Music as preparation

This year's Rio Olympics showed many athletes wearing headphones.

I'm not normally a fan of the pre-race/bout/match headphone wearing brigade. The best rationale I have heard is that wearing headphones is a way to get people not to bug you with chit-chat. You don't necessarily have any music playing, but the headphones buy you a quiet space. This I can understand. On the other hand, the athlete who needs to listen to death-metal or 2Pac in order to get into the 'zone' is not someone I admire.

Heijoshin is a concept in Japanese culture that says your performance frame of mind should be your ordinary frame of mind. It comes largely from the Zen idea that enlightenment is not a state that is separate from ordinary life, nor is it 'special' or on a higher plane.

The implication of this is that one shouldn't try to 'escape' from the present moment in order to best manage or understand it, one should penetrate deeply into the nature of its very 'ordinariness' (or its 'stress', 'fear', etc). I personally believe this is a very, very profound truth, one that requires ongoing study.

So on my path to 6th dan I knew I wasn't going to have a special playlist for the morning of my grading, or a playlist for suburi, or for the hours of cross-training on the bike. I believe this attenuates the experience of the journey towards the goal. Those bike rides I went on to build lower-body strength and the intervals I pedalled to improve my cardiovascular fitness were experiences of their own, as well as being experiences with a purpose. Those experiences I wanted to live fully, not have them take on the samey flavour of one of my dull playlists.

So when I found myself wanting to listen to something special the night before my grading I was in a bit of conflict. Was I submitting to the cultural norms of the day by having to 'soundtrack' my life? And yet I love movie soundtracks and how they can reveal an extra dimension to a particular moment.

So I chose a track which I have listened to in the past for relaxation. It wasn't a favourite. It was something that always just came on first when I chose my favourite album of this particular band. I chose it as an anchor, a summation, to try and wrap up and say good-bye to the years of preparation.

For this purpose, I found music, and this music in particular, was a perfect catalyst for this last stage of preparation.

As I listened to it I became able to let go of all the 'to do lists' of the last seven years. It helped me shed the weight of preparation and just 'be' in the state of readiness that I was in at that time. That state was far from perfect: damaged voice, sore Achilles, intermittent flu symptoms, lack of certainty about my new kamae. But it helped me to accept what was at that moment.

In looking for a video of this track to post, I realised I didn't want the official music video playing while people listened to it because that would cloud the meaning of the music. So I quickly pieced together a video using the small amount of footage I had from my trip; images that I hope will trigger a similar feeling in the viewer to the one I had in my hotel room in Tokyo where I finally understood what it means to "effortlessly release what we have learnt in training."

The title refers to Bishamon, the Buddhist deity and sometimes patron of warriors, and a small shrine dedicated to him outside the city of Kagoshima. It was the second time I had been taken there, and the promise by my friends to pray there for my success on the morning of my grading was very moving. Hence the video is dedicated to that experience.


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