Time

Like most human beings I want everything to happen instantaneously. No hard work, no waiting for the right time. I want it now. Karate isn’t like that. I’ve seen extremely gifted people begin training, excelling through the lessons faster than it seems possible. On the other hand, I’ve also seen those who have had to work hard, sweating and straining to achieve each milestone.  Most of us are in the middle ground, paying our dues with sweat equity and determination.

Everything worth anything takes time. That’s why I sometimes have to chuckle when I see a brand spanking new black belt who struts around like they know everything. Little do they know – but they’ll learn soon enough – that they’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. They’re only now ready to learn. Lessons unfolding around them reveal something new, they hadn’t noticed before. So fixated on having a big draw hand they failed to see the role the hip plays in the punch.

Have patience. It takes time for the knowledge to seep in. Keep training with humility and dedication. The best things in life are truly worth waiting for. Persistence is the key that’s unlocked many a door. Respect your teachers. You’ll get there at your right time.

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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.

The Saga of the Broken Toe

First of all, let me assure you a broken toe may not sound like a huge deal but it hurts. It really hurts when you’re jumping around and trying to be tough and not show that its hurting. I know. I’m that person – the one who cries on the inside and is stoic on the outside. Meanwhile my toe was swelling up, showing bruising and just generally letting me know that it was there.

But I kept on training. Trained in my class and taught the next without a grimace or a sign that anything was wrong. I even came back the next night, toe securely taped up, and trained again. I’m tough you know…

Well, maybe, but I’m also human and I’m not stupid. I had an opportunity to go and train the week that the dojo was closed and opted not to. Why? Well, it went back to a conversation that I’d had with one of my girls when I told her that I was taking my exam in February.

“What if you get sick?” she asked. ”

“I’m taking my exam in February, ” I answered.

“But supposed you’re sick?” she persisted.

“I AM taking my exam in February,” was my reply in pretty much the same tone I might have said, “Because I’m the mother and I said so.”

However, my poor aching toe got me to thinking. Suppose that I trained now and it didn’t heal as quickly. Suppose my training made it worse? Suppose I couldn’t test in February.

Well,  I wasn’t taking any chances. I laid off the heavy training, although I practice on my own at home. The toe isn’t bruised any more. Its still swollen and it still hurts but I’m back to training come Monday. Seriously, did you think a broken toe could stop me for long?

I’ve got goals. I’ve got dreams. And NOTHING is going to stop me now!

One step…

I have a habit of getting impatient. When I want something, I want it NOW. I don’t always like to wait for it. Okay, the truth is I NEVER want to wait for anything. Must say something about me that I’m looking for instant gratification. Maybe its because I always have so many things going on in my life at the same time. Or maybe I’m just impatient.

Curiously though this time I am patient. I know I’m not quite ready yet. I realize that there are some things I need to master. Its a path to walk along, one step at a time.

I’ve watched other students as they progress through martial arts. They get discouraged. We all do. Its hard sometimes. But they just forget to do one thing – put one foot ahead of the other and focus on that. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. Well, its true. And that same journey of a thousand steps is completed because no matter what the traveler found on the path before him, he took one step. Sometimes he had to step off of the path to go around what was blocking him, and so he took more steps than the person who could step right over the barrier. But he got there.

Frequently I hear the younger students (yes, I mean kids) get really competitive about reaching their black belt. Its natural I suppose; however, I like to remind them that we are all on the same journey striving for the same goal. We’re not running a race to get to the finish line first, we’re walking together, each of us there to support the other, helping to carry them along at spots (that’s where mentoring comes in!) if necessary so that we can all reach our goal. I might get there first. You might get there first. The important thing is to get there – to cross the finish line – to achieve a monumental goal.

One step, one slow plodding step, one foot in front of the other, until the goal is reached.

Karate teaches character, perseverance, control. I think it must be teaching me patience as well.

Anticipation

Mine is not the normal story. Mine is not the normal journey to Shodan. It began a long time ago, took many turns, and even some side journeys before I was back on the path to Shodan.

Getting back on the road and toiling towards the goal that always seem so allusive was difficult. I had aged. My body had aged. But my spirit was still the same. Determined. Anxious. Obsessed.

There are no regrets for those things that diverted my path. They were perhaps a necessary adventure that brought me back to my Shodan quest, even more determined to achieve the final goal.

Friday night I felt my feet firmly planted on the path of my choosing. The moment my hands wrapped around the new belt and I heard through the haze of disbelief that my next test was for black belt my soul soared with joy and just as quickly lurched back, free falling towards the ground…black belt. Would I be worthy? Would I have what it took to make the final sprint towards the finish line and be deserving of the title of black belt when I got there?

I remember breathing deeply, grinning ear-to-ear with my new belt in hand and heading to ring the bell (a tradition in our dojo) realizing I was just taking the first step towards a new journey…a journey that was just beginning at Shodan…it wasn’t the destination…merely a starting point.