Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sticking With It


While earning rank in the martial arts can become a source of ego gratification, complacency is another matter. After spending a period of time of hard work to attain a certain rank, the desire to rest on one's laurels can be tempting, even attributable to human nature. Carl Jung wrote, "The goal is important only as an idea; the essential thing is the opus which leads to the goal; that is the goal of a lifetime." Budo, the path of martial arts suggests that the journey is far more important than the destination. The aspiring student needs to feel a sense of direction, which resides in the here-and-now, not at some far off point in the future. The notion of crossing a "finish line" is imaginary in the martial arts.

Everybody likes getting a new belt - so what does the newly promoted student do for an encore? Most green and brown belts are encouraged to develop teaching and leadership skills, as these are definite milestones on the martial path. Teaching in particular allows the practitioner to view her/his art in a different light that is not available from a learning perspective. It's perspective that is the real issue here; the maturing student needs to re-invent her/himself to maintain the daunting task of staying motivated and enthusiastic. In the martial arts, there is so much emphasis (usually self imposed) placed on drive, competition, and perseverance. This can become a downfall, and serves as the prelude to burnout. Training is tough, no doubt, and that has its place. But it should never be at the expense of making us unhappy and losing interest in something that has the potential to enrich our lives and fulfill our dreams.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Black Belt Mama said...

Very good post. You're very right. It does change as you move along. It becomes less about the color of your belt/promotion/kyu and more about who you become.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Oniyagi said...

See through, the reading of several blogs in our little community, I have decided that I may want to stay a white belt as long as I can, just to be able to work the basics more often (and yes, i do work basics at home as well). The goals I set for myself before I started Karate have seriously changed. At first, I wanted nothing greater than the piece of black fabric around my waist. Then, after becoming more mature in my way of thinking and life (wow karate can make a 29 year old feel like he'd 12 when it comes to maturity), getting that belt isn't really my goal.

I want to not only spread the word as it were, but I want to perfect my karate. If it takes until the day I die (Though I do have a plan to live forever... so far, so good), I want to be able to say : "I did it."

John, quoting Carl Jung was AWESOME. Being a big fan of psychology (and student when it pleases me)it really made my day.

12:54 AM  
Anonymous Dave Shevitz said...

John: As usual, you make an excellent point. Sensei Maruyama, the founder of Kokikai Aikido, often reminds us that martial arts is about maximizing your potential. This is far more important than any rank or belt that we might possess.

It's good to point out, though, that it can be tempting to take the idea, "rank is not as important as progress" and warp it to mean "rank is unimportant." Several times, I've come across students who do not want to test, because "they don't train for rank." That's all well and good, but testing is one of the few places where you can see your shortcomings and successes. Rank may not be a goal, but it is still a marker as you walk the path.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous KFG said...

The belt, our Sifu told us, is to hold up your pants - it doesn't matter what colour it is!

The concept of progression in the Chinese Martial Arts seems to me to be viewed a little differently. Gradings were tough - I have to say I had 'Oh my God I'm going to die' moments in them. They really gave you a sense of accomplishment, of moving to the next level. My Sifu spoke of it in metaphorical terms. The first grading took you to standing outside the Temple, then you were at the gates, then through them and so on. It had more to do with 'walking the path' as Dave said, and with who you become as a result of what you go through on that path, as black belt mama said, than with reaching an end goal of wearing the black. There is no end goal, really.

Training in the Martial Arts is a great equaliser. Although competition has its place, Kung Fu really taught me that no matter what age, sex, race, whatever, there will always be someone who can do something you can't do, just as there will always be something you can do better than anyone else. And ultimately, what that means that where you are in your training is only important to you.

5:22 AM  
Blogger supergroup7 said...

"Training is tough, no doubt, and that has its place. But it should never be at the expense of making us unhappy and losing interest in something that has the potential to enrich our lives and fulfill our dreams"

Oh I love this sentence! I love the balance of it. How true it is that one can be so focused on gaining the golden ring that the very fact that they are attempting to do this makes them lose the very thing that they are seeking! Humans are so strange that way.. aren't we?

11:40 PM  
Blogger PerpetualBeginner said...

I used to believe that I would be perfectly happy to have stayed at white forever. I certainly never aspired to the black in my first incarnation in the martial arts.

Then after a multi-year hiatus, I gave up my ni-kyu and restarted at white in a new dojo - and I discovered that while I didn't care particularly what color my belt was, it was bad for the dojo and my fellow students to have a karateka who was obviously ill-matched with the rank she held. For a white belt to be noticeably better than people three and four ranks above her is discouraging for those higher ranks, and both discouraging and confusing for those of the same rank. I was very relieved to be promoted back up into the middle ranks.

Now I aspire to become a black belt. Not because of the belt. I want to be good enough that having me in a lesser belt is as obviously a poor match as my second white belt was.

8:58 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Black Belt Mama:
Someone once said to me, "You don't get a black belt -- you become one." I think that says it all.
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Oni:
I believe there's a parallel between some of Jung's writings and martial philosophy. He was greatly influenced by Eastern thought, and his works reveal that.
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Dave:
The "I don't train for rank" sermon is the ego operating in disguise; those trainees are attempting to elevate themselves through a seemingly noble cause, as opposed to getting promoted. Part of this view I'm sure has roots in Aikido's non-competitive spirit, but as you say, it's warped. When Jigoro Kano devised the colored belt system, it was initially so he could determine ahead of time which students could handle ukemi without hurting them.
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Hello KFG:
I'm pretty sure that it was the Chinese styles that were the last to adopt the colored belt system, which is ironic when you consider that China has the longest history of martial arts.

I've always liked the idea of using metaphors when describing something about the martial arts; they (metaphors) have a way of clarifying and putting things into perspective -- such as grading and rank. And the notion that the belt is there to hold your pants up!
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Mireille:
How true it is that one can be so focused on gaining the golden ring that the very fact that they are attempting to do this makes them lose the very thing that they are seeking! Humans are so strange that way.. aren't we?

Yes, your point is well taken. Thanks for your thoughts.
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Hello Perpetual Beginner:
Here is a similar story you may like: Don Nagle, the first ex-marine to return to the US from Okinawa to teach Isshinryu karate, competed as a white belt on Okinawa against the island's most seasoned black belts -- and won! Tatsuo Shimabuku promoted him to black belt immediately after the tournament.

Giving up ni-kyu to start all over again sounds tough, even though you moved back up. In a way, I'm sure the other sempai were glad you came up to par with them.

5:25 PM  

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