Posts Tagged ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’

ChangeFollowing my “New Year Advice” post, Andrew commented.  ”The big question is why are so many of us unable to change?” and added a number of well thought out reasons why it is difficult to alter our behaviour. I also think that many of us do not like change because it takes us out of our comfort zone. Andrew’s contribution re-opened what for me is an interesting  area of discussion as I am currently trying to change my own kendo.

Last year Sumi sensei suggested that I should try to move less after hitting. This advice is not relevant to everyone, but increasingly appropriate to someone of my advanced years. To hit effectively without going through, requires full spirit and control, so I need to work hard to get it right.

Like most people I am better at giving advice than taking it, and although I am keen to change, force of habit frequently overrides my good intentions.  As I see an opportunity to strike men, I push off from the left foot, hit, and keep going until I reach the wall-bars. To be honest, I enjoy steaming across the dojo as if I was still 18, but I am invariably rewarded the following day with aching knees.

So as it is the time of year when we focus on doing all the things that we did not get around to last year, hitting correctly and then stopping on the spot is my New Year objective. For all of us though, kendo is about constant change, so the point I am slowly getting round to; is how can we effect change in our practice? We have looked at this many times before, and the obvious answer is to stick with kihon drills so that we are not distracted by our competitive instincts. There are times however when we need to make changes through our jigeiko. When you consider that keiko should be approached with an ”unfettered mind”, this is not easy.

The phrase “The paralysis of analysis” comes to mind from some long forgotten piece of management training. If you apply it to kendo there is a real danger that if you think too hard about what you are doing, you become unable to move. Instead I like the approach that I may have inadvertently borrowed from Timothy Gallwey’s “The Inner Game of Tennis”;   of planning what you are going to do before the session, practicing without fixing your mind on a single issue and then reviewing how you did after training. The key is not to beat yourself up for making errors, but rather reflecting on what you did right.

I am in the process of trying this out and will be interesting to see whether I make any progress, or if my good intentions go the way of the January detox and diet.

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Monkey with stickA 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.

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