I have a very clear memory of Sensei telling the class, “Life is like watching the wake from the bow of a boat. We live it going forward but only understand it looking back.”
Last night I was revisiting one of the many tiny ways that I really screwed things up in my marriage. It’s just one small thing, but it says something about who I was being at the time.
Ten years ago, I was getting into cycling to supplement my Jiu-Jitsu. I thought it would be a lovely thing for my wife and I to do together. But she had no interest. She told me she had crashed her bike when she was a kid, and ever since then she’d hating biking.
I thought, “That is so ridiculous – this is a different time and a different place, and you’re a different person now.” And I was resentful.
What had happened was that I had lost my compassion for someone else’s personal struggle. I was no longer empathetic.
I had forgotten, for instance, that I myself once had a bad plane trip and now can’t stand to fly.
I had made it about her anxiety around biking, but really it was my problem. I had lost my compassion for my wife and what she was going through.
What I should have been doing – influencing her to join me at the dojo so we could share the martial arts together – I also couldn’t do. I had stopped practicing one of the training’s deepest attributes.
I think she realized this, that I was disconnected from this martial art principle, so she became resentful of my hypocrisy. And she was right!
Once my empathy was gone, any chance I might have had to understand her – or to influence her bike riding or martial arts practicing – was also gone.
I had fallen into a very common, very unfortunate trap: seeking to be understood without first seeking to understand.
It’s relevant for us as practitioners because the paradox of caring for “self and other” is all around us in training.
In a traditional martial arts dojo, we’re asked to face ourselves every time we’re on the mat. If we’re not working on uncovering and excavating and then sort of annihilating our mental idiosyncratic behaviors – our mental issues – then we’re not actually training.
A rather complicated side-effect is that it’s really easy to lose sight, when someone’s not immersed as you are, that they’re just being their natural, human selves. They’re not doing the same work, which means they need to be heard on their own terms.
So here are three things we’d like you to consider:
One is for the practicing martial artist in the dojo: if you’re not doing the personal excavation on the mat, you’re really not training. You’re doing something else. Maybe you’re working out, but it’s not the same.
The second is for the practicing martial artist outside the dojo: we have to always have a measure of compassion for the people in our lives and where they’re at. That approach is to solidify our journey as real martial artists – as people devoted to peace and love. This is the stuff that I believe the Masters really had in mind when they were propagating the martial arts for the student.
And then the last is a question: How do we help the people in our lives along? One obvious answer is to bring them to the dojo. Don’t keep the place your little secret. It’s easy to fall into the trap: “This is my secret place where I like to go and it’s for me, blah, blah, blah.”
Influence and help come in all forms. Facebook is a real example – we have to be a part of the day and age we live in. People are sharing incredible things, including about their experiences in this school. There are plenty of other effective ways as well.
Take your pick, but you have to do something.
The lesson for us all is that when we look back on decisions we’ve made, we see that our perspective in the moment can be very narrow. If we’re not afraid to excavate, we can come to understand more about ourselves and how we relate to others.
As a martial arts student, you’ve found a way to do this for yourself. Now the challenge is to reach more people with this work we all care so much about.
For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.
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