It might sound self-evident to say we’re training because we want to get better at what we’re doing. That idea applies to not only martial arts, but to most everything else in life we practice as a skill. However, wanting to get better at something, and actively working in each and every class or practice session with the goal of improvement kept sharply in focus, are not the same things. Train long enough in anything and you’ll have days where you are ‘going through the motions.’ This concept of mastery is a reminder that striving to get better, striving to challenge ourselves and our training partners is just as important as any other key skill.
The eleventh of our twelve keys is:
SHU-TOKU 習得 MASTERY
“Safe control, yet highly spirited practice – safety and realism – you take care of your training partners and bring out their best”
-An-shu Stephen K. Hayes, To-Shin Do Official Curriculum
Mastery is a tricky word to English speaking ears. It can imply that an end goal has been reached. It is also a word that can be thrown around far too soon and too easily by a lot of martial art instructors. That isn’t what is meant here. This key isn’t about ‘being a master’ of the martial arts, although that can happen at some point with decades of correct training and focus. This key is about ‘working toward mastery’. It is about actively working to acquire more skill, striving to get better with every training session.
Striving to get better means challenging ourselves. With this key, we’re looking for just the right amount of pressure for the best growth, whatever that may be. Too much pressure and there is no room to explore. We fall back into old habits, whatever is most comfortable and familiar just in an attempt to survive the experience. Too little pressure and there isn’t enough growth and we’re having a ‘going through the motions’ experience. While the exact pressure can change depending on the exercise and goals of the day, I like to aim for sixty to eighty percent success when I’m working on challenging myself. If my technique is falling apart half the time, I find it more helpful to slow down and figure out the mechanics. Something isn’t working as well as it should! If it is always working, then its time to look for the next area for growth.
This key also makes it clear that it is equally important (and perhaps even more so!) to be challenging our training partners. Our training partner has to also keep growing and getting more skilled, since it is only with a skilled training partner that we can grow to full potential. That also takes focus and awareness. To be a good training partner we need to have the ability to increase or decrease the pressure against our training partner based on their ability levels. To do that, it means, as a for example, that we are in control of our punches and kicks, they aren’t in control of us. We cannot be safe with our training partner if we lack control over our own body movements. So it becomes a great cycle. The better we are, the faster our training partner grows. The better our training partner is, the faster we grow. That’s the To-Shin Do training philosophy!