Bert Gehorsam – Black Belt Essay, June, 2014
“The Dude Abides”
Abide: transitive verb, Merriam-Webster
1: to wait for : await
2 a : to endure without yielding : withstand
b : to bear patiently : tolerate
I started my martial arts path when I was eighteen. Why? I wanted to be a badass. Up to that point I spent my life in inner city New York. I had seen violence and had been subjected to violence and as a result, I wanted no more of either and thought martial arts would help.. The problem was everyone else in my class wanted to be a badass too. And most of them were already waaaaay more badass than me - and willing to prove it. Not always a lot of fun, especially since like the Dude, played by Jeff Bridges in the 1998 film “The Big LebowskI”, by nature I am a non-confrontational pacifist.
I identify with much of the Dude’s outlook. Known for the phrase “the Dude abides” (also “…this aggression will not stand, man!.”), he is thoughtful and rarely reactive in a negative way, takes life as it comes, and sees brightness in the future.
With that perspective in mind, I continued to experiment with a handful of martial arts styles over the years. Some were better than others, but none ever caught my full attention as a viable skill set with a good philosophy of application. Most dojos were just a place for tough guy contests –(although I have to admit that the windiness and spirit of aikido was a bright standout in the sea of bad martial arts offerings.)
Over the years, I began to understand that martial arts isn’t just learning a set of self defense techniques, but also learning when and how to best use them andperhaps most importantly, learning how to potentially never use them. Thisperspective feels much more important than having a “let’s see who’s tougher competition” that seems core to so many dojos. To me, the true essence of being a warrior is knowing when and how to use your power. It’s being the one who can learn to live confidently with courage and compassion. In short, being a warrior is much more complex than being a tough guy.
Happily, a few years ago I found To Shin Do. Having embraced this path I not only learned self defense techniques, I also learned the importance of the history, the real world techniques, mystic teachings and exercises that now have become a deep passion for me. A part of me. This path has led to the creation of a community offocused and aware people; peaceful warriors.
What I have gained by training in To Shin Do…is a basket full. Along with practical self-defense skills, body awareness, increased conditioning and agility, I have alsobecome Reiki 2 certified, developed a regular meditation practice, and heightened awareness and presence in the world. Time has slowed. I am able to process my surroundings and situations with more clarity and speed and respond in ways I feelare appropriate and lead to the right action.
Our dojo is not a place where we compete to see who is the biggest badass. It is ahome for our community to gather, to train, to share technique and to connect with like-minded people. We help each other grow as martial artists and as members of the community at large. I have faced some trying personal experiences while a member of the Boulder Quest Center, and have always received support and compassion from our members. I have never felt judged. The dojo is truly one of my happy places.
So now my path has taken me to my Shodan test. Is it a milestone? Yes, but I have realized that like receiving my white belt, it is another step on my path. I am grateful and proud I took the first step, I am grateful and proud to have reached this level. Earning a black belt is on my bucket list but will soon be replaced with earning a second-degree black belt.
Somewhere along the path, being ninja has changed from something I study to something I am. One day “being ninja” walked out of the front door of the dojo with me and colored every part of my world. For this I am most grateful.
I want to thank my family, all my teachers, training partners and fellow students for their enthusiastic sharing of technique, knowledge, support and friendship on this journey. There are no bad days when training. Every kata and ukeme is a step on the path. Every step on the path brings me closer to my goals.
The Hagakure speaks of samurai always being prepared for their own death. My understanding of this requires one to be present enough to live every moment.Whenever this comes to mind, I cannot help but think of our friend Bradley. He lived every moment. And until that moment is my moment, I, like the Dude, will abide.