What has changed for you as you've trained?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by Bill Mattocks, May 1, 2019.

  1. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    Recent discussions have reminded me of how much has changed for me as a martial artist since I started training.

    When I started, I didn't know much about what I was getting into. I chose the dojo because it was near my apartment, and because it was a style I knew a little about from my background as a Marine stationed on Okinawa, but that had been back in the 1980s; I had never trained in the art while I was in the military.

    I wanted to lose weight; I had been recently diagnosed with diabetes and I was very overweight and sedentary. I also wanted to learn some self-defense; I had been involved in an altercation with some decades-younger roommates and I realized I might not able to defend myself against them if they attacked me.

    I lost a lot of weight. I still have diabetes, but I'm doing my best to manage it. I feel reasonably confident that I can defend myself and I've progressed over the years to a third-degree black belt at a dojo that doesn't exactly hand that rank out often. Not bragging; there are many better than me at my own art who have a lower rank in my dojo. Just noting a fact.

    However, much has changed for me with regard to my training. My goals have shifted.

    For one thing, I stopped thinking of my training as having an ending point, a place where I had learned 'enough' and could simply stop training, or train on my own instead of being taught. I began instead to see my training as a lifetime commitment to myself. I've been training at my dojo now for longer than I served as a US Marine, and I don't see any reason to stop.

    It's not that I'm learning significantly more in terms of karate. I mean, I am learning still, but the new information comes in smaller doses and less frequently. Instead, I feel I gain by simply being there and doing the training alongside my fellow students. What do I gain? Not sure. Something inside. Call it hocus-pocus if you wish, but honestly I don't care. I know what I know, that's all.

    I also started assisting in the dojo as I progressed. By the time I was a green belt, I was helping to clean up after class. By the time I was a blue belt, I helped out with cleaning supplies and water besides just paying my monthly dues. By the time I was a brown belt, I was entrusted with helping the youngest students and the newest adult students, under supervision. At black belt, I was teaching. When I earned the title of 'sensei', I was entrusted with more serious training of advanced students, kids and adults both. I enjoy teaching. It can be frustrating at times, especially with the kids. Some of them don't seem to want to be there. Some have a short attention span. Some learn very slowly. Some are lazy and do the absolute minimum. All of them have their own unique personalities, and have to be taught in the way that works best for them. Sometimes we can get through a class doing the curriculum and sometimes we have to have them play a game or punch the bags for a while or something other than more strict training.

    I find that learning to deal with those frustrations, to keep a positive attitude, to challenge myself to find the best way to reach any individual student, is something I very much enjoy and it informs my life outside of the dojo. The lessons I learn on how to teach, are lessons I can use in communicating with others, with helping coworkers, with living my life in general. I don't get as angry, I don't get as frustrated. Still a lot of work to do, but I feel I've improved.

    My dojomates have become my family. We come from all walks of life, and we're all equals. One high-ranking teacher mows lawns for a living. One student is a lawyer. One works in IT, one is an EMT. One's a fire-fighter. One is a commercial pilot and business owner, with a PhD who teaches at a local university. Some are students. Some of us work in IT. One guy raises jelly-fish as a hobby. Several play guitar. One guy's a physical therapist (awfully handy when one of us gets hurt training). One works in an animal shelter. Ones' a librarian. None of that matters to us in terms of how we feel about each other. Some of us socialize outside the dojo. Some of us don't. Doesn't matter. We all care about each other, we are friends, we are family. We'd all step up to help one of the others, we've got each other's backs. That kind of friendship doesn't just happen, and it's worth treasuring.

    I have also turned inward in my training. I know that nothing that I consider now when I train makes me hit harder or react faster or become more adept at defending myself, and I don't care about that either. When I consider potential applications for a given movement, or experiment with breathing techniques or how I center myself or my stance or things of that nature, it's all about the exploration, the journey, and not for a particular result. If it gains me nothing material, nothing I can hold up to others and proclaim as a new discovery, so what? It makes me happy, and I categorically reject any assertion that I should not do what makes me happy.

    To draw a comparison with a Japanese form of archery I find fascinating, Kyudo, I am far more interested in how I draw the bow, how I stand, how I breathe, how I feel, how my mind is behaving, how I release the arrow, than whether or not I hit the target. The target means little to me, it is what's inside me that matters.

    I have stopped caring about types and brands of gi. I have gone back to a simple cheap white gi and a simple black belt. My patch is from my dojo, with one for the style I represent. That is all. I don't care about brands or types of sparring gear. I don't go to tournaments or conventions or seminars. Not because there is nothing I could learn there, but because it doesn't take me further along the path I'm currently on. I could learn lots of things, I'm certain. But nothing that interests me at this moment in my journey.

    This is who I am now as a martial artist. I don't know how I will feel in another ten years, if I have another ten years left. I'll try to remember to post something then and we can compare.

    How about you? Where are you now, compared to where you were? What do you want as a martial artist now, compared to what you wanted then?
     
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  2. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    Sounds like we have more than a few similarities.

    I was a couple years out of college where I played scholarship football so I was in good shape. I had never given any thought to MA, largely because there was no schools in my town. A TKD school opened up and I started working out at the request of a good friend. From there my association with TKD went several directions.

    Within 2 years I purchased the small strip retail center our Dojang was in. I became the building owner and operated the school in a partnership. I wasn't even a BB at first so I was silent in the class leadership. I helped with classes in most capacities and I had to do everything you can imagine with ownership (remodeling, unstopping toilets, roof leaks, collecting rent, renter disputes, etc...). I was very competitive and had gotten into the new sport element of TKD. I had started competing a lot and worked my way into the Olympic circuit. To shorten the story, I made it to the trials (not the Olympics) in 88. This all happened over about a 15 year period. Note: With everything else that was happening, I had also went to work with our local police department as a patrolman. We are also third generation cattle farmers. Needless to say life was busy.
    After 88 I all but stopped competing. It allowed me to focus on TKD the way it was when I started. My partner and I parted ways as his job moved him to east TN. I had already purchased another section of the adjoining strip mall and built out a larger area for our Dojang. Classes were/are going very, very well. By this time we had several quality BB's that helped keep the school operating at a high level.

    My original "life goal" was to be an electrical engineer. Something I did not complete in my first go-round at college. I left LE and took a job that would get me closer to the field. After several years my company offered to pay for me to go back to school. Online classer were fledging when I started and I eventually ended up with two masters degrees.

    I continued to move up the chain in both my TKD world and regular work world. As life has it (marriage, children, work, etc...), I eventually had to make a choice. I sold our dojang business to BB's within our school but still have building ownership. Everything was very amicable and transitioned without a bump.

    For several years I was barely present on the MA radar. I was running all over the world literally for work. In 2001 I was involved in a very bad accident which changed everything.

    When I finally got back on my feet, with more than a few borrowed parts, I slowly started back working out. Mostly as rehab at first. The spirit of our TKD family is very strong and the connection has helped my in every way imaginable. I could not walk or talk for several years so the rehab is slow. I know I would not be where I am now had I not been deeply rooted in my faith and my MA.

    Keeping people on track and discerning between the sport and the art can be a blurry line sometimes. Exceptional athletes gravitate toward what our GM calls the "fancy" elements of TKD. Others move toward the values of traditional training. I finds myself pulled both ways and try so support and fill holes as I see them. I consider it a plus that our GM teaches a very broad skillset.

    So what has changed? Everything. I went from being very high functioning physically/mentally to being nearly totally dependent. Humbling is an understatement. Everything I have done in my adult life is connected to MA in one form or another. The connection with something that started so unintentionally is profound.

    Man I love Martial Arts.
     
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  3. jobo

    jobo Grandmaster

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    well nothing really, iv3 drifted in and out of various ma over 5 decades, , I took up judo in my teens as I was very tall and thin and wanted a way to deal with people a lot heavier I took up la gau kung fu in my 20ss as my work mate was going and found I was quite good at it and the fitness level it gave was asounding, I gave that up when I got married
    , I took jujitsu in my 30s,but had to leave as I fell out with the instructor, he told me my hip throws were rubbish, as I was tall I struggled to get my hips lower than opoinents, 8 said I can throw you ! he said I couldn't, so I did just with brute strengh and smashed him in to the floor very hard, which really annoyed him, so I left for my own safety. as he was intent on getting his own back

    I took up tkd, in my 40s, as my nephew wanted to do it and 8
    i was terrible at it, just cant kick high for toffee

    and then karate in my mid 50s , which was part of my fight old age thing, ir let myself get into really bad shape from 50 onwards, I had to use ALL my strengh just to get out of an arm chair,but it was more the dog that insisted on 10 miles walks that sorted me out, the karate training is very easy in comparison to mountain biking in the fells to tire the dog out

    which is where I find myself now, I'm very nearly as fit as I was in my late 20, kung fu stage, all my old age thing, bad back, dodgy knees, high blood pressure, bad posture etc have gone,8m still very light for my height, I'm down to a 34 waist, as opposed to 5he 32 I had in my 20s, and the 38 I had 5 years ago,but still strong enough to smash people into the floor
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2019
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  4. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    Trust in the process. There were a lot of things that I did as a beginner so I could get through them, but I've learned that they're important as well.
     
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  5. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Where should I count as my "starting point"? I could start with my first entry into MA (Karate, somewhere around 1982? maybe 1981?). I don't remember much from then, and I think my primary motivation was that it was cool. I could start with my first serious training (Judo, probably 1983 or 1984, with Shotokan Karate added shortly thereafter), by which, I was serious about trying to develop some skills. It was still somewhat about "cool", but I really wanted to be able to do something with it.

    But neither of those lasted long enough - both instructors ended up moving before I progressed far. So I usually think of those as precursors. My training really started in 1988 when I experienced an NGA demo. (I say "experienced", because the instructor showed up solo, found out I had Judo training, and I became an uke.) I signed up with my best friend shortly thereafter, and quickly developed a love for the art and the hybrid traditional approach.

    My initial goals were all about self-defense. I was a small kid, and was still slight and unimposing as a teen. I'd learned to stand up for myself and back bullies down, but I knew my ability to back that up physically (if they decided to escalate rather than back down) was limited. So I was all about learning their approach to this end. That aim held me for a while.

    Somewhere around green belt (white-yellow-blue-green-purple-brown-black), so maybe 3 years in, my view started shifting. I wanted to understand stuff. I wasn't satisfied with rote learning (just doing the drill to memorize the approach). I wanted to understand the purpose of the drill. About this time, I also started training harder when I trained. I sweated more, by choice. I attended more classes when I was in town, to keep my skills improving even with the random (and sometimes extended) absences caused by business. And I was more interested in the people I trained with.

    Some years later, as a brown belt (this would be around 1999, probably), my view shifted again. Now I wanted to understand not just the drills, but the principles of the art. I'd never really thought of it in those terms, just absorbed them as a side-effect of training. And about this time (actually about a year earlier) I started training harder, but in a different way - I gave and asked for harder attacks. I accepted and gave (where others were willing) more pain and bruises...while still being (almost entirely) safe. I was building relationships with the other advanced students, especially, though we rarely hung out together beyond the dojo (except one who became my best friend - I'll speak of him later). Somewhere in this period I split with my girlfriend of 8 years, who had been my primary training partner (she'd started when I re-started in 1992). Part of my process of dealing with that had me putting more focus on physical fitness, and training more often. It wasn't unusual for me to be at the dojo, teaching or studenting, for every class in a week (kid class, 2-3 adult classes Mon-Thurs, plus Saturday).

    Then, again, a few years later (black belt now, so after 2003), my view shifted again. Some of this started much earlier (none of these shifts was sudden - all were changes over time, but often had a point where I could recognize them by an acceleration of the change). I once again trained harder, but my responses got suddenly softer. This is where I personally spent more time pursuing the principles of "aiki" as I understood them at the time. This was mostly an intellectual pursuit. Oddly, this exploration led me further from the way I had learned the art. During this time, Marc (that best friend I mentioned earlier) died, and going to the dojo suddenly became more necessary (we all needed to be together after that - he died of a ruptured aorta at a public demo), and less satisfying. We had talked about opening a program together (he was only a year or so junior to me, and had his BB, too). Somehow, this drove my intellectual pursuit to trying to understand teaching better - I think that was my way of coping with not having Marc to talk to about what we thought we could do better.

    Eventually, I left my instructor's school (his instructor - my initial instructor - left the NGAA, then they split from each other, so much going on). I spent a few years focused on really understanding how to use the art (as an instructor) to teach useful fighting skills. My focus was no longer (and still isn't) on teaching NGA, but using NGA as a core for teaching fighting.

    Today, it's all about the students. When I go back to the old school, I usually attend classes taught by an old student of mine. And he invariably asks me to teach some stuff. Which I do. That's what I really want to do. I keep training me, and I keep getting better in some areas, but I really just want to help others get better at NGA, at fighting skills, at fitness, at confidence, or at whatever it is they want from my teaching.

    Which, I think, is all I ever wanted from any of my teachers.
     
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  6. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    In some ways, I trust the process less than I used to. In some ways, I trust it more.
     
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  7. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    What has changed for you as you've trained?

    When I

    - was a beginner, I tried to find the "difference" between MA systems.
    - am no longer a beginner, I tried to find the "commonality" between MA systems.
     
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  8. DocWard

    DocWard Blue Belt

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    In looking back, I see myself as a beginner on a couple of different occasions. First, when I began back in my early twenties, and more recently when I have come back to the art two decades later. When I first began so many years ago, I had an interest in the martial arts, but I was also looking for something just to keep my occupied while I was sitting in San Antonio during Desert Storm. I only got a couple of months training but it did whet my appetite for more.

    Once I finally started into Kenpo, I can say I was motivated to learn the techniques, and to become a better martial artist. While I have always had a philosophical bent, at the time, I don't recall wanting to understand the theory so much, merely how the techniques worked. As time went on, I began attempting to understand more the philosophy more, to actually "understand."

    Now that I am a beginner again, I'm recalling the excitement of my early years and early levels that tapered off to an enjoyment and a desire to learn. Now my excitement is tempered by age, and a desire to be in the arts for the long term, which is something else I didn't contemplate as a younger man.
     
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  9. marques

    marques Master Black Belt

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    I started for self defence, continued for mental health (or not worrying about life for a bit every week). Tried to restart for health and fitness reasons, but...
     
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  10. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    great topic and love to hear peoples stories.
    how have things changed? i met and did a few seminars with a guy named Larry Tan. he summed it up pretty well. he said "when i was a kid i did martial arts because i was a scared little boy, now im not a little boy anymore".
    i started MA training as a kid in the late 70"s. my mom signed me up because i had a problem with the neighborhood bully. for a long time there was always this little feeling of insecurity, needing to study more to make those feelings go away. i now realize that MA is not a cure for that feeling.
    1986 i began helping teach, i was timid, shy and quiet. now im loud, often aggressive, determined and confident. i have 100 % confidence in who i am as a person. i know in my heart i can do anything i set my sights on, if im willing to pay the cost to get there.
    in 1991 i started Zen training along side of my MA. i learned that having a warrior spirit can take you farther then physical skills alone. that we place mental limits on ourselves. we can reach higher then we think.
    2003 i found that the universe puts rules and limits on humans but martial arts has a lot of arbitrary non-sense. through the example of one of my mentors i allowed myself the freedom to drop the ridged curriculum and discover the underlying style.

    i would say i sacrificed most of my life in the pursuit of martial arts. i was not balanced. i sacrificed fun, family, wealth and having a career in the single minded and focused aim. however after i turned 40, i turned things around. i got married and started a family. my career seems to be on track. at 50 im more balanced now. im not concerned about how good i am anymore, im more interested in how well i can pass MA on to others and touch their lives for the better.
     
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  11. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    People don't talk about "侠 (Xia) - warrior spirit" any more. I still remember my teacher said both the following are wrong:

    If a student

    1. didn't have a good reason to fight but he fought, or
    2. had a good reason to fight but he didn't fight,

    Today, people only want to talk about 1, but don't want to talk about 2. All governments don't like their

    - scholars to talk about politics.
    - MA people to talk about justice.

    Quite and weak population are the easiest to control.

    IMO, without "侠 (Xia) - warrior spirit", MA has no meaning. MA is more than just self-defense. One should help good to fight against evil. With great power comes great responsibilities.

     
    Last edited: May 5, 2019
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  12. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    I like that. It got me thinking that the process should be dynamic and we should be ok with that. That is a road to ongoing improvement and avoids stagnation.
     
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  13. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    I think there's still a fair amount of talk about warrior spirit. Most of the instructors I've studied under for any length (even a few months) talked about it. I hear it in seminars from time to time, too.
     
  14. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    The communist Chinese government doesn't want people to talk about "侠 (Xia) - warrior spirit". This is why the CMA has been evolved into modern Wushu (a modern dancing art). This remind me during The Qin dynasty, the Chinese emperor collected all the metal from the Chinese people and made 12 huge metal giants.
     
  15. MrRazot

    MrRazot Yellow Belt

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    I'll tell you that after doing staff, I've never swept the floor the same ;)
     
  16. drop bear

    drop bear Sr. Grandmaster

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    I have become more present in class. I used to be about finding excuses and making assumptions. Now I just accept what is real a bit more.
     
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  17. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    I can see how that would have that kind of effect on CMA, particularly on those in or still attached to China. It doesn't change much in the rest of the MA world. I think the graduation toward sport and the part-time hobbyist (who only "does" MA when they are in their two classes a week) has reduced some of that kind of talk in the rest of MA, though.
     
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  18. _Simon_

    _Simon_ Master of Arts

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    Wow... what a great thread. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone's posts. Why someone trains certainly does evolve over time for many.

    @Bill Mattocks, your journey is awesome, and gosh darn I love the way you write too. It's very engaging, thoughtful and has depth. Your journey is similar to mine in ways.

    My journey and what has changed for me has been pretty huge, and definitely corresponds with shifting values in life and my orientation to everything.

    I started out in a karate style (after my whole family had joined, I was stubborn and very resistant!), and I just absolutely loved the first class. Everything about it I was mesmerised with. I continued for a couple of years after my family had stopped going, then I grew out of the style. It's possible I took too seriously what other people were saying about it.

    A couple years passed by and something within me really wanted something more real and something which people respected as a style. I looked into many different ones, but kept hearing about Kyokushin, and many saying it's a "legit" style, was hardcore and strong. Me having many insecurities at the time felt maybe this was the best one for me. People were saying that my old style was watered down and ineffective, and this one taught you properly how to fight and be strong. Yep, I was very disconnected with being able to listen to myself and what my heart wanted, and far too focused on what others thought.

    Anyway, I eventually summoned up the courage to try a few classes at different dojos (of course looking up which dojos had the highest rank instructors!), and I loved the intensity of it. It was very hard training, but I kept going for many reasons.

    I truly loved everything it taught me. How to persevere while under pressure, to lean into one's experience and not back away, not give up, be honest with yourself and be able to handle a great deal of pain and fatigue. I learned endurance, perseverance, determination, and that I was far, far more capable than any limits I placed on myself.

    After about 8 years of training, I found myself growing tired of constantly smashing myself into the ground. I was less and less motivated to train and really dreaded it. I kept convincing myself that it's just a slump, it happens to everyone and that I should just push through. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a very, very important lesson for me.

    After many, many honest discussions with my instructor, I decided to leave. It was an incredibly difficult, emotional decision... but I knew in my heart of hearts that it was for the best.

    About 6 or 7 months or so after I'd left I started getting severe stomach, groin and pelvic pain, amongst many many other deeply uncomfortable symptoms. Many trips to emergency without any answers, and doing my own research, I had pelvic floor tension myalgia. Basically my insides were all knotted up, far too tensed after years of habitually tensing my pelvic/stomach muscles. Turns out leaving my old style was the best option, I knew even before all the pain hit! This was deeper than just physically what I had been doing, but a lifelong tension pattern that had finally reached a point of tipping over the edge.

    Have already relayed much of this part of story here, but spending the last two years working through this, on learning to be kind to myself, to relax, breathe, and let go my defensiveness and habitual tension patterns.

    This was the true test, and to be honest, it is hard to say whether my training contributed to this condition (I don't think it helped), but I can say that everything I've learned from Kyokushin I've had to apply in the fires of this incredibly long storm.

    The patience, perseverance, never give up, all of this stuff has been instrumental to my healing, so I owe so, so much to it. It's like that's why I needed to do that type of training, I would have been lost without it. Learning that there is a strength within me that is always there and unshakeable has been so valuable.

    Okay, so flashforward to now! It's clear I'm still very much attracted to the martial arts, and desperately want to get back into training, but I'm very much drawn to a softer approach. I don't feel the need to destroy myself in training, and now want to explore with a more internal approach. A way that I can train where I have a balance of tension and relaxation, being smart about training and kind to myself, training in something I can do forever, for longevity. I still love the technique, philosophy and approach of karate so will see where I end up.

    I still love pushing myself and training hard, but I now know that I don't need to that anymore to prove anything or to show that I'm strong. I'm training for myself now. Not concerned about self defense, I still love tournament training so may still pursue that a little, fitness is always good and an interest of mine, but the focus at the moment is something I can connect to deeply, that supports my spiritual orientation in this life and will encourage and nurture me. Something that I resonate with and can explore real depths.

    So it's been quite a grand evolution, but an important one, and I'm glad I listened to it :)
     
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  19. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    I have never bought in to the "ancient Chinese secret" idea. But I do wonder if, at the very least, some of the good qualities of TMA are being lost. As you mentioned, most practitioners who go 2 times/week see their workout purely as a method of exercise. I understand that 2 times/week is the common way of our world with the schedules most keep. Should we as instructors accept this and model our training around it? Are we headed down a path that will lead to yet another split in MA. Traditional, sport, and something else, casual MA possibly?
     
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  20. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    Find the Yin-Yang.
     
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