One of the most emotionally complex experiences I've had since beginning my training took place about a year ago, on my last belt test. This was an important test, a milestone, and I'd prepared for it with a vigor and focus that are, frankly, kind of unusual for me. Let's face it: I'm no athlete. Even with my extra training, and even though I'd dropped at least ten pounds in the weeks leading up to the big day, I still carried several handicaps: my weight, my asthma, and my chronically injured back, to name just a few.
As it turned out, though, the actual difficulty, when it arose, came from another area entirely.
|Mr. Miyagi never made|
Daniel-san do 5 hours of forms
& techniques before sparring!
I was confused. What was happening here? I'd survived, and passed, a number of six-hour tests that seemed specifically designed to make a grown man (specifically: me) cry. I normally trained for 2-4 hours at a time, and yet, here I was, barely half an hour into the program, already wondering if I was going to be able to continue. One of the Masters approached me and asked me if I was OK—apparently, I was pretty pale. (A few days after the test, my own Sensei told me that, when he had stopped by to see how I was doing, expecting to find me red in the face, he had been surprised to see instead that I was white as a sheet.)
Pale, dizzy, exhausted: what the hell was going on?
It was only months later, after another bout of similar symptoms, that I got my answer: having lost weight, my blood pressure had dropped. Because I was taking medication for hypertension, my blood pressure was now too low to support intense exercise. I stopped taking the meds and the symptoms disappeared.
During the test, though, all I knew was that I was in danger of not finishing, of failing. As the morning wore on, the vertigo and exhaustion worsened. During the final portion of the test, sparring, I performed dismally, which is to say: I got my ass kicked by a lesser fighter. Sparring requires creativity, adaptability, and explosiveness, none of which seemed to be available to me.
Nonetheless, when the sparring was over, I had made it all the way to the end of the test. And when I left the building, I carried a brand new belt with me.
|An earlier test: sweaty but happy|
More importantly, though, I realized that there is a reservoir of will within me, a driving energy that I can access, giving me the ability to persevere when my body is failing and my mind is crying out for surrender. It was the search for just this internal strength that had led me to martial arts in the first place. Yes, I'd struggled during tests, even during training, many times before; but I'd never faced any obstacle close to the one with which I was confronted that morning. In the end, it turned out to be this very trial that finally revealed what I'd set out to find eight years before.
*) Ki ai (pronounced "key eye") is a Japanese term that I use here to mean the outward expression of one's inner strength or energy (ki, sometimes known by its Chinese equivalent, chi). I was pleased to discover a very nice, brief article on ki ai in Wikipedia.