I am not often inspired.
I want to be. It is a blessing too seldom experienced, though no other in life so uplifting as that instant of inspiration as it settles over us. The older I get, the harder it seems to be to find inspiration – to find those single moments in my life when I feel the touch of something in humanity beyond the norm that brings me to a shiver of wonder and awe. I found it much more often as a younger man – perhaps the price of aging, or the shadow of cynicism rearing its ugly head.
I found inspiration this this past weekend.
I was honoured to be asked to sit on the grading board at a martial arts school, with whom I am proud to be associated. The head instructor is a very good friend, and one of the few martial artists I would go out of my way for. He walks the path with footfalls similar to my own, and we see very much eye to eye on many things martial arts related. Stepping into his dojo is like looking into the face of a warm and warming summer’s day; like taking a deep breath and feeling the spring air fill my lungs.
I looked very much forward to the day’s events.
The grading test went on as most do, when halfway through the test, I was informed that one of the students has a condition. I expected something like a sore foot, or a bad back. Instead, I was informed that this student has Parkinson’s Disease. I swallowed hard and asked which student it was. The head instructor pointed to the student, and I looked over to see a man of 58 years, standing in line with his peers, looking every bit the student and martial artist that he was.
I cannot begin to describe, with these cheap and floundering words, the awe that swept over me. Here was a man, whose younger days are decidedly behind him, standing amongst those much younger than he, participating in what many call a younger person’s endeavour. That alone is praiseworthy – it takes a great deal of courage to stand with those of younger form and put yourself to the sword in their company, knowing that your punches will never be as fast; your kicks never as strong, as theirs might. From personal experience, I know that this alone carries with it demand for great courage of spirit and joyousness of heart (a price I wish I was more able to pay).
I looked at this man, the slight tick in his face betraying his condition, now only clear to me for the knowledge of his circumstance, and I was humbled- well and truly humbled. Not only was he getting a touch on in years, but was battling a condition that would cause most (and myself absolutely included) to wallow in a wash of self-pity and regret. Yet there he was, standing proudly, without regret, without fear, without self-pity, in a circumstance that most people unaffected by age or infirmness have not the will do put themselves through, and he was doing so with quiet acceptance; unapologetic, asking neither special consideration nor even understanding. He stood before the grading board, in a small dojo in a remote part of the province, calmly and without reservation, stepping ever forward in an endeavour that is absolutely challenging to the body and spirit, and doing so while carrying a weight that would crush the will of most.
I was inspired.
Take a moment, dearest friends, and ponder this man. There are points of the human condition to which we should all, as members of the human race, aspire, but to which we, as martial artists, should especially covet. This quietly humble, iron-willed man, whatever else he may be, exemplifies those qualities. I have said it before, in a number of circumstances (as have many before me), and I will say it again here – the measure of a martial artist is not in the quality of the punches and kicks he delivers – it is in the warrior spirit that lives inside of us all; it is in the heart that beats inside of his chest, and the will that flows through him. The rank; the uniform – these are simply the outward trappings of the path – meaningless in face of what is true and real and at the very core of the teachings we all strive to follow.
Were it within my power, I would have taken off my own black belt and proudly, without reservation, tied it around this man’s waist. I don’t care about quality of his technique. I don’t care about perfection of his technical offering. His spirit cannot be denied, for it soars above and beyond, without fear and without anchor, and for one wondrous, glorious, all-too-rare a moment, it carried me with it.
I am not often inspired.
I was so this past weekend.
I hope that I am able to take that inspiration, and let it soak into me; let it warm me with its purity, and make me a better martial artist, a better man, for the experience.
If I can be half the man that this student is, then I will indeed be blessed.
I hope that these words reach this man. For me, there is no greater legacy than to know that you have touched another person in a positive way; that you have inspired. For my own selfish and arrogant purposes, I hope these words reach this man, for I want to offer, in return for this lesson he has taught; this example he has offered, that which is within my power to offer.
My deepest respect, and my unabashed, and most humble thanks
Nothing imperfect is the measure of anything!