Michelle’s Martial Arts Experience
The great thing about working on Tottenham Court Road is the opportunity to spend work lunch times wandering around the shops. I’d spotted the Xen-Do dojo during one lunch time three years ago, and my journey started there when I took that first step down the multiple steps of Goodge Street Dojo.
During my teenage years I had achieved purple belt in Karate but stopped practising to live out my young adulthood enjoying the London nightlife. I always regretted giving it up and not following my dream to achieve much more with Martial Arts.
I had been watching Bruce Lee from the age of 8 and he quickly became an idol and always was the biggest inspiration for trying again. For Bruce Lee’s philosophies and perserverance, I am most grateful. Without his teaching Martial Arts would be in a different place right now. Alongside the legend himself, other influences came from Taoism, Confucious and Buddhism.
I knew that people in the Western world practice Martial Arts as a sport, but for me practicing Martial Arts would be more than just about sport, it’s more spiritual than that, it’s about mind control and discipline. Martial Arts (like Zen Buddhism) are a way to find peace and self-mastery. They are teachings that enable us to correctly understand the nature of our minds and self, and to grow spiritually as a human being.
It is certainly true to view Martial Arts as a way of life.
As a committed member of The Buddhist Society, I actively practice the Zen tradition. My goal is to have the discipline to challenge my mind and be on a spiritual journey. Zen and Martial Arts have the same essence, they compliment one another and harmonise well, both involving patience, respect, integrity, humility and perseverance, self control, positivity, mindfulness and meditation.
Please allow me to share this inspirational quote by Zen Master Dogen: “This present continuous practice is nothing other than just that, just committing oneself to continuous practice for no other reason than to practice continuously.”
My aim this time was to be good at it. As with Zen, in Martial Arts there is no superiority or inferiority of style, only the distinctions between the practitioners. So I wanted to apply myself to see where it would lead me.
A great message from Kano Jigoro: “It is not important to be better than someone else, but to be better than yourself yesterday”
Zen says: Become skillful in your practice, apply oneself wholeheartedly and to hand oneself over whatever needs to be done in that moment. Silence ones mind, focus on ones training. After all self discipline is self love.
I thoroughly enjoy our classes and feel 100% challenged as no two classes are the same. I always feel satisfied that my body and my mind have been challenged and I walk away with an incredible sense of accomplishment.
I have a lot of respect for the Xen-do Senseis, they are exceptional at scaling each class to meet the needs of all the different experience and levels of us students. What I have seen is that it doesn’t matter if you’re an accomplished Sensei who has been training for years or if you are a complete beginner, with patience each Sensei will take the time to develop you to reach your full potential.
I remember my first class as if it was yesterday, it does feel like yesterday… you know that saying “time flies when you are having fun?”, and it really is fun. My first class was with several other belts and Sensei Nicolas as the instructor so a real mix of skillsets. When Sensei Nicolas padded me for the first time, I felt he was testing my ability, whatever I did he would push me to hit harder and to this day he continues to test my power and speed in the same way. During this class he said “that’s really good for your first time”. I thought ‘uhoh, this is going to be a challenge’, but it’s exactly what I wanted to get from taking part. It felt good to be back in the dojo after over 20 years.
3 years later, after several hundred high energy classes, I achieved my black belt.
You could compare going through the belts like gathering the ingredients to a stir fry – picking up new and exotic tastes along the way as the recipe is perfected. Now as a black belt I am learning to cook the stir fry. Refining everything I have learned.
Senior gradings were an eye opener. I quickly recognised why all the Senseis persisted to challenge the students. It was all to prepare us for these Senior Gradings with Master Raf. All the pieces of the puzzle came together. Master Raf’s teaching technique requires you to focus, to respect one another, to be in control of your actions, and to have fun along the way. From Blue-White belt, I enjoyed hearing Master Raf talk about his experiences and his demonstrations of the fundamentals, and how he makes each grading humourous as well as professional and impactful.
WOMEN IN MARTIAL ARTS
I love that half of our students are women, I think it’s become very important for women to learn a Martial Art because crimes against women are threatening to our safety. The fact that us women can take part in a historically male sport, learn this form of self-defence to protect ourselves, this is a great feeling of empowerment and can be life-changing. I certainly feel a great boost of confidence upon joining Xen-Do. I feel my persistence has developed and my mental toughness has grown, in essence it is a great feeling to know I am working to become the best version of myself as quickly as possible. On another note, I truly recommend Xen-do because with great commitment it will help you get into shape and teach self love. Without doubt, in Martial Arts, our bodies are both our weapon and our armour, so training regularly will teach you to respect and treat it well. Self love is a priority of this art.
I draw inspiration from Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Relating to commitment and achievement, I would like to also share another of my favourite quotes from Bruce Lee: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
As a black belt I am working to refine my skills and I’m hoping to develop a way, which I can call ‘my way’, which will suit my physical and psychological strengths and weaknesses. My goals are personal, individual, therefore I will never compare myself to anyone – I feel no two artists can be identical.
As Bruce Lee said, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.”
As in Xen-Do, in Zen practice, “One will learn not to spend too much time thinking about a thing, but to get it done. And reading and gaining ‘intellect’ alone is not enough, we must apply ourselves. Being willing is not enough, we must do.”
Although achieving the black belt was my initial goal, practicing Xendo has taught me that this is in no way the end of my journey, in the Xendo curriculum there is so much to learn therefore the challenges are endless. Sensei Lewes has offered his words of wisdom in saying, “A blackbelt is only as good as a white belt without practice.” This is my biggest stimulater. If my practice was superficial I would go out and buy myself a black belt, but for me, it’s about being good at what I’m doing, so it is my goal to master the art. I appreciate Sensei Lewes’s words, they ring home with me. Sensei Richard has been a wonderful source of knowledge and encouragement, he is the person to have in your class because what he doesn’t know about kickboxing isn’t worth knowing and I appreciate his continuous support. Sensei Balogh has been a regular instructor of the lunch time classes of which I attend. Sensei Balogh’s technique and classes are really valuable to me, I learn so much from his training strategy.
Everyone is on their own journey. As long as you’re true to yourself and those around you, there’s no pressure on you to match up to anyone else’s standards. It is not important to be better than someone else, but to be better than yourself. Be the martial artist and person YOU want to be. Go with it. You are your own flow. And there are no limits to what can be achieved.
Like Zen, I go in harmony with that flow….
For this I would like to bow to this wonderful Zen Proverb: “Using no way as a way, having no limitation as limitation.”
Finally, and with all this in mind, I am a lover not a fighter.
Respect to those Xen-Do instructors and Zen masters whom have helped shape me.