Recently I was refreshing my memory on some material by reviewing a course on video from a number of years ago. As I watched An-shu Hayes and studied the specifics of the lesson, and his movement, something became apparent. I noticed some subtle differences in the way An-shu was moving. I am not sure how many people would have noticed, but then I have been training with An-shu for over three decades. It takes years of training in any discipline to develop the eyes to see and appreciate the subtleties.
At first I began wondering if the changes I was noticing were related to age. A reasonable thought process, I felt, given that none of us are getting any younger, and for myself and other compatriots old battle wounds (and surgeries) present challenges. As I studied closer, keeping an eye on timing, efficiencies of movement, and accuracy, the truth dawned on me like an inspirational sunrise. My teacher was just continuing to get better. It is the very nature of To-Shin Do, which is not dependent upon athletic speed and strength, that age and experience supports increasing skill development. This is one of the reasons I chose the To-Shin Do martial art as my life’s path. And, knowing my teacher as I do, he has never lost his sense of constant searching for greater skill in all things.
As the truth of this experience became clear to me, I also began to reflect on how easy it is for beginning students to misinterpret this phenomenon. In the eyes of a beginner it might appear that the teacher is doing something “wrong” or being inconsistent. Beginning students like things to be black and white and to stay the same, easy to replicate.
For one thing, this in no way reflects the realities of life. To- Shin Do is a life art and it’s principles and techniques are meant to be applicable way beyond the mat and the training hall. Further, such a static approach flies in the face of both the concepts of continued growth and fluid adaptability. Though there may be many similarities, every situation is unique; in life as well as in self-protection scenarios.
The takeaways here are to always maintain an open mind, especially when a master instructor is involved. Avoid falling into what I call the hardening of the categories trap. The analogy is obvious, just as hardening of your arteries can kill your body, hardening of the categories (insisting that things be black and white) can kill your ability to grow beyond your current level of understanding.
Knowing An-shu Hayes as I do, this evidence of continued improvement upon an already rarified level of mastery should have come as no surprise. Yet, as I think about it, this is why I plan to be astutely attentive for the next three decades. Nearly every time I have the pleasure of training with my teacher there are new and inspiring surprises. As the Nike ads once suggested, there is no finish line.