There isn’t one. There are no secrets, only things you don't know yet.
Long gone are the days when martial arts masters zealously protect the secrets of their techniques. Those days are replaced with an eagerness to pass on the art, to ensure the longevity and (for some) purity of the thing they love (I ignore those that take martial arts as an opportunity to make money and feel very fortunate to never have Keiko beneath one).
I recently took a 2-year sabbatical from Keiko and on my return was asked:
“You have not Keiko for 2 years, yet you still move as fluidly as ever. How?”
I account this to nothing special I hold that everyone cannot obtain and that is a combination of repetition and Mushin. This is not an article about Mushin or what it is, but I will say that to me, it is essential to achieve it during Keiko. In practical terms, to successfully return to something, either after a week or a year, and for that something to feel as familiar as if it had been only a day, you must convert your deliberate effort into thoughtless (Mushin) muscle memory.
Sadly there is no secret trick or mediative practice to help you with this, just hard work and dedication.
This being said, there are a few things I have always done to try and steal the techniques I am shown and store them away in my body (not your mind. Your mind is a control mechanism used to teach your body and not the place your technique should live). Some of these things include:
- Forget most of what you are shown, the moment you see it. I know, it sounds silly, but I was told once by Bill Harris (a great man, friend and 5th Dan back when I just started out about 20 years ago) that if you remember and never forget only 5% of what you are shown in every session, then over time, you can only improve.
I have since taken this advice and applied it ruthlessly. I pick one thing, one aspect of a technique I am being shown, and even at the cost of everything else, I focus on repeating that one thing CORRECTLY as often as I possibly can. It might be how I place my foot, or hold my Jo, or even the way I breathe… it does not matter. But to that one thing, I give my all, for the whole session. Do that one thing and make it part of you. Then when you next need it, you can simply trust that it will be there waiting for you to access it.
Even if your sensei gets frustrated with you on the mat, trust me, a sensei worth following will simply be glad to have your dedication in the long run.
- Do it at home, for three days, just once or twice (while you wait for the water to boil or for your kids to come for dinner). I don’t know why, but genuinely, the one thing you picked… Do it the day after, just once or twice, just to remind your body it's there. Do this for two days… It helps me ‘lock it in’, every time.
- Be eager. I will admit, without intending to offend anyone, to being frustrated when 10 seconds after a sensei has clapped their hands to begin Keiko of something they just demonstrated, people are not already DOING it. Don’t waste time. It is precious. Get up, find someone and Keiko… The end.
- Be selfish. If anyone ever doubts that I’m selfish when I practice, then I have succeeded in hiding it well. :-) Whatever your partner is doing, you are there to get what you want out of Keiko. Do that. Be focused. Practice the technique and don’t let their agenda get in your way. Shut them out (of your mind). The only person in your technique is you. Some do not wish to practice seriously and this is their choice, so don’t let them affect yours.
- Repeat… Repeat… Repeat… Do it until your brain struggles to think, until all the blood is stolen by your limbs and all you can do is mindlessly (welcome to one form of Mushin) plough through. Push through it. Go slow. Do it RIGHT. Let your body experience the movement again and again. Every minute you are allowed to Keiko should be a minute you spend letting your body learn (your mind is just there to keep the rails in place).
If sensei leaves you doing a technique for 15 minutes straight, I guarantee you that no one will have performed the technique enough in this time to have mastered it. Anyone just standing around is giving up on Keiko. Everyone should still be moving, Keiko’ing. These occasions are rare (long periods on individual techniques), take them, use them, and convert thought into muscle memory.
- Finally, remember that Keiko is not always about learning. You don’t always need to learn something new, but I can guarantee that your body will always benefit from feeling a technique again. To achieve Mushin, your technique must come without thought. This can only happen once you’ve done a thing so many times it's like walking or sitting.
In short, what your mind will forget (and believe me, it will forget, just ask me what any technique is actually called) your body will never let go of.
by Mann Sensei
See the five articles in the Aikido Mentality Series including Shoshin, Mushin, Fudoshin, Senshin & Zanshin.