New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Martial Law

First off, today's a really cold day in New York. People are acting cold. The vibe on the street is holy-crap-it's-cold. I'm wearing many layers. I'm sitting at my desk at Esquire and it's 1:06 p.m.

I've had a few things on my mind besides making money. One of those things is my karate training. I've spent a pretty good amount of time in the dojo lately so there's mental and physical recency. My karate is pretty prominent in my brain at the moment. I fight rounds in my mind as I'm on the subway or spacing out at work.

As a new-ish black belt I have a mountain of material to learn. Sometimes I feel like I've got a pretty good handle on it, and my confidence is quite high. Other times I feel rather inexperienced when compared to the "real" fighters I go up against, the tough guys, the murderer's row.

Last Saturday's kumite class was a good confidence-builder. I fought some tough rounds and basically controlled my fights, doing what I wanted, not hurting anybody but definitely picking my spots and attacking at will. I was thinking that if I can do that well with people who actually have some fighting training I'd do really well against people who don't have any training. If I see an intimidating-looking thug on the street I imagine him wearing a gi and standing in front of me at the dojo. Thugs always seem less threatening that way.

On the other hand, on Saturday-before-last I got tenderized, and it was quite humbling. My confidence takes a temporary hit, but then I think that it's enough of an accomplishment just to face off against some of these guys at all. No matter the opponent, I do fight to win. When the round begins, I truly believe I am going to win the fight. Then I'm on the floor. One time a few months ago I fought two very tough fighters in a row. Both of them swept me, and by swept I mean they took my legs out from under me. I remember this one Sensei (4th degree black belt) came in and swept me so fast that I went up before I went down, and I remember looking up and seeing the ceiling fans spinning. That was a humbling experience. Try as I might, I could never touch him, unless he wasn't paying any attention, which is what I have to count on.

The bottom line is this: fighting is the same as writing is the same as playing basketball. You get better if you practice. But it's hard to get a grasp on exactly how good I am. For one thing, our training is Zen-based, which means our first and foremost fight is against our own egos. I can't speak for women but the ego is a pretty big force in a man's life. Being free from the ego is quite liberating. The result is a pure confidence unfettered by ego, but my grasp of this is such that sometimes I give myself less credit than I deserve. Other times when the ego rears its ugly head I feel like I could defeat anybody. It's not true, of course. Plenty of people could knock me down, and they don't even have to be martial artists to do it.

Finding the actual truth is difficult, and maybe it's better just to do and not think.

"There is no think, there is only do."

The philosophy behind any martial art is bushido, loosely translated as the non-quitting spirit. I might be weaker and slower than you, but I will never stop fighting.

"Fall down seven times, get up eight."

So I might as well not try too hard to get philosophical about it and just keep training. Enjoy every day, every breath.

Now if I could only apply my Zen principles to the rest of my life . . .


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