How Martial Arts is like Mountain Climbing
Direction - This is knowing your goal. Even if it is far off in the distance, pointing yourself towards it requires knowing where you want to go. Goals can be long or short, but if you don’t set them only chance can guide you, and you’ll have no way to chose mentors and teachers to help you.
Discipline - From the word “disciple” means to follow. Discipline does not mean perfection in all things, but only to constantly correct towards the goal. A disciple is not the object of their devotion, but one who seeks ever to correct towards that path.
Determination - Is the “Non-Defeatist Attitude” from the eighth code of ethics. This means to remove failure form one’s mind and to re-frame all setbacks and roadblocks as times to explore a different method or to increase one’s effort.
Dedication - From the sixth code of ethics, dedication refers to setting aside regular time to train, no matter what. That time is budgeted for training and belongs to it. I tell students that in the fall and spring they can see people out on the streets who like to run, but in the 100 degree summers and 0 degree winters they can see dedication.
Do-Till-Death - One of my favorite martial arts sayings is that “there are no shortcuts because there is no end.” Even though we set goals in order to guide our progress, there are always more goals and challenges beyond them, no matter how large the first goals are.
Comparing martial arts to mountain climbing reveals much of what our training means and also outlines the role of sensei and student. The word “sensei” actually means “someone who’s come before” and “senpai” is “someone ahead of you.” Framed in terms of mountain climbing, the Sherpa or Guide is mostly valuable not because of their skills (which impress and inform), but because they have been up and down the path and know what to expect and how to lead you. You chose the goal (Direction) and picked them to lead you because it is a path they know well. They know that even though the destination is the mountain in front of you, the most direct path may not be straight ahead.
When you experience the guide’s reliability, you can relax your objection and follow where they lead you. We often think of discipline as an act of great effort, but once a guide is in play it is really an act of yielding. The closer we stay to the guide, the easier it is to stay on course. The farther we get from them, the more temptations to doubt the way or step off the path sink in.
Determination is difficult when the way is hard and we are alone. Often the job of the guide is simply to say “yes. This is very hard. I remember how hard it was my first time. Here are some tricks that worked for me and others. More importantly, I see in you the potential to succeed. It is your determination that will decide success or failure, not your circumstance.”
Long journeys are accomplished by hiking a little more each day. The mind grapples with what’s around it at that moment, reaches ahead to where that day will end, and only in the shadows behind its hopes does it understand the final goal. Dedication is getting up in the rain, the sun, the cold, and moving forward. The mountain trek reveals that staying in one place means leaving the path, not pausing. The soul, like the body, will always seek fulfillment. Not pushing down the trail means seeking that fulfillment somewhere else.
The path through the mountains is long and winding. When you see your training in Cuong Nhu as a climb up a great mountain, you discover a wonderful secret that O’Sensei once spoke about. He said that people treated their martial arts like mountains they were climbing and argued about which one was tallest. The secret of the mountain top is that you can see that there are many paths up this mountain you are on, and that beautiful valleys and fields and orchards connect this mountain to the mountains all around it. Martial arts is not a contest of any kind, but winding paths that we explore together for all our lives, finding new guides to show us the mountain ranges we’re unfamiliar with and coming back to show other people the way. Do-till-death is simply restating that “there are no shortcuts because there is no end.”