I was talking to a friend. He quoted a phrase he had just read in a book on golf. “The only people who are always at the top of their game… are mediocre.” Not being at the top of your game is an inevitable characteristic of martial arts practice. Sometimes the skill seems to have deserted you and gone into hiding. The same moves you were cruising through a few days before now baffle instead of bounce. There doesn’t seem enough energy in your whole body to make a difference. In other words you are not at the top of your game.
Well, I won’t try to tell you that all this is character building. My Shaolin teacher was a fanatical practice machine, he never missed. His theory was simplicity itself, you only regret the practices you don’t do. I am not built that way. I am aware that some practices make me regret other things I would want to attend instead. Life is just a little too varied to see constant practice as the answer for everything. And no matter how you practice, you will have one of those days. But even these valleys can be useful. For instance you may think, “Well, if I’m only that bad when I am lousy, I must be making progress.” (As you can see, when things are going really stale your mind can come up with some desperate comparisons. This is like thanking your lucky stars you ended up in purgatory. )
Sometimes being lousy reminds you of how good you really have been. Sometimes, right in the thick of it, you see something that needs changing, something crucial and formerly overlooked. Sometimes it gets real basic, “I might not be at my best right this moment but at least I’m here.” And sometimes, as we all well know, that dip in the road can be a harbinger of a sudden leap. The irony is that if we put off that off-day practice we might be stalling our greatest progress. Funny how that works.