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.