On the last day of the last millenium I sat in a lawyer’s office, signing my name over and over as I closed on my first house. After a decade of renting apartments, I was a home owner. And, as exciting as the house was, the two-car carport and third of an acre were an equally big draw. At last I had a space to train at home and call a dojo. Until then, all my solo training took place in public spaces of one sort or another. City parks were a favorite. Or, when I had a gym membership, an empty aerobics room worked nicely. I trained on soccer fields, basketball courts, and a few times each summer at the beach.

But, as of January 2000, I had the private “dojo” I had always dreamed of. Within weeks of moving in, I put on some sweatpants, and headed outside to practice. As I began my drills I couldn’t help noticing some wood rot on one of the beams holding up the carport. “I will have to do something about that,” I thought. Moments later I was distracted by plants along one wall that were in sore need of watering. “Weren’t we supposed to get rain this week.” I shook off these thoughts and jumped into some kata. One time, two times, and then, during the third run-through I stopped completely and walked over to look at yet another issue with the house.

Later I wrote off the practice as not one of my best. Maybe I was hungry, or just excited about the new house. However, in the months to come I noticed a pattern. Whenever I went outside in my own yard to train, I fought distractions constantly. Sometimes I was more disciplined than others but there was never a time when they went away completely. In frustration, I went to a nearby park and had the first really productive workout in some time. Within a year I was seldom training seriously at home and now, married and in my second house (with an even better backyard), I rarely use my own space to practice.

The point of this story is to stress how important an inspiring, distraction-free space is when one intends to train alone. If you have the resources to create such a space at home, fantastic. Otherwise you need to seek out alternatives. I have found it helpful to use spaces that have natural boundaries as opposed to wide-open areas. Something about a defined area creates the same feeling that one finds in a dojo. There is less “space” in which your mind can wander. I look for relative privacy although sometimes I train harder if I know I can be seen by onlookers. Some parks and baseball fields seem more appropriate when I want to work with long weapons like the bo. Training in shoes on a tennis court teaches different things about movement than working out barefoot on grass. Sometimes the trees in a densely forested area can be used for target practice or as stand-ins for opponents.

But two things should always be consistent. Even though you are not training at home, make sure your selected spot is only a quick walk, bike ride (makes for a great warm up), or short commute away. If you have to travel too far to train, you won’t train and that’s the hard truth. Secondly, remember that your chosen spot should not just be distraction free; it should also be inspiring. Without a sensei, or fellow students, we need all the motivational help we can find and “where” we work out can have a very big impact on how we work out.

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