Training Note 3

A Few Notes on Training and Learning, Part III

Effortless Effort

Sensei holds a focus mitt in front of you and says – hit it. You attempt but before you do he moves it. Each time you attempt to hit the mitt, it is gone. You are trying too hard,” Sensei explains. “You tense and TRY HARD to hit the mitt, I see this and move it.” “Now try easy.” Whap – you hit the mitt. More relaxed gives you more power, the muscles are not fighting each other (antagonists muscles both firing at same time giving sense of effort but not giving results) but only the muscles you need to contract do so. Since they do not have to overcome the tension in their antagonists they move faster with more power.

Trying Hard is starting place to learn. Trying Easy is next level up. Learning to “Do or do not there is no try” is level above that. While trying easy helps the body move better the work ‘try’ indicates to the mind that there is still chance that this might not work. Once the mind (confidence) is stronger then the fear of failure no longer hinders learning. At this point the student can let go of ‘try’ and just ‘do’. You either do it or you don’t. No explanation, no blame… it just is.

Each student needs to move thru each level, skipping levels doesn’t help since fundamentals are missed and problems will arise later on from this missed basic. Once the practitioner has gotten to the level of just doing then the concept of effortless effort can come into play.

World-class swimmers when they get a best time or a world record – ‘it was effortless’, ‘I can do it again now’, ‘I’m not even tired’. This sense that it flowed from them is effortless effort. It takes the mind having done some mental training to get a bit beyond ego (blame, explanations of poor swim) to enough confidence in oneself that it is ok to make a mistake. To be willing to take a risk and not get the results you want. On the physical level it takes repetitive, daily training. The person training twice per week is unlikely to make this jump. The mind and body need to be trained. Effortless effort takes effort to prepare for.

In Iai, effortless effort comes after a number of years of drilling and drilling the same kata till the weight of the sword becomes zero and the sword just moves. It is so easy for the practitioner, it is difficult to imagine how it could have been so hard/ difficult/ challenging in the past.

It comes when you can just move, without effort and get done what you want, be it throw, punch, wrist technique. It comes from years of training daily – the mind, the technique and the body. Anyone can do it with good training, dedication and effort – everyone won’t be willing to put the time and effort in to make it happen. But when it does happen – the inner joy is wonderful!

Moving Beyond Fear

The dojo is a place to conquer you fear. It starts with facing your fears. Understanding them. Noting that this is safe and it is ok to proceed – I merely having had this experience before. Or noting this is unsafe and not moving forward. We need to understand our fears and what brings them out.

The new student fears being hit during ippon kumite and thus is always flinching, closing his eyes and thus has problems making progress. The student can then stop and note – no one has been injured in class, in fact no one has even been hit doing this – for several years according to the yudansha. This is safe exercise and I can forward with it, despite being scared. Sensei may have the student stand for one minute at the end of each class and have a yudansha or even brown belt throw punches and kicks to the face, etc. The first week the flinches have improved, by week two the flinches have stopped but the student is still flinching inside. By end of the month the student has conquered this fear – a good month. There is still more fears to overcome but this one has a very good dent in it.

The new student is taken to a three-story rooftop and told to dive off it into a forward roll. He has seen no one do it, in fact he is with three yellow belts from another school. The fear rises, the student asks – is this safe? No, it doesn’t seem like it and I could be seriously injured based on what I know about falling from 3 stories up. The student rightly doesn’t make the jump and isn’t moved by the dares or calls of chicken. He just walks away.

This is learning to face ones fears, noting I am afraid and that is OK. Then checking if it is safe. Then deciding to do the task or walk away. Eishin Ryu, a 650 year Japanese martial art, told its bugeisha as they enter into their first battle. You will be afraid, that is ok. Look across the lines and look for someone with their chin stuck out – attack them since they don’t protect their throat, they likely aren’t too skilled and you may survive your first battle. This also gave the message – leave the dangerous ones for me – I can handle them, one day you will too.


The power of the mind can be trained by learning to see exactly what we want to happen – visualization. It has been around for hundreds of years. The bugeisha of Japan learned that once they had been training for 8 hrs per day, there was little more they could do to train the body. The note the feats of the Zen monks and added that training to their training and the skill level made a big jump. In modern day athletes – visualization is just a daily part of the national level athletes regiment.

The study that make western science take notice concerned shooting free throws. 100 high school basketball players were tested and their free throw shooting percentage measured. Then they were split into three groups. One group shot 100 free throws per day. One group visualized 100 free throws per day but actually shot none and the last group did neither visualization or actual practice – the took the week off. The groups were then tested again and the results look something like…

Control group (did nothing): 8% worse free throw shooting compared to how they did previously

Shooting group: improved 11%

Visualization group: improved 10%

Visualization worked! And still does. You can’t learn to do things you don’t already know how to do but it can greatly improve a skill someone has. Like all training, it takes practice and you will get better at it. The more often you visualize the correct way to do the motion the better you will do it. Add speed, power, focus and that too will come. See yourself doing it perfectly, effortlessly.

Apply this to your kata, your throws and your self defense!

What about tameshiwari – the same. You have to see yourself breaking the wood! One other hint at tameshiwari – you never fail. What? If you are trying for a nukite thru 3 inches – know if you don’t go thru you just punch thru it, if that doesn’t get you thru the wood then elbow it or heel stomp it. This seems silly but this visualization and practice of not failing is an important one. It develops ones confidence that I will break the wood at some point. It can easily be taken over to your self defense. Think on this.

Miso no Kokoro = Mind like Still Water

There was a practitioner who developed his discipline thru years of daily training, repetition, endurance and mediation. He at times did a 1,000 sit up each day or a 1,000 push ups or 100 kata or ran 20 miles each day for a month. He was quiet, often silent. He would demonstrate a kata at anytime without nervousness – for he had already explored the area fully. He was calm in a burning building – able to make rational decisions even when his life was on the line – again because this was an arena he had read about, visualized and understood in himself.

The mind of such a bugeisha is like still water – it reflects all about it without worry or haste. Each of use can embody this part of our Art with training. Mental and physical. The mental because it is here in the body’s command center that decision are being made. Once we learn our options (I can run, I can throw, I can kick, I can strike, I can joint lock) then we have a sense we are in control – we have choices. Once we have choices we can more calmly address the challenge at hand.

Explore the various aspects of your Art. Know yourself and your world. And find Miso no Kokoro. Enjoy the journey.