The Choice of Perseverance

Written by John Chrisman

On a Friday night in July at the Gi Yu Dayton Dojo, I stood at attention in front of my teacher, Sensei Sukh Sandhu, as he sat at a grading table in the front of the Dojo training area.  My examination for the Yondan (4th Degree Black Belt) rank review had just ended.
Standing next to me was my uke (senior student of the dojo), Aman Brar.  Seated behind me and toward the rear of the dojo were my friends and training partners of many years. They were also preparing for their respective rank tests that night as well.
Aman “Sempai” and I were the first to test because he and I are the senior students of the Gi Yu Dayton Dojo.  I want to share this reflection with all of you whom have a goal, and have sometimes fallen short of it.  This is my humble perspective to that failure, though with perseverance, you can change it to success.

It was hot and very humid this evening and I could feel the sweat running down my neck and back.  As I stood in front of my teacher, I waited for his decision.  He took several moments reviewing his testing sheets of my performance before looking up at me.

“You understand that you failed this test.” he questioned.
Yes, very clearly I knew I failed this important test, I thought to myself.
“Yes, Sensei.”  I said.

Sensei then asked, “Do you understand why you failed the test?”

In my mind I thought, during the test, it was very clear to me why I failed.
I was hoping I would not have to give a public statement as to why I did not pass since I felt as badly as I did without saying a word.
“Yes, Sensei, I do understand.”

Sensei looked at me and said, “You are one of my senior students.  I expected better than this, I know your skills and potential are much better than this.  You have two months,  then you will retest.”  I stepped back, bowed and left the training area.

That day, Friday July 18, 2008 was not my best day.
I could have explained away my reasons for not passing the grade but they were irrelevant at this point.  In front of my teacher, Sempai, and training comrades, all whom I have great respect for, I had failed.  End of story.  Or so I thought.

I spent the following weekend reflecting on what happened to create this result.  I went back and reviewed the times I began practicing for this test starting in early 2008.  I had reviewed the kata, practiced the movements, and had gotten to the point where I was comfortable with them.  Although the test itself is very complex as to the use of weapons, unarmed kata, and knowledge of the lineages involved,   I felt I was ready.  
But I wasn’t ready.  I hadn’t practiced nearly enough and it showed.  The movements were not ingrained and natural to me, not enough time practicing, even though Sensei had given all of us almost a year to start “thinking” about our next rank challenge.

During that weekend as I reviewed the past 7 months of training for this exam, I had a strong feeling of personal failure.  I have trained in this Dojo for almost 20 years.  I understood that the training regimen at the Gi Yu Dayton Dojo was challenging, even severe at times.  I happily accepted this fact, because it made me a better martial artist and more importantly a better member of my community.  No obstacle can hold me from achieving success.    My job is to convey this curriculum as taught to me from my teacher to my junior level students. This is my responsibility.  This training is what clearly separates us from other places of teaching that claimed to train in similar lineages.

It was at that moment I realized I had an important choice to make.  I could sit here, continue this self pity, get nowhere in my training and let that effect my life or I could stand up, investigate what happened that caused this result, learn from it, shake it off, and get back to training.  The facts to me were now very clear.  I did not put in the “dog time” required for this test.  Understood.  I did not consult senior people to ask (and re-ask) pertinent questions about the test material.  I now understand.  Did I hear what was spoken through my test result?  Yes, loud and clear with both ears.  Did I feel better knowing the facts?  No.  Not at first.  But, I had a clear course of action and that was more important to me than feeling better.

There is a Japanese saying, “Failure teaches success”.  This is a simple yet very true statement.  I know there will be shortcomings at each step of everyone’s lives including mine.  This is a simple fact of life.  As I address my challenges, what I know to be true in learning from and more importantly, moving past these shortcomings are this:
•    Don’t beat yourself up too much.  It is counterproductive to the result you want and you have friends who will do that for you anyway.
•    Have friends you trust who will be painfully honest with you when it is required.
•    Have a teacher (like I do) that truly is looking out for your best interest and actually takes pleasure in your success (though he will push you to your limits and even past them).  This is someone who is personally vested in your growth, he will be brutally honest with you, but he will also help pick you up to achieve your dreams.
•    Figure out everything that is to be learned from the event you have labeled a failure.
•    Don’t repeat the mistake.
•    Let it go.
•    Get after your goal and accomplish it!
I resumed training for my test for Yondan on Monday July 21, 2008 with the intent that nothing will stop me form accomplishing that which I desire!