Just got home from a terrific Karate session! After nearly passing out at the last 2, grueling sessions, my Shihan (teacher) gave me some advice. “Geoff … you are trying to hard. Loosen it up … breathe. Let go of that tension across your shoulders.” he suggested.
So tonight, my focus was to ‘let it happen’ and stay loose even when ‘trying’ to learn new moves and techniques. Over the weekend, I thought back to my competitive tennis days and remembered the game I used to play when my tennis game went off. It is called ‘Bounce-Hit’ and I learned it from a book called Inner Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. (The story of how the book came to me I will leave for another time).
‘Bounce-Hit’ is simple in theory, but much harder in practice. When playing, you simply say the word “Bounce” at the instant the ball bounces on the court and “Hit” at the instant the ball makes contact with the strings of your racket. “Bounce … Hit!” The tough part is keeping your voice relaxed and saying the words without any strain or tension. This becomes an exercise in letting go of tension in the voice and becoming completely present to your own body and it’s relationship with the fast approaching ball. The Inner Game trains us to use only the muscles we need. It trains us to let go of the fear of failure and allows the tennis player to remain still and centered. When I think back, playing ‘Bounce-Hit’ as a 14 year old was the first time I learned to meditate.
So tonight at Karate, I came up with my own version of ‘Bounce-Hit’ and used words “Push-Pull”. Many of the Karate moves in punching and kicking involve a forward thrust (punch) and a retraction of the opposite hand/foot so it is ready to strike. And we vocalise a lot in Karate so my words were drowned out by the others in the class. Here’s what I observed in myself …
Initially, I was surprise how tense my voice was, even during the basic moves. When the degree of difficulty went up, so did the tension in my voice. As I observed this tension in my voice and gradually relaxed it (by letting go), my focus and physically coordination for even new moves increased sharply. I also noticed a new freedom and awareness in my retracted hand. My Shihan has always pointed out that my retracted hand does go all the way back and I now realise that my awareness of that hand had not developed … that all changed tonight. I could now ‘feel’ my retracted hand in space (the one I cannot see without looking down). Because of this, my movements and technique flowed more. I was also snapping out punches with more speed and accuracy. I got to the end of the session with much more energy in the tank as well. You could say that tonight was a very BIG Ah-Ha moment for me.
Funny how we unlearn things when the context changes (eg. tennis to karate … teenager to adult). Interesting how small games like ‘Bounce-Hit’ game make such a huge difference to our presence focus and performance. Fascinating to rediscover something familiar and apply it to something new. Exciting to realise that I practice what I preach as a facilitator and help groups (through Improv games and action methods) to learn from the neck down (as Viv McWaters calls it). And tonight, at my request, Johnnie Moore emailed me the 3 books he would recommend I read … one of them was Inner Work by (you guessed it) Timothy Gallwey!
ps Friend and colleague Russell Fisher recommended this book to me ages ago … and I forgot to follow up on it!