Time keeps flowing toward that magic date of December 1, 2017, when I’ll stand for my black belt test in taekwondo. I’m a little stressed. As part of my requirements, I am writing a 10 page paper about becoming a black belt. Here’s a chunk of it- I’d appreciate any feedback. Previous posts have been about the taekwondo tenets of courtesy and integrity.
Saturday morning, and the alarm clock rings. I stagger to the kitchen, feed the cat and put water in the kettle. The temptation is to go back to bed- but instead I make my coffee, track down my uniform, and get myself down to the dojang.
Some think that perseverance is an attitude of “never give up, never surrender!” But I have learned it is more about patience, step by step practice, and staying on the path that gets me to my goal. My hand-based mental model with perseverence is the middle finger, the one that is just a little longer, because it keeps on going past the other fingers, it just keeps going, and going…
In any practice, there are times when it is tempting to give up skip a day, miss class. I have been practicing yoga for about 7 years. Practice in yoga terms is that it is a life-long habit to build. There are no goals to reach other than becoming stronger and more flexible and more balanced every day Some activities are goal oriented- there is a season, a championship,. a goal to reach, a race to run and then you are finished. I will be able to practice yoga until the day I die. I will be able to practice martial arts in some form, until the day before the day I die. It will likely take out my toes, first. Or my shoulder.
But the idea with yoga is that building a practice is something you do every day, coming to the mat, being mindful, moving and stretching and building strength. It is a noun, a practice, not just a verb following the word should. I should practice my forms, my kicks, my sparring. I am trying to build a practice of remembering my forms, using them as a moving meditation. Daily work on anything is a habit to build, and it is difficult. At first, it is a challenge to make time, then it becomes mind-numbingly boring- the brain does anything it can to escape, then the practice becomes necessary for happiness or contentment. It feels weird to skip, the way it would feel weird to skip brushing my teeth.
Why do people give up on martial arts? I heard a statistic early on, that at each belt level, 90% of practitioners quit- if 1000 people start at white, 100 move on to yellow, 10 to orange. I find that hard to believe. Is it comparable to ordinary group exercises? Are there many people who are still doing Jazzercise, and have been since the 80’s? How many people used to ski, or used to bike, or used to play tennis? Martial arts isn’t for everyone,and people always have the choice to stay involved, or to quit.
Why do people stay in martial arts, even with broken metatarsals, taped-up toes and messed up shoulders? It is because the benefits outweigh the disadvantages- once you get past the confusion of recalling the forms and the tiny technical elements of practice, there are the rewards of community and mindfulness that you get after a while, that’s why you don’t quit, because keeping going makes it possible for you to keep going.