Thanks Mrs Ukita for the pasalubong!
Spiritual Reflections

Learning to Stand

“Your swings are good,” our dojo’s sensei said, “but where’s your footwork?”

Two months into training, I still find myself frustrated: how can something so basic and simple as a proper stance be so difficult to memorize? I practice in front of the mirror and whenever I can. I get the feel of it. Then training sessions come, and my feet forget what it was supposed to do. Sometimes, I just awkwardly execute the footworks; most of the time, I lose focus and at worst, my balance.

At the end of each sequence, I glance at my feet, adjust them back to their proper places, annoyed. Ugh. I just want to swing my shinai like Kenshin Himura; why do I have to do this boring routine every time?

 

Even when I was doing Muay Thai, I had the same problem: my strikes were good (I think), my balance was bad. I’d get reprimanded over and over again about it— and for a good reason. No matter how powerful my punches or kicks were, it’s useless if I lose my balance and fall down whenever I move or block a hit. And the same was true with kendo: even though my swings were improving, I still trip on my footwork.

Practice at home, our trainor keeps encouraging us. Practice wherever you can.

I stare at my ugly toes, wriggling them into position. How can something so simple as standing become so complicated? I can’t help but remember that oft-neglected phrase at the beginning of Ephesians 6:14— Stand firm then.

I hate standing. I get easily impatient. Sure, I’ve survived the long hours of standing still during our cadet officers training in high school, but I didn’t enjoy it. I loved the part when we marched, when we learned how to do sword and rifle drills, when we shouted commands and other things that made the CAT/PMT days memorable. But no, I didn’t enjoy that part where we just stood out in the open heat for hours, without permission to do unnecessary moves like scratching an itch or wiping sweat off our face. I get tired faster standing still than doing something, anything.

Yet there’s a noble discipline in learning to stand still and firm. To stand ready, the body relaxed yet anticipating that call to action. To stand steady, feet and legs conserving energy yet supporting the entire body. It sounds simple, until you’re in the field, standing.

During my youth, we love to talk about our walk of faith, chasing after God’s will, fighting temptations, all those action stuff. We inwardly groaned at the Bible studies, especially as they seemed to go on repeat after several years in the ministry. We wanted movement, the hardcore things. Give us mission trips. Give us evangelism crusades. Give us worship concerts. Give us children’s outreach programs. No, we already know those basic Christian lessons!

Until one by one, fellow leaders faded from the scene. Some, for valid reasons like finding work in a different place; others, because they forgot how to make a stand, what they’re standing for, or simply tripped.

“Don’t focus too much on your arms,” a senior kendoka reminded us, “as long as your footwork is correct, your strike will be powerful.”

As I tried to apply that lesson during suburi practice, I wonder if the same was true with my spirituality: have I focused too much on trying to make an awesome swing of my proverbial sword, that I neglect the more important footwork of my faith? There’s nothing wrong with being skilled and proficient in ministry work, but do I still remember what the ministry is supposed to be about? It’s so easy to get too engrossed with the sword. After all, that’s what kendo is supposed to be about, right? Wrong. We spent half the time of training focused on perfecting suri-ashi: that simple-sounding but hellish movement of sliding the foot across the floor. By the end of class, my shins hurt, my knees hurt, my ankles hurt, my toes hurt, my soles hurt.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

I stood at the corner of the street, waiting for the stoplight to change so we pedestrians could safely cross. I was on my way to jog, patiently standing, until at least the pedestrian signal turned green, and my right foot automatically slid forward.

I didn’t realize I just did suri-ashi until I was halfway across the road. I wondered if people looked at me weirdly, or if they noticed. But more than embarrassment, I was surprised. I was excited. By the time I reached by jogging spot, I was back to being conscious and awkward about my footwork. Oh well.

I stood in front of the mirror, staring at my feet. Still imperfect, but at least my stance was better than before. There was no more room for pride; only determination. I can do this. Practice. Repeat. Learn from mistake. Practice. Repeat. Improve. Practice.

I gripped my shinai and raised it over my head. No matter how much I practiced, the sword remained the same: what was changing was me— how I stood, how I moved, how I swung. I checked my posture, recalling everything that was taught, and slowly moved my left foot forward as I slowly swung my shinai into a head strike. Then move back to my original position.

I had to wriggle my toes to correct how I stood. But man, my calves are looking beautiful.

* * *

[Thank Mrs Ukita for the japanese fan pasalubong!] XD 

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