Thursday, May 5, 2011

Being a Black Belt – Knowing When to Fold

What happens after years of work when you have to decide to miss training?

You’ve trained very strong for your first 6 or so years, made black belt and are committed to keeping going as far and as hard as you can. You’ve spent as much time in the dojo as possible so it almost feels like home. You’ve worked to be the first student there and the last to leave.

Now one of life’s softballs occurs:

1. Your spouse or significant other tells you you’re not spending enough time with her and you discover she’s jealous of the time you spend away form home.

2. You discover spending time with your passion is taking time away from your family and kids.

3. Demands of work, overtime, business travel, fighting to keep the job get more time consuming.

4. You don’t have time for community activities, or time to spend with friends because of your training.

5. And the ever present physical injury and illness that threatens to stop your training or actually does impede it.

I think most of us when we begin see training as becoming a full time study and the longer we do it, training becomes a consuming passion. Those that don’t see it that way fall by the wayside in time.

When you first set a goal such as becoming a black belt or perhaps a consistent tournament champion all else may be swept aside to reach towards the goal. But those who train for a goal oft times after achieving it are ready to set it aside for another newer interest.

It’s a far different thing to keep training forever. In fact I’m not sure it can be described in any comprehensible way to those who don’t make the same choices. Along that way there are decisions to step down, to step away that are much harder than just leaving forever.

Trying to understand Okinawa prior to the modern era I believe a sense of community was very important, and strong echoes remain with the current community events still held, i.e. festivals. Students lived in walking distance of their instructor. The students seem to have come from the same class, from family or friend referrals. The instructor would have known them before meeting them. Then the relationship of instructor and student would become a lifetime bond.

Very few would be able to just train forever. Work and/or family responsibilities were always there and the binding community values would remain.

Much contemporary martial training is very different from the past, with a student arriving at a training hall where the instructor is waiting for their classes instead of training outside or inside the instructor’s home and mixing with their family responsibilities.

How much did they train after 10 years, after 20 years, after 30 years? Not a clue. Each student defines their own goals why they do it, where they want it to go, what effort they can spare. The instructor only points.

I doubt karate was ever intended to be the entire focus of an Okinawan life. I see it as a supplemental life activity of great value. At some point for many they will shift to a maintenance level of training. Those other issues I described are much more important to define most of us. That doesn’t mean karate does not keep a place, but that is has to find the right place for the student.

The instructor, as much a member of the larger community as the student must be supportive of the student’s decisions.

As much as we have to know how to play, we have to know when it is necessary to fold and allow the game of life to progress until the next turn.

1 comment:

John Vesia said...

All good points, I can relate to a few of these. I'd just like to add that those that stay in the game longest tend to be instructors. Without teaching or running a school it's tough to stay motivated after 1st or 2nd dan. Haven't been to the dojo in quite a while, but I still practice my karate and kobudo forms at home on weekends. I also do some form of martial arts/fitness training with my sons. If I ever return at least I'll have retained some material to work with.

I agree that karate was never intended to be the entire focus of an Okinawan life. The thing is, Okinawans have among the longest life expectancies in the world. I guess they're doing something right.