The longer I train, the more aware I become of the different challenges we face as we grow in our martial art. Starting as a white belt, and through most of your kyu ranks, your challenges are mostly physical. Get in shape, put that hand there, learn sutemi, etc.
Now, with only a few months to go until my shodan test, I find that while there are still physical challenges facing me, the difficulties have become more internal, and my focus has turned towards building a stronger mental state.
At Burbank Danzan Dojo, we have a tradition of hiking a mountain when a new brown belt is promoted. All of the brown and black belts come together to do a steep hike up the nearby mountain.
This hike parallels the journey a sankyu is about to go on as they pursue their shodan.
There are times on the trail where someone has to help you, or when you need to turn around to encourage someone else. Many times it just plain hurts and you will definitely hit a point where you consider quitting while you daydream of blissful air-conditioning and your bed, but, on your own, you find the mental toughness to push forward.
Something I have found particularly meaningful during my brown belt ranks is that it’s the first time you can really take on the instructor role. While you are training and pursuing your own goals with the help of those wiser than you, you are also being taught how to teach those coming up behind. This, in turn, comes full circle by making you look more closely at those familiar techniques. It’s a cyclical relationship that supports and connects all of us, regardless of rank. Sensei Kimo Williams jokingly describes it as a “barrel of monkeys.”
Another great thing about teaching is that it keeps you from focusing only inward. Like many of us, at times I have found myself hitting a plateau and feeling discouraged in my training. For the first couple of years, it’s constant belt changes and forward momentum, then you receive your brown belt and everything kind of…stalls. Not unlike the beginning of the climb, it’s exciting to get out there in nature and be with your dojo-family, then about halfway in, it’s a slog.
However, there is hope in that helping your friend climb the mountain distracts you from your own struggles on the ascent. I’ve recently come to see that kind of thinking as your ego talking. It’s your ego that tells you that you “should” be further along; you “need” to be doing better and that you “just plain suck.”
So, putting aside what your ego says you “should” be doing, and spending time on helping another person strive towards his or her own goals, helps bring you back out of a place of selfishness.
I read once that fudoshin “is the protection against the ‘shikai’ or four sicknesses of the mind: hesitation, doubt, fear and confusion.” In both climbing the mountain and in your martial arts training, you cycle through all of those feelings at one time or another. However, if you can just push through the doubt you can make it to the top and are rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment and a beautiful view.