2016-03-01

Discipline, Motivation, Ego

This is not an easy post to write as I have confessions that I'm uneasy sharing. It wouldn't be like me to let that stop me though especially if there's even a slight chance it could help one of you reading this.

Karate is so much more than self-defense and fitness. In a real way karate tests you, shows you who you are at your worst (and best), and is a vehicle for self-improvement, not just physically, but mentally and at your core. At my core, I've seen some ugly things. Let's take them one at a time.

Discipline
When I started taking karate in January of 2015, I had periods where I attended classes three to five times a week. I then had periods of injuries and chronic sickness (nothing major, no worries) and I allowed these as excuses to not attend. Now some days with very high fevers, etc., I had good reason not to attend, but more often than not I regret how many times I chose to stay home when I could have gone to class.

Now beating oneself up doesn't help. And the reality is karate IS hard even for young, fit, healthy, uninjured people. Also, when sick or injured it is ever so much harder to force oneself to go to class especially when knowing that the pain in the days after class recuperating will seem so much worse due to current circumstances. 

Something good came from being sick though as at one point something snapped in me and I felt enough is enough and I went to my first class in street clothing and just sat and watched it. I stopped lying to myself and saw the truth -- that even if I was ill, I could still benefit from even just watching the class (it was also wonderful having all that time to take notes). It was after watching that class, that I started to attend more often while sick, but this also ties into ego which I'll cover a bit later.

Motivation
It's one thing to start a new project all bushy-tailed and excited, but with any project there comes a time where some of the thrill wears off and you start to get a longer view of just how much sustained effort will be required. 

As I posted months ago, as a white belt I was very eager and happy once I had learned all that I was required to know to grade and then surprised, and perhaps daunted, by seeing my progress slow to a crawl. Learning core moves is easy; learning to do moves well can take a lifetime. And now that I'm a yellow belt I'm faced with the slow crawl of trying to do my moves better, not seeing any improvement, and feeling my motivation take a hit as a result. To add to this, I don't know what my requirements are to grade as they've been in flux. So here I am having graded for this belt 10 months ago (having received it 9 months ago) and haven't felt any closer to grading in the past six months.  

On the one hand, motivation is easier when I have a checklist of things to learn and mark off, but on the other hand, as I previously said, such a checklist can be detrimental once one reaches the point of having checked it all off and knowing the next step is to improve with each thing and then failing to see any personal improvement (that's one reason we have instructors of course -- to see our improvement even if we can't see it ourselves). I of course rationalize and realize that I'm still learning new things, trying to improve, and that the biggest truth is that there is no wasted time: any time I spend as a yellow belt will help me (traditionally there weren't even coloured belts in karate). This does bring me to ego though.

Ego
Ego sucks. Ego whispers into my ear that perhaps I'm too old/fat/out of shape for karate. Ego laughs at how long I've been a yellow belt with feeling no progress. Ego whispers that perhaps I'm not liked and only once the other yellow belts have caught up to me will I learn what is needed to progress and be taught it. Ego delights in telling me I'm not worthy of instruction, correction, or eventually grading. Ego shows me images of those I admire and shows how I don't measure up. And it whispers that I should just quit, that karate isn't for me. Every time I can't do a full push-up or when I tire faster than the other students, ego mocks me. And when I was sick, more often than not Ego prevented me from going to class -- as when sick even easy things became tremendously difficult and I couldn't take the failure. And even recently I admit I've gone to less classes due to listening to the mad ravings of Ego.

Although Ego often speaks partial truths (like showing us our fears) it amplifies what we fear others may think about us, but these fears are rarely based in reality. And so although I have fallen victim to listening to Ego, know that normally, I am more rational (e.g., I don't actually think I'm disliked.) I do think, however, that fears can be useful to reflect on to determine their truth and how to take action, like taking action to be more worthy if one feels they could be a better student. Ego's ravings, however, only work when one forgets that karate is a personal journey and so comparing with others or fearing what others may think completely misses the point. 

So with all these negative, painful aspects of karate, why learn it? All of these difficult aspects, when worked through, help one to improve. Karate is hard and not just for old/fat/out of shape people, but karate is hard for everyone. We all have our unique strengths and areas for growth -- some are just more visually apparent than others -- but even those I most respect have periods where they have to buck up and force themselves to attend classes and have times where they question their worth. These experiences unite us and it's through persevering in spite of these things that builds our inner strength and this is one way karate holds up a mirror and allows us to overcome our greatest obstacle: ourselves.