Personal Practice

What is a practice? What can it do? Practice is not just a workout. It is a recognition of engagement at that moment. It records, immediately, every nuance expressed in your story, laying those tiles piece by piece. Often, workouts sidestep the mind and can barely be remembered by dinnertime. From practice we recall the sense of the entire story—not just the memory of unexpected revelation, but some lasting fragrance announcing those days when summer starts to lean on autumn.

What is a practice? It’s fashionable to have a practice these days. But most of these practices are prescriptive; you can find a practice or take a pill.

Practice may be intensely personal, but the feeling is indisputably ancient and universally human. Yet, authentic practice is in danger. Many people start a practice, only to alter it when it gets difficult, or choose one off the shelf that is already modified to be easily done. Commodity driven, practice becomes a spiritual fast food, and everyone gets a diploma because they wrote it themselves.

There are many good practices, and even updated methods are welcome, but only when the source is solid.

The old story goes like this: a Jewish divinity student is issued into the presence of the rabbi. After a few pleasantries they get around to the purpose of the visit. The student says, “I want to leave the faith and become a free thinker.

The rabbi looks at him from underneath two massive eyebrows.

“You want to leave the faith of our fathers. How old are you?”

“Just twenty.”

The rabbi stares at his desk top for a few moments then, raising his gaze, he pronounces with the voice of authority, “Study for ten more years THEN leave.”

True practice uncovers weak spots and disappointments. Even the supposedly safe room we call practice cannot promise safety forever, and some will not step a foot outside their walls.

That’s unfortunate, because the benefits of practice are many and profound. It is often a healing addition to anyone’s life that may not be easily shared. Intensely private at times, it requires doing something and listening to yourself at the same time.

Of course, practice can be boring. It can show you previously unacknowledged weakness. It can test your honesty and sense of detail and precision. Practice can change your relationship to others, too.

Martial arts provides a whole series of practices which have stood the test of time, only to be fractured and reassembled like Legos to fit better in the popular mind. We all know that we live in complicated, challenging times, so it’s tempting to try to get by with just the bare minimum of this or that practice; to forget the centuries it took to customize for human needs.

Practice starts out so straightforward at first, but one day you realize that movements which you had assumed to be pretty much just physical skills actually are rich with personal and even—some would say— spiritual overtones. You will find, for instance, that some movements not only have an unexplained number of variations, but contain principles and general observations that not only deepen your training drastically, but actually indicate new ways to move through life.

Training in martial arts often surprises—new neurological pathways are created daily in this discipline. The movements in the arts, the timing and the perceptions come to us from a tradition thousands of years old. At first, the movement feels downright alien. And gradually you discover: the New You is not, martially, the Old You with a little more juice. It is the Old You following a different map.

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1. What if your pratice disappeared? What does it mean to you?

2. You’re compiling a dossier on yourself. What have you learned in your last practice session?

3. What would you like to retain from your practice—A journal entry? A move? A principle?



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