I love Rumi’s work. Can’t say I always understand it, but I love his poetry. That’s the thing about poets–that their minds don’t always operate the same way the rest of us do. Sometimes, they can dumb it down so that the least intelligent of us can “get it”. Other times, they just do what they do; those who who know poetry will appreciate it, while those who don’t either fake it or reject it. It ain’t rocket science, and you don’t need an education to interpret it. You just need to have a knack for the stuff.
Martial artists are also a curious bunch. We range from the die hard purists, to the competitive jock, to the serious murderer-in-waiting, to the philosophers, to the businessman, to the guys wanting to save the world, to the historians, to the showmen, to the hermits, to the old sages… I could go on. Not everyone understands us, and more often than not, we are all lumped into the same category as the guy at the day care center offering “After School Karate” and guaranteed 24-month Black Belts, whether little Johnnie gets it or not. But we are as varied as dog breeds.
One of the types of martial artists very close to my heart is the die-hard practitioner. There are many levels and degrees of this type of martial artist, but there are some basic factors binding all of them together:
- They will do this till they die
- They love it
- The art and their desire to do it often prevents them from having financial success
- Sometimes, the art even leads to a series of failed marriages and relationships
- They shadowbox in elevators and public bathrooms (sometimes when there is someone else present)
- They would rather sleep on the street, work second jobs, and eat out of trashcans… oh, okay, DIVORCE.. than give up their martial arts schools.
- There is a combination of agony and ecstasy in their pursuit of practicing the art
They are not always teacher-material. Some die hards are just happy training and learning. I have a student, LR, who works just to pay tuition and keep his family happy. If I would offer for him to live, rent-free, in the school in exchange for training–and his wife wasn’t a factor–he’d do it. Hell, if I didn’t have children I’d do it!
I often speak about this kind of martial artist, who, even when he is “out of shape” (his idea of it)–he can whip not just the average man, but the average Black Belter. He has a collection of weapons, books and sparring gear that could fill a store. He always talks shop, even with non-martial artists. He always practices and thinks he’s not that good. He can’t hold a job, because he was born to do the martial arts, and no one believes him.
When I was 12 years old, I had a teacher who asked us to give a presentation on what we wanted to do when we grew up. I did a presentation on teaching the martial arts, and under education–where we were supposed to note what “major” we needed in college to do it–I put “nothing”, because none of the martial artists I knew were educated men. She gave me a “C”. Well, I showed her! I recently saw her in Washington, DC., at a reunion and recalled that. We had a good laugh, but I made my point albeit 30 years later that I made it happen.
I have known fighters who would be classified as “bums” or “club fighters”, who make their money at a rate of $300-500 a fight, rather than millions, who will destroy your Olympic hopeful. Their women are either very supportive wives, or divorcees. They will never be “shit”, according to most non-boxers–even to boxing fans. But in their gyms they are old heads who know the ins and outs of the fight game, and can hang with the best of them. They die as penniless as your grandmasters, and as regret-free as any carefree beach bum. Few men have mastered their craft as well as life, but their idea of success and happiness isn’t the same as most people. While many of you arrive to your dojos in your Mercedes Benz and Lexus, you probably admire and wish for the skill of the guy driving the old 67 Volkswagon who works at Jack-in-the-Box. I know near-millionaire Senseis and Sabumnims who cannot hold their heads up around the experience-hardened Guro making $2500 a month out of his hole-in-the-wall school. We all know our place, and the die-hard martial artist–despite worrying month after month about how he’s going to pay his electric bill–knows that his pursuit of being the best in the business is more important than any other business venture, more admirable than having an enrollment that pays for the nice house and luxury car, gives him more pride than seeing his name in the magazines every month.
Like the pencil-neck yuppie walking the 150 pound Rottweiler, the “Master” knows damned well who the real big dog is. The die hard martial artist, like the low-income prizefighter and near-enslaved Samurai before him, wouldn’t trade the world to do anything else with his life besides the art he was born to do. Even if it causes him heartache, poverty, grief, and strained relationships. If you ever find a woman who accepts this and will still stand by your side, you are a very, very lucky man. As my last three wives say, my martial arts is my “bitch”.
You’re damned right she is. And I’ll never leave her.
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