Friday, December 20, 2013

Who do you face in the Dojo?

The Forge
I recently had a conversation with one of my senior students. It reminded me that we are all walking the same path, the only difference is our location on the path. We were discussing what happens when our training is neglected. How difficult it can become to return the dojo because we perceive there will be judgement or we don't measure up to a certain standard.

When I suggested to the student that all that needs to be done is showing up at the dojo and training, I was subjected to the reasons why this was difficult. Let me know if this sounds familiar: "I'm out of shape." "I have other commitments." "What will the other students say, I'm a senior and wont last the class." "I'm embarrassed." 

There were a few others, but I'm sure you get the idea. When I suggested the student just show up and train, the defiance arose within the student. I was subsequently told, "I cant believe I'm being defiant with you."
I had to laugh (and I did) because this student thought the defiance was being directed at me when in reality it was being directed inward. I told the student that my position as a teacher is to stand in and for the potential contained in each person. The same way it was done for me when I began. My teachers did not see the awkward student who couldn't perform techniques correctly, but rather the student I would become if I dedicated myself to the training and practice.

My own version of the above went this way:
I had reached shodan( first degree black) and I told my then sensei, who is still my present day sensei, I think I need to take a break. I had trained hard for four years and felt I deserved a break after getting to black belt. His response still resonates with me today. He said "At shodan, you are just starting. This isn't the time to take a break, this is the time to train harder than you have before." I didn't want to hear that. Not only did I not want to hear that, I couldnt hear it at the time.
What I wanted to hear was " You're right, you have trained incredibly hard these past four years, why don't you take some time off and relax?"

I walked away from that conversation, frustrated and angry. Determined to do what I wanted to do. I took off two years from training. For two years I didnt train. I didnt visit a dojo, practice kata or engage in any activity that could be considered martial. Two years later I started visiting my sensei, who when he first saw me made me feel like two days had passed not two years. His first question was, "When are you coming to train?" 

My responses were very similar to what the student told me. I needed to get in shape, I'm a senior and what will the juniors think of me, I don't wan to embarrass you (this one is by far the most destructive-Ill get to it later), My techniques are rusty, I don't even remember half of them. And so on went my reasons. He listened patiently and waited for me to finish. "Just come to class." was his response. And I did and haven't stopped since-over 22 years later.

Where do these responses come from? Why do we say these things went confronted with a situation like this? The easy answer is fear. We make commitments and excuses to cover our fear. I made sure I was so busy during those two years that any time I had would be occupied doing something else. Its a ploy to mask fear. The other answer is ego or saving face.

We remember where we were and are loathe to return to a state where we may not look as good, to be a beginner again. That is ego driven thinking. The comment about not wanting to embarrass my sensei is destructive because not only does it play to my ego, but it implies that his ego is as inflated as mine.

You have heard me say many times in the past that the dojo is a forge. It burns off impurities and you leave the dross of your character, techniques and spirit on the dojo floor. However a forge is only useful if you enter it. You must place the metal INSIDE the forge. The same way you have to ENTER the dojo.

The dojo is also a mirror, because the only person you face when you are on that floor is yourself. Its the you from last class, the you from last month, last year. You are always facing yourself on the dojo floor. There is always something to be polished, some technique that can be performed better. That is the ongoing state of the dojo and the student-regardless of rank.
The next time you step on the floor, it doesn't matter where you are, remember that the greatest challenge lies within.

Face Yourself

One final note:
Thank you for following this blog. 

I'm currently working on several book projects and so will take the holidays to restructure my new year schedule, train, and spend time with the family.

This will be my last post of the year. 

Thank you all for the follows and the comments. 

I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season and a Wonderful New Year!