For the first time since I returned to formal training after two decades training on my own, I am taking time off of training for my family.
As Mrs. Wickstrom puts in her very wise and compassionate post, I have to face the fact that within a month of my friends stating that their goal is to catch and pass me in training. I have to accept that my priorities mean that they will succeed.
I have to face my pride, my ambition not for skill (which after 26 years of martial arts, 33 including an old-school fencing, is not great but significantly above average) but for the public recognition of that skill, for a chance to demonstrate all that I have spent my life preparing to do. I push so hard in Haidong Gumdo because I have a lifetime of physical memorization behind me, learning how to learn physical techniques.
It has been great to have my friends training by my side. But now that the race is lost I have to admit that my competitive nature is a bluff.
I have not been and never really do compete against them. The sword of my opponent does not rest in their hands.
It rests in mine.
It is easier to compete against them then to live up to my own standards. It is simpler to rely on the steady metronome of promotion examinations than to measure myself against my own capacity to learn. It is more comfortable to compare myself with others than to compare myself with my capabilities.
It is easier to evade the simple truth that while training is collective, my Art is individual. It is the fusion of what I have been taught with what and who I am. In three decades of training, in forests and in formal schools, I have only met a single person who fought with my exact style, my same philosophy. (We would punch each other’s knuckles in sparring, like the sort of thing you see in bad kung fu movies, but not planned or choreographed. Reverse punch versus reverse punch with full Ki really smarts… for a week or two.) That was when we were sixteen. Now wherever Noah is our arts are vastly different.
But the truth is that the sword of the enemy is in my heart. My standards for myself are fanatical. My expectations for myself are impossible. My desire to advance and learn is unending. No one would ever ask me to do the sorts of things that I need to do in order to live up to my own standards.
Those sound like boasts, if you aren’t the one whose body and time card have to face the fact that I can never, ever measure up. I never live up to my own standards. I am never the martial artist that I know I should be.
But I will take my muggum to the farm, and dance forms in the snow when I am not taking care of my parents or writing a book. I bring my opponent with me wherever I go, and he will win in the end, but if I face the fight well perhaps in the meantime I can be forged into something worthy of the title artist.
I’ll close this with the prayer I brought to the judo mat every day while relearning martial arts on a newly-crippled leg.
“Lord, let me face this time of trial and acquit myself with honor.”