Again and again - en essä om hur träningen känns inifrån

Again and again - the journey of training

Again and again. Repetition. Repeating the movement. Once. Again. And again. And yet again. Repetition into infinity. A movement which finally meets itself at the horizon, becomes one, and blends into the repetition of movement. Repetition. Again and again. And yet... Repetition of the movement, one after the other, a never-ending chain where each link is forged in the present, in the forge that is body, in the fire that is burning concentration, and by the sure hammer-blows of the smith that is mind. Repeating the movement. It´s the key secret of training, whether it´s repetition of standing still or repetition of specific patterns of movement. The same beating on the same anvil. The same smith forging the same sword, like a shinto-initiated japanese smith forges his katana; folding the metal...over and over again...until the blade of one sword contains thousand upon thousand stratas of warm, then cooling, metal... Again and again. And after that, polishing the blade and, after that, carefully honing the edge to sharpness. Coarse grindstones are gradually switched for finer ones, sharpening the blade finer each time, until the outer edge is visible no more. It just cuts. Repeating the movement. But merely physical repetition would be easy. Not easy - simple! The smith may sit there in front of his anvil, beating away on a piece of metal from now till kingdom come, but knowledge has to be present for the metal to become a work of art or a sword - or a sword that is a work of art. The movements of the Internal Arts can never be allowed to become mechanical, can never be allowed to become empty. The smith has to be present; it can´t just be his body sitting there, the arm pumping up and down, up and down, the hammer beating on a shapeless piece of metal. Present in every second, present in the spaces between seconds...

Again and again, repetition. Again and again. If you ask the old practitioners, the old teachers, it´s the best way to learn. The only way, if you really want to learn. And sooner or later you reach the point where you´re so incredibly tired of trying to perceive the tiny break in the flow, the infinitesmal adjustment of the body that will dislodge a link out of connection with the rest of the chain - reach that point and realise that you can give up, scream, shout, stomp your foot on the ground, run off - escape! - go away, take a cab to the airport, passport in one pocket, first plane out of the country - but there is no other answer left than training. No matter how you try to get around it, there is nothing left but the training. Training is a constant factor in the midst of constant change, and a constant factor which is constantly changing, from minute to minute, from one millimeter-move to the next. Again, again, again and again. Repetition. Repeating the stillness. Repeating the movement.

Eventually, it might start to prey on your mind. A detail in the training becomes a reflection of something from everyday life. Frustration claims its victim when one tries, for the thousandth time, to relax; to take the step using the entire body instead of having gaping holes in the structure; to sit and meditate two more minutes without wriggling like a worm on the hook. Again...and again...and again. And again. In this battle with himself the smith reaches his first serious obstacle: to continue or give up? There´s a really tempting show on the telly, after all... And what kind of a passtime is this, anyway? You bloody well don´t get more relaxed by doing this, any sane person can see that. A sandwhich - oh yes - now, a sandwhich wouldn´t be a bad idea at all...with some jam, a lot of butter, and a cup of hot cocoa... The siren-calls echo louder and louder inside the smith´s head, wheedling, whining, coaxing, promising. And finally, in the way it happens to a lot of people, the smith gets up, dusts off his apron, takes it off, hangs it up on the hook by the door; coughs once, and leaves. The hearth is left to die down behind his back. The forge lies cold. Again and again turns into a whisper before the promises of something that gives a faster rush, a quicker fix, a more immediate satisfaction. But the obstacle is still there. Again and again. Repeating, repeating the movement.

And if you get past that obstacle the first time, then you have also scaled the first mountain. Years later you´ll realise, with a wry grin, that what seemed like a mountaintop back then was actually no more than a small hill - it´s obvious now! But no matter how low that hill was, it still seemed like a mountaintop at the time. The perspective has changed; memory will often blunt the edge of difficulties past. Repetition. Again and again - and the first reaction is to fight! En garde! Come on, then! Show us what you´re made of, or are you chicken?.. The first reaction is to flail wildly at Again and again. It seems to be the easiest way. Frankly, it seems to be the only way. But after the first mountaintop - hill - negotiations get under way. The parts are called to the table where, guarded by sharp eyes, discussions begin. After a while it´s clear that well, yes, alright, maybe a truce can be arranged. A temporary one, at least. Both sides are given to understand that co-existence is acceptable - not peace, no, by no means peace, but...a cease-fire.

Again and again. Repetition. Again and...come on...yet again. Slowly, pride and ego start pulling the frontlines back. Okay, it might not work all that fast. But so what? It´s not working fast for anybody else in the class either, I can see that. I´m not the only one who´s a slow learner, and I know for certain that there´s other people who aren´t good at relaxing either, so there. It´s getting better now anyway, not quite as difficult as in the beginning, you know, and I definitly felt something happening around my shoulder-blades last time! They were much looser, much more open...not past lunch the next day, sure, but maybe I can do it again... Repeating the movement. Repeating the stillness. Again and again and again. And again.

Almost any westerner who has trained with oriental teachers will have one answer nailed into them, maybe the only answer they ever got to any question: "Go practice." The words can be put in different ways, but ultimately the answer always is "go practice." ..."Now try again, but relax this time." ..."Go back there and do some more standing meditation, and you´ll see." ..."Sit down, shut up, and stop wasting breaths." Over and over again. Repetition, ever so much repetition.

Constant repetition. Yet...not only. Only constant repetition is not the key. It has to be repetition with awareness. Otherwise you´re just back in the smithy in front of the swarthy, muscular smith sitting there, letting his hammer go up and down, up and down, without forethought, skill, or plan. Again and again has to have presence, it has to be filled with spirit, soul, mind, call it what you like. Not just attention, but awareness. They go hand in hand, but it´s the challenge of being aware into millimeters and seconds that put even the most experienced practitioners to the test. The outer mechanics of a form are easily learnt, and this is one of the traps in the Internal Arts. The movements you repeat - slow or fast or without any movement at all - they often have as simple an appearance as the beggar´s coat or the monk´s worn cloak. The inner form is forgotten while the practitioner dress up in a colorful court-creation completely void of content. Details about energy, and about the physical structure that will maximise energy, are not visible externally except to the trained eye; the old knowledge of the inner form fall by the wayside as students lack knowledge enough to pick a knowledgeable teacher. Seen from our Western viewpoint it´s the appearance that matters, matters in more movements, lots more movements, faster movements than the last one... Constant repetition. Yet...not only.

And finally, you give up. No, not give up; give in. The war is over. The soldiers are called back home, the supply-lines are dissolved like when you unravel a knitting. The earlier negotiations that shouted cease-fire are signed once more, now called "Peace". Repeating the movement, over and over again. But not as an enemy anymore, not as something painful, not as a torture-session each morning (but I just can´t stop), not as a black dog reminding you that you still can´t relax properly in your shoulders, even though you´ve been practicing for several years now, and when will you ever learn... Repeating the movement is beginning to feel like home. Not completely like an old, worn leather armchair, but at least like a kitchen-chair where an old traveller can rest a while. You have started to understand that a thousand-mile journey no doubt begins with one step, but that you also have to take all the other steps along the way. New mountaintops come and go, become hills as you glance back over your shoulder. The phrase "The journey is the goal" slowly grows to mean more to you than just empty words covered with intellectual topping. The training still feels contrary, every now and then - especially in the morning, before you go to work - but it´s a contrariness that you have begun to like, to get used to, no longer bashing your head bloody against it. You begin to forgive yourself. Give yourself a little breathing-space. Admit that there is no rush, after all. And already there a mountaintop melts like the iceberg never did for Titanic; a wall is dissolved even as the fist is raised to bang on it. This wave of suddenly melted water can sweep you along quite a bit of the ship´s route, until it´s stuck once more in a Bermuda-triangle of tiny, tiny, seemingly difficult details. Repeating the movement. Repeating the stillness. Over and over, over and over again.

Again and again. With a skillfully guided hammer the smith strikes the final blows along the blade. Then he quickly dips it into the trough of water whose temperature is a bitterly kept secret. He lifts the newborn blade in the red glow from the forge. Now, the polishing and the buffing, now the whetting. Next, hilt and sword guard (already it lies in a corner of the smithy, made in a delicate pattern of a monkey stretching out his long arm to catch the moon on the water), and finally he will be holding a finished sword in his hands. Both a weapon and a work of art, both a work of art and a weapon. The way it will be used - for peace or for war - that responsibility lies with the wielder. The smith wipes his sweaty forehead and looks at the blade. A short stab of grief pierces him. It was fun while it lasted, but he can already see the final stretch ahead. After that, the sword will be out of his grasp; it is made, it is finished, it leaves his hands. Instead, the work of a new blade awaits. And he knows well that he can´t keep the old sword, not for anything more than hanging it on the wall; a work of art, a weapon, but still just an object, no more. It would just hang there, unused. And letting it stay unused would almost be a sacrilege. Already he is preparing a new sword in his mind.

Repeating the movement again and again and again. Repetition. Of the movement, of the stillness. Eventually the training will trickle into everyday life, so that you unconsciously use the sword forged in the smithy of everyday training. With time, if the training is allowed to mature and grow stronger, deeper, then you can get to where movement is no longer movement, and where stillness gives birth to movement anew, in every changing second. Maybe the practitioner will even find what Liezi described, when he, after many years of training, discovered that he heard with his eyes and saw with his ears; that he used his nose as mouth and the mouth as nose; that he percieved the world with the totality of his senses while his spirit gathered, and his form dissolved... The body was no longer heavy, and Liezi felt like a flying leaf. Withouth knowing what happened, or how, he was lifted by the wind, drifting here and there, so that finally he knew not whether he was riding the wind, or the wind riding him. Repeating the movement, over and over and...come on...over again. With time it becomes a dear, beloved friend, Again and again. Repetition. Over and over again.

Copyright Daniel Skyle 1999, all rights reserved.