For the past year and a half, I have been developing and shaping a writing practice. It started off simple, write three pages a day. The subject matter was not important, nor was the level of skill, or mastery of technique. Instead the idea came back to the idea that being defined as a writer meant you had to write. Pretty simple, huh? In writing everyday you make writing second nature. It takes the fear out of creating "something good".
I bring this up because I've come to a point in my training, where I feel the need to be take what I've learned in class outside with me. So, I've started thinking about "practice" and how to develop one.
A practice is not necessarily a routine. It is a space in time to continually come back to what you've learned and take a second to play with the material so that it makes sense. The key here is consistency and discipline, but I think it is also important to change it up a bit. What's consistent is the time and space you give to developing new skills and techniques, or attaining certain goals. Changing up a bit (and remembering to have fun!) makes it easier to come back every day and start moving through the forms again.
There's a tendency when you're learning something to become hung up on one idea or technique. Sometimes it seems like the more we repeat something, the more we reach a point where we realize, "I'm stuck." It can be difficult in those moments to let go of the frustration of "getting it right". But in actuality, this block is great because it gives us an indicator of exactly what we need to work on.
Can't remember what comes after single whip? Well, then! Time to pay attention to that part next time in class! Not really sure how to do that number 17? Now's the time to try it out!
Fortunately, there are so many wonderful things to focus your attention on in our Shaolin training!
When I was fairly new in my position as a grant writer I had a hard time finding my groove. It was the first time I had to structure the day more-or-less on my own. Sure, I was driven by external grant deadlines, but as for the day to day, it was hard to know what exactly to focus on for eight whole hours!
Do I start breaking up a more complicated grant with a later deadline into the pieces and start finding the information I need? Or should I focus on the straight-forward grant with the fast-approaching deadline?
The answer was...both! I remember meeting up with a lawyer friend around this time and describing how I was feeling stuck in the projects I was supposed to be focusing on at work. She described what she did when she was feeling stuck with a particular case, "Start working on another project, and then, when you get stuck with that one, start working on something else." It seemed counter-intuitive, but I tried it and was able to get substantially further in the more complicated grant with the later deadline. As for the straight-forward grant, taking my eyes off of it gave me the chance to look at it later from a fresh perspective. By then it was easy-peasy! I was able to complete it and easily and continue working on the more complicated grant, which required more time.
I'm trying now to use the same approach in my current Shaolin practice. I've started off with very easy, very reachable goals. For instance, one goal is "work on hou tien chi breathing while waiting". So, anytime I'm waiting, on the bus/MUNI/Caltrain/BART, stuck in traffic, even when I walk to work from the station, I practice hou tien chi. Well, that may not seem like much, but five minutes here, 10 minutes there, pretty soon you have 30 minutes a day you're practicing the yin breath and the yang breath. Add that up over a work week, that's already 150 minutes! Over a year (minus those two weeks of vacay), and that's 7,500 minutes!! Wow, sure adds up!
It all has to start somewhere. Now, I'm trying to use 15 minutes at lunch to run through forms, break down each move to really think about what it is, where it's supposed to be striking and how to apply it. Then, if there's still time left over, conditioning, conditioning, conditioning! Eventually, I'm going to use the guide in the manual (section 3, page 27-check it out, guys!) to develop a more robust training schedule. I expect that over time, just like within my work or my writing practice, I will increase my skill level, endurance and memory.
Once things start to get "easy" and "routine", that's just a sign it's time to up the ante. Now, within my writing practice, for instance, rather than concerning myself with finishing a story, I'm drilling down to the minutiae. I'm looking at specific scenes and the transitions, and finding the "holes". Extra attention to those areas makes them stronger and brings them up to par with the rest of the writing. The same is true of going through Shaolin material. You can use these same ideas to build your practice or enhance an already existing practice.
Hopefully from all this, I'll be able to build a practice to take with me anywhere!
Like, to see my progress? Keep me accountable! I'll detail my challenge here. They say it takes two weeks to develop a habit, so, I'm going to try for three weeks and then see if it "stuck".
Share your own experiences in practicing! What works? What doesn't?