Other side of the river

Other side of the river

In all my years training in the martial arts, I have always worked and practiced for something or some goal in the future. I remember starting my training and not wanting to be a white belt. To me the green belt was where I wanted to be. I used to look at the advanced classes and think to myself "Wow that's cool. These guys are so good. I recall getting prepared for my green belt exam and thinking that brown belt was the ultimate coolness. Before I wore the brown belt for the first time, I already had my eyes fixed on the red belt and after that the Black Belt. This kind of thinking has followed me for years. I find myself constantly not wanting to be here right now.

I was seven or eight years old when I got my first glimpse of martial arts. Back in Iran, martial art movies were just beginning to flourish and the whole Bruce Lee era had just started. On his days off, my older brother would take me to early shows in downtown Tehran's movie theaters. I used to come home and do (more like pretend) karate for hours. I used to imagine myself kicking and punching. I even made sound effects that were pretty real to me.

Looking back now I don't recall doing all that for any belts or to get anyplace. I used to have fun just doing it.

I miss those times. It seemed that I was in the moment at all times. Somehow, somewhere. I have learned to set goals. To strive for more. To go further and want to do more. I learned how to beat someone else at competitions. Even further, I learned to play the tournament game. I learned to copy. I learned to lie. I learned to tweak the truth. I learned to judge others. I learned the politics... I learned it is more important who you know and how well liked you are than being how good you are.

Imagine this: you are about to go across a jungle to find what ever it is that you are after in the other side of the jungle. You start walking through this jungle. You get to a river. It is impossible to swim across. You decide to build a boat. It takes you 3-4 years to build the boat. (3-4 years of training towards your Black Belt).

You work hard building the boat. You get the strongest wood to support the weight of the boat. You are busy everyday working to build this boat. (Because success means working hard to you).

You finish building the boat. You go across the river. You get there and something happens. You think to yourself that you could have made the boat faster. So you decide to go back and build another one. You do that. You get across again and think to yourself that you could have made it bigger. More fancy. You do that. On the way you notice others building boats. You decide to participate in little competitions. You learn to beat the other boats. You start taking notes on how others built their boats. You pick up techniques here and there and you keep going back and fort on the river. You might even decide to build a school teaching people how to build boats (like I did). Or even better how to beat others in this game. Train champions.

But let's don't forget the sole purpose of the boat and that was to get across the river. The goal is on the other side of the jungle. The river is a battle. The war is the jungle.

I've taught lessons to others that I didn't do myself. I got mad at others for not following up with the lessons. I was really mad at myself.

I had failed as a person to go across the jungle by building that school by the river. The glory of winning the battle almost cost me losing the war.

I stopped everything. I stopped competing. I stopped being a hero. I stopped my public victories. No more martial art magazine articles. No more quick fixes. The price I paid was heavy. I lost one of the greatest relationships in my life. I had lost the war.

It has taken me years to recover and rebuild from the past. Actually I shouldn’t say rebuild, because I didn’t rebuild. I started from a different lot and build a new complex with new foundations. Albert Einstein said: "The significant problem we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

What I had to do was to go back and take inventory of my belief system. I challenged everything I knew. Then I went back to the basics. I remember the day it happened clearly. It was a Sunday afternoon coming from my favorite spot in Malibu. I was driving in the Malibu Canyon. That is where I saw the old cassette that was in my car. The title of the cassette was Today is the first day of the rest of your life by Dr. Tom Whillhite. I listened to the cassette.

I had gotten the message

My questions for you are:

What is across the river for you? What is your primary aim?

Where is your river?

What does your boat look like?

Are you carrying the boat on top of your head after you crossed the river?

What are you pretending not to know?

Your thoughts ...