I like to be perfect, but I’m not very good at it. Despite my efforts, I’m constantly making mistakes. It’s pretty obvious, with all my experience, study, and teaching, that I know exactly what to do all the time. At least, that’s what I berate myself with every time I make a mistake and get hit. My sparring last night was full of dismissive grumbles as I was taught over and over again all the little flaws in my approach.
It wasn’t all that bad, really. I can fight up to a very high level when I want to, and I work on keeping my students honest by bringing that game to them from time to time. I had my moments last night, but working on developing a new skill means I’m going to collect shots. I know this, but it still makes me grumbly when they land. It’s a selfish little moment where I feel bad for myself, instead of being proud of my students good work.
We are all stupid from time to time. It’s rare to make a perfect motion and still be struck in return. It happens…but it’s rare. Mostly we are hit, and we have a split second of shock as we realize we did something utterly stupid. The shock wears off, and either fess up to our stupidity, or find a way to blame something else. It’s a painful moment. It can reveal a lot of our inner character. Recrimination and self-abuse, smoldering anger, excuses, blame on the partner for doing something wrong, humour, amusement, shame, denial…or acceptance. You learn a lot about someone’s daily internal dialogue in that moment. And sometimes you learn a lot about the winner’s, too…nothing is worse than the dick who feels the need to talk to you about how they beat you, as if landing a touch on you gives them the right to be a smug paternalistic douchebag.
There is an art to accepting a hit, and an art to being gracious in victory. I’ve always been of the mind that the touch is given and received as a test of honour. What else can it be, if we aren’t killing or wounding each other? As long as I wear a mask and my swords are blunted, the touch I land on you is a question. I am asking you…or perhaps better, giving you the opportunity…to show your character in the best light. And I ask that question as someone who has, and expects to, answer that question myself over and over again.
We spend hours training, sweating, toughing through injuries and disappointment, trying to eek out small percentages of improvement, all for the chance to touch a small bit of blunt steel on another person. So much weight gets put on that brief contact. Other people will argue about what it all means, but in that moment all that matters is the question between the two fighters: Who are you? What are you made of? What secrets lie in your heart? And afterwards we wrestle with how we answered that question. It’s what drives most of us to put so much effort in training. We polish ourselves, grinding away at what we don’t like, making what we do like shine. We remake ourselves, and redefine our nature.