This afternoon, on the 40th of my 108 days of meditation, I had an epiphany; I remembered a lesson I had forgotten years ago, and what a shame I lost track of it.
When I first started training, I was so proud to be a martial artist. Two or three years in, I still bragged about training for my black belts. I worked hard at the dojang, and thought that just by practicing what I was taught, I was, in a small way, better than other people.
It took me a long while to figure out that I wanted to be really good at what I was doing, and that participation alone wouldn’t ensure that I would master the styles I studied. There’s a distinct difference between a practitioner of a martial art, and a someone who is dedicated to the martial art. All my fellow students were practitioners. It was only because I joined the school earlier than the others that I out-ranked them. I decided that time alone should not determine my skill level. I had to have a hand in it. My rank would speak less about the number of classes I had taken, and more about myself as a martial artist. I started really paying attention, and realized my place in the world was very small. Being a martial artist meant nothing except what I made of it. The best I could do was to hone my own skills and become the best tool for the style that I could.
It was a difficult transition for me. My pride, which I had cultivated and nourished for years, suddenly had no place to call home. I silenced my heart. My rank became meaningless; no matter what color I wore, I never felt worthy of it. I suddenly felt no competition with my similarly ranked classmates. I practiced silence, occasionally speaking just a handful of words in a day. It paid off, and my form became close to perfect. As Naruto would say, I had found “my way of the ninja.”
I’ve been meditating for ten minutes a day for 40 days, and because of that I thought I was special. I had forgotten that my objective is mastery, not participation. Kung Fu loosely translates to “skill” and “effort,” but even that is not enough to become a master. Even now there is a disquieting feeling in my chest; I can feel my pride rebelling against its second eviction in a decade. It claims that it is no sin to be proud of my accomplishments, and yes, this is true. But the distraction is an unnecessary obstacle. The sense that I have achieved my goal just as I begin to learn a new style is unforgivable. The brown sash I’ve been given will blind me if I let it. For a second time, I must quiet my heart, and retreat to a quiet, humble place.