When the world began closing down in late February and early March, in speaking with a former jujutsu colleague about our respective training activities, he asked how I was coping with the new isolation. I was a bit startled, because in many ways my practice has been isolated for the last five years.
Since moving to Seattle, besides working with a small number of people interested in traditional martial arts, I have been focused on solo form practice, pile standing, and preserving a base level of fitness. All of this I have been able to continue over the last three months, with the interesting exception that the primary group I belong to (YCGF) has adapted to the pandemic by holding different lectures and review sessions online for its members. Previously, I felt quite remote to most of the rest of the group, but now we are all in a similar situation, even those who live close to senior level instructors. The online content has been quite encouraging, showing a spirit of community and a desire to keep up as best we can given current circumstances. But I also know it is likely fleeting. Once things calm down, I imagine normal classes will replace those online conversations and I will return to travel to train as my personal and work schedule allows. However, absent a vaccine, I doubt I will be traveling by air for pleasure to do martial arts, so that may not happen for some time. I will need to make the most of the content I have, and seek to improve my skill (i.e., gong fu) as best I can given my current activities.
I have been spending more time on jibengong (i.e., foundational trainings) that are of benefit to internal martial arts, and working on pile standing as a greater portion of my training. The Seattle area restrictions on activities are now opening up a bit, where outdoor sport activities are allowed in groups of five or less. I have resumed my kenjutsu class and will be starting to meet up with my internal martial arts students based on their availability, unless things lock down again. I have noticed that several fitness studios (even some large coporate chains) and long-time martial arts activities (e.g., Seattle School of Aikido, Seatown Grappling) have lost their training spaces this year. Commercial real estate is challenging in Seattle in the best of times, and most entities are under pressure now due to lack of income and people wary of exposure.
So, a benefit of some internal martial arts training is how much emphasis is placed on solo practice, compared say to grappling arts like jujutsu, but skill at sensitivity and understanding higher-level skill with respect to different types of force requires hands-on experience, a challenge in these times. It will be interesting to see how much my skill has declined, when I am able to get hands-on opportunities with others.
Related to the pandemic, I used to not think much about the health benefits of martial arts, even as I learned Taijiquan, which many people practice for health. However, over time I have come to appreciate the improvements to balance, leg strength, sensitivity, and stress relief that my internal martial arts practice provides. I have added some focus in my training to foundational qigong I have learned as part of my Taijiquan training, as well as some additional practices such as the Yi Jin Jing, which seem compatible with internal martial arts.
In addition, I am making sure that as I resume a practice of elements of Jiki Shinkage-ryu such as unpo and hojo, that I make sure to stress posture, body alignment, and the need to keep a sense of smoothness and relaxation in the breathing and vocalizations associated to the art. Now is not the time to maintain practices that could be injurous to one's health and well-being, and some portions of that art, can stress the body quite a bit. It is especially important now, I feel, to build up without breaking, and balance hard with soft, to remain adaptable and flexible, but with a strong spirit, in both one's training and in one's life, to best get through to the other side of this.