Gratitude

by Jinryu

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Blue thing on the top left: Elastic ankle brace. Not really useful, but I use it as a liner for the 3-strap plus laced ankle brace at centre top.

Middle top: The 3-strap plus lace ankle brace. It doesn’t completely immobilise my ankle, but it helps.  Laces tighten the brace. Two of the straps crisscross over my instep, and then under the sole of my foot, attaching by velcro vertically along my leg, while the third strap wraps around my ankle.

Middle: a Shock Doctor knee brace with hinged side supports.  It’s not as serious as some badminton players I knew who had orthotic knee braces, but in Judo, you can’t have any hard surfaces on your gear (you might hurt your opponent).  As it stands, because this knee brace has metal hinges and support beams along the side, it’s theoretically illegal for competition.  I use it while trianing though because it’s sufficiently covered with material that it shouldn’t hurt anyone.

Bottom, in red: an older wraparound knee brace with hinged side supports.  I don’t use this one as much anymore, because the metal hinges could potentially hurt my partner (they’re not as well padded as with the Shock Doctor knee brace).  However, if it happens that both of my knees feel twitchy on a given tradining day, I will wear this as my second knee brace (one brace per knee).

On a typical judo day, I usually end up wearing some combination of the above.  Lately, I’ve been wearing none of it, because I’d like to work on strengthening my ankle (injured last October) and my knees (chronic pains which have been ongoing for years now).  However, there are some nights where I will be wearning all of the above, or substituting one of the knee braces for a knee pad.

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A bicycle tire, split halfway down it’s length, and tied to an old obi (belt).  I use this for rehabilitation of my right shoulder, and to strengthen my left to make sure that it doesn’t suffer the same fate as my right.  When my knees get better, I plan to use this to practice seoi nage uchikomi (shoulder throw drills).
 
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A foldaable walking stick.  If ever my knees or my ankle starts acting up, this helps me keep it from getting worse.  I got a foldable one because it’s easier to carry by bike.  Thankfully I haven’t had to use this one in several months now.
 
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I can’t remember exactly when I started doing martial arts.  I think I was perhaps 16 or 17 at the time. It has been a long journey– I started off in Jeet Kune Do.  I moved on to kickboxing.  I did some MMA.  I did taekwondo.  I logged some boxing.  Now, I do judo.
 
I have entered into tournaments, and I’ve never gotten gold at anything.  I’ve been motivated and I’ve been depressed– I’ve gone through ups and downs as my training happened at the same time as the rest of lifes’ events.
 
What have I learned along the way?  What is it that keeps me going?
 
As someone who has never been the best fighter, I have nonetheless worked hard and made it to silvers or quarter finals on more than a few occasions, including in open-weight events.  I’ve paid the price though, as you can see from the above pictures.
 
What have I learned from being a second rate martial artist?  What have I learned from working hard and never quite being the best?
 
I’m sure everyone has a way out there for them to figure out who they are, and who they want to be.  For me, martial arts have been one of those ways.  While other passions, such as badminton and music have ebbed and flowed, I keep coming back to martial arts.  I don’t know why.
 
Maybe it’s because when I was younger, I never thought I’d live to see 30.  I remember violence in elementary school that made me wonder what would be the point?  I remember racism and hate.  In high school, I remember thoughts of rebellion from my family constraints.  I made some of the greatest friends I ever had in high school, who I kept through college.  I remember getting confused and lost in college, having no clue what I wanted to do in my life.
 
These sorts of situations make you wonder, really, why bother with a future?  Is it just going to be the same shit, a different day?
 
Martial arts was an intersting scenario– because I never really could pin down just what I loved about it.  Perhaps for a while, it was some sort of sadism– a sense of empowerment.  It might even have been the masochism– there was never any logical reason to keep on fighting, it was always easier to just roll over and give up.
 
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In the past, the take away message for me from years of training has been one of anger and rage.  Martial arts to me was a way of channeling frustration– of burning negative energies.  Frustration at my lot in life.  Frustration at not being better at this or that, both in martial arts and life outside.  The rage was a fuel that pushed me forward– it helped me get better at things.  It allowed me to endure harsh training.
 
Lately?  I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with martial arts, and what I’ve learned from it.  Am I still angry?  Do I still fight for the same reasons?
 
The answer is no.  And that was to be expected, perhaps– peoples’ motivations change all the time I think.
 
But I think that this thing that I fixate on now is probably the last thing I’ll learn of martial arts.  It is the thing that I will spend the rest of my life cultivating, because it is what I think is a sustainable mantra to keep me going for the years to come.  It is the thing that, should we have children one day, I would like to pass on to them as well.
 
I’ve learned a lot of things, but one thing stands above all others:
 
Gratitude.
 
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Gratitude that I wasn’t born into a dangerous country in a dangerous time, where I would have to fight every day.  Training in martial arts teaches you all about weakness.  You realise every time you get injured how much worse it could be.  You learn to cherish health and being alive, and to make it count.
 
You can develop a grattitude for weakness. In knowing weakness, in getting hurt, in shedding tears, in being frustrated at your own inadequacy, you alternate between bouts of anger at being powerless and bouts of humility.
 
Sometimes anger can bring you closer to people, because there may be people who share in your anger.  Anger is like fear or being wiped out because you’ve reached an evolutionary dead end– anger spurs you on to change yourself, because you’re not satisfied with who you are. For a long time, I cultivated strength in myself through anger at myself and others.  It was always adversity that fueled my momentum, whether it was actual or imagined.
But what I’ve come to understand, increasingly, is that a better source than anger is humility. Without gratitude for basic survival, for being the privilege of being weak over being dead, there is no humility.  Humility is what allows you to love and be loved.  You realise you can’t do it all alone, and that you’re interconnected with those around you.  Without humility, we never learn a lot of things about how to interact with those around us. 
 
Grattitude for life arises out of humility.  For all the aches and pains that I constantly report on, the fact of the matter is that I know now how lucky I am to have survived the kind of training that I’ve done.  And not just raining– there are all these unforseen events that just popped up in life that could have, on numerous occasions, just ended me.  To be a “has been” or to be a “never was” is the privilige of living to see another day– and we can never be too grateful for that.
 
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The thing about being grateful is that it’s an admission.  People who aren’t grateful and say they owe nobody anything?  People who are super proud of themselves at the expense of others? These people are full of shit, and if they don’t figure it out sooner, they’ll figure it out later: it’s a lonely state of affairs where you owe nobody anything.  It means either that you’re the type of person who could never love others, or were never loved by others.  There are people who take and take to where they want to be, and they call themselves “self made men.”  But no man is truly self-made.
 
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Gratitude does not necessarily mean enslaving yourself to others who you owe.  It means taking the gifts which they have given you, and paying it forward.  Just as you should be gratful for your opportunities to pay things forward, those who did nice things for you should be gratfeul for the things you do with the opportunities they gave you.
 
 

Being grateful does not mean settling for what you have– it’s recognising that where you are now is a result not just of your own efforts, but of things beyond your control.  It is an understanding of interconnection between you and your environment at its most providencial and at it’s most unforgiving.

 
Gratitude is a realisation that good things have happened in the past, and that you have survived bad things.  In that way, being able to feel gratitude is a source of fighting spirit in face of future adversity– because if you can man up to feel gratitude at something, then you have enough understanding of the past to have some sense of your actual capabilities, and you can take on great things in the future.
 
Gratitude is not just words of praise for yourself, for fate, or for others.  It is the actions you use to take responsibility for what you owe.  What you owe isn’t just in terms of material things– it is in terms of the society that gave you a chance.  Gratitude is paying it forward so that maybe some day, someone else will be grateful as well.
 
And if they are grateful, then they have also learned things about anger, humility, and love as well.
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