A number of kendo friends, obviously aware of the gaps in my education, occasionally lend or recommend interesting books to me. Over the years these have included a several publications devoted to the subject of the unconscious mind.
Some time ago I was exposed to Malcolm Gladwell’s popular business psychology book “Blink” which proposes that snap judgments often have a more successful outcome than considered decisions. As someone who as my wife regularly reminds me, invariably acts before he thinks, I did not see anything unusual in Mr Gladwell’s thesis.
More recently I was loaned a copy of “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey. Gallwey went on to write a series of “Inner Game” books and to found a coaching empire around the idea that:
“In every human endeavour there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner. The outer game is played on an external arena to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. The inner game is played to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential”
From a kendoka’s perspective Gallwey’s ideas are far from earth-shattering. In kendo we accept that the inner game is a fundamental part of our shugyo. In fact it could be said that we use kendo’s outer game as a path to reach our inner goals. The obstacles mentioned in the above quote are frighteningly close to the kendo shikai, (four sicknesses) of surpise, fear, doubt and confusion – kyo-ku-gi-waku.
The similarities between Gallwey’s book and kendo’s Zen roots are not coincidental. He goes as far as to quote Daisetsu Suzuki on Eugene Herigel’s thoughts in “Zen in the Art of Archery”.
This is not a criticism of “The Inner Game”. There are some very positive ideas to be taken from the book. To summarise, the writer proposes that over analysis and criticism have a negative effect on performance whereas demonstration and repetition of correct technique and a less analytical approach lend themselves to a more positive outcome.
Reflecting on the traditional approach to kendo instruction where the instructor shows you how to do a technique and you continue to practise until you get it right, Mr Gallwey’s book pretty much tells us what we have always known “monkey see monkey do”. It works every time.