I come from a family of creators who enjoy challenging hobbies. My dad is a painter who is especially skilled in oils and portraiture, and he was a competitive swimmer in high school and college. My mom likes doing difficult and complex knitting patterns. My brother is a professional musician.
I hit stuff.
Kidding aside, any martial artist knows they have to put in hours and years to hone their craft. It’s not a matter of mindlessly parroting or mimicking motions their Sensei or Sabumnim does. You have to develop both the mental and physical intelligence required to perform and improve upon your martial art. You have to understand why you do certain things.
You have to be a good mechanic.
The other day during a text exchange with my mom and brother, my brother said he was learning the classically-influenced 1970s pop song “MacArthur Park,” and was doing some “woodshedding.”
Let me explain, or rather, let my brother explain: in the musical world, woodshedding is “when you play a new song or technique you haven’t played before and try to work it into your hands.” He said the term came from the idea of someone working in their woodshed at night, “creating and perfecting things.”
Texas-based music teacher and jazz saxophone player Paul Klemperer has this to say:
“The term woodshedding…is the recognition of the need to sequester oneself and dig into the hard mechanics of the music before you can come back and play with a group in public…You have to dig deep into yourself, discipline yourself.” Once the musician gains confidence in the technical, mechanical pieces, they can add more innovation and interpretation.
I was actually surprised that my classically-trained brother found this simple-sounding and repetitive song difficult to learn, but his trained ear picked up on a lot of complex nuances that I didn’t notice. Those complex nuances added up to the whole that he would perform with the knowledge of the technique wired into his brain and hands. Even though music is seen by most as an artistic, creative endeavor, it’s also highly technical, much like a sport or martial art. Like a martial artist, he simply can’t mimic what he hears. He has to hard-wire it.
Since my knee injury and surgery, I’ve had to do a LOT of woodshedding as I’ve re-learned the basics of walking and later the fundamentals of taekwondo.
Is re-learning movement more difficult for me since I have perhaps more body-awareness and the potential for self-criticism than the average, non-athlete rehab patient? Will I overthink everything? Or does it just require a different thought process? The first time I attempted a form I felt like my brain was short-circuiting as my leg fought to keep balance and my hands and arms fought to do strikes and blocks with the precise timing I used to have. My body couldn’t even “remember” how to do a basic squat the first time I attempted it. But I’m making improvements and growing stronger every day. My athlete body as a whole is starting to come back together.
“Woodshedding” seems like a perfect fit for a martial artist and athlete: we have heightened body awareness coupled with the mental acuity developed over time as we learn and layer new and more complex skills. Martial arts IS physical and mechanical, and it’s also mental. (My competitive swimmer father would say it’s “90 percent mental.”)
It’s time to use discipline, concentration, and a willingness to learn and re-learn so I can be the black belt I was, even stronger this time.
Stay tuned for my upcoming book– “Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts” published by She Writes Press. Coming to a bookseller near you April 20, 2021!
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