At the beginning of each year, our Senesi likes to get comfortable on the dojo mats for a philosophical talk. I enjoy those moments. It is a launching pad for thought. Our Sensei is a contemplator like me. He searches for deeper meaning. This year Senesi challenged us to reflect over the past twelve months. Where were we this time last year? How far have we come in our training and everyday life? What were our successes and our failures? And how can we take those lessons learned and apply them in the future? These are all profound questions. As intended they got me thinking. How have I changed?
A year ago, began my journey into the land of blue belt water class. In earth class (white and yellow belts), we are taught to stand our ground, to protect ourselves, to hulk-smash any unavoidable danger, and to escape. Once we learn to defend ourselves, the real training starts. My legs were tired from all the deep ichimonji no kamae; dive rolling was a regular part of life, and so were perpetually sore wrists from repeated locks. The most important takeaway was learning how not to get hit with the use of angles. I was learning how not to fight, very important in our art.
After my first randori test as a blue belt, another realization came over me; I controlled the energy of the test. The five ukes that surrounded me responded to the power I put forth. Mind-blown. I had just come from hulk-smash intense earth randori. To understand what I am talking about, imagine five or six padded-up dudes mobbing you, and it is the student’s job to defend themselves with what they have learned so far. Still relatively new to the world of a warrior, a randori stressed me out, it still does. In blue belt, the randori were meant to be lower key, however, the one in the center, the one being tested ultimately sets the pace of the test. New understanding better armed me for the next time. My second blue belt randori was the most chill, smoothest test I had ever experienced. It was great.
Halfway through the year, I crossed over to red belt, the land of fire. The calm, tranquil angles of water class were over. The intensity got notched up about a thousand times. The timing of techniques proved to be essential to success. Timing is hard; it requires reading body language and intent. It was in fire I experienced my most significant injury to date, a fractured spine. No biggie right? Sitting on the sidelines taking notes for two months I learned a lot. After a few months of recovery, my back is doing better. I can roll again, however, dive rolling is still out.
Last month, I got inducted into a special group. It is an initiation of sorts. I had to endure the punch and kick test of fire. A student has to kick (like you are kicking in a door) a large pad held by a stout uke moving him backward across the dojo mats. Once you reach the far side, you are invited to turn around and punch your way back. This trial by fire goes on, and on, and on until the instructor thinks you are tired enough to do the rest of your test. The point is to prove perseverance. Our Sensei wants assurance you will not give up; that his students, in whatever situation they find themselves in, will not give up.
What can I distill from a year of learning? Last year I learned angles, how to not fight and get hit. I also learned timing and how to persevere no matter how tired I get. Have I mastered either? Hold on to that lovely thought while I laugh on the floor in a fetal position. Okay, I am better now. Let me answer that last question. No, I will spend the rest of my life refining angles, timing and distance.
The other question our Sensei asked us to reflect upon was where do we think we will be this time next year. What will a year do for our training?
I don’t want to think about this time next year. And yet, I am excited. January 2019 I will be preparing for my black belt test. How scary cool is that? Will I make it through? Of course, I will; with enormous amounts of training, determination, and perseverance.
As Sensei knows, reflection is part of a healthy lifestyle. It gives perspective. As you contemplate where you were a year ago, ask yourself how far you have come. Are you where you want to be? If so, what is your next step? If not, how can you achieve your goals? I wish you all the best in the next phase of your journey. Remember to train every day, train hard and most importantly train smart.
Thank you for reading.
J. R. Lowe