Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Friday, February 14, 2014

Training in the cold

We're in the midst of a nor'easter as I write this. The snow is still coming down hard. It started around 7:00am this morning and will continue, they say, until tomorrow morning. It's been a tough winter so far: Cold and snowy. I've been trying to train for a May marathon--looking forward to running with both my daughters this time--but the weather hasn't exactly been cooperating. It's hard running on snow-slick roads and unshoveled sidewalks. But if you're going to get the training in, you still go. A warm tech shirt, gloves, hat, wool socks, winter running pants. Someone once said there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong kind of clothes. Or, the weather's not bad, you just didn't dress for it! Heck, if the weather's going to keep you from running, I can't imagine what sort of self-defeating thoughts will be going through your head when you hit mile 15 or 20.
Barn training in the winter.

I think about this because I train in an unheated barn--essentially, we train outdoors year round. Last week and the week before the thermometer was at 18 degrees F. (-7 C.) inside the barn. And there have been a couple of 15 degree F. (-9 C.) days. Some people have suggested I put in a propane heater, but the barn is so open all of the heat would go straight up and out. But that's not the real reason I haven't considered it seriously all these years. The real reason is that there's something that just feels right to train in harmony with nature (though that may sound a bit "crunchier" than I mean it to). If it's cold out..well, that's what it feels like to train in the cold. If it's hot and humid...well, that's what it feels like to train when it's hot and humid.

I can't stand running indoors either. I tried a treadmill once and didn't like it one bit. In fact, I got so distracted by the stupid TV they had on that I shot right off the back end of it. I like to be outdoors when I run. I like to notice the clouds and pay attention to the bumps in the road or the roots on the trail. I like to listen to what's going on around me and smell things. To me, it's almost the same with the martial arts--that is, it's being attuned to what's going on around you.

Years ago, I used to visit a friend's class. He rented space a couple of times a week in a health club. The room was beautiful, but it was a glass-walled room with an air conditioner that couldn't be shut off. Everything felt odd, somehow off kilter. And the feeling you had doing kata was all off. On the other hand, after a half hour of basic exercises and Sanchin kata in the barn in the winter, 18 or 20 degrees F. doesn't feel all that cold. I can remember stopping for a quick water break and seeing steam rise from people's heads. Sometimes I think I actually prefer the winter; if your hands get cold in the winter you just have to do a little kote-kitai (arm pounding) or bunkai.

What is the ideal environment to exercise and train in? Is there such a thing? I think it's the strangest thing when I run by the local gym and look through the front windows to see people running on treadmills. And it doesn't matter whether it's the middle of winter or a nice spring afternoon or a glorious, breezy summer day. In fact, why should one's practice of martial arts be confined to this ideal dojo space, with it's pristine wooden floor and showers and changing rooms? Why should we only practice in a gi and bare feet? If we are practicing a martial art, a system of self defense, shouldn't it be as natural as possible? After all, if you ever have to use your martial arts training, it probably won't be some place under ideal conditions.Shouldn't it be a natural part of our lives--practiced in the space we live our lives, in the clothes we wear and the climate we live in? Everything else, it seems to me, is just dressing up the duck...but it's still a duck.

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