As a scholar and a musician, I can carry on with my work. Of course, things have changed – conferences became Zoom calls and concerts got replaced by recordings, for example. Still, I feel that I continue to grow in both areas from the safe place of my home. But how does this work for a martial artist? In this writing, I would like to share the various ways in which I currently work on my martial arts journey, and show you one of my “kata study drawings” as an example. It is my hope that by sharing our ideas, we can support and inspire each other to stay happy & healthy in these times of Corona.
First a little disclaimer: the suggestions below are beneficial to me, for my dō, but as I am non-normative in so many ways, they might not be working for you. Although it really helps me to visualize my dreams and set goals, sometimes doing “nothing” is the best thing one can do for him-/herself. Don’t believe the hype, there is absolutely no need to do something incredibly productive or genius with all of this ‘free time.’ Please, prioritize your health – both physical and mental – and carefully identify and evaluate what makes you feel good and what doesn’t, in order to make decisions based on your wellbeing rather than on some artificial measure of performance or success. That being said, I’d like to share how I presently try to improve my skills as a martial artist and I hope that this will help you as well.
There are many things you can do at home to keep “in shape”, by which I mean in a state of health and well-being. Your budo will improve if you build a solid foundation with strength training. Especially core training will contribute towards that, while ladder drills, shadow boxing and jumping (rope or jacks) are effective ways to improve your footwork and speed. If you save money because of the lockdown, for example by being unable to eat out or go to the cinema, you might like to consider investing in some fitness equipment for your home, like a pull-up bar or a set of weights. But even with your body weight alone, there are all kinds of fun and useful workouts to do! You can do all this alone, in the confinement of your room (like a cosmonaut in space), while you can also create a sense of togetherness by incorporating new media into your trainings, such as YouTube workouts and WhatsApp challenges.
Via Google you can find a suitable training, by just typing in “10 min abs” or “20 min stretching” or “30 min cardio” or the like. The internet is full of so-called “fitgirls” who share their workouts on blogs and social media (especially Instagram and YouTube). A good example of such a fitgirl worth following is the Canadian dancer Maddie Lymburner, who runs an entire channel offering free workouts, called MadFit. Her workouts were recently recommended by Croatian Olympic taekwondo athlete Nikita Glasnović, who uses them to keep in shape. Another popular channel for free fitness tutorials is the British website PopSugar. Should you prefer to follow along with a Dutch video, you might like to a look at OptimaVita, where nutritionist and sports professional Marloes Korver-Waardijk shares her workouts (including a fun series for absolute beginners).
Next to moving along with YouTube, you can engage in some challenges with your friends. My awesome iaido sensei started a “100 days of planking” challenge, in which he posts a video of a (series of) planking technique(s) every single day (and sometimes there are bonuses as well). If you try all of the daily planks, you can win a prize for being “hard-core”. We are just over ⅓ of the challenge and I can already see how it improved my posture, so that is a big win! Moreover, I really like watching my sensei, senpai and kohai on the videos they send, it creates a cosy sense of togetherness. Two other sensei did something similar, as they challenged their pupils by asking for a video of a series of exercises (like lunges and squats). My bestie & I won with our eighties VHS fitness inspired version… for which we had to do all of the exercises many many times over. We had very sore muscles the day after!
Arguably, you cannot learn budo via videos and therefore, many sensei advise against training with YouTube. But that doesn’t mean you cannot do anything budo-related. Just ask your sensei what you can practise for your budo, I bet that he or she has some ideas for you. Also in terms of collective challenges, there are some fun initiatives, like the “Hundred Hands Challenge” in the karate community, in which you perform ten times ten (different) blocks, consistently alternated by ten punches, in order to increase your relaxedness, fluency and speed. For iaidoka, practising suburi (individual cutting exercises) is often a good idea, and if your house is too small for that, maybe you can do nōtō (the act of resheathing the sword) or work on your chiburi (the symbolic “shaking off the blood”) with just a newspaper? Ask your sensei. I am often twirling around with my sai while waiting for my dinner and practising my stances on my way to the bathroom. Also, I take pictures and record small video clips of myself in order to analyze and discuss my technique and form with sensei. No need to shelve your love for budo just because you’re away from your dojo! Besides, working toward improving your practice at home is an effective way to boost your mood as well.
Of course, you can also study budo on a more theoretical level, for example by watching documentary films and read about the history of the different martial arts. If you have an app group for your dojo, you can just ask your sensei and senpai which films, books and articles they can recommend. It is also very nice and informative to watch some YouTubes of tournaments “together apart” with your dojo and your sensei commenting on them. For iaidoka, studying the manual is an open door. You can copy it and make your own quizzes to memorize it, if you like. For me, I always love partnered kata with a smaller weapon against a larger one, like the sai-bo and tonfa-bo kata, for example. Therefore, my favourite kendo kata are the kodachi ones, but I am having trouble remembering them and of course cannot really practise them, now. Inspired by my senpai, I therefore started to make drawings of them, to discuss with sensei and senpai, to see whether my memory is accurate and where I can improve. Here, I share one of these drawings with you, not as an example of the right form, but as an example of an alternative learning style.
On a broader scale, there are always many things to learn that might indirectly benefit your budo. Yesterday, I read an article explaining some Études from historical fencing, for example, but you can also learn about the history and culture of Japan, or the ways in which different swords are manufactured. Things like these might help you deepen and broaden your understanding of the budo you practise. Currently, I am preparing for my Japanese A1-level exam (which will be next month), as it is my dream to train budo in Japan, one day. But as stated before, sometimes doing “nothing” is the best you can do. So you do not have to be so ambitious all the time, you can also engage with martial arts to relax. Together with my Awesome Boyfriend, I really enjoyed the fencing in The Princess Bride (1987), the boxing in Million Dollar Baby (2004) and the Kung Fu and Wing Chung in the various movies about Ip Man.
All these activities might be helpful for you, in order to continue your dō as a warrior in these times of Corona. But in my opinion, the most important thing is to stay positive. In my conversations with other budoka, I noticed that they are often stressed, for example about the change of their bodies, due to the change of routine (no dojo / gym trainings). One of my senpai even compared himself to a Vietnamese pot-bellied! Besides the undeniable facts that these animals are adorable and that the senpai in question is a very handsome human being: please do not worry too much. These times will pass and many dojo are already experimenting with outdoor trainings. If your ultimate desire were to become a bodybuilder or fitness model, then I would understand how (the fear for) muscle loss must make you very unhappy and stressed. But for us budoka, there are other things at stake. So please, try to focus on being healthy & happy by taking good care of yourself. ♥