Some parents asked me if I could give some background about this book. They told me that the message is clear and inspiring, and that they would like to be able to tell their children more about the inspiration that brought me to write this story. As the period in my life when I studied martial arts was important and life changing, I happily took the opportunity! This book was written as a homage to the martial art teacher I had in my youth and to the life messages the path of martial art offers.
Let us start with the fact that for a 11 - 12 year old boy, and especially one who grew up in a big city, life can be quite confusing, and at least that was for me in many ways. I remember the world looked like a big and threatening place at that time. I lacked the tools to understand life and how to navigate through it. But when I entered that dojo for the first time, I immediately felt something different. That place channeled an atmosphere of focus, clarity and self control. There was an intuitive feeling that the ability to control ourselves can somehow make the whole world look better and calmer. This is an understanding I learned in depth some years later in meditation, but I remember that even then, as I entered the hall as a boy, I felt a strong desire to stay there and go deeper... Somehow I felt I had come home.
I grew up in a typical Western house. Until that point I had not been exposed to any spiritual philosophy of any kind. I didn’t know that a teacher with a high spiritual awareness and inner balance can sometimes influence her/his environment. But today, looking back, I know that my martial art teacher channeled some kind of calmness that was missing in my life. And I believe also in the lives of many others who studied with him for decades.
For years I studied there and the classes were run like any other regular martial art class. we received what every student receives in any other such place, katas (movements), belts, and so on, but nonetheless there was always the feeling that there was more value to the teachings than we realized.
I always came out of those classes with the feeling I could live in peace with myself and my surroundings. This was not only the feeling of satisfaction that comes along with practicing sports. Over the years, I began to pay attention to small details about the way this teacher was teaching us.
I noticed he always emphasized the development of self control, respect for each other and honoring our opponents as principles no less important than the fighting techniques
He taught us that it’s possible to try to win a fight without hurting our partner. He always emphasized that we should not surrender to the desire to win at all costs nor to our own violent impulse. We can win and at the same time stay humble.
We had to focus on the fight, protecting ourselves and trying to win, all the while remaining present respecting and loving our opponent. That practice put us in a very focused and alert state of mind while remaining calm and serene.
Sometimes that special kind of concentration gave us the strength to fight for a long time, way beyond our usual physical capacity, without getting tired.
Our awareness expanded and tuned to a vibration that was the closest thing to meditation I experienced until many years later.
Very unusual friendships were created that way, friendships through fighting. We fought each other and watched out for each other as friends. We learned to get to know each other in new ways, without words. We were fighting our opponent knowing that we could trust our opponent. Fighting while knowing that you are taken care of can sound contradictory but we learned it can be done and it’s a very special feeling that is also a subject for another article.
And when someone made a mistake and hit his opponent in a way that could have hurt him, my teacher used to stop the practice and send the offender to sit out to introspect, a kind of a traditional ‘’punishment’’. That student was not allowed to join the practice until my teacher had called him back. Watching his friends going on without him gave him the time to think and understand where he went wrong. But that ‘’punishment’’ was given respectfully and never in a humiliating way, as my teacher considered mistakes an inseparable part of the learning process. In the case of children the whole thing lasted only a few minutes and always ended with a smile and a hands shake.
Thus we were given control over our mind and body with a touch of spirit.
We learned to feel that hurting the opponent is a sign of failure and not of victory. In those martial art classes we learned that sometimes in life a fight is unavoidable but you should only engage when you have to and never with the intention of showing off. We learned that you can aspire for respect and friendship even with an opponent or a rival. Those were important life lessons and I still treasure them in my heart.
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Just like many other teachers following eastern teachings, my teacher kept a low profile and simple attitude. He never expressed the understandings I described above explicitly, but the feeling was there and the knowing was there. He let us understand for ourselves those life lessons through his behavior, without the need for explanations.
Many years later, while sitting in meditation in the Himalayas, I used to remember these classes and would explore their deeper meaning.
The true warrior practices for many years to gain perfect control over his body and mind, not in order to fight or win, but in order to know how to master his shadow, his ego. He will know how to stand calm in front of challenging situations, and even to transcend them.
Every class began and finished with a bow for gratitude and even though my teacher said that was just an homage to the tradition, for me it meant much more. In our modern world, we are taught to thank each other but we are not used to feeling gratitude for the gifts we receive from life. A thankfulness for a state of mind or for an inner change for example. There I studied that too.
So, I used to bow down to thank that space for what I received in it. For the feeling that from then on I could go out into the world that had looked confusing and threatening before, feeling more at peace, calmer and more confident in my abilities to handle life, until the next practice.