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Practice Is Where You Find It

I was sweeping the dust off the patio this weekend when I found a small nest of wasps. Or maybe it found me, as I got the wasps all riled up when brushing away some cobwebs. Rather than go back into the house and risk having the wasps join me inside, I decided to take the wasps on armed with my trusty but dusty broom.

Swatting the first two with the broom end went more easily than I thought it would, so I switched to knocking them out of the air with the wooden handle. That proved to be a good challenge, and I ended up working up a good sweat. In the end, it was Guide 5, Wasps 0.

Now I'm not really advocating using bo techniques every time you have to knock out a wasp's nest, even if this pesticide-free method is very ecologically sound. As in the adage, "don't bring a knife to a gunfight," I'd prefer to have a big can of Raid on hand rather than a stick. But this ended up being a nice opportunity to get some practice during some boring chores.

Several factors made this good practice:

Wasps are pretty big insects, but they were tough to hit out of mid-air with a 1-inch diameter broom handle. And although I wasn't in mortal danger, I certainly wasn't too excited about getting stung. It felt like that scene in Star Wars, when old Ben Kenobi is teaching Luke to take on a hovering blaster remote with his light saber--except for the blindfold, of course. Missing would mean getting stung, not by a low-power laser blaster, but by an angry wasp.

Spinning a staff on a small patio is quite different than executing a kata in the dojo. Most schools have plenty of space to execute long-range weapon techniques; on the patio I was worried about smacking the glass patio door, denting the air conditioner, and generally making a fool of myself. In Real Life, we might have to defend ourselves in cramped quarters: maybe not U-571, but not the wide open spaces of the dojo either.

The best thing about this quickie practice was that I got some training in when I didn't expect to have the time. Although I was resigned to an afternoon of chores, I was still able to work on some techniques. It's like getting a bonus; something extra when you didn't expect it.

Many other situations lend themselves to impromptu practice. Just walking around gives you a chance to improve on your balance. You could walk along a line on the pavement, or atop a low curb, to give yourself a balance beam effect. Or, you could "subway surf" in the aisle of the bus or train you take every day to work.

Mr. Miyagi knew all about this idea in the Karate Kid series of movies, training young Daniel-san to execute karate blocks by waxing cars and painting fences. You might not have a lot full of classic 50's cars to wax, but I'm sure there's plenty of other chores around the house that might lend themselves to becoming martial arts practice.

Harvey Penick, the "grown caddy" who became the coach of champion golfers, recommended using a weed cutter to practice the golf swing; the motion and swing were the same, said Penick, and regular use would groove a fine golf swing. The same thinking can be applied to weapons training--after all, many traditional weapons originated in agricultural implements. The kama, or Japanese sickle, is an obvious choice for use in the garden as well as in the dojo. Or use the weapon you normally train with; for some weeding tasks, I've used my Spyderco pocket knife, and cut stalks of weeds down with knife fighting techniques.

As always with weapons, use caution and make sure no innocent bystanders are in danger from your techniques. And be careful of cutting yourself too! It's all too easy to get cut while swinging a machete in the backyard.

This sort of practice also gives you insight into other uses of everyday tools. Could that shovel you're using become a weapon? How would you swing it, using the edge as a cutting axe or the flat of the shovel as a cudgel? Where would you hold it, down near the end or would you "choke up" on the handle for better manuvering? How about that mop? What elements of the "business end" give it an advantage? (hint: it's not only an impact weapon, it's a chemical weapon as well).

With all the demands of modern life, it's harder and harder to devote the time we'd like to our martial arts practice. But by incorporating elements of martial arts practice into daily chores, we can eke out bits of practice, and still improve our techniques. Practice is where you find it; and the more you find, the better you'll get.

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