Why do we do what we do?
Over the last several weeks I’ve had conversations with a number of people about why they train and why I continue to train and teach into my 6th decade of martial arts training. Here are some thoughts.
All the discussion started to make me question my own motivations. Why do I do what I do? It would certainly be more convenient not to do it. I could shed the overhead at two locations, be home in the evening, travel more and not have to deal with phone calls, emails and my own, individual practice. So, why do I do it?
In the beginning, oh so many years ago, I knew exactly why I was doing it. I was afraid. I was teaching in an inner city school that had some major gang issues. I didn’t know much about self-defense and decided it would wise to learn. It was a revelation. I focused on the basic and functional. I learned to punch, kick and block with speed, power and not much finesse. That was my martial arts world. I even got pretty good at it and began to feel less fearful. An interesting side effect was that as the fear and anxiety dissipated, I began to relate better to the students I was fearful of. I suspect they no longer saw me as a potential victim. I liked that feeling of security and well being so continued training.
Somewhere along the way, I discovered competition and that became my reason to train. I wanted to be better than the other guys. I trained to do a better kata and to be a better “fighter”. The sense of win/lose became all-important but after a couple of years I realized I was trying to avoid losing more than I was trying to win. This became a sort of dysfunctional motivational process. I was focusing on the negative rather than the positive. I also recognized at some point that even winning consistently was a fairly empty reward. It had no long-term benefit for me other than cluttering my apartment with trophies and medals.
Competition continued as my driving force but it evolved into competition with myself. I wanted to know more techniques, more kata and perform them at a higher level. This form of motivation was more positive but still held pitfalls. How many kata could I do and still achieve some degree of mastery? The inevitable conclusion, after learning approximately 150 kata was, not so many. The self-competitive drive drifted toward quality instead of quantity. I began to “lose” kata but looked more deeply into the techniques, drills and kata I chose to train. Somewhere along here Bunkai entered the picture and drove me on. This self-competition became more fulfilling and rewarding.
After many years of training I realized I no longer had fear, my body was doing more of what I asked it to do and competition no longer drove me. So what drove me now?
Knowledge. I became passionate about the culture of Okinawa along with the history and philosophies of the art I was studying and training in. The fact that I was able to train with the Kises, arguably amongst the best in the world played a major part here. Where did Karate come from and why? Who were the figures that played pivotal roles in the evolution of the arts? What were the significant milestones that changed the direction of the art? Many questions emerged with few answers. A new passion began to drive the training and teaching. A research based strategy emerged.
So now what? Why do I continue today after meeting all the goals that I have created over the years? Teaching. Still trying to learn, stay fit and healthy but now focusing on passing on the art as best I can. We are once again in a “bottle neck” in the history of the martial arts. Sport and exhibition martial arts and MMA have attracted many of the most talented practitioners. Most have left behind the traditions and history for “flash and dash”. Many have created musical kata, changed traditional kata and added gymnastic moves and Star Wars weapons to make things glitzier and showier. This has diluted the classical arts almost beyond recognition. This is potentially the death knell of the traditional arts. We can’t allow that to happen. So…
Another reason for continuing is the sickness that pervades our society these days. We struggle with alcohol, drugs, pornography, dishonesty, disloyalty, legal, financial and political malfeasance and many other character flaws. I truly believe that each of us can have a positive impact on other individuals. If we can help change one person’s direction in life to a positive and fulfilling one, there is no telling how many more people they might impact. Channeling ONE young person on the path to honesty, integrity and a meaningful life can impact hundreds more.
That’s why I did and do what I do. Now, why do you do what you do? Have you thought about the motivators and driving forces that propel you forward in your pursuit of the arts? It might be worth the effort to ruminate on what motivates and drives you toward martial arts mastery,
– In the way, JWA