To achieve sustained success in perfecting martial technique, possibly the most important skill needed is that of being alone. An idea like this may seem self-evident, especially in the context of this blog, but I think it deserves further exploration. Much of what I have written is about finding ways to fight that “alone” feeling when training (take, for instance A Voice in My Head or Come on Feel the Noise) Purists might grumble about the use of music or similar ideas but I am realist. Sometimes you have to use tricks to get the most out of yourself.
But, being comfortable all by yourself is a goal worth striving for, in and of itself. The reasons are too many to name. First is the complete lack of distraction that comes with comfortable solitude. You settle in and focus on yourself and the training you need to do… no questions asked. In a perfect world, your mind does not wander because it is happy where it is. You are in the moment, paying attention, getting better. Many people meditate to achieve this state and I have always seen kata and similar exercises as moving meditation. It takes work to achieve this state but what you can accomplish when you get there is truly amazing.
And, although this idea may be controversial, I am not certain you can ever truly develop your own fighting style accept alone. If you train exclusively with others, you will either work to mirror their style, or learn to react to their specific techniques. These are useful skills but, to fight your own fight, you must have complete confidence in yourself and this cannot be predicated on what other people do. We have no way of knowing what the real world will throw at us and our techniques will not work if they are only responses to a few practiced scenarios.
Developing one’s own “method” is a necessary component of all art and why should the martial arts be any different. Painters, writers, even musicians, all spend significant time by themselves, learning how to express themselves. They may combine that expression with others later but, when that happens, their own voice, or vision is clear, confident, and recognizable. Even though the term “martial science” is in vogue right now, I still think that good technique, intuitively applied, has more in common with art.
And, let’s not forget that history is filled with examples of martial artists who spent significant time alone. Possibly the most famous example is that of Miyamoto Musashi. The 17th Century swordsman spent the last two years of his life living as hermit in a cave, working to understand his own success, and writing “The Book of Five Rings.”
Finally, and on a broader note, it seems to me as if each successive generation is having a harder and harder time being alone. Today, with the internet, smart phones, 24 hour new cycles, social media, etc., being connected to others is becoming a constant state and, very possibly, an addiction. As the technology becomes smaller, easier to carry, and always with us, we are increasingly relying on it, reacting to it, and allowing it to affect our lives. I worry about how this is affecting our sense of self-reliance, our problem solving skills, and even our self-worth. The best part of learning to train alone might be the unintended side-benefit of learning to spend comfortable time unconnected to the rest of the world.
So, if you are struggling with training alone, start by simply shutting off all the technology in your life, going outside, and taking a walk. Don’t bring your phone. Don’t listen to music on headphones. Be with your thoughts and pay attention to your surroundings. Notice how your hands move as you walk down the street. Notice how your weight shifts with each step. Notice your breathing. Adjust the timing of your hands. Adjust the length of your stride. Breath with your movement. That certainly sounds like good solo training to me.