Tension at the Dojo?

How could there be tension? No, we do not mean gossip or intrigue. We do mean that we are not relaxed while training at the dojo. Of course, stress is another word for tension. Sensei Glen here to tell you that there is stress in my life and it comes with me more often than it should onto the dojo floor. I am working on being better in leaving my outside world outside when I enter the dojo.

When we enter the dojo, we look forward to the tension of our life disappearing. The stress from our day has been building and we are looking forward to doing fun things at the dojo. Regardless of our situation, taking a math test or having to grade the test, the dojo is a fun place to go. We know we are likely to get to hit something or maybe someone!  Just kicking a bag releases tension for me and then I am fully into the lesson at the dojo.

If we know about stress we know that psychologically there are two types of stress. The one no one at work discusses “good” stress called Eustress (pronounced U-stress) which can be fun, exciting and energizing, especially in the short-term.  And the “bad” stress or distress. This bad stress is what we often think about and discuss with our cronies.

So, how is it that we have tension or distress at the dojo? When we enter the dojo we bow and should recall that we are leaving the outside world (and our street clothing, shoes & socks) behind and that the time in the dojo is ours. It is not that easy to leave the tension of the world behind.

We are in a new home for our dojo. While we were in our temporary dojo, we may have forgotten why we bow on the way into the dojo and how we need to release the cares of this world. We bow at the entrance to the dojo to show that we are leaving the world at the door, all of our cares and worries are left outside of the door like our shoes. The time at the dojo is for training and not compiling a list of things to do next.


Bow and release the tension when entering the dojo

At the beginning of our training we kick or punch and our Sensei is just trying to get us to kick or punch. As we progress on our karate journey we begin to have some tension in our body. We tighten and muscle up. During training I sometimes think  “let’s execute the perfect kick, I am so going to nail this and then be promoted two belts and not just one, based on this kick alone!” Okay, it may be an ego thing for me. You never would think that about yourself. So what do I do for that “two belt kick?” I tighten or muscle up and launch the “winner” which of course, you know, never works.  This is the opposite of how we should practice and execute techniques. This is also one of the reasons Sensei Mae was a black belt one year before I was.

Of course employing distress or tension is a mistake. We have all made a mistake and mistakes are great at the dojo! What did you say? Yes, we said it is great to make mistakes and to have your Sensei see them! When we work with a qualified Sensei they will correct us to the right form as well as the correct tension.

This week’s blog Japanese word is “Ima” meaning the present time or now.

  • Ima is pronounced ‘ee-mah’
  • When we are in the dojo our mind should be on the here and now of the training and in the moment, not the past or the future. This is hard for me. How about you?

In karate we are often told to relax. We should practice Ima and be in the moment when at the dojo. Our Sensei reminds us to relax as we fight. We may be thinking to ourselves, “Let me watch and coach while this guy comes breathing fire at you!” It is hard to train ourselves to relax. Sensei will tell me or other students to relax my jaw or breathe deeply to help us relax. During fighting we are encouraged to smile. Not necessarily to distract our opponent. Most importantly we smile or even laugh to breathe and relax our tension and carry out the drill or exercise.  If we can smile, we are experiencing Ima during the fight. Can you smile and fight? I know from experience when I can, my fighting is better.

Let’s agree to do better at the dojo next week and release all of the tension and pick up some Eustress to have fun with and focus our training. How can we achieve Ima when we enter the training floor? Encourage each other to bow on the way into and out of the training space. Our shoes, socks and tension will wait until after class to be put back on! See you in class soon.