A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine from back home posted a meme-style poster with Dwayne Johnson’s face shadowed behind the words, on his Facebook timeline. It read, “I want to see what happens if I don’t give up.” My friend shared the post with the caption “A legend will be born, if so.” An interesting but truthful perspective and one that more people should acknowledge. There’s a great deal to be said for pushing on when it feels like you should give up.
His post sent my mind back in time, all the way to 1995. I was a year away from graduating from high school, I had my own car and I spent my weekends playing Star Trek RPG in my buddy’s basement. But I was also training at karate, full time. By full time, I mean I would wake in the morning and do a half hour of forms before school. Then it would either be a karate night or not. We had three classes a week, and not just an hour or an hour and a half; I’m talking two hours of blood, sweat and tears wrung out of us by traditional Okinawa karate. Then we’d usually go 30 minutes over time, asking questions and trying techniques. If it wasn’t a karate night, I’d spend an hour training at home, followed by wandering around town on my bike or running on the beach.
It was a different time of my life and all I did was eat, sleep and breathe karate. I loved it, and it was all that was me. And yet, right around that period in 1995, I hit a slump. I just didn’t seem to have the energy and the get-up-and-go that I usually did. I started to find that I was struggling in class, was always tired and didn’t seem to have any motivation. It all came to a head one night, when we were doing drills involving crescent kicks and I just couldn’t get my damn legs to go fast enough to keep up.
I bowed out, left the class and headed to the locker room where I proceeded to sit on the bench and openly weep into my hands. I felt as though the entire reason for my health and well-being, both mental and physical, was coming to an end and I was powerless to stop it. Was I in a slump because of my Diabetes? I had conditioned myself NEVER to use that as an excuse for not accomplishing something. But the consideration was there. Had I simply peaked and had nothing left to give? My heart said no, but my body and mind didn’t seem inclined to agree.
Sensei was used to having me excuse myself during class, as I would occasionally need to wolf down some fast-acting carbs in order to keep going. But I had been gone for much longer than usual, which was enough to have him come check on me. I was still sobbing when he walked in, which in and of itself was embarrassing enough. But when I explained why I was upset and how I felt that maybe it was time to give up and call it a day, he sat next to me and fed me the words that were burned into my memory and that I’ve carried with me, ever since:
SENSEI: “Want to know what happens if you give up?”
SENSEI: “Nothing. Nothing happens. And nothing is always worse than anything. So keep going, even when it hurts, even when it’s hard and even when it feels like you aren’t moving forward.”
Even now, almost thirty years after he spoke those words to me, it gives me chills and makes my eyes well up. I turned a corner after that night. My energy and motivation came back and I found myself renewed. Maybe I just needed the encouragement. We all need a little pep talk sometimes.
That brings me to my point. I may not be your Sensei. And I don’t know who may need to hear this. But you matter. And no matter how slow you move, you’re still getting farther ahead than the person who’s standing still. Don’t give up. Don’t EVER give up. Even when things seem hard or impossible, you can always make some headway, as long as you’re willing to fight. And I believe you can.
Anytime I’m reminded of that night, I feel a pang of guilt at how close I came to walking away from such a huge part of my life. And I know others who have. Where would I be today, without my martial training? I would definitely not be the same person. But I can’t help but feel that I would also be potentially worse off, health-wise. Karate has done far more for me than simply teaching me to defend myself.
A huge shout-out to my friend Ricky for this post. Unintended consequences, brother. Even when you don’t mean to, one’s actions can have them and this post is a prime example. And despite the importance of this story, I should provide some levity and tell you how that night played out. It ended with Sensei clapping me on the shoulder (nearly hard enough to dislocate it) followed by the words, “Now get the fuck back upstairs and back to training or you’ll owe me a hundred knuckle push-ups!” And I did. Go back upstairs, not owe him the push-ups…. ☯️