Recent discussions have reminded me of how much has changed for me as a martial artist since I started training. When I started, I didn't know much about what I was getting into. I chose the dojo because it was near my apartment, and because it was a style I knew a little about from my background as a Marine stationed on Okinawa, but that had been back in the 1980s; I had never trained in the art while I was in the military. I wanted to lose weight; I had been recently diagnosed with diabetes and I was very overweight and sedentary. I also wanted to learn some self-defense; I had been involved in an altercation with some decades-younger roommates and I realized I might not able to defend myself against them if they attacked me. I lost a lot of weight. I still have diabetes, but I'm doing my best to manage it. I feel reasonably confident that I can defend myself and I've progressed over the years to a third-degree black belt at a dojo that doesn't exactly hand that rank out often. Not bragging; there are many better than me at my own art who have a lower rank in my dojo. Just noting a fact. However, much has changed for me with regard to my training. My goals have shifted. For one thing, I stopped thinking of my training as having an ending point, a place where I had learned 'enough' and could simply stop training, or train on my own instead of being taught. I began instead to see my training as a lifetime commitment to myself. I've been training at my dojo now for longer than I served as a US Marine, and I don't see any reason to stop. It's not that I'm learning significantly more in terms of karate. I mean, I am learning still, but the new information comes in smaller doses and less frequently. Instead, I feel I gain by simply being there and doing the training alongside my fellow students. What do I gain? Not sure. Something inside. Call it hocus-pocus if you wish, but honestly I don't care. I know what I know, that's all. I also started assisting in the dojo as I progressed. By the time I was a green belt, I was helping to clean up after class. By the time I was a blue belt, I helped out with cleaning supplies and water besides just paying my monthly dues. By the time I was a brown belt, I was entrusted with helping the youngest students and the newest adult students, under supervision. At black belt, I was teaching. When I earned the title of 'sensei', I was entrusted with more serious training of advanced students, kids and adults both. I enjoy teaching. It can be frustrating at times, especially with the kids. Some of them don't seem to want to be there. Some have a short attention span. Some learn very slowly. Some are lazy and do the absolute minimum. All of them have their own unique personalities, and have to be taught in the way that works best for them. Sometimes we can get through a class doing the curriculum and sometimes we have to have them play a game or punch the bags for a while or something other than more strict training. I find that learning to deal with those frustrations, to keep a positive attitude, to challenge myself to find the best way to reach any individual student, is something I very much enjoy and it informs my life outside of the dojo. The lessons I learn on how to teach, are lessons I can use in communicating with others, with helping coworkers, with living my life in general. I don't get as angry, I don't get as frustrated. Still a lot of work to do, but I feel I've improved. My dojomates have become my family. We come from all walks of life, and we're all equals. One high-ranking teacher mows lawns for a living. One student is a lawyer. One works in IT, one is an EMT. One's a fire-fighter. One is a commercial pilot and business owner, with a PhD who teaches at a local university. Some are students. Some of us work in IT. One guy raises jelly-fish as a hobby. Several play guitar. One guy's a physical therapist (awfully handy when one of us gets hurt training). One works in an animal shelter. Ones' a librarian. None of that matters to us in terms of how we feel about each other. Some of us socialize outside the dojo. Some of us don't. Doesn't matter. We all care about each other, we are friends, we are family. We'd all step up to help one of the others, we've got each other's backs. That kind of friendship doesn't just happen, and it's worth treasuring. I have also turned inward in my training. I know that nothing that I consider now when I train makes me hit harder or react faster or become more adept at defending myself, and I don't care about that either. When I consider potential applications for a given movement, or experiment with breathing techniques or how I center myself or my stance or things of that nature, it's all about the exploration, the journey, and not for a particular result. If it gains me nothing material, nothing I can hold up to others and proclaim as a new discovery, so what? It makes me happy, and I categorically reject any assertion that I should not do what makes me happy. To draw a comparison with a Japanese form of archery I find fascinating, Kyudo, I am far more interested in how I draw the bow, how I stand, how I breathe, how I feel, how my mind is behaving, how I release the arrow, than whether or not I hit the target. The target means little to me, it is what's inside me that matters. I have stopped caring about types and brands of gi. I have gone back to a simple cheap white gi and a simple black belt. My patch is from my dojo, with one for the style I represent. That is all. I don't care about brands or types of sparring gear. I don't go to tournaments or conventions or seminars. Not because there is nothing I could learn there, but because it doesn't take me further along the path I'm currently on. I could learn lots of things, I'm certain. But nothing that interests me at this moment in my journey. This is who I am now as a martial artist. I don't know how I will feel in another ten years, if I have another ten years left. I'll try to remember to post something then and we can compare. How about you? Where are you now, compared to where you were? What do you want as a martial artist now, compared to what you wanted then?