At practice a few years ago (remember those days before Covid-19?), a new student became annoyed with himself because he wasn’t able to perform a technique we were working on. His stance was off, hands in the wrong place, his timing was off; the typical run-of-the-mill beginner mistakes. They were nothing to get worked-up over I thought, and yet here was the student standing in front of me visibly frustrated. I smiled, looked at him and said, “all of us feel frustrated in practice sometimes; even happy, sad, angry or afraid, but you should try not to show your feelings. Especially when facing someone”. He nodded and continued practicing, but I’m not sure he understood completely. The idea I was trying to get across, perhaps too obtusely, was that in the dojo you try to cultivate focus and self-control, not only to others, but to yourself. It was a lesson imparted to me very early on in my Karate training from my teachers. All of them emphasized self-control in every aspect of your life, not just the dojo. For a young adult going through the trials and tribulations of life, it was invaluable advice. Yet, even to this day it’s something that I still struggle with, but like to think I have made some progress and matured a little bit.
I think this is one reason why I am not a fan of MMA. Yes, I respect the effort, dedication and skill of the men and women that participate in it, but I am also taken aback by the fist pumping, victory rounds, and trash-talking that goes along with the sport. No, not all the competitors are like that, but there enough of them that behave this way for me to tune MMA out. But back to the topic at hand. As I get older, the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of Okinawan martial ways have become more and more important to me. The combative aspect, although still important, is much lower on the list. Many of the lessons that my teachers tried to impart to me when I was younger are only now starting to make sense. I hope that I will have the maturity and insight to recognize these lessons when these opportunities appear, but that will only happen if I have the focus and self-control to see them.