And …it was awesome!
I felt the presence of my master instructor across the dojo, as I practiced kicks on the heavy bag. I knew he was watching and so, I did a bit of showing off. A Retired South Korean military (ROK Armed Forces) and a sixth degree black belt, his experiential wisdom was highly advanced, so he knew what I was doing and why. In my 17-year old mind, I thought he’d appreciate it.
I was kind of wrong.
From the age of twelve and into my early twenties, I practically lived in the dojo. It was my sanctuary. It was also the construction and smack-down of my ego. I trained hard and yeah, I was very good. So much so, that when I entered the dojo, the atmosphere changed. I would hear whispers, “Rob’s here.” Damn right.
I ate that up. I was very friendly, helpful, and respectful, but my ego was out of wack.
Back to the heavy bag. As I was showing off, my master came over to say something and yeah, that was my intent. But, what he said to me was devastating.
“You are training very hard”, he said.
“Thank you, I …” And he interrupted, with his hands behind his back; head downward; “Hmm. You are very focused and practice hard. You are very good. You do good technique.”
So far, so good; cool.
And then, “You are doing martial arts very well. But, you are only doing. You are not being. Until you can be, you are not.” And he walked away.
Until you can be, you are not.
Five years of building and feeding this ego monster, was nullified in an instant. I left the dojo that night with a slight attitude of “f*ck this”. I was angry and did a little self-destructive behavior. It was almost a week before I returned to the dojo, which was a long time for me. I went from anger to embarrassment, thinking what an ass I was. Then I got angry about that.
I drove to Pennypack Park (Philadelphia) and sat by a waterfall for a long time with no direction of thought. I just stared into nothingness. That was the day I became a martial artist. I found myself that day, as well. When I returned to the dojo, things felt different. I felt different.
The rank of black belt was far less important than being a martial artist. I felt “Ki” flow through and with me, instead of forcing things. Everything became easier. “You are not” was a gift, as harsh as it was. I felt an effortless awareness and intuition.
Derived from ancient Greek, Ego means “I”. An awareness of the self. It isn’t something to be destroyed, because, well … then where would we be? It is to be healthy. “It’s not the ego itself that’s the problem; it’s our over-identification with and attachment to the story that comes with it.” – Emma Newlyn
Ego is not our clothing style, our hair, or our tattoos. It’s not our proficiency in any given art or science. Not our prowess or expertise. It is not the story that we manufactured around ourselves, so that the public sees us as this grand character.
Our true self is within us. It is our soul. Our being. This is I.
Photo is the actual waterfall in Pennypack Park, Philadelphia.