Hit By Your Friends

We have a saying in the dojo. “It’s better to be hit by your friends than your enemies.” Learning how to take a punch when the strike is thrown by someone who doesn’t want to hurt you is an invaluable aid in training. Let’s face it, if nobody ever hit you, you’d be totally unprepared the first time it happens. The bad guy – the guy on the street that’s confrontational – he wants to hurt you. Your friends don’t.

Relationships grow quickly when you’re training together. You tend to remember who was at a test with you, as you rank up. The higher the ranking, the fewer people who seem to be along for the ride with you.

And the guys who stand with you at your black belt test – they’re tied to you for life. You can’t remember the test without thinking of them. Or so I’ve heard. I tested alone. Just me and a table full of examiners all studying my every move. I’d equate it to what a specimen under a microscope would be thinking…if they could think of course.

Even though I was alone at my dan exam, it didn’t matter. I’d been surrounded by a dojo full of students most of whom at punched or kicked me at some point. The camaraderie that comes from karate is priceless. You become family with those you train with.

But that’s a story for another day.

 

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‘The Talk’

I was chatting casually with my instructor about some marketing initiatives that we were working on, some upcoming events and he was sharing some teaching tidbits and ideas with me when he ever so casually said, “I need to see you before you get out of here.” Just like that. And then he was gone.

Why all of a sudden did I feel like a teenager in trouble? “Whatever it was I didn’t do it unless I was supposed to do it, then I did it for sure”, I thought to myself. Instead that feeling of dread grew in my gut, like a tiny knot that grows and festers into a huge boulder, weighing you down and making you sweat internally overcome with emotion, just waiting until ‘The Talk’.

I taught my class and tried to remain cheery and smiling, upbeat and positive while beads of perspiration covered my brain. Inside, I was a turning into a jello person. I pretty much knew what was coming. I wasn’t ready to test. “But I have to test,” I screamed until my own ears hurt. On the outside what everyone else heard was “great job, let’s do it again. One – two – three.”

I found myself wondering if I could wimp out and escape without facing the music. Maybe if I faced it later it wouldn’t seem so bad. But no such luck. I gamely hoisted my workout bag across my shoulder and smiled, saying “goodnight” in my most pleasant, I-don’t-want-to-face-the-firing-squad voice and prepared to leave.

That’s when I saw the finger beckoning me. “Come here for just a minute. Let’s talk.”

Let’s talk. That sounded so ominous. I carefully dropped my bag on the counter, sauntering off as casually as I could to the back mat. “Okay,” I thought. “I can take this. Toughen up. Black belts don’t cry.”

After a few minutes of conversation about my teaching skills and where I was at and how I’d improved he gently said, “So, now let’s talk about your test.” I didn’t know it was possible to really feel your heart lurch and drop to your feet. It is. Mine did. The only good thing was so far I wasn’t feeling the sting of tears fluttering against my eyelashes. “Toughen up,” I reminded myself. “Black belt’s DON’T cry.”

I must have been thinking so hard about holding it together because I didn’t hear him right. “I’m thinking your test will be at the end of February. Now, here’s what we need to do, here’s what you need to work on…”

Testing? The end of February? Really?

Now, I haven’t done a somersault in a long time but tonight I think I could have. I wanted to grin uncontrollably but figured that didn’t look very sophisticated. Did black belts grin? Yeah…when they tie that belt on for the first time I think.

I slammed my brain back to reality and listened intently to what he had to say. Time to really step it up. I’d be testing on my own, no breaks, no one else to distract the Board. All me. And it would be a Shotokan test, “That’s what you want to test isn’t it?” he asked. I nodded my head almost unable to speak. I’m testing! I’m really, really testing!

How come that feeling of exhilaration when I heard those words only lasted a short while? How come the nerves kicked into high gear and anxiety took over? I didn’t really have to wonder about that. I’d seen other dan exams. Over-confidence is a bad thing. A desire to train twice as hard, that’s what helps to take you to the next level.

I have to be honest, I won’t believe it until it happens. I won’t be confident of passing until I hear those words. “Let me present our newest black belt.” Only then will I believe it. And that’s when one black belt will definitely be grinning ear-to-ear.

Time to Start the Final Sprint

Many, many years ago when I was much younger I used to run.  I haven’t run in a long time, ever since I realized I didn’t enjoy it and there were so many other things that I did like that I could do instead. So I’ve done them and generally just enjoyed myself a lot more. What I did take with me from those ancient running days, however, was the feeling that came when you were reaching the back stretch and almost there and the exhilaration of the final sprint as you kicked your running up a notch to cross the line, reaching a new personal best.

Sometimes it was hard to dig deep and find that extra something you needed when you were plodding along, feeling your feet like lead anchors weighing you down, when just putting one foot in front of another was agony. When each time you took one stride forward you promised yourself it would be the last…just one more you’d whisper to yourself, just one more until you’d conned yourself to finally reach the finish line.

I think that’s where I’m at right now with my training. Working hard and ready to kick start that last lap. Its time to dig even deeper and push myself even more. To feel the scraped knuckles and sore muscles, to whisper to myself when I roll out of bed and feel the ache deep within that somehow just becomes a regular part of being, “its a good pain, its a good hurt”. Just one more day of training. Just one more class. Just one more time, just one more…

The only difference is, I expect this time, that I won’t feel that urge to crash to the ground, muscles spasming as I cross the finish line. This time the victory at the end will feel like a sweet success and drive me forward to keep training even harder towards a new finish line.