water, wind, stone, been
so far, there have been many different velocities and moods along the path—my path—of training in martial arts. highs, lows, in-betweens.
i’ve found the hardest times, which of course are not the dramatic highs, are not the lows, either. the stretches that will determine if you can meet your long range goals in martial arts—or if you will fade away after the initial rush of joining—are the mundane ones.
when i find myself in one of these stretches, i accept it. i do not coagulate any strong opinion about it as i know by now it is a recurring and transient thing. not only that it is temporary, but that will only grow more difficult if fed obsession. and i am at peace with it because i know it to be an essential and integral ingredient in progress, the bridge connecting the low to the high.
today i return to this subject, and have touched on it recently. aside from being what i have to write about now and then, it also seems a good addition to this journal in case anyone who reads along gets the idea that this collection of notes can offer any sort of reliable insight into what it’s like to train. while less dramatic than either a high or low moment, i think the ability to move forward through the boring and undramatic grind that demands energy and sustained effort without offering back a lot—at least nothing immediately noticeable and energizing—is the determining factor in your success. and even if it is not anything so grand, it is surely important enough to include in a journal of mostly highs and lows.
i do have to thank the years i’ve spent training, as well as years of life passing, for these insights at all. they take time to cultivate.
this shape is not unique to taekwondo or even martial arts or even athletic training in general. these periods are of the very fabric of exploring, or gaining ground. of pushing against any kind of entropy on a sustained basis.
i look to my two youngest daughters, and the way they measure time. their lives are so short. a few years.
relativity: what is 24 hours to someone who has lived four decades, who has seen almost fifteen thousand days come and go? by then you are at the point where unless you stay of a conscious mind, it is easy to believe the days follow another like echoes, or replays of a theater show touring a city—each one not a whole lot different than the last.
and then, what is a day to someone who has only seen two summers pass in all their cognizant existence in this cosmos? it is an interminable stretch of time to their mind! they, who are driven moment to moment by wants; unable to imagine patiently awaiting the end of the day, let alone a week; full of constant desire to be immediately entertained or satisfied.
and for a while, they need you to provide that bridge—the one that lets them know there are other moments to follow. and that other moments have brought about this NOW. that the unsatisfying NOW cannot be avoided, and further, is connected to a NOW later on that they do desire. and they need lots of reminders, because they do not inherently understand such an idea.
and when you practice your own long range goals, you have to instruct yourself, to “parent” yourself. you have to ware the continual and insatiable and fickle WANT voice in your own mind. you have to know how to practice judo on that WANT voice! to stand aside, to help it hurl itself into a wall, or to exhaust itself.
the flexible and yet enduring shape of water.
we read about this a lot when we read bruce lee, or other writings informed by eastern thought. this and other related ideas are very useful. the idea that desire (a desire to control, ultimately; to control the flow of reality passing before us, to escape all the conflicts that arise with how we’d prefer reality to be) brings suffering. the idea that being confined to certain ideas/structures/forms impedes our spontaneity, speed, and efficiency. that we must adapt, move, stay fluid constantly, and not because it’s best. but because therein lies peace, joy, and power. because it is there that we are fully here.
without that awareness, we grow frustrated. unhappy. disappointed. angry. we cease even truly being aware of what is happening before us, and of the opportunities offered by what is before us in the current NOW, fixed on a notion.
it’s such a simple idea. and i think we all know that feeling when we find our way there (which is sometimes a total surprise!). to be okay with whichever way things go…because you’ve let go. to not be heaping judgment on others or yourself for doing or being a, b, or c. because you have dropped all investment in outcome, or ideas of profiting from or suffering from any of those options; because you’ve somehow come into enough humility to remain open, observing, ready to learn, and freely admitting you do not have the answer, and that given total control, would only ruin something for someone and most likely, for yourself as well.
but it’s not as easy to stay there as it is to occasionally remember that this is the true state of living, of being in the now, of being open to opportunity. to be humming with intuition and receptiveness, to feel the yin rise.
not that i think it’s our fault. letting go of everything is not a panacea. nor are we built to thrive in an unwavering state of non-resistance. we need to eat. we need to maintain certain temperatures. we are committed to attaining satisfaction, experiencing growth, and maintaining our survival. these are directives born from our deepest levels of awareness, and necessary ones. and inevitably, those directives will require affecting and adjusting our current reality; not in letting go of outcomes, but in making sure certain outcomes arrive, and within certain time frames.
and so on the larger scale (surviving), just as on the smaller scales (specific goals and activities), we learn a dance. we learn to keep the heel off the ground, to stay light on the feet. to “choose your moment” or your battles. carefully.
that is, to stay committed, yet soft in the knees and able to sway with the current. to save output of power for a certain moment and then explode with will and conscious energy. to be enduring and strong, but also flexible, like water.
like the game in taekwondo we do where we face off and try to upset each other’s balance. to lean in with your energy, and keep the palms (softly) touching, but the body light, responsive, flexible and on a constant gyro. to snap forward with force when a decision is made, or an advantageous shift in physics happens wherein you can attain your goal, and to be like water when something forceful comes at you; to bend like a reed in the wind. to keep the WANT voice properly aligned and oriented toward the goal, but not in the driver’s seat with a foot on the gas, because like small children, this voice does not inherently understand this rhythm. only that it WANTS.
this is the important negotiation. this is where bargaining matters, where diplomacy becomes art; where the balance of Life and Death wear the costumes marked Give and Take.
the low moments, and hard times, in martial arts are injuries, losses, embarrassment, pain that challenges you, humility forced upon you…and so on. and yet, when these things happen, they—like homeopathic medicine—can (be used to) inspire an opposite and greater reaction that helps us achieve our goals nonetheless; we can spring up with a defiant redoubling of our original commitment. this is what i used to call “spite” but of course not as applied to a person, but to the times “life” seems to stymie or challenge your original intention.
the high moments—making rank, gaining technique, feeling strong or closer to the goals you began with, doing well in a demo or tournament or sparring round—obviously reinforce our sticking with those goals and so need no further comment here.
but the connective tissue of persistence, of consistent training; the dull grind that stretches out before us for an interminable distance and simply requires a repeated, measured energy and devotion from us is deceptively formidable. it is in these times that we don’t realize we are making gains that it can seem we are wasting time. it is in these times that we are prone to fade away with nothing keeping us in place but our own sense of discipline.
and yet, even if we look at these stretches as nothing more than where our endurance and refusal to give in is born, they are worthy enough.
just as “all of life is kungfu,” this being like water or like wind is also a shape we can bring to our life. for happiness, for efficiency, for power. i suppose one analogy is the Serenity Prayer, although given the religious aspect, a prayer is not as universal an idea. but the important core of that poem is the idea of remaining flexible; of demonstrating acceptance of those things you cannot change, and yet still working to affect those things you can.
for what is such a humble and fluid yet powerful state if not being as water is?
i see what happens when we forget this. i look outward and note how frustrated people become. (of course, i am one of these people at times, but we undoubtedly do our most objective analysis of our own behavior in noticing others’!) moment after moment does not go their way, and they meet each moment, each time, with loud complaint, with anger, with anxiety, which worrying, with fuming and fretting, spitting out chaotic bursts of nonconstructive energy that are not aimed toward any end, but only shoot this way and that.
and i almost literally see this. visually painted out. the energy wasted on such an approach. the energy twirling away in buzzing, clanging vibrations; glancing this way and that. draining from stressed and faulty seams. sometimes i feel the chaotic resonance fly into me, and stir me up inside if i am not ready for it. and from afar, it is easy to see that they are rigid in their stance. stiff at the knees. they are walking forward with one idea in mind, and are not prepared for the variances that are bound to be in their path, not prepared to pivot suddenly, or pause a moment. not already expecting variance, and therefor ready to shift when it inevitably arises. instead, stubbing a toe, kicking a rock, blinded by sand, fingers scratching under rocks, insects stuck in the teeth. cursing, angry, tired. so much volume expended blaming, rationalizing, and ultimately despairing. so much peace lost by not lifting the eyes to the greater horizon, and knowing that even when we wander, we still cover important ground. not having the patience of water.
it’s hard. i do not harshly judge them because i am them. and i have that same voice in me. that WANT voice that tells us it knows what is best, and that we must yield to it in order to have what is best. and it can feel less reassuring to not stand sure with knees locked and chest out but instead to relax into a new moment’s destiny. to move with the seasons, and with the wind, and with the tilt of the deck. and when we find ourselves neck deep in water, to relax so we float. in a sudden storm, to bend so we don’t break. on a long climb, to still our mind and keep our legs moving.
you practice. you keep practicing.
About this entry
You’re currently reading “water, wind, stone, been,” an entry on house of nezua
- 02.20.11 / 4pm