Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ego in the martial arts

I was talking to a guy at church today and we got off on the topic of ego in martial arts. He asked if there were a lot of folks that get into it for reasons other than to just learn a skill. I told him, "There is a lot of ego mixed up in why people do martial arts and it often takes years to calm that down if you ever do.
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For some reason I've been thinking for a few weeks about a couple of my worst moments in the martial arts. Moments that made me wonder, and probably made those around me wonder if I had learned anything at all from studying this stuff.
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As a freshman in college I was a State Champion in karate. I worked out all the time and was proud of my flexibility and kicks. One day, I was sitting in my room in the freshman dorm with my circle of friends and with one guy who had sort of insinuated himself into our circle. Nobody liked him. He was arrogant and annoying - and I was far from the only guy that thought so. Let's call him Q-. Well, we all made some excuse to leave the room and go eat together or something. Nobody invited Q- and we all hoped he'd get the message, but no, he hopped up and started out the door to go eat with us. I was seething at his boorish insensitivity as I walked out the door with Q- right behind me. (I'm sure there was a girl to impress in the group or something too). Anyway, as I walked out the door, I slipped to the left right along the wall, hauled off and hook kicked Q- in the face around the door frame. It was a technically perfect hook kick. Something to be proud of! The only thing was, it wasn't Q- I'd kicked. Without my knowing it, he'd switched places with another of my friends - a guy who never offended or hurt anyone. And it was this innocent that I kicked. It wasn't hard enough to hurt him but it was humiliating to him. I tried to assure him that I hadn't meant to kick him, I had wanted to kick Q-. So, not only did I kick the wrong guy, but I humiliated one friend, openly insulted another, and made the rest of them think I was an first class a-hole. I should have had my butt kicked for that - it would have left me feeling better than I did.
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Years later, after I'd gotten into aikido and absorbed all the great lessons of the Art of Peace, I was (I think) 4th dan in aikido. We were having an email conversation amongst a group of ourselves about some technical aspect of aikido. One of the shodans sent an email suggesting something or questioning something that I was talking about in the forum. I don't even remember the content but it struck me wrong so I sent out a public message basically asking him how he dare question me when I was a 4th dan and he was just a shodan!? I regretted it as soon as I pressed SEND. I sat there in my office waiting for the rebuttal, and when it came it was pretty gentle. He basically just asked me, "Are you crazy, talking to another person like that - regardless of rank?" I immediately agreed, apologized, and claimed a moment of insanity. Fortunately, he didn't let that poison our relationship (because he was better at the Art of Peace than me) but the training environment was pretty frigid for a while. A few years later we met at a seminar and had a good, sweaty ass-busting session that seemed to put a lot straight - I've seen him occasionally at seminars since then and everything seems okay between us.
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The moral of both stories: You have to guard yourself carefully against making irreversible actions.
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It's not like I've been feeling unforgiven or unresolved or that sort of thing, but for some reason these two incidents have been on my mind for a couple of weeks.
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Any of you guys ever have those ego insanity moments that you want to share?

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6 comments:

  1. I'm sure I've had more than my fare share of those instances around you while learning, Pat. You must've learned some patience in your past transgressions because you haven't broken my arm or busted me (too bad) for any of my faults (yet). Thank you

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  2. I worked out once with a 'beginner' ... an ex-black belt who hadn't trained for a long time but was trying to get back into shape. He was ignoring a lot of our 'rules' - not acknowledging the strikes I was landing, and striking me harder than I was striking him. I got a bit frustrated, pulled his leading arm up and punched him hard three times in his ribs (I was of course wearing hand pads). He immediately complained and while I was still frustrated, I quietly apologised and attempted to tone down. So the next technique I performed - which was your hook kick to the head, I did with grace and lots of control. However, he rushed in, toppled me over and I landed badly on my left arm which slightly dislocated the elbow joint. Fortunately, the session was stopped and I was able to compose myself and join the line ... OTHERWISE I WOULD HAVE @$(#*% HIM UP. This isn't a good example of ego, I think I'm proud that I'm mostly an ego-less practitioner. But this is an example of when the brains not really thinking right because of adrenaline. I should have known better.

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  3. Oh. I did happen to work out with a guy who once groped my ex-gf. This happened before I knew her - he tried to kiss her and started feeling her up. Anyway he came from a system in which they weren't used to contact - whereas ours totally focuses on contact and fighting ability. Let's just say I taught him a good lesson that day. While he was able to walk away on his own two feet, I distinctly remembered a roundhouse kick to the groin, a shin kick, and tiger mouth strike to his neck.

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  4. I spent most of my life having such a hard time controlling my mouth that it's hard to select just one embarrassing incident, but there's one that sticks out in my mind, from when I was about 14 or 15. I had been studying Taekwon-do at the first real tkd school to open up in Tulsa, for probably less than six months. My mother had a relatively new boyfriend, whom I thought was kind of chubby and out of shape, but he showed some interest in what I was doing. I must have been pretty full of myself, 'cause he finally asked me to just go ahead and attack him. I did, 100 percent confident that I could land kicks at will.

    Little did I know that he was one of local Goju Ryu instructor Lou Angel's brown belts. He didn't hurt me, but it didn't take him a nanosecond to wade right past my kick and unload about a dozen punches into my chest and face. That should have taught me something about humility, but I'm afraid I'm still learning.

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  5. At 51 I have many instances of which I'm not proud. I just hope that I'm not accumulating them at the rate I did when I was younger

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  6. To my shame, probably the most perfect technique I ever used in "real life" was a leg sweep, straight out of the first Karate Kid movie (during the tournament at the end).

    Unfortunately, it was against a good freind of mine in high school. We were at an outdoor concert at LSU, and a group of us were roughhousing. She (yes, /sigh...SHE) ran at me, and after years of Tang Soo Do and repeated viewings of the aforementioned movie...well...it really was a beautiful sweep. When I was spinning back around and rising back up, I saw her suspended in mid-air upside down, head about a foot from the ground (she must have been running fast).

    I broke her leg in two places, and she still has pins in them to this day. It was right before prom, so she had a big cast on in her pictures. I still feel HORRIBLE about it, and my other friends never let me forget the time I maimed a defenseless girl.

    Oh, she was also my pastor's daughter, but you wouldn't have guessed it by the language she used on the way to the hospital. :)

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