Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Worst Horse

I like to write. I like karate. I like to write about karate. I've written a few things about the technical side of Chibana's karate, some with varying degrees of conceptualization, some with faint glimmers of understanding, and some with nothing at all.

But maybe I jumped the gun. Perhaps it's a little early to get carried away and write only about understanding. If this blog is supposed to be a reflection of my training, I should be writing about failure... and frustration. Leaving that out would only be telling half the story. No, a lot less than that.

During practice the other day, Sensei roundly scolded me about constantly filling my cup. He said I get carried away after getting enamored with some minor achievement or another which causes me to exaggerate whatever adjustment I made and end up worse off than before. I was a bit hurt and then angry, because anger is an easy emotion that blocks off pain, just like how you might press your finger after you cut it, since the feeling of pressure overrides all else. I started to say, "I don't think I fill my cup with confidence." But I cut myself off after the second word. What did I fill it with, then? Was it confidence? Was it ignorance? Fear of failure, maybe? Was it me focusing too much on not doing it wrong rather than doing it right? I'm no psychologist, but it's probably some combination of all these. Ultimately, does it matter? Whatever the case, he was right. My frame of mind was wrong.

Sensing my deep frustration (I felt very low at that point and was such doing a terrible job of hiding it that you'd have to be blind not to see it), Sensei fell back on an old favorite of his that a lot of us students have read, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki. Suzuki mentions the following:
"... it is said there are four kinds of horse: excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones. The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driver's will, before it sees the shadow of the whip; the second best will run as well as the first one does, just before the whip reaches its skin; the thrid one will run when it feels pain on its body; the fourth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn how to run!"
Yeah, no kidding. I'm just trying to learn how to walk.

Echoing Suzuki's commentary on this, Sensei mentioned that everyone wants to be the best horse, but in the end, the fourth horse may end up being the best one after all. Haven't the lessons on running been beaten into the horse's very bones?

In the end, Sensei's whip is there to snap me into the right frame of mind (after the stinging subsides). I always remark that I'd rather have my ego bruised and have good karate than get physically bruised or worse on the street. Of course, like everything else in karate, easier said than done. Sensei told me that all too often, people would say don't take criticisms personally. He then gave his smile with that tinge of amusement and said, "No, you have to take it personally." And... he's right.

I don't know about me eventually becoming the best horse, but I certainly feel like the worst horse right now. Maybe that's the hard part. I'm used to being the best horse. Certainly not in everything (my ego isn't that large). But mostly in the things I care about. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever been frustrated by something I cared about this much.

Sensei and the others always like to say "From frustration comes enlightenment." I like Snaggy's corollary to this: "Correction was not a function of time training but one of frustration. After a while, you get so disgusted looking at an ugly kata that you gotta do something..."

Frustration... check.
Willingness to get better... check.
Training... check.
Training correctly... working on that.

In the end, it boils down to training (correctly). I wish there was a shortcut. But as usual, easier said than done. Time for this horse to get going.



Judo Karate said...

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Anonymous said...

It does feel great when you receive praise from your instructor about a move that you've just improved on, but that praise only last an instant, then it's back to the trenches....kind of frustrating.

Bujutsu Blogger said...

You are correct; it is very frustrating.

However, I try not to train so that I can get the praise from my instructor that makes me feel good. It certainly does feel good, but I believe that is a weak training mindset. I try to train correctly so that my understanding becomes correct. If anything, I prefer my instructor's praise to come rarely and only when appropriate because then it means something; I know the execution was correct. If it came all the time, then I would have no way of telling when it was genuine, so the teaching aspect of praise and trying to reinforce a particular action would be completely lost.

Of course, none of this makes it any less frustrating, no matter how much of a usually internally motivated person I am.