When I was a teenager, I was sort of obsessed with guitarist Steve Vai. His wild, fiery rock and roll playing is outrageously technical, and, some say, a tad overwrought. But his craziest runs are often balanced by quieter, thoughtful melodies, and no one can doubt his devotion to music.
A perfect example is his instrumental ballad “For the Love of God”. In this version, he is accompanied by an orchestra. Love or hate his style if you will, but even a glimpse of this video reveals the passion with which he plays.
Vai explains in this interview what it took to write such a complicated and emotional song. He fasted to experience an altered state of consciousness, an awakening. A self-described seeker of spiritual truths and a master of technical aspects of guitar, Vai uses music to pursue his vision of enlightenment.
Sounds a lot like someone training the the martial arts, huh?
It’s easy to get stuck in your training–especially at the beginning. White belts in most styles are full of enthusiasm but lack proper technique. All of their energy is wasted thrashing around, neither learning self defense nor expressing themselves through their art.
But veterans can be bogged down as well–mostly by the opposite problem. Once you train for a few years, you develop control over your body and mind. When you train for many years, most conversations in the gym or dojo revolve around mastering minutia: can this choke be just a little tighter, this block a little smoother, this stance a little deeper?
What many life-long martial artists forget is passion. Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan Karate famously said, “Spirit first, technique second”. This probably isn’t how most of us teach new students. We try to slow them down. We try to get them to reflect on their practice. But every once in awhile, shouldn’t we let them cut loose? Think of how awesome it feels to fully and recklessly throw yourself into a kata, a drill, or a sparring match. Pretty great, huh?
Or, as what happens to many martial artists, have you lost your passion?
Consider this question next time you teach and next time you train. Technique is important, yes, but remember that all the technique in the world will not teach passion. And without passion, you might as well be working in a factory instead of working out.
Here’s my inspiration for this post. If Alicia Keys can put so much of herself into singing the Gummi Bears theme song, surely you can give it your all when training and you can share your greatest passion with your students. If you don’t or won’t, you’re just wasting your time and theirs.
So next time you train, kick a little higher than is practical. Kiai as loud as you can. Beat on the heavy bag until your knuckles are bleeding. Not every day–just once in a while. It’s good for you!