It is 7:42 p.m. and my final class for the day has completed its standard warm-up. As the previous week was culminated by Black Belt Testing, I am (of course) reset to focus on what really matters in the martial arts…BASICS! I ponder where to begin as I scan across the room of intermediate and advanced students. So much to do and so little time, I decide to focus on what might possibly be the most fundamental aspect of the martial arts. A forward stance of course. The foundation and most commonly found stance in kata.
I am tired and it has been a long day, but I strive to instill the importance of this stance to my students with various explanations and exercises. Some are more engaged than others, but I forge ahead. Although the student may not realize it, this is what they need. Practice. More practice. And then more practice…
We often times see individuals engaged in a particular activity that is their forte and admire their fluidity, skill and flawlessness. However, we should never forget the hours upon hours that any individual must invest in “perfect” practice to become “perfect”. We tend to see only the big picture and fail to remember that the big picture is comprised of struggle for perfection of the minutia. And this…is no small thing.
It’s 7:56 p.m, and I’ve been standing in a forward stance for the past 10 minutes.
The class is small tonight. Ranks from green to black. Kids and adults. This is the way I like my karate classes — a blend of abilities and ages. And typically these evening sessions are my favorite. They are my deep breath at the end of a long day.
But tonight is different. Tonight I’m struggling.
My body is tired. My mind is restless. And I’m weary of all that’s involved in moving from one forward stance to the next.
My eyes wander the room for a moment and then move back to Kyoshi Palmer. He is dissecting the anatomy of a forward stance. Legs one-and-a-half shoulder widths apart. Feet facing forward. Toes gripping the mat. “Lean into that front leg as you move forward,” he says. “Let it pull you.” And then he demonstrates fluidly and flawlessly, his white gi snapping as his back leg locks into place.
Now it’s our turn to try.
I mentally check off each reminder and proceed to c-step my back leg ahead of my front. I frown. My front foot is moving. It’s not supposed to do that. I try again, my toes holding the mat a little tighter this time. My foot still moves.
“It takes practice to keep that front foot from moving,” I hear Kyoshi say on cue.
And so that’s what we do. We practice. Back and forth. Forward stance to forward stance. Over and over again as 7:56 turns into 8:06, and I realize we’re going to be here for a while.
I sigh inwardly. But as I do, it suddenly hits me —
This is the part of karate that is easy to sigh about. Especially when I’m tired and restless. This is the part of karate that can become dry and monotonous. And even in a small class, this is the part where I can paint my face with a look that says “I’m interested,” while my mind shuts completely down, slipping quietly out the dojo door.
Yet here, at 8:07 p.m., as I obediently move my leg back and forth, I’m starting to realize something. This may be the part of karate that matters most.
The details. The small things. The minutia. This may be where the difference is truly made.
And not just because I want my foot to stop moving. With enough practice, I know that will eventually happen.
No, the difference is felt here, in the small things, because the small things force us to, well … be. To be here. To be present in the journey. When we give ourselves to details, we give ourselves to process. Not just product. Yeah, embracing process can be hard. Especially when it’s 8:07 p.m., and you’re ready to go home. But embracing process is incredibly necessary. Because when our only goals are defined in years and are the kind we mark off on a calendar? Well, that’s when we miss what’s right in front of us.
And what’s right in front of us is all that’s promised.
The small things. They train our eyes to focus on what is instead of solely on what will be. Kind of like a child steering his mother’s face toward his own. Look at me, the small things say. Learn what it means to apply yourself in the moment. To dig deep. To stay when you feel like running. To just be here.
It’s 8:10 p.m. now.
Class will be ending soon. In a moment, we will bow out, untie our belts and head off into a world that calls us to its many responsibilities. Karate will become one more item on a list of that day’s activities. And when it does, I can take a break from forward stances.
But for now, I still have five minutes.
And for the moment, I am here. And while I am, I will practice. My mind and my body both helping out this time. Back and forth. From forward stance to forward stance. Over and over again as 8:10 ticks slowly toward 8:15.
Yes, we’ve been here for a while.
But that, I finally understand, is no small thing.