For your listening pleasure, as background music for this post.
“Now or never, Face yourself, No one else will do
Face your weakness, Face your past, Let your scars show through
It’s now or never, Don’t look back”
– Michael Hedges –
There is a struggle that takes place everyday within us all.
An eternal battle waged between our better selves, our greatest being and our basest incarnations. Sometimes the rivals are confidence and self doubt, other times they are integrity and that part of ourselves that wants to give in because it’s easier to sell out.
The conflicts are innumerable but for me, on the mats, most often the battle is waged between the Ego and the Empty Vessel, the pure artist who is ultimately only there for the impermanent tapestry that is the live go, the free roll, the sparring session itself rather than the outcome or the one-upsmanship that can accompany such a session.
The Truth Hurts
Earlier this year, at the annual CSW Instructor/Fighter Camp, I had yet another opportunity to vanquish that foe. I even had people there for inspiration. Mentor figures who have been there and done that, people who I actively seek out to learn from and glean wisdom.
I remember Sensei Paulson telling all the guys who wanted to spar to go to one side of the room. The rest he told to go work on the heavy bags. I remember standing smack dab in the middle as I looked over at one of my seniors, making his way to the heavy bags. I remember thinking to myself, man that’s one cool customer, smart and experienced I should follow his lead. He even looked at me an smiled and said “I’ve got nothing to prove.” Then I sided up with the sparring group.
First round of the first day, I get into it with a youngster (twenty something). He snaps my head back a little with a punch so I return the favor. His head snaps back an when it comes back down he smiles at me. I think to myself… oh $#!T.
After the round, I don’t know what’s happened but my ankle is really hurting. I can barely stand on it. And of course, the next guy I get paired up with is a big 185er also in his twenties. He’s made a point of coming after me every year for the last 3 years. I’ve been able to hang with him in the past but now I’m a year older and in bad shape with my ankle hurting the way it does. He gets the best of me and I am bitter as Hell. One because I didn’t do as well as I wanted and two because now my ankle is screwed for the remainder of the camp (two more days).
I was even more pissed because I look at camps like that as vacation time. I’m there to have a good time and learn. I don’t like to feel like I’m being challenged. But then it dawns on me. I am the one responsible. I am the one who feels challenged because I am the one who has an ego and who gets upset when that ego is challenged. I could have gone over and punched the bags. I could have backed down and let the youngsters have the upper hand willingly and in so doing preserved my body and my vacation.
A Turning Point In The Battle
I vowed right then and there to put up twice the fight next time my ego came a knocking and two months later it did. I had decided to take advantage of an invitation one of my instructors had extended to me to come to his other school and train with a bunch of his guys that I am familiar with but haven’t spent much mat time with. Right off the bat I get paired up with a bigger guy who’s one rank ahead of me.
He says “Hey, I’ve watched your show.” He slaps hands and then begins to wrestle. I hate when people say that kind of stuff to me. I never know what it means. It could mean that they are a genuine fan, but I swear, most times the thought bubble I read over their heads says “And I really don’t think you’re all that good… And now I’m going to prove it to you boy.”
Anyway, his intensity level starts to rise quickly and I think to myself, I could make this a lot tougher on him if I wanted to (not to say that I could have beaten him, tapped him or even escaped) but whenever he got close to a submission I tapped.
I maintain this mindset for the remaining 5 partners and get through the day uninjured and really actually having one of the most enjoyable, fun learning experiences of my career. I didn’t know if that first guy was just trying to defend his belt or if that’s just how he rolls or whatever but later that day, I hear a loud snoring sound. I look over and see him convulsing on the ground. Above him is a bigger white belt who had choked him out. I think to myself. That could have been me, but today I left my ego at the door and it was a good day.
On the drive home I was reminded of an old Cherokee fable:
A wiseman was speaking to his grandson:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a long minute, and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed the most.”
Next time I am at CSW Camp I will be along side my mentors on the heavy bags. My ego will be inside those bags, and I will be feeding them my fists and this time, it won’t be able to punch back. And if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll pick up a tip or two from the wisemen.