So I’m in the dojo, sitting cross-legged, back against the wall, waiting for the belt test to begin.
If I succeed tonight, I’ll be one rank higher in the color belt rankings of Shotokan karate.
If I don’t get hurt.
I’m not afraid of failing. My techniques and stance are solid for the level I’m at.
My kata is well practiced and smooth.
Sensei says I’m ready.
But what if I get hurt?
See, as part of the test, I’ve got to spar with a couple guys tonight. Guys who are a lot bigger than me.
Not more advanced. Just bigger.
I would welcome a more advanced partner. Somebody who could understand my lower rank and make some allowance for techniques I have not yet learned.
Instead, my opponents may have less control over their advance than I do. And my attacks might leave me with any number of silly injuries.
Bruises. Cuts. (Ever been cut by somebody’s long toenail?) Jammed fingers and toes.
I’m sweating, thinking about the possibilities.
So I practice four-square breathing. Calm the heartbeat. Quiet the mind.
As a class, we run through the techniques. Then sit back down.
When called I perform kata without thinking. Like Yoda’s famous line in The Empire Strikes Back.
There is no try, only do.
And then it’s time to spar and I’ve got my headgear in place. Gloves on.
And cushioned sparring shoes.
They aren’t the cheapest pair available, but they were inexpensive. And when I wore them the first couple times, one of the hard plastic straps under the sole of my foot twisted and caused some trouble.
So I cut it off with a scissors before coming over to the test.
Now it’s time to spar.
We bow. We high five.
Though we go for quite a while, it’s over before I know it and we’re all three laughing and slapping each other on the back.
One guy has a bit of a bloody lip. Another bruised his shin on my knee.
As I lean against the wall to take off my shoes, I realize I’m injured as well.
On each foot, but on opposite sides, there’s a dime-sized festering raw blister forming.
In the exact spot I clipped the shoe strap.
On each shoe, the plastic popped back and–as I sparred-dug away at the top layer of my foot.
I didn’t feel it while out on the mat.
But now both feet hurt quite a bit. I barely get my street shoes back on and the drive home is miserable.
I limp around for nearly a week.
And during that week, I realize something.
I did this to myself.
I feared injury and, while incredibly minor, I achieved it.
All by myself.
There’s a lesson here.
And it extends far beyond the dojo.