Consider this an essay of sorts. In truth this is not an essay, it has no structure, no planned purpose or direction, it is a stream of consciousness with perhaps a focus on what in this moment, right now, is most prominent in my life.
I feel a brief explanation of why I chose to right this and possibly share it is necessary. 12 weeks ago I began a test. Yes we marked a date for what would be an official test of strength, endurance, focus, control, etc; but from the moment Craig kneeled in front of me and spoke philosophically about how he had come to the decision to test me for a rank in his practiced art, my test began. Some aspects of this test I feel I have failed, others I feel I have succeeded. While failure is never what you would consider a “desired” outcome, it has led to success elsewhere and a greater understanding. For that reason, in this ultimate test, this day to determine future days, I can honestly say I have no fear of failing my test for rank.
Having said that, by the time I am reading this out loud I hope very much to be sitting with brightly colored sash as part of my uniform; and should I fail to achieve that I recognize the fact that no matter how many times I have broken my ego, I will be disappointed. I have come over these past few months, however, to realize that the education gained from failure is so often greater than that of success. An inner part of me even hopes that Craig might fail me as to set a goal to overcome beyond what I had perceived as necessary for this test. Should he not fail me, I hope it is because I have performed beyond his expectations for were I only to match them, or under shoot them I do not deserve the right of rank.
This concept of rank has continued to weigh heavily on my life. Business ordeals, martial arts, classes, peers, instructors. So much revolves around who must follow whom and lacks the cooperative strategy we are so encouraged to adapt in our Strategy course at Emerson. Yet I seek for leaders as well as seek to be one. I have always sought out those who could act as mentors, become family and give me knowledge or teach me skills my own family was incapable of doing. Tony Montanaro, my mentor in performance and spiritualism from age 10 to 15. How his passing had been postponed for to know him now I feel I could learn so much. Then Paul Faustine, my dear boss, friend, advisor, and in a way father. The Faustine family took me as one of there own, I have always been taken care of in a way far beyond what could be expected of even close friends and will look to him for advice for the rest of my life. Richard Levy, the most recent and notable mentor. Foremost inventor in the world, now pushing me into better job security than any senior in college could ask for. Richard and his wife have become trusted friends and are slowly becoming family the way the Faustines did. This is a short list of what has been a great number of individuals who I would call family and who might in turn say the same of me.
Mr. Craig Atkinson is another recent addition to the family tree, if for no other reason that to have put up with my shit when we met; which smoothly returns me to the discussion of martial arts.
I have been a martial artist in some capacity for 9 years now. A very long time to have made as little progress as I have. Its interesting to note that even since mid way through my teenage years I have always recognized the “sell-out” mentality so much of the martial arts world in this country has. I’ve always sought something above and beyond that, and though my own school eventually fell into the sell out category, a loyalty to my original place of practice blinded my ability to move beyond it. My options at the time were also limited. While Sensei was in fact a great martial artist from a karate stand point, he was a business man and one of the least stoic and grounded individuals you might ever meet. Several years ago, during the final stint of my studying at the Brunswick Martial Arts Academy I began to realize that going to the dojo felt like a chore. Sensei had granted me the equivalent to an internship for the summer; helping to teach, cleaning up, etc and attending classes for free; and I realized more and more my active self encouragement to ensure I attended these classes. At this point, on the verge of testing for my brown belt, this felt wrong.
When asked “what type of martial arts do you practice” I have always had a long winded and complicated explanation of the variety of practices I have participated in over the years. My traditional basis is in Kempo Karate and Japanese stand up jui-jitsu. Now several years down the road, most of this “basis” is long forgotten. There was no applicability to the karate forms we learned, no purpose or motivation. We learned them as dance moves and were rarely explained its purpose move by move. The Jui-Jitsu we learned was violent, and though probably effective often flowery. Only a master of what we learned could actively apply it in a live environment and there for its purpose was what? To impress your friends if you said “hey grab me like this”?
Both within and beyond this same dojo I learned a little Aikido, studied many principles of kick-boxing and much heavier contact fighting. Learned to grapple and ground fight in both a sport and destructive way. Studied a Japanese staff form (my tournament winner) which I’ve now removed from memory as it was always tied to competitiveness, as were my karate ranks.
I cannot say I’m not proud of what I have achieved so far because misguided or not they were earned through hard work. My competition trophies are… trash and uninteresting except to those who lack understanding of martial arts, but they instill a sense of pride because though it may have not been true martial arts I was practicing I remained dedicated enough to commit to the practice and excel in competition. I am proud of the effort I put forth if not the actual practice.
My dojo left me with an enormous “chip on the shoulder”. In truth it was more like a crevice. As I entered college and attempted to make connections from a martial arts standpoint I remember myself as acting uncharacteristically pretentious and condescending. Having been told many times by Sensei that I was “one of his best students, and best fighters” developed an ego in me that I am still fighting to overcome. I cannot be more thankful that when meeting Craig he did not take this superficial front of accomplishment as a representation of my true character and has since then helped me move beyond it.
In asking Craig if I could study with him I had made a number of realizations. 1. Rank is irrelevant except to those below you (and even then stands for little). 2. While it may be a good things to practice and participate in a range of martial arts, one must truly commit to the individual practice of each one to ever begin to understand it. I had been floundering for years and lacked direction in my practice. 3. Craig, despite training for less time than I had, had a spiritual, mental, and physical focus that despite knowing that I would instinctively question and combat it, I understood as far more developed than my own and could act as a door to a much greater understanding and balance not just of the art but of myself.
These realizations were made during a time where my life was, at least in my eyes, falling apart. Trust was suddenly taboo for me, and it seemed the only practice that could focus my mind was a physical one. Even juggling, something I’ve relied so often on as a point of escape allowed too much thought and frustration. It was apparent that I needed to be practicing martial arts again in a strict way, where I was in no way the teacher, and in a context where I could trust my instructor and allow myself to be venerable and open to what was being instructed. Even under the instruction of a close friend in an art the principle of which I fully agreed with it took me some time to escape my preconceptions and karate-given muscle memory. I still have not escaped them entirely, and with the prospect of sparring with this assortment of knew knowledge it will be interesting to read this after having experienced what ever changes may or may not have taken place in my fighting style.
Martial arts is no longer something I practice just to say that I did, or feel confident in the ability to kick ass in a tight spot. Frankly, I don’t know if I could kick ass in a tight spot, but unlike most martial artists of this day and age I am comfortable with the possibility of getting knocked flat on my ass in the face of possibly doing someone severe injury. Were Mushin to exist as Bruce Lee described, were it to be unleashed within me onto someone, 9 years of assorted training, whether practical or not, could result in a fearful physical response the consequences of which might be regrettable.
I haven’t written this to blow sunshine up anyone’s ass. I haven’t written this except to expel my ideas, my immediate thoughts as I work to focus on the task hand which will be tasking mentally, physically and spiritually in ways I have not experienced in some time, and in truth in ways wholly new to me.

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