Everybody was Kung Fu Writing

Okay, so I’m actually studying Sanchin-Ryu, not Kung Fu, but I liked the subject line.  I spent Sunday afternoon at our first spring workshop.  Hundreds of students, lots of senseis and masters, and three hours of instruction and workout.

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about the parallels between writing and martial arts.  I riffed on this a year ago with a Writer as Martial Artist post at SF Novelists.  Both writing and martial arts require a great deal of practice and discipline.  With both, while many people dabble, far fewer stick with it to the point of mastery.

What I’ve been noticing a lot in martial arts lately is that I’m walking away from classes feeling lost.  Back when I was a green belt, I had a pretty good idea what I was doing.  I was learning the moves, getting the forms down, and feeling pretty confident.

What a foolish little green belt I was.  I’m now at third brown (which is the lowest rank of brown belt).  Remember those forms I thought I knew?  Now we’re breaking them down.  It’s one thing to do choreographed movements.  It’s another to perform part of a form with speed, power, and proper technique against someone who just grabbed your gi and hauled off to punch you in the face.

It’s frustrating.  My brain wants concrete right answers, and that’s not what I’m getting now.  Two masters will show me the exact same form, but they’ll do it differently.  Is one way right or better than another?  That depends on the situation, the effect I’m trying to create, and how much I’ve practiced.

Sound familiar?  Tell me, what’s the right way to write a story?  (Seriously, please tell me.  I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I still don’t know!)

One of the lessons I learned yesterday was that I think too much.  My partner throws a punch.  I step in, strike the arm, throw the kick … and stop.  The kick didn’t go where I expected it to.  So I pull back, trying to figure out what to do differently.  The master we were working with jumped on this.  Better to do something than to do nothing.  The last thing you want to do is train yourself to stop while fighting.  Throw the kick, and if it misses, follow up with something else.  Misses can open up opportunities as well.

Strange how well this matches my personal writing process.  I can’t revise when I’m working on a first draft.  I’ll think about the story on the road, or lying in bed, but when I’m writing I write.  If I write crap, that’s okay — keep writing, and see what I come up with.  Some of that crap will have to be fixed.  Some will create new ideas and opportunities.

They say the more you learn, the more you discover how little you know.  It’s a pretty saying.  In real life, it’s frustrating as heck 🙂  It’s also true.  Will I ever reach a point of mastery, in either Sanchin-Ryu or in writing?  I have no clue.  But I have to trust that I’m getting better, even when I feel completely overwhelmed by it all.

Especially when I feel overwhelmed.