Saturday, April 21, 2018

As Years Go By…

by Phillip Starr

    In a conversation with an old and dear friend (who, like me, is a long-time martial arts instructor) I asked about several of our mutual martial arts friends.  I inquired about their health, their families, and whether they were still involved in practicing or teaching martial arts.  I was saddened to learn that quite a number of them no longer practice the disciplines that they once embraced; it seems that once they were no longer able to participate in the sporting aspect of the arts, they’d lost interest in them.  And since I lean towards the philosophical side of life, it got me to thinking…

     Most martial arts enthusiasts are rather young, not having yet reached what we call “middle age.”  I don’t have the demographics on this subject but I’d bet that younger children and teens make up the vast majority of today’s martial arts practitioners.  The next largest chunk would be taken up by those who have not yet reached their 35th or 40th birthdays.  And the numbers dwindle dramatically after that…

     The conversation with my friend got me to thinking about the different paths that martial arts enthusiasts travel.  For most, the path is very short.  They practice for a while – some as few as a week or two and others as long as several months or even years – and then they fizzle out.  For one reason or another, they lose interest.  Oh, they come up with some pretty creative excuses but what matters is that they gave up.  You know, it’s okay if you lose interest; it’s perfectly alright if you find that there are other things you’d rather do than throw punches and kicks, and gasp, and bleed.  There’s no need to make up some kind of bizarre story.  Just tell it like it is.

     But the fact is that the vast majority of martial arts devotees just fade away into the sunset, never to be heard from again.  It’s always been that way, and always will.

     For others, it was fun so long as they could enjoy the art as a sport.  They enjoyed the rush of competition, the give and take of a good match.  But life has a way of putting an end to this aspect of martial arts.  It’s called AGE.  And when these folks could no longer compete due to age or any number of other things (such as lack of tournaments in their area), they pooped out.

     Some turned to teaching but even then, for many of them it became little more than a business enterprise.  They no longer trained themselves; the almighty buck became their new sensei or sifu and their love of the martial arts turned bland and sterile.  The objective no longer had anything to do with self-development; instead, it became focused around making money.  Their art and their spirits died for the sake of better business.

     I considered all of this and decided that these people had never really been true martial arts practitioners.  They might have once thought that that was what they wanted but they couldn’t stand the gaff and they quit.

     There are few things in this world that are worse than false teachers, especially false martial arts teachers.  Certainly, age robs us of some of our youthful abilities – I can no longer kick as fast, jump as high, stand as low, or look as pretty as I could when I was a few decades younger – but what counts is that I keep trying.  If I don’t train on my own, how can I expect my students to train on their own?

     Too often I hear older martial arts enthusiasts cry about aching backs, knees, or whatever.  Actually, quite a number of them have not yet reached their 50th birthdays…and they use excuses like aches and pains as reasons for not training.

     Get real.  Don’t you think that the martial arts masters of generations past suffered with the same problems?  Of course, they did!  The difference is that they absolutely wouldn’t give up.  Period.

     And, unlike so many of our current “older” martial arts practitioners who train (minimally) just to maintain health and stay in some semblance of good shape, the practitioners of former generations continued trying to improve their skills even into old age!

     Gichin Funakoshi practiced perfecting his punch while sitting up on his deathbed just one day before he passed away!  Tatsuo Shimabuku suffered from malnutrition as a child and developed beriberi for a time.  This left one leg slightly shorter and weaker than the other.  Kicking with that leg would have been very painful.  If you watch videos of him doing kata, you can’t tell which leg was deformed!

     Bruce Lee was born with one leg shorter than the other and he frequently wore an insert in one shoe.  But you can’t tell which leg was malformed by watching films of him performing his techniques.

     These men and many others like them refused to sit back and whine about their problems.  And they weren’t content to just try to stay “fit.”  They were constantly striving to improve themselves.  And that’s what martial arts is all about.

     It’s not about trophies, making lots of money, or just doing enough exercise to maintain fairly good health.  It’s a thing of the spirit.  It’s about a continual striving towards self-perfection.