The Green Eyed Monster
It was typical locker room room talk….
There’s always one black belt that just can’t control his arrogance. Duncan was typical of this kind of person; he’d moved in from out of town and therefore hadn’t grown up in the spirit of the dojo. He couldn’t keep his counsel and had to pontificate on everything. He was a typical ‘snake oil vendor’ – in that what he said almost made sense until you realised that it was only a game of ‘one upmanship’ and he was shaping his words to gain acolytes and admirers and in fact, existed only in the reflection of others.
“I just don’t think Sensei should have graded him.
“Sensei is twice your age, was doing karate before you were born and has graded more people all over the world than you have ever known… Everyone knows that his grades are accepted everywhere, how could you possibly say that?”
“Because it should have been me, I’m better than him!” The locker room rocked with laughter. Sure Duncan was the ‘showman’ and had a reasonable physical ability, but his own words showed exactly why it wasn’t him, he was far too shallow and needy.
The problem with this form of arrogance is that it’s treacherous; Duncan ached to convince everyone that he was a ‘master’ and hated anyone who was more talented than he was. He could only judge others by their physical ability and was unable to understand the deeper aspects of karatedo – even though he often paid it lip service. Because he only existed in the eyes of others, when his pride was injured he became paranoid.
And so he climbed the stairs to the Dojo in a black mood muttering to himself with the laughter of the others still echoing in his ears.
As Sensei bowed the class in he introduced Ahmed our visitor, “this is Ahmed from Afghanistan who’s made an extraordinary effort through persecution and the occupation of his homeland, to continue his instruction and training in karate. In highly adverse conditions he has had to utilise his skills in life and death combat on many occasions and in recognition of his incredible effort and good heart I have awarded him yondan.”
There was a huge round of applause and I glanced across at Duncan who stood there not applauding with a face like a smacked bum. How, in his wildest imagination he could compare his comfortable suburban life to that of someone like Ahmed, when the biggest challenge he’d ever experienced in his life was wrestling with a mars bar wrapper or a compliant acolyte girlfriend was beyond me. It is true that the biggest enemy we have to face is the one inside of ourselves….
Life presents us with a succession of challenges which can be considered as doors, the key to each door is the ability to humble ourselves to face such challenges. Arrogance blinds us to the door and leads us into the oblivion and hell of negative emotion and the agony of a black heart.
For the first part of the class Sensei split the class and asked Duncan to take the junior grades, he asked him to teach kata and Duncan took the opportunity to teach a tenuous link to applications for joint locking. He assiduously punished any junior grades that had been in the locker room earlier with a painful ‘demonstration’ of a joint locking routine as if he was making a point. This didn’t escape Sensei’s notice.
Sensei then asked Ahmed to take the whole class, Duncan’s face went dark and he bowed and left the class, we all knew that he couldn’t train under Ahmed’s instruction because he felt that he would ‘lose face’ if he did so. The irony is that if he had stayed and trained despite his earlier stupid words, he would have gained face with the other students. As it was, he just betrayed his lack of true martial spirit.
Sensei followed him out. “What’s the problem Duncan?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Look me in the eye and say that.”
“Other people are talking about you grading Ahmed.. they’re saying that he’s not worth the grade.”
“You mean you?”
“I must admit that I agree with them.”
“Shall we go in and ask them?”
“No point”, by this time Duncan was avoiding eye contact with Sensei.
“Look Duncan, I don’t know what your problem is, but whatever I’ve done to offend you I apologise, whatever you’ve done to offend me – I forgive you. Can we now just get on, leave all this crap behind us and just train?”
“I don’t know, I think you’ll lose all your students, they’re all talking about the politics…..”
“Duncan, I’ve been doing this a long time, most of these guys have been with me for over 20 years, we have a loooong track record, I think the only talking has come from you. As I said, whatever I’ve done to offend you I apologise, whatever you’ve done to offend me – I forgive you. Can we now just get on, leave all this crap behind us, get into the Dojo and do what real martial artists do?
Show everyone your heart, show them that despite what your feelings are that you have faith and trust in the students, me, the system and are prepared to work it out warrior style. Whatever you think of Ahmed, you’ll win everyone’s respect if you simply get in line and train under him.”
“Not today…..” And with that Duncan walked out with a black, bitter, twisted heart and was lost to the world of real martial arts.
Sensei sat down, leaned back, closed his eyes and let out a long sigh, despite his and everyone else’s best efforts, sometimes that green eyed monster is just too powerful – and without anyone realising, has been eating out the heart and become a prime motivating factor in what appeared to be a good student. Then he stood up, took a deep breath, put into the past the couple of years of work he had put into Duncan, the good memories of a precious friendship that they had both enjoyed and walked into the class to work positively with those that still wanted to stand on the shoulders of the ancestors.