Learning About Oneself, Whether One Wants to or Not

Sunni's picture

First things first: all three of us passed our promotion tests, so tomorrow we will be presented with certificates and the new belts for our respective kyu. Snolf Mk. I and are now seventh kyu, while Snolf Mk. II is ninth kyu (after less than a full year of training). As should be clear from the numerals, we are all still in relatively low ranks (first kyu is the level at which one prepares for black belt; one who has earned the first-level black belt is a “shodan”). The level doesn’t necessarily correspond to how much one has learned about oneself over the journey, though; and now that I have passed through the eye of this needle, I think I’ve learned—or at least been reminded of—a fair bit about myself.

Fear was a large component of preparing for this test for me. Coming off of the worst illness I’ve had in years was not easy nor fun; it was one of several things that led me to question my ability to succeed. It created a vicious cycle of stress that, despite passing yesterday, still reverberates in my body. The best way I found to handle it was to remind myself how little the outcome of the test actually mattered in terms of my life.

Anger became a significant component as well. This isn’t a new phenomenon for me; but it has always been one that I don’t particularly like. For me, it typically involves someone else goading me until I respond angrily, and usually then rise to whatever the occasion is. I think it’s primarily the external locus of motivation that troubles me... if something is important to me, why should an outside influence make so much of a difference?

Toward the end of our preparation period, I began to not even care if I passed or not: I just wanted it all over with. That isn’t to say that I stopped working and trying to make the myriad corrections I got; but I did that simply because it had to be done to get through this phase in my training. That isn’t something to be proud of.

All in all, right now it doesn’t feel as if I’ve earned something so much as endured a lot of stuff over the past month. My life thus far, having been a typical Western one in many respects, hasn’t been replete with challenges and uncertainties, but I have had to endure some tough times, and I think that I have stepped up each time. As best I can recall, after each of those times I discovered something positive about myself. Right now, the most positive thing I can say about all this is that I made it through it... but that doesn't feel very positive to me.

I'm positive...

"...the most positive thing I can say about all this is that I made it through it..."

Perfectionism some? :) You DID make it through... because you wanted to do so.

The challenge is to live on, as much within one's own terms as possible. You set your terms and did what you thought you needed to do to reach a goal. I call that extremely positive, and at least I am very proud of you.

Mama Liberty is right ....

About you making it through because you WANTED to, and so much more. I am also proud of you (and your SNOLF, but mostly you).

Thanks to both of you.

For once, perfectionism isn’t why I wasn’t more positive about passing the test. And now that I’ve had more time to decompress, I am feeling better about the accomplishment. As always, I appreciate the support you seven show!

That's good!

Sometimes the self worth, self acceptance issues are the problem, and sometimes it's really hard to tell just what's going on. I'm glad you are feeling good about yourself and your accomplishments, however you get there!

Desire, elimination thereof

Excuse me while I blatantly quote a few of your words without their context:

...I began to not even care if I passed or not ... I did that simply because it had to be done...

I'm not familiar with the philosophy you study in Karate, but this sounds like it's in good alignment with Buddhism. Eliminate the craving for the shiny thing (passing the test, earning the belt), but maintain the commitment to the path you're on.

I dunno, sounds like a success to me. :-)


In two weeks I'm testing for my black belt. I've studied martial arts for almost seven years. Progress is not always linear, and there are days my body feels fairly beat up, but the key is to embrace failure and learn from it, and your body and mind becomes stronger.


How did it go?

Despite my apparent absence here (I thought I’d posted a reply to you several days ago and was quite surprised to see that I apparently botched it somehow), I’ve been thinking about your test and hoping you do well. Please let us know how it went.

I have a question for you regarding the idea of persevering: How does one distinguish between perseverance and obsession? For me, there is probably a razor-thin line there, past which healthy drive becomes a too-consuming passion. In many activities—but especially in martial arts that emphasize the “budo” aspect of the practice—obsession may be accurately viewed as a cultivated trait.

Or, to cast this idea more broadly, I understand somewhat the culture of feudal Japan that gave rise to budo (literally translated as “martial way”) and its necessity in that era. I am wondering about how it has been and is still being brought in to and used in aspects of American culture, both inside and outside of the martial arts sphere.

Obsession and reflection

From 2000 through 2006 I trained at another school, and I think I was fairly obsessed, training at home every day and three times a week at the school. But maybe age or a gap in training (and kids) has changed my perspective. I am now somewhat calmer and more detached, and not as obsessed. I also train with my seven year old son, who has trained since he was not yet four years old. I try to be a role model.

My forms are rigorous, my breaks usually efficient, but I am not fond of sparring. Once you get involved in something new—liberty, martial arts, cross fit, running, knitting, whatever :-) there is a certain degree of obsession. But I think over time that becomes either dangerous, or you learn to tone it down. Even with eight plus years of training I have much to learn. It will take a year before I go for 2nd dan. I know I stressed out many years ago during tests, and they are still stressful, but the key is to learn to relax and let it flow. Sounds trite, perhaps, but it works.


It’s implicit in your comment that you passed your test and are shodan. Congratulations, sempai!

I wouldn’t say that I’m fond of sparring either, but I do like it. (We don’t do breaks.) I see it as a necessary element of taking the moves from a completely theoretical state—kata—and testing how well they stand up in an actual fight situation. It also has helped me gain better control of my composure, as well as developing the ability to summon a fighting attitude when one is necessary (as witnessed in my last promotion test; I think I scared my opponent half out of his skin simply because I went right at him with no hesitation as soon as we got the “Hajime!”). The challenge with sparring is that we don’t do it often enough to become comfortable with the different energy and control it requires.

As for the rest of your observations, it sounds to me as though your obsession has transformed into passion. That isn’t a bad thing.

Yes, I am now shodan.

Yes, I am now shodan. Thanks! We do breaks, usually both hand and foot - even the kids (smaller boards). I think I have a small stress-fracture in my hand from my last break, however. I really liked my test before black belt, where I did a wheel kick and a flying side kick.

In a previous school we had a dedicated sparring class once a week. I have noticed people often get out of breath quickly from sparring, usually because they fail to breathe properly and often hold their breath.

I never thought of the obsession to passion change, but I think you are right. It's not a temporary thing, but something I've tried to make a part of my life, but not the only part of my life. And, it gives me something I can do with my son.

Martial arts is a wonderful family activity.

My son and I have enjoyed training together for years now. While he doesn’t like to be paired with me for partner drills or sparring (which is understandable), I think it’s fair to say that we both have learned a lot about each other that we likely wouldn’t have in other environments. I think that has heightened our respect for one another as well.

While we both are happy that Snolf Mk II has joined us, it has changed the dynamic some. For me, in some ways her current challenges are a mirror of my own at that level... but she so far has been unwilling to admit that my comments and observations are relevant to her. It has to be difficult to be a teenaged girl and have your mother as the only other female in the class, as well as your sempai.

And I too often find myself holding my breath still, which is doubly stupid for an asthmatic to be doing during a demanding activity.