Here’s a piece I wrote after a particularly rough training session at Aikido. I thought it might be a good start to the blog.
Of course its not fucking easy.
Of course there’s pain.
Your arm gets wrenched like a stubborn anchor from rocks, your head snaps back too fast, you hit the ground harder than you thought possible, and bruises proliferate on areas where bone meets the ground with the barest layer of flesh between. Your body becomes a steady ache in an unsteady frame, knees like water and spine like string. Fear of more pain, more humiliation, makes the blood leave your face, and every move becomes an exercise in hesitation, and all you want to do is to leave the mat, to curl up in the dirty bathrooms outside and cradle your wounded ego and uselessness and sob like the little girl you know you still are inside.
Because nothing in my life prepared me for the acceptance of pain. We are completely hardwired to avoid it, not to look for it. We have no true memory of pain, can never recall what it really felt like that day your coccyx cracked or your elbow was pushed in directions antithetical to its purpose. Oh, maybe you remember that you were squirming at the time, that you could barely walk and picking up a book satchel was agony. The memories are vague, but that sense of pain is hardly there. We have no memory, so that we can never get used to it, and ever lose our fear. We can never make peace with it.
But we keep going back.
We go back to the reminder that we are dumb, weak and uncoordinated. That, only after seven years of dedication, are we considered worthy enough to really commence training. Only then are we taken at all seriously as students. Only then are we bearable idiots. There is no praise. Gradings are the only sign of progress, the only acknowledgment of the work you do for those few nods. It all boils down to you and your self-discipline. I have to be able to shelve my whimpering ego, my problems and my pain and remember that this is no short trip. This is not a three-year degree, or a puppy for Christmas. This is a life-long journey. And either do it properly, or fuck off.
Fuck it, I know it’s not supposed to be about others. I know I should do it for myself, without needing praise. I should do it for the sake of the art, and not for my ego to be endlessly coddled because my body is too weak and my mind too small to fully grasp the concepts. I have to accept that I am stupid and slow and hesitant and that I have no natural capacity. I don’t flow, I twitch. I don’t land, I crash.
Martial arts never claimed to be for everyone, much less for those without talent. After a certain point, there is no space for stupidity and self-indulgent whining. This is not a game. People get injured and if I don’t keep my focus, I could hurt someone. If I am not wholly focused, I could get myself killed.
I am privileged to study with the teachers I have. I am beyond fortunate that I have no genetic problems that limit my training. But I still don’t know why I keep going back. There is no sign of a future for me in the art, in Aikido or Goju Ryu. I have to work twice as hard to keep up with the others. I still fear pain and correction. I can barely handle criticism. I am weak, I am slow, and I am fearful.
If I knew why I keep stepping onto the wood and mat, if I knew why I still jump to be uke and to help others, to teach when I have no right, to train when I am so ill-fitted for it, I might be able to find some peace. Gods, I don’t know why. Maybe I am really some spectacular kind of masochist. Maybe this is the mentality that either creates utopias or destroys them. I don’t know whether my stubbornness is endearing or disgusting to others. I have only got as far as I have on pure will. I doubt I will be able to get any further without any talent. The corrections are endless. I was even told after a grading that my technique is sloppy, but I have spirit.
Maybe that is all I have. It might not be enough, but it has to count for something. It has to be the only thing that makes sure I don’t throw my gi away in a fit of self-obsessive pain and failure. If that is all I have, and perhaps all it takes to keep training and working when there are a thousand reasons not to, maybe there is a tiny, tiny whisper of hope.
I may never be a great sensei. I may never see purple belt or 4th kyu. I may forever remain a senior and not a sempai. I may never hear any praise from any instructor on my technique, but as long as I can train, and do so because I want to, and not because I am capable, then there is little more I can ask for. One either has talent, or not. Just as one cannot learn to be a great writer without any inherent talent, one can never be a great sensei without any natural ability. And that’s fine, and that is how the universe works. It is how it weeds out the pretenders, and makes sure that only teaching of worth is passed down.
And, I am okay with that. I can live with the bruises, because they are mine, and they are proof that I get up and swing another punch, land another strike. Take another fall, another ripping of joints and slam of knees into mat. The pain becomes proof that I am alive, that I am brave and that I am made of more than just protein and carbon. I may be scrawny and weak and stupid, but I have self-discipline and I have will. And, perhaps, when I put my head down at night, that’s something worth living with, and being proud of.