Black Belt and Writing
I’ve written about writing and martial arts before. I’m rather fond of the Writer as Martial Artist post I did at SF Novelists almost three years ago, where I proposed a belt ranking system for authors.
This past weekend, I received my shodan (black belt) in Sanchin-Ryu during our weekend retreat/workshop. There was the requisite joking about learning the secret boot-to-the-head technique and mastering the way of the ninja, but in many ways, this feels like a beginning. I am not in any way prepared to go toe-to-toe with Jet Li or anything like that. But after 4+ years of study and practice, I feel like I’ve established a foundation.
I feel a lot like I did when Goblin Quest came out from DAW, actually. On the one hand, having a novel out from a major publisher was a goal I’d been working toward for a long time, and it felt awesome to have arrived. On the other, once that first book comes out, you start to realize just how much more there is to learn and how much more work awaits.
Rewarding work. Exciting work. But work nonetheless.
Last night I entered my regular dojo wearing a black gi and belt for the first time, and it was different. A little intimidating. A little overwhelming. I’ve instructed groups before, but last night there were more questions, more bows, and in my own mind, more pressure. At one point I was tempted to say to a brown-belt friend, “You realize I’m the same guy I was a week ago, right? I don’t suddenly have all the answers or anything like that.”
It’s very much like having that first book show up in the bookstores. People treat you differently, even though you’re the same writer you were before. You still mess up. You still crumple up drafts and start over. You still get stuck.
As a kid, I never considered the “art” piece of martial arts. I didn’t get it. But there are so many parallels between writing and Sanchin-Ryu, and each one has given me a great deal of insight and understanding into the other.
I wonder if this is one reason so many of my writer friends study martial arts. Writing tends to be a sedentary occupation, so it’s important to have something that gets you out of the chair and makes you move. But for those authors/martial artists reading this, do you also find a resonance between the two? I feel like my study of Sanchin-Ryu complements my study of writing, and vice versa.
Neither a black belt nor a published novel suddenly change who you are. I still go to classes and practice at home when I can; I still buckle down every day during my lunch break to work on the book. But both belt and book represent a next step, and sometimes it’s important to stop to recognize how far we’ve come … and how much farther we have to go.
As with that first book, I feel like shodan needs an acknowledgments section. I’ve received a tremendous amount of help and support from Master Cataline and the other masters and senseis who’ve given me so much of their time and attention. I’m also grateful to all of the other Sanchinkas (students) I’ve trained with. And finally, thanks to my family for their support, especially as we struggle to sort out our various busy schedules.
In closing, I’d like to share one of the most important lessons I’ve learned: both promotions and publications are best celebrated with ice cream.
January 31, 2012 @ 10:02 am
I’m not a writer, but I am a programmer, and a martial artist of many, many years, and there are definitely parallels between the two jobs.
The thing that find most interesting when looking at programming/MA (and, I extrapolate, writing) is that the ‘right’ way/style, etc is the one that works for you.
Also, there is an interesting link when you’re learning both: You start out stumbling through functions/motions, and you try to find elegance, a sparsity of effort, either in lines of code or in body mechanics. And if you practice that, when it comes down to actually using it in practice, either needing to write code quickly, or defend yourself, that elegance will suddenly be there. But, if you *don’t* practice, you get rusty very, very quickly. You can still do it, but it’s the little things that go away. And it’s very annoying, because you know that you USED to be able to do it, and it just feels horribly wrong, but you can’t figure out how to get to where you used to be without, well, practicing at it again.
Jim C. Hines
January 31, 2012 @ 10:26 am
One of the ongoing themes in Sanchin-Ryu is the lack of right answers 🙂 There’s a lot of work on refining and improving technique, but I remember one master explaining that in a real-life confrontation, the right move is the one that helps you to survive and escape.
January 31, 2012 @ 10:53 am
Congratulations on the promotion!
I’ve studied Shao Lin Hung Mei Kung Fu for eight years (and been writing in some form or another all my life) and maybe it’s kind of sad that I never really considered a connection there. Writing’s just something I do, and kung fu is something I wanted to do almost as long and could finally afford.
I think blackcoat made a really good point about the practice. It’s something that you have to practice, and live, and breathe. And beyond that, I think once all the practice is done and you just do it, there’s a very similar feeling in both writing and kung fu. When you start thinking about things too hard is when it all goes horribly wrong. 🙂
I also use physical activity (martial arts or running) as a way to take a break from some kind of knotty problem. After 45-60 minutes working up a sweat, it feels like you can come back to any kind of problem and look at it with a fresh perspective.
January 31, 2012 @ 11:07 am
It is funny that a lot of writers gravitate to martial arts. I’ve been involved with a variety of styles pretty much since I started writing in college (almost 10 years now). Right now, I’m practicing Krav Maga, and before it was Shaolin Kung Fu. It is an amazing way to get myself out of the house and make sure my body doesn’t deteriorate while my mind is active.
And yes, I too have seen the parallels between the arts, the discipline needed for writing and for performing a move correctly. They require a lot of the same dedication, practice, and being willing to take correction as you progress.
Anyways, thanks for this post. It reminds me of the need to focus and push myself, even in the down times.
January 31, 2012 @ 11:18 am
Congratulations on achieving shodan!
If I may ask, what is the historical lineage of Sanchin-Ryu? It sounds like it’s likely to be related to the Uechi-Ryu family, as was my karate school back in the day. (What kata do you learn on the way to shodan?)
Link Stew « The End Of Nowhere
January 31, 2012 @ 11:42 am
[…] C. Hines talks about how being a Black Belt and Writing are similar. I’ve been seriously considering taking up some form of martial arts, so this was […]
Jim C. Hines
January 31, 2012 @ 12:10 pm
Well, crud. There used to be a Wikipedia page that was (as far as I know) relatively accurate. But it looks like that’s gone now.
Sanchin-Ryu is a younger style, founded here in the U.S. and based in part, as I understand it, on Isshin-Ryu. We’ve got ten basics, ten combined basics, ten forms, ten kata, and then there are weapons kata. I’m at the point of starting to learn the movements of the first few kata, while trying to refine and eventually master everything that came previously.
January 31, 2012 @ 2:03 pm
Something bugged me when I first read this, and it finally percolated in through my brain. It’s not that there is a lack of right answers, so much that there is a multitude of right answers. 🙂
Jim C. Hines
January 31, 2012 @ 3:20 pm
I think I like your take better than mine, and shall adopt it from this point forward.
January 31, 2012 @ 11:29 pm
Many congratulations. Two full-time jobs, kids, and all that general life stuff–quite an accomplishment to add this.
April 24, 2012 @ 10:10 am
Alright, a bit late in posting a reply it seems. I find that my favorite way to celebrate a promotion is with a nice long shower. I’m always way too sweaty to really want to go anywhere for ice cream after practice or a test. I practiced Uechi-Ryu for a while, moved, and now practice a form of jujitsu particular to my Sensei and one of his old students. For me, I like the dissociation of martial arts from the rest of my life. It’s a place where I can forget about anything happening outside and just practice something I enjoy. I wish you the best of luck in both your writing and training =)