Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fight today's fight

It's been said many times, in many different ways.  Warren Buffett noted that you have to drive by looking through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror.  Ram Dass was more succinct: "Be Here Now".  Nobody really disagrees with this in principle.  But do we live it in fact?

As I come to terms with running a dojo, I find myself busy with a lot of organizational activities that I may not be comfortable doing.  Recently, I bit the bullet, and charged into one of these activities.  I got a lot of important things done, pushing myself and growing in the process.  It felt great, and I had a glowing sense of achievement.  My immediate reaction was that I wanted to go back and do keep doing more of this important and difficult activity.

Which, when you think about it, is not a good reaction.

It's understandable, to be sure.  My reptilian brain was saying "Hey, that resulted in a pleasurable emotion.  Let's do it again!"  But the fact is, the job was done.  And while it was an operational activity that will never completely go away, there was no real reason to keep working on it at that point in time.

I was stuck in the past, driving while looking in the rear-view mirror, rather than the windshield.

Even worse, I kept congratulating myself on challenging myself and doing what needed to be done.  Which was distracting me from what I should really be focusing on in the present moment.

Sigh.  Back to the drawing board.  Breathe in, breathe out.

What does this have to do with the martial arts?  Everything.

I see it so often in sparring, including with myself.  I score a hit on an opponent using some particular technique.  It feels good.  It's tempting to do it again.  That technique clearly works, and I want the emotional buzz that comes from success.

But that's the exact wrong way to succeed in sparring, or in life.

Sun Tzu probably said it best: "When I have won a victory, I do not repeat my tactics but respond to circumstances in an infinite variety of ways.”  Even if the circumstances don't change and that technique might work again, repeating it will only train my opponent what to watch out for.  I might deliberately choose to do this if I'm training a student how to read a situation, but if I'm actually sparring to win, then I never want to use a pattern that might be predictable.  I want to be fluid.  Unexpected.  In the moment.

So easy to say.

So difficult to do.

But worth constantly pursuing.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

An Unexpected Journey

I didn't really expect this promotion.  I didn't even know a promotion like this was possible.

I've been through belt promotions before.  I thought about them, trained for them, expected them at periodic intervals.  They consume much less of my attention now than they once did, though I can't say they consume none of it.  But the point is, they're a familiar part of the landscape.  I know what to expect.

I didn't expect a conversation late one December evening, when the owner of my school said "I've thought long and hard about this, and I think I'm done running the school.  Would you like to take over?"

I'm sure I said something respectful, something suave, something that indicated I was surprised and honored and of course would be up to the task.  My memories of my brain seizing up and just babbling incoherently for a few minutes are probably just the same type of false memories that lead Brian Williams to believe he had been shot at while riding in a helicopter.

Run the school?  Me?  Ridiculous.  Sure, I've advanced tremendously from when I was a skinny white belt pushover.  But I know what school teachers look like, and I'm not that.  They look like John Kreese, the Sensei at Cobra Kai from the original Karate Kid movie.  Or Master Ken from the more recent (and hysterically funny) Enter the Dojo web series.  Or even Mr. Miagi.  The point is, these people have something in common.  A sense of absolute assurance and self-confidence.  They radiate power and knowledge (even if they're sometimes wrong), and are ready to dispense unlimited wisdom (or at least ideas) to those around them.

Whatever qualities I may have, that's not one of them.

I teach, sure.  I've been teaching for years.  But mostly, because that's the best way for me to continue practicing and learning.  A means to an end.  And its not new for me to run a class.  Or introduce a new student to the art.  Or develop a new approach to instruction.  Or maintain the school website.  Or contact people about advertising opportunities.

But, but...

But what exactly?

I guess when it comes down to it, its that I have a preconceived notion of what the owner of a school looks like, acts like, and does.  And is.  And I don't fit that preconceived notion.  Never mind that I'm already doing many of the activities involved with running a school.  I'm simply not a match for my mental image of the job.

Which embarrasses me profoundly to admit.  Isn't this a point I constantly stress to my students?  Don't react to what you believe your opponent will do, or should do.  Be in the moment.  Observe what they actually do, and move accordingly.  Don't get hung up because the big guy is unexpectedly nimble, or the small guy is unexpectedly strong.  Live in the moment.

So then who am I really?  And what does it mean to teach martial arts?

At the end of the day, I'm a student of the martial arts.  I come to class, and I teach, because I want to learn more.  I like working with different body types because it teaches me something about these techniques.  I like having people with different backgrounds, because it challenges what I know, or think I know.

So maybe I can't be the macho instructor who could take on a class of 30 students and knock them all on their backs without breaking a sweat.  I can teach what I've learned about being skinnier than most people I face, and how to use technique to make it easier to face a larger opponent.  And I can teach something about not teaching because you're filled with what you know, but because you want to learn.  And if that's not what somebody is looking for, then they can always go elsewhere.

It's not perfect.  It's not ideal.  But its what I've got, and who I am.

If it works for you, then I'll see you in class, and teach you everything I can.  And maybe you can teach me something too.