy, and inflame my muscles and mind reacting to it. Hopefully, if I imagine aggressive attackers in my morning routine, I can practice conditioning calm and effective movements. It might not be perfect, but it's better than not.
I really wish I had some dummies or bags to hit during the ken/jo and striking practice though.
-various stretches I've borrowed from all different martial arts practices
This is one aspect of my routine I wish I could spend more time on, but given the circumstances of time, it is what it is. Nothing makes my body feel more immediately better, or allows me to do everything else just a little better like stretching does. My tai chi teacher from San Francisco said to do the form everyday. But if you can't get to the form, at least do your stretching. I don't abide by this, but I trust his opinion, and this proves how important stretching is for someone who's main goal is to use their body more effectively.
5.) standing meditation
-stand in the zhan zhuang posture
Could it be any more simple? Just stand. However, this is by far the most difficult aspect of my training. It's also gone through a lot of phases. This is another practice that is inspired by my tai chi teacher in San Francisco. He would have us stand everyday before practicing the form, but only as long as we wanted. I asked him about it more, and he said he stood for forty minutes everyday, and that it was arguably the most important part of his training. "Well, if that's what he says, then I'm going to do it too," I said to myself. Well, it definitely wasn't a consistent practice for me at the time. About 10 times in a couple years I stood for the full forty minutes. Without a consistent practice, that seems to me now and incredible feat for myself. One that was matched with unbelievable sensations in the body and mind. About a year ago I tried to make it a routine, and so I started at 5 minutes, and added a minute each day until I got to 40. It worked! And I did 40 minutes for about a month. By far the greatest self-practice I've ever had. It helped everything in my life, and I think I was learning aikido to my maximum potential. But, that practice fell off. How do we explain these things? I don't know. I've reinstated it into my practice in my morning routine. Just doing 20 minutes. Cake compared to the 40 minutes in some ways ... but that doesn't diminish it's difficulty. No matter the circumstances, sometimes standing for 1 minute is killer. Just standing for 20 minutes hasn't exactly been consistent. Some days I'll stand until it drives me crazy and then I'll sit half lotus until my unadjusted legs can't stand it, and then I sit in seiza. Some days I'll start moving around a lot and do small tai chi chuan form practices. Other days I just say fuck it and hit the shower. After all the frustrating transitions, now I just try to stand. Without any unneccessary pressures or worries, I just try to relax and stand where is comfortable. I think this is good, and a progression in my practice. But I don't really know. Someone with more experience may say differently. Anyway, I'm starting to ramble and could write 10 posts worth on this practice alone. So I'll leave it as is. Standing for 20 minutes.
The funny thing about this morning routine is that in September when I resume kyudo training, I plan to abandon it. If you would have asked me a week ago I would have said differently. Proud of my morning practice, I was planning on waking up ealier in order to do the practice before leaving for kyudo.
But then it becomes work.
A malignant chore in my mind that infects everything around it, like a spike into sweet mother earth. Some might call it "worry".
With this spike in my mind, the workout is an unpleasant routine. Getting ready in the morning with a shower, shaving, eating, preparing a lunch and class materials become work. Studying Japanese becomes work. Going to kyudo and actually doing the practice becomes work. Then actually going to my job after that is just superwork. Then I get home and the only way to balance the excess of the day is to drink an extra beer and watch more media. Then it's of to less sleep than I need in order to start it all again.
It's amazing how much one hour can affect your day.
How do you martial artists do this while raising a family?
Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic again. But I've gone into new routines trying to arbitrarily insert this hour of self-budo practice more than a few times, and it's never done anything but stress me out. Going to kyudo, aikido, work, and getting enough sleep and relaxation are the bones of my life that I will settle everything else on top of. If there's space, I'll happily accept it. If not, well, then it's just not for me.
I like most of the things I do in my day, and just maybe it can be enough. I don't need to idealize about something else really cool, asign it a slot in my day, and then tell myself I have to do it or I'll be a failure. The world is too big for me to spend it bouncing around my apartment anyway. It's been a good year with this practice, and it's served it's purpose as martial art stimulation in my relative vacuum of formal training. But I've found something new. It's time to move on. I'll put this morning routine to rest, and resurrect it again one day in a new form when the time comes.
My life is a painting to experience instinctively with fluid excitement. Not a science textbook to copy all the details under the sun.