The question is not what you look at, but what you see.
— Henry David Thoreau
The time is now. Life has its ups and downs, its highs and lows. Things start and end, people come and go. But there is an eternal constant, which is the chance to change.
That means no matter how hard or bad the moment is, there is always a way to keep going, to keep growing. We can dig down into our own inner resources to survive. But to thrive, allies really help.
These can be your family or friends. On the martial path, they are your students, colleagues, and teachers. Without them, we cannot get far. With their support, our path towards mastery can endure with fun, progress, and meaning. They reflect parts of ourselves we need to look at, including our very thoughts.
Thus, although not easy, we must train not just our bodies, but examine our beliefs, enlighten our emotions, elevate our thinking. Recently, I was reading a book, Liminal Thinking. The author, Dave Gray, states:
“We construct our beliefs, mostly unconsciously, and thereafter they hold us captive.”
That was a powerful, perhaps obvious, statement. In my observation, we justify our actions and defend our supposedly rational positions based on our deepest convictions. Furthermore, we are largely blind to our own beliefs that selectively filter reality.
This is definitely true in the current pre-election climate in the United States, where so many are passionately fighting for their particular worldview, especially perceived threats to it. Gray elaborates on such partial mindsets:
“They can help focus us and make us more effective, but sadly, they can also limit us: they blind us to possibility and subject us to fog, fear, and doubt.”
One way this plays out in the training path is patterning. We do this with physical coordination exercises. Repeating sequences of movements imbues us with movement grammar. These help us improve technical function for Self-Defense.
This is idealized patterning that we objectively prescribe from the outside in. However, through this process, a subjective pattern occurs in parallel, since we work with other people and not just abstract art.
Precisely because humans have strong, individual, subconscious beliefs, they inevitably emerge when we train together. This is a great opportunity to see personal dimensions hidden to ourselves. Usually, we may realize productive beliefs:
The belief in personal improvement with practice.
The belief in community as supportive space.
The belief in yourself to apply Self-Defense well.
The belief in investing money, effort, and time for mastery.
The belief in the positive motivation of others.
The belief in doing your best at all times.
The belief in choosing a good teacher and system.
However, dark and light occur in tandem. So we may also become aware of less encouraging beliefs:
The belief that making mistakes is bad.
The belief that skills can be attained without repetition.
The belief that you will never be good enough.
The belief that others are judging you unfairly.
The belief that your teacher plays favorites.
The belief that everyone is annoying you.
The belief that training is no longer worthwhile.
I notice that many deep beliefs are triggered by others. Yet when they recur with a majority of interactions then it is very telling. If everyone is the problem, then you are the problem. This is not to blame but to take responsibility.
For instance, if a specific technique, say 攤手 Tan Sao (Spreading Arm), has a 90% failure rate with 90% of training partners, you have a few choices:
1. Believe that the technique is fundamentally flawed and actually impossibly to apply.
2. Believe that your training partners are simply inept or deliberately out to get you.
3. Believe that you have to do better. Accept that your understanding or execution requires an upgrade.
Not that 1 or 2 are wrong, yet I believe 3 is the most empowering belief. Spend less time questioning the system or others. When you encounter uncomfortable weaknesses, which often arise through partner training, watch how you respond. If your immediate impulse is to quit the art, critique your partner, or even dislike yourself, then please pause.
Repattern your belief. Realign your behavior. Don’t waste precious energy on embarrassment, insults, or excuses. As soon as possible, invest yourself in corrected action. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.
That is what I have been practicing for 19 years. Learning from experience teaching my students. Studying from errors pointed out by my teacher. Speaking of, don’t miss the 2016 Fall Event Series with Sifu Klaus Brand.