More than once in life, I’ve walked away from my martial arts practice. When I hit thirty, and realized I was too old and out of shape to compete in MMA. A woman or two, from time to time, has pulled me away from regular practice. And I’ve felt the bitter sting of betrayal a time or two, burned by friends or loved ones, and sworn off the thing I loved because it reminded me of pain. There may have even been a year or two were I was just tired of the whole thing, and felt like there was more in my mind that could be contained in the same-old same-old practice. Injuries and sickness have taken their toll and cut out their time from my life.

I’ve trained in certain styles because friends did, or because of a lady. Sometimes because work required it, and I felt obliged to do more than the minimum. I started training because I saw the horror of what humans can do to each other. I kept training because the message kept getting repeated. I spent years, and spattered blood on punching bags, thinking of the faces of certain men, or tearful confessions of female friends. I grew a deep black heart to hide inside my born heart. At some point I had to let go of that black thing, as difficult as it was. I’d webbed the damned thing in with bits of iron and steel laid into the cracks from heartbreaks.

It took work to break it all out, to shatter the black thing and gently scrub clean the tattered remnants of what was inside. I had to kill the loyalty that was inside me, the dreadful vows I swore to the wronged spirits that existed only in my past. I had to let go of lost loves, of angered slights that I vowed to never forget. All those things that tied me to my martial arts practice, the bitter hateful things that drove each practice, I had to let them go.

How do you move forward with no drive to whip you on? Why do you bother with no motivation to drag you up? With no prize left to win, not even the pyrrhic light of being right when everyone else is wrong to mark a false end to the endless tunnel? What made me pick up a sword again, when there wasn’t even a single thing left to own and worry about losing? No gain, no profit, no victory…no reason left to do anything.

All that is left is just my nature. I do just what it is in me to do, I do what is required of me to do. Dying will come to me on some day, a death I can never know until it’s looking deep into my own eyes. I will own nothing that day. I can claim no titles under that gaze, boast no victories. There is no greater righteousness than that final emptiness. But I will come to that day having lived a life, and I will shape that life as best I can.

I don’t pick up my sword today to win anything. I don’t pick it up to prove a point, even to myself. I pick it up because I am alive, and living, I am a man who wields a sword. If I do not wield that sword, I am not alive…no matter my wealth, fame, love, family or health. I will wield that sword every day, even if I no longer have a hand to pick it up with, or the eyesight to find it. Some days the sword is my words written on a page, other days the sword is a piece of silver and a hammer. Or a camera. For some people it’s a brush, a knitting needle or the scrape of a pencil on paper.

I understand the sword now, but I look around me and wonder at those who lay the sword down and chase all the things they think have meaning. I need a wife, you say. I need a job. I need money. I need to win. I need to not lose. You let your heart break and despair at the bitter blows that stop you from having the simplest life…but you put the sword down. It’s there, at your feet.

Pick it up.