The title is part of a quote by Marcus Aurelius, who was a respected Emperor of Rome but was also known as a Stoic philosopher. His book, Meditations, is a great read. I highly recommend it.
I’ve done martial arts long enough to see most students come and go. After all, it’s often been said (in martial arts circles) that only one student in ten thousand will stay with it long enough to achieve black belt. I think we all deal with this at some point; thinking or believing that we aren’t certain why we’re still doing it or if it serves any purpose. I had to deal with one such instance recently.
For the purposes of this post, I will call this student Jane. Jane has been studying the martial arts for a number of years. She’s what I would call an adequate student, meaning she trains hard and puts in her workout. The question becomes whether she practices and pushes herself OUTSIDE the confines of two classes that add up to about four hours within a one hundred and sixty eight hour week!
What many students fail to comprehend is how much dedication the martial arts require. If one simply shows up to class (even every class without missing any), progression can be extremely slow and even nonexistent. There has to be a certain amount of practice outside of the dojo, at home and during your free time. Study and cross-training are necessary for a student to grow from basic and adequate to promotable.
Jane approached me after class one night and asked me if I felt that karate was worth pursuing for her. I agreed that indeed it was, but that it had to be right for her. When I asked her why she felt the need to question that, she explained that she had been sitting at the same belt rank for the past few years and felt she wasn’t progressing. She felt ignored and believed she wasn’t being given the level of attention she required in order to promote and train further.
We discussed this for a lengthy period of time but at the end, I explained that coming to karate had to be for her and her alone. If her only reasons for being in karate was to get a certain coloured belt around her waist, it may not be for her. That being said, every person feels the need to be acknowledged and have SOME advancement, regardless of what form it may take. She left that night after saying she would put some thought into it and make a decision.
That was last year. I haven’t seen Jane since. It’s quite sad, but it’s an old and typical story within the martial arts. Many students feel that if they aren’t promoting or advancing quickly enough that they are wasting their time. Most students forget that karate is like a fine wine; it must be aged and practiced until perfection is reached. And ultimately, if you think you’ve reached perfection it simply means that you haven’t.
In the late 1990’s, I experienced the same phenomenon as Jane did. I found myself struggling to get through class. My techniques didn’t feel as sharp or as fast as they used to be. I had reached the rank of brown belt by this point, but it almost felt as though life was grinding to a standstill. I found myself wondering if, considering I had healed and improved my health, there was any reason for me to continue training in karate. I didn’t care about rank; the colour of my belt meant far less to me than how well I could use my acquired skills.
The thought of not being able to do it anymore, or stopping my training created a heavy weight on my shoulders and sent me into a slump. I was lucky to have Sensei to talk me through it and make me understand the further benefits of continuing on.
But there have been times when I’ve had to stop. Sometimes several weeks, at most a couple of months, time away to reflect has often been a tool I’ve used to bring perspective to my training and help guide me back. And I always have gone back.
When I left New Brunswick in 2009 and moved out to Saskatchewan, I had to deal with the prospect of training once or twice a year when I went home to visit. I spent several years training on my own, which meant progress and belt advancements were no longer possible. It wasn’t until late 2016 when I found a local school in which I could train. I won’t lie, it’s good to be back in a dojo environment.
If you’re questioning why you’re doing it, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break. If you step away for a little reflection and clarity, you’re not alone. And it doesn’t mean you have to quit. However, if you’ve had that time of reflection and don’t feel it’s for you, then it should likely be accepted as a sign that you should stop. And that applies to all forms of arts and sports, I think.
Be true to yourself. Nothing you do for yourself should be done because it is expected. It should be because you want to. Yes, I’m a firm advocate of pushing through and having the will to go one, but it also has to fit within your lifestyle and your personality. Taking that into consideration, we need to add to the title of today’s post. If it is not right FOR YOU, do not do it! ☯