Why I Train
My Black Belt Essay
1 July 2015
Dedicated to Bradley Holcomb
My training partner in spirit
When I began To-Shin Do training in January, 2012, it was for the express purpose of working off some wrathful energy. I soon learned that this particular aim is decidedly inappropriate in a dojo due to the risk of injury. By then I had become captivated by the Code of Mindful Action and fascinated by the elemental approach, so my new reason for training became sheer curiosity about where this path would lead.
Over time I became delighted with the positive effects training had on my mind and body. I became more flexible and stronger, my balance improved, my awareness ballooned to many times the spatial volume it used to occupy. On a few different occasions I was able to save some inattentive pedestrians from traffic-related injury by means of physical intervention and/or my voice. So I added to my list of reasons for training: It works! It’s beneficial!
At some point I had to come up with a concise reason for training to attach to my coaching credentials. I struggled with it because a generalization referring to efficacy and benefit seemed vague and uncompelling. If I were a prospective student asking an experienced To-Shin Do student why they train, I don’t think I’d be inspired by such an answer. After weeks of thinking, I came up with this: “I train to become the hero I’ve always dreamed of being.” That statement came close to the tone I had in mind. It covered the bases. I think a determined hero strives for a fit body and expanded awareness. And the statement may be alluring or intriguing especially to younger folks. On the other hand, to me, although this particular phrasing of my reason for training was true enough, it nonetheless felt a bit contrived and overreaching. I decided to hang on to it until I came up with something more appropriate.
Last year a friend of mine was justly convicted of a serious crime and sent to prison. I say “justly” because I attended the trial and saw the evidence and I believe the jury rendered a just verdict. I was shocked and heartbroken and unnerved and it was as though the ground beneath my feet had given way. I had thought that my friend and I had shared values. I had been certain of it. I had admired my friend as an example to follow. And then my friend fell. And I fell.
Over the course of a year my consternation became more profound. What is a guiding path anyway? Are core values not enough by which to navigate through life? How could this have happened to my friend? Could it—would it—happen to me?
Eventually my confusion totally undermined any attempt to supplement my training with additional reading and videos. I would start something and then minutes later find myself pacing my apartment, incessantly asking the same questions over and over, hearing no answers. How could this have happened to my friend? How can I prevent myself from falling in a similar way?
In desperation I reached out to Aitoshi because she has a gift for reflecting a person’s heart enough for them to see it from a different point of view. I related to her my history with my friend and at some point she remarked, “It sounds like you have a lot of gratitude for those things.” And then I had a slap-my-forehead-I-could-have-had-a-V8 moment: Gratitude! The notion lit up in me so strongly that tears welled up in my eyes, a sure sign that something was resonating. I knew what I had to do to get through this place of paralyzing confusion.
It took me several weeks to compose a letter of gratitude to my friend. I expressed my thanks for everything we had shared, everything my friend had taught me, and the crucial thing I was gleaning from my friend’s predicament: “I think I’m learning that while the Code of Mindful Action and other such guidelines can provide signposts, there is no clear path, and even when traveling with fellow warriors, it is up to each one of us to carefully choose our route.”
I mailed the letter, and with that, the obsession evaporated.
As a bonus, I have a new concise reason for training: “I train out of gratitude.”
I think that statement promises to be an excellent conversation-starter. And if a prospective student draws me out, I will be able to amplify at length.
I train out of gratitude that I still have the physical ability to do so. (And since we are encouraged to train no matter what our physical ability, I’m fairly assured that I will keep training as long as I draw breath!)
I train out of gratitude that An-shu Stephen K. Hayes spent decades acquiring this ancient wisdom and welding it into a system suitable for Western culture.
I train out of gratitude for a dojo community of like-spirited individuals who accept me as a fellow traveler.
I train out of gratitude for all the opportunities this training provides, including physical benefits, leadership training, spiritual growth, and understanding of the natural world.
I train out of gratitude for teachers who “walk the talk” (no small accomplishment in this day).
I could on and on, as many of my fellow students can and do. And it’s all encapsulated by this short statement:
“I train out of gratitude.”
Special thanks to Aitoshi for her heart-felt assistance.