In college, my voice teacher once told me a story. There was a famous music professor who toured the country giving lectures to huge audiences several times a year. Those who knew the man on a more personal level knew that he was rather reserved and timid, always preferring to stand outside of the spotlight, but when he was on stage, he gave the most impassioned speeches. A colleague of his approached him once after one of these lectures and asked him how he did it: How was he able to transform himself into this other powerful, confident being. The man turned to him shyly and pulled out two small pieces of paper from his left and right jacket pockets. In his left hand the paper said, “I am a speck of dust in the Universe.” In his right, “I am the Master of the Universe.” He went on to explain that he reads the paper in his right pocket before going out on stage, and he reads the other as soon as he’s off stage. One to inspire, one to humble himself.
It must have been August when I went to train one day because I was already sweating as I walked into the dojo. I remember having a sense of dread about that day’s class, too. Work was stressful that week, family stuff, I hadn’t been able to come to class that much that week, blah, blah, blah…and now a class in the middle of a heat wave, at noon, with only a handful of other people training. I was about to be crushed.
And, I was right. I feel Sensei thrives under these conditions. He must because we began that class with a slew of rapidly changing conditioning exercises that led straight into the techniques. It was all a blur. We switched so quickly from technique to technique, from pins to throws, all while the dojo magically transformed into a sauna. We all struggled that day forcing ourselves just to stand after each throw. Through sheer necessity, we pushed each other to dig a little deeper, to find that extra kernel of strength until that final clap from Sensei came. Class ended, and I was drenched in sweat (mostly my own), breathing heavily, and feeling pretty awesome. I survived. All the baggage I brought into the dojo with me had somehow melted away.
While cleaning upstairs, Sensei made a comment about the weather. I responded that the heat did not bother me so much as the humidity did especially during training. Sensei looked at me and countered by saying that you have to believe that this is the only way you want to train, whether it is a hundred degrees or below freezing in the dojo. “Then you’ll always have what you want,” he said. I had to take a moment to let that extremely true and beautifully simple statement sink in. Perhaps it is societal but it is very easy to see the negative in everything and very easy to carry that around with us. We sabotage ourselves by creating an environment where everything that happens, happens to us thereby diminishing our own power. It becomes a cycle of victimizing oneself, a cycle of which I am very guilty. The answer to change this all around seems so simple, but I have been learning every day since that the application is the hardest part.
How can we all just “Be Here!” as the posters in the dojo say? How do we let go of everything to focus solely on the task at hand? Perspective is a powerful ability. There will be times when we have to give that speech or take fall after fall, and from what I understand of Sensei’s statement, we have to learn that the situation will stay the same. How we respond and the attitude in which we confront that situation is key. It has been a couple months since that moment, and translating that idea on and off the mat is a constant battle. A battle that seems less daunting the more I am on the mat. Funny how that works out, isn’t it?