I’ve about worn out my fourth pair of boots. My work uniform includes eight inch tactical duty boots and they last about a year. In the four years I’ve been working this job I figure I’ve probably walked about ten thousand kilometres. I’ve walked those kilometres in hot, humid summer nights. I’ve walked through brutal snow, sleet, and brutal cold. More rain and wind than I ever care to think about ever again.
I’ve walked with heartbreak, anger, excitement, depression, and insight. A lot of that walking was done with sword in hand, cutting and stepping in endless repetition. I’ve walked when I’ve been broken, sick, and completely exhausted. I’ve walked because it was my job, and I had pride in doing my job as well as anyone could ever do it. And not one step of it was ever easy.
At some point you have to get up from the warmth and comfort, and take that first step. Sometimes that meant pulling myself out from under the six blankets I was huddling in to keep warm, and spending five minutes to carefully wrap scarves around my face to try and block the cutting wind. Those nights I’d take a moment to look out over the snow, and try to convince myself I really didn’t need to go out there, no one would ever know if I slacked off on my job.
No one but me, and that was enough. I always took that first step, and then the next. It doesn’t get easier. Each step, in terrible weather, is like a little slap of misery. You have to grind out each pace, gritting your teeth and swearing it’s the last time. You can reach a point where you find yourself really wondering if it would be so bad to have a stroke or a heart attack, and die in the empty dark night. But you don’t. You keep going.
Courage is a daily thing, and a small thing. We get chances every day to show our courage to ourselves. In fencing, we might think courage shows up when we decide to launch our attack on our opponent, throwing ourselves at a fleeting opening with complete abandon. That’s not courage, though…that’s fear. Fear of losing an opportunity. Fear of not being better than someone. It’s a fear that comes from a dark place inside, and we express it through recklessness.
Courage in fencing shows itself when we acknowledge the fleeting touch, when we admit to our weaknesses and take that brief moment expose our tiny bit of shame to our opponent. Courage comes when we admit to ourselves that the opponent was the better fighter today, and we just don’t have an answer to that.
Outside of training, there is courage to be found in how we treat ourselves. It’s not in the smug self-righteousness of refusing a snack, but in that moment when we look in the mirror and say “that’s me, that is who I am today, and I’m okay with that” and believe in our own ability to make good choices.
It’s in that moment when we decide to make eye contact with a stranger, and smile…even though they look weird and different and we want to avoid them. Courage is in slipping twenty dollars to the smelly homeless guy, even when you are sure it’s some kind of scam. There is courage in that moment when you decide to get up from the couch and do the dishes, or pick up all the laundry before your spouse does.
Courage is an action that expresses not so much how we feel about ourselves, but an action that helps us practice being the person we feel we want to be. Like the first time you decide to step through the door into that fencing school, after thinking about it for months. It’s a step, not towards fitness or weight loss or a show-off skill, but a step towards becoming the person you want to be inside.