Sensei's Corner - August 2007
What does it mean for a tale to be referred to as a legend1 as opposed to just a "very old story"? A legend contains some element of myth or fairy tale. In other words, some degree of "creative license" is employed when re-telling legends. Throughout history, legends have served to inspire people by shaping historical events into tales of superhuman achievement, patriotism, or cultural achievement. It is the practice of telling legends that creates heroes for every culture and role models for individuals.
I recall many instances early in my martial arts training where I heard stories about my instructors. Usually these were told as we sat after Iaido2 class. Many of the instructors at the dojo were security guards, bouncers, and law enforcement officers. Over the previous decade many stories had grown into legends with each retelling. The instructors were revered by all of the students and their legends served as inspiration and pride in what we were learning. We all knew that the stories were only loosely based on true events and did not constitute a clear or unbiased presentation of the facts. That didn't matter. After all, the stories were not about historical accuracy. They were useful as a means of passing on, in a colorful and entertaining way, a set of ideals and positive images toward which we all wished to aspire.
It is well known in the scientific community (as well as in professional sports) that positive imagery creates improved physical performance3. But the effects of positive images can go much further if you choose. Like the legends of heroes past, images can serve to reinforce belief systems, inspire acts of courage, and give an individual or group the motivation to excel beyond perceived limitations. The following quote from a famous world champion body builder describes both the physical and neurological effects he gained from positive imagery.
|"Training progress happens in part because you are making your muscle fibers bigger and stronger, and in part because you gradually reeducate your nervous system so that it will decrease the inhibitory signals involved and allow for a stronger muscle contraction. It takes energy to overcome this inhibition, to overwhelm the protective mechanisms. The more intense the imagery you use, the harder you concentrate and focus the mind into the muscle, the more you break through these inhibitory limitations your brain is creating and the more rapid your progress." - Arnold Swarchenegger4|
Because they are typically strewn with positive imagery, legends can play a valuable role in your training. They can serve to establish an idealistic image of perfection toward which to strive or describe ways human beings can conquer obstacles. You can imagine as you train that you are becoming like the heroes you revere. There are many legends to choose from. Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters (by Shoshin Nagamine) and other similar books provide many examples of legendary masters of Karate-do.
The dojo is designed to support this process of positive imagery. Every dojo has pictures of the great masters, past and present. Words of inspiration written generations before are preserved on wall plaques. When you look around, you may see old and worn training equipment. Imagine how many fists struck the makiwara since it was bolted in place. The dojo is alive with positive outside influences on your training. In essence, the images and the legends of heroes past serve as an external source of inspiration.
|"The training movements are sensual, and the deep motivation that excites you and keeps you going is emotional. You can't just sit down and feel those things any more than you can deliberately feel love. In both cases, something outside yourself has to inspire you." - Arnold Swarchenegger4|
Karate-do is a legacy, passed down from the great masters along a chain of human contact. You are now an important link in that chain. Remember now the individual who introduced you to Karate-do. There will be many others who think of you the same way you are thinking about this person. As you practice, imagine what others will say about your training in the future. Will they remember your hard work and dedication, your extensive literary research into martial arts, your quickness, flexibility, several of these, or some other attribute? What will be the legend told about you?
Whether you know it or not, you are in the process of writing a legend in which you are the hero. This legend will inspire many others to come, but it can also serve as your inspiration today. Don't simply look at your training objectively, rather imagine what the essence of your legend will be. Embellish your abilities in your mind, draw from the heroic image of yourself as a means to push you beyond your current limitations. The key to discarding your perceived limitations is to become your own legend.
1 leg-end [lej-uhnd] - n. A non-historical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.
2 Iaido, is a Japanese martial art associated with smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard, striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard. Modern day iaido exponents typically use a blunted metal practice sword (iaito) for practice, especially among beginners, while many advanced practitioners use a sharpened sword (shinken). While I was training at Melbourne Aikikai and Kenjutsukai in Daitio Mushin Ryu Iaido, beginners practiced with a bokken (wooden sword) while intermediate and experienced practitioners used a sharpened sword (shinken). Since oil from the hands and oxygen came into contact with the blade during practice, the shinken had to be disassembled, cleaned, and covered with a thin layer of oil to prevent the blade from rusting. The period of time during class was very quiet and intense. Everyone focused on the individual movements and achieved a meditative state during practice. It was during the after class shinken cleaning that conversation and sharing of ideas took place.
3 Behavioral Science Experiment by: Robert L. Woolfolk1, Mark W. Parrish2 and Shane M. Murphy3 - all from Rutgers University, USA.
An investigation was carried out into the effect of imagery instructions on a simple motor skill accuracy task (putting a golf ball). Thirty college students were blocked on their putting ability and randomly assigned within blocks to one of three experimental conditions: (a) positive imagery, (b) negative imagery, and (c) control. Subjects in the two imagery conditions were given the identical instructions for imagining the backswing and putting stroke. In the positive imagery group, subjects imagined the ball going into the cup, while subjects using negative imagery visualized the ball narrowly missing the cup. Subjects in the control group putted without instructions. On each of 6 consecutive days a 10-putt trial was conducted for each subject. There was a significant main effect on performance improvement for the experimental manipulation. Post hoc analyses showed significant differences among all groups, with positive imagery producing the most improvement, the control condition producing less, and negative imagery resulting in performance deterioration. Results are discussed in relation to the existing literature, and future research directions are delineated. http://www.springerlink.com/content/r901j44m3t6n08l1/
4 The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding : The Bible of Bodybuilding, Fully Updated and Revised by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Dobbins
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Rev Upd edition (November 5, 1999)
- Sensei Don Seiler
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Pilgrimage'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Getting Married'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Reality Fighting'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Kumite in the mind'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Daily Training'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Power Of Belief'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Your own Legend'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Accepting versus Blocking'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Reality and the Ring'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Egoless'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'Squandering Priceless Gifts'
Sensei's Corner Archive - 'A Fair Fight'