Every class is different

Every class is different. That can mean, of course, a great many things, but the way in which they differ, the way I've been thinking of lately, is how each class makes me feel when all is said and done. I'm certainly not proud of most of these emotions, but there they are, and I can't deny that they bubble to the surface once in a while.

Sometimes, after a class, I feel...

Sometimes, we have a great lesson; maybe I received one, or I actually managed to teach one. Sometimes I get to work with a skilled and talented individual (either higher ranking or lower, it doesn't matter) and together, we produce some beautiful budo. For whatever reason, the stars and planets align, I'm feeling energetic, I'm in a good mood and the work is truly exceptional, not just for me, but for my partner or even the entire class. I think about it incessantly afterwards, and can't wait for the next one. I love those classes; who wouldn't?

Sometimes, nothing seems to work out right. This can usually be attributed to my own sour mood, but there can be other contributing factors. Maybe I have to work with someone who, though a decent person, doesn't move all that well; or perhaps they're just not my "type of person"; or maybe they're just a plain ol' fashioned jerk. Perhaps the lesson doesn't go as well as I thought it should have, or didn't cover what I would have covered.

On the other hand, maybe I let my ego get the better of me during randori, and I walk away ashamed of myself. Even I can recognize when my ego needs a good re-alignment, but I figure the best thing to do at the time is to put my shoes on and go home. I wonder if I've just wasted an hour, or worse, just wasted someone else's hour.

Sometimes, it seems like my skills have flown out the window and nothing works the way it used to. In fact, it can seem like they're worse! Or maybe a lower rank (inadvertently) shows me that I'm not as accomplished as I might think I am (or should be); or working with a higher rank will remind me how clunky and ill-timed my technique is. I feel like starting over, like I don't deserve my rank, like trading in my black belt for a brown one, or heck, even a white one!

Sometimes, I wonder what I'm doing there. I've seen this lesson before, done this technique a hundred times already. I secretly yearn for something more "advanced", for a magical new technique or kata, something new and interesting to rekindle my passion for the art. But no; instead, I find myself working on the same old release movement or an elementary o-soto gari entry with a white belt. I try to remind myself that there are no "secret advanced techniques", that the true magic comes in mastery of the basics. Even still, I feel like I'm going through the motions, like I'm just not being challenged enough.

Sometimes, someone comes along and turns my world upside-down. Just when I thought I had something figured out, they show me something a new light, and allow me to look at it in a way I'd never considered before. There's a startling, unsettling realization that there's so much more to learn, that despite all my years of training, I have barely scratched the surface.

Sometimes, I just don't know if I have it in me to make the next class. I think about skipping just once. Especially now that I attend the morning classes, sleeping in is a regular temptation. I think, maybe I just need a little break. My brain can only take so much budo, and perhaps a rest would do me good. I've taken breaks that lasted months and years, and regretted the training time lost; but at the time, something in life seemed more important (and probably was, to be honest). Sometimes, it seems like the best thing to do is to step away and clear the mind, so that I can return again later fresh and ready.

The emotions run the gamut, and the differences between two successive classes can be dramatic: euphoric and confident on Monday, frustrated and humbled on Tuesday. And in the case of the recent shochugeiko, I felt all of the above in one singular week! Fortunately, for the most part, I walk away from my practice feeling pretty good. Overall, over the years, the positive experiences far outweigh the negative.

But then, now that I stand still for a moment and gaze back at them, were any of them really negative? Or was there something that I learned from all of it, even when it may have felt uncomfortable, fruitless or even painful at the time?

I think that yes, though I might be hard pressed to put my finger on what, exactly. I do know I'm a better person today than when I started as a young man of 19, for whatever reason, and I'm a better budoka. I don't know that I ever handled any of these emotions in the smartest or most proper way. But regardless of my response, they shaped me, and defined me; they refined me.

I don't know what to recommend anyone else when they feel frustrated, or bored, or tired, or overwhelmed, other than this: that however I feel at the end of a class, for better or worse, the most important thing is that I come back.

Regardless of how I feel, the best thing I can do, the hardest thing, the bravest thing, the simplest thing is to keep going. To show up again, to remove my shoes and put on my gi one more time. To bow in all sincerity to my partner, to my teachers, to my dojo, and to say "Thank you" regardless of the kind of experience I've had and mean it.

Because I am, I'm grateful. And that is how I feel every time.


  1. i get this same gamut in daily meditation practice -- ocassionaly feels great, more often less so -- either way it still seems to do the good it does no matter how i feel about it


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