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I just finished a grueling three-hour black belt test, and for some reason what pops into my mind is…Could I now be one of the most dangerous authors who write about Greek philosophy? Here’s a hot-off-the-digital-camera photo of Mike, me, and Dave, trying to hold each other up after the testing was over and belts awarded.
It’s been a long, hard, grind. About nine years in traditional Shotokan karate, where I made it up to a brown belt rank, and now over three years in a mixed-style school of Wu Shu Tao, which we translate as “way of the water warrior.” Right now I don’t feel so much like a water warrior as a wrung-out warrior. A hot bath awaits.
I’m too tired to fully appreciate what earning this black belt means. And maybe I never will. My old sensei (instructor) was fond of saying, “Black belt means not a beginner.” How true. That’s just what I said to Master Allen today, as I was about to leave the dojo: “I feel like I’m just beginning to learn martial arts.” He replied, “That’s good. This is the way you should feel.”
Like life itself, the martial arts aren’t something that can be grasped as an object, a technique, a packaged solution. The deeper you go into all this, the more you realize that the only person you really ever are fighting is yourself. We are our own worst enemies, and also our own best friends. The trick, as Master Allen likes to say, is to get out of your own way.
May we all become black belts in doing that, which is much more important than being able to defend yourself against someone else. What we all need to learn is true self-defense—defending ourselves against our own self. Not our true self, but our shadow ego-self that gets between us and who we really are. Relax, accept yourself, trust your instincts. This works as well in everyday life as in the martial arts dojo.