Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Learning Place

I have a confession to make: this week marked the first class I've been to (at my learning school) in a few weeks. My absence had a little to do with crazy end-of-summer/back-to-school schedules - but it had more to do with me not really "feeling" class for a minute due to the level of comfort in the dojo as of late. Or, more specifically, the lack of it.

It seemed like a big block of classes before my respite was a blaze of chastizements and corrections. My kata stances - in every kata we did - were consistently either too wide or too narrow. My body allignment wasn't right. My movements were off and my self-defense and kata presentations lacked umph. When I tell you that nothing I did was right, I really mean that nothing I did was right. I even got gigged for not being as sharp after my achilles was all better as I was before the injury sidelined me. It made me wonder if there was anything that I was doing even close to right.

I'm not one who needs lots of phrase and back-patting to feel like I've accomplished something, but hearing "Nope, that's wrong!" all the bloody time is very emotionally draining. It got to the point I was scared to do anything at all because I knew the criticism - as constructively delivered as it was - would fly. Yeah, I know that sounds whiney as all get out, but it's how I felt, and it made me less than enthusiastic about the hour drive to class while eating dinner from my lap on the way there, only to deal with being barked at for two hours before driving another hour home. So I stayed home and worked kihon or kata or technique combos with the heavy bag in my garage.

But then it hit me: I was maintaining - perhaps even sharpening some of the tools in my toolbox - but I wasn't actually learning. And that's not a good thing.

So I made plans to get my body back to class, but I knew if I went back with my head in the same place as it was, frustration would result and I'd be just as uncomfortable as before. That discomfort was affecting my passion for my art - and Sensei told me long ago that if the heart wasn't right, my art wouldn't be either.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I made a pact with myself: I would REALLY try to see the criticism as the earnest attempt that it was to make me the best possible martial artist I could be. When I walked into the building Tuesday I was actually talking to myself, saying "You're going to take whatever is handed to you and use it as a stepping stone to help you get to where you want to be" over and over again and making it my mantra.

Almost soon as we began, I was slammed...err, corrected...while doing a kata I've known for about five years. Sensei went through it with me stance by stance and showed me exactly where my front stance was shorter than it needed to be and what the unbalance would net: ending at lest three feet off from where I needed to be. In my head, I was thinking "But that's where I've ALWAYS ended!" but I focused to try to receive what he was giving me - and I'll be darned! I actually ended where I started for the first time ever when doing the kata. Perhaps his 40 years of training trumps my meager eight after all - imagine that! He really is quite an amazing instructor, but I have to be open to that instruction to be truly teachable learn the lesson.

What I had forgotten in my "He's picking on me!" pity party was that although training is about me, it really isn't at all. Learning to reduce the "you" (so that the underlying thing that is REALLY what it's about can take center stage) is difficult, but very necessary. It's very humbling, too.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I am so far from being the perfect karateka that it isn't even funny and I still have a great many lessons to learn. But I'm cool with that, because that there is always, always something new to learn is the very reason I love karate as much as I do. I'm growing, which is important, I think. But maybe growing down, like the rice stalk that bends low to the ground as approaches maturity, is just as important as growing up. There are no quick fixes here - but that's what I signed up for :-)


  1. Love this post! Thanks for sharing.

  2. You sound like you are in one of those training plateaus we all experience from time to time. Perhaps you're frustration is more with yourself than your Sensei? These physical plateaus are usually a test of our mental resolve. Sounds like you've done a bit of soul searching and decided to try and push through this barrier you've come up against - shows what a good karateka you are. I've no doubt you will crash down this barrier and start making progress again :-)

  3. Naaa...It's most definitely with him, Sue, LOL. I'm on hiatus again until I can sort some things out...