This Too Shall Pass. What To Do When You Hit the Wall.
You're not the only one who hits the wall. I do too --and in fact, I've hit what feels like a giant wall over the last couple of weeks. It started, as best I can pin it down, when my jiu-jitsu teacher and I, after a class, were talking about our beginnings --and he realized I'd started learning jiu-jitsu in 1994. He said, "You've been around for a long time! Why aren't you a black belt yet?"
Now I don't think he knew I'd been thinking the same darn thing and wanted to talk to him about it --but in the martial arts world I grew up in you NEVER asked your teacher about testing, ever. So when he asked me why, I looked over at him and half-jokingly said, "I was thinking about asking my teacher the same thing."
He then started asking me if I knew how to do this technique or that one, X-guard sweeps and other maneuvers I'm vaguely familiar with. All I could say, being somewhat caught off guard, was, "Yeah, I probably had done them --and with some reminders or brush up I could get them down."
The end result of the conversation was that no, even after 23 years of jiu-jitsu and 3 years underneath him as a brown belt, I was not black belt ready in his eyes. He pointed out that I hadn't come up under him (as I earned my brown belt from Eliot Kelly of EDH Jiu-jitsu then moved to an area far closer to Professor Gustavo's school), and that was an issue for him, as upon earning my black belt I would be representing his school where ever I went.
In the moment, then, I didn't blink at his determination, I'd done or said exactly the same thing, more or less, to many of my own students --and I had been trained, above all other things, in patience and persistence. But later, like some slow growing flu bug, the conversation started to take me down.
I started thinking and talking, to myself, about the time I'd invested, the injuries I'd suffered, some of them that still put my health and mobility at risk, and I felt frustrated that I wasn't being told --and hadn't asked --what I WOULD need to know to advance, to feel like I was advancing. And, not to forget, I'd broken my leg at the dojo, a spiral fracture where the hip replacement I'd had at age 40 caused a spiral fracture that had the hip having to be replaced again, then the bone had to be wired and clamped together, AND they had to put new cadaver bone at the top of my femur, as my own bone had "disintegrated."
My internal dialogue began taking on that negative tone one gets when the wall is approaching --and you simply don't see it yet. I missed a class. Then I missed another. Than a week went by, then two, then three. I'd started doing push-ups and other calisthenics at home, I rode my elliptical trainer, and when I would load my gi in the car in preparation for class, I started finding excuses why I couldn't go.
Last night it came to a head. I had the time, I had my gi, I had a full tank of gas, and I was on the highway headed to the dojo --but at about the halfway mark, I felt like there was some invisible force keeping me from getting to class. Instead, I pulled off the highway and sat in a comfy chair at a Starbucks, sipping coffee and finally giving in to the fact that I had definitely hit the wall.
So I called my lifelong friend Dave Kovar, after sending him a text that I wanted to gripe --and I wrote a note to Professor Gustavo letting him know I was fighting a bit of training depression. Both of them said things I've said myself. They both coached me the way I'd coached others. I didn't think either of them would offer a "solution" to my funk, I simply turned to my friends to get a helping hand climbing out of my own little hole.
This too shall pass. After 47 years of martial arts training, I've had long, long periods when I was as dedicated and diligent about training as any Olympic athlete. I've had periods of training where I was just sort of maintaining the status quo. And I've had periods where I felt like I was going backwards. Like now.
This too shall pass. I'm not after a black belt, I'm after the benefits that come from the practice --and I'm about crafting a practice that's good for me and of service to those around me.
The nature of the martial arts, our culture, is to persevere; to fight the battle when you have to; to look deeply at who --or what --exactly is the enemy; and to be patient. I wrote all of this to let you know that you're not alone. We all hit the wall from time to time. Our job, as lifetime martial arts teachers is to let our students know that EVERYONE hits the wall --and some of us do it regularly. What we bring to the table is this:
Yes, I hit the wall too. When you see me do it, then watch me. Watch what I do.
It is what you do to come back, to begin again, to climb over the inevitable obstacles, that shows whether your training has been deep --or superficial. Mine has been deep --and this too shall pass.
We reboot, we contemplate why we do the work, we look for a Plan B if there needs to be one, and we (as in "me"), most of all, look deeply at our internal dialogue, our excuses, justifications, and/or perspective --and we stay the course.
I've said it many times --and it's an easy thing to say, and a much harder thing to live:
When you're honestly ready for your black belt, it will fall upon you.
Without a low, there's hardly a way to measure the highs. This too shall pass.